The Lalith Weeratunga Presentation

Image courtesy ITU video

Though I cannot say the same of his companions on the voyage, my friend Lalith Weeratunga embodies a rare combination of intelligence, ability, affability and civility. He made a valuable presentation of the government’s case, in Geneva and the USA. Mr Weeratunga has made some very valid points on the dangers of an international accountability mechanism. The problem is that the case itself is inadequate to deter, defer or rally the support needed to stop precisely such a dangerous move being made in Geneva.

Mr Weeratunga’s crisply professional presentation loses efficacy because it does not reflect, and is not embedded in, the right strategy. Indeed it reflects a major strategic error. That error, if persisted in, will render the sovereignty and security of the Sri Lankan state vulnerable in the overall strategic environment.

None of that which I am about to argue is either a secret from the government and state nor does it date back to the end of my diplomatic stint in France. The points that follow were presented as an extended intervention at a working dinner hosted by the Minister of External affairs, chaired by President Rajapaksa, and in the presence of a total of 15 persons including Mr Weeratunga, a handful of ministers (including a member of the ruling troika), Sri Lankan ambassadors posted to frontline countries, senior officials (including the newly appointed Secretary to the MEA, at the time my successor in Geneva) and the Monitoring MP of the MEA. This ‘policy roundtable’ style evening was as far back as late April 2011, when we convened to assess the so-called Darusman Report and implications for Sri Lanka. I was then Sri Lanka’s Ambassador to France.

At this dialogic session which had elements of a policy debate, I made the following points:

  • Sri Lanka must identify the main threat — that of an international accountability hearing—and the quarter from which it comes—the West.
  • It must then seek to make trade-offs on secondary issues to ward off that main threat
  • To this end, it must use broad coalitions and a classic ‘balance of power’ strategy to defeat, deflect or contain that main threat and the zone it emanates from.
  • I argued that for all practical purposes the world is divisible into three strategic zones on the issue of Sri Lanka.  I likened these to three baskets. These are:
  1.  the US-UK led West which wants accountability and democratisation.
  2. India, most of the BRICS and much of the Nonaligned (because of the Indian factor) which wants the implementation of the 13th amendment.
  3. the Far East ( mainly ASEAN) and some parts of the global South which want an integrated, multiethnic, meritocratic, non-discriminatory Sri Lanka — a return to the rather more level playing field that prevailed in Ceylon modified by that which I dubbed ‘Soulbury Plus’.
  • I said that we must decide which of these three baskets we shall fill and with which ‘bowls’ of policy reforms as it were. We can either fill the
  1. Western basket with the bowls of accountability and democratization
  2. The India/BRICS/NAM/G77 basket with devolution up to and including the 13th amendment, or
  3. The East Asian basket with strong anti-discrimination legislation and a Singaporean type high profile integration of the Tamil community in the ruling elite.
  • I cautioned against the assumption that Sri Lanka could ward off accountability while not really conceding anything significant to anyone on any issue. That would be a grave strategic mistake and prove untenable, I stressed.
  • I suggested that we should trade-off to some degree, democratization for accountability with the West, but that the main trade-off should be devolution for accountability. This would enable us to leverage the East against the West, the South against the North. Without adequate devolution this could not be done, because India cannot be kept on board, and without India our coalition of the BRICS and the NAM cannot be sustained and is doomed to shrink.
  • I also made the case that the UN PoE (‘Darusman’) report should be responded to formally and frontally.  I went onto make that case on TV as a search of YouTube (‘Dayan Jayatilleka on UN Panel Report’, uploaded on May 2, 2011) would show.

After a productive to-and-fro, the President made exactly the right decision. He instructed the Minister of External Affairs and the team that was negotiating with the TNA to take the 13th amendment as the basis and to discuss trade-offs through the fair reallocation of the powers contained in the Concurrent list. He followed it up with instructing his officials to invite the TNA leader and the India High Commissioner for breakfast with him.

I left for Paris with the comforting illusion that something of a breakthrough had been achieved. I had underestimated the new balance of forces in decision making circles in Sri Lanka.

A few weeks later I read while in Paris, the ghastly account of how the junior most member of the Government’s negotiating team and the one who had absolutely no experience in handling the ethnic issue, Mr. Sajin Vass Gunewardene, had insolently provoked the senior most TNA politician Mr Sampanthan, and then planted a story in a newspaper to the effect that ‘the TNA was demanding the same things that the Tigers had wanted’. The talks broke down.

The Government shifted to the new position that negotiations would henceforth have to be through a Parliamentary Select Committee, and not take the form of a dialogue. To date the process of seeking a comprehensive political reconciliation through dialogue with the leaders of the TNA and now the Northern Provincial Council has not resumed.

Thus ended the three dimensional strategy of trading devolution for accountability, keeping India on side, and leveraging the East against the West and the South against the North— in short, the winning strategy of Geneva May 2009.

This then is the problem I see with Mr Lalith Weeratunga’s presentation: the large lacuna in the otherwise lucid rendition. It doesn’t concede anything tangible to anyone on any front.

The only real achievement of the past five years — and it is a historic achievement—is the holding of the Northern province election but that can be spun by Sri Lanka’s critics and opponents as too little, too late. It should either have been held earlier (as I had argued at the cost of my job) or followed up swiftly with a structured dialogue mechanism and a reasonable time table on the implementation of the 13th amendment, which could have got India back on board and therefore also many of those who voted for us in 2009 but against us in 2012 and 2013.

Mr Weeratunga’s presentation does not contain any of the following points which could rally the requisite support to deflect the threat of an international accountability mechanism:

  1. A credible local investigation by distinguished Sri Lankan personalities of high international repute.
  2. A compressed time frame for the full implementation of the 13th amendment.
  3. The speedy arrest and prosecution of those identifiable through video evidence of attacking places of religious worship.
  4. A strong anti-discrimination legislation and a powerful watchdog body with teeth.
  5. A UNESCO supervised revision of school text books by a panel of internationally renowned Sri Lankan scholars (such as Prof Sudharshan Seneviratne) so as to minimize prejudice against communities and ‘build the defences of peace in the minds of men’.
  6. The reconstitution of the Ministry of Human Rights and the Peace Secretariat (SCOPP) as well as the appointment of a highly respected National Ombudsman for Human Rights who would report to parliament and a more autonomous and credible National Commission of Human Rights.
  7. The restoration of the independent commissions proposed by the 17th amendment, albeit with no prejudice to the 18th amendment and the removal of presidential term limits.
  8. The bridging legislation needed domestically to fully incorporate the ICCPR.

Thus there are no serious, verifiable structural reforms on offer which can be counter-posed to the dangerously de-stabilising call for an international accountability mechanism and intrusive (even invasive) process.

Mr Weeratunga’s ably presented report does not avoid the strategic triple error I warned against in April 2011:

  1. That we can defend Sri Lanka’s sovereignty without balancing off a coalition of states against the Diaspora driven West;
  2. That we can cobble together a coalition that can defeat or deter the West without India as the cornerstone of that coalition;
  3. That India can be retained or won back without addressing the Tamil Question through devolution.

In other words, the grave strategic delusion that Sri Lanka can ward off or ignore the accountability threat without conceding anything to anybody on any front.

What passes for strategy is the upper reaches of the Sri Lankan state these days is the double Israeli delusion. The decision makers think that the Israelis can and will defuse the US campaign on Sri Lanka. They also assume that Sri Lanka can behave as obdurately as Israel and that China’s commitment to Colombo is the equivalent of Washington’s to Tel Aviv.

These assumptions are nonsensical. Firstly Israel’s interest is in allowing the attention to be focused on Sri Lanka as a diversion from the human rights and humanitarian law campaign against its practices. Israel has no interest in reducing the attention being paid to Sri Lanka in global civil society and by the UN. Sri Lanka is the perfect red herring. Secondly, Israel does not control US policy making, not even in the Middle East, as it learned when the US ignored Netanyahu and entered the diplomatic track with Iran on the issue of nuclear power. Certainly in Asia, the role of India is far more influential in US thinking than that of Israel. Therefore it takes a particularly low brow intellect to think that Sri Lanka’s road to Washington DC lies via Tel Aviv rather than New Delhi.  Thirdly, China’s support to Sri Lanka is nothing like, and cannot be anything like, the US security guarantee for Israel. Fourthly, Sri Lanka’s strategic strength in its neighbourhood is vastly inferior to that of its neighbour, unlike Israel which militarily dominates its neighbourhood.

My friend Mr Weeratunga is an intelligent man. But he doesn’t make the decisions. He should have stopped off for a chat in the neighbourhood before he proceeded to Geneva, Washington and New York.

  • puniselva

    Dayan,
    You mentioned eight good points as structural reforms. but when you say ”which can be counter-posed to the dangerously de-stabilising call for an international accountability mechanism” the goodness is lost.
    Shouldn’t you have said: as due justice to the ethnic minorities to counter international accountability mechanism?
    The last five years (in addition to the previous six decades) have been ”dangerously destabilising” for the ethnic minorities.

  • puniselva

    Successive Sri Lankan governments have been willing to pay PR firms but have been refusing to let Tamils develop economically – PTF for Northern Development is still not handed over to the elected NPC though Basil rajapakse promised that in the election campaign. There isn’t a single Tamil in the 19-member PTF which has representatives from all the armed forces!!!

  • Dev

    The restoration of the independent commissions proposed by the 17thamendment, albeit with no prejudice to the 18th amendment and the removal of presidential term limits.
    I think this statement tells tells all about your desires to curry flavour with the president. You as always seem to protect the president in all your writings from any criticisms forgetting that he is the all powerful executive president. !! Sajin is where he is not due to any inherent learning or talent but due to the president. The same applies to Duminda and Mervyn ! Please stop selling yourself like this to curry flavor with the king !

  • mybuster

    Dayan,
    In this analysis you have not at all explained that whether doing any of the three things you suggested neutralize the Diaspora which is the most vocal, most financially well placed, and most politically (at international arena) linked and the insatiable force that driving for international investigation for accountability issues. Trying to do things to appease the diaspora is more or less like appeasing the LTTE. They simply will not stop – in the case of LTTE till they carve out a separate state; – in the case of diaspora till they hang who defeated the LTTE. My fear is that regardless of what is happening to promote reconciliation or regardless of the speedy measure to make ordinary Tamils’ life better at the ground level in Sri Lanka (many such is happening according to some foreigners see here: (http://www.parl.gc.ca/HousePublications/Publication.aspx?DocId=6373664&Language=E&Mode=1&Parl=41&Ses=2#T1320), Diaspora will continue to engage in this sinister demand. Your analyses squarely fail to demonstrate how this MOST relevant force in this development will be neutralized or bring into the political strategies you have suggested. I don’t think that Diaspora’s egoistic demand for pound of flesh will be contained by whatever the accomplishments that the government achieve in this reconciliation process.

  • Keynes!

    Dayan,

    What would your analysis throw out when we factor the Muslims into the equation?

    The Muslims hold sway in the Eastern Province. With this in mind, would India seriously be interested in implementing the 13th Amendment?

    Muslim nationalism in South Asia is a given. Hindu India has Pakistan to its right, Bangladesh to its left and the Maldives right under. As for matters inside its own house, the Muslim school of Indian nationalism has failed to attract the Muslim masses, except perhaps in Bollywood.

  • Jayalath

    It seems the pressure is mounting as the days are closing by to the dead line for march hearings in Geneva . I can see by such a move only could further widening gap between the communities . and the consequences will have to share by all in the future , which is inevitable . The ordinary Sri Lankan are exhausted and traumatise with unending complexities of the ethnically divisions .which only can affect to the growing economy and reconciliation for a society fell apart . I cannot see in there any benefit or profit has been gained by any one or the society in general , therefore , supporting or intention of supporting to any level by us to this Geneva panel as Sri Lankan could be harmful in long term .i personally believe we must not get trap into the pit fall which has been laid by the international criminal gang .who must be responsible for millions of innocent lives around the world for centuries .

    Likewise, we must remember the important thing behind the screen . in reality , it is not the case violation of human right in Sri Lanka , if it is not true we must request them to show us the accountability for murders done to us through out the colonial history . Those who called the international criminals , including USA and UK lead to use human right accountability to teach a lesson to Rajapaksa personally and simply mess the country . This is very important to realise by us prior to deal with any one with any circumstance.
    It is quite clear now international crooks are intending to flex their muscles . And those
    Internal and external crooks will never sleep well being thinking at least one country in the world is stable and steady now . Because it is against their conscience and principles , they can exploit when there are problems and messes in the country . Honestly , it is their way and gate way to new colonies .

    Thus. Do not ever think that international crooks will shed tears for poor Tamils living in North Sri Lanka , not at all , they are shedding crocodile tears . Their ambitions are far more vicious than we think . Unfortunate of us , our politicians were far too parting to celebrate the victory without knowing that London and Washington is preparing our fate . Because Our politicians probably think the length of voice is correspond the size of intellect . That is why we failed to assess imminent chaos . But I remember that Rajive Wijesingha pointed out once In his article in this site about the threats , but I can’t see we learnt much about since then .

    By the way . the International and national crooks are on its way to Geneva soon , which cannot avoid . What we must do is make aware people about the threats and the scale of threats

    How can we identify the real threat ? Were there any inter relation behind their plans and the recent past religious disputes and racial tensions ? Because , this is how they normally operate .firstly set ablaze and secondly deliver the extinguishers . Now you can see they have considered what happened since post war in the areas of religious and racial , where they can assert the rest of their bunch of cronies pointing out them as real grounds . Because , They are consistently seeking the grounds firstly before landing unless they create them to acquire the supports of rest to make it real . The Iraq is nearest example , mass destruction weapons that is the element , just see what has happened to them . More than 50 people die in Iraq daily by violent , who created it ? Now Libya , I know Gaddafi wasn’t a good man but now the situation is worst than then . And again Egypt today . Who supplied weapons to Syrians civilians ? The west !! But they did not want the boot on ground as growing pressure from from home over learning from Afganistan .if you have a little knowledge , just think of , How come on earth any one provides the lethal weapons to a civil society of another country in purpose of supporting to expel the leader of that country .which is illegal ,and unconventional , but they are not valid to the west and USA , when they are involved, there are terrorism , when we involve ,it is violation of human rights . This is an unfortunate juncture of modern human history which run by westerners since lost the colonies in purpose of actively regulating the world and not in purpose of humanity or human right .I have been consistently challenging with my conscience where I learnt this , we are far better humans than westerners those who we believed better .