The cancellation of the Second Address of H.E. Mahinda Rajapaksa, President of Sri Lanka at the Oxford Union.
Posted on December 4th, 2010

Press Statement “”…” Oxford University Sri Lanka Society

The Oxford University Sri Lanka Society is shocked and outraged at the eleventh hour cancellation of the Second Address of H.E. Mahinda Rajapaksa, President of Sri Lanka at the Oxford Union by its President James Kingston. We consider it a slur not only on Sri Lanka but also on the long cherished ideals of freedom of speech and liberty in the United Kingdom. It is reprehensible and utterly irresponsible that this was done only after President Rajapaksa had arrived in the United Kingdom and forever will be a black day in the annals of the Oxford Union.

 The invitation by the Oxford Union:

 H.E. Mahinda Rajapaksa was invited by James Kingston, Michaelmas Term President of the Oxford Union to address its members for a second time by a letter dated 8th September 2010 (see Annex 1). This was in conjunction with the Oxford University Sri Lanka Society as joint organizers. As is evident, the Oxford Union was very enthusiastic to host President Rajapaksa. James Kingston states in his invitation that “your extraordinary leadership has seen the momentous achievement of a final and total victory against the forces for so long threatening the peace and stability of your people. Your successful conclusion of this 30 year military conflict ranks as one of the most significant acts seen by the world in recent years.” Further, it was planned to present an award to President Rajapaksa to mark the very special occasion of being the only Head of State to have addressed the Oxford Union twice.

 Role of the Oxford Union and the Oxford University Sri Lanka Society:

 The OU Sri Lanka Society was joint organizer of the event. Our role included the organization of the Sri Lankan side of the event. This included inviting distinguished guests including diplomats, inviting other Sri Lankan guests and organizing peripheral events in Oxford (including the Felicitation Ceremony).

 The Oxford Union was primary host and had sole authority over the cocktail reception, address of President Rajapaksa and the subsequent dinner.

 Elaborate arrangements by the OU Sri Lanka Society:

 Elaborate arrangements were made by the Oxford University Sri Lanka Society to felicitate HE the President in a grand and dignified manner. Among those who had confirmed their participation included: 

  • 12 Ambassadors/High Commissioners (India, Pakistan, Argentina, Algeria, Belize, Mongolia, Barbados, Indonesia, Bahamas, St. Lucia, Papua New Guinea & Sierra Leone)
  • Hon. John Boyce, Cabinet Minister of Barbados
  • 5 Diplomatic Representatives (China, Poland, Philippines, South Africa, Bhutan) 
  • His Worship John Goddard, the Lord Mayor of Oxford
  • Mr. John Harwood, the Vice Lord Lieutenant of Oxfordshire (representative of HM the Queen)

The Vice Chancellor of the University of Oxford, Prof. Andrew Hamilton was to receive President Rajapaksa before his address at the Oxford Union. 

Further, a Felicitation ceremony was organized by the Society where the Sri Lankan community in the UK 

Involvement of the SL High Commission in the UK:

All aspects of the Second Address of H.E. the President Mahinda Rajapaksa and the related events were minutely discussed and agreed upon during several meetings between James Kingston, representatives of the Sri Lanka High Commission in the UK and representatives of the Oxford University Sri Lanka Society. 

A delegation of the Sri Lanka High Commission led by Mr. P.M. Amza (Deputy High Commissioner) visited Oxford on 12th October 2010 and had detailed discussions with James Kingston and representatives of the OU Sri Lanka Society at the Oxford Union. 

This was followed with the arrival of the Presidential Advance Team on 22nd October 2010 and once again, all arrangements were minutely examined.

Thus, all arrangements at our end were finalized around 5 weeks before HE the President arrived in the UK.

Examination of the critical issues: 

All issues related to the visit were minutely discussed with the relevant authorities including the SL High Commission. Protests were anticipated, remedial action planned and strategies implemented.

Routine meetings were also held between James Kingston and representatives of the Oxford University Sri Lanka Society. At no time, during any of these numerous meetings, did James Kingston ever raise the possibility of a cancellation. On the contrary, he was always very enthusiastic about the event. Further, the OU Sri Lanka Society has organized events with 5 previous Presidents of the Oxford Union and had an extremely good working relationship with the Union. As this type of eleventh hour cancellation has never happened in the annals of the 187-year history of the Oxford Union and its officers act with great integrity, it was never deemed even a remote possibility.

 Campaign of intimidation:

 It is now apparent that heavy pressure was brought to bear on James Kingston after it became known that the H.E. the President was invited again. A relentless e-mail campaign was unleashed whereby Kingston’s details were posted on websites and interested parties were asked to vent their anger by writing to him. It must be said, however, that this happened even during the First Address of H.E. the President and was therefore, expected.

 The arrival of the President and the sudden turn of events:

 H.E. the President accepted this invitation and arrived in the United Kingdom on the 29th of November 2010 (Monday).  Signs of trouble first appeared on the afternoon of the 30th of November 2010, when the OU Sri Lanka Society contacted by an alarmed James Kingston.  Representatives of the OU Sri Lanka Society immediately contacted officials of the Sri Lanka High Commission and senior figures in the Presidential delegation. An urgent meeting was hastily arranged in Oxford with members of the OU Sri Lanka Society, the Sri Lanka High Commission, the Oxford Union, the Thames Valley Police and the University Marshalls attending. At this meeting, Supt. Amanda Pearson (Oxford Commander) clearly and unambiguously stated several times that the Thames Valley Police had developed a comprehensive policing operation in advance of the President’s visit and were fully prepared and very confident of handling the situation. Despite these assurances by the Police, James Kingston, very surprisingly decided to cancel the event, underlining the tremendous pressure brought to bear. It must be emphasised that the President of the Oxford Union does have the power to cancel an event on his own.

 Founding principles of the Oxford Union imperiled:

 The cancellation leaves an indelible stain on an institution that British Premier Harold Macmillan once described as the “the last bastion of free speech in the Western world.” On its website, it is stated that “the Oxford Union believes first and foremost in freedom of speech: nothing more, nothing less.” It now seems that the very foundations of the Oxford Union have been imperiled by unseen forces by exerting pressure on its President. By this action, HE President Rajapaksa’s right to be heard has been denied.

 President’s message of reconciliation silenced:

 It was known that H.E. President Rajapaksa would use this address to call for reconciliation of Sri Lankans in all parts of the world and invite all Sri Lankans in the UK to join in the new task of nation building. The address was aimed to heal old wounds and look to the future as a nation where all communities could live together in peace and amity. It is indeed very unfortunate that this crucial message has been silenced. It is further regrettable that members of the Oxford Union were denied the opportunity to interact with HE President Rajapaksa as in 2008

 Contradictory statements by the Oxford Union and Police:

 The public statement issued by the Oxford Union citing security fears is belied by a statement issued by the Thames Valley Police stating that it did not advice the Union to cancel the event and it was completely the decision of the Union (see Annex 2). In fact, Oxford Commander Supt. Amanda Pearson had stated several times that measures had been put into place and the Police were very confident bout handling the situation, despite some expected disruptions. Thus, one can infer that there was an unseen force behind the cancellation

 Cancellation was a unilateral decision:

 It is fair to say that the cancellation was not a collective decision by the Oxford Union but rather, one of its President. The decision has caused ripples within the organisation.

 Although a joint organizer, the Oxford University Sri Lanka Society was completely helpless in this matter as the right of cancellation lay only with the President of the Oxford Union. Our strong objections were simply not considered.

Oxford Union issues apology and invites President Rajapaksa again:

 It is highly commendable that James Langman (President-Hilary Term of the Oxford Union) visited President Rajapaksa on the 2nd of December and offered his sincere apologies to President Rajapaksa. Representatives of the Oxford University Sri Lanka Society were also present. A very cordial discussion followed with the President. He talked about President’s address in 2008 being one of the highlights of the Term and how Oxford Union members were eagerly waiting to hear him again. James Langman invited the President to address the Oxford Union on 5th December 2010. HE the President Rajapaksa politely turned it down citing commitments back home. The President then hosted the delegation to lunch.

 The Oxford University Sri Lanka Society then presented a Special Award to President Rajapaksa for Extraordinary Service to Sri Lanka (see attached photograph).

 Exploitation of the situation by interested parties:

 Various rumours have been rapidly spread regarding the cancellation. Various groups with vested interests have given differing interpretations. It must be emphasized that all Sri Lankans must stand together as one at times like these. Petty moves such as these only serve to strengthen the hands of those unseen forces behind the cancellation and damage Sri Lanka’s prospects of reconciliation and moving forward.

 The position of the Oxford University Sri Lanka Society:

 The Oxford University Sri Lanka Society (as joint-organisers) condemns the cancellation by James Kingston (despite the assurances given by the Police) in the strongest possible terms. We strongly feel his conduct in this matter is highly unbecoming of a President of the Oxford Union and has called on him to resign. As host, he has a great responsibility to his guest who has travelled thousands of miles to honour his commitment. We also appreciate the assurances given by the Thames Valley Police regarding policing this event. It is very unfortunate that these assurances were not taken on board.

 By yielding, both the reputation of the Oxford Union as well as the United Kingdom (as a land known for free speech and liberty) has been sullied.

 Oxford University Sri Lanka Society

4th December 2010.

Special Presentation to the President
http://www.lankaweb.com/news/items10/Special%20Presentation%20to%20the%20President.pdf

James Langman (President-Hilary Term, Oxford Union) and OU Sri Lanka Society representatives meet HE the President Mahinda Rajapaksa on 2nd December 2010. The OU Sri Lanka Society makes a special presentation to HE the President.

From left to right: Dilan Fernando (President – Oxford University Sri Lanka Society), James Langman (President – Hilary Term, Oxford Union), HE the President Mahinda Rajapaksa, Dr. Kremlin Wickramasinghe (Secretary – Oxford University Sri Lanka Society). Pic by Sudath Silva

Annex 1 –The invitation by the Oxford Union:

 http://www.lankaweb.com/news/items10/oxfordinvitation.pdf

Annex 2-Thames Valley Police  did not advice the Union to cancel the event

From: Adderley Alice <alice.adderley@thamesvalley.pnn.police.uk>
Date: Thu, Dec 2, 2010 at 1:20 PM
Subject: FW: Sri Lanka
To:

Hi Daniel, as I said on the phone, the visit was not cancelled on the advice of Thames Valley Police, it was the Oxford Union who rescinded the invitation and you would need to speak to them for further information. However, I can give you the following statement:

Thames Valley Police had developed a comprehensive policing operation in advance of the President of Sri Lanka’s visit to the City and the Oxford Union.

This was aimed at facilitating those who wished to peacefully protest, as well as providing an appropriate level of security to the president and his entourage whilst in the City.

Oxford Commander, Supt Amanda Pearson, said: “We were expecting a large number of protesters to gather in the city that would have clearly caused a disruption to the city centre of Oxford.

“We did have plans in place to deal with, and facilitate, large numbers of people gathering in the Cornmarket area of Oxford. We are now not expecting a large scale protest so would recommend that the community of Oxford go on with their day as usual.”

 Best wishes Alice

 Alice Adderley, Communications Officer
Thames Valley Police HQ
Oxford Road, Kidlington
OX5 2NX

3 Responses to “The cancellation of the Second Address of H.E. Mahinda Rajapaksa, President of Sri Lanka at the Oxford Union.”

  1. Sri Rohana Says:

    Tamil racists had violated the democracy rights of Oxford University Union. If true democracy is there, it should be equal to all. O.U has right to organize a speech and Sri Lankan has a right to listen to it. But by any means tamil terrorists supporters don’t have any right to obstruct someone else’s democratic rights.
    From the beginning it-self tamil terrorists did the same in Sri Lanka. Prabakaran started tamil racist terrorists organization (ltte) after killed Jaffna democratically elected mayor tamil politician Alfred Duraiappa in 1976. Most of the tamil political leaders were assassinated by ltte. Since then till 2009 May they killed more than 30,000 innocent civilians including unborn babies with their moms. Even after prabakaran’s death still tamil racist terrorist supporters trying to do the same tactics even in U.K. Only they have right to protest, demonstrate, organize meetings and speeches but Sinhala’s don’t have any right to organize even a speech. What a shame so-call democracy? Is this law in the jungle? Seems they took the british law in to their hands. Once they blocked the british parliament area. Last week they obstructed to Air passengers at Heathrow airport and Oxford Union member’s right to associate. London became a little Killinochchi.

  2. A. Sooriarachi Says:

    Reading the Various comments and reports relating to this incident, it is clear people with various polotical persuations and other agendas had got together under a common cause and that was to stifle at any cost the voice of the liberator of the SriLankan nation, from a group of brutal terrorists and now afraid to allow the President of Sri lanka to give his version of events and also answer any question or wild allegation thrown at him at this event, as well as the various forums he was going to be after this event. Yes the driving force for the cancellation of the event could be the fear amongst the Tiger separatists that The President would manage to counter the damaging propoganda carried on at much expense and effort by the Terrorists and their fellow travellers, who include some SriLankan politicians.

    The question that begs an answer is as to how on earth did this banned LTTE terrorists able to publicly display their identity and carry the terrorist flag without being arrested, even at the airport.

    The other important question is, why did the Oxford Union President cancel this event, unilaterally?

  3. Fran Diaz Says:

    Is the ltte rump in UK that important in UK politics ? Obviously they are – no other ethnic group is allowed to run riot in UK and bend VIPs to their whims & fancies. Why is that ?

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