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Sunday, 18 March 2012

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'Shocked at US envoy's statement in Geneva' - Prof. Rajiva Wijesinha

"Whether the LLRC report is good or not, we will get you in March" - US representative in Geneva to Sri Lankan envoy

I was shocked last evening to be told that this was what the US Permanent Representative to the UN in Geneva had told her Sri Lankan counterpart last in September 2011. The occasion was when she was trying to persuade the latter to accept an Interactive Dialogue on Sri Lanka, which I believe the Canadians were advancing at the time.

I suppose I should not have been surprised. The United States has been pursuing an extraordinary campaign against us, which has saddened me, because I remember the very positive approach that US officials evinced in the period in which others were resentful of us for having got rid of the LTTE from the East.

The US Aid Director Rebecca Cohn, the Public Affairs Officer Jeff Anderson, led a team under then Ambassador Bob Blake which helped us considerably in rebuilding efforts.

In 2009 however something changed. Bob was supposed to have told a former American State Dept employee that the reason was he served a different government, but I suspect things went deeper.

A clue was provided when, in August, Rebecca did something she should not have done, which she later told me she thought was unwise, but which her superiors had wanted.

This was to write on her own to Minister Basil Rajapaksa, to say the same thing I had indicated, at a meeting with regard to the Displaced that was held at Minister Rishard Bathiudeen's office. I thought, given what seemed to us delays, that I should suggest to Mr Rajapaksa that we needed to move more quickly on returning the displaced, and I did so the following morning.

I was called almost immediately by Mr Rajapaksa, who was uncharacteristically harsh and asked me what made me think he would not live up to his commitment.

He said he had promised to return a large number of the displaced in six months, and he would do so, though it might take a couple of months longer.

Six months did not mean half in three months, he said, noting what he had accomplished in the East, and that I should tell this to my friends.

I did not know what he meant by this last point, and asked, and he said he had received a similar letter from Rebecca. Naturally he had assumed we were acting in concert.

I was shocked, and made it clear to him that I was quite capable of thinking and acting on my own, though I suspect that to this day he has a lingering doubt that I am influenced by external forces.

When I called up Rebecca and reprimanded her, she was suitably contrite, but I realized then that not only does the United States want certain results that most of us would want, it requires desperately to take the credit for this.

I saw something of this a bit later too when I had been arranging some cross-party discussions, many of which the current US ambassador hosted. It was then suggested that she invite the Secretary of Defence too on the same model, to have direct discussions with NGOs, but she claimed that the Secretary had not wanted me included.

Only one such discussion took place, I believe because soon afterwards she also hosted a discussion on the Darusman Report with a highly selective list of invitees, including personnel from the UN (without informing the then UN Coordinator) and some NGOs which were scathing about the government and the Secretary of Defence.

I was told, in fact by an NGO activist who can be very critical of the government but is I believe fundamentally moral, that the attacks were harsh, but were not supported by the diplomats who were present.

Running with the hares and hunting with the hounds seems to be a strategy that the States has developed over the years, as Colonel Gaddafi found to his cost when he finally decided to cooperate with certain elements in the West.

It is because President Rajapaksa, while certainly welcoming American advice and assistance on the model we had before 2009, as represented most obviously perhaps by its Defence Attache Colonel Smith (whose positive comments on reported incidents at the end of the War the State Department so quickly repudiated), refuses to be dominated, that now the gloves are off.

And so we have the current resolution, watered down it seems from what was originally intended, when it was realized that the vast majority of countries were unwilling to put us in the doghouse for no good reason.

Now we have what purports to be acceptance and encouragement of the LLRC Report, but as my colleague Dayan Jayatilleka, who understands Geneva so well, has explained clearly, this is a lie.

Apart from the elements in the resolution that contradict this position and introduce suggestions totally at odds with the principles on which the United Nations and more recently the Human Rights Council were set up, the current US position is largely at odds with its initial relatively harsh criticism of the LLRC report, as compared with the more positive reactions of other countries.

I fear now that some of the Europeans, including the British, have been persuaded to support the current resolution, and are indeed lobbying for it actively with all the resources they can muster (or not muster, as the case might be).

But obviously we need to be wary of what is claimed to be love for the LLRC report coming from those who criticized it initially.Sadly this included the TNA, which I believe is being torn asunder by its hardliners, aided by those elements in the US embassy who have also now made a hero of Sarath Fonseka, when they fingered him by name in the initial report to Congress on incidents during the conflict.

For them now, as for the TNA when they supported Fonseka in his Presidential campaign, and for Mangala Samaraweera - one of whose websites first raised the issue of Fonseka's claim about ignoring orders from higher up about sparing surrendees - Fonseka is just another tool to be used in the campaign to get rid of the Rajapaksa government.

This it seems is the aim of all the systems that have been lined up for the effort. The Channel 4 film combined with the humourless Sam Zarifi from Human Rights Watch/Amnesty International, to specifically connect Mahinda and Gotabaya Rajapaksa with possible war crimes when there was not a shred of evidence for this, certainly nothing like the royal command view the American President and his Secretary of State had of the execution of Osama bin Laden.

But standards and principles do not matter, when prestige and power are at stake. So, as Eileen Donohue said to Tamara Kunanayagam, we will get you, whatever the LLRC Report says. Of course it is possible that the lady said something in the heat of argument that she did not mean, it is even possible that she was not heard clearly.

But will journalists who call themselves independent investigate? Will the State Department, if it did not authorize such a statement, check, and suggest to its representative that perhaps a less obviously prejudiced approach would be more helpful, to the United States as well as to Sri Lanka?

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