The Al Jazeera interview with Mahinda Rajapaksa: Calling the bluff

The President’s recent and wide-ranging interview on Al Jazeera is interesting on a number of counts (download the episode in HD here).

For starters, our President is clearly grossly uninformed or deliberately seeks to misinform. Take for example his assertion, around 8:50 into the interview, that European Union election monitors said the recently held Provincial Council elections in the North were free and fair. However, as far back as July this year, the EU categorically said they would not be sending any election monitors to Sri Lanka. In fact, as the Sunday Times first reported and subsequently re-affirmed, Sri Lanka’s Elections Commissioner himself had taken the position “not to entertain monitors from countries that had voted against Sri Lanka at the March UN Human Rights Council sessions in Geneva”.

It is unclear how the President of Sri Lanka still believes the EU monitored the elections, and moreover suggests to international media that they endorsed the elections as free and fair. It would have been useful to ask the President what he thought of the Commonwealth monitoring team’s observations on the election, and those of India’s representative in the South Asian monitoring body.

Around 18:15 into the interview, and talking about the Weliweriya murders by the Sri Lankan Army, Al Jazeera’s James Bays refers to this trenchant article by Dayan Jayatilleka, Sri Lanka’s former Ambassador/Permanent Representative to the United Nations in Geneva. He was also subsequently Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Sri Lanka to France accredited to Spain and Portugal and Permanent Delegate of Sri Lanka to UNESCO, Paris. The President’s response is revealing – he says that Jayatilleka is now part of “an NGO… a powerful NGO”.

In response to a query by us on this score, Jayatilleka sent Groundviews the following response.

“It is completely without foundation in fact. Doubtless the President has been grossly misinformed. I can state truthfully, categorically and unambiguously that I am not a member of an NGO, local or foreign, large or small. The last time I was a member of an NGO it was 30 years ago when I was a member of a local NGO called MIRJE (the Movement for Inter Racial Justice and Equality), based in Colombo. I would like to know which NGO I am currently supposed to belong to!”

After the Weliweriya violence, MPs in Parliament (notably Ranjan Ramanayake and Anura Dissanayake) openly questioned the actions of the Sri Lankan Army, noting that if this is what they did to unarmed Sinhalese in the South agitating for clean water, what they would have done to Tamil civilians in the North during the war, and in particular, in its final phase. In a similar vein, if this is what the President of Sri Lanka, openly and in public, says of a former high-ranking diplomat, readers can easily imagine the degree of propaganda and violence, with complete impunity, directed towards human rights activists in Sri Lanka who seek to hold the Government accountable for its human rights abuses.

Just before his comments on Jayatilleka, around 18:02 into the interview, the President avers that there are on-going investigations into the violence in Weliweriya. In addition to a Magesterial inquiry, the President notes that “we have also appointed an inquiry team to look into it” and goes on to say that “still I didn’t get the report yet”. It is unclear who the “we” he refers to is, but the submission that he’s not got any report runs counter to the Government’s own propaganda.

On 16th August, the Government owned and controlled Daily News newspaper noted that “a comprehensive report on the Weliweriya incident will be handed over to President Mahinda Rajapaksa today”. Interestingly, the Daily News story was about compensation for journalists intimidated and assaulted by the Sri Lankan Army, which the President failed to mention in the interview. A few days earlier, quoting Army Commander Lieutenant General Daya Ratnayake, news media reported that “the report prepared by the Sri Lanka Army Court of Inquiry (CoI) appointed to investigate the army’s involvement in the Weliweriya shooting incident on August 1 has been handed over to the legal section of the Army” (see also this report).

That Sri Lanka’s Commander-in-Chief is to date unaware of this report is impossible to believe.

Around 12:00 into the interview, the President claims that the Army strength in the North of Sri Lanka is only around 8,000 – 12,000 personnel. The number is incredible firstly because there are no independently and easily verifiable number of troop strength in the North, post-war. In September 2012, India’s The Hindu reported a number as high as 85,000 – 86,000 troops present in the North and East alone. Two months earlier, this article on Groundviews debunked Government claims at the time that this number was around the 15,000 mark.

Around 12:20 the President’s unequivocally notes that the Army has released all private lands, and a few seconds after reiterates this same point. This is a blatant lie.

At around the 12:30 mark, the President responds to a point made James Bays from Navi Pillay’s report, noting the high degree of militarisation in the North of Sri Lanka. Refuting Pillay’s concerns, the President says that she must have been referring to the School Cadet Corps. In fact, in March this year, the Economist reported that Teachers Unions in Sri Lanka said nearly 4,000 headteachers were invited to interviews at the National Cadet Corps, with successful applicants getting 45 days of training and full military titles.

Around 16:30, the President of Sri Lanka dismisses the country’s on-going abductions and disappearances with a truly bizarre story about a 23-year old girl and her boyfriend. He then says the ‘white van’ abductions are mere speculation and propaganda, and avers, with a smile, that blue vans and black vans could be used instead of just white vans. This overt conviviality attempts to mask a truly horrible violence, even post-war, as the BBC’s correspondent Charles Haviland wrote about last year, which simply cannot exist without the complicity of those at the highest levels of government.

Around 19:50 into the interview the President addresses a question over attacks on religious minorities. Not unlike his response to the white van abductions, he responds with a very strange story of a girl who has been raped. The President’s answer suggests this act “naturally” results in attacks against the perpetrators, no matter what their community or religion. This strongly suggests that Sri Lanka is today governed by a tribal justice, and that there is no role or relevance for the Rule of Law or due process. The President’s answers in this segment also demonstrate he is unaware of or seeks to downplay the seriousness of the situation, as brought out by this online poll, incident maps of the violence and these reports.

Finally, and this is peripheral to the more serious concerns over the President’s terminological inexactitudes flagged above, what does he sport in his hand? We haven’t seen him carrying this around in his first term in office, and it’s very possibly something astrologically determined. While there have been some photographs in the past with glimpses of this strange object, the Al Jazeera interview offers us the best look at it to date.

Screen Shot 2013-09-28 at 3.54.54 PM

We just wonder what kind of gilded protection those committed to a more democratic Sri Lanka need to sport.

  • James Chance

    I believe the object MR is holding is a vajra, or thunderbolt, a Buddhist ritual object. See here:

    http://www.buddhanet.net/e-learning/history/bud_vajra.htm

    and here:

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vajra

    Let’s hope he finds the wisdom the the vajra is supposed to bring. Or maybe it’s the rest of Sri Lanka than needs the wisdom to know how to deal with MR and his brothers.

  • Ajith Perakum Jayasinghe

    According to Colombo Telegraph, somewhere in the interview the President says he has the world’s only Trotskeyist. Really funny! Poor Samasamaja and Vitharana!Thanks for the analysis. I don’t have time to listen to lengthy nonsense.

  • Jester

    In response to that final whimsical question: I believe he is holding a “Vajara”, an instrument used in rituals in Tibetan Buddhism. It symbolizes a cosmic force of indestructibility and strength.

    The poor interviewers must have been terrified!

  • Dev

    Gone gone are the days when ministerial secretaries (think of Bradman Weerakoon) and ambassadors were professional. In those days ambassadors and diplomats were all career diplomats but now …..well I think we know the state …all political appointments, so nothing they say or do surprises me ..and it applies to you know who !

    • Steve Grafton

      Politics, n: [Poly “many” + tics “blood-sucking parasites”] ~Larry Hardiman

      Applied equally to both parties and also politically appointed diplomats.

  • Inoka Karu

    So the president days Dayan works for a NGO and Dayan denies it. Whom shall we believe? Its one person against the other but I guess we will believe the president; after all he is the president of the country !

  • J Fernando

    @GV-why does it matter what the president carries in his hand? Some go to churches, others to kovils and others to Temples and some others to Mosques. Some tie bands to their hands, others wear crosses and other symbols, all hoping for a cure/protection.
    While I find the whole interview laughable I don’t see anything wrong with having religious beliefs.

    I wonder which NGO the president is talking about ?
    I guess Geneva 2014 is out for Dayan? If the call does come, will he accept it after this insult on the international stage?

    @Inoka, I loved your quote and how well it applies to politicians of all hues and political scientists as well.

    • Inoka Karu

      I think you meant Steve but I agree, that quote by Steve really captures Dayan (and others)
      Poly + Ticks

  • Sarath Fernando

    I think the Dayan issue is a lot more serious than just finding out or proving who the NGO is.

    What MR said is that Dayan has sold his intellectual/academic skills. He told this to the whole world!

    In one of my previous comments on Dayan, I mentioned that what Dayan did in the past pandering to MR amounted [edited out]. GV felt that was an inappropriate word and chose to mask that word alone, leaving the rest of the comment untouched. I was O.K. with that.

    Well I was O.K. with that until now.

    Al Jazeera asked why Dayan is now pondering “how must that state have treated the Tamils in the closing stages of the war”, given that after all it is Dayan who single handedly convinced the UN and the World in 2009/2010 that the Government did no wrong.

    In response MR said that Dayan has changed his view or assessment to suit his new pay master’s
    will.

    Note that MR is accusing Dayan of selling his academic skills in making a professional assessment to suit his paymaster, rather than providing objective assessments required of an academic, intellect and a political scientist!

    GV – how is that different from what I said? I will refrain from repeating the specific word which GV finds offensive! However, perhaps it is apt to cite Shakespeare’s “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet!”

    Dayan – hope you recognize that it is your academic integrity and independence that is being challenged here; whether MR knows the NGO by name or if he is willing to reveal the name is not the issue.

    • J Fernando

      You make a very valid point Sarath ! Here was Dayan claiming to be ever ready to defend, suffer and die for the country (well if you can call living in Geneva and Paris as suffering LOL) !

      • Sarath Fernando

        Thanks Jude and Dev – I was worried that the more important issue was not
        getting the attention it warranted.

        Also, to extend that thought, since Dayan is denying and challenging MR that his statement is untrue, can Dayan explain why MR may be lying, especially about one of his treasured officials until recently? Is Dayan saying that MR is capable of such lying to protect himself? If so, then, are we to not trust MR’s statements with respect to his other “opposition” – Sarath Fonseka, Shirani Bandaranayake, perhaps NGO’s and other super powers and even Diaspora who are at the receiving end of MR’s accusations rather frequently? Dayan can’t call him a lier and then not explain why he may be doing that. The lame “who is the NGO” query is pointless.

        I am also quite disappointed with the deafening silence from Dayan, rather uncharacteristically after the deluge of such profuse and righteous writing when the going was good!

        • Inoka Karu

          Dayan, who writes copious amounts at the drop of a hat, is indeed very silent !
          Not only Dayan, his two side kicks Rajiva and Tamara seem to have gone silent too.
          Your silence is deafening Dayan !!!!!

    • Dev

      Interesting comment-Thanks.

      Poor Dayan doesn’t seem to be getting a lot of support/sympathy !

  • EMAIL

    This is to our president: GO AHEAD AND DO WHAT YOU ARE DOING, THE WORLD POWERS ARE DEAD SCARED AND JEALOUS OF OUR ACHIEVEMENTS!!! THE SRI LANKAN’S WILL ALWAYS BE WITH YOU!!! NO WORLD POWER CAN CHANGE THAT!!!

    AS FOR “UN” AND NAVI PILAY, THE INSTITUTION IS ALREADY SHATTERED AND WILL FACE THE SAME FATE AS THE “LEAGUE OF NATIONS” VERY SOON.

    • Mala

      Scared and jealous of what? Getting pariah status from the international community, having to explain the deaths of thousands up North, journalists being killed, threatened or kidnapped, nepotism, corruption, and still having to depend on AID, LOANS, and kissing foreign behinds? Stop blaming Pillay and the UN for the crimes committed by those ruling this country, and trying to bluff the world. The regime has brought shame to all of us.

      • EMAIL

        Dear Mala,
        My comment has made you angry! Why?? Is Truth that difficult to digest!!!

  • MirakRajBanda

    What’s the link between the rape of 7 year old girl and the Attack on Minorities? No Mr.
    President, it’s a lie, concoct fabrication to justify your pogrom or silently
    agree those terrorists who want to wipeout any religion other than Buddhism.

  • Chani K

    What MR said is that he has a Trotskyite in his Cabinet, probably the only one in the world.

  • George DC

    Groundviews Staff—–is it possible for you to obtain an answer from “Hon” Dayan Jayathilake about his NGO connections? Sarath raised some valuable questions, his answers would be most welcome.

    • http://www.groundviews.org/ Groundviews

      Dayan Jayatilleka’s response is included in the article above.

  • georgethebushpig

    I’ve watched this interview 3 times now and every time I’m gobsmacked by the audacity of idiocy! I can tolerate my crazy Aunty who, for example, thinks that the BBS is being unfairly vilified, no matter what evidence you put forward, but for a Head of State to have such a blase and contemptuous attitude towards very serious issues of governance is mind boggling!

    It appears as if the President is incapable of distinguishing between a drunken debate among his buddies on who was the best Sri Lankan batsmen ever to grace the pitch, versus discussing issues of state administration, human rights, rule of law, and international relations!

    What hath befallen us? Woe to us, for we must have sinned a great sin in a past life!

    But take heart little one, for as the Right Reverend Bob Marley sayeth:

    “Why boasteth thyself
    Oh, evil men
    Playing smart
    And not being clever?
    I said, you’re working iniquity
    To achieve vanity (if a-so a-so)

    But the goodness of Jah, Jah
    I-dureth for-I-ver

    So if you are the big tree
    We are the small axe
    Ready to cut you down (well sharp)
    To cut you down

    These are the words
    Of my master, keep on tellin’ me
    No weak heart
    Shall prosper
    And whosoever diggeth a pit
    Shall fall in it, fall in it
    And whosoever diggeth a pit
    Shall fall in it (… fall in it)

    If you are the big tree, let me tell you that
    We are the small axe, sharp and ready
    Ready to cut you down (well sharp)
    To cut you down

    http://youtu.be/FNtwVtl5VEw

    • EMAIL

      I am “gobsmacked” by the thought that you had the TIME to watch it 3 times!!

      Why does your email say “pig” at the end???

      • georgethebushpig

        True but comic relief is contagious! And why does your email have il at the end?

  • J Fernando

    Well said and very appropriate since we just had the Lasantha Wickrematunge memorial lecture in which our very own Sanjana Hattotuwa contributed.

  • Thunder

    Before comes to the president that I hope that is worth to have few words about fate of Dayan issue as he has been highly criticised by many commentators . Dr. Dayan is a very good batman , and he would not easily retire from playing . He has many years of experience with playing number of captains in many grounds . He was good in Premadasa ‘s ground and survived years with him ,then he was with Vijaya and chandrikakumaratunga grounds and played a good role in there ,then the right time arrived to be a hero of Rajapaksa regime and batted quite well , the query is where he would be next ?
    To his knoledge that he always clear the gate way to survival , Where he does a good survival job.

    And when come back to main issue of President that we see number repressions conducted by his hench men for years . I would not wonder why it happens today . He is not only president or politician that we face suppression under , since 77 all who came and went in politics in Sri Lanka that misused the power. This is our legacy . Isn’t it . So, when and under who that we will have a relief in the future ? Do we have an understanding about it or do we ready to make it happen or how ? This is the question . It is remained unanswered .didnt we really try every one we thought would be good ?what is next ? And who?

  • http://www.groundviews.org/ Groundviews

    A challenge to the mighty president does not look imminent, though he is on his guard. Mr Rajapaksa is superstitious, even by Sri Lankan standards. Those who have seen him strip off say he wears all sorts of charms about him. He often carries a special gold bolt in his hand. At home, recorded chants play for good luck—geomancers have foretold more difficult years after 2014. The president appears impatient to tighten, indeed prolong, his grip on power.

    Via http://www.economist.com/news/asia/21589495-president-rajapaksa-and-country-under-him-are-rush-centre-wants-hold?fsrc=scn/tw_ec/the_centre_wants_to_hold

  • sam

    Good news is he killed prabakaran…..not any other pundit in SL could do it..thats it!!!!!!!!!!!