25 July, 2021

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How President Gotabaya Got To Geneva 

By Dayan Jayatilleka 

Dr. Dayan Jayatilleka

A key speech by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has been quoted at some fair length and in the Report of UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet as evidence which corroborates the charge of majoritarian ethnocentrism. His elder brother Mahinda never got himself in that situation; not even in wartime. 

I was in the room when he engaged across the board in Geneva in 2007 with everyone from High Commissioner Louise Arbour and UN High Commissioner for Refugees – currently the UN Secretary-General – Antonio Guterres, to Amnesty International Head Irene Khan. He leaned into it, leaving the impression of a leader who was familiar with and appreciative of the concept of human rights but who was struggling to balance contending considerations in the throes of a terrible war in which he was determined to prevail for the sake of the people. 

He made a good impression. But then again he had been a human rights lawyer and it was hardly his first time in Geneva.

The implementation of President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s pledge and program for postwar Sri Lanka embedded in the Joint Statements with the Government of India and the United Nations Secretary-General would have enabled Sri Lanka to stay off the hook it is on in Geneva today. It was blocked by two elements. 

The first source of obstruction was the same duo that is most influential in today’s decision-making, namely the security establishment headed by Secretary to the Ministry of Defense Gotabaya Rajapaksa and the politico-economic establishment head by Basil Rajapaksa. The latter wanted to extend economic development to the North and build-up the SLFP there before holding Provincial Council elections. 

The second obstacle was the TNA, which wanted to go beyond the 13th Amendment. When Mahinda Rajapaksa finally pushed through the Northern Provincial Council election in 2013, the maximalism of Chief Minister C.V. Wigneswaran wrecked the functioning of the Council. 

In 2015-2019, the sporadic headway the TNA made in moving towards a new Constitution minus the executive presidency as well as the unitary framework, undermined the existing Constitution in which the 13th amendment was embedded. The TNA and the Sinhala advocates of devolution beyond the unitary framework failed to grasp the simple point that if you dismantle the existing 1978 Jayewardene Constitution, you disintegrate the foundation upon which the 13th amendment rests, while you open the door to a referendum on a new Constitution at which the Sinhala voter is both capable and likely to opt for lesser devolution of power to the provinces and/or a smaller unit of devolution.          

In fairness, Gotabaya Rajapaksa was by no means the earliest advocate within the Mahinda Rajapaksa administration of the reversion to the district as the unit of devolution. In 2006-7 he was very much on board with the 13th amendment as the necessary price to pay for India’s support in the war. He once told the National Security Council that the military could only go so far in solving the problem and the politicians would have to come up with the political component. 

In 2007 it was his ‘moderate, pragmatic’ brother Basil Rajapaksa, either influenced by, in tandem with, or instrumentalizing Chief Justice Sarath N. Silva, who lobbied, including at a working dinner with President MR and key SLFP Ministers, for the reversion to the district as the unit of devolution. If President Mahinda Rajapaksa had not been otherwise persuaded of the dangers and announced the decision to hold elections to the Provincial Council when we liberated the East in 2007, we wouldn’t have secured India’s support as we did during the rest of the war, especially when we came under pressure from the West.      

Gotabaya Rajapaksa understood the strategic need for Provincial devolution and the implementation of the 13th amendment in 2006-7, but became ultra-hawkish about the post-war order after converting to Netanyahu-ism on several visits to Tel Aviv in 2008-9. A firm opponent of the 13th amendment during MR’s second term, he successfully lobbied for the reversal of the presidential promise to India (and the TNA) to appoint a civilian (Sinhalese) Governor when Gen. Chandrasiri’s term ended. 

Secretary/Defense Rajapaksa combined cordial personal relations with the constructively-intentioned South African High Commissioner Geoff Doidge, with a hardline on the tentative initiative to facilitate the political dialogue between President MR and the TNA launched by South Africa’s President Jacob Zuma, through the appointment of his special envoy Cyril Ramaphosa, currently the President of South Africa. Minister Basil Rajapaksa was cynically disparaging of ANC veteran, High Commissioner Doidge and the South African initiative. As Geneva rolls round, President Ramaphosa will doubtless recall the reports of his Foreign Ministry as to who blocked what.

During the successful Gotabaya candidacy drive, there were two phases, perhaps corresponding to the two faces of the two personalities that President GR announced to the nation in his Ampara speech of January 9th 2021. The first was a conventional, rational, conservative stance in which he was clearly convinced of the merits of district-based devolution while remaining open to Realist argument for retaining the existing provincial system. Even while he was in this latter mode, the Viyath Maga/Eliya group of ex-military, nationalist professionals and Buddhist clergy were already in a radical Right, ultranationalist mode not only of opposition to Provincial Councils but also of opposition to those who advocated the retention of the status-quo. These ultranationalists frankly advocated the abolition of the PC system. Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s second phase/face, somewhere in the second half of 2018, was the Alt-Right one and has remained so through his presidency.

During the second term of Mahinda Rajapaksa, but having little or nothing to do with him, the Defense Establishment headed by the then Secretary/Defense and present President held one of its famous international conferences. I think it was in 2011. David Kilcullen, the hardnosed advisor of the more famous US Gen David Petraeus, advised the Sri Lankan defense authorities that they had a good case if only they made a truthful case about the real battlefield context and conditions, instead of trying to airbrush everything under the ‘humanitarian operation/zero-civilian casualties policy’ which lacked credibility. He was met with stony silence.

It is not that this reaction was devoid of precedent. A similar conference was held, under the same auspices, during the war. One of the speakers was Gerard Chaliand, world-renowned expert on guerrilla warfare and national liberation struggles throughout the Third World. Drawing from his comparative studies based on his vast field experience he argued that the Tamil challenge, once militarily defeated, imperatively required an autonomy-based political solution, or else the issue would resurface in different forms. He got the same icy treatment that Kilcullen was to receive a few years later. 

The PM’s fairly recent effort to restart the Provincial Councils, would have constituted something which could have been given to Indian External Affairs Minister Jaishankar to take back to Prime Minister Modi– instead of the Eastern Terminal—and secure India’s backing in Geneva. It was shot-down by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa. 

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s inner ring of ex-military men should have learned from the Jaffna university monument issue that the basic assumptions underlying its approach are wrong. Tamil ethnic identity will not be given up for or supplanted by economic inducements; the Tamils on the island and beyond its shores will not remain unresisting while being rolled over by superior numerical and material force; and Tamil moral resistance can be effective. The razing of the Mullaivaikkal monument caused more problems for the Government than leaving the status-quo undisturbed would have done. That will be truer still for the 13th amendment. 

President GR should ask his Far-Right Ministers and ex-military inner-circle three questions: 

1. Are there any Tamil takers at all, any Tamil leaders even on the government side such as Douglas Devananda, Karuna and Pillaiyan, who would accept either the abolition of the PC system, or its truncation or provincial re-demarcation? 

2. If not, Colombo run a restive North with no Tamil allies or while undermining them? 

3. In the face of available evidence, is India convinced by the case for abolition, truncation or provincial re-demarcation, and if not, should Sri Lanka ignore India’s stand and press on regardless with unilateral abolition or down-sizing?   

In terms of US Republican politics that he was steeped in, Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s tragedy was that he could have been a John McCain—or what a President John McCain would have been– but felt more comfortable instead, going the Tea Party-Sarah Palin-Donald Trump route. Senator John McCain introduced and piloted through the bill outlawing the form of torture known as ‘waterboarding’. As Cindy McCain made amply clear, John McCain’s politics and perspective were opposed to those of the Alt-Right which Trump represented.

Having run on the Far-Right, President Trump should have governed from the McCain-type center, but instead he chose to govern from still further to the Right. He didn’t get this because he didn’t get politics and governance, only business—just as Gotabaya Rajapaksa understands military matters and has no political experience. You can’t understand politics, national and international, by stuffing everything with what you do understand– the military you served in—and/or vacuuming everything into the belly of what you once headed—the Defense Ministry.  

The decisive shift or degeneration from a John McCain option to a Trump-Bolsonaro option was signaled by the ‘Hitler episode’, when on his birthday in 2018 a ranking Buddhist monk ranted “be a Hitler” and GR stridently defended the monk against his critics. John McCain would have given hell to any supporter who invoked Hitler. President Gotabaya Rajapaksa appointed the monk to his Buddhist Advisory Council which he confers with each month. 

The Gotabaya tragedy is that he has elevated his ex-military brothers-in-arms, who cannot be blamed for their ignorance of politics, national and international, while downgrading by means of the 20th amendment his brothers Mahinda and Chamal who are vastly experienced in politics. The latter know that politics is about building a sufficient degree of consensus, while the ex-military element knows only top-down command and control which is profoundly counter-productive in political and social matters. President GR has built a model which is very familiar to students of Latin America and East Asia in decades past: a fusion of the military and the speculative financial oligarchy. It is a model of the pre-digital Age. It will take down the President and self-destruct or be overthrown (internally and externally), while the President will take the rest of the Rajapaksas down with him.

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Latest comments

  • 33
    4

    No attention should be paid to the attempts to whitewash the human rights abuses committed by these extremist sinhala buddhists or the nonsense commissions they set up to delay progress.
    .
    these extremist sinhala buddhist terrorists should be sanctioned to the point they won’t be able to open a bank account in their own country or be allowed to step foot outside the country and have all the accounts under their names, their children’s names, shell corporations etc be freezed immediately. Trade embargoes should be immediately implemented to squeeze the rats who support these extremist sinhala buddhist terrorists. We already do it those finding terrorism abroad.
    .
    To show any mercy these theiving murderers would be to spit on the graves of those innocent people who suffered due to these insecure extremist sinhala buddhists.

    • 0
      0

      This comment was removed by a moderator because it didn’t abide by our Comment policy.

      For more detail see our Comment policy https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/comments-policy-2

    • 1
      14

      Sitrep24
      In return we Sinhalese recommend:
      .
      Simultaneous rearrest of +12,000 terrorists released by Mahinda Rajapaksa without any parliamentary approval.
      .
      Travel bans on the terrorist supporters who promoted LTTE as the sole representatives of Tamils thereby extending the war and blocking suspected fund raisers and arms suppliers into the country .
      .
      Creating a data base of Prabakaran worshippers in Jaffna with face recognition software which will assist strict imposition of PTA.
      .
      Exploring further tit for tat measures.
      .
      And initiating the long delayed discussion on creating a separate Homeland for all Tamil speaking people scatterred across the island.


      Soma

      • 9
        1

        Soma, those 12,000+ LTTE fighters were released because some of them were forcibly conscripted, some of them volunteered to be future military informants and for the rest who had no offences other than being members of LTTE for whom government cannot find places to keep them in custody. If you are going to rearrest them, then you have to arrest entire armed forces of Sri Lanka, whose members at one time or the other would have committed crimes.Your suggestion to block entry of those connected with LTTE is a big joke, as these people who are enjoying freedom and prosperity will never think of visiting a banana republic, and pariah state. However they may enter Sri Lanka in the near future as members of Tamil army to liberate their homeland from Sinhala racist terrorists.

      • 7
        0

        Soma,
        I thought you are real follower of Lord Buddha’s teaching. What a kind creature you are? Yes you can arrest any number of Tamils as LTTE and torture them to get confession to charge with PTA. I think you have arrested Ranjan Ramanayaka under PTA because he was a Christian and your Gota mama gave a warning to Harris Fernando to shoot and drag him as a dog because he is also Christian. We all know now who planned the Easter bombing to garget Christians.

        • 0
          0

          Ajith, They killed sinless Christ who knowing that his followers too will be persecuted said “Father forgive them”. Christians have eternal life with God forever. Those who disobey “Thou shall not kill” will be resurrected on judgment day to an eternity without Jesus, when it is too late. I plead that you accept the Almighty creator, the triune, true and living God in the present, who alone can save, heal and deliver.

    • 3
      0

      DJ,
      .
      Let me remind you with your recent past.
      .
      Until your were posted to RUSSIA by POLONNARUWE DONKEY, you worked NUMBER ONE LAP dog of Mahinda Rajapakshe: I question myself today, how long you would stay close to SJB ? This pertinent question is fair looking at your behaviours.
      We compared yours with that of Wimal Buruwanse or the like low lives. Looking back we are all right today.
      :
      If you are not caught by alzheimer’s disease; you may remind them one behind the other. Your efforts were not respected by MR after the war was no longer there. However, their thuggish external affairs damaged the country being brandedd next to Lybia by 2015.
      :
      Surprisingly your the kind of SENIOR DIPLOMATS BORN TO MOTHER LANKA have never been CONSISTENT.
      .
      It is right that you stand against GOTA in today s context, but I dont think if his BROTHER with 50 years of PARLIAMENTARY experience was unable to realize it, how can a man who has zero knowledge butabout millitarisaton could ever see it right ?

  • 20
    2

    Dayan Jayathilake,

    I want to refresh your memory, you were the foremost advocate of ‘humanitarian operation/zero-civilian casualties policy’ when you were close to Mahinda.
    .
    Now you ridicule the same claim,as international advisor to Sajith Premadasa

    • 2
      12

      Opportunist and traitor of Sri Lanka, same as Wickremapachabahu Karunarathna. This beggar unqualified person who can bark for nothing.Doctor Melvyn Silva better than him

  • 8
    1

    DJ,

    Gota got to Geneva thanks to you in 2009 to 2013.

    If you did the right thing then without whitewashing the Rajapaksa junta, justice would have been done then.

    Now you talk sour grapes.

    Anyway UNHRC is a toothless tiger. Nothing happened for 12 years and nothing will happen.

  • 7
    1

    It is not “How President Gotabaya Got To Geneva “, it is how D S Senanayake started dismantling democracy while he was chief minister during British rule. He started colonizing the North-East – the traditional homeland of Tamil speaking people.

    When Sri Lanka got independence the whole Sinhalese community and their leaders were thrilled and they started the destruction of the Tamil community in every way they can think of. Think about all the pogroms against Tamils by Sinhalese mobs – they went Scott free. So encouraged by successive Sinhalese successes against Tamils, they got so impatient and committed genocide of Tamils in Mullivaaikkaal.

    What is happening in Geneva is not due to Gota, Mahinda or Appuhamy: It is due to the collective attitude of the Sinhalese society from top to bottom.

    Sinhalese writers have a habit of not seeing the Big Picture that is unfolding against Tamil speaking people in the Island. Why is that? It is because they want to hide the true intention of Sinhalese in general: To use their numerical majority and the military power to ensure the destruction of the Tamils and have the whole island for themselves. May be Thuddha Kaimuna wanted that also but failed 2000 odd years ago.

    • 1
      1

      Thiru,

      “It is not “How President Gotabaya Got To Geneva “, it is how D S Senanayake started dismantling democracy while he was chief minister during British rule. He started colonizing the North-East – the traditional homeland of Tamil speaking people”

      Your argument on Sinhalayas colonising North -East is like the whites in South Africa are shouting at Blacks when they move into areas which were formely White areas.
      No body accuses us of colonising Tamil land , the world does accept this land is the homeland of the sinhalese. Why do you not take it up at an internation forum just like you have taken up war crimes. First try and convince the embassies in Colombo

  • 2
    12

    It is high time that peace loving Demala people in this country who like to live in harmony with Sinhalayo rise against the racist separatist Malabar Vellala Demala politicians and Tamil Diaspora who fabricate war crimes and human rights violation charges to take revenge from Sri Lanka Armed Forces who defeated LTTE Tamil terrorist barbarians and liberated Demala people from the clutches of LTTE. They should tell loud and clearly that they like to live with Sinhalayo as Sri Lankans in a Unitary State.
    Demala people should take that bold decision if they want reconciliation and peaceful co-existence with Sinhalayo.

    • 1
      0

      Mahindapala, very soon Tamils will tell in loud and clear voice that they will live with Sinhalayo as Sri Lankans in a unitary state ruled by Tamils. History is going to repeat itself with the land taken over by Tamil army of Pandyan and Chola kingdoms combined.

  • 2
    8

    Sinhalayo would like to remind Demala people that Malabar Vellala Demalu who pretend that they are saviors of them went all the way to UK to beg the Privy Council to annul the Social Disabilities Act passed in 1957 by the Government enabling low caste Tamils to enter school for the first time and opposed Standardization and Quota System that benefited Demala people outside Yapanaya.
    Malabar Vellala Demala politicians have taken you people for a ride during the last seven decades since Independence. Get rid of them to move forward as one Nation.

    • 0
      3

      Dear EE

      “Malabar Vellala Demala politicians have taken you people for a ride during the last seven decades since Independence”

      With all due respect kindly correct this stamens to read

      “FP/TULF politicians have taken you people for a ride during the last seven decades since Independence”

      It is a party and its tactics that landed us where we are…the fact this party use my language as part of its name has no meaning for us Tamils please understand. This is just as other racist parties that exists down south do not speak for the Sinhalese Bro? Only difference is this party betrayed our children and used them as their gun trotters whilst they kept themselves clean frothier life style. I am sure the similar Sinhala racist parties did not do this shameful act to their children.

  • 0
    3

    Dear Dayan

    Respect the article and its title/content and the historical prospective laid out for the analysis.

    The Hon McCain comparison may have the following caveat/limitation for our current Excellency Presidents journey because

    (1) we are a bottom end feeders try to set a path of progress when all others around us have moved on with their Nation building program doing quite the opposite to what they have done/preached in our land

    (2) Late Hon McCain is a very principled soldier where a system was already in place for him to retain his values and apply his comments sense and judgements accordingly…where we are all learning on the go as to what is best for our Nation of People on a “long run” where our Excellency President and Hon PM has to get this foundation correct for this journey..one may need to revisit/reevaluate matters accordingly when opportunities present themselves too. This is the kind of leadership we need specially after the attempted political killing of Hon MR where a GOSL was formed and existed as a Constitutional Assembly for the entire term achieved nothing.

    • 0
      5

      Further nothing was achieved for the same reason TNA as usual did not explain to “war affected” masses what they were trying to achieve as a solution and the obvious practicalities attached etc.

      I as a Jaffna Tamil am very fluent with the criminal nature of a FP/TULF bunch of lawyers when it comes to making a case for their “new” causes they themselves invented in 1970 onwards (part of a series of causes) with the same well known style of no explanation but added the guns to the arena to ensure it was mandated in 1977.

      Based on this bluff and bankrupted follies criminal history alone it is vital our GOSL make some decisions with certain ownership to save all of us on the long run.

      This should be factored into the decision making that is looking at ditching the PC’s altogether (many of us Tamils feel the same having sacrificed our lives too for the same causes and equal stake holders too for a sustainable future/planning) independent of the thoughts you shared as to why this may be the case now.

      • 0
        5

        It is my personal view and shared by many in all segments of politics that we can eventually do say without the “Execution Presidency” position in our land. This will further save the nation “many’ things including the same concept that we do not need so many layers of governance is the same case making for the “Provincial Council” scenario too.

        Our land mass requires “family planning” not ghetto making and all should freely live anywhere they choose and enjoy the land accordingly as civic and responsible citizens.

        As a temporary measure we can continue with the executive presidency until a revised and a comprehensive Constitution reissued/implemented removing all the ghetto names/parties referencing whatever as illegal entities forever. The Military connection of the current President will make this a smooth process until all is up and running.

        • 0
          4

          correction “”Executive Presidency”

          All other foreign Nations should from now onwards remain as foreign Nations unless otherwise they themselves want to be on the UN leash permanently (through their current politics some will be permanently fixed and their fortunes will change too)…..sanctions/children training camps/foreign sponsored militancy etc where our Nations fortune have been turned around/every single life lost has a price does not matter who? one for all and all for one where PLOTE / TELO should remove themselves from the FP/TULF companionship and their foreign masters dictates and (start to cleanse themselves of all their sins) so they can reach the same status of JVP in the Nations eyes and ears for due considerations. This is the good time for them to do so too.

  • 2
    6

    Opportunist and traitor of Sri Lanka, same as Wickremapachabahu Karunarathna. This beggar unqualified person who can bark for nothing.Doctor Melvyn Silva better than him

    • 2
      0

      N. Pererass

      “This beggar unqualified person who can bark for nothing.”

      You are confused Dayan with Wimal Sangili Karuppan Weerawansa.

  • 6
    1

    DJ , how long people of your ilk are planning to tell , some or other Rajapaksas family goals are different from MR to GR for that matter BR.CR.NR and who ever with the same initials. The difference is MR through out lied to world leaders for his survival, pretending to be human right lawyer/ expert. Where as GR is so arrogant and narcissistic just shoots from his big mouth with out considering any consequence. Did you notice Trump too had such assets and world leaders now seems to be very familiar with such people.

  • 7
    1

    A wise man called Lee Kuan Yew has mentioned in his book , about how Rsjapaksas lied and had no true intention of any econciliation at all.

  • 4
    2

    DJ your views will change if you are asked to replace Mohan Pieris in Geneva.

    • 1
      0

      Svenson

      “DJ your views will change if you are asked to replace Mohan Pieris in Geneva.”

      Mohan Peiris is the current Permanent Representative of Sri Lanka to the UN, New York.

  • 2
    2

    Is Gota governing SL OR the assumed fictitious Buddha ruling SL or the damn army ruling SL?

    • 1
      0

      kbalanat

      “Is Gota governing SL OR the assumed fictitious Buddha ruling SL or the damn army ruling SL?”

      None of the above.

  • 4
    2

    DJ has raised the question………..Should Srilanka ignore Indias stand and press on regardless with Unilateral abolition or downsizing [13th A ] ?

    The Saffron-clad Brigade and the Khaki-clad Brigade are for total abolition. Their mouth-piece is a former Rear Admiral.
    This time around it may not be just a Parripu Drop!

    • 1
      0

      Plato

      “This time around it may not be just a Parripu Drop!”

      So do you think there is a very good chance of Shanmugalingam Shivashankar Pottu Amman alias, Papa Oscar alias, Sobhigemoorthy alias Kailan and Sathasivam Krishnakumar Colonel Kittu are being dropped from a moving Hindian
      C-130J Super Hercules Air force transport plane?

    • 1
      0

      I have been telling for a long time that next occasion will be Kavung drop in Colombo. Rear admiral needs rear admission to keep his mouth shut.

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