New book tells untold story of Sri Lanka’s 2009 victory at UN Human Rights Council- By P.K.Balachandran

While Sri Lanka’s decisive military victory over the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) on May 19, 2009 is still talked about for its historic significance for Sri Lanka, the region and the world, the diplomatic  victory registered over the Western powers at Geneva has not got sustained recognition.

This could be  attributed to the opposition to the then Ambassador in the UN system in Geneva Dayan Jayatilleka within the Sri Lankan Foreign Ministry and subsequent policy changes in Colombo vis-à-vis the UNHRC.
Sanja de Silva Jayatilleka’s racy narration of events, peppered with interesting vignettes, reveals the dramatic moves executed by her husband, Dayan Jayatilleka, to get a pro-Sri Lanka resolution passed while stalling a determined move by the Western powers to present their own resolution asking Sri Lanka to stop the war when victory was in sight, and be accountable for “war crimes” on top of that.
To the surprise and dismay of the Western powers, and to the shock of the international human rights and pro-LTTE lobbies, the UNHRC passed a Sri Lanka-inspired resolution praising the island nation for winning the war against terrorism and separatism and seeking international assistance for its post-war relief and rehabilitation programs.
If the Sri Lankan resolution, opposed tooth and nail by top dogs US,UK, EU and France, was passed, with 29 voting for, 12 against and six abstaining, it was undoubtedly because of the doggedness, energy and creativity displayed by Dayan Jayatilleka.
Though a first-time diplomat, Jayatilleka had a vast and deep knowledge of world history. He also had a background of left wing political activism. With such a background, Jayatilleka came up with out-of-the box ideas and implemented them with awesome energy.
The strategies that he employed to enable a small and weak country to successfully resist the hegemony of the Big Powers are now a subject matter of study in some universities under the rubric “Asymmetric Diplomacy”, the book says.
As the war was coming to a close in April 2009, the  Western powers tried to lobby in New York for  Security Council action. But Russia and China with veto power would not allow it. They then moved to the UNHRC in Geneva intending to have a Special Session on the island nation’s conduct during the war in which they said “war crimes” were committed. The move was seen in Sri Lanka as a bid to rescue the LTTE’ leadership (which was at the end of its tether) and carve out a role for themselves in Sri Lanka’s ethnic issue. That the move seek a Special Session in May, days before the beginning of a regular section in June, made its motives doubly suspect. India was on the side of Sri Lanka in regard to the Special Session. New Delhi was against country-specific Special Sessions and country-specific resolutions outside the Universal Periodic Review framework.
Jayatilleka had to come up with a strategy to defeat the Western Powers ’design to punish Sri Lanka for ending terrorism and preventing its dismemberment.
UNHRC in session
Given his leftist background, with expertise especially in Latin American history and politics, Jayatilleka came up with the idea of getting the support of  Asian, African and Latin American countries, and which were wedded to the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM).
Given the fact that the Afro-Asian-Latin American bloc had a majority in the 47- member UNHRC, Jayatilleka set about engaging them vigorously and constantly without a day’s break.
He had a tough task before him because Sri Lanka was not a member of the Council at the time, and therefore, it had no vote to trade it for favors. And, as the Foreign Office in Colombo feared, many of the NAM countries were tied to the Western powers out of  economic and political compulsions. He had to convince these to switch sides.
His approach was novel. He was not one-sided and partisan. He would dialogue will all groups including the Tamil Diaspora and Western diplomats. He would take what is good and reject what is bad in an effort to find areas of agreement while staunchly safeguarding Sri Lanka’s core interests.
Jayatilleka was by no means a tightlipped diplomat who spoke only  what was scripted and worked only behind closed doors. He would accept speaking engagements and speak to the media, answering every point raised by the latter without fail on the Sri Lankan mission’s website which became popular for this very reason.
But he would not meekly submit to formulations routinely mouthed by Western diplomats. When a top EU official claimed to be speaking for the “international community”, Dayan asked her whether she represented the Afro-Asian-Latin American bloc which had a majority in the UNHRC or even the Asian regional powers, India ,Pakistan and China. The official fumbled and finally admitted that she represented only the EU.
And when a powerful Western country demanded that Sri Lanka submit itself to an international inquiry, Jayatilleka sportingly accepted the demand, but on the condition that, for fairness sake, the Western powers also accept a similar inquiry on their depredations in various conflict zones in the world. Great Britain should account for the Blood  Sunday in Londonderry in 1972 and  France for what it did in Indo-China and Algeria, he said.
According to the author of the book, Jayatilleka succeeded because his approach was not emotional or crassly political but “intellectual”. He sought support on universal principles such  as equity, transparency, democracy and practicality. He argued forcefully that a legitimate democratic state could not be equated with a terrorist group infamous for its brutality and lack of concern for civilian lives.
His wide knowledge of current and past conflicts across the world, enabled him to explain the intricacies of Sri Lanka’s case and seek a tailor-made solution , not one which is based on the theory that one size will fit all.
He argued forcefully on the need to respect the sovereignty of nations quoting internationally known authorities on the dangers inherent in  foreign interventions under the Right  to Protect (R2P) principle.
Jayatilleka quoted Michael Savage to say that international laws are ethereal and divine but have no institutional existence (except in the case of treaties). Therefore, they cannot fill the void created when  sovereignties are vacated in favor international norms. Chaos invariably ensues R2P. Savage also says that when it comes to the brass stacks, “international law is just a reflection of power.”
Jayatilleka’s elucidations secured the willing support and active cooperation of newly emerging countries and even powerful countries in the region like India, Pakistan and China. India supported Sri Lanka despite pressure from the politically influential Tamil Nadu lobby.
India and Pakistan, at daggers drawn over Kashmir and other issues, were united not only in supporting Sri Lanka on the resolution, but helped it draft the resolution in the interest of equity and national sovereignty.
Jayatilleka was able to kindle in the NAM countries an interest in  the preservation of national sovereignty as it enables them to be stable. Internal stability is key not only for the maintenance of law and order but for the success of social, political and economic development schemes. Unprincipled outside interference could be counterproductive.
He stressed the fundamental necessity of maintaining and ensuring national sovereignty by quoting Indian Prime Minister Dr.Manmohan Singh’s speech at the UN General Assembly in 2011.
Singh said:  “The observance of the Rule of Law is as important in international affairs as it is within countries. Societies cannot be reordered from outside using military force. People in all countries have the right to choose their own destiny and decide their future. ”
(The featured picture at the top shows Dayan Jayatilleka with Sanja de Silva Jayatilleka)              

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