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Responses by Prof Rajiva Wijesinha, MP to a questionnaire received in connection with a dissertation on Foreign Policy behavior of post conflict Sri Lanka: response to war crime allegations and human rights violations

Dec 28, 2013

  1. Why did Sri Lanka not make a formal and credible reply to the expert advisory report to the UNSG. Was just rejection sufficient?
No, that was an inadequate response as we can see from the follow up. I think we did not respond because we felt the UNSG was wrong to have commissioned such a report. However, given that he had sent it to us, we should have made a formal response. That response could have been in the form of questioning the procedure that had been followed, to draw attention to inadequacies in the report.
I actually sent some suggestions at the time to the Secretary to the Ministry and to the Attorney General who was supposed to be assisting the government with the issue, but nothing was done. I was told to write myself to the UN, and I did so, on a couple of issues, but when I got no response it was clear that there had to be official questions raised. However the Ministry of External Affairs failed to understand this, which is why the report – and the sequel which I warned them of – are now seen as credible documents.
I give below the list of possible questions which I sent to the authorities who did nothing –
1.  Did the Panel consult the heads of UN agencies in Sri Lanka with regard to the various allegations contained in the Panel report, and in particular those concerning
  • Alleged rape

  • Deliberate deprival of humanitarian assistance

  • Unnecessary suffering for the displaced

  • Lack of information about rehabilitation sites?

It would be useful to ask the UN Secretary General to circulate the letter of the UN Resident Coordinator with regard to conditions at the camps, and request reports from him as well as the heads of the WFP and UNHCR with regard to these matters. In particular the UN Secretary General should be asked to share with the panel the reports of the various protection agencies that functioned during this period.
2.  Did the Panel consult the head of the ICRC with regard to the various allegations contained in the Panel report, and in particular those concerning
  • Transportation of the wounded and others from conflict areas to government hospitals, and the treatment received by these

  • Transportation of food and other supplies to the conflict area

  • Information provided by the ICRC to government about conditions in the conflict area, and in particular the establishment and operation of medical centres

It would be useful to ask the UN Secretary General to circulate the letter of the ICRC head to the navy regarding its support for ICRC operations, and to request reports from him with regard to these matters.



Reconciliation and the role of India

Dec 15, 2013

Presentation by Prof Rajiva Wijesinha, MP
At the Observer Research Foundation
Delhi, December 13th 2013
I must admit to being deeply worried about the current state of relations between India and Sri Lanka. I contrast this with the excellent situation that obtained in 2009, when India was the chief component of the protective barrier against efforts to stop us eradicating terrorism from our shores. One might have thought that this was a goal the whole world would have supported, but sadly this is not an ideal world and countries will naturally put their own self interest first. Fortunately, not only did India’s interests coincide with our own at that stage, but given the terrible toll terrorism funded by external sources was taking on both our countries, I think it is also true to say that we worked in accordance with the highest moral perspectives.
But the aim we shared then, of eradicating terrorism on our shores, went hand in hand with another commitment, which was the promotion of pluralism in Sri Lanka. This again is a moral goal, but it also has a practical dimension, in that the full incorporation of the Tamil people in the body politic in Sri Lanka would have reduced the potential for future terrorism.
Sadly Sri Lanka has not pursued the Reconciliation process with the commitment it requires. Given its urgency I believe we should try to understand the reasons for this, and try to overcome them. In this process India has a significant role to play.
The first reason is myopia. Major decision makers in government, or rather the only decision maker in this regard, the Minister of Economic Development, believed that material development would ensure integration of conflict affected areas in the national economy and hence promote reconciliation. He was wrong, and it is a pity that he does not understand the need for consultation of potential beneficiaries as well as professionals when planning benefits for some sectors. But in mitigation it should be said that the strategy had worked to a great extent in the East, and he did not have established institutions to which to turn when making plans for the North. The absence of think tanks in Sri Lanka, the abolishing of the Ministry of Policy and Plan Implementation, as well as the Ministry of Human Rights, left a vacuum which sheer energy cannot fill.



Statement of the Liberal Party of Sri Lanka On the death of Nelson Mandela

Dec 10, 2013

The Liberal Party of Sri Lanka is deeply grieved at the death of President Nelson Mandela of South Africa. He was a beacon of civilization in the 20th century. Without his idealism and his inclusive vision, South Africa would not have been able so swiftly to escape the shackles of apartheid and the resentment to which naturally such a loathsome political dispensation gave rise.
Nelson Mandela suffered grievously for his commitment to freedom, a freedom that was denied to the native people of South Africa for many years under colonialism, and then under an ostensibly independent country in which the vast majority of the population were still enchained. The monstrosity of that regime is difficult now to comprehend, but the manner in which it was supported by many countries that claimed to uphold freedom is a blot that the rest of the world will find difficult to forget. 
It is a mark of Nelson Mandela’s wisdom and humanity that he ensured that the monstrosities that occurred, and their defence by those who pretended to know better, were forgiven. When the apartheid government realized that reforms were essential, they were lucky to find a reliable partner with whom to negotiate. Both the then ruling party, and the African National Congress, which had suffered so grievously, were mature enough to entrust negotiations to individuals of stature, and they achieved a result that must be the envy of all countries that have experienced conflict.



Getting the balance right - David Cameron and foreign relations

Nov 28, 2013

Soon after David Cameron had left Sri Lanka, the Sunday Times in England published a satirical piece about his visit. It accused him of behaving like a public school prefect and treating the Sri Lankan President like a fag, a junior schoolboy who was at his beck and call. 
Cameron’s was certainly a brilliant performance, full of British bravado. Having decided, correctly in my view, that he would attend the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, he had to contend with the anger of those who have in effect been running British policy with regard to Sri Lanka, which has been deeply negative about our success in overcoming terrorism in this country. He had therefore to put in an aggressive performance to keep them happy, and this he certainly did. 
I do not mean only the extremist members of the diaspora, who have been enormously successful in lobbying British politicians where it matters. Having concentrated their attentions initially on Labour, and obtained brilliant results through David Miliband, they were quick to switch in 2010 when the Conservatives won, while the Sri Lankan Foreign Ministry floundered, and did not even bother to appoint a High Commissioner to England for a lengthy period.



Strengthening institutions and organizational capacity 30 - Promoting responsiveness to local needs

Nov 04, 2013

As I shall be away for a few weeks, I thought it best to bring this series to a close. I have tried here to discuss the need
a. for Parliament to be strengthened, through better use of Committees so that its legislative and oversight functions are treated seriously
b. of streamlining the Executive and making it more effective 
c . to strengthen local administration
d. for much greater coordination between government bodies and also elected and unelected officials
e. to provide clear job descriptions and institute and enforce reporting mechanisms
f. of much better training programmes with assessments that privilege efficiency, effectiveness and initiative
I have noted some areas in which best practice is available, as with the Community Policing programmes in the East, or the regular discussions between Divisional Secretaries and Pradeshiya Sabha leaders in some areas in the North, or even the recording in Batticaloa of unused government buildings, in a context in which the thrust is to use more and more cement as yet another intelligent and able Government Agent put it. 
I have also noted some areas in which reform is long overdue. A common theme of my suggestions is streamlining and targeting, as with the proposals for electoral reform that restore the link (and hence responsibility for and accountability to) between elected representative and the people; or the recommendation that the Cabinet be reduced in number with Ministers chosen for administrative capacity and planning skills rather than electoral success. 



The legacy of Lakshman Wickremesinghe, thirty years after

Nov 03, 2013

Lakshman Wickremesinghe, Bishop of Kurunagala from 1962 to 1983, died 30 years ago, on October 23rd. He was undoubtedly the most impressive Anglican Bishop Sri Lanka has produced, and with every year that passes his stature seems to grow.

Much has been written about him recently, most notably in Rajan Hoole’s detailed assessment of what happened in July 1983. Hoole shows how those events contributed to his premature death for, though he had a heart condition and had been advised to take things slow, he threw himself into trying to assuage the hurt felt by Tamils who had suffered in the state sponsored attacked on them.

He had been in England in July, taking the much needed break his doctors had advised, and trying to set down his thoughts on an oriental view of Christianity. In the last conversation we had, on the phone for I got to England on the day he was due to leave, he assured me that he would take things slow, in trying first to understand what had happened, and how the social dispensation into which he had been born had turned rabid. But seeing the suffering and the bewilderment, he did not rest, being the first Sinhalese dignitary to go up to Jaffna to apologize for what had happened.



“Mirrored Images” a move towards unity(and sanity)

Nov 01, 2013

I had the good fortune to participate at the launch of Mirrored Images, an anthology of Sri Lankan Poetry edited by RajivaWijesinha.  The book was published by the prestigious National Book Trust of India.

Prof RajivaWijisinha had already collected An Anthology of Sri Lankan Short Stories for NBT, beside, of course, his modest collection of Modern Sri Lankan Poetry inEnglish.  But this is a more ambitious work which has drawn from Sinhala. Tamil and English representative works.   The volume which runs to 400 pages contains 138 poems written in Sinhala and Tamil translated into English and 72 poems originally written in English.

These poems were written over the last five decades during which the island nation – after independence – went through radical political, Social and economic changes.  It also witnessed the deterioration of the relationship between the Sinhalese and the Tamils which culminated in a bloody civil war.  War means death, destruction and displacement. It also leaves, in its wake, thousands of widows and the disabled who become the responsibility of the country.  That was – and is – the context in which these Sri Lankan poets worked.  So, understandably, a substantial number of the poems in this collection are disturbing and sad.



The World Today: China, India and the United States as seen from Sri Lanka

Oct 25, 2013

Text of a presentation by Prof Rajiva Wijesinha, MP, at the Seminar on

Crossed Perceptions: China, the United States, the European Union, Brazil and the Emerging World

October 22nd 2013, Rio de Janeiro

Let me begin with one of the formative myths of the Sri Lankan state. It deals with the introduction of Buddhism to the country, in the 2nd century BC. The king at the time, Devanampiyatissa, was out hunting when he came across a strange man in the forests of Mihintale. This was Mahinda, the son, or some say the brother, of the Mauryan Emperor Asoka, who had converted to Buddhism after a terrible war in which, to complete his conquest of India, he had slaughtered thousands.

When the monk saw Tissa, he asked him whether he saw the mango tree before them. Tissa said yes, and then the monk asked whether there were other mango trees. Tissa said yes, and then the monk asked if there were trees other than mango trees. Tissa said yes again, whereupon the monk asked whether, apart from all the other mango trees, and all the other trees that were not mango trees in the world, there were any other trees.

Tissa thought hard, and then replied that there was indeed the original mango tree the monk had pointed out. This was when Mahinda decided that Tissa was a fit person to understand the doctrines of Buddhism, so he preached to him and converted him and through him his people. Buddhism has since been the dominant religion in Sri Lanka, though, I think uniquely, we also have substantial proportions of our population belonging to the other principal faiths of the world, Hinduism and Islam and Christianity.

When I was young I used to think the story a silly one, but I have since understood its implications for the way we should look at the world. It seems to me now the epitome of what I would describe as the Eastern vision of the individual, society and the world, as opposed to the dichotomies the West believes in, and therefore often creates. In what I would posit as an ideal concept of our relations with the world, we should see ourselves as existing at the centre of several concentric circles, to all of which we belong. While we share aspects of identity with others belonging to those circles, ultimately we need also to be aware of the unique nature of our own individuality.



Strengthening institutions and organizational capacity 29 - Ensuring an effective Executive

Oct 12, 2013

As I have noted, the Vasantha Senanayake proposals that have been sent to the Parliamentary Select Committee are to form the basis of the discussions the Marga Institute is facilitating to promote consensus. The most innovative of the ideas put forward in the memorandum submitted to Parliament is the suggestion that we accept the logic of the Executive Presidential system, and therefore bring the Cabinet in line with the executive system in other countries which have Executive Presidents – the United States and Russia and France and the Philippines, to name but a few.
On a proper Executive Presidential system, unlike the hybrid perversion J R Jayewardene introduced, those put in charge of the different branches of the executive come from outside Parliament. If they are in the legislature, they have to resign their Parliamentary positions, as Hilary Clinton and John Kerry did. Even when the President has a Prime Minister whose tenure depends on the confidence of Parliament, when that Prime Minister has won election and established a majority, he gives up his seat to take up an executive position. And as we saw with Vladimir Putin in Russia, someone who had been elected to Parliament and thereby been chosen as Prime Minister, can easily, and with greater effectiveness, be replaced by a technocrat.



Strengthening institutions and organizational capacity 28 - The need for Electoral Reform

Oct 09, 2013

Last week the Marga Institute held a discussion on several sets of proposals that had been forwarded to the Parliamentary Select Committee looking into ‘Political and Constitutional Measures to Empower the People of Sri Lanka to Live as One Nation’. After much animated discussion, it was decided to work with the set of proposals put forward by Vasantha Senanayake, and a couple of groups have been established to flesh these out.
Senanayake is perhaps the brightest of the young Members elected newly in 2010, a factor noticed by several embassies that have sent him on delegations of young Members to visit their countries. These proposals sprang from his work with the One Text Initiative which had seen him spearhead a group of Parliamentarians, representing government as well as different opposition parties, who had interacted with members of the Sri Lankan Diaspora, both Sinhalese and Tamil, in Britain. They had sent a report on their visit to the President, though there has been no response to the interesting ideas and suggestions they put forward.
Vasantha had worked together with a group of young professionals to put forward the proposals which included some startlingly innovative ideas. Perhaps the most important of them is not however new, because it was one of the principal elements on which three recent documents on constitutional reform agreed, namely those of the Liberal Party, the UNP and the group led by Rev Sobitha. This was the need to get rid of the present system of elections, and I think it would be useful to return to this now, since the last set of elections to Provincial Councils made crystal clear – again – how destructive the current system is. 




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