The UN and so-called Sri Lanka Core Group, in consultation with the Tamil National Alliance (TNA), one-time the LTTE’s sidekick worked overtime to harass Sri Lanka at Geneva. Successive governments, including the SLPP conveniently failed so far at least to officially inform the unbreakable relationship between the LTTE and the TNA until the very end.
by Shamindra Ferdinando
A reference was made as regards the role played by Japanese Special Envoy Yasushi Akashi in the Norway-led peace process during Ranil Wickremesinghe’s premiership (2001-2003) when Japanese Ambassador in Colombo Akira Sugiyama paid a courtesy call on Foreign Minister Prof. G.L. Peiris on August 20.
Having won the Dec 2001 violence- marred parliamentary election, UNP leader Wickremesinghe swiftly signed the one-sided Ceasefire Agreement (CFA) with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in Feb 2002, obviously prepared by the Norwegians. Even the country’s Commander-in-Chief the then President Chandrika Kumaratunga was unaware of any of the CFA terms till it was signed. The UNP leader was in such a hurry he didn’t even bother to properly consult the military before the finalisation of the CFA. Wickremesinghe and the late Velupillai Prabhakaran signed the CFA, separately.
Don’t forget the UNPer finalised the so-called peace initiative, launched by Norway, in consultation with the then President Chandrika Kumaratunga. The late Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar, too, had been involved in that initiative.
What really matters is why former Co-Chairs, having pathetically failed in their high profile project, are now pursuing an agenda targeting Sri Lanka at the Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC). What did Sri Lanka do wrong to end up at the UNHRC agenda? Didn’t the US declare UNHRC a cesspit of political bias in June 2018? The then US Ambassador there Nikki Haley declared: “For too long the Human Rights Council has been a protector of human rights abuses and a cesspool of political bias.” By whatever standards, the US is one of the worst serious human rights violators with a murderous record both in and outside the US.
Prof. Peiris, who had served as the Foreign Minister during President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s second term (2010-2015) received the foreign affairs portfolio again during the recent Cabinet reshuffle.
Prof. Peiris succeeded Rohitha Bogollagama, who switched allegiance to Kumaratunga in Nov 2004, having entered Parliament on the UNP ticket. Bogollagama, who successfully handled foreign affairs during Eelam War IV, failed to retain his seat at the 2010 general election from the Colombo District with some of the other UPFA candidates openly ganging up against him on election platforms. He contested Colombo as SLFP Organiser for Kotte, having first entered Parliament in 2000, 2001 (general election due to dissolution caused by a dozen PA MPs switching sides) and finally 2004 from Kurunegala on the UNP ticket. ‘The day Mangala issued a warning to P’karan’ in last Wednesday’s online edition of The Island dealt with how Bogollagama received the foreign affairs portfolio in Feb 2007 in the wake of the unceremonious removal of the late Samaraweera over differences with the Rajapaksas. They differed sharply on the conduct of the military strategy though that was certainly not the only contentious issue. Prof. Peiris was also in the same Cabinet.
Prof. Peiris back at FM
President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has now brought back the one time top law academic to the Foreign Ministry at the expense of Dinesh Gunawardena, who received the Education Portfolio amidst the simmering controversy over teachers’ salary issue. Switching of portfolios took place on Aug. 16 at the Presidential Secretariat. The President’s Media Division (PMD) refrained from releasing pictures of ministers taking oaths before the President. There hadn’t been a previous instance of the PMD not releasing pictures/video footage.
A Foreign Ministry statement quoted Prof. Peiris as having told Ambassador Sugiyama of what he called valuable contribution made by Akashi, now 90, in the peace negotiations and reference was also made to the Japanese role in the post-war reconciliation process and human rights issues. Foreign Secretary Admiral Prof. Jayanath Colombage was also associated with Foreign Minister Peiris at the meeting.
It is a supreme irony that the US that dropped the world’s first two atomic bombs on two highly populated cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki to force Japan to surrender when it was already virtually on its knees unable to stop the carpet bombing by the US Air Force of the country is now an ally of Washington ready to support whatever the Americans would bid it to do.
Having finished off the LTTE in May 2009, Sri Lanka has been struggling to explain the conduct of its armed forces for having crushed ‘the most ruthless terrorist organisation’ (termed by the American Federal Bureau of Investigation) in conventional battles against the wishes of the self-appointed international community that has committed far worse crimes in an array of countries.
It would be pertinent to mention that during the Wickremesinghe premiership Prof. Peiris served as Sri Lanka’s top negotiator in the Norway-facilitated talks with the LTTE. Japan enjoyed a special status in the Oslo-led peace process that collapsed in April 2003 in the wake of the LTTE quitting the negotiating table. After the assassination of Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar in August 2005 and the abortive bid to assassinate the then Army Commander Gen. Sarath Fonseka in late April 2006, fighting erupted in the North and East in August. Had the LTTE succeeded in eliminating the then Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa in Dec 2006, the war could have taken a different turn.
Sri Lanka brought the war to a successful conclusion in May 2009. But over a decade after the eradication of terrorism, Sri Lanka remains on politically motivated Geneva agenda with the issue coming up again later this month.
The UNHRC in March this year adopted a new resolution on Sri Lanka. The Resolution 46/1, adopted on March 23, 2021, paved the way for a powerful new accountability process to collect, analyze, and preserve evidence of international crimes committed in Sri Lanka for use in future prosecutions.The so-called Core Group comprising the United Kingdom, Canada, Germany, Malawi, Montenegro, and North Macedonia that submitted the resolution received the backing of an overwhelming majority of the 47-member UNHRC. Altogether 22 Human Rights Council members voted for the resolution at the behest of the powerful US/UK, while 11 voted against, and 14 abstained. In spite of the longstanding close relationship between Japan and Sri Lanka, the former abstained. Japan had no alternative but to conveniently abstain as it couldn’t decide on its own on the politically sensitive matter. Japan followed the US vis-a-vis Sri Lanka at the UNHRC though the solitary Super Power quit the organisation. South Korea went a step further by voting for the resolution as Seoul couldn’t ignore US dictate.
Sri Lanka should realise the Comprehensive Partnership the two countries entered into in Oct 2015 (PM Shinzo Abe and Ranil Wickremesinghe signed the agreement in Tokyo) less than a week after the yahapalana administration betrayed the military in Geneva on Oct 1, 2015 didn’t matter as Quad member Japan is politically, economically and security-wise bonded with the US. Remember, how Abe reflected on U.S. President Barack Obama’s visit in 2016 to Hiroshima. The Japanese leader asserted: “The two enemies that fought immensely 71 years ago are now bonded by the heart.”
The ongoing confrontation between China and Quad comprising the US, Japan, India and Australia has brought Sri Lanka under further pressure due to the US-led alliance taking an extremely hostile stand as regards China-Sri Lanka relationship.
Prof. Peiris and Basil Rajapaksa, who received the Finance Portfolio a couple of weeks before the mini-Cabinet reshuffle met Colombo-based envoys representing major powers. Sri Lanka, now embroiled in a severe balance of payments crisis, needs the backing of the international community and the understanding of international lending agencies, particularly the IMF. The current crisis should be examined, sensibly, against the backdrop of the economic turmoil caused by the raging Covid-19 epidemic as it caused the total collapse of the vibrant tourism industry and nose dived remittances from our expatriate workers, both of which raked in billions of dollars annually to the country. However, the SLPP government and the Opposition shouldn’t forget the country could have faced the global pandemic much better if not for the ruination of the economy caused by unbridled waste, corruption, irregularities and negligence since independence by all counts. Those who represent the SLPP and the SJB in the current parliament cannot absolve themselves of the responsibility for the present state of the national economy. Energy Minister and attorney-at-law Udaya Gammanpila should be commended for publicly warning the government of dire consequences unless remedial measures were taken. The warning was given on June 13 in the wake of SLPP demanding Gammanpila’s resignation over the sharp increase in fuel prices announced on June 11. In spite of SLPP’s vow to bring down the price of fuel once Basil Rajapaksa received the finance portfolio the ruling party quietly suppressed the issue.
Foreign Ministry faces a daunting task in countering external challenges. Before dealing with current challenges let me mention career diplomat Chanaka Thalpahewa’s response to ‘India’s Vietnam moment, US pullout and Afghan dilemma with strapline UNP’s call to terminate diplomatic relations with Taliban questionable’ carried in August 25, 2021 online edition. Thalpahewa, who recently returned to the Foreign Ministry having served UN Habitat as head of the agency for Sri Lanka and the Maldives emphasized the pivotal importance of keeping in mind the origins of terrorism here. “There cannot be an ambiguity as regards the origins of Tamil terrorism here,” the author of Ashgate publication ‘Peaceful Intervention in Intra-State Conflicts: Norwegian Involvement in the Sri Lanka Peace Process’ Thalpahewa said. Having headed the Sri Lankan mission in London at the time of President Sirisena’s visit in early 2015 pointed out the declaration made by retired Vice Admiral G.M. Hiranandani regarding the Indian role in terrorism in Sri Lanka. VA Hiranandani authored a trilogy on the official history of the Indian Navy namely: Transition to Triumph (covering the period 1965 to 1975), Transition to Eminence (1976 to 1990), and Transition to Guardianship that covered the last decade of the twentieth century. The book that dealt with the 1976 to 1990 period confirmed the establishment of terrorist training camps in South India in 1981, two years before the first major LTTE attack on the Army in the Jaffna peninsula. The outspoken Foreign Service officer agreed with the writer’s assertion that India created an environment conducive for direct intervention here. Thalpahewa’s well researched book is a must read for those interested in knowing the truth as Sri Lanka is yet to set the record straight.
Today nuclear power India is part of the overall US strategy and like Japan is ready to counter the growing Chinese influence in the region. Here too it is an irony that the West that more or less treated India like a leper not too long ago and even attempted to break it up by lighting separatist fires across the great ancient country, from the 70’s now has become a lap dog of the US instead of holding her head high as the world’s second largest economic power before long, while Washington is self-relegating herself as a has been due to her profligacy and sheer arrogance.
Sri Lanka has been caught up in the battle between the US-led Quad and China for superiority and certainly a victim of circumstances due to its strategic positioning. The bone of contention is the increasing Chinese presence in Sri Lanka with Colombo International Container Terminals Ltd., (CICT), joint venture between China Merchants Port Holdings Company Limited and the Sri Lanka Ports Authority (SLPA), 99-year lease on the Hambantota port and the Colombo Port City being strategic investments.
Challenges faced by GR administration
Having succeeded Dinesh Gunawardena on Aug 16, Prof. Peiris received top envoys of India (skipped UK sponsored Geneva vote on Sri Lanka accountability resolution), China (voted against), US, EU, Russia (voted against), Japan (skipped), Pakistan (voted against), South Korea (voted for), Kuwait, Germany (voted for), the Netherlands (voted for), Australia, Turkey, Qatar, Norway, Vatican, Libya, UN and Italy (voted for). Unfortunately, Sri Lanka never managed to set the record straight as regards the accountability issue. Successive governments since the successful conclusion of the war in May 2009 squandered opportunities to vigorously present our case. The SLPP, too, has so far failed pathetically.
In the absence of a cohesive effort on Sri Lanka’s part, India stepped up pressure on Sri Lanka at the UNHRC with a strong reference to 13th Amendment to the Constitution forced down our throat during the Indian Army deployment in Sri Lanka’s Northern and Eastern province following the infamous ‘parippu drop’.
The UN and so-called Sri Lanka Core Group, in consultation with the Tamil National Alliance (TNA), one-time the LTTE’s sidekick worked overtime to harass Sri Lanka at Geneva. Successive governments, including the SLPP conveniently failed so far at least to officially inform the unbreakable relationship between the LTTE and the TNA until the very end. The TNA, having backed war-winning Army Commander Gen. Sarath Fonseka at the 2010 presidential election continues a despicable accountability agenda at the UNHRC. Of the five Sri Lanka Co-Group, three, namely the UK, Germany and Canada are major powers. The UK and Germany voted for the anti-Sri Lanka resolution whereas Canada backed it. Core Group bared its intentions when it raised the arrest of 2019 Easter Sunday carnage suspect Attorney-at-Law Hejaaz Hizbullah and retired Director, CID Shani Abeysekera at the UNHRC. The Foreign Ministry must examine the whole picture without being distracted by various events.
The UK is home to an influential segment of the Tamil Diaspora as well as former members of the LTTE, including Adele Balasingham, a high profile terrorist who may have been even aware of the May 1991 assassination of former Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi. Having repeatedly refused to help establish the truth by making available wartime UK diplomatic dispatches fromthe UK HC in Colombo, the UK continues to fool Sri Lanka by maintaining proscription of the LTTE in terms of the UK Terrorism Act No. 7 of 2000. The British action is meant to deceive Sri Lanka. The British ban is nothing but propaganda. Actually, the UK never restricted LTTE activity and throughout the war stood by Prabhakaran’s conventional fighting cadre. Sri Lanka Core Group members, the UK and France (voted for anti-Sri Lanka resolution) with the backing of the UN and the US made a last ditch bid in April 2009 to throw a lifeline to the LTTE. Had they succeeded, the current inoculation drive against the raging Covid-19 epidemic would have to be carried out in consultation with the LTTE. Hope, the people haven’t forgotten how the LTTE and Western powers exploited the post-tsunami situation to set up P-TOMS (Post-Tsunami Operational Management Structure) to share power with the LTTE.
Among the dignitaries, Prof. Peiris recently met included UN Resident Coordinator Hanaa Singer who has been absolutely pursuing a hostile agenda here. Having taken over the mission in Sept 2018, Singer quite clearly played politics here. She revealed her hand clearly on a number of occasions. Singer intervened on behalf of those demanding their right to bury Covid-19 victims. She went to the extent of writing to Premier Mahinda Rajapaksa over the cremation of COVID-19 victims’ bodies. Sri Lanka never properly challenged the UN mechanism used to collect information and the use of unverified data to move the 2015 accountability resolution. This Viceroy type behaviour of the UN big wigs here has been going on for far too long.
It was only the late Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar, who had the guts to tell the UN where to get off when an arrogant Norwegian who was posted here as the Resident Representative at around the beginning of the present millennium unilaterally decided to convert the UN compound in Colombo into a Tamil refugee camp soon after some serious military debacles in the North. It was obviously a premeditated attempt to create a problem situation here without there being any violence against Tamils anywhere in the South!
Those in power should be particularly ashamed for failing to challenge the confidentiality clause inserted by the UN that prevents the examination of UN (judicial or otherwise) data till 2031. We must be the only country prevented from seeing who our accusers are. All those countries voted for the resolution and abstained at the March 2021 session are involved in the plot against Sri Lanka though some did so reluctantly at the behest of the US.
In the wake of Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s triumph at the 2019 presidential election, Switzerland Embassy in Colombo with the support of political elements here staged an abduction of embassy employee Garnier Bannister Francis (formerly Siriyalatha Perera). Their project failed when President Rajapaksa thwarted the Swiss bid to evacuate Francis along with her family. The Swiss also provided political asylum to Inspector Nishantha de Silva of the CID and his family just before the trumped up abduction drama. Perhaps Prof. Peiris should take up these matters with the Swiss Ambassador when the latter pays a courtesy call on him.
Sri Lanka needs to tackle contentious issues. The country whoever is at the helm cannot turn a blind eye to contentious trumped up issues. The continuing failure on the part of the government to address the core issue raised by Lord Naseby pertaining to the veracity of the main allegation that 40,000 Tamils perished on the Vanni east front is quite baffling. Thanks to Lord Naseby’s revelation in Oct 2017 regardless of the continuing humiliation at Geneva, the world knows how the UK suppressed authentic diplomatic cables that cleared Sri Lanka of war crimes. Lord Naseby fought a near three-year legal battle to secure a section of the cables. The UK’s efforts to suppress such information are understandable as whoever in power, voters of Sri Lankan Tamil origin there cannot be antagonized. But Sri Lanka’s failure to present her case properly is much worse. The UPFA/SLPP failure on the human rights front is perhaps far worse than the UNP’s betrayal of armed forces at the UNHRC in 2015.
Sri Lanka’s disgraceful letdown should be examined against the US Defence Advisor Lt. Col. Lawrence Smith’s bombshell revelation in June 2011 that Sri Lanka military didn’t perpetrate war crimes. Perhaps, the Foreign Ministry should revisit the accountability issue again against the backdrop of the NATO pullout from Afghanistan last month that reminded us of Indian withdrawal from Sri Lanka in 1990.