Triumph and Disaster: The Rajapaksa Years - Part I

‘Success in War: My time at the Peace Secretariat, 2007-2009’

Tamara Kunanayakam

Presentation by Tamara Kunanayakam

On the occasion of the Launch of Prof. Rajiva Wijesinha’s latest book, 18 February 2015

Rajiva’s latest book, Triumph and Disaster: the Rajapaksa Years, is a remarkable documentary of the first Rajapaksa years that constituted a turning point in Sri Lanka’s recent history. The book celebrates the victory over LTTE terror, which had determined almost every aspect of our lives for a quarter of a century.

It provides an exceptional insight into the work of a state institution that played a central role, even as it had to adapt to changing circumstances when the LTTE forced a radical shift from talks across the negotiating table to a brutal war in which it transformed civilians into cannon fodder. It is a profound personal account of the events as they unfolded between June 2007, when Rajiva was appointed Secretary-General of the Secretariat for Coordinating the Peace Process, and the end of the war in May 2009. In June 2008, he was also appointed Secretary to the Ministry of Disaster Management and Human Rights, and his account, therefore, also includes insights gained while he was there. Apart from providing fascinating reading, painting as it does a vivid image of the characters and events,the duplicity and the intrigues, substantiated by a wealth of documentation, I found in his book pieces of the puzzle that were missing in my own analysis, from my Geneva vantage point.

When I say Geneva, I don’t mean only the year I spent as Permanent Representative of Sri Lanka to the United Nations. I mean most of my adult life, which I spent in Geneva, studying and working in and around the UN System, of which more than 10 years were in the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. I had seen and experienced the functioning of the UN System from various angles: - as a student at the Graduate Institute of International Studies in Geneva, which trained international civil servants; then, as an international civil servant; and, more recently, as Permanent Representative of a Member State.

Unlike the LTTE yesterday, the separatist lobby today, and their Western backers, the major failure of successive Sri Lankan governments was an underestimation of the international dimension of the conflict. In my view, it is this understanding that permitted the LTTE then, and the separatist lobby today, to occupy the international space fully, made easier by the absence of the Government in this domain. My presentation will, therefore, essentially focus on the chapters that address this dimension.

International intervention

Rajiva’s book is not so much about the military operations, but about an aspect of the war that is less spectacular, but perhaps more important and more dangerous, because insidious. It is about what Rajiva calls the "battle that had to be fought to prevent the government being stalled in its tracks by international intervention." That battle is not over and that is also why this book is a must read for anyone interested in lasting peace.

Significantly, Rajiva’s account corroborates the argument that the motivations behind initiatives in Geneva are to be found elsewhere, not in a desire to protect the human rights of Tamils. He convincingly demonstrates with numerous examples, communications and press releases issued by the Peace Secretariat how Western governments, the international and national advocacy groups funded by them, and the United Nations failed to condemn the killings, abductions, forced recruitment and use of child soldiers by the LTTE. He describes how, on the contrary, despite first hand knowledge of its totalitarian nature and widespread abuse, the LTTE had been, directly or indirectly, aided in various ways.

Rajiva’s account clearly demonstrates that external intervention to undermine Sri Lanka’s sovereignty and to steer the course of its history did not begin during the last phase of the war, despite it being the focus of the on-going Western campaign.Western intervention began well before that, adapting its form to changing circumstances, but always with a single-minded determination.

Priority for support to LTTE and interventionist lobby

At first, they sought to wield influence through their support to the LTTE. The presence of pro-Western UNP governments under the Presidency of CBK was also reassuring. Rajiva’s book is replete with facts and figures demonstrating the mutually-reinforcing relationship that existed in particular between the CBK-Ranil Wickremesinghe regime, the LTTE, Western powers, sections of the UN, and interventionist NGOs – both national and international. During this period, millions of rupees in foreign funding had gone to finance the LTTE – authorised by the UNF government, even after the LTTE had made clear it would not attend the negotiations. Funding to the"conglomerate of like-minded interventionists," as Rajiva described the NGOs, was on a massive scale, coming in good stead during the Rajapaksa years when this "funding for peace" was "diverted to critics of government," which is the title of the book’s Chapter 6.

Several chapters of Rajiva’s book are dedicated to facts, figures, names of organisations and individuals involved in the giving and receiving of what amounted to over 200 million rupees of foreign funding.

Appearance of Responsibility to Protect (RtoP)– framing the Rajapaksa government

In the period immediately following Rajapaksa’s election to the Presidency, there was a tendency, both by his political opponents in Sri Lanka and by Western governments, to underestimate the man. In 2007, they were still predicting that his government would be toppled and that international pressures would contribute toward this end.

That perception changed, however, somewhat with the defeat of the LTTE in the Eastern Province in July 2007. It became increasingly evident that the LTTE may not, after all, emerge victorious from the military option it had chosen. Rajiva describes how, during this period, the anti-government campaign grew in strength and viciousness and how the interventionist NGOs, Human Rights Watch in particular, launched concerted unsubstantiated attacks against the government, but without the government considering it necessary to counter them. He also discusses how this coincided with preparations for the September 2007 Human Rights Council session at which the British hoped to revive a draft resolution they had tabled in 2006. There were three failed attempts in 2006, 2007 and March 2009 to move a resolution against Sri Lanka, with the former colonial power, Britain, taking the lead.

It is appropriate to recall that many senior Human Rights Watch officials come from the US State Department and the National Endowment for Democracy. The Advisory Committee of its Americas Division even boasts of a former Central Intelligence Agency official by the name of Miguel Diaz.

It is likely that it is with the prospect of a total LTTE defeat and the consolidation in Colombo of the Rajapaksa Government that Washington turned to the possibility of framing a RtoP case against Sri Lanka, as a means to limit State sovereignty and to legitimise unilateral intervention "pre-emptively and preventively" at a future date. In another country, Washington could have opted to intervene directly using the pretext of fighting terrorism. The Obama Administration, as the Bush Administration before it, continued to be influenced by the neoconservatives who advocated unilateral intervention to combat what they called "new global threats," terrorism being one. Donald Rumsfeld, the former Defense Secretary, described these new threats as "unknown unknowns" or "things we don’t know we don’t know," which, because invisible, justify the use of military force, unilaterally, pre-emptively and preventively, anywhere and at anytime, even in the absence of evidence, because, according to Rumsfeld, "absence of evidence is not evidence of absence." For obvious reasons, Washington could not argue that Sri Lanka was unable or unwilling to fight terrorism.

To be continued
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