News Features


Int’l diplomatic coup to erode SL’s sovereignty?

The 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 practice.

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 not competent.

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 restore propriety.

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 force.

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 their independence?

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 question.

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 clarified.

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 society.
Kind regards
Angela Bogdan
High Commissioner for Canada