The exclusion of intellectuals and their input in the making of public policy — foreign policy in particular — and the consequences thereof, was a recurring theme at a recent public discussion on the upcoming UN Human Rights Council session in March 2014. Nativist, xenophobic tendencies were coming to the fore and “We don’t know how to converse with the world anymore,” warned Dayan Jayatilleke, the keynote speaker. Dr Jayatilleka is best known as the former UN ambassador in Geneva who led the team that defeated a hostile resolution brought against Sri Lanka at the Human Rights Council Special Session in May 2009, soon after the military defeat of the LTTE. Sri Lanka lost two subsequent US-led resolutions in 2012 and 2013.
The discussion held at the auditorium of the Organisation of Professional Associations (OPA) was organised by the Liberal Party and moderated by its leader Rajiva Wijesinha, a National List MP and Secretary to the (now dismantled) Secretariat for Coordinating the Peace Process (SCOPP). Prof Wijesinha noted the absence of input from independent think tanks in foreign policy decision making, and lamented the failure of the Lakshman Kadirgamar Institute and the Bandaranaike Centre for International Studies in this regard.
Jayatilleka has been arguing consistently in the media that the cold war the country faces is an intellectual battle. A bibliography on Sri Lanka has developed over the years with a number of documents being produced, but though these were studied in the West there was no significant discourse in Sri Lanka he said, on his fortnightly TV talk-show ‘Vantage Point’ aired Thursday on ‘MTV Sports.’ “We are going into battle without knowing the history.” He said it was unthinkable that the GoSL did not respond to the flawed report of the UN Secretary General’s Advisory Panel (the ‘Darusman report’). There were two brilliant critiques of it that had been disregarded. One was by the Marga Institute, a much respected independent think tank, and the other a study titled ‘The Numbers Game’ by a group of highly educated Western-based Sri Lankans. Listing some of the other literature on the subject he mentioned the Petrie report, Gordon Weiss’s book ‘The Cage,’ The Routledge Handbook on R2P, and a UK House of Commons research paper in 2009 titled ‘War and Peace in Sri Lanka,’ which traced the campaign against Sri Lanka originating much earlier than the ‘last stages of the war.’