Pursuing Peace The plot at the International Centre for Ethnic Studies (ICES
Posted on March 9th, 2018

By Prof. Rajiva Wijesinha Courtesy Ceylon Today

Evans did not respond to my letter as he promised. When I met him a year later in Geneva and asked him about this, he said he thought he had replied, but then confessed that he had heard that I was a dangerous man to engage with. This was similar to what had been said to me by another Australian, Philip Alston, the rapporteur on Extra-Judicial Killings, and I began to wonder who was warning to those who had been attacking Sri Lanka with impunity previously.

Though I was flattered, I told Gareth that he had promised to answer, given that his lecture with the misleading claims had received much publicity. He said I should send the queries again, and he would respond, but of course I heard nothing further, and I have not met him since.

I could however, understand his silence, by then we had rumbled what he was up to. The clue was provided by Anil Amerasekera, a retired Colonel who has maintained an active interest in international affairs, and regularly circulates information he has culled.

He emailed me to say that the International Centre for Ethnic Studies (ICES) had been named in the website of the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect as one of its Regional Centres. When I inquired about this from the Board of Directors of the ICES, it turned out they knew nothing about this. The commitment given to GCPR had been by the Executive Director of ICES, Rama Mani, acting on her own.

Or, rather, it seemed that she had done this in collusion with her predecessor at ICES, Radhika Coomaraswamy. The latter was now an Under Secretary General at the United Nations, dealing with the issue of Child Soldiers, but before leaving she had handpicked Rama as her successor, overlooking capable internal candidates. And she continued to interfere in the affairs of the ICES, whilst also being on the Board of the GCRP.

The missive

Rama meanwhile made no secret of her political affiliations within Sri Lanka. Her invitation to Gareth to deliver the Tiruchelvam lecture suggested that he make waves. The email in which she invited him, and made clear her commitment to R2P as a measure that could be implemented in Sri Lanka, is worth –

9 July 2007
Hon. Gareth Evans
President
International Crisis Group
Brussels
Dear Gareth,

I am looking forward eagerly, as is much of Colombo, to your imminent visit, which, I have no doubt, will create (much needed) waves.

I have read your proposal for the Global Centre with great interest and shared it with my colleagues at ICES. The proposal is excellent, powerfully argued and brilliantly spelt out. It proposes to do exactly what is imperative now to ensure that the sustained momentum through which you and other visionary individuals and governments managed to obtain R2P at the UN 60th isn’t now dissipated. We must now move towards implementation through a considered process. We would be honoured and delighted to accept your offer that we join you as a Southern associated centre.

This would also be fully in keeping with ICES’s traditions and expertise….our ‘Justice and the Struggle for Peace Programme’ has prioritised as one of its three key objectives, supporting the implementation of the Responsibility to Protect. So you can see that we are well placed to partner with you and the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect.

A very important element for implementing R2P will be confronting governments and supporting the international community and R2P advocates with hard evidence from the ground, and analysis of the perspectives, views held about R2P by affected vulnerable populations and by ordinary citizens.

As you rightly pointed out in your cover note to me, we would need to look into the resource implications, and procure some basic funding to ensure that we can support the Global Centre as a Southern Associate Centre. I did not notice on the attached budget a separate entry for financial and material support to the Southern Associate Centres. Did I miss this

Kindly let us know as soon as you can what you would see as the prospects for financial and material assistance to the southern centres. Also, let us know ASAP whether you need us to supply some basic figures and budgets for what we might need – and what you would expect exactly from the southern centres — and a ball park figure of what you think would be a reasonable figure that the main donors supporting the Global Centre might accept – so that we could draw up a budget accordingly. If you are able to go ahead and pitch for financial support for the southern centres, without such a detailed budget from us at this point, please do so and we can work out figures subsequently.

Basically, R2P is an idea that both ICES institutionally and I personally, deeply support. We would be honoured to be associated with the Global Centre. To the extent that your resources and fundraising efforts allow, we will do whatever we can within our wide areas of expertise but our very modest resources and capacities to ensure that we can move R2P forward towards implementation. ..
With my warmest personal regards,

Rama

It is significant that this missive makes clear that Rama was also looking for funding. This was on a massive scale, for later one of her associates said that ICES had lost $4 million because the connection was terminated. Sadly many of those who claimed to be idealists committed to peace and equity were always primarily concerned with the money they could get from gullible donors or, more often in the Sri Lankan case, those pursuing their own political agendas.

Rama’s prevarication

In fulfilment of this agenda, Rama worked together closely with those elements in the international community opposed to the Rajapaksa Government, in particular the Canadian High Commissioner, Angela Bogdan. This lady was prepared to resort to protect her favourite. Long before the R2P connection became apparent, there had been a problem at ICES because it was clear that Rama had no idea about financial management, and the healthy endowment that ICES had built up over the years was being frittered away. In fairness to Rama though, the rot had begun under Radhika, who claimed later that she had simply signed what the Finance Manager put before her but later realized he was no good at his job.

When questions were raised by the Board, Rama prevaricated, and ultimately she was dismissed from the position. Meanwhile Angela Bogdan had threatened one of the ICES members questioning Rama, Jeevan Thiagarajah, by cutting funding for projects he was implementing. Jeevan was head of the Consortium of Humanitarian Agencies, predominantly a service NGO though it also engaged in Human Rights advocacy. Unlike other such advocacy groups, it was prepared however, to work together with government.

Mervyn useful

Jeevan was later accused of being a propagandist for government, but nothing could have been further from the truth. In fact the first time I met Basil Rajapaksa, the President’s brother who was gradually taking over as the czar of all humanitarian project work, he was bitter about Jeevan who had brought a case against Mervyn Silva, one of the most unsavoury of government MPs. But Basil found Mervyn a useful ally for various strategies he employed, and sounded very angry with Jeevan, though I tried to point out that the complaint had nothing to do with the business of government.

Jeevan and a number of researchers at ICES were worried about what was going on, and they had convinced the Chairman of the Board, Kingsley de Silva, that he should act. But when he dismissed Rama, all hell broke loose.

Bradman Weerakoon, who had been one of the most influential administrators in Ranil Wickremesinghe’s Government, used all his influence to countermand the decision. He even persuaded Lalith Weeratunge, who respected him as a senior Civil Servant, to lobby on Rama’s behalf. Given that she no longer had a job in Sri Lanka, there was no reason to renew her visa, but her supporters were convinced that they exercised enough influence to have the decision changed. They even persuaded the head of the UNDP Regional Office to sign a petition asking Rama should be allowed to continue in Sri Lanka – though when he found out what the issue was really about, he made it clear that he had been persuaded to sign the document under false pretences. The letter of apology he sent me made clear the unscrupulous acts which were done, trying to stop the Sri Lankan Government in its tracks.

Fortunately the President, perhaps to escape from the lobbying being conducted even by those close to him, asked the Prime Minister to decide on the matter. That reliable old warhorse duly confirmed the decision that Rama Mani’s stay could not be extended.

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