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13 Jan 2015
Hon. Rajiva Wijesinha, MP
Leader, Liberal Party of Sri Lanka
State Minister of Higher Education, Sri Lanka
Dear Hon. Wijesinha:
On behalf of the Council of Asian Liberals and Democrats (CALD), let me extend our warmest congratulations to you on your appointment as State Minister of Higher Education. We are very pleased that the newly installed government of Maithripala Sirisena has placed its confidence in your capacity to make positive contributions to the Sri Lankan higher educational system.
Your recent appointment reminded us of the 2010 CALD Conference on Education in Colombo, Sri Lanka, where you made this important point on what should be the educational thrust of your country: “…commitment to education is unique, and I think bodes well for the enhanced efficiency we must aim at as education and advanced training become even more important. We need to ensure that all our citizens are able to embrace the opportunities a country finally at peace can provide. For that purpose I believe the liberal philosophy of education is the most suitable, and I trust we will be able to proceed on these lines to ensure excellence, choice and a wider effectiveness.”
We are also pleased that you and the Liberal Party are now in a better position to shape Sri Lankan higher education based on liberal principles. And that you will be accomplishing this in the context of an unprecedented election result that made it very clear that the Sri Lankan people wanted positive change means that you could most likely count on popular support for the educational reforms you foresee.
The Sri Lankan people have done their part in ensuring a peaceful transition of power. Now it is up to Sirisena’s government to ensure that power will never be abused again, and that it will be used to bring peace, democracy and prosperity to Sri Lanka.
It is an enormous task, but the Sri Lankan people deserve nothing less. We wish you the best, and we look forward to a brighter future for the people of your beautiful country.
At the Maulana Abul Kalam Azad Institute of Asian Studies, Kolkata
At an international seminar held on November 6th and 7th 2014 on
An Appraisal of India’s Neighbourhood Policy: Way Forward
In the period leading up to the victory over the terrorist Tigers of Tamil Eelam in 2009, India and Sri Lanka enjoyed an excellent relationship. It was clear that, despite the opposition of politicians in Tamilnadu, India was supportive of the military initiatives of the Sri Lankan government. More importantly, it assisted Sri Lanka in dealing effectively with the efforts of some Western countries to stop the Sri Lankan offensive, and then to condemn it after the military success of May 2009. This was most obvious in Geneva, where the Indian Permanent Representative, together with his Pakistani counterpart, comprised the negotiating team that accompanied the Sri Lankan Permanent Representative, Dr Dayan Jayatilleka, into discussions with Western nations that had wanted a resolution critical of Sri Lanka.
Since then the relationship deteriorated. In 2012 India voted in favour of a resolution put forward by the United States that was strongly critical of the Sri Lankan government. And though much aid and assistance was given to Sri Lanka for reconstruction after the war, India seems to feel that this is not properly appreciated – as evinced by recent remarks by the Indian High Commissioner.
Conversely, a response to his speech in a Sri Lankan newspaper displays even great angst, culminating in the complaint that ‘In the more recent past, India repeatedly voted against Sri Lanka at the UNHRC in Geneva whereas in view of India’s domestic political constraints, all India had to do was abstain which Sri Lanka would have appreciated immensely.’ Before that there had been a catalogue of the support offered in the eighties by India to terrorist movements in Sri Lanka.
That support is a fact, and India must recognize not only the damage done to Sri Lanka by its support for terrorists in the eighties, but also the continuing exploitation of that support by forces in Sri Lanka that I would describe as racist. But Sri Lanka too must recognize that those actions were committed thirty years ago, and also that there were reasons for India to behave as it did. Though I think it is important to affirm the moral principle that assistance to terrorists is totally beyond the pale, we have to understand that India felt threatened at the time by the hostility evinced by the United States during the Cold War period.
When the government of President J R Jayewardene abandoned Sri Lanka’s traditional policies of Non-Alignment and close understanding with India, to the extent of offering facilities in Sri Lanka to a country that made no secret that India was the principal target of its military adventurism in the Indian Ocean, India reacted aggressively. As your current Deputy National Security Adviser, Mr Gupta, put it succinctly, though such a response was not justifiable, it was understandable.
This was in the context of an attempt by one of his subordinates at the Institute of Defence and Strategic Analysis to defend Indian support for terrorists. I appreciated Mr Gupta’s forthrightness at the time, and I believe this should be shared by Indian analysts of the current relationship. At the same time it is even more important that Sri Lankan analysts, such as they are because we do not have a tradition of intellectual rigidity, recognize the seminal damage done to the relationship by the adventurism of the then Sri Lankan government.
The current Sri Lankan government must also recognize that today, thirty years later, India might be worried by what seems total commitment to China. I do not think this is what China wants, and I do not think any serious thinker in Sri Lanka would argue that the relationship with China must be developed with no regard for Indian sensitivities. But sadly Sri Lanka currently has no coherent foreign policy, and the practices and pronouncements of many of those in positions of influence create the impression that we are putting all our eggs into the China basket. This impression is fuelled by the United States, ironically so, given that in the eighties it saw China as a tool to be used against its great enemy at the time, the Soviet Union, with which India was closely allied. Read the rest of this entry »
GL’s appointment as Minister of External Affairs in 2010 was generally welcomed. Bogollagama had lost the election, which made the President’s task easier since, given his complaisant approach to those who supported him, he would have found it awkward to replace Bogollagama. The only other serious candidate was Mahinda Samarasinghe, who had peformed well as Minister of Disaster Management and Human Rights. The Sri Lankan Ambassador in Geneva, Dayan Jayatilleka, who had done a fantastic job in staving off moves against Sri Lanka at the Human Rights Council, had refused to deal with Bogollagama and instead insisted on the Minister of Human Rights being the main Ministerial presence at sessions of the Council.
Bogollagama however got his revenge soon after Jayatilleka’s greatest triumph, at a Special Session of the Council summoned on a largely British initiative to discuss Sri Lanka. This initiative, generally used only for emergencies, had succeeded only after the Tigers had been defeated. This was fortunate, since clearly the game plan had been to insist on a Cease Fire. Jayatilleka, who had extremely good relations with Sri Lanka’s natural allies, the Indians and the Pakistanis, Egypt as head of the Organization of Islamic States and Cuba as the head of the Non-Aligned Movement, the Chinese and the Russians, and the Brazilians and the South Africans, put forward his own resolution before the Europeans had got theirs ready, and this was carried with a resounding majority.
The ease of the victory, and the widespread perception in Sri Lanka that he was its architect, was his downfall. Samarasinghe was irritated in that his role was played down. Also upset was the Attorney General, Mohan Pieris, despite the fact that Jayatilleka had been instrumental in persuading the President to have him appointed. Pieris had come prepared to speak at the Session but, after Jayatileka made the opening statement, he got me to deliver the closing remarks, given that we had worked together on the Council very successfully, and knew which factors to emphasize. But this did not please the duo and they did nothing to defend Jayatilleka when the knives came out. Indeed they failed even to contact him when he returned to Sri Lanka.
Typically, the President was the first to get in touch, and try to use Jayatilleka’s services again: when the latter mentioned how disappointed he had been that no one had contacted him after he got back to Sri Lanka, the President said that was no surprise, after the manner in which he had been treated. The fact that the President himself had acquiesced in the dismissal was thus sublimely passed over.
It was less than two months after the resolution that Jayatilleka was summarily removed. The President may have been persuaded by the ease of the victory to the belief that any idiot could handle international relations, for that certainly is the view he and the government embodied over the next few years. It was also alleged however that the Israelis had moved heaven and earth to get rid of Jayatilleka, since his intellectual abilities had put him in the forefront of moves to bring the Palestinian issue to the attention of international fora. Unfortunately the Israelis had the ear of Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, and also of Lalith Weeratunge, both of whom actively promoted Jayatilleka’s dismissal.
He was replaced in Geneva by Kshenuka Seneviratne, who was perhaps the last official in the Ministry to represent the mindset of the eighties when, under Jayewardene and his Foreign Minister Hameed, it was assumed that Sri Lanka had to be firmly allied to the West. This also involved hostility to India, and Kshenuka certainly embodied this, and was found later to have actively tried to set the President against the Indians, after the 2012 March Geneva debacle when a resolution against Sri Lanka was carried at the Human Rights Council.
Kshenuka had been High Commissioner in London in the days when Britain was bitterly opposed to Sri Lanka but she had done little to counter this. She claimed on the strength of her time there to be an expert on the country, and when her successor, a retired judge, proved ineffective, she took charge of the President’s approach to Britain. Thus, late in 2010, she encouraged him to travel to Britain just to address the Oxford Union, something he had already done. The High Commissioner in London advised against this, as did his experienced Deputy from the Ministry, Pakeer Amza, but Kshenuka’s will prevailed.
She was strongly supported by Sajin Vas Gunawardena, whom the President chose as what was termed Monitoring Member of Parliament for the Ministry of External Affairs, on the grounds that administration there was a mess and someone was needed to sort things out. Sajin was a good friend of Namal’s, and GL naturally acquiesced in the appointment. Sajin and Kshenuka got on extremely well, and they in effect ran foreign policy over the next few years. Read the rest of this entry »
In May 2009, Sri Lanka seemed on top of the world. Under President Mahinda Rajapaksa, the Sri Lankan government and forces had defeated the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, a terrorist movement that had dominated Tamil politics in Sri Lanka. It had survived conflict with not just successive Sri Lankan governments, but even the might of India.
Though the Tigers had been banned by several countries, there was some sympathy for them in many Western nations who could not make a clear distinction between them and the Tamils of Sri Lanka, who they felt had been badly treated by successive Sri Lankan governments. Fuelled by a powerful diaspora that sympathized with and even supported the Tigers, several Western nations had tried to stop the war being fought to a conclusion. When this attempt did not succeed, they initiated a special session against Sri Lanka at the Human Rights Council in Geneva, but the condemnation they anticipated of the Sri Lankan government did not occur.
Instead, Sri Lanka initiated a resolution of its own, which passed with an overwhelming majority. It received the support of most countries outside the Western bloc, including India and Pakistan and China and Russia and South Africa and Brazil and Egypt.
Less than three years later however, the situation had changed, and a resolution critical of Sri Lanka was carried at the Council in Geneva in March 2012, with India voting in its favour. The resolution had been initiated by the United States, and it won support from several African and Latin American countries, including Brazil, that had been supportive previously. The following year an even more critical resolution was passed, with a larger majority. This was followed in 2014 by a Resolution which mandated an investigation by the Office of the High Commissioner. India, it should be noted, voted against this Resolution, but it still passed with a large majority.
Meanwhile international criticism of Sri Lanka has increased, and it had a very tough ride in the days leading up to the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting held in Colombo in November 2013. Though the British Prime Minister withstood pressures to boycott the event, the Indian Prime Minister did not attend. Though the Indians did not engage in overt criticism, the Canadian Prime Minister was extremely harsh in explaining why he would not attend. And the British Prime Minister made it clear that he would raise a number of issues suggesting that Sri Lanka needed to address several grave charges.
How had this happened? How had a country that dealt successfully with terrorism, and did so with less collateral damage than in other similar situations, found itself so conclusively in the dock within a few years? How had it lost the support of India, which had been strongly supportive of the effort to rid the country of terrorism? Read the rest of this entry »
Perhaps the clearest test of a pluralistic outlook amongst Sri Lankans, to say nothing of basic decency too, is their response to the events of July 1983. Anyone fit to pass the test sees it as an aberration in Sri Lankan history, an outrage in which defenceless Tamils were systematically persecuted.
Those who offer excuses or play down the event seem to me morally repugnant. That is why, despite his comparative efficiency and honesty, I think Ranil Wickremesinghe would not be a suitable leader for Sri Lanka. His comments soon after the riots, when he played down their impact, and claimed that far worse things had happened to the Sinhalese because of the Bandaranaike policy of nationalization of businesses, were disgusting.
Since he also claimed that that policy had not affected businesses in the hands of minorities, he was in a sense parroting the Cyril Mathew line that was one of the reasons behind the attacks on Tamil businesses in Colombo, namely greed and the use of emotive racism to suppress competition. I can only hope that those politicians and decision makers now in government who are encouraging the Bodhu Bala Sena, and the shadowy forces behind it that are trying to knock out successful Muslim commercial enterprises, realize that they are repeating history and behaving just as a more callow Ranil Wickremesinghe did in his youth.
But while that sort of indulgence to the racists of 1983 was appalling, equally negative are those Tamil nationalists who play down the exceptional nature of what happened thirty years ago, and present it as simply something in a continuum of Sinhala persecution of Tamils. That is nonsense, parallel to the nonsense of those who do not recognize the exceptional nature of the LTTE, and use it to attack all Tamil politicians. We should not allow such obfuscation of the difference between Tamil political agitation and the terrorism of the LTTE. Read the rest of this entry »
Text of a Presentation by Prof Rajiva Wijesinha, MP
At the Conference on the
Changing Scenario in South Asia: Leveraging Economic Growth for Collective Prosperity
Held at the Centre for Rural and Industrial Development, Chandigarh
March 30th-31st 2013
I am grateful to the organizers of this Conference for this timely initiative to discuss leveraging economic growth to promote collective prosperity. As the concept note indicates, the discussion is intended to go beyond economic growth and, as befits a Centre for Research in Rural and Industrial Development, it is concerned as much with changing mindsets as with promoting prosperity.
This paper then will look at Security and Ethnic Issues in Sri Lanka in the context of both internal and regional cooperation. In terms of the sub-text of the Conference, the changing scenario in South Asia, I will look particularly at enhancing relations with India in the context of current concerns. I fear that there are a number of forces striving to drive India and Sri Lanka apart and, given the close cooperation we have enjoyed in recent years, and the support we received from India to deal with a grave terrorist threat, we must do our best to overcome these. I trust that, despite recent events in Geneva, decision makers in India feel the same.
The greatest threat to security in the region is internal dissatisfaction which can be used for political purposes by national and international players aiming at destabilization. Whilst usually the reasons for dissatisfaction are economic, they are exacerbated by perceptions of discrimination based on class and caste and ethnicity.
This last is of crucial importance in Sri Lanka, understandably so given policies that seemed to militate against minorities. Unfortunately agitation has now gone beyond practical issues and has led to emotional dogmas that threaten security. Such threats can also affect India, given the current practice internationally of encouraging small national units that are more easily managed for economic as well as strategic purposes.
It is essential then for us, throughout South Asia, to ensure that separatism receives neither encouragement nor excuse. I should add that we also need now to be conscious of the danger presented by what is termed autonomy too. Changes in the world scene have made that a very different kettle of fish now from what it used to be. In the old days indeed, those of us who believed that majoritarian policies in Sri Lanka had led to very understandable grievances amongst Tamils felt that regional autonomy was a solution. We argued that even Federalism was preferable to a highly centralized state that had no mechanisms to look at and overcome local problems. Read the rest of this entry »
When we were in Geneva in the dark days of March, I was surprised to read that Senior Minister D E W Gunasekara had been appointed Acting Minister of External Affairs. It was only long after I got back to Colombo that I realized it was an excellent choice, and the Acting Minister’s clear vision and determination had avoided what might have contributed to further catastrophe.
One of the heartening aspects of the aftermath of the vote was continuation of good relations between India and Sri Lanka. Personally I believe India did the wrong thing in voting against us, and I think we must engage in private with Delhi and show the possible unfortunate consequences of that vote for India and the region as well as for us. But it was and is essential to avoid recrimination. In addition, while deploring the result, we must look at the reasons that led India to take this fateful step, try to understand the compulsions, remedy whatever shortcomings we might have displayed and ensure that India appreciates the need for continuing positive engagement with us.
By and large both countries have worked hard at maintaining the relationship. The Indian Prime Minister sent a gracious message after the vote, and our politicians have by and large refrained from provocative reactions. Unfortunately there have been some harsh comments about India by journalists who are normally sensible and supportive of the position of the Sri Lankan government, and they should be advised to look at the whole picture rather than particular unpleasant aspects. But on the whole I believe, with the recent generally positive visit of the Indian Parliamentary delegation, and a return soon to the type of diplomacy that confirmed a congruency of interests during the conflict period, we have both avoided what might have been an unpleasant fallout at the time of the vote.
Much of the credit for this goes to Minister D E W Gunasekara. While his patriotism is not at all in doubt, he made it clear when he was Acting Minister that there was no question of blaming India for what was going on. He seems also to have ensured that this approach was followed by all his colleagues in Cabinet, including those who might have been rearing to have a go, as it were, at India. I am not sure whether this was the reason the President took the unusual step of appointing an Acting Minister for just a few days, but I believe the result was admirable, and both countries owe him a lot for ensuring that moderation prevailed.
It was good to hear the message of the President read out in all three languages, and the stress there, as well as in other messages read out, on reconciliation is most welcome. We have now emerged from several decades of great danger to the country, when we had to deal with terrorism of an extremely effective sort. That had to be destroyed, for the sake of all our people, in particular the Tamils of the North who had suffered so much repression, and I am happy that life is now back to normal in those areas and agriculture and commerce are flourishing.
But we need to do more to bring our people together, and in particular we must ensure better communication and understanding between our people. In this regard, the trilingual initiative of the President is an urgency, and I hope very much that the coming years will see all our people at least bilingual, if not trilingual. I used to think I was too old to learn another language, but the President puts us all to shame in the manner in which he communicates enthusiastically and effectively in Tamil as well as in Sinhala and English. Read the rest of this entry »
1. You are the presidential advisor on reconciliation. Can you tell me, the importance of reconciliation in post war Sri Lanka?
It is extremely important because, unless we live together in goodwill and with sympathy and understanding, tensions can develop and be exploited so that the mutual suspicions and violence of the last few decades will recur.
2. What are the programs you have launched to achieve the objective of reconciliation?
I have no executive role so cannot launch programs as required. However we have set up several committees to exchange information and make recommendations, and the commitment we have received, from local and international NGOs, leading schools, foreign diplomatic missions, government institutions with particular responsibilities for children or former combatants, has been very heartening.
We have also set up or developed several websites. The old Peace Secretariat website, www.peaceinsrilanka.org, has been revitalized, with a home page devoted to reconciliation efforts, a ‘Development‘ section which records progress in the North, and a ‘For the Record‘ section which refutes allegations that may derail the Reconciliation process. This includes a detailed refutation of the Darusman Report as well as ‘The Road to Reconciliation‘ which deals with Channel 4 and other allegations. Both are available as books at International Book House, 151 A Dharmapala Mawata.
Other sites are www.reconciliationyouthforum.org which has short accounts of particular initiatives with particular reference to youth, and www.youtube.com/reconcilesrilanka which highlights positive attitudes and efforts amongst those who were victims of the conflict, whilst dealing also with disinformation abroad. My own sites, www.rajivawijesinha.wordpress.com and www.youtube.com/rajivawijesinha both continue with some relevant material.
3. Other than the government efforts, what is the role of the civil society towards achieving reconciliation?
Civil Society should develop and implement programmes within a coherent framework. This requires close liaison with government, and sometimes the absence of this is because government does not communicated effectively nor plan inclusively. On the other hand some organizations set themselves up in opposition to government and governmental initiatives, which was a destructive approach. I hope my office will be able to bring people together and make it clear that, while there may be differences of opinion, what we all have in common is much more important.
I am also trying to set up committees in the various districts to bring people together. The Governor, who is extremely efficient, along with his staff – the Northern Province website is the best provincial website in the country – has been very positive about this, and the District Secretaries, who have heaps of experience, will be able to provide ideas that can be taken forward, allowing for civil society initiatives that will contribute to the whole picture rather than happening in isolation. The work of organizations such as Diaspora Sri Lanka can provide models in this regard, but we need to monitor and produce schedules of achievements as well as of needs.
One of my colleagues on the recent Parliamentary delegation to India noted that all the senior Indian political figures we met asked us about our electoral system. They were very polite, and did not mention that they thought it was a mad system, but they very gently indicated that they had heard it was quite complicated, and asked for some explication.
We seemed implicitly to agree with this diagnosis, for no one tried to explain the system, as opposed to indicating that we were keen on a change. This has in fact been the consensus in Sri Lanka for nearly two decades now. Unfortunately, in spite of this broad agreement, we have failed to do anything about it, though this government has got closer than most in that it actually brought forward a bill to reform, if only to a limited extent, the system for local elections. Read the rest of this entry »