Can Akashi play his cards right for Sri Lanka?

11 December 2013 06:30 pm - 2     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}


The eighty two year old Japanese diplomat is back in the news in Sri Lanka, returning to the country for his twenty third visit, in an effort to assist the government in Colombo to deal with a brewing international storm over allegations of war crimes and human rights violations.

Yasushi Akashi arrived in Colombo on Sunday and will spend five days in the country. His official capacity is as ‘Representative of the Government of Japan for Peace-Building, Rehabilitation and Reconstruction. He has met with key government leaders including President Mahinda Rajapaksa.

Akashi is no stranger to Sri Lanka. He was involved as a ‘peace envoy’ at a time when the country was fighting a bloody war with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), earning a reputation as a friend of Sri Lanka at a time when others who acted in similar capacities were hostile to the country.

Yasushi Akashi was born in Hinai, in Japan. After completing secondary school, Akashi graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Tokyo in 1954 and pursued higher studies in the United States where he was a Fulbright Scholar at the University of Virginia.

Akashi then studied at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University in Massachusetts. He first went to the United Nations (UN) in 1974, as part of the Japanese mission. In 1979 he joined the UN staff and spent the next fifteen years rising through the UN bureaucracy.

Akashi served the UN as Under-Secretary-General of Public Information, Under-Secretary-General for Disarmament Affairs and Undersecretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator in a long-and sometimes controversial-career as a high profile diplomat.

Akashi leapt to international fame more than twenty years ago when, in 1992, he was assigned by the United Nations to act as a mediator between the Cambodian Government and rebel groups such as the Khmer Rouge that sought its overthrow in a decade old civil war.

Many described Akashi’s task as ‘impossible’. Akashi however succeeded in negotiating a settlement that came to be known as the Paris Peace Accord. Elections were held in Cambodia and the dawn of peace to the country enabled Prince Sihanouk to return and be crowned King.

After his success in Cambodia, Akashi was an obvious choice to try and broker a peace deal in what was then Yugoslavia which was in the throes of a civil war. Akashi achieved some degree of success in the conflict but his achievements elicited mixed reactions, mostly for failing to stop the genocide in Srebrenica.

Some western nations and commentators criticised him for being lenient on Serbian leader Radovan Karadzic. A United States State Department spokeswoman publicly said, “We would like Akashi to do a better job” but others such as UN Secretary General Boutros Boutros Ghali backed him.

In Sri Lanka, although the 2002 ceasefire between the government and the LTTE was largely brokered by Norway, Akashi was an important figure in subsequent developments, being instrumental in attempting to maintain it, even conducting a series of meetings in Japan for the purpose.

Akashi’s diplomatic initiatives in Sri Lanka had the full support of the Japanese government and he journeyed to Sri Lanka many times for his purpose. He has travelled extensively in the country and is one of the few diplomats who have met with LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran in the jungles of Kilinochchi.

Akashi’s role in the conflict diminished somewhat after the government abandoned the ceasefire and decided to pursue an all-out military offensive against the LTTE but unlike Norwegian Minister Eric Solheim who also mediated in the ceasefire, Akashi continued to be held in high esteem in Sri Lanka.

When the United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki Moon appointed a so-called “panel of experts” which produced the now infamous ‘Darusman Report’, Akashi was one of the few international figures to criticise the report saying the procedure in appointing the experts as well as its findings were flawed.

Akashi was also an ardent advocate of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) when it was appointed, at a time when most international observers chose to dismiss the Committee claiming it was a government appointed body set to rubber stamp its decision. Later, the LLRC was praised for its work.
Akashi has also been supportive of Sri Lanka’s efforts to rehabilitate the North and East at a time when most western countries and the UN itself is keen to prosecute the government and the armed forces for alleged war crimes during the end of the Eelam war. Akashi has been critical of this attitude.

“I feel that it is rather unfair for some developed countries that have much more resources than Sri Lanka, to express impatience with Sri Lanka. This is not fair, and this is not objective. With Sri Lanka’s limited resources, what it has done by itself is amazing” Akashi was to say recently in Japan.

Akashi’s return to Colombo therefore is of great significance. It is believed to be related to recent developments where British Prime Minister David Cameron issued a virtual ultimatum saying it would initiate moves to set up an inquiry into alleged war crimes in Sri Lanka.

This is also in the context of an upcoming review of resolutions initiated by the United States and passed at the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in the past two years. These events signify a real threat to Sri Lanka’s reputation in the international arena.

The precise role that Akashi will play as this diplomatic drama unravels is as yet unclear. However it is certain that the government in Colombo wishes to use his good offices to try and build Sri Lanka’s case that it was merely prosecuting a war against terrorists-and that no war crimes were committed intentionally.

Yasushi Akashi has had a long and eventful career. The slightly built, soft spoken dapper gentleman has fought-and won-many a battle at negotiating tables around the world. There may be an opportunity for one last hurrah for Akashi who once said: “If it is for the cause of peace, I will deal with the devil”.

  Comments - 2

  • Cindy Montrose Friday, 13 December 2013 10:57 AM

    Is he again in SL, who is paying for him????

    Mike Friday, 13 December 2013 11:39 AM


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