By Rajeewa Jayaweera –
Foreign Minister Gamini Marapana’s responses to questions by MPs Dinesh Gunawardena and Bandula Gunawardane during the Committee Stage Debate on the Appropriation Bill, of revelations made by Lord Naseby in the House of Lords, makes little or no sense.
“We are not saying that we would not use Lord Naseby’s statement. We will certainly use it at the proper time and appropriate forums. There may be a time when the UNHRC asks us to conduct investigations into the war crime allegations. We will use this statement when such a time comes. Otherwise, our opponents will find counter arguments for this valuable statement. We must use it as an Ace”.
It is a contradiction of the response by the spokesperson of his ministry to a query raised by The Island. It stated, “Engaging in arguments and debates in the international domain over the number of civilians who may have died at a particular time in the country will not help resolve any issues, in a meaningful manner, locally, except a feelgood factor for a few individuals who may think that they have won a debate or scored points over someone or the other.
One is intrigued. How does a nation communicate its position to the world on an issue which is contrary to that of powerful countries without voicing its narrative at international forums and forcefully arguing its case with facts and figures? Will Sri Lanka wait for some nation to ask, ‘do you want to renegotiate Resolution 30/1’ or she, armed with newly available information, demand at all appropriate forums, ‘we wish to renegotiate Resolution 30/1’.
The unity government failed to do what it had to do in Geneva in September 2009 and opted to co-sponsor UNHRC Resolution 30/1 instead. Undoubtedly, the Resolution contains many positives for Sri Lanka. However, failure to make the homegrown mechanisms of LLRC and Paranagama Commission Report (second mandate) an integral part of Resolution 30/1 was a monumental blunder. A Resolution, partly owned by Sri Lanka due to the incorporation of its homegrown mechanisms would have made it more meaningful and acceptable.
In countries with the Executive Presidency system such as USA, France, etc., direction and guidelines on foreign policy, as well as other critical national issues such as human rights, are set by the President. Regrettably, that has not been the case in Sri Lanka since January 09, 2015. Despite President Sirisena’s many strengths, international relations is not one of them. It gave the Ranil Wickramasinghe Mangala Samaraweera duumvirate, unbridled and unconstrained freedom to decide the manner in which Sri Lanka engaged with the international community and managed its relations with friends, past and newfound. It led to the duo’s erroneous judgment, the west and India would be the cure to all of Sri Lanka’s economic woes. When it did not materialize, they had to turn to China with hat in hand to revive relations and projects suspended earlier, in return for economic assistance.
Lord Naseby recently revealed in the House of Lords, thirty-nine pages of material gathered from a batch of dispatches by the British Military Attaché Lt. Col. Anton Gash in Colombo during the final phase of the conflict, January – May 2009. Despite being highly redacted, much valuable information is still available of the manner in which the Sri Lankan army conducted itself (this is not an exoneration of criminal acts by soldiers in their private capacity).
Dispatch dated 28 January 2009 07:39 titled Interim Sitrep 28 Jan 09 – DA Colombo Heading: The Situation – states, “An attempt by ICRC/UN to bring out 200 sick and wounded failed on 27 Jan 09 when the agreed cease-fire broke down. A further attempt to extract will be made on 29 Jan 09. It is not possible to distinguish civilians from LTTE cadres, as few cadres are in military uniform.”
Dispatch dated 12 Mar 09 titled ‘Military Analysis – Sri Lanka Jan/Feb 09, in Para 9 under the heading IDPs, sub-para b, Nash states. “The LTTE has been consistently trying to prevent the egress of IDPs, other than the most seriously injured; * On 9 Feb 09 a suicide bomber killed 9 civilians and wounded 41 at the screening center near Puliyampokkanai. * On 10 Feb 09, 19 civilians were killed and 75 wounded by the LTTE as they tried to escape to the government held territory. The UN reports civilians reaching ICRC medical facilities manned with gunshot wounds to the lower limbs – to prevent them from leaving. * The LTTE had been forcing the civilian population to move in accordance with their tactical requirements. The NFZ is rigorously policed and patrolled by LTTE cadres, who control access to food and medical facilities, ensuring that their own needs are met before any capacity is allowed for civilians.”
These are but samples of vital information not factored into the report prepared by UNSG’s Panel of Experts (PoE), Darusman Report, supposedly ‘prepared in a highly professional manner to meet international standards.’ Needless to state, actors on the ground of the likes of Lt. Col. Nash, Gordon Weiss, etc. have not been consulted.
According to reliable sources, Lord Naseby’s recent revelations in the House of Lords was the culmination of more than three years of hard work. He would have devoted much time and effort in obtaining the release of this information with the assistance of the Information Commissioner. It is hoped, Lord Naseby will continue his sterling efforts and convince British authorities, to quote his own words, “UK must now get the UN and the UNHCR in Geneva to accept a civilian casualty level of 7,000 to 8,000, not 40,000”, and “to lead the international community to recognize what the truth really was.”
It is said, it takes two to Tango. Notwithstanding Lord Naseby’s commendable efforts, the project of renegotiating the Geneva Resolution cannot move forward unless GoSL is convinced, it is the best course of action for the country and formulates a strategy towards achieving such an objective. GoSL working in tandem with the likes of Lord Naseby and other like-minded influential persons would be the way forward.
In such an event, much groundwork needs to be undertaken. To begin with, translate the relevant documents, i.e., Paranagama Commission Report, Darusman Report and UNHRC Resolution 30/1 into Sinhala and Tamil languages. It will assist a higher number of politicians, officials and citizens to better understand both negatives and positives of the Geneva Resolution.
Such a project would require the support of at least some of the significant players namely the US, UN, UK, France, Germany, UNHRC in Geneva and India. Our Ambassadors in those countries, under the guidance of the Foreign Minister and his officials, would need to be mobilized for the initial spadework and subsequent follow-up work.
Towards this end, the foreign minister need take ownership of his subject and play a more assertive role. Some other ministers feel Foreign Affairs, and Human Rights are not the same. That as the case may be, the incumbent is the third subject minister in less than three years. Shortly after the onetime Foreign Minister co-sponsored UNHRC 30/1; the President made specific announcements contradicting some of the paragraphs in the co-sponsored Resolution which is not helpful in the long term. In Sri Lanka’s current predicament, foreign affairs and human rights overlap in most instances. As such, at this juncture, it would be in the best interest of the country for the Foreign Minister, a former Attorney General, present Sri Lanka’s case at all international forums, based on a strategy worked out jointly by the President, Prime Minister and himself.
Competent and able Ambassadors need head Sri Lankan missions in those countries/cities. Their work and reporting need necessarily be of similar high quality to that of Lt. Col. Gash’s reports to his superiors. Unfortunately, senior staffers in the foreign service, of the required caliber are in short supply. Many are careerists with focus on promotions, overseas postings, and allowances.
Two of the best in the service are in the key positions of Foreign Secretary and Permanent Rep to UN office in Geneva. Another, at times controversial yet highly competent, is being wasted in The Hauge. Permanent Rep in New York, a lawyer by profession and with many years of experience as Legal Advisor to the Foreign Ministry is eminently suited. A retired career diplomat heads the Delhi mission. The Washington embassy is currently headless. The heads of mission in London, Paris, and Berlin are all political appointees without the required skills for such a project. A project to bring about the renegotiation of UNHRC 30/1 will need competent professionals to head our missions in the said four key capitals on an urgent basis.
Does President Sirisena’s government have the political will to undertake such a project and capitalize on the Naseby initiative?