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downloadEnemies of the President’s Promse: Mahinda Rajapaksa and the Seven Dwarfs – Sleepy (Part 1)

Enemies of the President’s Promse: Mahinda Rajapaksa and the Seven Dwarfs – Sleepy (Part 2)

Mahinda Samarasinghe was asked to chair an Inter-Ministerial Committee to implement the Human Rights Action Plan, and as usual I had to do much of the work through convening a Task Force to expedite implementation.

I resigned however in 2013 when I found that, though there was much goodwill from many Ministries, and we got a few things done, no formal coordination of activities and initiatives was possible. I realized that it was impossible without proper authority to expedite decisions and action. I told Samarasinghe in my resignation letter that he should request that a Ministry be set up. While he was the obvious person to be Minister, I told him he should suggest the President take over the portfolio and be his Deputy. This upset him, even though I pointed out that he would still be in the Cabinet with his existing portfolio of Plantation Industries.

He ignored the letter, and simply declared that he would not let me resign, but did nothing further about the matter. So, after my resignation, hardly anything happened, with Mahinda Samarasinghe uncertain too about his own position, being often asked to go to Geneva at the last minute for Council sessions. By 2014 he was talking about resigning himself, but characteristically he held on to the position, though in effect doing nothing to promote the Human Rights Action Plan.

Human Rights were grossly neglected by the Foreign Ministry, with no invitations to any Special Rapporteurs, until they were forced to interact more positively from late in 2013. Contrariwise, we had tried to engage with them constantly, and had indeed had invaluable support from the Special Representative on the Rights of the Displaced, Walter Kalin, who came to Sri Lanka three times during the conclusion of the War. But there were no visits after that until the High Commissioner herself came in 2013, followed by Kalin’s successor.

All this was of a piece with Peiris’s failure to recognize, or unwillingness to convey, that the Human Rights situation was worrying for Sri Lanka. Unlike in the days when the dedicated Ministry under Mahinda Samarasinghe coordinated responses to critiques, writing and disseminating the most effective ones, there was now no concerted response to attacks on us. As a result, the impression gradually developed that we could not answer the many allegations against us.

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 Most pernicious for Sri Lanka was the failure to deal consistently and coherently with the UN on what were termed accountability issues. Well before GL  became Foreign Minister, the President had agreed, in a joint communication with the UN Secretary General, to address such issues. Nothing was done about this, and there was no response too later in 2009 to an American query about possible violations of law. This was very politely worded, and included material that would have helped us rebut any serious charges, but the President simply appointed a committee chaired by an octogenarian lawyer, which never met. My constant reminders to members of the Committee, and to Mohan Pieris who was Attorney General, and seen as the front man on such legal issues, achieved nothing, though Pieris kept assuring me that he understood the seriousness of the problem.

With nothing done for nearly a year, the Secretary General appointed his own panel of experts, headed by ‘Kiki’ Darusman of Indonesia, and including an American who had previously suggested that Sri Lanka was a genocidal state. Though members of government demonstrated against this, there was no formal response from the Foreign Ministry, which GL by then headed. The impression created was that this was not a serious issue for the country, but simply an opportunity for politicians to score brownie points by establishing their patriotism. Read the rest of this entry »

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download (2)The request to write an article on US Policy towards Sri Lanka in 2008/2009 came at a timely moment, for I had been reflecting in some anguish on the crisis that the Sri Lankan government is now facing. I believe that this crisis is of the government’s own creation, but at the same time I believe that its root causes lie in US policy towards us during the period noted.

Nishan de Mel of Verite Research, one of the organizations now favoured by the Americans to promote change, accused me recently of being too indulgent to the Sri Lankan government. I can understand his criticism, though there is a difference between understanding some phenomenon and seeking to justify it. My point is that, without understanding what is going on, the reasons for what a perceptive Indian journalist has described as the ‘collective feeling that the Sri Lankan State and Government are either unable or unwilling’ to protect Muslims from the current spate of attacks, we will not be able to find solutions.

Nishan might have felt however that I was working on the principle that to understand everything is to forgive everything. But that only makes sense if corrective action has been taken, ie if the perpetrator of wrongs has made it clear that these will be stopped and atoned for. Sadly, after the recent incidents at Aluthgama, I fear the time and space for changing course are running out. But even if we can do nothing but watch the current government moving on a course of self-destruction, it is worth looking at the causes and hoping that history will not repeat itself at some future stage

My contention is that the appalling behavior of the government at present springs from insecurity. That insecurity has led it to believe that it can rely only on extremist votes and extremist politicians. Thus the unhappiness of the vast majority of the senior SLFP leadership, and their willingness to engage in political reform that promotes pluralism, are ignored in the belief that victory at elections can only be secured if what is perceived as a fundamentalist and fundamental Sinhala Buddhist base is appeased.

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A couple of years back one of the more thoughtful of our career Foreign Ministry officials tried to put together a book on Sri Lanka’s international relations. This was an excellent idea in a context in which we do not reflect or conceptualize when dealing with other countries.

However it turned out that hardly any Foreign Ministry officials were willing or able to write for such a volume. Still, with much input from academics, the manuscript was finalized. But then the Minister decided that it needed to be rechecked, and handed it over to his underlings at the Kadirgamar Institute of International Relations and Strategic Studies, where it has lain forgotten since.

Recently I retrieved from my archives the two pieces I was asked to write, and am republishing them here –

 

Sri Lanka needs to be aware of both facts and principles in dealing with Post Conflict Reconstruction. The facts are simple, and we must recognize that the world at large is aware of them. First, we need aid and assistance for reconstruction. Second, that assistance will be more readily forthcoming if we make significant progress towards reconciliation. Third, reconciliation will be judged in terms not only of what government says, but also the responses of the Tamil community.

These three facts are I think readily recognized by government, and there is no essential difficulty about working in accordance with them. There is however a fourth fact that we need to bear in mind, which is that some elements in the international community believe that the attitude of the diaspora is the most significant element in assessing Tamil responses. This is potentially an upsetting factor, and we have to make sure we deal with it convincingly. Similar to this is a fifth factor, that assessments made in Colombo are often used by salient elements in the international community to judge what is happening with regard to reconciliation and the responses to this of the Tamil community at large. Again, this is a factor that government must take into account.

In one sense this should not be too difficult. A similar situation obtained even with regard to the conflict. We needed assistance to deal with the threat of terror, and in obtaining this we had to make it quite clear that we looked to a military solution only for military matters, ie the secessionist military activities of the LTTE. The solution to the problems of the Tamil community had to be found through negotiation as well as sympathetic understanding. We were also able to show that the Tamil community in the affected areas was not indissolubly tied to the Tigers, inasmuch as once liberated they participated actively in elections in the East, and they took the opportunity in the North (as they had done in the East, in a military campaign that saw no civilian casualties except in a single incident which the LTTE precipitated) to escape from the LTTE as soon as we were able to provide such an opportunity. The simple fact that many of the younger cadres disobeyed orders about firing on civilians, and came over willingly, makes clear the positive response of the affected Tamils.

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The following was sent to the Ministry of External Affairs in July 2011 in an effort to introduce some clarity into the debate on the Darusman Report, and also to coordinate better with the elements in the UN system which had also been attacked in that Report

I believe that we should ensure correction of those aspects that are clearly misleading of what is erroneously referred to as a UN report. At the same time, we should treat seriously aspects that are not inaccurate and that create an adverse impression.

This can be done more easily if we have made sure that errors are eradicated and clarification provided with regard to matters that are obscure or suggest inadequate understanding of realities. I have in several publications drawn attention to errors, and I believe a summation of these should be brought to the attention of the UN Secretary General. At the same time he should be asked to respond to the queries on the attached page, since they bear on the credibility of the report as it has been compiled. I have several others, following close scrutiny of the report, but these will be enough for the moment.

I raise these because I believe we have not responded effectively to slurs that can irretrievably damage the reconciliation process if allowed to go unchecked. At present we simply react to relentless criticisms, without addressing its root causes. While I can understand reluctance to respond to the substance of an inappropriate report, there is nothing to prevent us questioning the methodology used.

I hope very much that you will be able to proceed on these lines or similar ones.

Yours sincerely

 

1. Did the Panel consult the heads of UN agencies in Sri Lanka with regard to the various allegations contained in the Panel report, and in particular those concerning

a) Alleged rape
b) Deliberate deprival of humanitarian assistance
c) Unnecessary suffering for the displaced
d) Lack of information about rehabilitation sites?

It would be useful to ask the UN Secretary General to circulate the letter of the UN Resident Coordinator with regard to conditions at the camps, and request reports from him as well as the heads of the WFP and UNHCR with regard to these matters. In particular the UN Secretary General should be asked to share with the panel the reports of the various protection agencies that functioned during this period.

2. Did the Panel consult the head of the ICRC with regard to the various allegations contained in the Panel report, and in particular those concerning

a) Transportation of the wounded and others from conflict areas to government hospitals, and the treatment received by these
b) Transportation of food and other supplies to the conflict area
c) Information provided by the ICRC to government about conditions in the conflict area, and in particular the establishment and operation of medical centres

It would be useful to ask the UN Secretary General to circulate the letter of the ICRC head to the navy regarding its support for ICRC operations, and to request reports from him with regard to these matters.

3. Were there reports prepared by the UN or the ICRC which were shared with the panel, but which were not provided to government?

4. Did the UN set up a ‘networks of observers who were operational in LTTE-controlled areas’, as claimed in the report. Was this with the authority of the UN Resident Coordinator, and how did it fit within the UN mandate? With whom were its reports shared?

5. Did the UN obtain other reports from international UN employees in Sri Lanka, and were these with the authority of the UN Resident Coordinator? How did these fit within the UN mandate? If these reports were intended to improve the condition of affected Sri Lankans, why were they not shared at the time with government?

6. Did the Panel consult the UN Special Representative on the Rights of the Displaced, Prof Walter Kalin, and use the reports he published? Were they aware that he visited Sri Lanka three times during this period?

7. Will the Panel explain errors such as the attribution to government of actions relating to the LTTE (Footnote 92), the attribution to government of an inappropriate response (at the end of January) to an ICRC statement issued on February 1st, the assumption that food was only sent to the conflict zone through the ICRC, the attribution (though obscurely) to the terrorist associated Tamil Rehabilitation Organization of the claim that individuals died of starvation, the claim that Manik Farm did not have its own water source, the claim that psychological support was not allowed by the Ministry of Social Services, etc?

8. Will the Panel study the analysis of its claims with regard to attacks on hospitals, in the light of claims made at the time, and in the context of official ICRC documentation of what was conveyed to government?

9. Will the Panel explain its selective characterization of participants in the conflict, including its description of the LTTE as disciplined, while bribery is attributed to the military as a whole, with positive actions being attributed to individuals?

10. Will the Panel provide sources for the various estimates mentioned in Para 133, as well as all alternative estimates with regard to the given figures? Will it also explain the sentence ‘Depending on the ratio of injuries to deaths, estimated at various times to be 1:2 or 1:3, this could point to a much higher casualty figure’ and how it relates to the figure of 75,000 given immediately afterwards?

11. Will the Panel explain what it means when it uses the word ‘Government’, and in particular its source for various critical comments such as those in Paras, 131 and 136 and Footnote 77?

12. Has the Panel studied the reports of UN committees which make clear the reluctance of agencies entrusted with funds for the benefit of Sri Lankan displaced citizens to upgrade facilities at Manik Farm despite numerous requests, as well as the manner in which funding was squandered on international personnel who were unable to ensure adherence to national and international standards with regard to sanitation?

This was copied to the Attorney General at the same time, as he was supposed to be chairing the Inter-Ministerial Committee to implement the Interim Recommendations of the LLRC, with the following covering letter –

I attach a copy of a letter I have sent to the Secretary to the Ministry of External Affairs. I hope you will appreciate the points raised in the letter, and in particular the need to take remedial action so as to ensure that the reconciliation process continues.

In this context I would like to suggest some positive measures that could be taken immediately to address some of the concerns raised in the Panel report, which I am aware you too share. I believe we have not promoted the provision of information that would alleviate some suffering. Though there seems to be exaggeration with uncertainty, any uncertainty can cause anxiety and then resentment, so we should do our best to minimize this.

I would suggest that we establish in every GN division an agency that will collect statistics with regard to those missing, and collate them with appropriate investigation to ensure fuller information with regard to previous activities. This should lead to the formulation of a data base that can be used to provide precise information as possible.

We know that of course some of those dead will not be identified, and also that some have made their way to other countries, or have taken on a new identity in this country. While making allowance for these, I am sure we will be able to establish that the number of those dead or missing is much smaller than is sometimes bandied around.

I hope very much that we can take action in this regard, and in other areas mentioned in my letter to the Secretary to the Ministry of External Affairs, and make it clear that the Government of Sri Lanka is more concerned about its own citizenry than external agencies.

I also wrote as follows at the same time to the Chairman of the LLRC

Whilst the process of reconciliation was proceeding apace since the destruction of the LTTE in Sri Lanka, I believe some events over the last few months have affected this adversely. Whilst the different communities in Sri Lanka have not responded negatively, relations amongst some Tamils now living abroad and other Sri Lankans have been severely strained.

This may allow elements of the LTTE abroad to continue with their previous practices, including extortion from the majority of Tamil expatriates, and the perpetuation of racial prejudices. This will in turn rouse hostile feelings in the less reasonable amongst other communities. I believe therefore that we need to act firmly to nip such tendencies in the bud.

The events I refer to include in particular the publication of the report of the panel appointed by the UN Secretary General to advise him on accountability issues. This has in turn exacerbated the impact of a film shown on the British Television Channel 4, and subsequently repeated on channels elsewhere. Both these have given credence to a book by a former UN employee called Gordon Weiss, and I gather that other publications related to this have since emerged, or will do so shortly.

It will be helpful then, for the sake of reconciliation alone, to challenge the impact created by these events. In particular, I believe that we should ensure correction of those aspects that are clearly misleading of what is erroneously referred to as a UN report. At the same time, we should treat seriously aspects that are not inaccurate and that create an adverse impression.

This can be done more easily if we have made sure that errors are eradicated and clarification provided with regard to matters that are obscure or suggest inadequate understanding of realities. I have in several publications drawn attention to errors, and I believe a summation of these should be brought to the attention of the UN Secretary General. I have accordingly sent to the Secretary to the Ministry of External Affairs some queries which I believe should be sent to the Secretary General, since they bear on the credibility of the report as it has been compiled. I have several others, following close scrutiny of the report, but these will be enough for the moment.

In addition to this however, I believe we can also address the few real issues that the Panel Report raises. Having studied it, as well as the other publications mentioned above, it seems to me that there are only two allegations in which sufficient information as to time and place and scope has been furnished, so as to warrant further investigation.

These are the allegations with regard to the so-called White Flag incident, as well as mention of execution of prisoners, as to which the Channel 4 film mentioned a specific date. While I do not think we should deal with Channel 4, it may be useful for the Commission to seek further information from the Panel if it possesses any with regard to these two incidents, and in particular further details of the visual records that are alleged to have been made. It is possible that further examination will reveal discrepancies such as have characterized previous visual records brought to our attention, but since those were general claims whereas these involve specifics, it would make sense to try to obtain further information if available.

In addition to this, I believe concerted follow up with regard to your previous recommendations would be helpful.

I raise these to help us to respond effectively to slurs that can irretrievably damage the reconciliation process if allowed to go unchecked. At present we simply react to relentless criticisms, without addressing its root causes. While I can understand reluctance to respond to the substance of an inappropriate report, there is nothing to prevent us questioning the methodology used.

Finally, a letter sent to the Secretary to the President some months later –

The events of the last week, and the document I shared with you that had been prepared by a Ms Vigo, prompted reflections on the absurd way in which we have been conducting our foreign relations, and in particular our relations with the United Nations. I am aware that the President has been sharply critical of the UN, and seems to think that all efforts to work positively with it would be vain, but this flies in the face of all evidence.

The Vigo report makes it clear how many UN agencies and their heads worked well with us during the difficult days of conflict, despite external pressures and pressures from their younger members of staff – a phenomenon that occurred also with several ambassadors who have confided in me about this.

Meanwhile, as you are aware, Dayan Jayatilleka in Geneva did a fantastic job of making sure that we received solid support from the UN system. He understood the need for numbers, and worked with influential ambassadors in each regional group, so that we had a large coalition supporting us.

This was promptly frittered away by his successor. As one distinguished journalist told me, in Dayan’s time we asked for advice, later we simply asked for votes, from people we had hardly taken seriously until their votes were needed.

Meanwhile in Sri Lanka we ceased to work together actively with the UN. Because of anger, understandable enough, at the appointment of the Darusman Panel, and its report, we assumed that the UN was complicit in the injustice that was being done to us. We failed to read the report carefully and intelligently, and understand that senior UN officials also were being criticized.

I told the Ministry at the time that we should communicate with those officials and develop a common response, but I do not think the Ministry even understood what I meant, nor the potential danger. As I have noted recently, following the visit of Robert Blake, which local politicians and foreign ambassadors have told me was worrying, I was told by the Ministry that all had gone very well, and newspaper reports were simply designed to create trouble.

I have been reading with some bemusement the recent exchanges regarding the role and views of my old friend Dayan Jayatilleka, who has been under attack because of his support for the 13th Amendment and devolution. This is an old story, and he is well able to defend himself. But recently there has been a change, because he is attacked not only for what he believes – which he would be quite happy to deal with – but also on the grounds that he caused problems for the government because he defended us forcefully against attacks in the international arena way back in 2009.

The argument is that he put us in a difficult position through his defence, which involved commitment to the 13th Amendment. As I have said before, this is nonsense, because all he was doing was reiterating what our old friend Mahinda Samarasinghe would describe as the consolidated position of the government of Sri Lanka. This had been expressed clearly by the President in a joint communiqué with the Indian government as also in a joint statement issued together with the UN Secretary General. This last indeed contained material relating to accountability which I thought unnecessary, but which it seemed only Dayan and I, thought of as outsiders with no diplomatic training, recognized was potentially dangerous. Foreign Ministry officials saw no problem with that commitment on the part of government, though later Palitha Kohona told me he had advised against that clause, and it was only the President’s haste to settle the matter that curtailed further discussion.

That having been said, the clause would have caused no problems had we interpreted it straight away on our terms. It was the culpable neglect of what we had pledged that has contributed to our problems, and that was nothing to do with Dayan, who was given the cold shoulder soon afterwards. He was to spend a year in limbo, until the President recalled him to service in Paris, where he did a fantastic job.

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Rajiva Wijesinha

November 2017
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