Int’l diplomatic coup to
erode SL’s sovereignty?
survival of one of the most prestigious civil society
organisations now hangs in the balance, with the International
Centre for Ethnic Studies (ICES) being plagued with allegations
of corruption, and serious accusations that its recently deposed
Executive Director hoodwinked the Board of Management in order
to ally the NGO with an international body that is actively
working to erode the sovereignty of Sri Lanka.
The ICES was established by eminent constitutional lawyer, late
Dr. Neelan Thiruchelvam in 1982, which he headed till his
assassination in 1999, and was later lead by Dr. Radhika
Coomaraswamy from 2000 till 2006. With Coomaraswamy taking up a
United Nations job in late 2006, one of her associates Dr. Rama
Mani, an Indian national took over at the helm of the NGO
Dr. Rama Mani has made available to
all ICES Board members in her ‘Report of Activities - August to
December 2007,’ the following explanation:
“Southern Affiliated Centre to the ‘Global Centre for the
Responsibility to Protect’
The GCR2P is a new international organisation that will seek to
move the ‘Responsibility to Protect’ from a globally accepted
principle, adopted by all member states of the United Nations at
the General Assembly in 2005, to an applicable policy tool that
could protect the lives of the most vulnerable populations
facing grave insecurity. Co-chaired by Gareth Evans and Mohammed
Sahnoun and with the patronage of global leaders like Kofi Annan
and Mary Robinson, it will be headquartered in New York at the
Ralphe Bunche Institute of the City University of New York to
ensure political access. It has initially selected three
pre-eminent centres around the world as affiliates. In keeping
with ICES Colombo’s long tradition of championing and pushing
the frontiers of human and minority rights, we have been
requested to serve as a southern affiliated centre. This
affiliation will link our grassroots research and human rights
work to global decision making and also open doors to new
research initiatives at regional and international level.
I have been asked to serve on the Advisory Board in my personal
capacity. The official launch will be on February 14, 2008 in
New York, followed by an Asian launch, possibly in Bangkok to
which we would also contribute.”
Recently, Dr. Rama Mani was dismissed from the position of
Executive Director of ICES Colombo, through a letter sent by
Prof Kingsley de Silva, Chairman of the ICES Board. This
followed inquiries regarding financial problems at ICES.
Satisfactory responses had not been received from Dr. Mani. Her
main argument was that she had inherited a bad situation.
However, failure to address issues over a 12-month period,
compounded by bad relations with five senior researchers at
ICES, led to the dismissal.
Subsequent to her dismissal, contrary to the instructions
contained therein, Dr. Mani had arranged for the removal of
documents from ICES. Since this was not done formally, and no
record was kept, the management appointed by the Board made a
Police entry. That this entry was timely, is apparent from the
fact that the police have recorded different versions of what
was removed. Dr. Mani, when questioned during an interview,
kindly arranged by the Indian High Commission to make it clear
that only a simple inquiry was required, maintained that only
books had been taken, but other witnesses testify to files.
ICES tangos with Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect
The need for a thorough inquiry is substantiated by the absence
of documentation concerning the relations of ICES with the
Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect. This Centre,
established by Gareth Evans of the International Crisis Group,
is intended to put into practice the doctrine of the
Responsibility to Protect, which could involve interference by
others in the affairs of sovereign states.
Evans was invited to Sri Lanka in 2007 by Dr. Mani, who hoped
that his visit would create what she termed, much needed waves.
It did, inasmuch as his lecture seemed to be based on
misconceptions regarding Sri Lanka, leading him to the
conclusion that the doctrine of the Responsibility to Protect
might soon need to be invoked in Sri Lanka.
Meanwhile, Dr. Mani had aligned ICES with the Global Centre, so
that it appeared on the Global Centre website as an Associate
Centre, intended to promote the doctrine and put it into
Though Dr. Mani mentioned this association in the report she
prepared at the end of the year, there is no record of the ICES
Board deciding on such a move. Following Dr. Mani’s dismissal,
the Chairman made it clear that ICES should dissociate itself
from the Global Centre. The Global Centre has now removed ICES
from its website.
ICES recently entered into a Memorandum of Understanding with
the Constitutional Affairs and National Integration Ministry,
which has been asked for approval for a project, for which ICES
is to receive funding from the World Bank. ICES had not revealed
to the Ministry its status with the Global Centre. Though this
has now been revoked, Dr. Mani continues on the Advisory Body of
the Global Centre, along with her predecessor as Executive
Director of ICES-Colombo, Radhika Coomaraswamy.
Dr. Coomaraswamy was required, when she took on her current
position with the United Nations, to resign from Board positions
in Sri Lanka. However, she has continued to attempt to influence
ICES decisions. She was responsible for introducing Dr. Mani to
ICES, and attended the Board meeting of ICES at which Dr. Mani
was appointed. Though she had by then resigned, she saw no
impropriety in attending as a substitute for Bradman Weerakoon.
Following Dr. Mani’s dismissal, a Board director of the ICES,
Bradman Weerakoon sent her a letter of reinstatement on the
grounds that the letter of dismissal issued by Chairman, ICES,
was not in order. This was subsequent to Dr. Coomaraswamy urging
this in a letter which contained a veiled threat of the
withdrawal of Ford Foundation funding for the ICES endowment.
Meanwhile, records indicate that Rs. 29 million of the endowment
was lost last year due to faulty management. Senior researchers
who had drawn attention to problems were ignored, prompting
resignations beginning with the period even before Dr. Mani’s
appointment, when Weerakoon was responsible for the
administration. Dr. Coomaraswamy, in accepting responsibility
for some losses, has claimed that she simply signed anything put
in front of her by the Financial Controller, who she thought was
Though the Police inquiry was primarily about the missing
documentation, and the search for the manner in which ICES
became, with the connivance of just a few people, an Associated
Centre for the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect,
it is apparent now that a thorough examination of ICES finances
over the last five years is also desirable.
The Canadian High Commissioner, who like Dr. Coomaraswamy had
threatened a withdrawal of funds if Dr. Mani were not
reinstated, is doubtless not aware of the shaky state of ICES
finances, and the manner in which improper transactions
continued in spite of numerous efforts to prevent these and
In a context in which unaccountable NGOs set themselves up as
more reliable decision makers than elected governments, as to
the fate of countries, it is vital that full transparency and
accountability be required, and that those responsible for
embarrassing and illegal commitments made without due
consultation with, or information to responsible authorities, be
dealt with firmly.
The R2P concept
The Responsibility to Protect – known as R2P – refers to the
obligation of states toward their populations and toward all
populations at risk of genocide and other large-scale
atrocities. This new international norm sets forth that:
• The primary responsibility to protect populations from
human-made catastrophe lies with the state itself.
• When a state fails to meet that responsibility, either through
incapacity or ill-will, then the responsibility to protect
shifts to the international community.
• This responsibility must be exercised by diplomatic, legal and
other peaceful measures and, as a last resort, through military
These principles originated in a 2001 report of the
International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty
and were endorsed by the United Nations General Assembly in the
2005 World Summit Outcome Document paragraphs 138 and 139.
Unfortunately, this has led to an industry based on these
principles. One of the man proponents of the idea is Gareth
Evans, and he has now set up a Global Centre for the purpose.
This is an initiative of the International Crisis Group, Human
Rights Watch, Institute for Global Policy, Oxfam International,
and Refugees International. To date, start up support has been
pledged by the governments of The Netherlands, Australia,
Canada, and Rwanda, the Open Society Institute, and Scott Lawlor;
its International Advisory Board is co-chaired by Gareth Evans
and Mohamed Sahnoun.
The Global Centre has an Advisory Board. Radhika Coomaraswamy,
former Executive Director of ICES, and Rama Mani her successor,
serve on this Board. Between them it seems they have made ICES a
Southern Affiliated Centre to the ‘Global Centre for the
Responsibility to Protect’. According to the ICES report, ‘In
keeping with ICES Colombo’s long tradition of championing and
pushing the frontiers of human and minority rights, we have been
requested to serve as a Southern affiliated centre. This
affiliation will link our grassroots research and human rights
work to global decision making and also open doors to new
research initiatives at regional and international level.’
Rama Mani claims that “I have been asked to serve on the
Advisory Board in my personal capacity. The official launch will
be on February 14, 2008 in New York, followed by an Asian
launch, possibly in Bangkok to which we would also contribute.”
ICG is also it seems part funded by Canada. Global Centre R2P is
a project of ICG and is also funded by Canada. Two Executive
Directors of ICES are on the advisory council and they have
irredeemably associated ICES with this Centre. Whether Canada
itself was anxious to have a surrogate for the Centre in Sri
Lanka may be questioned, but the motivations of its current
Ambassador are clearly suspect.
Radhika Coomaraswamy, who was made by the UN to resign all her
Board positions in Sri Lanka, and should not be involved in the
management of ICES, has already intervened to try to rescue Rama
Mani. Clearly she does not understand the gravity of the
conflict of interest problems that UN policies and principles
try to prevent. When the Canadian Ambassador joins in, claiming
the backing of other Heads of Mission, there is surely need of
thorough investigation as to what is going on. We hope the
Ministry of Foreign Affairs will not let this outrage also slip
through the net.
Friends in high places
Somewhat unusually, the Canadian High Commissioner has
written directly to the Board of ICES.
With the sacking of Dr. Rama Mani several important
personalities have now come to her defence. In an unprecedented
move Canadian High Commissioner in Colombo, Angela Bogdan has
threatened to withdraw funding for the ICES if Mani is not
reinstated. Also sources reveal that Mani’s predecessor Radhika
Coomaraswamy, has also indicated that she will ensure that the
funding granted to the ICES from the Ford Foundation will be
curtailed, unless Mani is reinstated as Executive Director.
This emailed letter raises many important issues. Does a Head of
Mission normally address Boards of Directors in this manner? She
speaks of many Heads of Mission who have discussed the
termination of an employee at ICES. Does this mean diplomats in
this country are involved in the running of civil society
organisations including appointments? While personnel involved
play a key part in activities of projects, is it the employee
who is funded or the organisation? It has been said in some
quarters that NGOs are being controlled by external forces. In
this instance ICES and the employee have been gravely
compromised by the actions of this diplomat. Are there other
organisations being controlled in this manner in Sri Lanka?
Conversely are they being coerced and intimidated into losing
The following email was sent by Canadian High Commissioner Ms.
Angela Bogdan to the board of directors of ICES:
Dear Chairman and Members of the ICES Governing Board:
I am writing to express my deep concern over events surrounding
the recent dismissal of ICES Executive Director.
Whilst it is not my prerogative to intervene in matters which
are the rightful purview of the Governing Board, Canada has
contributed substantial funding to ICES in the past, and is
about to partner with you in the execution of a very important
conference on pluralism. We are therefore disturbed by
indications that due process may not have been followed in the
termination of Dr. Mani as Executive Director, and that she has
been wrongfully accused of mismanagement. I feel compelled to
point out that Canada holds Dr. Mani in the highest regard. She
has a stellar professional reputation and it saddens us deeply
to hear that her credentials and integrity have been called into
I would therefore call on the Board to undertake a full and
transparent investigation of the facts. The reinstatement of Dr.
Mani in the interim would serve as an important confidence
building measure until such time as this investigation is
complete. I regret that Canada will not be able to move forward
with funding the Pluralism Conference until the situation is
Finally, I should add that I have received no documentation or
correspondence on these issues from any individual associated
with ICES; The aforementioned matters have been raised with me
by several Heads of Mission and leading members of civil
High Commissioner for Canada