Enemies of the President’s promise
Posted on October 8th, 2014

By PROF. RAJIVA WIJESINHA Courtesy Ceylon Today

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, which 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 distinguish 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 failed, they initiated a special session 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 was passed with an overwhelming majority. It received the support of most countries outside the Western bloc, including India, Pakistan, China, Russia, South Africa, Brazil and Egypt.
Less than three years later, the situation had changed. A Resolution critical of Sri Lanka was carried at the Council in Geneva in March 2012, with India voting in its favour. It had been initiated by the United States, and won support from several African and Latin American countries, including Brazil, that had been supportive previously. Next year an even more critical resolution was passed, with a larger majority, followed in 2014 by a Resolution which mandated an investigation by the office of the High Commissioner. India voted against this Resolution, but it still passed with a large majority.

Meanwhile international criticism of Sri Lanka has increased. It had a tough ride over 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. The Indians did not engage in overt criticism, but the Canadian Prime Minister was extremely harsh in explaining his absence. 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?
India had made clear its commitment to the welfare of the Tamil population of Sri Lanka, but the Sri Lankan Government had initially acted in accordance, and managed to resettle all the displaced, to rehabilitate former combatants, and to rebuild the war ravaged areas more swiftly and successfully than had initially been thought possible. Despite all this, in the election to the Northern Provincial Council, in September 2013, it was trounced by the Tamil National Alliance, which had been under the control of the LTTE while it existed.

What made the government so unpopular amongst the Tamils whom it thought it had liberated, and for whom it had developed infrastructure so effectively? Why internationally had the impression been created that the Sri Lankan Government was catering to a Sinhala Buddhist constituency, with no regard for pluralism and the pursuit of reconciliation? Why did the Indian Government seem upset with progress when so much had been done?
These essays will attempt to answer the above questions, by looking at the ultimately destructive contribution of several individuals to whom the President had entrusted a range of responsibilities. My own view is that the President himself had wanted to move towards reconciliation, and also to address several questions that other countries had raised, but those he thought would fulfil these tasks had failed him. Of course the ultimate responsibility is his, and his failure to ensure that those working on his behalf fulfilled the policies he had enunciated cannot be excused. But it needs to be understood, if Sri Lanka is to move forward from the morass in which it now finds itself.

Inadequacies that propelled the decline
Before discussing the problems caused by individuals in whom the President had reposed trust, I will set out here the major errors that I believe occurred in the last four years, to bring us to the current position.
First, in July 2009, soon after the seminal victory at the Human Rights Council in Geneva, the Sri Lankan Ambassador in Geneva, Dayan Jayatilleka, who had been the architect of that victory, was summarily dismissed. Significantly, another ambassador had described the protective wall he had built as an empire. Yet the Sri Lankan Government got rid of a diplomat who had commanded this level of confidence amongst his colleagues.
Second, when the American Government in October 2009 addressed a list of questions about the conduct of the war, posed in a conciliatory manner, the Sri Lankan Government failed to respond. This was though the questions were based on a Foreign Policy assessment by a committee chaired by John Kerry which suggested that the US Government should engage more sympathetically with Sri Lanka.

Third, when the former Commander of the Army alleged that decision makers in government were responsible for the execution of Tigers who had come forward with White Flags so as to surrender, he was accused not of lying, but of being treacherous. This created the impression that what he had said was true. In fact he had made a very different allegation some months earlier, in claiming that he had been ordered to spare people carrying White Flags but, since he knew their enormity, he had acted as required. It would seem that his position then was that he was the hero of a tough war, whereas the government had been soft. But a few months later, he was able to present the government as the tough guys, a trap into which they readily fell.
Fourth, though the President had frequently promised interlocutors from the Indian Government that he would move swiftly on greater measures of devolution, statements to this effect were rejected by various government spokesmen. The understanding the Indian Government thought it had was never confirmed by either the President or the Minister of External Affairs, though the Indians believed the position they had put forward had been agreed.

Fifth, understanding the damage done by the new ambassador in Geneva, the President recalled her and replaced her with a trusted confidante, Tamara Kunanayakam, but the Ministry of External Affairs sent a massive delegation to Geneva in March 2012 which subverted her efforts and embarrassed the Indian Government. Following the vote, she was dismissed.
Sixth, despite difficult relations with Britain, the position of High Commissioner there was left vacant for several months, and the opportunity to establish good relations with the new Conservative Government, following the low level to which they had sunk while David Miliband was Foreign Minister, was lost.

Seventh, following her removal from Geneva, the President asked Kunanayakam to serve in Cuba with a brief to develop better relations throughout Latin America, but the Ministry of External Affairs did not allow this initiative to go ahead. Eighth, though Dayan Jayatilleka was appointed to Paris several months after being dismissed from Geneva, he was subject to harassment, from the Ministry of External Affairs as well as the Ministry of Defence. Having finished his contract, he returned to Sri Lanka but has not been deployed effectively.

Ninth, the President’s commitment to address accountability issues was forgotten until after the UN appointed its own panel of investigation. Though the President then appointed a Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission, its interim report was ignored, whereas swift action could have overcome some of the criticism raised in the UN report.
Tenth, there was no rebuttal of the charges made in the UN report, even though several of the allegations it recorded contradicted what UN records of the period in question had established.
Eleventh, though the President asked in December 2011 for an Action Plan to carry out the recommendations of the LLRC, nothing was done about this until after the HRC Resolution of March 2012. A Task Force to implement the Action Plan did not meet for several months, and only began to act and report coherently in 2013.

Twelfth, the negotiations between government and the TNA, which the President initiated in 2011, were sabotaged, with the government for the most part failing either to put forward any ideas of its own, or to respond to those the TNA put forward.
All these inadequacies need to be discussed. I propose to do this through an assessment of those in whom the President reposed trust but whom in fulfilling their own agendas, failed to deliver what he and the country needed.

11 Responses to “Enemies of the President’s promise”

  1. Lorenzo Says:

    The president NEVER promiosed to VOTERS he will do devolution of power, 13 amendment and other ANTI-SL things.

    If the president’s promises to the UNHRC contradicts his promises to the VOTERS, the latter must prevail.

    It is FUTILE to talk to TNA.

    “Despite all this, in the election to the Northern Provincial Council, in September 2013, it was trounced by the Tamil National Alliance, which had been under the control of the LTTE while it existed.”

    This is Tamil mentality. Tamils ALWAYS voted for Tamil racist parties during peace time. Otherwise who would vote for Jayalalitha?

  2. Nanda Says:

    So far Sri Lanka always acted under fear of failure.

    Sri Lanka did not capitalised on the advantages gain in 2009, against all major powers. President has no in depth knowledge about international affairs and failed to tell the truth to the world effectively, resorting to pacify them with nice words and using copycat technology.

    Nation defeated terrorism and the leaders took the credit but failed to declare victory of the majority over infinitesimally small minority terrorism taking the nation at ransom. Must have declared accomplishment of military solution rather than resorting to a meaningless reconciliation process, minister being the writer. Instead, the writer must have been used as a tool to declare majority victory over the terrorist group.

  3. Christie Says:

    “It had survived conflict with not just successive Sri Lankan Governments, but even the might of India.”. It was India who trained, armed, financed, managed and branded the Indian terrorist outfit Tamil Tigers.

  4. Christie Says:

    Yes it is all our fault. We must fall at the feet of the Indian empire, There are lots of Indians who influence the foreign policies of UK, Canada, US and other Western countries.

  5. SA Kumar Says:

    We must fall at the feet of the Indian empire .
    We Hela Demiliya never fall to Indian that why we kicked out IPKF even though who offered NEP in Gold plate to us.
    Because We are Hela Demilaya (Eelath Thamilar)!

  6. NeelaMahaYoda Says:

    I thank Lankaweb for bringing these facts to the surface. MR has still time to correct his position.

    Lorenzo
    Being Devanada’s man living in Australia you refused to understand what has happened behind the smoked screen of the foreign ministry. Here is the excerpt extracted from Rajiv’s articles;

    Several Western nations had tried to stop the war being fought to a conclusion. When this attempt failed, they initiated a special session 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 was passed with an overwhelming majority. It received the support of most countries outside the Western bloc, including India, Pakistan, China, Russia, South Africa, Brazil and Egypt.
    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
    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,
    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.
    The President’s 2010 visit to London was a disaster, and began the process of denigration of Sri Lanka in the international media, a process which has steadily grown worse since then. One catalyst was the decision of the President to ask his personal Head of Security, General Gallage, to leave Britain hastily on the grounds that he might be arrested and charged for War Crimes.
    One High Commissioner later said, whereas Sajin thought he was controlling Kshenuka, in reality it was the other way around. This is the more likely, given Kshenuka’s own predilections for the West, and also the contacts she had with Tiger groups, as was evidenced when she gave the contract to repair the Ambassador’s residence in Geneva to a company with suspicious links. Though there were audit queries about what had happened, these were swiftly suppressed.
    Interestingly, the Israeli ambassador in Geneva had told Tamara, when she arrived that Kshenuka had been an excellent ambassador, quite unlike her predecessor. Tamara’s negative response may have led to moves to get rid of her too, a process duly accomplished soon after the 2012 vote, which meant that her efforts to rebuild the coalition Jayatilleka had set up were stymied.
    Contrariwise, Third World diplomats had found themselves ignored by Kshenuka. As a distinguished Indian journalist put it, in Jayatilleka’s time there had been requests for advice from senior diplomats from friendly nations; with Kshenuka there were only requests for votes, after protracted neglect.

    Lorenzo, In Addition to the above, Prominent Sinhala activists like Douglas Wickremaratne, were banned from High Commissioner’s meetings when she was at London High Commission. Former LTTE supporters were the closed associates. Expat community even suspected that she was a CIA agent working hard to frame MR for war crimes. She was very close to the labour party leader Miliband and personally once apologised on behalf of the government when Dayan Jayathillake, then UN ambassador to Geneva wrote a strong and factual rebuttal to one of Millibands’s harsh criticism of GOSL.

  7. AnuD Says:

    Lorenzo:

    If that is the case, what the promises made by the incumbent president for a third term ?

    No cancellation of 13th amendment ?

    Catholic church will be provided more space to build Vatican here ?

    did you guys get the interest free Car Loan and the Free Lap top ?

  8. Marco Says:

    President Rajapakse should stop making empty promises to the International Community and to the Sri Lankan electorate.
    The IC have taken due note of his promises and remind him on a regular basis whilst the electorate as is normal have short memories.
    In 2005 and 2010 in his Mahinda Chinthana he promised to get rid of the Executive Presidency and what we saw was the strengthening of his Executive powers with the passing of the 18th Amendment. Unprecedented Executive powers given to the President.

    During the last stages of the war he promised to the Indians the implementation of the 13th Amendment plus go beyond the 13th. In May 2009 he repeated the promise to Banki Moon in a well publicised joint statement and on two other occasions at the UN (Geneva & NY) there after. There are a dozen interviews from Al Jazeera to NDTV where the President has said he would implement the 13th.
    Interestingly to this day he has never said he would not implement or repeal the 13th to the local populace (interviews, statements etc) whilst he is happy for his Ministers and cronies to attack the 13th.
    – I wonder why?- answers on a postcard please!

    MR is a shrewd politician (not a Statesman). He needs the 13th to galvanise the local grass root electorate via the provincial councils.

    At this very forum we have had reams and reams of head banging- get rid of the 13th!
    At the risk of repeating myself, why? Is he going to risk the local voter base and the wrath of all those provincial councillors with all those benefits at the tax payers money? What about the promise made to India (Modi reminds him again and again) and the UN and International Community. Think it was the Japanese who said to MRGOSL- stop shooting yourself in the foot or words to that effect.

  9. Lorenzo Says:

    AnuD,

    NO, I didn’t get any of those and have NO intention of getting ANY!

    The things you listed are AGAINST what he promised and I’m TOTALLY with you. I too want them REMOVED.

    But read what I wrote.

    “The president NEVER promised to VOTERS he will do devolution of power, 13 amendment and other ANTI-SL things.”

    Why didn’t he keep THIS STAND and GO BACK on the promises he made to Endia, etc. because SL voters come first? And things have changed since war. What suited during war time and when there were 300,000 IDPs is NOT valid anymore.

  10. Lorenzo Says:

    Micro,

    CONDITIONS have changed since war. It is OK to promise full implementation of 13 amendment during war which was introduced TO BRING PEACE AND END WAR! War ended WITHOUT IT! Why do we need it now?

    I don’t think MR promised to get rid of executive presidency in 2010 and voters gave him a 58% win thanks to war victory.

    MR can still SCRAP 13 amendment and appoint his party PC people to assist in development work of the govt.

    MR can become a STATESMAN when he serves his VOTERS, NOT the international community and Endia.

  11. Nanda Says:

    Executive presidency is not the problem. Presidency founded on a rowdy 13A palaath paalu sabha is the main issue.

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