By Rajiva Wijesinha –
The failure of government to respond sensibly to the Darusman report and the unfair attacks on the Sri Lankan and UN leadership during the conflict
Given the various responses being now made, officially and unofficially, to the appointment by Navi Pillay of a panel to look into Sri Lanka, I thought it would be useful to look at how we got ourselves into this mess. The fountainhead of the proceedings against us in the UN Human Rights Council was the Darusman Report, which we reacted to foolishly. Instead of reading it carefully, understanding what precisely was going on, rebutting the many falsities and exaggerations in it, and dealing ourselves with the few items of substance, we engaged in indiscriminate aggression combined by sanctimoniousness that never seemed sincere.
What we should have done instead was deal with the issue forthright. The President realized when Darusman came out that sensible responses were needed, and immediately put me on the team to negotiate with the TNA, as well as on the Inter-Ministerial Committee to implement the interim recommendations of the LLRC. However, as noted previously, when negotiations were proceeding more successfully than previously, it was made clear that I was not welcome on the team.
Even more seriously perhaps, the then Attorney General, who was supposed to chair the Inter-Ministerial Committee, objected to my being appointed to it. The Secretary to the President, instead of following his Excellency’s instructions, acquiesced in the Attorney General’s view, and convinced the President to agree. However they included in my mandate as Adviser on Reconciliation that I should monitor the work of the Committee – it took six months for the Attorney General, who kept assuring me that he wanted to have a meeting of the Committee, to confess that the Secretary of Defence did not want the Committee to meet.
Thus were the President’s instructions flouted on all sides, while he was not given coherent advice on how to deal with the Darusman report. Below I give the salient extracts from the letter I sent to the Ministry of External Affairs in July 2011 in an effort to introduce some clarity into the debate on the Darusman Report, and also to coordinate better with the elements in the UN system which had also been attacked in that Report-
I believe that we should ensure correction of those aspects that are clearly misleading of what is erroneously referred to as a UN report. At the same time, we should treat seriously aspects that are not inaccurate and that create an adverse impression.
This can be done more easily if we have made sure that errors are eradicated and clarification provided with regard to matters that are obscure or suggest inadequate understanding of realities. I have in several publications drawn attention to errors, and I believe a summation of these should be brought to the attention of the UN Secretary General. At the same time he should be asked to respond to the queries on the attached page, since they bear on the credibility of the report as it has been compiled. I have several others, following close scrutiny of the report, but these will be enough for the moment.
I raise these because I believe we have not responded effectively to slurs that can irretrievably damage the reconciliation process if allowed to go unchecked. At present we simply react to relentless criticisms, without addressing its root causes. While I can understand reluctance to respond to the substance of an inappropriate report, there is nothing to prevent us questioning the methodology used.
I hope very much that you will be able to proceed on these lines or similar ones.
1. Did the Panel consult the heads of UN agencies in Sri Lanka with regard to the various allegations contained in the Panel report, and in particular those concerning
a) Alleged rape
b) Deliberate deprival of humanitarian assistance
c) Unnecessary suffering for the displaced
d) Lack of information about rehabilitation sites?
It would be useful to ask the UN Secretary General to circulate the letter of the UN Resident Coordinator with regard to conditions at the camps, and request reports from him as well as the heads of the WFP and UNHCR with regard to these matters. In particular the UN Secretary General should be asked to share with the panel the reports of the various protection agencies that functioned during this period.
2. Did the Panel consult the head of the ICRC with regard to the various allegations contained in the Panel report, and in particular those concerning
a) Transportation of the wounded and others from conflict areas to government hospitals, and the treatment received by these
b) Transportation of food and other supplies to the conflict area
c) Information provided by the ICRC to government about conditions in the conflict area, and in particular the establishment and operation of medical centres
It would be useful to ask the UN Secretary General to circulate the letter of the ICRC head to the navy regarding its support for ICRC operations, and to request reports from him with regard to these matters.
3. Were there reports prepared by the UN or the ICRC which were shared with the panel, but which were not provided to government?
4. Did the UN set up a ‘networks of observers who were operational in LTTE-controlled areas’, as claimed in the report. Was this with the authority of the UN Resident Coordinator, and how did it fit within the UN mandate? With whom were its reports shared?
5. Did the UN obtain other reports from international UN employees in Sri Lanka, and were these with the authority of the UN Resident Coordinator? How did these fit within the UN mandate? If these reports were intended to improve the condition of affected Sri Lankans, why were they not shared at the time with government?
6. Did the Panel consult the UN Special Representative on the Rights of the Displaced, Prof Walter Kalin, and use the reports he published? Were they aware that he visited Sri Lanka three times during this period?
7. Will the Panel explain errors such as the attribution to government of actions relating to the LTTE (Footnote 92), the attribution to government of an inappropriate response (at the end of January) to an ICRC statement issued on February 1st, the assumption that food was only sent to the conflict zone through the ICRC, the attribution (though obscurely) to the terrorist associated Tamil Rehabilitation Organization of the claim that individuals died of starvation, the claim that Manik Farm did not have its own water source, the claim that psychological support was not allowed by the Ministry of Social Services, etc?
8. Will the Panel study the analysis of its claims with regard to attacks on hospitals, in the light of claims made at the time, and in the context of official ICRC documentation of what was conveyed to government?
9. Will the Panel explain its selective characterization of participants in the conflict, including its description of the LTTE as disciplined, while bribery is attributed to the military as a whole, with positive actions being attributed to individuals?
10. Will the Panel provide sources for the various estimates mentioned in Para 133, as well as all alternative estimates with regard to the given figures? Will it also explain the sentence ‘Depending on the ratio of injuries to deaths, estimated at various times to be 1:2 or 1:3, this could point to a much higher casualty figure’ and how it relates to the figure of 75,000 given immediately afterwards?
11. Will the Panel explain what it means when it uses the word ‘Government’, and in particular its source for various critical comments such as those in Paras, 131 and 136 and Footnote 77?
12. Has the Panel studied the reports of UN committees which make clear the reluctance of agencies entrusted with funds for the benefit of Sri Lankan displaced citizens to upgrade facilities at Manik Farm despite numerous requests, as well as the manner in which funding was squandered on international personnel who were unable to ensure adherence to national and international standards with regard to sanitation?
This was copied to the Attorney General at the same time, given his responsibilities with regard to the Interim Recommendations of the LLRC, with the following covering letter –
I attach a copy of a letter I have sent to the Secretary to the Ministry of External Affairs. I hope you will appreciate the points raised in the letter, and in particular the need to take remedial action so as to ensure that the reconciliation process continues.
In this context I would like to suggest some positive measures that could be taken immediately to address some of the concerns raised in the Panel report, which I am aware you too share. I believe we have not promoted the provision of information that would alleviate some suffering. Though there seems to be exaggeration with uncertainty, any uncertainty can cause anxiety and then resentment, so we should do our best to minimize this.
I would suggest that we establish in every GN division an agency that will collect statistics with regard to those missing, and collate them with appropriate investigation to ensure fuller information with regard to previous activities. This should lead to the formulation of a data base that can be used to provide precise information as possible.
We know that of course some of those dead will not be identified, and also that some have made their way to other countries, or have taken on a new identity in this country. While making allowance for these, I am sure we will be able to establish that the number of those dead or missing is much smaller than is sometimes bandied around.
I hope very much that we can take action in this regard, and in other areas mentioned in my letter to the Secretary to the Ministry of External Affairs, and make it clear that the Government of Sri Lanka is more concerned about its own citizenry than external agencies.
Nothing was done, and soon it became clear that those behind the Darusman report were out for blood, not only ours but that of those who had worked in accordance with UN principles and whose support would have enabled us to make it clear that by and large we and they had done our best in the context of the ruthless Tiger use of hostages – including UN workers, the appalling treatment of whom by the Tigers is hardly addressed by Darusman. Instead we had the spectacle of further attacks on the leadership of the UN in Colombo through another report by a youngster that we should have studied and dealt with. Here is the letter I sent to the Secretary to the President some months later in this regard –
The events of the last week, and the document I shared with you that had been prepared by a Ms Vigo, prompted reflections on the absurd way in which we have been conducting our foreign relations, and in particular our relations with the United Nations. I am aware that the President has been sharply critical of the UN, and seems to think that all efforts to work positively with it would be vain, but this flies in the face of all evidence.
The Vigo report makes it clear how many UN agencies and their heads worked well with us during the difficult days of conflict, despite external pressures and pressures from their younger members of staff – a phenomenon that occurred also with several ambassadors who have confided in me about this.
Meanwhile, as you are aware, Dayan Jayatilleka in Geneva did a fantastic job of making sure that we received solid support from the UN system. He understood the need for numbers, and worked with influential ambassadors in each regional group, so that we had a large coalition supporting us.
This was promptly frittered away by his successor. As one distinguished journalist told me, in Dayan’s time we asked for advice, later we simply asked for votes, from people we had hardly taken seriously until their votes were needed.
Meanwhile in Sri Lanka we ceased to work together actively with the UN. Because of anger, understandable enough, at the appointment of the Darusman Panel, and its report, we assumed that the UN was complicit in the injustice that was being done to us. We failed to read the report carefully and intelligently, and understand that senior UN officials also were being criticized.
I told the Ministry at the time that we should communicate with those officials and develop a common response, but I do not think the Ministry even understood what I meant, nor the potential danger. As I have noted recently, following the visit of Robert Blake, which local politicians and foreign ambassadors have told me was worrying, I was told by the Ministry that all had gone very well, and newspaper reports were simply designed to create trouble.