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Ambassador Kshenuka Senewiratne, Sri Lanka.

I was pleased to read a vigorous denunciation by our ambassador in Geneva of the negative comments about Sri Lanka contained in the report of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navanetham Pillay. I had feared earlier that our Ambassador was far too trusting about Ms Pillay, perhaps having been taken in by her presumed penchant for sari parties, the all-girls-together approach that is no substitute for proper diplomacy. Having been told by a distinguished Indian that, whereas in Dayan Jayatilleka’s time there were requests for cooperation, we now simply asked for votes, I could understand why we seemed to be slipping behind in a world in which self-interest is all, and Sri Lanka is well on the way to being a lucrative object of self-interest on all sides. The fact that we are no longer the loser, into which continuing terrorism was rapidly turning us earlier, has been noticed, but not to congratulate us on our achievement but simply to raise the stakes.

In this context it is important that we make it clear how Navi Pillay has been consistently out on a limb against us, and her present performance is nothing to be surprised about. I missed therefore, in our Ambassador’s speech, reference to the manner in which Ms Pillay had been gunning for us from the start. The most obvious example of this occurred in June 2009, when she virtually challenged the decision made the previous week by the Human Rights Council. She was very properly rebuked by the Indian Ambassador, and in a context in which unnecessary and unfair comments about India are being made, it would have been sensible for our Ambassador to once again place on record our appreciation of the support India extended to us without reserve when we were under a profound terrorist threat.

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Perhaps the most startling revelation of bad faith in the report of the Panel appointed by the UN Secretary General is its repeated call for a reversal of the motion regarding Sri Lanka carried at the Human Rights Council in May 2009. At one point the Report criticizes the UN team in Colombo, in saying that ‘the public use of casualty figures would have strengthened the call for the protection of civilians while those events in the Vanni were unfolding’. The rationale for this claim follows immediately, when the Panelists declare that following the end of war, the Human Rights Council may have been ‘acting on incomplete information when it passed its May 2009 resolution on Sri Lanka’.

In short, the main agenda of the Panelists is to overturn that resolution, which rankled deeply with some countries accustomed to always having their own way in United Nations bodies. When a vast majority votes against them, they must have been wrong, so now the case has to be reopened with information provided when it cannot properly be checked.

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Zurich, Switzerland.

There was much speculation some months back about the provenance of the meeting of minority parties in Zurich. The usual suspects were thought to be behind the event, with the usual suspicions. My own view was that the move was to be welcomed, because unlike in the past the balance of power at such meetings could no longer be held by the Tigers. Given the strength of mind displayed in resisting them by a host of others in the past, even while their backs were to the wall, I felt that the outcome could only help in promoting a united Sri Lanka. The initiative seemed designed to promote discussion as a method of reform, rather than violence, and it seemed that the forum would get this message through to those who had been forced into acquiescence with terrorism and efforts to subvert democracy.

I still think this positive approach may not prove mistaken, but I must admit to some worry when I saw the name Peter Bowling amongst those who had facilitated exchanges. We have unfortunately been here before. He was one of the leading instigators just over a year ago of the petition sent to the UN Secretary General that accused the government of all sorts of crimes in its efforts to suppress the LTTE in Sri Lanka.

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Guy Rhodes - Coordinator of the Solidar Consortium in Sri Lanka, chair of the Solidar Steering Committee composed of the Country Representatives of NPA, SAH and ASB and is a focal point for Solidar activities in the country.

 Amongst the shadowy figures dominating the Coffee Club, the gossip circle of international NGO personnel that propelled one of the early petitions against Sri Lanka presented to the UN Secretary General, was a man called Guy Rhodes. He headed a conglomerate of European NGOs called Solidar, which seemed to have swept up a great deal of the funding described as humanitarian assistance to the Sri Lankan people.

I first noticed Mr Rhodes when he spoke passionately against international agencies continuing, after they had been asked to leave LTTE dominated areas, to use the funds they had collected for the benefit of the people left behind. His argument was that, unless the agencies had continuing access, they would be in breach of the conditions their donors had laid down in granting them funding for humanitarian purposes. This seemed very odd, firstly because the other agencies did not seem to suffer from this constraint, and secondly because it was obviously wrong that donors should have inserted clauses into their funding agreements without the knowledge, let alone the approval, of the concerned government.

 Guy Rhodes did not seem inclined to let us look at the agreements he cited so confidently. We had previously pointed out to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs that many agencies, contrary to the blanket agreements they had signed, with that Ministry or others, simply did not bother to consult government, let alone get its approval, in gathering funding unto themselves to use in Sri Lanka. Of course it was partly our fault for not having set solid systems in place and demanding accountability, but in mitigation it should be noted that the UN had imperceptibly slipped into the role of coordinator of funding.

I believe this began with the Ceasefire Agreement, when the LTTE made it clear that there had to be mechanisms to control the two parties to the Agreement, which they kept insisting were on an equal level. Unfortunately the government of the day seemed to grant that, and so the idea spread that the UN was intended to hold the balance.

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Rajiva Wijesinha

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