26 May, 2022


First Failure In Geneva: Trap, Blunder Or Model?

By Dayan Jayatilleka –

Dr Dayan Jayatilleka

However bad Sri Lanka’s foreign policy is and external relations are, they have yet to hit the nadir that they did under President Jayewardene in the 1980s.

The first ever resolution on the human rights situation in Sri Lanka adopted in Geneva by the Human Rights Commission was in March 1987, while the first decision, which it ‘recalls’ in the resolution, was in March 1984, as was reported in the Lanka Guardian at the time (Vol 9, No 23, April 1 1987, p18). This episode, which in a lead story in the same journal three months later was derided by its Editor as a “roasting”, has recently been disinterred and touted as nothing less than a model of professional diplomacy which should have been looked up to as a lodestar by Sri Lanka’s representatives in Geneva May 2009.

A persistent attempt at a revisionist history of Sri Lanka’s diplomacy posits our performance at the UN Human Rights Commission (the predecessor of the Human Rights Council) in Geneva in the period 1984-1987, as the acme of professionalism. What the record shows is that 1987 is indeed a performance to be remembered, but not exactly as an achievement, still less a model, but rather for the contrary reasons.

A close, ten-point analysis of Geneva March 1987 in the Lanka Guardian of April 1st 1987 (Vol 9, No 23, p.16) was presented in an article billed on the magazine’s cover as ‘Human Rights: Examining the Geneva Resolution’ and carrying the by-line Susantha Dias.

The opening paragraph of the ten point critique has startling contemporaneity given the recent attempts at revisionism, shedding light on spin-doctoring and mythmaking. It reads:

“The thrust of official propaganda on the subject has been, that a covert Indian attempt to gain acceptance at the CHR for an Argentine–sponsored Resolution which was politically motivated and blatantly one-sided and intended to blacken Sri Lanka’s name in an HR context, was thwarted by SLG’s diplomacy, which brought about a watered down Resolution accepted by consensus with SLG’s acquiescence. The political reality seems somewhat different”.

Points 3&4 of the analysis help us nail down exactly when it was that Sri Lanka was first placed ‘under probation’ in Geneva.

“The Resolution was set firmly within an HR framework for, in its preamble the CHR claimed to be guided by universally accepted rules of international humanitarian law, and in its operative section the CHR called on SLG specifically to cooperate with the JCRC in disseminating and promoting such law. The CHR has thus gone on record that there is an adverse HR situation here which requires cognizance and comment, whilst identifying the SLG specifically and alone as requiring to upgrade its HR performance.”

“The Resolution is to be seen as the outcome of a three-year watching brief which the CHR has maintained over the HR situation here, because it recalls the CHR’s decision of 1984 and notes the Reports of its Special Rapporteur on torture and of its Working Group on enforced or involuntary disappearances (both presumably in respect of the SL situation). That is to say, that the CHR now deems the situation to have so deteriorated during that ‘probationary period’ as to warrant inscription of a resolution.”

So what really happened in Geneva in 1987? Point 5 leaves no room for doubt:

“The prospect initially facing SLG was acceptance by a majority of a highly critical resolution damaging to SLG’s in international standing. The outcome claimed to represent a diplomatic victory, has been a consensual resolution which, as will be spelled out below, is not only critical of SLG’s HR performance (vide paragraphs 3 & 4 above) but undermines the foundation of SLG’s position, that it is engaged in fighting a terrorist threat to law and order. Moreover, the Resolution as adopted implicitly recognises the validity of the Tamil claim that it is engaged in resisting (even if violently) a diminution of its HRs and fundamental freedoms. It is a moot point, whether or not it is preferable to be called by some ‘a scoundrel’ whilst a few others testify to your goodness, or be said by all to be ‘a cad’.”

Points 6-8 of the forensic piece nail down the extent of the strategic diplomatic defeat and the damage involved.

“The Resolution calls upon “all parties and groups”, without identification or distinction, to forswear violence and negotiate a peaceful settlement. Inasmuch as there are only two parties to the internal conflict situation under reference, SLG and the Tamil militants, this equates the two in terms of responsibility for violence, and undermines the ‘terrorism – law & order’ argument.”

“It also calls on all parties and groups to pursue a negotiated political solution “based on principles of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms”. In as much as it is the State or Government (SLG) which has the role and responsibility to uphold and apply HRs and fundamental freedoms in respect of all its citizens, and the only other combatant in the conflict situation is a militant armed section of the Tamil community, the implication is inescapable that the conflict itself is deemed by the CHR to constitute a diminution if not violation of HRs and fundamental rights of Tamils.”

“The only comfort the SLG may draw from the Resolution is that the CHR has called on the Tamil militants ALSO to desist from violence and negotiate a peaceful settlement.”

In his Conclusion, the analyst sums up the Resolution:
“(a) That the CHR has gone on the record, having watched the situation for three years, that there is an adverse HR situation here which warrants cognizance and comment by it. (b) that this situation stems from an internal conflict between parties it equates in respect of responsibility and (c) that the conflict lies within a context of diminished or violated HR’s and fundamental freedoms which require to be restored by a negotiated political solution.”

What is most devastating is the author’s evaluation, and as it turns out, an accurate pessimistic prognostication of the consequences of the professedly grand diplomatic outcome by Sri Lanka in Geneva ’87. He argues that it sets the stage for subsequent action by India, opining that:

“India could not have wished for a better preparation of the diplomatic ground, as it were, in respect of any future initiative she may contemplate on behalf of the Tamils. One must then ask: might it not have been a clever diplomatic move by India to work for a toughly-worded resolution, which could then, in bargaining, be exchanged for a milder but consensual one, committing the entire international community in support of her perception and approach?”

Just a few months later that ‘future initiative’ turned out to be the air-drop, the accord and the projection of Indian kinetic power onto Sri Lanka’s soil, in the form of 70,000 troops. March ’87 in Geneva had indeed prepared “the diplomatic ground”.

Mervyn de Silva in his lead article in the Lanka Guardian of June 15th 1987 (Vol10, No 4) entitled ‘Diplomatic Front: Sri Lanka’s Moment of Truth’ wrote of the aftermath of the Indian airdrop: “Sri Lanka, although the victim, suffered a near-total diplomatic isolation in the international community, a stinging indictment of the UNP’s foreign policy”.

Mervyn significantly concluded “As for the UN, it was no less a person than the UNP’s first appointee to New York…who advised …on the futility of going to the Security Council, warning that it would ‘internationalise’ the issue–something we can ill afford, especially after the roasting we got at the Human Rights Commission meeting in Geneva three months ago”.

What is particularly lamentable is that such abject and myopic diplomatic masochism is presented as something that would have had the blessings of Lakshman Kadirgamar.

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Latest comments

  • 0

    Why Dr.Dayan can write his name while others prefer not to is for their own safey and they dont believe freedom of expression if free.

    On the other hand Dr. Dayan, Rajvir and that [Edited out]lady I forgot her name are still in MR team, just playing good cop bad cop, hoping and waiting for the next posting.

    Most of us still have to go to SL at least on vacation and prefer to play safe.

  • 0

    I agree wholeheartedly with Burt. Dayan in a sense
    is singing for his next supper – another diplomatic
    assignment from MR. don’t forget he was a lackey
    of Varadaraja Perumal on whose footsteps he followed.
    He even backed seccession then by being a party to
    Unilateral Declaration of Independence. Today, they
    are Demi Gods preaching good things and propagating
    good diplomacy. What hypocrisy?

    • 0

      Uh-huh. Perumal declared UDI in 1990. I had resigned in March 1989 having served only four months in the NEPC Cabinet and having published an Open Letter of resignation in the national newspapers. As the newspapers of the time show, I had been closely and publicly associated with President Premadasa for a year when Perumal declared his UDI, and as the President’s former officials like Susil Siriwardena, Bradman Weerakoon and Neville Jayaweera among other s will attest, I was very much part of the President’s crisis management team when– actually long before– the UDI issue came up. We were dealing with the JVP insurgency, which was ended a year before the UDI. In fact I was appointed Director Conflict Studies at the quasi-governmental think tank the Institute of Policy Studies almost a year before the UDI.

      • 0

        You are typical pimp of politics…curse for srilanka….

    • 0

      I think you touched a nerve there Meas. Trying to detach himself from the UDI political pandering got exposed. This is like trying to cover up the nakedness with a lime leaf; when you cover one are another gets exposed.

      Burt is right, all these “heroes” who write under their own names have to do so since that is how they have decided to earn a living. The rest of us have a lifestyle not dependent on political patronage. We can afford to remain anonymous until the dictatorship that Dr Dayan Jayatilleka nurtured from Geneva is gone with its kidnappings, torture and killings; you know, the stuff Dr. Jayatilleka is so proud of for having convinced other countries that didn’t take place in Sri Lanka?

      These “heroes” should go tell the families of Eknaligoda, Wickramatunge, Tissainayagam et. al. how great writing under their own name is and see how that goes.

      It is simple actually, when these “heroes” are not able to counter sensible arguments made on these message boards they try to deviate by pointing out the anonymity of the poster; pathetic!

  • 0

    These guys like GL are in the wrong job and have no shame – yaman malli vesak balanda
    He is a konde kudu Chameleon.

  • 0


    There is a limit to the damage a person of your intelligences can fend off – while representing and advising a government that has damaged the reputation and historic achievements of the Sinhalese people for good. It has now gone to pot and irrevocably so.

    No one is really interested in how well you did your job – because the results are clear. At least during your tenure under Vardaraja Perumal you worked closely at the same time with the man – who armed the LTTE “Terrorist” and destroyed the 13th Amendment – causing damage and misery all around.

    It seems that you had no issues with the Terrorist then and no love for the 13th amendment. LTTE would be happy to support you, because you helped turn the world against the Sinhalese.

    Good Job.

  • 0

    In the early nineties there was a series of excellent articles expounding the predicament and aspirations of the Tamils. They were under a Tamil pseudonym. No Tamil could have written better. When the real author was spotted we knew at whose behest. Now it is known for what.

  • 0

    I believe the writer has had considerable experience in working with different Sri Lankan political and administrative personalities and are quite familiar with their temperaments, virtues and their lack.

    Accordingly, in contrast to reviewing what earlier policies and events had resulted in, he should attempt to forecast a future scenario which could include ethnic relations, the economy, form of government, etc for readers of CT.

    I am sure the insights thus offered will benefit the collective understanding of our varied forum members.

    • 0

      Dr Dayan Jayatilleke too seems to have the same if not very similar flaw of a type of amnesiac tunnel mental vision as Prof Brian Seniviratne though he could afford to be freer by having gained his personal economic freedom earlier.

      When we cannot afford to live as we think we tend to think as we live partly for survival as well as thrival as both feed on each other as positive feedback at particular stations or points of life that don’t apply in the manner of the usual struggle for survival with the basic necessities of life.

  • 0

    Who is going to be your next provider of your luxary, OH BUDHA PLEASE SAVE FROM THEASE RASCALS…We tamils had enough….oh BUDHA please enlighten their evil brain or let us live in peace….

  • 0

    Yes, Dayan is very knowledgable and has considerable experience and is able to think by himself. But he has the habit of suddenly joining the winning pack and reversing his views. He is wearing out his reverse gear and making a muddy pit around him and is now covered in mud.

    Time for him to take wash.

  • 0

    What has being happening is a diplomatic nightmare, having to cover up for all the mistakes made by politicians. The scenarios at different times cannot be compared. The fallout after July 83 ultimately led to Indian intervention.

    The Indian response is given by Dr Dayan in an article “Sri Lanka: Dayan Jayatilleka replies to Mahinda Gunasekara on “July ‘83′”

    “Confusing consequence with cause, Mr. Gunasekara writes of “the Tamilnadu State Government and the Central Government of India in secretly training, arming and funding Tamil militants at military bases in India to destabilise Sri Lanka”, which is total nonsense. While a few retired Indian police and military personnel of Tamil origin were hired by the Tigers to provide training before July ’83, there isn’t a single credible source, journalistic or scholarly, Sri Lankan, Indian or Western that speaks of Indian or Tamil Nadu Government training for Tamil militants prior to the events of July ’83. Not a single training camp was in existence in India before July ’83.

    The decision to train and arm Tamil militants was a direct result of and response by Prime Minister Indira Gandhi to July ’83. This is overwhelmingly confirmed by all the serious literature, which is voluminous, on the subject.”

    Indira Ghandi was a strong leader and so was Rajiv. Their response cannot be compared to the weak UPFA Govt of Sonia and Manmohan. Today we are facing the results of what happened over the last stages of the war and in 2009. Govt must respond to the Geneva resolution which is fairly balanced. Going on a confrontational course will yield dire results.

  • 0

    Ha ha – I don’t know whether to laugh or cry
    when the great Doctor Dayan said Perumal came
    with the UDI in 1990 after he had resigned in
    1989. Perumal did not bring the UDI like a
    rabbit from a borrowed hat. In 1989 too he was
    propagating UDI.

    Thank you Dr. Jayatilleke for admitting that you
    were with Perumal. That is the point I was making.
    Whether it is Perumal or Mahinda Rajapaksa, when it
    serves your purpose, you will spin, turn, twist and
    dance. Once you get what you want, you sing a different
    Baila tune.

    The wholesale marketing of your articles have only one
    singular objective – you want President Rajapaksa to take
    note and give you a diplomatic (or even a higher) appointment.
    Then your socialist theories take a turn towards Mariyakade.

    What a damn hypocrite you are. Shame on you.

  • 0

    Your have put it down very well Meas. Wait a
    while and read the newspapers. You will see
    the intellectual hypocrite being named to
    another mission. All his rhetoric and reasoning
    of today will end.It will be another DJ – a kind
    of disc jockey playing his master’s tune. He
    is working hard for it.

  • 0

    We have many like this who cry out loud for their next luxury living e.g. Dr Jehan Perera who writes very similar articles! Oh mother Lanka!

  • 0

    Dr. Dayan Jayatilleke’s hypocrisy is too well known.
    Before he went as Sri Lanka envoy to Geneva, he was
    a critic. When he became Ambassador, he became a
    Church mouse pontificating on all the good things of
    the MR regime. Before that, when he was in France
    it was the same case. Keep trying but your hypocrisy is
    now too well known. Even MR will not use you like an FL
    anymore. Dust your over sized coats and hang them.

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