Sturdy Advocacy: Marga’s Questioning of the UNPoE Assassination Job

Michael Roberts

Apart from the extended session with Sandra Beidas of the OISL (or OHCHR) team at Geneva, the three ‘advocates’ from Marga and CHA also participated in some side-events where they presented their interpretations of Eelam War IV and the evolving processes in Sri Lanka since then. The photograph immediately below and that at the end of this post depict one such event when they met representatives from a number of INGOs with interests in Sri Lanka, with the chair being a gentleman from a Sri Lankan organisation in Geneva (World Buddhist Congress?) which is accredited to the United Nations.

  Marga-Godfrey speaks-GENEVATwo Sri Lankan civil society organizations –the Marga Institute and the Consortium of Humanitarian Agencies (CHA) presented their recent work on the last stages of the war in Sri Lanka at a side event to the UNHRC sessions in Geneva on 8th September 2014. Godfrey Gunatilleke  [in grey suit] is speaking; Jeevan Thiagarajah is on his left and Asoka Gunawardene is far right

In the course of a brief telephone chat Godfrey Gunatilleke indicated that the discussion was quite heated at times and that one of the human rights activists in the assembly, David Whaley, wished to know if the visit by Marga and CHA was funded by the government of Sri Lanka. In short, his suspicion was that they were government stooges. Reasonable enough as inquiry. But the boot can be placed on the other foot as well. One could direct a similar question at Whaley: was he – since he probably was a person immersed in a moral crusade and a compassionate believer of Tamil victimology in the manner Arundhati Roy and/or Radhika Coomaraswamy[1] — a stooge of the Tamil activists worldwide because captivated and captured by their clever agit-prop work? The problem here is that secular fundamentalists of the type Whaley would be so immersed in their righteousness that such challenging questions would not ever be entertained.

 International Complicity in the LTTE-cum-Tamil Strategy: International powers were active players in the unfolding course of Eelam War IV in Sri Lanka, especially in 2008/09. They bought into the clever LTTE and Tamil strategy of creating the prospect of a humanitarian disaster through massive civilian deaths.[2] They exerted continuous pressure on the government of Sri Lanka to adopt a ceasefire and even to cease military advances in circumstances when the SL Army was squeezing the Tiger forces to death. Clear evidence of this programme can be located in the dispatches of the US ambassador in Sri Lanka, Robert Blake, thrown open to the world by Wikileaks. That is, in effect and in practice, the international powers became de facto allies of the LTTE and Tamils.[3]

For instance, in a face-to-face meeting circa 18th March 2009 with the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Rohitha Bogollagama, the American ambassador Robert Blake “strongly cautioned the government not to enter the safe zone forcibly” and asserted that “if there were civilian casualties the government of Sri Lanka would be accused of war crimes” (dispatch of 18th March 2009 from Wikileaks) – truly a Sword of Damocles in the garments of US liberal-democratic pursuits and US interests. It was a sword that was wielded — through the UNPoE Report  (March 2011) and thereafter through the Petrie Report (November 2012). Its consequences were precisely those that Marga and CHA were seeking to address.

The term “international powers” refers in this summary to USA, Canada, Britain, France, Norway and the UN bureaucracy. Let me underline the last reference: the “UN bureaucracy” as distinct from “the UN.” Indeed, I would go further and suggest that the “UN bureaucracy” in this scenario was more or less an extension of the US State department. For one, USA more or less owned the branch named as the “UN Department of Political Affairs” with two of its foreign ministry officers filling the leadership roles in that department[4] from 2005 through to 2014. For another, scour the dispatches sent by Ambassador Blake to his superiors in Washington and you will see that senior UN officials who came on flying visits to Sri Lanka (e.g. Holmes[5] and Nambiar) were acting in step with USA’s desires and more-or-less its handmaidens. In that context, both USA and UN were in fact handmaidens of the LTTE,[6] while the Tamil activists in Sri Lanka/abroad were obedient Tiger followers who aided and abetted the LTTE strategy by bombarding the US embassy and Washington offices with emails.[7]

It is truly an irony of history and the present world order that it is feasible for a party to a conflict to mount an investigation of that same conflict, and then proceed to become prosecutor and judge.

My cynical interpretation of these happenings as a voice in a little dungeon in a little islet in the Indian Ocean derives from this interpretive framework. From this standpoint I admire the efforts made by my old friend Godfrey Gunatilleke, the Marga Institute and its sundry allies to mount a defense of the Sri Lankan authorities (not just the Rajapaksa clan) and Sri Lankan society writ large in the circumstances they faced then in 2006-09.

Their brave stance is underlined further when it is contrasted with the reading of the UNPoE by other sections of the Sri Lankan intelligentsia such as the Centre for Policy Alternatives and the Friday Forum. At one point the Friday Forum usually held their meetings at the Marga offices so it was a momentous step for Godfrey Gunatilleke to disapprove of their interpretation of the international scene vis a vis Sri Lanka under US direction. Indeed, it would be of some value for serious analysts to explore and decipher the thinking of the civil rights campaigners in the Colombo circles who went along with the pursuits of the UN bureaucracy and ICG from 2008 to the present-day – as long as it is not turned into a witch-hunt or muckraking exercise.

The circumstances they faced” is a key phrase and a broad heading for a complex delineation of the context that is vital for any comprehension of the course and outcome of Eelam War IV as well as its outbreak in 2006 (Roberts, “Realities,” 2015a). That is precisely what the United Nations Panel of Experts did not do because (a) a rounded evaluation does not seem to have been their goal; and (b) they were desk-bound people of intelligence who could not transcend their cloistered imprisonment in office-perspectives in a manner that would have enabled them to decipher the knitty-gritty of modern warfare in messy battle theatres.

Pinpointing the horrendous deficiencies in the UNPoE Report was the first step taken by the Marga directors (Marga 2011). But their considered study of this report and their subsequent distillation of the literature on the war and its sequels was restrained by their physical situation: in island Sri Lanka. Their advocacy had limited reach as I have argued in “Lilliputs in a World of Giants” (Roberts 2015b).

So one must applaud the further step they took in association with the Consortium of Humanitarian Agencies, whose Executive Director Jeevan Thiagarajah has useful international connections and whose ability to secure funds enabled a combined venture advocating their interpretations of the war-and-its-aftermath in the international circles where the US powerbrokers were pursuing their agenda.

Marga at Geneva 22 A section of the participants at the Marga/CHA briefing for INGO representatives and other invitees


Blacker, David [2009] The War Situation in a Nutshell, 12th April 2009, as David Blacker destroys Arundhati Roy’s Emotional Fantasies,” reprint in 15 November 2015,

Gamage, Daya 2008 “Barack Obama & Civil War in Sri Lanka; Robert Blake’s Mind-Set; Negating R2P Psychology Build-Up,” 2 November 2008,

Gamage, Daya 2011a “Tamil Issue in Sri Lanka: US Policy Development 1981-1995,” 5 June 2011,

Gamage, Daya 2011b “International Humanitarian Law – at all times – applicable to LTTE atrocities: Why was the West silent?” 6 July 2011,

Gamage, Daya 2014 “The American Agenda for Sri Lanka’s National Issues, 1970s-2014,” 5 July 2014.

[Gunatilleke] 2015 “International Pressures & Island Fissures: Gunatilleke faces Ratnawalli,” 5 November 2015

IDAG [i.e. Citizen Silva] 2013 “The Numbers Game: Politics of Retributive Justice,” OR

Ladduwahety, Neville 2014 Sri Lanka’s Armed Conflict, Colombo.

Lunstead Jeffrey 2007 The United States’ Role in Sri Lanka’s Peace Process,

Mango 2014 “Sri Lanka’s War In Its Last Phase: Where WIA Figures Defeat The Gross KIA Estimates,” 14 February 2014,

Marga 2011 An Analysis and Evaluation of The Report of the Advisory Panel to the UNSG nn the Final Stages of the War in Sri Lanka,

Marga 2014 Issues of Truth and Accountability. The Last Stages of the War in Sri Lanka,

“Marga & CHA Press Their Views in the Washington Den,” via Jeevan Thiagarajah: “Memo on Visit to Washington, 16-23rd October 2014: Resetting the Discourse on Post-War Issues of Accountability,” 19 November 2015,

Narendran, Rajasingham 2014 Harsh Ground Realities in War: Decomposing Bodies and Missing Persons and Soldiers,” 28 January 2014,

Noble, Kath 2013b “Numbers Game reviewed by Kath Noble: The Full Monty,” 14 July 2013,

Peiris, Gerald H. 2007The Responsibility to Protect and External Interventions in the Sri Lankan Conflict,” reprint on 20 November 2015,

[Petrie Report] 2012 Report of the United Nation’s Internal Panel on United Nations Action in Sri Lanka, November 2012,

Ratnawalli {see Gunatilleke]

Roberts, Michael 2011a “People of Righteousness target Sri Lanka,” 27 June 2011,

Roberts, Michael 2011b “Death and Eternal Life: Contrasting Sensibilities in the Face of Corpses,” 29 June 2011,

Roberts, M. 2012aBlackmail during the Endgame in Eelam War IV,” 12 April 2012,

Roberts, M. 2012b “Inspirations: Hero Figures and Hitler in Young Pirapaharnan’s Thinking,” Colombo Telegraph, 12 February 2012, rep. in TPS. Essays, 2014, 69-89.

Roberts, M. 2013 “BBC-Blind: Misreading the Tamil Tiger Strategy of International Blackmail, 2008-13,”

Roberts, M. 2014a “Generating Calamity, 2008-2014: An Overview of Tamil Nationalist Operations and Their Marvels,” 10 April 2014,

Roberts, M. 2014b Tamil Person and State. Essays, Colombo: Vijitha Yapa Publishers.

Roberts, M. 2014c Tamil Person and State. Pictorial, Colombo: Vijitha Yapa Publishers.

Roberts, Michael 2014d “Where Infighting generates Fervour & Power: ISIS Today, LTTE Yesterday,” 21 July 2014,

Roberts, Michael 2015a Targeting Lanka by Playing Ball with Tamil Extremism: 2008-14,” 24 July 2015,

Roberts, Michael 2015b “American Action and Inaction on Sri Lanka, 2008/09: A Critical Evaluation,” 5 September 2015,

Roberts, Michael 2015c “The Realities of Eelam War IV,” 27 October 2015,

Roberts, Michael 2015dLilliputs in a World of Giants: Marga and CHA bat for Lanka in the Propaganda War, 2009-14,” 18 November 2015,

Sunday Times 2015 “Marga/CHA confront the OISL Investigation in Geneva, September 2014: Godfrey Gunatilleke in Q and A with Lasanda Kurukulasuriya,” 19 November 2015,

Thiagarajah, Jeevan 2015Marga/CHA in Advocacy with BRIC Nations at Geneva, September 2014,” 19 November 2015,

Thiagarajah, Jeevan 2015 Confronting the OCHR Investigation in Geneva, September 2014: Memorandum from Jeevan Thiagarajah,” 19 November 2015,

Thiagarajah, Jeevan 2015 Confronting the OCHR Investigation in Geneva, September 2014: Memorandum from Jeevan Thiagarajah,” 19 November 2015,

UNPoE Report 2011 Report of the Secretary-General’s Panel of Experts on Accountability in Sri Lanka, March 2011,

 **    ***


[1] David Blacker has pulverized Arundhati Roy’s stance in April 2009 (yes 2009) in this sharp analysis: “The one single thing standing between the Wanni Tamils and safety is the LTTE. And there is very little the diaspora or anyone outside Sri Lanka can do to make them let their people go. Twice the government has declared ‘no fire zones’ in LTTE territory and urged the civilians to find shelter there from the fighting. The Tigers have, however, blatantly violated these zones, operating within them and using them to launch attacks against the SL army. Meanwhile, the LTTE continues to hold the thousands of Tamils in these ‘no fire zones’ hostage, conscripting even the elderly and very young as slave labour and cannon fodder …” (Blacker 2015 –a reprint). This sharp analysis anticipates my own writings in later years. It also provides a retort to Radhika Coomaraswamy’s total immersion in the grief of victims to the degree that she could not perceive who had set up the parametres for that situation; namely the LTTE (Roberts, “People of Righteousness,” 2011a)

[2] This argument has been elaborated and expanded over the years in Roberts, “Blackmail,” 2012a; “Generating Calamity,” 2014b. Also see the anthology Tamil Person and State, 2014.

[3] Thus see Roberts, “Targeting,” 2015a and “American Action,” 2015b.

[4] B. Lynn Pascoe served as Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations at the UN Department of Political Affairs from 2007 to June 2012,; and was followed by Jeffrey Feltman, also from the US Foreign Ministry. Alsos ee Gamage 2014.

[5] For instance, re Holmes’s visit see Blake dispatch, no. 180, 19 Feb. 2009 (Wikileaks).

[6] I have moved to this emphasis over the years and the strongest arguments on these lines, with documentation, can be found in Roberts, “Targeting,” 2015a and “American Action,” 2015b.

[7] See Blake, dispatch No. 314 of 20 March 2009 (Wikileaks). The ambassador distinguished between the extremism of the majority and h those who w ere more temperate. Thus, in the form of unintended impact the extremist Tamils opened the door for the moderates to influence the thinking of the ambassador and the S-of-State’s department. One can be certain that the officials in Washington were also bombarded with emails and perhaps even phone calls and lobbying. Note that the leader of the Tamil National Alliance in Sri Lanka, Sambanthan, greeted Hilary Clintons’ selection as Sec-of-state with a short letter that ran thus under the title “The Tamil National Question in Sri Lanka,”

“We write to you as the representatives in the Parliament of Sri Lanka of the Tamil people of the Northeast region comprising the Northern and Eastern provinces of Sri Lanka – the areas of historical habitation of the Tamil speaking people. Of the 23 Tamil representatives elected to Parliament from the Northeast, 22 belong to our Party.

May we extend to you our warmest congratulations and very best wishes on your assumption of office as Secretary of State of the United States of America.

We annex herewith a copy of the letter we have addressed to President Barack Obama. We would earnestly urge you to use your good offices to address the issues that we have raised in the said letter. We are confident that during your term as Secretary of State there can be a turnaround in the situation in Sri Lanka.

Thanking you and with our warm regards……………Yours sincerely,


Parliamentary Group Leader, Tamil National Alliance



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