So much for the professionalism of the Foreign Office. That, doubtless, is why they are also attacking Tamara Kunanayagam, who was grossly ill-treated in Geneva. I was asked why this was so by two Westerners, who appreciated the forthrightness with which she spoke, and her sheer professionalism. They could not understand why she had been sidelined, but the mandarins who ill-treated her will claim to the President that it was all her fault.
But there is a more serious element to all this. While I was in Geneva I was told that Douglas Devananda had nearly been sent home early on the grounds that he was going to be arrested. He himself thought that Mahinda Samarasinghe was responsible for this, but though Mahinda maybe gullible, I do not think he is devious. It was rather Foreign Ministry personnel who went to pick up Douglas’ baggage, and were fortunately stopped by the Ambassador. Meanwhile Douglas had been told that it was dangerous for him to stay, while the President was told that Douglas was nervous and wanted to leave.
I was worried by this, and that made me think back to what in my view started the rot, as far as Sri Lanka is concerned, namely the ill advised visit of the President to England in late 2010 to address the Oxford Union. Those of us who have actually been at Oxford know that one should never take the Union seriously, wonderful place though it is, and I was surprised that, having spoken there once, the President wanted to go there again. He was advised against this by the Deputy High Commissioner in London at the time, the marvelously efficient and able Mr Amza, and also – in writing – by the High Commissioner, Nihal Jayasinghe. I have been told by very loyal Sri Lankans living in London how they told Mr Jayasinghe about their qualms, and how he was at first nervous to warn against the visit, given the hype in Sri Lanka, but that he finally did so.
The recommendation that the visit go ahead was made by Kshenuka Seneviratne, the former High Commissioner in London, who actually accompanied the President on the visit. He was under the impression that the visit had been recommended by Bell Pottinger, but those professionals had also advised against it, and been ignored.
Until I heard what happened in Geneva, I was under the impression that the whole business had been a colossal misjudgment on Ms Seneviratne’s part. But then I thought of the moment when we appeared most weak, which was when General Gallage – a totally proper and efficient officer against whom there is no major allegation, even a trumped up one – was hurried out of the country. He did not want to leave, but the President was persuaded that he was in danger – and when he left it was trumpeted around that he had fled out of fear.
What then is the game plan now? I believe several irons are in the fire, but the most important is to get rid of the truly professional and patriotic Secretary to the Ministry, Mr Amunugama, so that Ms Seneviratne can step into his shoes.
Secondly, there is a concerted attempt to remove the most efficient and loyal non-career diplomats we have, Dayan in Paris, Tamara in Geneva, Asitha Perera in Rome, Palitha Kohona in New York, and later I believe even Sarath Kongahage in Berlin and Chris Nonis in London.
The task of the last has now been made more difficult by the transfer, not only of Mr Amza (with regard to whom bad blood was created from the start by the plotters) but also shortly of Mr Pathmanathan, so that there is no senior speaker of Tamil in London. It is possible that the targeting of Mr Razee in Paris is for a similar reason, while in Chennai the very capable Tamil speaking High Commissioners we had, Amza and then Mr Krishnamoorthy, are being followed by a Sinhalese. Of course he may be very good, but no effort was made, though Mr Krishnamoorthy kept asking for greater engagement with Tamilnadu. When I visited, I was told by the very distinguished academics and journalists I met that they now understood the situation better, and wished there had been previous visits like this. Needless to say the books I had taken to Delhi responding to the Darusman Report had not been sent down to Chennai.This brings me to the attack on me, the perpetuation of what essentially has been claimed only by the fellow travellers of the Ministry – not the many very capable concerned diplomats I have worked with, who are belittled on the grounds that their English is not perfect – that I upset the West. That is complete nonsense, though it is true that Patricia Butenis is cross with me at present, because I revealed publicly what Paul Carter – whom many members of the international community also find strange – had been up to. The point is, they all know where they stand with me and, though I am very hard on unfair criticism, in many respects we share similar ideals about strengthening the Human Rights regime and promoting Reconciliation and Pluralism.
Interestingly, the claim that Dayan’s attitude and mine led to Western hostility is belied by the fact that the British first introduced a motion against us in Geneva in 2006 – when Sarala Fernando, a career diplomat, was there, and when Ms Seneviratne in London was convincing Colombo if not herself that the British were favourable towards us. It was of Sarala that I first heard a canine metaphor, when Philip Alston claimed that she had come at him like a bulldog (for reasons I sympathised with, though I would obviously have been much gentler as well as much sharper – which is why Alston’s successor has told a student of his that, had he to find someone to defend him in court, he would choose me). That, Alston claimed, is why he had been so hostile to Sri Lanka subsequently, another instance I feel in which manoevering by unscrupulous forces – not Sarala, who simply reacted – won the day.
It will doubtless be claimed that I am asking for positions like everyone else, but the point is that, given current disfunctionalities, it is impossible to work effectively without status, when those with status simply do not follow the President’s instructions or vision. And though one never knows, given Mangala Samaraweera’s excessive sense of mischief, whether he is being serious or not, I have not forgotten him telling me two years back that he held Dayan and me responsible for the ills that beset the country, because it was the victory in Geneva in 2009 that had contributed to the sense of impunity he claimed the government felt. Perhaps he was right, and we must now make up for that through a rounded and well planned programme of work, but there is no sign of this happening.