By Armando Perera –
We all know who is Dayan. He is not a capable or competent diplomat. Despite his carefully constructed narratives, ceaseless self-aggrandizing and selective deployment of facts, the truth is that Dayan is not a colossus striding across the world omnisciently analyzing and shaping the ebb and flow of national and world events.
The truth is more prosaic. He is not the far seeing, all knowing strategist he projects himself to be. He’s a crafty, embellishing propagandist and a shortsighted tactician whose short term ‘victories’ pave the way for long-run defeat.
Dayan claims that his diplomatic magnum opus was a resolution passed in the UN Human Rights Council in 2009 which ‘praised’ the Sri Lankan government for their conduct during the war. But if this is his finest hour, then his record is rather underwhelming. For this very resolution was an amateur diplomatic miscalculation that was an important cause in his Rajapaksa masters’ downfall.
Dayan portrays his tenure as Sri Lanka’s Permanent Representative to Geneva as almost a golden era where he, the General in the Geneva battle, led Sri Lanka to victory. His narrative is laid out below:
- The record of the Sri Lankan government during the last days of the war came under severe criticism and a Special Session of the Human Rights Council was convened in 2009. Instigated largely by the Global North, this Special Session was to pass a resolution condemning the Government of Sri Lanka.
- Dayan was able to ‘ambush’ this attempt by forging a grand coalition of states from the Global South. This coalition passed a counter-resolution that praised the government. 29 states, all from the Global South (including India), voted in favour of the resolution. 12 states, ten of who were from the Global North, voted against. Five of the six abstentions were from the Global South – the sixth was Japan.
- Dayan claims that his resolution thwarted international pressure on the Sri Lankan state governed by the Rajapaksa regime and prevented international intervention.
- He also argues that, had he not been removed from Geneva, the resolutions critical of the Sri Lankan state governed by the Rajapaksa regime from 2010 to 2014 would not have come to pass.
What Dayan knows, but doesn’t want you to know, is that his resolution won a battle but ultimately lost the war. His resolution (i) further antagonized the Global North without creating a sustainable grand coalition in the Global South (ii) it opened the door to sustained and systematic international pressure on the Sri Lankan state.
Dayan succeeded in passing the 2009 resolution by creating an ‘us’ vs ‘them’ vote between the Global North and the Global South. It is this divisive tactical move, devoid of strategic foresight that, in the long run, led in to the exacerbation of the previous government’s annual Genevagate debacles. The states of the humiliated Global North, which include diplomatic heavyweights such as the UK and France, not to the mention the US, became even more determined and committed to a resolution critical of the Rajapaksa’s Sri Lanka. This divisive tactic had two major flaws. First, Sri Lanka could not count on the consistent and stable support from the entire Global South; as was seen in later resolutions where many countries, partly as a result of intense, planned and systematic lobbying from the Global North, turned against Rajapaksa’s Sri Lanka. Second, this tactic alienated key economic partners and slowed Sri Lanka’s development. For example, the US and EU alone account for 55 percent of Sri Lanka’s exports and both have been major donors and development partners. Not to mention that the EU is Sri Lanka’s largest single source of tourists, accounting for a third of all tourist arrivals.
Dayan’s approach was an aberration from Sri Lanka’s long running, time-tested strategy in the UN Human Rights Council and its predecessor institutions. The essence of this approach is to avoid confrontation and engage, discuss and persuade all stakeholders to reach a consensus. This strategy worked remarkably well over many years.
- There were no resolutions on Sri Lanka between 1987 and 2009.
- The two resolutions prior on Sri Lanka prior to 2009, in 1984 and 1987, were both consensus resolutions. As a result of quiet engagement these two resolutions were largely declaratory in nature.
- In 2009, it also worked in New York, where Mr. Palihakkara’s deft diplomacy prevented the Security Council taking action on the Sri Lankan government. Instead of ideology-driven, rhetorical flourish ridden, shoe-banging grand-standing, Dayan should have diplomatically engaged with all the relevant stakeholders and ensured that Sri Lanka did not antagonize what is probably the most powerful block in the world.
Dayan cannot use the defence that aggression was the last resort – that he was driven into a corner. Engagement and diplomacy, as opposed to Dayan’s belligerence, had a very high chance of success: the request for a Special Session on Sri Lanka was supported by 17 members of the Council, only one more that the number required to call for a Special Session. Had he succeeded in persuading just one of those countries to opt out of the request, then there would have been no special session on Sri Lanka and no bear-baiting counter-resolution.
But that is not all. Not only, did Dayan bear-bait the entire Global North, he also opened the door to sustained and systematic international intervention into Sri Lanka’s affairs. That is, he gave more than he took, failing the acid test of diplomacy. In order to secure Indian support – and through her the support of many other countries in the Global South – Dayan inserted a formal commitment in the resolution to implement the 13th Amendment. This is the first time Sri Lanka made a commitment to the entire international community to implement the 13th Amendment.
Dayan’s resolution also formalized (in operative paragraph 10) the Joint Statement by the UN Secretary General and the Government of Sri Lanka at the conclusion of the UNSG’s visit to Sri Lanka on 23 May 2009. This statement makes a commitment to the international community at large to establish an accountability mechanism for addressing violations of international humanitarian and human rights law.
“The Secretary-General underlined the importance of an accountability process for addressing violations of international humanitarian and human rights law. The Government will take measures to address those grievances.”
This article merely lays out the broad contours of Dayan’s mistakes in Geneva that set the stage for much more serious resolutions in the years upto 2015. It is upto journalists and researchers to conduct interviews, sift through archives and develop a detailed picture of how Sri Lanka’s public was taken for a ride by this demagogue – and prevent it from happening again.