Monday, May 20, 2024

Assessing the Secretary General’s Panel

I have now had an opportunity to read through what is supposed to be the Report of the Panel appointed by the UN Secretary General to advise him on what were termed accountability issues. The report has been leaked by the indefatigable Sanjana Hattotuwa, who does however note that he cannot confirm if this is the actual text. He adds that the UN has regretted the leak.

In responding to the report, I believe there are four areas on which we should concentrate, with dignity but determination. The first is to look at the alleged facts, on the basis of which the Panel has made certain criticisms of our armed forces. The second is to deal with their suggestions as to how the country can ensure reconciliation, with appropriate remedial action. The third is to examine the methodology employed by the Panel. Finally, we should consider, on the evidence of the document, and not simply in terms of prior suspicious, though these may be used to substantiate internal evidence, the motivation behind this report.

To deal with the first question, if this is part of the report, it must be just a small part because, as with previous such attacks on the Sri Lankan government, it consists largely of generalizations and very few facts. The UN however cannot be so irresponsible, and I would certainly have expected more of Mr Darusman, who seemed a polished and decent chap when I met him at a Workshop organized by the Asian Liberals some years back. I suspect then that we will have details of supposed violations by the armed forces.

I do not suppose these will be difficult to deal with, since we have already looked at the basis on which these allegations were made. There are claims that we shelled hospitals, which was a principal component of an earlier report by Human Rights Watch, to which I conclusively gave the lie some time back. There is an assertion that tens of thousands died in the last few months of the conflict, which I have shown is absolute nonsense. There is an accusation that we shelled on a large scale in three No Fire Zones, when I have pointed out that the Head of the UN, who first accused us of this, retracted later the same day and noted that most of the shelling came from the LTTE.

Of course the Panel may bring out instances other than those we have dealt with, but I suspect the mixture will be more of the same. Even more alarmingly, there is a plethora of allegations about the Welfare Centres, whereas we actually did a fantastic job there, despite some incompetence on the part of a few international officials and aid agencies who nearly caused a cholera outbreak because of their total disregard for national standards with regard to the construction of toilets.

With regard to the second point, the Panel has put its cards on the table in making clear its belief that healing can only come through what it characterizes as retributive justice. It also harangues the Government by claiming that it is both triumphalist and exclusionary. This again is nonsensical, given the fervent attempts of government to promote equitable development for all, the rapid strides taken in making inclusive language policies more meaningful (after twenty years in which the provision that made Tamil an official language was largely ignored), the distinction made between satisfaction at having defeated terrorism and determination to make up to the Tamil people for what they have suffered.

As for the third point, it seems to me that the Panel has far exceeded its brief in that we were assured by the Secretary General that it was intended to advise him on Accountability issues, whereas it seems to have seen its role as that of cutting the Sri Lankan government down to size. We knew from the start that there was some uncertainty on the part of members of the Panel, given that they thought it essential to come to Sri Lanka, whereas the Secretary General accepted that this was not essential. We also have to remember that many of those who pushed for such a panel were anxious to try us for War Crimes, and indeed individuals who sought appointment to the Panel they anticipated made it clear that this is what they thought they would be doing. I have no evidence that the three members who were finally appointed had this view, but given their connections with what one might call the Human Rights establishment, it is possible they were led astray.

Connected with this is their total disregard for the Aristotelian principle of treating the same things in a different fashion being one of the principal causes of injustice. It is astonishing that a South African and an Indonesian cry out for retributive justice, given what happened in their own countries, and how much swifter the process of reconciliation has been when there were no calls for the blood of those who had been oppressive and then had to give up power to more enlightened dispensations. Of course in Sri Lanka it was the government which won out in the end, against a singularly brutal enemy, but it seems that this difference has contributed to an anxiety to do us down.

Even more astonishing is the sanctimoniousness of an American, who seems ignorant of the systemic abuse of Rights his government has engaged in, during what it terms its ongoing War on Terror. We make no criticism of this ourselves, because we realize how terrified and vulnerable America felt after the September 2011 attacks. Others may claim that those attacks have been used to justify appalling excesses, but it is not surprising that the UN cannot look into such matters.

At the same time we recognize that what might be termed the Democratic establishment did have genuine qualms about what was going on. Unfortunately, having come to power themselves, they cannot really take remedial action in areas where American interests run deep. I am reminded then of what a Republican said to me, that we needed to be careful, since what he described as the bleeding hearts would therefore concentrate their fire on countries like Sri Lanka – though he did add that, if we could keep the Americans happy, the actual decision makers could tell them to turn their fire on Djibouti.

This connects with perhaps the most worrying element in the whole exercise, the motivation behind the attacks. The repeated regrets about the defeat in 2009 of the Resolution brought by several European countries before the Human Rights Council make it clear that that rankles. It is not obviously the role of a small country to see off an attack by such powerful entities. When the report goes on to recommend strong Civil Society participation in looking at our recent history, we can see where the Panelists are coming from, given also what we now know about the selective manner in which the more forceful elements of such Civil Society are funded.

In short, we can see here again an effort to ensure continuing domination of a sovereign state, an exercise that the Jayewardene/Wickremesinghe tradition in the UNP has made seem the natural fate of Sri Lanka. We need to resist this firmly, but at the same time we need to learn from our mistakes that have once again laid us open to such an attempt. We need to move swiftly on reforms that will strengthen the rights, the potentialities and the opportunities available of all our people. We need to respond swiftly and forcefully to all allegations, instead of letting these lie unanswered until they are then accepted as gospel. We need to develop a solid constructive foreign policy, and make sure that we pursue it with intelligence and consistency, with proper training for all personnel serving abroad as well as those interacting with the international community in Sri Lanka.

I should note that I have been immensely heartened by the little I have noticed of our current Foreign Secretary in action. I am happy that we are proceeding apace now with the Human Rights Action Plan that we pledged three years ago, and I hope that we can move soon too on the Bill of Rights that the President pledged in his first election manifesto way back in 2005. We need to concentrate more on Human Resources in the North and East, as well as for youngsters in deprived areas. And we need greater understanding of the way the world works, instead of obsequiousness to the rich and powerful at times, combined with excessive reactions when we, suddenly as it seems, realize that they are interested neither in us nor in morality, but only in their own interests. We do not need to get angry with them about that, such behavior is natural, and has been the stuff of international relations for years – but we need to know, and learn from them, the importance of packaging. This should not be difficult, given that in comparison with anyone else who has dealt with terrorism, we have a good story to tell – but we should tell it, not wait to be threatened by default.

Sunday Observer 17 April 2011


Following the publication of the above in the Sunday Observer, Sanjana Hattotuwa pointed out that excerpts of the report were published in the Island newspapers, and a clarification will be sent to the newspaper to be used next week, after the following letter was sent to him –

Dear Sanjana

Thanks, I am so sorry to have upset you. The word ‘leaks’ may be misleading, but I think anyone reading the article would realize that you were not being held responsible for the report getting into the public domain. If you feel this needs to be made crystal clear, I will be happy to do so, though the Observer being a weekly, their carrying this may not serve your purpose. You are however welcome to publish this in Groundviews since I certainly did not intend to denigrate you.  On the contrary, I was hoping you would appreciate the use of the word ‘indefatigable’.

I read the text however in an email that you had circulated, with the disclaimer that is noted. I had asked the ‘Observer’ whether they had the text, but they did not, so I was delighted when I was sent your email, which allowed me to make an initial response promptly. I did not get the ‘Island’ yesterday, though subsequently I saw Shamindra Fernando’s article. That certainly does not convey the full thrust of the leaked text to which I responded, as your email did.

Let me know if you want the above conveyed to the Observer with a particular request that they carry it as soon as possible.I will copy this to the editor so that he is also aware – if not so already – thatI do not think you responsible as noted above.

Regards, Rajiva


Though the matter could be serious, it was good to see that Sanjana has not lost his sense of humour, and he noted that he ‘fully appreciated the tag describing me‘.


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