By Guido Paola Brunetti –
The divisions within the Sri Lankan delegation to the 19th Session of the Human Rights Council in March 2012 reflected at least two different political orientations, which had already become manifest at the 18th Session of the Council in September 2011.
The two principal lines were:
1) Sri Lanka should collaborate with the United Statesand its Western allies. This line was followed primarily by the delegation from the Foreign Ministry and the Head of Delegation, Mahinda Samarasinghe.
At both the 18th and 19th Sessions of the Council in September 2011 and March 2012, respectively, Mahinda Samarasinghe, Kshenuka Senewiratne, Sajin de Vass Gunawardena, and Mohan Peries, had entered into a process of compromise and had been ready to succumb to US pressure to place Sri Lanka on the Councilís agenda.
It should be recalled that in September 2011 Wikileaks had revealed Mahinda Samarasinghe’s hostility to President Mahinda Rajapaksa and his readiness to collaborate with the United States.
The Ambassadors of US, Israel, Canada, and UK had on several occasions alluded to the privileged relations they had had and continued to have with the previous Permanent Representative Kshenuka Senewiratne. Even after Kshenuka’s recall and return to Sri Lanka, the US Ambassador had continued to communicate with her via her private email. Western Ambassadors in conversations with members of the Sri Lankan delegation had let slip that they are in constant telephone and email communication with Kshenuka.
On several occasions, when information was leaked that Sri Lanka was secretly negotiating with the US, the Permanent Representative Tamara Kunanayakam was forced to intervene to keep Sri Lanka’s allies on its side. At the 19th Session, when Sri Lankaís allies began changing their intention to vote following an email from the US Mission claiming that the Sri Lankan delegation in Geneva was collaborating on the draft resolution, Ambassador Tamara Kunanayakam had insisted on the urgent need to issue a public statement denying collaboration, whereas her predecessor Kshenuka Senewiratne argued against it. When Asian allies began receiving instructions from their capitals to abstain, in desperation she had to turn to the President to authorize her to send a public letter to her counterparts in Geneva to make clear that Sri Lanka was not collaborating on the text.
2) Sri Lanka should obtain the support of countries of the Non-Aligned Movement and the like-minded such as Russia and China by mobilizing and uniting them on a common platform. This principled and visionary position is that of President Mahinda Rajapaksa, reflected in his Mahinda Chintana and loyally defended and implemented by his Minister of External Affairs, Prof. G.L. Peries, and Sri Lanka’s Permanent Representative, Tamara Kunanayakam.
This political orientation sought to mobilize and unite Sri Lanka’s natural allies against what they also saw as attempts by the US and its Western allies to instrumentalize and hijack the United Nations in the service of their own hidden agendas, creating a dangerous precedent that by transforming it into a tribunal, would make them future targets. Such an orientation would also enable Sri Lanka to recover the leadership role it had once played as promoter of the Non-Aligned Movement.
It is clear that those attacking the Minister of External Affairs, Prof. G.L. Peries, and the Permanent Representative, Tamara Kunanayakam, were in fact targeting the President.
Brawn not brain in public display
The two distinct political orientations were also reflected in two distinct behaviours. The one identified with power, greed and domination, combined with personal and career ambitions, was represented by Mahinda Samarasinghe, Kshenuka Senewiratne and Sajin de Vass Gunawardena. Bullying, harassment, veiled threats, humiliation and public displays of aggression, including in the famous Serpentine Bar in the presence of other diplomats, NGOs, and separatist diaspora, as well as efforts to take control over the Mission, and divide and rule, became the order of the day. The political orientation identified with principles such as solidarity, complementarity and cooperation, represented by the Foreign Minister, the Permanent Representative and the young and dynamic Second Secretary Natasha Gooneratne, focused on professionalism, intellectual persuasion, and getting the work done.
A battle led by the enemy at the highest level of foreign policy, in this case the US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, requires engagement at an equally high level, including competent diplomats and politicians who are well-equipped in the field of international relations, particularly the United Nations system and international law. Paradoxically, the most competent members of the delegation, including certain capable Ministers were totally isolated and marginalised and brawn not brain was on public display!
It is symbolic that on the day of the vote, it was Mahinda Samarasinghe who sat in front and Professor Peries behind him, and Sri Lanka’s Permanent Representative was nowhere to be seen!
Several Ambassadors had complained that members of the delegation had violated established diplomatic practice short circuiting the Missionand even sending contradictory signals, which were counterproductive.
It has become routine in the Foreign Ministry to treat political appointees with disdain and suspicion, preventing them from fulfilling their responsibilities by denying or withdrawing support, approval and authorization, or even by framing them. This is a subject repeatedly echoed in the media and is aimed at discrediting the President’s representatives and through them the President himself.
An elitist Foreign Ministry bureaucracy
Despite warnings to the Foreign Ministry, there is an extreme negligence of countries of Africa and Latin America. Sri Lanka’s skeletal representation in these two regions do not contribute in times of difficulty to obtain the support that is needed at multilateral fora. Today, Sri Lanka is paying the price of the elitist attitude of the Foreign Ministry bureaucracy that considers it a waste of time to cooperate with poor countries. The argument constantly advanced is that these countries have nothing to offer to Sri Lanka, but go begging when a vote is needed at the United Nations!
Mahinda Samarasinghe’s betrayal?
What is not known to the Sri Lankan public is that India had not only expressed its support to Sri Lanka at a very early stage, but that it had actually been actively soliciting others to also do so. Due to the internal situation, however, the Sri Lankan delegation had been specifically asked not to make this information public. Nevertheless, only minutes after the request was made, Samarasinghe walked out of the room with Blackberry in hand and called his friends in the Sri Lankan media boasting “India is fully backing us”. In hindsight, with the knowledge of the political upheaval that this statement had provoked in India, including suspension of the Indian parliament and threat of collapse of the central Government, we may quite legitimately ask ourselves whether the real intention of Mahinda Samarasinghe was not to achieve precisely that. Was it just an irresponsible statement by an opportunist and ambitious politician seeking personal fame and glory, or was it more than that? Today, we know who profited from the crime: the United States!