Colombo, Peace and Conflict, Politics and Governance, Post-War, War Crimes

The protest by Wimal Weerawansa against the UN in Sri Lanka: Condoned by government?

On 30 June, senior Government Minister Wimal Weerawansa urged the public to surround the UN office in Colombo and hold its staff hostage until moves by the UN to appoint a panel on Sri Lanka is dropped, putting the UN in Sri Lanka on high alert. On the same day, UN spokesman Farhan Haq said that when the UN contacted the Sri Lankan government over this statement, the government assured they were Minister Weerawansa’s “individual opinion”. On 2 July, it was reported that the government may tender an apology to the UN over the Minister’s comments. Any communication to this effect by the government to the UN is, to date, not in the public domain. On 4 July, Minister Weerawansa said he stood by his comment, and clarified that he made it as the National Freedom Front (NFF) leader and not in his capacity as a Government member. He also reiterated his call for the public to surround the building and protest against the UN panel.

On the morning of 6 July, the NFF surrounded the UN compound in Colombo. Later the same day, the Government Information Department noted,

“The Government of Sri Lanka dealt with the protest outside the UN complex in Colombo today, in compliance with both domestic as well as international obligations. At the domestic level, Sri Lanka being a democratic society, the Government had to respect the entitlement to voice opinion, including through peaceful demonstrations. Accordingly, the Police permitted a peaceful gathering in front of the complex.”

Chaotic scenes from the morning of 6 July were captured by Vikalpa and featured on Groundviews. Later in the day, in contradiction to the statement issued by the Government Information Department, news stories noted that Police actually attempted to remove the protestors, including a group that had forced themselves inside the UN premises. However, in a bizarre twist of events, it was ultimately the Police who had to withdraw on instructions from the government. News reports suggest that Minister Weerawansa directly threatened the Inspector General of Police, and in a characteristic display of chutzpah went on to note the following day that a UN representative had bribed the police to assaulted the protestors, injuring some of them.

Related to this, the Lanka Truth website runs a story on an alleged phone call with the President’s brother, the churlish Gotabaya Rajapaksa, in which he directly orders the Police to withdraw from the vicinity of the UN compound. As Lanka Truth notes,

“It has been revealed that the protest which was held in front of UN office complex Colombo was conducted with an overall awareness of the government. This came to the notice after a journalist recorded a threat made to a police officer by the Defense Secretary over the phone. The Defense Secretary reprimanded the police officers for intervening with the protest. Once the police officer replied as the orders were given by the Inspector General, Defence Secretary threatened to dismiss the IGP immediately.”

A recording of this alleged conversation, taken off the Lanka Truth site, can be heard below. The video of this alleged call to Goatabaya Rajapaksa was also captured by Vikalpa, and can be seen here (from around 3:39).

Gotabaya on UN

Although the NFF protest is set to continue, the UN announced on 8 July that the UN Secretary General’s panel would not be disbanded and that its work would continue. The UN itself attempted to suggest that Minister Weerawansa’s protest would be ‘Gandhian’. Tellingly, the soi-disant card-carrying patriots and commentators, columnists, bloggers and other politicians who have vehemently and oftentimes viciously opposed the UN panel in mainstream and online media have yet, to date, thronged to join the NFF protest. Perhaps they too wonder what relation Gandhi’s deep commitment to and belief in non-violent civil disobedience has with Minister Weerawansa’s public statements and the behaviour of the NFF in front of the UN.