plus in a unitary
Ever since he was appointed as the
Permanent Representative of the Democratic Socialist Republic of
Sri Lanka to the United Nations at Geneva, Dayan Jayatilleka has
been making headlines with his brand of diplomacy which has been
both applauded and criticised. While he is basking in the recent
victory at the recently held UNHRC special sessions The Nation
met him to question about the underlying frictions that usually
accompany such ‘victories’
By Rathindra Kuruwita
Q: Sri Lanka has had several diplomatic victories in the
recent months at the UN and from the outside we seem to have a
lot of allies. But haven’t we also lost the support of some
countries, EU and the USA who can have a significant impact on
Sri Lanka, foreign aid and GSP +?
A: So far, I have had nothing but the most cordial relations
with the US here in Geneva. The USA did not speak in a hostile
manner at the Human Rights Council special session on Sri Lanka,
and indeed played a pragmatic role behind the scenes in striving
to avoid a confrontation which was forced on us by the EU. We
had a dialogue with the US – our Attorney General Mohan Pieris,
PC, was our representative in this dialogue—and we attempted to
accommodate as many of their concerns as compatible with or
national interest, in our draft resolution. As for the EU, I
personally called upon key ambassadors, such as those of the UK,
France, Germany and Denmark and attempted to persuade them not
to push us into a confrontation in self-defence. Ambassadors of
very influential states in the HRC, such as Russia, China and
India also made this attempt, to no avail. I do not think the
fault lies with the EU ambassadors here, but rather with the
pressures they were under from their capitals and Brussels.
Q: Earlier this week you claimed that France and the
United Kingdom should also conduct HR probes into their
activities. Do you think we should keep on attacking these
countries when we have already won a battle at the UNHCR?
A: That was strictly in reply to statements by these
countries in support of High Commissioner Navi Pillay’s much
publicised call for a so-called impartial international inquiry
into allegations of violations of humanitarian and human rights
law by both sides—as they term it – in Sri Lanka’s armed
conflict, after and notwithstanding the clear decision of the
Human Rights Council at the special session. If my remarks in
response are deemed an attack by you, what do you call this
slogan of the EU and especially some elements within it? The Sri
Lankan military and a great many poor families suffered enormous
human losses by desisting from the use of airpower and our full
array of heavy weapons in the closing weeks of the conflict, and
yet, some elements want to add insult to injury by hauling our
military up before some international court? You think I should
not expose the hypocrisy of that?
Q: Japan, Sri Lanka’s main aid donor, did not vote in that
UNHRC session. What does this mean?
A: Japan refused to sign the call for a Special Session.
Even the ROK which did sign that call did not vote against Sri
Lanka. Not a single Asian vote was cast against Sri Lanka! Of
course Japan is an important member of the Western alliance, of
G8 and the OECD, and has to balance its relationships and all
aspects of its international identity. We have enormous respect
for Japan and are most grateful to the role played by it. Our
relations in Geneva are cemented by the fact that the Ambassador
of Japan and Prof Rajiva Wijesinha, Secretary to the Ministry of
Human Rights were batch-mates and friends at Oxford. He told me
that Rajiva was the most intelligent in the batch!
Q: We won the recent special session at the UNHRC calling
for investigations into alleged war crimes and the discussions
at the UN Security Councils thanks to Russia and China. But
these countries are also among countries that have a record of
Human Rights violations. So is this really a great victory or
did we get labelled as an ally of others who have a bad HR
A: We won thanks to the 29 countries, almost two thirds of
the Council, who voted for our resolution which was co-sponsored
by 17 members. All those votes count equally because Russia and
China do not have a veto in Geneva as they do in the Security
Council in New York. According to your reasoning, we should get
“labelled as an ally” of the clear majority of the Human Rights
Council. What’s wrong with that?
Do Russia and China have a human rights record that has more
blots on it than those who accused Sri Lanka at the HRC
sessions? The historical record proves otherwise. I did not know
that China was in occupation of any other country! I have
participated in the Universal Periodic Review process (UPR) of
Russia and China, a process in which every country’s human
rights record is subject to peer scrutiny and review, and find
no conclusions similar to your implications.
Some of us are schizophrenic in our self-image: we think we
are so inferior as to deserve a public caning from the West
without open protest, while simultaneously feeling superior to
friends such as Russia and China and our extended family, the
developing world! We must learn to see ourselves in an accurate
mirror. It is absurd to think that we are somehow superior or
viewed by the world as superior to Russia and China and that we
should not associate ourselves with them. It is our good fortune
to have friends such as these without whom we would have no
protection from those international elements who are influenced
by the pro-Tiger Diaspora and the large INGOs.
Your very question is an echo of a dark era in Sri Lanka’s or
rather, Ceylon’s foreign policy -- that of postcolonial Ceylon
of the UNP, during which we did not recognise Russia and China!
It took the victory of the SLFP and SWRD Bandaranaike in 1956 to
reverse this absurd, disgraceful policy and establish DPL
relations with those two states which have been our staunch
friends since. There are some whose foreign policy thinking is
Q: Israel has been an ally of Sri Lanka during the civil
war and has provided military hardware as well as training to
Sri Lankan security forces. But they spoke against us at the WHO
in Geneva recently. How do you view this change of stance?
A: Surely you must ask that question from the Israelis, and
also seek the view of Health Minister Nimal Siripala de Silva,
current president of the World Health Assembly, and his
delegation which attended the event.
Q: India, China and Russia have been with us for a long
time, so in a way it is not surprising that they helped us out
but the above example shows that we have also lost some allies?
A: Those who insisted on a ceasefire and negotiations with
the LTTE during the decisive closing stage of the conflict, and
push globally for an international war crimes probe days after a
thirty year war is over and a practising democracy has prevailed
over a terrorist militia, must be seen as friends who are
temporarily misguided. Hopefully, they will soon return to a
reasonable and fair-minded view of Sri Lanka.
Q: Don’t you think that the International Community has
legitimate concerns to address HR issues in other countries?
A: Of course it does, but a handful of Western or Northern
states do not constitute the international community or even the
majority of it, and must neither be perceived as nor permitted
to project themselves as the international community. The
international community spoke at the UN Human Rights Council,
and voiced their concerns which we took on board in our
resolution. The vote showed that the overwhelming majority of
the peoples of the world are in sympathy with Sri Lanka, not its
Q: There are reports that claim you did not want the
Minister of Human Rights, Mahinda Samarasinghe for the UNHCR
A: Which reports and where, pray? We have forged a long
standing team of Minister Samarasinghe, A-G Mohan Pieris, Prof
Rajiva Wijesinha, DSG Yasantha Kodagoda, (and earlier DSG
Shavindra Fernando), advised by Dr Rohan Perera.
Q: Many people are very keen to compliment you on your
‘stand up’ diplomacy but there are others who claim that you
also managed to make a lot of enemies?
A: A stern critic of Sri Lanka, an award winning Indian
human rights activist Ravi Nair, in an article republished in
the recent Sunday Leader, talks disapprovingly of the “abject
rout” of the EU efforts to target Sri Lanka at the UN HRC
special session. The TIMES (UK) caption stated “Sri Lanka forces
West to retreat over ‘war crimes’ with victory at UN”. The AFP
said “Sri Lanka celebrated a major diplomatic victory
Thursday...” while Radio Australia/Australian Broadcasting
Corporation reported that “Sri Lanka had a diplomatic victory
this week”. What this shows is that when the chips are down, we
had managed to make far more friends and supporters than we had
adversaries or critics. The proof of the pudding is in the
eating, is it not? And by the way, as to the enemies you said I
have made, you should note that none of their criticisms mention
me! The EU Resolution of May 18, in Brussels certainly wasn’t
about Dayan Jayatilleka, and it is not my conduct they wish to
have an international probe about!
Q: Yesterday, Sri Lankan authorities turned back Canadian
MP, Bob Rae claiming that he is a LTTE supporter, a claim he
denies as ‘a lie, pure and simple.’ Will not this put a further
strain in our relationship with the West?
A: As you can imagine, this subject is completely outside my
purview, and I was not privy to the decision, which I knew about
only from the media. I have no opinion on the subject.
Q: In the recently held elections for the European
Parliament Janani Jananayagam, who was supported by M.I.A lost.
Isn’t this an indication that the people living in these
countries have not much sympathy for the LTTE cause, even though
their governments are sympathetic?
A: The electoral defeat of Janani Jananayagam, is the fourth
consecutive defeat suffered by the pro-Tiger Tamil separatist
cause and movement in recent weeks. The earlier defeats were the
political collapse at the elections in India and in Tamil Nadu
in particular, the military destruction in the Wanni war and the
politico-diplomatic defeat in Geneva. The Tamil
ultranationalists and their international sympathisers should
realise that they are in a cul-de-sac, a dead end. They are
probably agitating for international pressure on and an expanded
role for the West and the UN in Sri Lanka so that they can
influence the institutions through networking, and achieve their
aims incrementally. Their dreams of imitating Zionism are doomed
to fail because the Zionist project succeeded during the rule of
British colonialism in the Middle East which was a very
different time with very different possibilities. However, the
only real hope for Tamil politics and may I say, also for
keeping Sri Lanka together peacefully through co-existence of
the North and South, is contained in the 13th Amendment –
meaning 13 now, 13 plus later, within a unitary state.
Q: Finally, once you were a part of the EPRLF which gives
you a better insight into guerrilla activity than many. So what
do you think lead to the defeat of the LTTE. Do you think they
would have been better off sticking to the basics that makes a
guerilla army strong, the AK, the RPG and being nice to people,
rather than playing the big boys game, building a navy, an air
force, a uniformed army and imposing a living tax on the people?
A: The Sunday Island of October 17, 2004, more than a year
before the great change in Sri Lanka’s political and military
leadership which made victory possible, and 18 months before the
last war began, carried a signed piece by me entitled WHY
PRABHAKARAN WILL LOSE. The LTTE did not lose because they
graduated to large unit semi-conventional warfare. Every
successful guerrilla movement is supposed to do this, as Mao and
Giap have written and demonstrated. Already in Jaffna by the mid
1980s under Kittu they had an embryonic structure and practices
of parallel power. The Tigers showed that they had got to the
stage of large unit warfare by 1990 with the siege of the Jaffna
Fort. Though that was unsuccessful they had certainly got to the
point of a quasi conventional force, holding territory and with
a parallel power structure, in the 1990s.
No, the Tigers failed because they did not fight a People’s
War as prescribed and practised by Mao ze Dong and the
Vietnamese leaders such as Vo Nguyen Giap. And as my 2004
article predicted, the Tigers failed because they had completely
lost any moral and ethical compass if they ever had one.
I was not part of the EPRLF. Our organisation was multiethnic
though largely Sinhala in composition and based in the South. It
was called the Vikalpa Kandayama (VK). We worked together with
the EPRLF as a North-South bridge in a common, overall
revolutionary purpose. My insights into guerrilla warfare also
go much before and beyond my experience with the EPRLF.