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.’
Outlining how he saw the aftermath of a third resolution against Sri Lanka in Geneva in March unfolding, Jayatilleka said an international inquiry mechanism (on alleged war crimes) could take the form of either a UN Special Rapporteur or a Commission of Inquiry. The squeeze on Sri Lanka won’t follow immediately on the heels of the resolution, but will more likely be felt after the report of such an inquiry — which will be unjust — is debated in individual parliaments in the West, and also closer home, in the context of Sri Lanka’s non-cooperation with a UN mandate. Countries could use Universal Jurisdiction (legislation that allows courts to prosecute visiting foreign politicians over alleged war crimes) and/or economic sanctions.
Describing this scenario at various forums including the OPA discussion, Jayatilleka has repeatedly outlined a situation where Opposition Tamil politicians could launch a non-violent agitation over the numerous complaints they have articulated. This could trigger the ‘neoconservative-militarist’ section of the state to react imprudently, with force, to suppress the campaign. Such a reaction would be exactly what the radical elements in the TNA, under pressure from the Tamil Diaspora, want. The radical sections could then call upon the international community and Human Rights Council to intervene on the grounds of R2P (Responsibility to Protect). The HRC would argue that five years after the war’s end there is still no domestic inquiry into alleged war crimes, that the Northern Provincial Council election was good but power hasn’t been devolved etc. The GoSL has fallen into this trap.
This situation opens ‘the window of vulnerability.’ Disregard for the erosion of India’s support is a ‘crass error’ he said. There has been an erosion of Sri Lanka’s ‘soft power.’ We would be deluded to think that support from Israel and China would ‘save’ Sri Lanka.
In response to an audience question on ‘what is to be done’ he urged three lines of action:
- Firstly president Rajapaksa should chair a taskforce drawn from those who can face the international challenge, and they should sit in committee daily until March 2014. He suggested Dr. Sarath Amunugama, D.E.W Gunasekara, Rajiva Wijesinha and Milinda Moragoda as suitable candidates.
- The second move was to implement the core recommendations of the LLRC report, which called for an inquiry into some specific allegations it listed. As potential chairpersons of a domestic committee that might inquire into these incidents Jayatilleka named Judge C G Weeramantry or Sir Desmond de Silva QC. If they declined they could be asked to recommend someone else.
- The third requirement was a dialogue with the Tamil political leadership and the 13th Amendment. “No one — not even the US — asks us to go beyond the 13th Amendment. But if we do nothing, the 13A may no longer be on the table.”
Jayatilleka also suggested that the help of Russia, China and Cuba be sought for the purpose of making a diplomatic intervention on behalf of Sri Lanka at the HRC.
Among those who contributed to the OPA discussion was Dr. Kumar Rupesinghe, an academic and activist whose work has a focus on conflict resolution. “We are going through a self fulfilling prophecy” he said. It might become a reality that this country will be divided. The (prevailing) ‘mindset’ doesn’t like intellectuals. “The West is going for regime change; we are doing everything possible to fuel it. We may win the (upcoming provincial) elections, but what are the consequences?” he asked. He congratulated the speakers for their ‘excellent rationality’ but ended on a pessimistic note saying “Yours are voices in the wilderness!”