In an interesting move, international human rights activist Radhika Coomaraswamy has been appointed a non-Executive Director of John Keells Holdings, one of largest blue-chip conglomerates in Sri Lanka.
Radhika Coomaraswamy is the sister of Central Bank Governor Indrajit Coomaraswamy, a man in the driving seat of the Sri Lankan economy.
Indrajit Coomaraswamy too held the same position before he became the Central Bank Governor. After his Central Bank appointment, however, Coomaraswamy stepped down from the JKH hob as his continuation as a non-Executive Director would amount to conflict of interest.
Radhika Coomaraswamy functioned as a member of the Constitutional Council for three years. Although her term came to an end recently, there were speculations that she would be re-appointed for another term. However, JKH appointment confirms that Coomaraswamy will not seek a fresh term as a member of the Constitutional Council.
Despite her seemingly unimpeachable stature as the former Under Secretary General of the United Nations and Special Representative for Children in Armed Conflict (2006-2012), Radhika Coomaraswamy does not possess an impeccable track record. She had been caught redhanded trying to suppress a report on human rights violations in order to get the Government go-ahead necessary to secure the plum UN post and thereafter lying about it.
Coomaraswamy stirred much controversy towards the end of her tenure as the Chairperson of Sri Lanka’s Human Rights Council over an unpublished report on human rights violations that were widely condemned. The said report was commissioned during the time she sat on the Council. The report, put together by T. Suntheralingam, a retired judge, who acted as the Special Rapporteur of an inquiry into high profile violations including the killing of five students in Trincomalee in January 2006.
That report was never made public by the Human Rights Commission or the then Government. It finally entered the public domain when Colombo Telegraph published it in January 2014.
The controversy over the report stemmed from Coomaraswamy’s statements to Colombo Telegraph at the time the Colombo telegraph published the report. She insisted in the first instance that the report had not been finalised. She said that neither she nor Dr Deepika Udagama (also a member of the Council) had seen a finalised report before they left the Council. She said “Neither she nor I can remember the contents and if it had been finalized we would surely have remembered.”
However, after we published the story quoting an investigator who insisted that the report had been finalised PRIOR to Dr Coomaraswamy’s departure to the UN, she changed her position, Coomaraswamy was forced to acknowledge that she was aware that the report had been finalised and that she had even received it and ordered it to be published. She said however that she didn’t have the time to read the report.
These circumstances indicate irresponsibility or incompetence or both on her part considering the enormity of the allegations and as importantly the seriousness of the findings. The report revealed the involvement of security forces in the said violations. Had the findings been published or been discussed it would have in the very least put pressure on the security forces to be more disciplined in the execution of operations against the LTTE, human rights activists who wish to remain anonymous say.
Strangely, Sri Lanka’s articulate human rights advocates as well as INGOs which profess a keen interest in rights issues never thought fit to question Coomaraswamy over this glaring act of negligence. As strange is the fact that this lobby did not take up the report when Colombo Telegraph finally published it in January 2014, giving rise to the view that they would sideline an important discussion and with it sweep aside notions of justice, truth and retribution rather than cause embarrassment to Coomaraswamy.
Incidentally Dr Coomaraswamy was appointed to the Human Rights Commission when Ranil Wickremesinghe became Prime Minister in 2001.