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The seven weeks after the press conference at which Maithripala Sirisena announced his candidature were hectic and tense. During the conference itself, I had a telephone call to say that the Presidential Secretariat had called to demand that the vehicle I was using be returned. This struck me as petty, and foolish given that Chandrika Kumaratunga had just announced that those of us who had come out in favour of the common candidate would be persecuted.

I am aware that Mahinda Rajapaksa felt he had been betrayed by Maithripala Sirisena since, even when they had had dinner together the night before, the latter had given no hint that he was going to contest. But the manner in which I was deprived of my vehicle, even while I was still technically Adviser to the President on Reconciliation, indicated the manner in which anyone who was open in their actions would be treated.

In my case the President had no reason at all to feel betrayed, since I had written to him clearly in October to say we could not support him if he did not proceed with some of the reforms he had pledged earlier. And over the last few months I had made clear the need for reform, both Vasantha and I even proposing Private Members Bills with regard to burning issues such as reducing the size of the Cabinet. Interestingly enough, Vasantha told me that the President had called him and said that he was being unduly influenced by me, but he did not bother to speak to me himself. It was only just before the common candidate declared himself that one of his confidantes, Sarath Wijesinghe, called me and said that he assumed I would support the President. But even Sarath had no answer when I mentioned what worried me, such as the appalling treatment of Chris Nonis.

I have no hard feelings though about Mahinda Rajapaksa, because I believe he was grossly misled by a small coterie around him who cared neither for him nor for the country. What was surprising was that a man of such capacity, and sensitivity to the needs of the country, should have allowed himself to be dominated by a bunch of callous rascals. I should note that, though I have never had any high regard for Basil Rajapaksa, I do not include him in the category of those with undue influence, since he was undoubtedly a man of ability. And he achieved much in terms of development, even though he was not capable of twinning this with human development, which was essential if the fruits of development were to be equitably distributed. And of course he was largely responsible for alienating the President from the senior members of his party, since the impression they had, indicated to me vividly by one of the most decent members of the Cabinet, John Seneviratne, was that he was usurping the powers of all other ministries.

But there were reasons at least, if not good enough ones, for the President’s reliance on this brother. What was totally unacceptable was the role played by individuals such as Sajin vas Goonewardene and Kshenuka Seneviratne, at whose behest the President summarily dismissed those who did so much for their country such as Tamara Kunanayagam and Dayan Jayatilleke; the indulgence shown to individuals such as Duminda de Silva and the Chairman of the Tangalle local body who was responsible for the death of a British tourist; the failure to deal with racist elements such as the Bodhu Bala Sena, and equally to stop the fuel for their fires provided by the activities of Rishard Bathiudeen, who had so effectively alienated not just Sinhala extremists but also all Tamils. Read the rest of this entry »

My sister, who has a healthy regard for Ranil Wickremesinghe, was deeply upset when I resigned from my Ministerial position and made it clear that I thought Ranil was largely responsible for the betrayal of the ideals and promises contained in the manifesto on which the President had been elected. The conclusion she came to was that I was impossible to get on with, and had lost all my friends.

She said this to my driver, claiming that the only people I was close to were Nirmali Hettiarachchi and himself. He said she had a catch in her voice, and seemed very worried for me. But the names she gave me when I asked her whom I had alienated were so ridiculous, that I realized she had a very strange idea of my social life. I was reminded then of Trollope’s Lady Laura, whose love for Phineas Finn was absolute, but who never, Trollope remarked, thought of what Phineas might want when making plans on his behalf.

For I am very much a solitary person, and the members of Colombo’s social elite whom she mentioned had never figured large on my list of people I want to spend time with. They were all nice enough, and I liked the interactions I have had with them. I was sad since, from what my sister said, I assumed the two who were close friends of hers had expressed some animosity towards me. But this was obviously the result of a strong stand I took with regard to the devious behavior against Sri Lanka’s interests of someone they were both devoted to, so I did not think I needed to bother too much.

The third person she mentioned was someone I had long lost touch with, and in any case I had only had interacted with him previously, and not to any appreciable extent, because of a close connection to a couple I still love dearly. Ironically, when I inquired about him I was told that there had been a great falling out there, which I realized my sister too knew nothing about. Her judgments seemed then based on preconceptions rather than attention to the facts. Read the rest of this entry »

Bash-ful 3GL and Sajin meanwhile failed to take things forward in the other area which had been entrusted to them, in that they brought nothing from the negotiations to the PSC. It became such a joke that even representatives of the hardline parties asserted this and said it should be wound up. This made sense for nothing of what we had discussed,the unexceptionable measures which the TNA had accepted in principle, and which could have been fleshed out by the PSC, a second chamber for instance and increased power to local bodies, the elimination as far as possible of the concurrent list, were not discussed by the Committee. Both Vasantha and I had brought these matters up, and it was clear that the more intelligent members of the Committee found them interesting, but there seemed massive resistance to any reforms. But in a context in which Sajin Vas Gunawardena seemed to be calling all the shorts, and given his control of both the Minister of External Affairs and the President’s son, so that the President himself seemed unable to move without his blessing, there was little hope of the regime breaking out of the straitjacket in which it was held.

Namal however, though he would not stand up against Sajin, did seem to have his measure, as was apparent in the brief period in which Tamara Kunanayagam was able to deal direct with the President while she was in Geneva. Her sudden removal was probably due to what she had discovered while she was there, and the realization that her direct link with the President would stymie the various stratagems that were laying the country low.

When she arrived a month before the September 2011 UN Human Rights Council Session, she was informed that Kshenuka had been negotiating with the American ambassador about a resolution to bring Sri Lanka before the Human Rights Council for an Interactive Dialogue. When she contacted the Ministry about this and instructions on how to respond, it was to find that they had no knowledge of such an initiative. However they did not seem to take it seriously, so Tamara called the President direct, and he asked her to fly to Colombo immediately for a briefing.

When she did so, she found the Foreign Ministry totally hostile, and furious that she had come to Sri Lanka without authorization from them. At a meeting where GL and Sajin were present she was given instructions that she should go back immediately, and not meet the President. Fortunately she had a ticket that could not be changed, and the Secretary to the Ministry accepted this position, so she was able to meet the President.
His anger about the acquiescence of Kshenuka in Geneva to what the Americans saw as a precursor to the war crimes resolution they had been contemplating was in marked contrast to the complacence of GL and Sajin. Whereas they had not reacted at all, the President’s instructions were clear, that there should be no negotiations. Tamara accordingly made the Sri Lankan position clear, and had enough support to ensure that the proposed resolution, and a Canadian attempt to bring the Sri Lankan issue to the attention of the Council, were dropped. But the American ambassador told her that they would get Sri Lanka the next time round. Since there was no official record of the discussions Kshenuka had had with them, and neither the President nor the Minister attempted to find out, Tamara had to work in a vacuum – not helped by the fact that Ksenuka and Sajin were in firm control of the Ministry and the delegation that was sent to Geneva, as well as the Mission staff that they took over on arrival, and treated her as an outsider at the next session.

She was able to understand something more of Sajin’s mentality when, after consultation with friendly envoys, she noted that the best hope for Sri Lanka to avoid censure was swift implementation of the LLRC recommendations, which had been published at the end of 2012. But Sajin informed her that the President had no intention of taking these forward. She mentioned this to the President when she was back in Sri Lanka for the 2012 Independence Day celebrations, and cited what Sajin had said, that he knew the President’s mind as though he were inside it, which led Namal to comment that this was exactly the sort of thing Sajin would say. Read the rest of this entry »

Sneezy 5Tamara’s success in averting a resolution against us at the Human Rights Council in Geneva in September 2011 was not however to be repeated the following year. She had no say in the massive delegation that was sent, and the strategy to be followed. Though by then I had met her and liked her, even though she had also called asking me to be present at the sessions in March, I refused when the President first asked me, and was able to cite another commitment. But I did suggest to the President that he send Jeevan and Javid Yusuf, who had been a long-standing member of the SLFP and had served as our ambassador in Saudi Arabia at one stage. They both went, and the former established a close friendship with Tamara.

When the President asked again I could not refuse. Jeevan told me that he had suggested taking the draft of the LLRC Action Plan to Geneva, but been told it was not ready. While I was in Geneva I asked Mohan whether I could look at the draft, but he told me it was confidential. I asked then if he would show it to me in his presence, whereupon he said that he was doing it with the Foreign Ministry, and I should ask the Foreign Minister. I did so, whereupon G L Peiris said, ‘What draft?’

I could only deduce that Gotabhaya had told them not to bother, and GL had assumed that this was the President’s view too. Mohan however undoubtedly knew the real situation, and therefore continued to deceive the President about progress while, as with the LLRC interim recommendations, ignoring his instructions. So three months after the LLRC had reported, we had evidently done nothing to take matters forward.

After the resolution was passed, the President entrusted formulation of a plan to his Secretary, who invited Mrs Wijayatilaka, who had been doing yeoman service on the Human Rights Action Plan Task Force that I convened, to assist. The President had also indicated that Civil Society representatives should be asked to contribute, and Jeevan and a couple of others were accordingly invited to one of the first meetings.

When Mohan came in and saw them, he walked out immediately. He had it seems objected, and though they stayed for that meeting, they were not invited for any others. When I asked Lalith Weeratunge about this, he told me that it had been decided the plan should be drafted only by government officials. Mohan it should be noted was not in fact an official, since he had retired by now as Attorney General, but I suppose his leading role was in terms of his most recent appointment, that of Legal Advisor to the Cabinet, clearly a consolation prize since he had not been made Chief Justice as he had hoped. But his authority was such that, contrary to the President’s instructions, Jeevan and the others were left out after that. Lalith assured me though that they would be invited to serve on the Task Force to implement the plan.

Within a couple of months Lalith’s committee had produced a draft which he showed me, saying that he would be putting it to Cabinet the next day. He anticipated no difficulty about having it adopted. I thought it pretty good, and recognized Mrs Wijayatilaka’s footprints all over it, in particular in the inclusion of Key Performance Indicators, a pet requirement of hers while at the Ministry of Policy and Plan Implementation. I rang her then to congratulate her on her work, only to be told that she had no idea the draft they had been produced had been accepted and would be going to Cabinet. Read the rest of this entry »

qrcode.26621401Mahinda Samarasinghe was appointed by Cabinet to chair an Inter-Ministerial Committee to implement the Human Rights Action Plan, and wanted me to serve on it as well as on a smaller Task Force that would push things forward. Nishan told me the Minister had wanted to appoint Mohan to chair the Task Force but I told him, and the Minister too, that I would only serve on the Task Force if I were in charge. I added to the Minister, without mentioning names, that I had had enough of being appointed to committees that never met.

The Minister did not commit himself, but at the first meeting of the Inter-Ministerial Committee he announced that he had asked me to convene a Task Force to take things forward. He did say that even though I could be difficult – a bloody nuisance, added Mohan, in a loud whisper – he knew I would get things done. It was obvious from this that they had discussed the matter and Mohan had not been pleased. But I was able to go ahead, and we managed to move swiftly with regard to many matters, with excellent cooperation from most Ministries.

I was wary about Mohan by this stage because of my experience with regard to the Inter-Ministerial Committee to implement the interim recommendations of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission. He had been appointed to chair this when the recommendations came out late in 2010, but there was no sign of any progress at the time the Darusman Committee issued its report in April 2011. I told the President this and, when he claimed that the Committee had made much progress, I said I thought it had never met.

At my suggestion he then told his Secretary to appoint me to that committee as well as to the team negotiating with the TNA. He also authorized me to collect from the Secretary to the Ministry of External Affairs details of the Committee’s work, which he thought was being reported on a regular basis.

The Secretary sent me the file which contained only the first report that had been given to the Human Rights Commission in Geneva. This said a committee that had been appointed to implement the interim recommendations of the LLRC, and government had used that to argue that the Darusman report was unnecessary. But there were no minutes of meetings, and the Foreign Secretary said he had been told that minutes were not kept.

Meanwhile, the President’s Secretary had rung me shortly after the President instructed him about the appointments, to say the letter with regard to the negotiating team would be sent, and that Mohan had made no objection to my being put on the other committee. It was only after I put the phone down that I wondered about Mohan having been consulted. While obviously it was a courtesy to keep him informed, I wondered about his views being sought after the President had given an order.

Sure enough, I was told by Lalith Weeratunge a few days later that it was thought I should not be on the committee since I was a Member of Parliament, and that it consisted only of officials. I asked the President about this, and he confirmed that he had been told it would not be proper. I then suggested that monitoring the work of the committee and reporting to him about it should be one of my duties as his Advisor on Reconciliation, to which he agreed.

Armed with that clause in my letter of appointment, I saw Mohan who was as charming as always. He confessed – this was in May 2011, nine months after it had been appointed – that the committee had never met. I suggested that perhaps I should attend its first meeting and he agreed and said he was waiting to get a date from the Secretary of Defence. This was a story he repeated over the next few months, until he finally confessed that the Secretary did not want the committee to meet. Read the rest of this entry »

sleepy 5In 2011 then it seemed that GL was intransigent about granting anything the TNA wanted. Obviously however this was not because of any principles, given that in 2002 he had been excessively indulgent about giving the LTTE anything they wanted. The conclusion then is inescapable that he simply deduced what his patron of the moment wanted, and then went much further.

In 2002 he had been serving Ranil Wickremesinghe who was complaisant about LTTE demands, since he saw an agreement with them as the key to his future electoral success in contesting the presidency. In 2011 however GL served a different master, and this was not it seems the President, given his refusal, on the grounds that his neck would be on the block if things went wrong, to follow the President’s instructions about submitting a draft in accordance with what had been agreed with the TNA. Rather, it would seem that GL was working in accordance with what he thought were Gotabhaya Rajapaksa’s predilections. Basil certainly seems to have been of this view, and was bitterly condemnatory of GL when he mentioned him.

Another instance of GL’s acquiescence in the Defence Secretary’s agenda was apparent late in 2013, when the South Africans launched an initiative to promote Reconciliation. The South African ambassador to Sri Lanka, who seemed anxious to help Sri Lanka, had long lost faith in GL, who he thought would not give the President any messages. He had therefore himself met the President to promote a dialogue, and the President proved enthusiastic and met with a high level South African team late in 2012 to formulate a plan – without GL being at the meeting.

It was decided that a delegation be sent to South Africa to explore options, and the President, who had surprisingly invited me to the initial meeting, insisted that I go too. This was in contradiction of his assertion that the delegation would be from the SLFP, his own political party, a formula designed to leave out the hardliners from other political parties who were part of his coalition. I pointed out that I was not a member of the SLFP, but he said that did not matter.

Unfortunately the leadership of the SLFP was not enthusiastic, and suggested a date far in the future. The ambassador called me and I contacted the President’s Secretary, Lalith Weeratunge, whose intervention seems to have proved fruitful because the delegation left for South Africa before the Christmas lull of 2012. However I was omitted, which was a pity because I had discussed expanding the powers of local government with the President, an idea he had welcomed, and I was perhaps the only one of those he had initially selected who understood how the original post-apartheid South African constitution had been later amended to strengthen the role of local authorities. This had happened in India too, as we had noted in our discussions with the TNA, and it seemed the obvious solution to fears about confrontation between the central government and provinces that saw themselves as the alternative centres of power.

With none of the other members either enthusiastic or knowledgeable, that initiative failed, but the South African ambassador was indefatigable. Over the following year he promoted much interaction between Sri Lankan politicians and those who had steered the reconciliation process in South Africa following the initial agreement between Mandela and the apartheid government.

His commitment became clear when President Jacob Zuma, at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Colombo in November 2013, gave Sri Lanka a great opportunity to move forward while repudiating the unwarranted interference of the British Prime Minister David Cameron. He responded very positively to President Rajapaksa’s request for advice and assistance on the lines of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission which had reduced animosities in South Africa. The President’s request was clearly a great step forward, since it seemed to recognize the need for solutions based on culturally appropriate models of inclusiveness, rather than the oppositional punitive approach that Cameron was advocating.

But the opportunity was not immediately taken up, and it was apparent that at least some elements in the Sri Lankan government were wary of South Africa. Indeed this had become apparent a few weeks earlier, when a high level delegation came over to facilitate discussions on reconciliation, and a seminar was held at the Lakshman Kadirgarmar Institute for International Relations and Strategic Studies, which came under GL. Read the rest of this entry »

220px-Navanethem_PillayThe impending visit of UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navanethem Pillay, can be seen as a great opportunity for the government to improve policies and practices as to Human Rights in this country. I can only hope that this opportunity will be taken, and that she will not instead be seen as a threat.

Unfortunately, some indiscretions early in her career have coloured our perceptions of her. Most notably, back in 2009, when the Council was discussing Sri Lanka at a Special Session initiated by the British – and sadly, it now seems from Wikileaks, supported by the Americans, even though at the time we thought the Americans still had the balanced approach to us they had evinced during our eradication of terror – Navi Pillay made a statement designed to put us in the dock.

She may well have believed what she said at the time, but even worse was her continuing condemnation after the Special Session had passed a resolution essentially endorsing the Sri Lankan position. At the next ordinary session she made a statement that seemed to challenge the Resolution passed by the Council. She was roundly rebuked for this by the Indian representative at Geneva, and I am happy to say that after that she did not do anything that could be considered improper.

Read the rest of this entry »

Once again, following the vote in Geneva, which made clear how influential the United States of America was, and how comparatively friendless we were, there is talk of re-establishing relations with the West. Thankfully this year it has not taken the form of denigration of good relations with others, as happened last year when those elements in the Ministry of External Affairs, which would have been described in the Cold War days as the running dogs of imperialism, danced on the graves of Dayan Jayatilleka and Tamara Kunanayagam.

This was profoundly ironic, for it was those two who had built up our friendships with other countries in the time honoured fashion that had brought us so much respect internationally in the days of Mrs Bandaranaike. At the same time they did this whilst commanding the respect of the West, as numerous cables in Wikileaks make clear. It was no coincidence then that two of our most sympathetic, if not uncritical, interlocutors from the West said to me in astonishment, after the vote, that we had made insufficient use of Tamara, who was clearly our best representative at Geneva.

How did they achieve this moral ascendancy, even while combating the political machinations of the West? It was through a careful understanding of the motivations of the West in persecuting us, and in appreciating that a blanket criticism of those motivations would not be convincing. To build up our support base, they had to respond positively to the arguments the West used to gain support from those who otherwise shared our view of the desired architecture of the world order. Read the rest of this entry »

In discussing, as suggested, recent American moves on Sri Lanka and the Sri Lankan reaction, I am struck most of all by the failure of those in theory responsible for foreign policy to understand those moves. After the recent visit by Bob Blake, who had been ambassador here during the conflict period, and had a relatively positive if patronizing approach, I was assured by a senior External Affairs official that relations between Sri Lanka and America were excellent. He claimed that the negative reports in the papers were exaggerated.

Similarly, I was assured by those who claimed to have the ear of both the President and the Americans that there would be no American resolution against us in Geneva this year. Now it is conceivable that the Americans deliberately misled us, but I do not think that was the case. Not only from the pronouncements Blake made, but also from the comments made by both his successors, it was evident that criticism was the order of the day.

Why was this not understood, and why were we lulled into complacency? After all, there were several things we could have done that would have dealt with the more reasonable criticisms that were made, while also ensuring that the Americans would not find it so easy to build up a coalition against us. But we did nothing, and then affected surprise when not just the Americans, but a large majority in the UN Human Rights Council, came down on us like a ton of bricks. Read the rest of this entry »

The recent vote at the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva was upsetting, and it would make sense for Sri Lanka to assess what happened and work towards ensuring that such a situation does not occur again. However there seems little chance of that, since the same was obvious a year ago, but nevertheless nothing was done, except to sit back and hope disaster would not strike twice.

The only efforts at analysis we saw from the Ministry of External Affairs were leaks to the effect that the vote engineered by the United States had put Sri Lanka back on track to working with what were described as its traditional allies. Dayan Jayatilleka and Tamara Kunanayagam were denigrated as having tried to turn us towards what were described as virtually rogue states such as North Korea and Cuba.

That juxtaposition revealed very clearly where the thinkers in the Ministry of External Affairs, if that is an appropriate word, were coming from. Cuba, loathed by the United States, is a model as far as foreign relations are concerned, and we would do well to try to understand why internationally it gets support from almost all countries in the world except for the United States and its absolute dependants. North Korea is a different phenomenon, and the idea that Dayan or Tamara would advocate getting ourselves into that particular category is absurd. But, as far as the mandarins in the Ministry are concerned, there is no need to make distinctions; as J R Jayewardene advocated when he turned to the West after 1977, we should be even more bitter than the West is in denigrating its opponents.

That philosophy underscored his appalling attitude to India. The attitude of the United States to India then explained however our attempts to take on India, even though we should have realized – and the United States indeed make this clear to us – that they would not come to our rescue in the event of conflict. Read the rest of this entry »

Rajiva Wijesinha

February 2017
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