27 June, 2022


The Oslo Forum And The Elephant In The room

By Rajiva Wijesinha –

Prof. Rajiva Wijesinha MP

Prof. Rajiva Wijesinha MP

I was privileged last month to attend the Oslo Forum, an annual gathering of those engaged in mediation and conflict resolution. I had been invited, along with Mr Sumanthiran, to debate on whether it was correct to talk to extremists. The concept paper referred in some detail to recent developments in Nigeria and Afghanistan, but we were in fact the only participants in the debate from a country which had recently been in grave danger from extremists. We were able however to benefit during the Forum in general from informed inputs from several delegates from countries now suffering from extremism, such as Nigeria and Syria and Yemen.

Our own debate was chaired by Tim Sebastian, and though it was generally accepted that I came off well, I told him afterwards that I was glad my Hard Talk interview had been not with him, but with Stephen Sackur. Interestingly, that interview still raises hackles amongst those who seem stuck in an extremist agenda, so I presume they are grateful to our government for no longer using the services of anyone who can engage effectively in Hard Talk. In turn I am grateful to the Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue, based in Switzerland, which organizes the Oslo Forum, and more recently to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, for giving me a forum in which to argue the case for what the Sri Lankan government has achieved. Contrariwise, those now with the mandate to represent us internationally seem busily engaged in undoing that achievement day by day.

But that discussion, grandly termed the Oslo Debate, was only part of a very interesting programme. Amongst the contributors were Kofi Annan and Jimmy Carter, and I felt particularly privileged to talk to the latter, still thoughtfully constructive at the age of almost 90. I look on him as the best President America has had in recent times, perhaps the only idealist of the 20th century apart from Woodrow Wilson – which is perhaps why their tenures ended in what seems failure. Certainly, as I asked him, his signal achievement in putting Human Rights at the centre of American Foreign Policy seems to have been perverted by his successors who have turned using it for strategic purposes into a fine art.

He dodged that question, but he did make clear what he saw as the failure of his great achievement in negotiating peace between Israel and Egypt. He stated that the first part of what he reached agreement on still stood, the peace treaty between the two countries, but he noted that the second part, a settlement with regard to the Palestinians, had been subsequently forgotten. Sadly that element is ignored in current discussions on the subject, and the bad faith of Israel with regard to what Begin had agreed – except in the case of the honourable soldier Yitzak Rabin, who was assassinated by nationalistic Israeli extremists for his pains – is not highlighted in analyses of the tragic state now of the Middle East.

How sad the situation is came home to me when I was travelling subsequently in Jordan, where there are now hundreds of thousands of refugees from Syria. Even more alarmingly, there were reports of extremist activity in the south of the country, accompanied by an Israeli statement that they were prepared to help Jordan with dealing with such threats. This I suspect rubbed salt into the wound since, though Jordan too, like Egypt, has a long-lasting treaty with Israel, resentment over the land grabs that the West indulges (because of their own guilt about the way they treated the Jews in the not so distant past) reverberates more strongly than anywhere else except in Palestine itself.

Amongst the panel discussions at the Forum, the most interesting for me was that on Syria. I had been disappointed, in looking through the record of the previous Forum, that there had been no presentation from the Syrian government perspective. But there was much more balance this year, perhaps reflecting the European understanding that the West had been barking up the wrong tree in its diehard opposition to President Assad. The effect that such myopic attitudes had had where regime change has been affected had come home to them at that very time, with the triumph of Isis in much of Iraq. And even though Tony Blair, who has probably not understood what Shakespeare meant about protesting too much, claims it is not his fault, anyone but extremists would now understand what a mess has been created, not just in Iraq, but in Libya too. That they are still pursuing a similar goal in Syria would astound me, were it not that I have come to realize how countries too function like clockwork machines, and continue on paths that are disastrous simply because they lack the mechanism to change course when circumstances contradict earlier dogma.

And there is of course the possibility that all this is grist to the mill of those who make decisions in a state of complacence. One of the most memorable comments during the Forum was that,  when you think you are the only elephant in the room, your behavior is different. And ever since Tony Blair and his sidekick David Miliband decided that what I would term the more subtle intellectual input of Britain had to be buried in taking on the role of baby elephant, we have what is best described as one stop solutions to everything.

One rather sad assessment during the programme was that the final solution in Iraq would be dismemberment of that country. This now seems increasingly likely, and those who still believe in states that develop a comprehensive view of nationhood, rather than basing themselves on narrow identitities, will be seen as unrealistic idealists. Indeed, in another session it was argued that the best thing that could happen to Russia was dismemberment, and I suspect we will soon see encouragement of ethnic politics there, including support for extremists.

Underlying all this perhaps is the fact that conflict is a source of enormous profit for many. I wondered about the possibility about tracking the sale of weapons, but though the UN had attempted to put a system in place for this, it has not been successful. At another session, on the effectiveness of armed interventions in conflict resolution, it was noted that armed groups had ready access to weapons, and this was one reason why peace-keeping operations were so difficult. At dinner that evening I was told how shocked someone deeply committed to overcoming extreme views, and appreciating the Norwegian commitment to this, had been to learn how much Norway profited from arms trading. But they are not the only one, and I suspect they would comply with monitoring mechanisms if the UN introduced these, but unfortunately elephants, big and little ones, will not tolerate such practical efforts to promote peace.

Grateful though I was for the opportunity to participate in the discussion, I left then with a sense of despair. One of the organizers, who had twitted me throughout with asking mischievous questions, did express appreciation of this at the end, with the vivid comment that, after all, the emperor had no clothes. That type of perception is what makes me inclined to continue to assess what goes on, and think of ways of dealing with the worst excesses.

But with regard to Sri Lanka I fear it is too late. The failure of our decision makers to analyse what is going on, the sense of security into which they lulled the President over the last few years, his own complacence in not resisting the noose being tightened around this country, may seem beyond belief, but that is the way politics is conducted in this country. Even now, the appointment of Mr Ahtisari, perhaps an idealist in his own way, but an idealist who sees ethnic based small states as a good answer to difficulties and will not let moral or other commitments stand in his way, should have led the President to recall Dayan Jayatilleka to duty, should have led to concerted efforts to improve relations with India, should have led to solid understandings with South Africa and Japan and the Organization of Islamic Countries.

But the discourse continues to be dominated by Wimal Weerawansa and his ilk, who are assumed widely to be stalking horses for the Secretary of Defence, if not the President himself. One of the Muslim delegates asked me with some anxiety what was going on, but instead of addressing concerns about attacks on businesses and houses, we raise red herrings about fundamentalist threats, perhaps in the hope that this will lead the West, and Israel, to support us. The consequences of such adventurism, trying to play in leagues that are beyond us, will I fear be similar to those J R Jayewardene suffered when he thought he could play a major role in the Cold War.

We need to understand that the new fundamentalist hostilities, on both sides, are both complex and dangerous. The American ambassador in Iraq, I was told, rarely ventures outside his compound. This is understandable given the tragic fate of his colleague in Libya – and now the poor man is about to move to Iraq. It is ironic that, as America takes a larger and larger place upon the world stage – or expands to fill the room more thoroughly – it is also moving into an isolationism of a very different sort.

I was glad the Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue, more professionally, had this time invited a representative of the Syrian government, as well as a member of the internal Syrian opposition. I am sorry then that internationally those who are critical of the government are not at the same time worried about the polarization the West was imposing, trying to persuade anyone in Syria who is critical of its current government to abandon the democratic and constitutional process of reform.

I was even more impressed that CHD had invited a senior adviser to the Iranian President, who was both sharp and sensible. He exemplified how easily the Americans could work with Iran provided there was mutual respect and not unremitting hostility. My own view is that the hostility would be more understandable on the Iranian side, given the American subversion of democracy in Iran for many years and their support for the Shah. That this transformed after the Iranian Revolution to demonization of Shias (and cooperation therefore with Saddam Hussein) is ironic, given all that is happening now.

Teaching on an American student ship way back in 1986, I remember American colleagues talking about the extremism of Shias, whereas in those days they thought of Sunnis as almost Christian. Those were the days in which the Taleban was flavor of the day, to say nothing of Saddam Hussein. But despite all the blood that has flowed since then, I suspect dichotomies and polarization will continue. I can hope that CHD and a more humane approach – such as Gorbachev aimed at when he started reforms in Russia that then swept him away into oblivion – will raise its head, but that I suspect will be seen as a greater enemy by extremists on both sides.

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Latest comments

  • 6

    “we were in fact the only participants in the debate from a country which had recently been in grave danger from extremists.”

    The above statement is a subconscious, but clear indication, of the author’s mindset. Anti-minority? … racist? pro government? Whatever it is he has been blinded.

    The author says “HAD” been in grave danger. Because the Aluthgama violence, and the continuing state sponsored oppression of Tamils IS perpetrated by the Government sponsored terrorists, he cannot see that they pose a grave danger to the country. He is an MP for Pete’s sake!

    The bigger danger rests in the fact that atrocities against the Muslims and Tamils are not considered by the majority community as threatening the well being of the country.

    • 1


      what else you expect from this Rajiva Wijesinha!

      In May 2009, he said in an interview that he has seen BLUE EYE children in the refugee camp. He insulted the whole Tamil community.

      Is he a learned, educated professor?

      Until today he never ever tendered his apology to the Tamils.

      Such a rude, ugly person is this Rajiva Wijesinha!

      • 0

        Why couldn’t there have been blue eyed children in the refugee camp. The LTTE was racist enough not to allow Muslims or Shinalese stay in their ‘fantasized traditional homeland’ in the north, Westerners and Tamils married and had children, and let’s not forget there were also westerners in the north aiding the Tamil civilian population and others aiding the terrorist in indoctrinating young innocent children into the cadre forces giving them cyanide capsules. What is so insulting about the truth. You have not a clue as to what went on in Sri Lanka obviously. If you were educated enough you would see the wisdom of the professor’s words.

  • 4

    Even a high school drop out who reads newspapers and watches TV world news would know who f***** up Iraq, Libya, now Syria and why…

    At least the Professor seems to have got a ticket to Oslo to hear it from the the people whom he identifies as heavy hitters..

    Plus the dinner in Royal Norwegian Banquet Hall with pickled Salmon seems worth the fourteen hour journey.

    First priority in Srilanka is to keep the peace and harmony in tact going forward.

    Mind you it cost a lot, in human lives, money and time to win that freedom and peace.

    In fact it took thirty long bloody years thanks to the West and the Royal Norwegian Govt included.

    The day the Rajapaksa is thrown out , will be the day the dismemberment occurs big time.

    Look at the Rainbow Alliance which has been put in place by the West.

    Does anyone of them have the look of a Leader who want peace, progress and harmony for the great majority of the inhabitant population,which in fact is 70 % of the total.

    Giving Rajapaksa another term is the only way the great inhabitant majority can safe guard the current peace and freedom and see the country move into the real mid income league.

    Weerawansa seems more convinced about it than Wijesinghe.

    • 4

      so can the majority inhabitants also target muslims and go around pillaging the country as the our way of life you profess my dear K A Sumansekera (LEELA)?

      What do you say about the casinos coming up in Colombo where the Pereras and Sivasamys will squander their hard earned money (money which will be taken out of the country tax free by the casino firms) while their wives and children suffer in the south and north,will that make US JOIN THE MIDDLE INCOME LEAGUE?

    • 1

      “”””In fact it took thirty long bloody years thanks to the West and the Royal Norwegian Govt included.””””
      Careful, Sumane, your slip is showing. Let’s recap; no sooner had the last colonial master packed his trunk and departed than our Sinhala politicians and their abiththaya’s started an unholy jostle for the heart and soul of the Sinhala-Buddhist voter and to hell with the minorities who they are fated to share this island with. We fucked up big-time and then blame others – the west and europe, and Norway in particular – for something that we couldn’t sort ourselves – and, truth to tell, still haven’t!

    • 0

      “world news would know who F*****UP Iraq, Libya, now Syria and why…”

      By any chance, are you Donald Gnanakone?

      Who else will write a comment in an uncivilised, unpolite, uneducated manner?

  • 5

    Prof. Rajiva Wijesinha MP

    The Oslo Forum And The Elephant In The room

    “I was privileged last month to attend the Oslo Forum, an annual gathering of those engaged in mediation and conflict resolution.”

    Conflict creation?

    Did’t the Guys from Oslo fund BBS? LTTE ?

    Alfred Nobel Made a Mistake. He gave the Nobel Peace Prize to be Awarded by the Norwegian Parliament, the Storthing.

    What a disaster. They gave the Peace prize to Henry Kissinger, the war Criminal.

    Who is behind? The Christian fundamentalists? Imperialists?

  • 5

    What is the definition of extremism? where to draw the line?

    Mahatma Gandhi was an extremist to the British.
    Mandela was an extremist to the US.
    SJV was an extremist to then SL Govt.


  • 2

    More outpourings of a petulant little prick pretending to be wise and all-seeing!
    This man is beyond description!

    • 3

      The writer is one who has turned running with the hares and hunting with the hounds into a fine art form. His arse is perforated with umpteen pricks from sitting on the fence whilst waiting to see how the winds of opportunity blow. Who can forget his mealy-mouthed defences of the current regime. Who can not notice his craving to get back onside with the puppet masters. Notice the wistful plug for his alter ego Dayan. If you ever get to watch this man up close, pay particular attention to his shifty demeanour and the ease with which he would knead a point of view. Palayang yako! has called well and ‘petulant little prick’ has indeed summed up the ‘man’.

  • 4

    But Dear Rajiva,

    Thought you represent the extremist ? while peeing on them in this forum. Did not the folks in OSLO know that ? Perhaps they should read CT.

    • 1

      Kiri Yakka

      Perhaps they only read Norwegian, Norsk.

      It is like many Sinhala “Buddhists”. They only read Sinhala.

      Are they Buddhist? or Just Fake Buddhists?

      The Wahhabis are like that, Are they Muslims or Fake Muslims?

  • 1

    The conflict between the self styled elite of the West and the finger licking goops of the East continues. As conveyed in the term, ‘Ugly American’, it is deemed civilised to play the role of do gooder and Human Rights activist in other countries whereas ones own Govt is guilty of the most blatant and inhumane double standards.

    There they go supporting Israel a foreign implant in the midst of a indigenous population that co-existed peacefully for centuries. Pumping in arms and military assistance to surpport the so called democratic outpost of the west and killing the miserable Palestinians and other sons of the soil.

    Tony Blair the lap dog of George Bush was appointed special envoy for the Middle East for no reason other than to twiddle his thumbs and make stupid statements about Islam and Muslims. What has this donkey done to solve the problems over the last several years?

    And so it goes on and on untill one fine day the scales will be turned and Israel will be the batttle ground of extremist militias and jihadis. So await the day unless Israel and the West really wants to make peace and settle the Palestinian issue.

  • 2

    next time there is a forum such as this we should send Jim Soflty to those fellows a thing or two and if he wants moral support we can pack off Ella Kolla along

  • 3

    Rajiva, Dayan Jayathilake a fawning self-seeker and egoist of giant proportions is no solution to the current rot in the MEA. It takes more. CORRUPT AND CRIMINAL Mahinda Rajapaksa and his family and cronies MUST GO – that is the solution to the CRISIS of CORRUPT GOVERNANCE in every sector and Ministry in the country today.

    Who appointed a Mahinda Jarapassa’s tea taster cousin with NO EDUCATION – Jaliya – to the most important post in the SL embassy in Washington DC and then spent lots of money on lobbying firms?

    What other country spends so much on lobby firms in the US?!
    Of the funds spent by the Ministry of External Affairs on lobbying by Beltway firms in Washington DC. how much went into the pockets of Mahinda Rajapaksa’s corrupt and uneducated cousin Jaliya Wickramasuriya the TEA TASTER who has NO EDUCATION OR BRAIN, but made lots of money while Ambassador of Sri Lanka in Washington – on corrupt deals and failed policy?

    The US Dept. of State does its research systematically in third world countries and cuts thought the spin of lobbying firms – particularly those that lobby for FOREIGN GOVERNMENTS!
    Lobby firms for foreign govts. are disregarded by the US State Dept. unlike lobby firms for US domestic issues that are taken more seriously. This simple fact has been overlooked in deciding to hire lobby firms.

    There are no short cuts to the truth, no substitutes for skilled and qualified people in top posts. Lobbying firms are merely a way for the corrupt crook at MEA to make more money – most of them Sajin Vas G and Jarapassa’s cronies and relatives..

  • 2

    Extremism in Sri Lanka post-2009:
    South ruled by the elected President
    North (and Tamils in the East) ruled by the Army/Navy

    Successive governments have been extremists in oppressing the Tamils(and now the Muslims) – the present govt is the worst:

    i.”The Northern and Eastern provincial councils that have been established do not enjoy the freedom to decide on their priorities. They have to function under the control of the Governors of the respective provinces who were one-time military commanders and dominate the decision making even though unelected. This means that the fundamental issues that gave rise to the war remain unresolved even as the government celebrates the fifth anniversary of the end of the war’’ – International Stakes Continue To Rise With Changes Next Door, Jehan Perera, 19 May 2014, https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/international-stakes-continue-to-rise-with-changes-next-door/

    ”Though provincial council elections were held in the north and east of the country, in effect the two governors of the north and east from the military and the extremely dense security forces present in the form of uniformed, plain clothed and para-militaries and reservists appear to govern that province” – Is reconciliation achievable without separation in Sri Lanka? Lionel Bopage, 1 May 2014, http://groundviews.org/2014/05/01/is-reconciliation-achievable-without-separation-in-sri-lanka/

    ’’According to complaints made, in the Eastern PC and NPC the Constitution works in the opposite direction! The CMs have become non-entities! In the Southern PC, the CM is ‘The Man’ because (Sinhalese-Sinhalese) political homogeneity exists between the center and the periphery’’ – Administrative Failure In The North, Austin Fernando, 20 April 2014, http://www.thesundayleader.lk/2014/04/20/administrative-failure-in-the-north/

    ii. Provincial Task Force for Northern Development is still in the hands of the Governor. https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/colonization-schemes-what-did-the-b-c-pact-say/

    iii. IDPs and returnees are unable to compete with the economic activities of the occupying militay in the North – Sri Lanka, p76, Global Overview 2014: People internally displaced by conflict and violence, Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre, 14 May 2014,http://www.internal-displacement.org/assets/publications/2014/201405-global-overview-2014-en.pdf

    iv. In the discussion it was pointed out that there had been a spate of suicides of business persons due to the failure of their business plans and inability to repay the loans they had taken. A number as high as 20 was given for the past few months’’ – 17 December 2013, http://www.peace-srilanka.org/media-centre/political-analysis/753-commander-in-chief-must-give-the-right-order-for-constructive-transition-jehan-perera

  • 2

    ”sense of security into which they lulled the President” ???????
    THEY lulled the President?
    They LULLED the President?
    They lulled the PRESIDENT?

    Made him enact the Eighteenth Amendment annulling the Seventeenth Amendment?

    The President makes ALL the decisions including deciding the settlement of wages of the estate workers on strike! Meeting with BBBS at Temple Trees instantly sent the order on population control!

    How long will you go on protecting the President?

  • 1

    What a load of poppycock by seemingly a WOG!

  • 0

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  • 0

    “”””he did make clear what he saw as the failure of his great achievement in negotiating peace between Israel and Egypt.””””

    President Carter is harsh on himself; it was no failure to try. It is further evidence that the long-running spat between the Palestinians and the Arabs will not be one the any man can solve.

  • 2

    “me a forum in which to argue the case for what the Sri Lankan government has achieved.”

    We all know the achievements of Sri Lanka. A country that massacred over 100,000 people and committed war crimes and genocide, grossly violated human rights, keep a part of the nation as an open prison, complete destruction of justice system, dangerous place for journalists and highest level of corruption and finally branded as a nation ruled by a monstrous dictator family.

    What a wonderful achievement?

  • 0

    One man’s ‘patriot’ is another man’s ‘extremist’.
    In sri lanka,those who demand equality,end to corruption,free and fair elections,an end to nepotism and impunity are “extremists”.
    Rajiva is a ‘patriot’ because he is purposely blind to all injustice.

  • 1

    This another me… me…me… me….mee….mee…meee and I… I… IIIIIIEEEEE of Rajiva.

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