The May Day rally was a promising start for the Mahinda
Rajapaksa administration, against the UN expert panel
report, in terms of the massive crowd that attended the
The climax of the Workers’ Day rally was the inspiring
delivery of the President where he questioned the motives
behind the United Nations expert panel report.
His speech was filled with patriotic rhetoric and was able
to effectively pass down the message to the audience that
would further trickle down to the grassroots in time to
come. The President’s ambitions and motives were clear and
the speech he delivered on May Day gave a boost to his
political image locally. The report of the expert panel was
to the advantage of the government in some way or the other,
in the local political context: And was used by the
government to the hilt, to boost the waning image of the
government among the electorate. Now the government is in a
hurry to hold elections for the 70 local government bodies,
for which the elections were not held due to various
Blessing in disguise
Some tend to believe that the Ban Ki-moon expert panel
report was a blessing in disguise for the UPFA government in
many ways. The government shot up the prices of petrol and
gas taking cover under the Cricket World Cup and this time
it is a bigger occasion for the government to forge ahead,
freely covering up issues in the public focus.
Increasing the prices of dried milk foods to unbearable
levels and introducing a pension scheme for the private
sector employees against the wishes of the majority, are in
the government agenda among other things such as restricting
the period of office of the Chief Justice to a term of five
Nevertheless, Sri Lanka is facing a huge problem
internationally over the issue of the report published by
the expert panel appointed by the United Nations Secretary
General Ban Ki-moon.
The disconcerting factor for all is the malicious behaviour
of some protestors at the Workers’ Day procession held last
Sunday. It was quite evident that the protestors were
receiving political patronage and they were behaving at the
behest of some who have little knowledge in handling
It is the advice of many seasoned diplomats and many other
officials that sensitive issues relating to the country
should be handled prudently. Their concern is that Sri Lanka
should not be seen as a country that despises the UN system
and isolate itself from the global community.
While many politicians make it a point to get on their
hobbyhorse to browbeat Ban Ki-moon to boost their image
locally, External Affairs Minster G. L. Peiris is compelled
to give repeated assurances that Sri Lanka would be willing
to work within the UN system.
May Day floats
Despite efforts by more astute leaders in the government,
National Freedom Front May Day floats carried the cut-outs
of Libyan President Colonel Gadaffi, Venezuelan President
Hugo Chavez and Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin as the
leaders who had not bowed down to the dictates of the UN and
the West. They had also added a cut-out of President Mahinda
Rajapaksa as being one in their company, sending wrong
signals internationally and making things difficult for Sri
Lanka in the international arena.
It is a fact that out of the three leaders so depicted, only
Russia would be able to withstand pressure from the
international community, being a super power armed with the
right to veto. In the present context, it would be much
better if Sri Lanka restrain itself without going hammer and
tong attacking our perceived friends to make a mess of
Prime Minister D. M. Jayaratna’s statement in Pettah on
Monday evening on the killing of wanted terrorist leader
Osama Bin Laden in the Pakistani soil by the US ground
forces is yet another occasion where Sri Lanka is trying to
burn its fingers unnecessarily. Though it is a privilege to
talk on any issue of importance, whether it is local or
international, violation of Pakistani’s sovereignty is a
question for the Pakistan to raise with the United States.
Sri Lanka’s Prime Minster is the second person to raise this
issue in public, after former President of Pakistan Pervez
Musharraf. There may be an element of truth in what the
Prime Minister says, but it is best if Pakistan raised the
issue first, since both the US and Pakistan, were partners
in the campaign against global terrorism.
On the contrary, the Prime Minister as a responsible member
of the SLFP, would have raised the issue when India thought
it fit to violate Sri Lanka’s air space to drop dhal
‘Parippu’ to the beleaguered LTTE in 1987, at which point
the SLFP was in the opposition. At that stage, it was Prime
Minster Ranasinghe Premadasa who came out strongly against
India being No. 2 in the Jayewardene administration.
Stand by our actions
The death of Osama Bin Laden was a subject of discussion
among journalists at a press conference hosted by the
visiting Assistant Secretary State of the US Robert O.
Blake. He defended the US position, taking on the question
from the audience: “Let me tell you that Osama Bin Laden was
the leader of an armed group that was engaged in an armed
conflict against the Government of United States. He was,
therefore, a lawful target. We certainly stand by our
actions,” he said.
In any case, the death of Osama Bin Laden had its effects in
Sri Lanka. Some of the political parties, including the
Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU), welcomed the elimination of Bin
Laden and said it was a victory for the world community who
are against terrorism and value peace. While praising the US
for the step taken to eliminate terrorism from the Earth,
the JHU drew parallels with the Sri Lankan situation two
years ago, when the country eliminated terrorism from its
soil. They said that they oppose any moves by the US to
reverse the victory by giving a live wire to the Tiger
Terrorists through official and unofficial action against
The statement was issued on the eve of the visit of the US
Assistant Secretary to State’s to Sri Lanka. However, on
Wednesday the government issued its non-committal official
position under the signature of the Director General
Government Information. It said, the death of Osama Bin
Laden reminds us once again, if any reminder is required,
that terrorism sows the seeds of its own destruction.
The statement further stated, no nation that has a
conscience, and believes in right and wrong, can possibly
condone the taking of innocent lives in the name of any
The release added: “The eternal truths embedded in the
Buddhist scriptures teach us that the long shadows cast by
one’s misdeeds darken one’s days until the end.
“We in Sri Lanka who are making every effort to put behind
us the pain and anguish of the past and to build anew our
institutions and our economy in a spirit of solidarity,
should re-dedicate ourselves at this time to the firm
rejection of violence as a means for the solution of any
issue within a nation, or among nations.”
Many Sri Lankan politicians as well as columnists tend to
draw parallels between the death of Osama Bin Laden and that
of Sri Lanka’s own terror icon Velupillai Prabhakaran. The
debate is on as to who is the deadliest of the two. Some
argue that Prabhakaran had done more collateral damage to
Sri Lanka than Osama did to the United States. In the same
wavelength, they argue that the operations that led to the
culmination of Prabhakaran’s death had features similar to
the operation that killed Osama. Also, they argue that the
US is still waging the war on terrorism where there are
thousands of civilian casualties, and question why there is
an inquiry only against Sri Lanka and not the US.
Is this argument an admission that there had been a vast
number of civilian casualties during the final phase of the
war in Sri Lanka? However, some say there was a significant
difference, between them. While Osama was a global threat,
they think that Prabhakaran’s terror tactics were confined
only to Sri Lanka and at its most Tamil Nadu, India. It is
true Prabhakaran killed two state leaders, including
President Premadasa and Prime Minster of India Rajeev Gandhi
and a host of UNP leaders including Lalith Athlathmudali and
Osama targeted the Pentagon, the World Trade Centre, and
many other international targets. Somehow, it appears that
the root causes stem from political victimisation. As far as
Sri Lanka is concerned, victimisation of Tamils in the
post-independent Sri Lanka and the Sinhala Only concept
adopted in 1956 were widely attributed to the birth of Tamil
militancy in Sri Lanka, while in the global context, it
could have been and was the Palestinian issue that gave rise
to Islamic militancy.
There are many similarities between the terror outfits of
both the LTTE and the Al Qaeda, but they operated under
different circumstances and different theatres denoting a
relative difference between them. The LTTE had its own Sea
Tiger force and a small battery of Air Power, while Al-Qaeda
operated through different independent cells in many parts
of the world including North America, Asia, Africa and
Then what comes into question is the justification of
appointing a panel to report on Sri Lanka, which may
eventually lead to an inquiry either by the United Nations
Human Rights Council or the United Nations itself through
It is the considered view of the government that the
so-called panel report lacks UN stature and that it would
not reply to the report per se, but would communicate with
the United Nations Secretary-General on the steps taken and
the progress made following the war in the North and East.
govt. in two minds
At the very outset, the government was in two minds. While
some maintained the position, including some of the reputed
former ambassadors, that certain sections of the report
require responses. But, the other more politically inclined
were of the opinion that the government should not respond.
Their considered view was that the report should be shrugged
off by the government on the premise it lacks authorisation
by the intergovernmental body of the UN.
Opposition Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe making a statement
in Parliament said that the report needed to be studied
carefully. Recapping the entire episode during the last
stages of the offensive against the LTTE Wickremesinghe
said, Sri Lanka must maintain a dialogue with the UN.
“Sri Lanka is a member of the United Nations and a
significant stakeholder. In the Joint Statement issued on
May 23, 2009 Sri Lanka committed itself ‘to the promotion
and protection of human rights in keeping with international
human rights standards and Sri Lanka’s international
obligations.’ Implementing this commitment requires an
ongoing discussion with the Secretary-General.
“It is also necessary for Sri Lanka to respond, where
appropriate with strong rebuttal to the panel report.
Remaining silent is no longer an option. The
Secretary-General’s statement has left room for that.”
Minister G. L. Peiris in the contrary made the government’s
standpoint on the issue known to the government of the
United States at the meeting with Robert O. Blake. The
Minister said that Sri Lanka would not respond to the UN
panel report, but would work closely with the United Nations
Blake welcomed the move by Sri Lanka to work closely with
the UN, but emphasised the need to have in place the
Excerpts of Blake’s statement made available at the press
briefing in Colombo are as follows:
“In my official meetings today, I assured the Sri Lankan
Government that the US is committed to a strong long-term
partnership with Sri Lanka and that reports of our alleged
support for “regime change” have no basis whatsoever. I
expressed support for the government’s efforts to recover
from its devastating civil war, and encouraged further steps
towards reconciliation, and a peaceful, united, democratic
I think the government has made some positive progress. It
is very important that this progress be sustained. For
The Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission is playing
an important role in the reconciliation process. The
Commission has heard testimony from Sri Lankans from all
regions and ethnic backgrounds.
It has provided a forum for individuals to bring
injustices to light and to express the personal tragedy and
hardship created by the war. We hope that the LLRC will also
address accountability and will offer recommendations on how
to redress wrongs committed by both sides during the
Nearly all of the 300,000 IDPs have been resettled from the
camps with the remaining scheduled to be resettled by the
end of 2011, if not sooner.
The military, with assistance from several international
demining organisations, and support from the US Government,
has cleared over 5 million square metres of mine-infested
land throughout the northern provinces of Sri Lanka.
Completion of demining in Mullaitivu will allow most of the
remaining IDPs to be resettled.
The Sri Lankan Government has reduced the number of high
security zones, further helping Sri Lankans affected by the
conflict to return to their homes and livelihoods.
The government and Tamil National Alliance have conducted
several rounds of talks with another round scheduled on May
12. I expressed our hope that these talks can result in a
comprehensive agreement that can help Sri Lanka heal the
wounds of war and ensure that all Sri Lankans enjoy equal
rights and a future of hope and opportunity.
I am encouraged that External Affairs Minister Peiris will
communicate soon with the UN Secretary-General and by his
statement that Sri Lanka wants cordial relations with the
Secretary-General and his team.
The UN report underscores the importance of a durable
political solution that can forge a prosperous, democratic
and united Sri Lanka, but also the importance of dialogue
between the UN and the Government of Sri Lanka.
Finally, I accepted the congratulations of the government
for the death of Osama bin Laden. His defeat is a victory
for the United States and for all human beings who seek to
live in peace, security, and dignity. His demise will
ultimately make the world a safer place.”
The government was more or less contended with the stand
taken by the US and they are optimistic that the US and
India in particular were not interested in hounding Sri
Lanka, if there is a tangible progress in the reconciliation
Nevertheless, there are still doubts whether the European
and other human rights groups would make moves to bring in a
resolution against Sri Lanka at the UNHRC sessions in Geneva
The encouraging information for Sri Lanka is that the UNHRC
is loaded with resolutions against Libya and Syria and a few
more countries in the Middle East where pro-democracy
movements have been subjected to severe abuses of their
Foreign affairs experts are vary in their thinking and
are up in arms over the government move to shift Sri Lanka’s
Permanent Representative in Geneva Shenuka Seneviratne to
Colombo. The reasoning behind the move is that the External
Affairs Ministry needs the services of a senior hand to
handle matters from this end. For Geneva, the government’s
choice among the names tossed for the position is Tamara
Kunanayakam, Sri Lanka’s Ambassador in Cuba. Ms. Kunanayakam
is also the author of the book ‘Quel Développement.’ She is
essentially an NGO person, and the thinking goes behind this
appointment is that a person conversant with NGO activity
should take over Geneva since the UNHRC is mainly dealing
with INGOs. However, it is yet to be seen as to what
influence she could wield over NGOs.
Nevertheless, people conversant with the subject believe
that there should be a knowledgeable team to handle the
intricacies that could arise at the UNHRC.
If the need arises, the government may rely on Dr. Dayan
Jayatilleke who is Sri Lanka’s Ambassador in Paris, to take
over the Geneva mission at least temporarily until the
country is able to circumvent such intricacies. Jayatilleke
has some achievements to his credit after his performance on
the previous occasion in Geneva, but if all goes well, as
that of the visit of Robert O. Blake, the government would
be contended with the appointment of Kunanayakam.
However, the team that offers advice to the government is
always confronted with difficulties due to the inconsistency
of the Minister of External Affairs who is more inclined
towards saving his position rather than working according to
a fixed policy that may augur well for the country at the
The immediate challenge before the government today is to
re-commence the reconciliation process at its earliest to
overcome the impending dangers owing to the expert panel
report of the United Nations. The government should assess
the magnitude of the inherent opposition that may occur
within the confines of the government and address the issue
in a realistic and practical manner. Some affiliated
partners may pull towards a hard-line nationalistic
approach, thus making things difficult for the government.
It is, therefore, necessary to handle this delicate issue
with care and necessary precautions, if the government is
interested in salvaging the country out of a political
muddle and do justice to the Tamil people who are already
placed in a rather awkward position.
At the same time, it is the measured view of the government
that there should be a paradigm shift in the TNA political
thinking in the present political context. The government’s
viewpoint is that they should come to terms with the ground
reality and the TNA could not any further sustain the same
political standpoint as in 2001, in a post-war situation.
The merger of the North and East is no longer practical in
the present political environment and federal solution for
the ethnic problem has gradually faded away, due to the
failure of the community leaders to seize the opportunity at
the right time.
In this backdrop, it is the perceived view of the
government that practicalities of devolution should be
included to modify their proposal that exceeds the 13th
Amendment to the Constitution.
It is important now to share the sensitivities of the
majority too before making their proposals known. The
thinking of the majority of the government ministers is that
the TNA represents the viewpoint of the Tamil Diaspora
overseas and that it would be futile effort in talking to
them and achieving something pragmatic.
Nevertheless, it is essential to strike a deal with the TNA
who largely represent the Tamil populace in the country.
The views of the Tamil National Alliance were frankly
expressed by R. Sampanthan and A. Sumanthiran at the meeting
they had with US Assistant Secretary to State Robert O.
The TNA ostensibly expressed their disappointment with the
government and briefed the visiting US Assistant Secretary
to State how the government is stooped towards politicising
the report of the UN expert panel. Their position is that
they had already submitted their proposals to the government
and the government is insisting another set of proposals.
The TNA delegation also pointed out the confrontational
attitude adopted by the government in the wake of the UN
panel report and after the TNA Leader welcomed it.
The TNA has also submitted a written document for the
perusal of the US Assistant Secretary to State Robert O.
What is important at this point of time is reconciliation
and peace irreversible peace would heal the wounds of hatred
the government has to take the lead in this respect.