By Sunethra Karnasuriya –
I have read carefully the essays The Colombo Telegraph (CT) recently carried on Sri Lanka’s foreign policy after May 2009. Whatever Dayan Jayatilleka’s (DJ) failures may be, and there are many as the commentators in the CT have graphically expressed, a lack of cunning is not among them .He has chosen only to comment obliquely ( ‘First Failure in Geneva,: Trap, Blunder or Model?’) on the long essay of Tissa Jayatilaka(TJ) that appeared in the CT (“Absence of ‘Balance’ in Sri Lanka’s Foreign Policy After Kadirgamar”).
DJ tries to conceal facts by attempting to make out that Mahinda Rajapaksa’s foreign policy is better than J.R. Jayewardene’s. This reminds us of that old Sinhala saying, koheda yanne, malle pol. Nowhere in TJ’s is a such a comparison attempted. TJ’s point is that tactics used in 1987 at the Commission on Human Rights had more diplomatic finesse than those used at the Human Rights Council (HRC) in 2009. To the extent that TJ refers to Jayewardene foreign policy, it is to underscore its failure by moving away from the ‘balance’ maintained by his predecessor.
DJ in his oblique response does not let the reader know that the Mervyn de Silva who edited the Lanka Guardian(LG) was his late father. DJ wrote to the LG under his own name as well as under several pseudonyms. DJ was the Anuruddha Tilakasiri in the Sunday Observer when that dreadful H.L.D. Mahindapala was its editor during the Ranasinghe Premadasa years. So could Susantha Dias of the LG be one of DJ’s assumed names? Interestingly that essay of Susantha Dias (whoever he maybe in real life) published in the LG on April Fool’s Day in 1987 is found in Tamilnation.org. Even more interestingly, in the latter publication is also found Tamara Kunanayagam’s(TK) intervention at the CHR in Geneva in 1987. This was in one of Kunanayagam’s’s previous incarnations as she had intervened as a human rights crusader under World Student Christian Federation auspices. The many somersaults made by DJ and TK are not too dissimilar.
A more accurate way of judging the diplomacy exercised in 1987 by the professionals of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Sri Lanka in 1987 is to have the full text of the 1987 Geneva resolution and compare it with the much harsher and more damaging original draft proposed by Argentina before that ‘hostile’ resolution was made ‘benign’ to borrow words from TJ’s quote. Such a comparison will bring out the essential difference between Sri Lankan diplomacy during Geneva 1987 and Geneva 2009. Quiet, patient, and professional diplomacy in 1987 as opposed to loud, flamboyant and non-professional posturing in 2009.
The ‘victory resolution’ of 2009 was introduced at a Special Session focused on Sri Lanka and not a Regular Session of the HRC. To have a Special Session focused on a country at the HRC is the ultimate insult to that country. This resolution, however, was touted as signifying a ‘victory’ in order to mislead the tax-paying general public of Sri Lanka and to hide the fact that the then Sri Lanka Ambassador in Geneva failed to prevent the summoning of the Special Session of the HRC on Sri Lanka in 2009. Whatever the excuses and elaborate explanations made, the stark truth is that the Ambassador failed to lobby effectively to ensure that the sponsors of the Special Session did not secure the requisite number of signatures to convene a Special Session of the HRC. Had Sri Lanka succeeded in preventing a Special Session being held, Sri Lanka could have sent a strong message to the western sponsors of the Special Session that the generality of the HRC membership was unwilling to grill Sri Lanka. If there was no Special Session, the question of any resolution on the war against the LTTE would not have arisen except at a Regular Session of the HRC later on. According to records, the required majority for the holding of a Special Session was achieved by a majority of one signature, that of a HRC member country from Latin America. This is considered the first time Sri Lanka was subjected to the diplomatic humiliation of a Special Session on Sri Lanka at the HRC or any other inter-governmental body. No other country in our region has suffered such monumental diplomatic disgrace.
Our 2009 delegation in Geneva was caught napping and was thereby outsmarted. In fact, the Sri Lanka Ambassador at the time did not know, or did not care, that the sponsors for a Special Session were lobbying for weeks and months to get the 17 signatures necessary for that session to be held, until the HRC circulated the ‘Request for a Special Session’ initiated by the Czech Republic in mid-May 2009. Mauritius was a co-signatory and that country does not attempt to do any multilateral work without the blessings of India! And then we walk into this trap and ‘reward’ India for their 1987 atrocities in Sri Lanka! No wonder the Indians voted in favour of Sri Lanka’s ‘victory resolution’.
An examination of Sri Lanka’s short-lived ‘victory resolution’ of 2009 will lay bare the fact that it was an awful long-term blunder so far as Sri Lanka’s national interest goes. The following points serve to bring into focus the high price Sri Lanka has paid for this ‘victory’:
- Unwise entrenchment of the 13th Amendment ( a bilateral imposition on Sri Lanka) in amultilateral institution at a time when the Government of Sri Lanka was struggling to come up with an alternative to the devolution model which, together with the north and east merger, was forced down our throat by India in 1987.
- Reportedly India was quite livid that DJ was transferred out of Geneva because of his advocacy of the 13th Amendment and its inclusion in the ‘victory resolution’. It is not for nothing that DJ let it be known to all and sundry that it was his love of the 13th Amendment that cost him his job in Geneva.
- Analysts have argued, with good reason, that this multilateral and UN blessings to the Indian atrocities inflicted on Sri Lanka in the 1980s which included the 13th Amendment( ‘naked aggression’ as the Government of Sri Lanka described it officially in its submissions to the UN) undermined or even denied the Government of Sri Lanka an opportunity to build a consensus on a different grassroots devolution model, an opportunity that was presented to Sri Lanka by the military defeat of the LTTE.
- UN Secretary General and President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s joint statement affirmed domestic nature of accountability concerns. This delicate issue was unwisely placed in the multilateral domain by reference to it in the operative section of the ‘victory resolution’. Both these uncalled- for multilateralisations may have got us a few more votes in support of the ‘victory resolution’ but they compromised Sri Lanka’s fundamental national interests as pointed out above.
- The ‘victory resolution’ may have served short term self-promotional attempts of a few individuals but not the long term national interests of Sri Lanka as was shown by the subsequent Geneva counter-resolutions and in the pointed rhetoric of the Darusman Report about the need to re-visit the ‘victory resolution’ of 2009.
As pointed out earlier, true national interest would have demanded that we try to prevent a Special Session of the HRC being convened and stay off the multilateral radar range. In both of these areas, the Geneva Sri Lankan Ambassador failed. Polemics about an alleged ‘victory’ in regard to Sri Lanka’s 2009 resolution is not good or large enough a fig leaf to cover this huge and costly failure. Nor is it a sufficient fig leaf to cover the failure of the same Sri Lanka Ambassador when he moved to Paris. He failed badly in his attempts to persuade the Government of France not to vote for the Geneva Resolutions of 2012 and 2013.