A Tour de Force by Tamara Kunanayakam in Reviewing THE RAJAPAKSA YEARS

Tamara Kunanayakam, reviewing Triumph and Disaster: the Rajapaksa Years. Part I. Success in War: My time at the Peace Secretariat, 2007-2009 ..Book by Rajiva Wijesinha[1] ……………On the occasion of the Launch, 18 February 2015 … also presented in The Island, 22 & 23 February 2016. I have taken the liberty of highlighting particular passages in colour so as to guide readers, but, of course, I anticipate that readers will use their own judgements in evaluating the arguments in this important essay. Michael Roberts 

Rajiva’s latest book Triumph and Disaster: the Rajapaksa Years is a remarkable documentary of the first Rajapaksa years that constituted a turning point in Sri Lanka’s recent history. The book celebrates the victory over LTTE terror, which had determined almost every aspect of our lives for a quarter of a century.

17876-trivmph and-rajive-D-1-8It provides exceptional insight into the work of a State institution that played a central role, even as it had to adapt to changing circumstances when the LTTE forced a radical shift from talks across the negotiating table to a brutal war in which it transformed civilians into cannon fodder. It is a profound personal account of the events as they unfolded between June 2007, when Rajiva was appointed Secretary-General of the Secretariat for Coordinating the Peace Process, and the end of the war in May 2009. In June 2008, he was also appointed Secretary to the Ministry of Disaster Management and Human Rights, and his account, therefore, also includes insights gained while he was there. Apart from providing fascinating reading, painting as it does a vivid image of the characters and events, the duplicity and the intrigues, substantiated by a wealth of documentation, I found in his book pieces of the puzzle that were missing in my own analysis, from my Geneva vantage point.  

TAMARAWhen I say Geneva, I don’t mean only the year I spent as Permanent Representative of Sri Lanka to the United Nations. I mean most of my adult life, which I spent in Geneva, studying and working in and around the UN System, of which more than 10 years were in the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. I had seen and experienced the functioning of the UN System from various angles: – as a student at the Graduate Institute of International Studies in Geneva, which trained international civil servants; then, as an international civil servant; and, more recently, as Permanent Representative of a Member State.

Unlike the LTTE yesterday, the separatist lobby today, and their Western backers, the major failure of successive Sri Lankan governments was an underestimation of the international dimension of the internal conflict. In my view, it is this understanding that permitted the LTTE then, and the separatist lobby today, to occupy the international space fully, made easier by the absence of the Government in this domain. My presentation will, therefore, essentially focus on the chapters that address this dimension.

International intervention: Rajiva’s book is not so much about the military operations, but about an aspect of the war that is less spectacular, but perhaps more important and more dangerous, because insidious. It is about what Rajiva calls the “battle that had to be fought to prevent the government being stalled in its tracks by international intervention.” That battle is not over and that is also why this book is a must read for anyone interested in lasting peace.

Significantly, Rajiva’s account corroborates the argument that the motivations behind initiatives in Geneva are to be found elsewhere, not in a desire to protect the human rights of Tamils. He convincingly demonstrates with numerous examples, communications and press releases issued by the Peace Secretariat how Western governments, the international and national advocacy groups funded by them, and the United Nations failed to condemn the killings, abductions, forced recruitment and use of child soldiers by the LTTE.  He describes how, on the contrary, despite first hand knowledge of its totalitarian nature and widespread abuse, the LTTE had been, directly or indirectly, aided in various ways.

Rajiva’s account clearly demonstrates that external intervention to undermine Sri Lanka’s sovereignty and to steer the course of its history did not begin during the last phase of the war, despite it being the focus of the on-going Western campaign. Western intervention began well before that, adapting its form to changing circumstances, but always with a single-minded determination.

Priority for support to LTTE and interventionist lobby: At first, they sought to wield influence through their support to the LTTE. The presence of pro-Western UNP governments under the Presidency of CBK was also reassuring. Rajiva’s book is replete with facts and figures demonstrating the mutually-reinforcing relationship that existed in particular between the CBK-Ranil Wickremasinghe regime, the LTTE, Western powers, sections of the UN, and interventionist NGOs – both national and international. During this period, millions of rupees in foreign funding had gone to finance the LTTE – authorised by the Ranil Wickremasinghe Government, even after the LTTE had made clear it would not attend the negotiations. Funding to the “conglomerate of like-minded interventionists,” as Rajiva described the NGOs, was on a massive scale, coming in good stead during the Rajapaksa years when this “funding for peace” was “diverted to critics of government,” which is the title of the book’s Chapter 6.

Several chapters of Rajiva’s book are dedicated to facts, figures, names of organisations and individuals involved in the giving and receiving of what amounted to over 200 million rupees of foreign funding.

Appearance of Responsibility to Protect (RtoP)– framing the Rajapaksa government: In the period immediately following Rajapaksa’s election to the Presidency, there was a tendency, both by his political opponents in Sri Lanka and by Western governments, to underestimate the man. In 2007, they were still predicting that his Government would be toppled and that international pressures would contribute toward this end.

That perception changed, however, somewhat with the defeat of the LTTE in the Eastern Province in July 2007. It became increasingly evident that the LTTE may not, after all, emerge victorious from the military option it had chosen. Rajiva describes how, during this period, the anti-government campaign grew in strength and viciousness and how the interventionist NGOs, Human Rights Watch in particular, launched concerted unsubstantiated attacks against the Government, but without the Government considering it necessary to counter them. He also discusses how this coincided with preparations for the September 2007 Human Rights Council session at which the British hoped to revive a draft resolution they had tabled in 2006. There were three failed attempts in 2006, 2007 and March 2009 to move a resolution against Sri Lanka, with the former colonial power, Britain, taking the lead.

It is appropriate to recall that many senior Human Rights Watch officials come from the US State Department and the National Endowment for Democracy. The Advisory Committee of its Americas Division even boasts of a former Central Intelligence Agency official by the name of Miguel Diaz.

It is likely that it is with the prospect of a total LTTE defeat and the consolidation in Colombo of the Rajapaksa Government that Washington turned to the possibility of framing a RtoP case against Sri Lanka, as a means to limit State sovereignty and to legitimise unilateral intervention “pre-emptively and preventively” at a future date. In another country, Washington could have opted to intervene directly using the pretext of fighting terrorism. The Obama Administration, as the Bush Administration before it, continued to be influenced by the neoconservatives who advocated unilateral intervention to combat what they called “new global threats,” terrorism being one. Donald Rumsfeld, the former Defense Secretary, described these new threats as “unknown unknowns” or “things we don’t know we don’t know,” which, because invisible, justify the use of military force, unilaterally, pre-emptively and preventively, anywhere and at anytime, even in the absence of evidence, because, according to Rumsfeld, “absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.” For obvious reasons, Washington could not argue that Sri Lanka was unable or unwilling to fight terrorism.

Rajiva provides a fascinating insider account of the first appearance of RtoP and how Sri Lanka was framed with the help of the “conglomerate of interventionist’ NGOs, who had been built up with foreign funds during the previous regime. Not surprisingly, the concept was introduced at the same time the LTTE was defeated in the East, also in July 2007, and by none other than the man who pioneered the concept, the former Australian Foreign Minister Gareth Evans. Evans had been invited by the International Centre for Ethnic Studies to give the Neelan Tiruchelvam Memorial Lecture entitled “The Limits of State Sovereignty: The Responsibility to Protect in the 21st Century.” At the time, Evans happened to be President and CEO of the International Crisis Group and Co-Chair of the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect.


Rajiva reveals the existence of a veritable conspiracy by a close-knit group composed of the UN Under-Secretary General, Radhika Coomaraswamy, the Executive Director of ICES, Rama Mani, who was promised a huge sum of foreign funding, Gareth Evans of the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect, and the then Canadian High Commissioner, Angela Bogdan.*+* Allegations began to be fabricated for future use in a claim that the State was engaged in genocide, ethnic cleansing, war crimes or crimes against humanity, or other similar mass atrocity crimes. And so began the step-by-step building of a case that found its way into the notorious Darusman Report and then into the reports of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.   That there was indeed a strategy to frame Sri Lanka became evident many years later, in 2013, when Sri Lanka was chosen as one of six countries for RtoP application by a US working group on “The United States and RtoP: from words to action,” which was co-chaired by former Secretary of the US State Department, Madeleine Albright, and US Presidential Envoy to Sudan, Richard Williamson.  Gareth Evans was part of that group.

July 2007 – Entry of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights: It is in this political and military context that characterised mid-2007 that the then UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Louise Arbour, also paid a visit to the country. She arrived in July 2007, accompanied by Rory Mungoven. Rajiva’s describes in much detail the insidious role played by Rory Mungoven, who was known as an interventionist and had been a constant in the affairs Sri Lanka ever since his appointment as UN Human Rights Advisor following the Ceasefire Agreement (CFA) in 2002. Before joining OHCHR, Mungoven had been Advocacy Director at Human Rights Watch and Asia-Pacific Programme Director at Amnesty International. He returned with Louise Arbour advocating the establishment of a monitoring mission in the form of a field office, which, elsewhere, had become discredited as channels for Western intervention. Mungoven was back again more recently, with the newest High Commissioner, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, to discuss implementation of the controversial 2015 Human Rights Council resolution. In the 8th February edition of The Island, I wrote of the insidious role that had been played by OHCHR, and continues to play.

Defeat of LTTE – battlefield shifts to Geneva: One would have expected the venom to subside when the Sri Lankan leadership succeeded in defeating a formidable terrorist outfit, singlehandedly and without the need for outside intervention. Elsewhere, such a feat would have been considered laudable by the same Western powers. After all, fighting terrorism is their new battle cry.

But that did not happen, and the viciousness returned with a vengeance. A Special Session was attempted in May 2009 to stop a final victory against the LTTE, but the West failed to mobilise the support needed. Rajiva reveals how already then, the West had been seriously contemplated a War Crimes Tribunal.

The West did, however, succeed in obtaining the Special Session they wanted a few days after the war ended, but not its outcome. Rajiva describes how the strategy adopted by Sri Lanka’s newly appointed Permanent Representative to the UN, Dayan Jayatilleke had proved effective in isolating the adversary. That victory demonstrated the importance of mounting a robust defence as a means of deflecting attacks. Had the team in Geneva remained passive, defeat would have been inevitable with a British-led draft resolution already on the table. Dayan’s strategy was to prevent the draft resolution from being taken up at all, and the only way to do so was to refuse to negotiate the text and to persuade enough members to make known that they would not support any move that would place Sri Lanka on the agenda. Rajiva describes how crucial to isolating the opponent was the close coordination between the Permanent Representative and the Peace Secretariat with its first-hand knowledge of the ground situation. This knowledge, combined with an understanding of the motivations and internal contradictions of the adversary, and the ability to recognise the community of interests with the developing world, was what had permitted the team to respond rapidly and aggressively to unsubstantiated attacks and to expose the duplicity of the Western power, thus putting them on the defensive and weakening their position.

In September 2011, another failed attempt to place Sri Lanka on the agenda followed, this time with Canada acting as Washington’s proxy, give that the US was not a member of the Human Rights Council. I was then Sri Lanka’s Permanent Representative in Geneva and found myself facing a furious US Ambassador, Eileen Donahoe, who exploded, “We’ll get you next time!” Six months later, the US, which had by then become a member, took the lead and two resolutions followed in 2012 and 2013, culminating in the notorious 2015 resolution that was adopted without a vote, because of co-sponsorship by the new pro-Washington Government in Colombo.

With this precedent-setting resolution posing a very real threat to Sri Lanka’s sovereignty, the publication of Rajiva’s book is indeed very timely,

False projection of Tamil reality – the Sri Lankan tragedy: An important aspect of Rajiva’s account is its exposure of the irresponsible and persistent projection by Sri Lankan politicians of Tamils as a homogenous group, not a heterogeneous community with its differences based on class, caste and geographic origin, and reflecting a diversity of social and political forces. The book is replete with examples of the heterogeneous character of Tamils in Sri Lanka and contains a catalogue of abuses by the LTTE against other Tamils showing they were the first and most immediate victims of its terror.

And yet, despite the obvious, all the protagonists in the Sri Lankan tragedy – the LTTE, successive Sri Lankan governments and Western powers – have all subscribed to this distortion of Tamil reality. Rajiva’s narrative shows how this false projection served in many ways to justify the policies of successive governments under the Presidencies of J.R. Jayewardene, Premadasa and CBK, resulting in the recognition of the LTTE as the “sole representative of the Tamil people” to the detriment of other political and social forces that could have represented a democratic alternative. Premadasa had even actively supported the LTTE against other Tamil political forces, who had come into mainstream politics following the 1987 Indo-Lankan Accord.

The 2002 CeaseFire Accord signed by the Ranil Wickremasinghe government under President CBK went so far as to recognise the LTTE as the sole representative of the Tamils, a recognition that prevented other Tamil forces from complaining against LTTE abuses. And since the government did not complain either, there are no proper records of the horrors inflicted by the LTTE against the people that it claimed to represent. During this period, millions of rupees were given to the LTTE, channelled through the UN and authorised by the Government of Ranil Wickremasinghe. Despite ample evidence that the LTTE was arming itself and expanding its operations into new areas, the Wickremasinghe government continued to pretend that the CFA was working.

CBK was no different. She had shown readiness to negotiate with the LTTE on the basis of a controversial LTTE proposal for an Internal Self-Governing Authority, which, if accepted, would have given it totalitarian powers. She then signed the P-TOMS agreement, clauses of which were found to be unconstitutional by the Supreme Court. In privileging the LTTE, CBK failed to talk to the moderate Tamil forces until after it was too late. By the time she put forward a package to appeal to the moderates, Neelan Tiruchelvam had been assassinated and the LTTE had gained full control of the North and also its politicians. To make matters worse, the UNP literally burnt that package in Parliament.

By projecting Tamils as a homogenous group, our politicians have, wittingly or unwittingly, aided the LTTE in gaining legitimacy as “the sole representative of the Tamil people,” and thereby also, validating its demand for a separate State. Rajiva’s account helps understand how the propagation of the false perception helped frame a RtoP case against Sri Lanka, providing Washington the precedent it needs at the United Nations to legitimise unilateral intervention under the controversial third pillar of RtoP.

The repeated references by successive Sri Lankan governments to the existence a so-called “Tamil Diaspora”, whether in a positive sense or a negative sense, only further reinforces this false perception, and unless we are ready to learn from the lessons of history, we will continue to be a divided people.

In my view, the false perception of Tamils as a homogenous community is what has been – and will continue to be – the paramount obstacle to achieving lasting peace and building a common Sri Lankan identity, one that is based on justice and equality. The fiction that the conflict was between the Sinhala majority and the Tamil minority may suit politicians vying for power within Sri Lanka, it also suits Western powers seeking to intervene in the country’s internal affairs, but it positively does not serve the interests of the Sri Lankan people, nor their aspirations for a society in which they have the sovereign right to determine their own destiny.

A challenge to re-appropriate our history: One cannot sufficiently emphasise the importance of perpetuating memory. If we fail in this responsibility, we will risk seeing our history re-written by others. Rajiva’s book is a challenge to all of us to re-appropriate a decisive sequence of our recent history, and is a must read for each and every one of us!

[1] S. Godage & Brothers (Pvt) Ltd, 661/665/675, P. de S. Kularatne Mawatha, Colombo, Sri Lanka, 2015, 279pp. ISBN 978-955-30-6539-1. Rs.1250/ US$15.

BIO-NOTE: Tamara Kunanayakam is a Sri Lankan Tamil educated at Ladies College Colombo, and followed Economics & Political Science at Heidelberg Universitat and thereafter pursued International Relations at the Graduate Institute of International Studies Geneva. She has married a French speaker and spent considerable time [as her article indicates] in UN circles in Geneva. She was SL’s “Permanent Rep to the UN at Geneva” from 9 August 2011-July 2012. The Wikipedia entry on her is tainted with false data and her efforts to correct it have failed [because of some Tamil intervention in her surmise].

*+* SPECIAL NOTE: In the Island version of this essay the following part of the sentence has been omitted: “by a close-knit group composed of the UN Under-Secretary General, Radhika Coomaraswamy, the Executive Director of ICES, Rama Mani, who was promised a huge sum of foreign funding, Gareth Evans of the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect, and the then Canadian High Commissioner, Angela Bogdan.” … Information sent y Tamara Kunanayakam.

***  ***


OTHER RELATED DIMENSIONS arising from the MARGA Intervention within the International Front


Filed under accountability, american imperialism, governance, historical interpretation, human rights, Indian Ocean politics, life stories, LTTE, military strategy, patriotism, politIcal discourse, power politics, Rajapaksa regime, rehabilitation, Responsibility to Protect or R2P, Sinhala-Tamil Relations, sri lankan society, Tamil civilians, truth as casualty of war, vengeance, world events & processes, zealotry

11 responses to “A Tour de Force by Tamara Kunanayakam in Reviewing THE RAJAPAKSA YEARS

  1. padraigcolman

    Where was the original review?

    On 23 February 2016 at 19:16, Thuppahis Blog wrote:

    > thuppahi posted: “Tamara Kunanayakam, reviewing Triumph and Disaster: the > Rajapaksa Years. Part I. Success in War: My time at the Peace Secretariat, > 2007-2009 … Book by Rajiva Wijesinha[1] ……………On the occasion of > the Launch, 18 February 2015 Rajiva’s latest ” >

  2. Pingback: Gotabaya Rajapaksa Clarifies, III: American Volte Face in 2008 | Thuppahi's Blog

  3. Pingback: Zeid on Warpath says UNHRC and Yahapaalanaya are on the Same Page | Thuppahi's Blog

  4. Pingback: The New Constitution is a Neo-Colonial US Project | Thuppahi's Blog

  5. Pingback: Our Government Changes Course at Geneva: Dayan’s Incisive Summary | Thuppahi's Blog

  6. Pingback: The Lines of Fire within Mark Field’s Paternalist Message | Thuppahi's Blog

  7. Pingback: The Western World’s Cumulous Clouds of Deception: Blanketing the Sharp Realities of Eelam War IV | Thuppahi's Blog

  8. Pingback: Young Tamara Kunanayakam in Central Europe, 1970s-to-1980s | Thuppahi's Blog

  9. Pingback: Riddled with Deceit and Fallacy: The Western World’s Appraisal of Eelam War IV | Thuppahi's Blog

  10. Pingback: Gotabaya Rajapaksa Clarifies, III: American Volte Face in 2008 – NewsHub Sri Lanka

Leave a Reply