By Andi Schubert
Kaushalya Herath, Harshana Rambukwella, and Darshi Thoradeniya, all friends and colleagues, have recently made some important interventions through the Kuppi Talk column on the topic of decolonising education. Framed within part of a larger conversation on the importance and value of arts education within the university, their interventions have brought a topic discussed globally to the attention of the local reading public. I broadly concur with much of their suggestions. But I want to highlight some thorny questions that decolonisation as a problem forces us to contend with and which I feel is not adequately highlighted in the interventions made thus far. In doing so, I aim not to devalue or discount their work but rather to nudge them towards more public interventions which grapple with the problems posed by decolonisation. My hope is that they will help all of us to think more critically about the possibilities for decolonising university education in Sri Lanka today.
The Unevenness of Colonial Power
It is often easy to fall into the trap of treating colonialism as a monolith when discussing the legacies of colonial rule in countries like Sri Lanka. Given that nationalist movements also frame colonialism in this way, it behooves those of us interested in critiquing both colonialism and nationalism to be vary of discussing colonial policies as a cogently theorised, cohesively implemented set of practices. As more recent research into colonial histories have shown, colonial policies were often ad hoc and haphazard, defined and re-defined in response to the pressures taking shape at the time both within and without the colony.
To give one relevant example that Prof. Rambukwella touches on, let me consider Thomas Babbington Macauley’s famous Minute on Indian Education which so clearly articulates the idea of an intermediary class between European colonisers and indigenous communities. The Minute itself was the culmination of a lengthy debate between British Orientalists who thought that indigenous literatures and languages (Sanskrit, Arabic, Pali for example) should be the basis for education in India and Anglicists who rejected indigenous languages in favour of English. Scholars trace this debate to 1781 and the establishment of an institution for Muslim higher education in Calcutta by the then British Governor, William Hastings. Hastings’ desire to set up an institution of this nature should be understood in the context of the precarity of British rule in Calcutta at the time and the need to win the support of powerful local elites by functioning as a patron for the development and promotion of indigenous cultures. Thus, an emphasis on its culmination masks the longer trajectories of the debate, particularly since some of these trajectories continue to influence our thinking today.
Colonial policies were also shaped by specific external and internal pressures. External considerations such as religious conflicts directly impacted colonial educational policies. For example, tensions between the Roman Catholic Portuguese empire and the Protestant Dutch empire are often identified as the reason why, after the exit of the Portuguese, the Roman Catholic church was not permitted to set up educational institutions in Ceylon until 1799, a few years after the British took control of the Coastal areas of the Island. Similarly, British priorities for education were also rarely monolithic and often complex. For example, as the memoirs of James Chapman, the first Anglican Bishop of Colombo show, there was a strong desire among Christian clergy to promote education in indigenous languages as a mechanism for developing the Christian church in the Island. Thus, decolonial efforts must engage with the fact that the colonial enterprise was complex and rarely unidirectional.
Most importantly perhaps, it is worth asking about the extent to which less critical presumptions about colonial policies fail to take into account the ways in which indigenous agency shaped colonial policies and practices. To give one example from the Sri Lankan context, as Anne Blackburn has shown in her well-research book Locations of Buddhism, Ven. Hikkaduwe Sri Sumangala and his patrons were able to use the Orientalist educational commitment of Governor Gregory as well as changes in the way Government funding for education was offered to secure State support when setting up the Vidyodaya Pirivena in the 1870s.
When we frame Ceylon’s colonial education system within the parameters of English, we would also do well to keep in mind that the actual percentage of the population educated in the English medium was almost negligible. For example, census statistics from 1911 show that even with the inclusion of the primarily English literate European and Burgher populations, only around 3% of men and 1% of women in Ceylon were classified as being literate (able to read and write) in English. This is well below the percentage of the population considered literate in 1911 (40% of men, 11% of women), further proof that English was not the primary medium of instruction for most students in Colonial Ceylon. But to Prof. Rambukwella’s point about English education being critical to colonial rule, one of the major factors for this was that English medium education was the most critical requirement when voting was introduced for Ceylonese in 1910, a requirement that limited franchise to 0.07% of the population. However, the introduction of franchise in this very limited way was a direct result of pressure exerted by Ceylon’s indigenous elite. Further, the introduction of this limitation was also vehemently opposed by the then British Governor, Henry McCallum on the grounds that it would exclude the majority of the population.
Thus, a closer look suggests that colonial policies relating to education in Ceylon/ Sri Lanka were rarely unidirectional, flowing from a pernicious, ideologically unified source in London. Rather, it was a set of complex, negotiated, and transient practices that evolved in response to local as well as international pressures. This is why those of us interested in raising the problem of decolonisation in relation to education must begin by questioning our own assumptions about the uniformity and evenness of colonial power. If our practice of decolonisation does not account for these negotiations, we run the risk of perpetuating now well-worn, Manichean dichotomies between colonisers and colonized which inadvertently perpetuate colonial distinctions.
But perhaps the larger question that decolonisation throws up for me is the question of what to do with the university itself. All the writers mentioned above as well as in the larger Kuppi Talk column have highlighted the need to defend the university itself from neoliberal attacks that seek to constrain the possibilities for critical thinking and exploration afforded within that space. It is worth remembering that the university was a central platform in Ceylon’s anti-colonial imagination. Its earliest proponents in Ceylon saw the university as a means of decolonising the mind and resisting the intellectual, artistic, and cultural denudation of indigenous traditions and approaches through an over-emphasis on Europe. But can these conditions and imaginations be recuperated within our current context? And what is the role of a university within these decolonial horizons?
I want to conclude by adding my voice to a growing list of decolonial thinkers who are arguing for replacing the idea of a university with that of a ‘pluriversity’ and a ‘subversity, terms developed by the key decolonial thinker, Boaventura de Sousa Santos. De Sousa Santos reminds us that as a result of the influence of capitalism as well as the continued dominance of Europe in intellectual work, the university today is no longer the radical, alternative space it was once thought to be. Thus, the question arises as to whether there is any value in attempting to reform the university in its current form.
For example, would more interest in and funding for humanities and social sciences education really address the problems the university in Sri Lanka faces today? It would certainly go some way towards this, but the structural conditions that have denuded the radical possibilities within the space of a university would continue to be largely unaffected. We would merely have put off for tomorrow the problems of today.
This is why I want to end by echoing de Sousa Santos’ call for imagining the possibilities of polyphonic spaces he terms a ‘pluriversity’ and a ‘subversity’. These are spaces built outside the space of the conventional university with a commitment to challenging the continued function of capitalism and colonialism in pedagogy and intellectual production. Those of us seriously committed to the task of decolonizing education, particularly university education, must begin by imagining different horizons of possibilities and new structures and conditions for intellectual and pedagogical work. This may help us to engage more critically with our own anticolonial histories, reconsider our own commitments and positions, and perhaps most importantly, think and act beyond the limits capitalism and colonialism has set for us. This, for me at least, is the first and most critical step on the long and hard road to the decolonization of any university space.
Andi Schubert teaches at the Department of Language Studies of the Open University of Sri Lanka.
Parliament reels as Easter Sunday accusations tarnish members’ credibility
By Shamindra Ferdinando
The Parliament last week wasted two days on a much hyped debate on national security and the 2019 Easter Sunday carnage carried out by local Muslim extremists radicalized by ISIS ideology. The debate didn’t help political parties represented in Parliament to reach consensus on the post-Easter Sunday reconciliation plan.
But, the ruling ‘Pohottuwa’ party and the solitary UNP National List MP Wajira Abeywardena defended the handling of the Easter Sunday investigations, whereas those who were in the Yahapalana Cabinet, that ruled the country at the time, attacked the Wickremesinghe-Rajapaksa government over its alleged failure.
A careful consideration of speeches made on September 21 and 22 clearly reflected the fact that political parties remained committed to their original positions, though the political landscape has changed. The exchange between former President Maithripala Sirisena, MP, and war-winning Army Commander Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka, MP, on the first day of the debate, underlined the pathetic state of affairs.
Polonnaruwa District ‘Pohottuwa’ lawmaker Sirisena’s claim that the war veteran wouldn’t have received the Field Marshal’s rank without his intervention proved again he didn’t have any sense of what he was talking about. If not for Fonseka’s strategic, courageous, ruthless and relentless leadership in pursuit of his goal to destroy the Tigers, the LTTE wouldn’t have collapsed in less than three years (Aug 2006-May 2009) though the successful war effort hinged on the combined forces commitment, and leadership in their respective fields.
MP Sirisena owes an explanation as to why wartime Navy and Air Force commanders, Wasantha Karannagoda and Roshan Gunathilake, respectively, were denied honorary ranks of Admiral of the Fleet and Marshal of the Air Force when Fonseka was awarded the rank of Field Marshal in March 2015. Karannagoda and Gunathilake finally received their due honours in Sept. 2019, several months after the Easter Sunday carnage, the subject of the two-day debate that didn’t achieve anything.
Lawmaker Sirisena should be reminded that he held the public security portfolio as the then President and Commander in Chief at the time of the Easter attacks. Sirisena steadfastly refused to swear in an UNPer as Public Security Minister though he reluctantly swore in Ranil Wickremesinghe as the Premier after the Supreme Court thwarted his constitutional coup. In fact, an influential section of the Yahapalana setup wanted Fonseka appointed as the Public Security Minister, though the proposal didn’t find favour with Premier Wickremesinghe.
While Parliament debated the Easter Sunday carnage, President Ranil Wickremesinghe, who served as the Premier at the time of the near simultaneous suicide attacks, was away in Washington to attend the 78th sessions of the UN General Assembly in New York. Let me reproduce verbatim the assessment made by the Presidential Commission of Inquiry on the Easter Sunday carnage. “Upon consideration of the evidence, it is the view of the CoI that the lax approach of Mr. Wickremesinghe towards Islamic extremism, as the Prime Minister, was one of the primary reasons for the failure on the part of the then government to take proactive steps towards Islamic extremism. This facilitated the build-up of Islamic extremism to the point of the Easer Sunday attack.” (Final report, Vol
01, p 276-277).
Against the backdrop of lawmaker Sirisena seeking UN intervention following the Channel 4 allegations, based on Hanzeer Azad Maulana (ex-aide to State Minister Sivanesathurai Chandrakanthan aka Pilleyan) over claims of complicity of Maj. Gen. Suresh Sallay in the Easter Sunday plot, it would be pertinent to point out the CoI’s assessment on the then President Sirisena. “Upon consideration of evidence of facts before 4th April 2019, the CoI is of the view that President Sirisena has failed in his duties and responsibilities and that his failure transcends beyond mere civil negligence.” (Final report, Vol 01, p 263)
CoI suggested: “….based on the evidence, the CoI is of the view that there is criminal liability on his part for the acts or omissions explained above. The CoI recommends that the Attorney General consider instituting criminal proceedings against President Sirisena under any suitable provision in the Penal Code.” (Final report, Vol 01, p 265)
Supreme Court Justice Janak de Silva chaired the CoI. The other members of the CoI were Court of Appeal Judge Bandula Karunaratne, retired Court of Appeal Judge Sunil Rajapaksa, retired High Court Judge Bandula Atapattu and retired Justice Ministry Secretary W.M.M.R. Adikari. The CoI commenced its hearings on Oct. 31, 2019 and sat on 214 days in total, holding 640 sittings and interviewing 451 witnesses.
The ‘Pohottuwa’ caused suspicions among the Catholics by appointing a six-member team to study the report prepared by such an eminent group. The group, headed by Chamal Rajapaksa, and included Johnston Fernando, Udaya Gammanpila, Ramesh Pathirana, Prasanna Ranatunga and Rohitha Abeygunawardena, was named on Feb. 19, 2021. President Gotabaya Rajapaksa received the report on Feb 01, 2021.
The Catholic Church repeatedly pointed out that none of the recommendations made by the CoI had been implemented.
Retired AVM doubts C4 claims
Air Vice Marshal [retired] A.B. Sosa V S V, psc, emphasized the pivotal importance of what he called maximum possible legal punitive action against those responsible for the attacks and security failure at all levels.
The former coordinating Officer of the Hambantota District at the height of the JVP-inspired insurgency (1987/88) and Mahiyanganaya in 1989 where the JVP declared a curfew to sabotage President Ranasinghe Premadasa’s Gam Udawa project explained how various interested parties exploited the developing situation to their advantage.
Declaring that the Easter Sunday carnage is a crime against humanity, Sosa examined the sequence of events as presented by C4, based on Hanzeer Azad Maulana, ex-CID Officer Nishantha Silva, who sought political asylum in Switzerland a week after Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s election as the President in Nov. 2019, and an anonymous Sri Lankan Government Official.
C4 accusations pertained to the period about four years prior to the Easter bombings. They rely on the accusations of Maulana and Nishantha Silva. C4 dealt with circumstances Pilleyan’s involvement in the murder of a sitting Member of Parliament Joseph Pararajasingham while attending holy mass on Christmas day 2005. That killing took place in Batticaloa.
One-time LTTEer and sidekick of Karuna Amman who served Mahinda Rajapaksa’s parliamentary group had been entrusted with the task of eliminating those opposed to the Rajapaksas, according to Moulana, who lucidly explained the role played by his former boss over the years.
Sosa questioned Moulana’s claim that Pilleyan’s group had been accommodated at the former Tripoli market premises and was named the ‘Tripoli Platoon.’ The former Director of Operations and Training declared: “This is an outrageous claim. As there had been an Army detachment therein, a motley crowd of civilians couldn’t have been positioned there under any circumstances. Such a situation is not possible in any disciplined military organization.”
Reiterating his concerns over the failure on the part of successive governments to punish those responsible for the assassination of Sunday Leader Editor Lasantha Wickrematunga in January 2009, the Air Force veteran said that Moulana’s claim that the wartime Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa directed the so-called Tripoli ‘platoon’ to eliminate the eminent journalist is nothing but a blatant lie.
Sosa said that the ex-CID officer’s unsubstantiated claims regarding the Wickrematunga assassination and his removal from the investigation should be examined against the backdrop of his failure to produce any documents or incriminating tapes. The retired AVM emphasized decisions couldn’t be made or consensus reached merely on a statement. Reference was made to an unprecedented Swiss Embassy ‘drama’ that followed the CID officer leaving the country along with his family.
During his career, Sosa, who had received training in the UK and Pakistan, held several command appointments, including as the Commander of the Katunayake Air Force Base.
Commenting on the alleged meeting arranged by Moulana between Sallay and the would-be Easter Sunday suicide bombers in a coconut estate called Lactowatta in the Puttalam district in Feb. 2018, Sosa emphasized this allegation should be examined taking into consideration the officer concerned was based in Malaysia as Sri Lanka’s Minister Counsellor. Sallay is on record as having said that he never left Malaysia in 2018 to visit Sri Lanka or any other country. Sosa stressed that Sallay, who had served as head of the Directorate of Military Intelligence (DMI) at the time of the 2015 presidential election, was removed and sent out of the country. Malaysia could help Sri Lanka and other interested parties to establish/ascertain the then Minister Counsellor’s movements. Sosa said: “Sallay could not have been simultaneously in two countries.”
The retired AVM also disputed C4 claim that Moulana had received instructions from Sallay on April 19, 2019, over the phone on the basis the officer was on a National Defence College, India, course. The government and other interested parties could easily verify this with Indian authorities, Sosa said, pointing out that both Malaysia and India must have examined claims.
The retired officer said: “In such circumstances, it is obvious that some ill-considered notions had been accepted by C4. Did C4 engage in a deliberate project to discredit Sri Lanka? I hold no brief for anyone. I have never met those who had been interviewed by C4 or persons mentioned, including Maj. Gen. Suresh Sallay. There is absolutely no doubt that the heinous Easter Sunday attacks and other allegations must be thoroughly investigated and perpetrators punished. However, it is necessary to sift out red herrings such as the farcical so-called C 4 hatchet job meant to discredit Sri Lanka. Perhaps, C4 is among those who pursued a different agenda as they couldn’t stomach our victory over terrorism.”
Sosa retired in Aug. 1990 on reaching the mandatory 55 years, several weeks after the eruption of Eelam War 11. Having successfully met the JVP challenge in the hotbed of subversive activities, where he served as CO for a year, Sosa received appointment as Base Commander, Karunayake, even though the Security Council wanted him appointed as CO, Kegalle. Sosa recalled how President Ranasinghe Premadasa, having succeeded JRJ, sent him to Mahiyangana to neutralise the JVP threat to facilitate the holding of Gam Udawa there. “Immediately after I took over security at Mahiyangana, President Premadasa met me there. We had a very cordial one-to-one meeting. The President told me to ensure that power supply was not interrupted and normalcy restored. The JVP had sabotaged the entire fleet of around 30 buses in the depot. I flew down motor fitters and mechanics from Katunayake air base who got the buses going by cleaning the sand spiked gear boxes and oil tanks. Army troops were placed on 24-hour patrols to ensure the power pylons were not destroyed by the JVP. These troops had to be maintained by helicopters as the area was not accessible by road. During the Gam Udawa period, President Premadasa met me every morning. The Gam Udawa drew a large crowd and everything went off well except for a minor incident after closing time on one occasion. When leaving in the morning after the final day the President said “Thank you, see me in Colombo.” Sosa said that he opted to get back to Katunayake air base and remained there until retirement.
The Thileepan affair
Amidst the ongoing controversy over the Easter Sunday carnage and ahead of the two-day debate in Parliament, a vehicle carrying a portrait of Thileepan was attacked by villagers at Shardhapura, Uppuveli.
Thileepan died of a hunger strike at Nallur Kandasamy Kovil on Sept. 26, 1987. His fast lasted 11 days. A section of the media reported that National List MP Selvarajah Kajendran (a member of the Gajendrakumar Ponnambalam led Ahila Illankai Thamil Congress) accompanying the vehicle was also attacked. It would be pertinent to mention that Kajendran first entered Parliament in 2004 on the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) ticket. The one-time President of the Jaffna University Students Union received the backing of the LTTE at that election in the wake of the TNA recognizing Velupillai Prabhakaran as the sole representative of the Tamil speaking people, amidst the shocking split caused by then LTTE Eastern Commander Vinayagamoorthy Muralitharan aka Karuna Amman defecting to the government.
The portrait-carrying vehicle began its journey at Pottuvil and was on its way to the Jaffna peninsula, where the final remembrance was to be held. A section of the media depicted Thileepan as a person who died for the rights of the Tamil speaking people.
Let us examine the circumstances 26-year-old Thileepan died following the 11-day fast after Velupillai Prabhakaran ‘deployed’ him as a suicide bomber. Actually, Thileepan’s fast unto death was meant to cause mayhem in the Jaffna peninsula. The LTTE mounted its first suicide attack on July 05, 1987, on the Nelliady Army detachment.
Former LTTE terrorist Niromi de Soyza (adopted pseudonym) dealt with Thileepan’s fast unto death, in her debut as a writer. ‘Tamil Tigress’ first published two years after the Sri Lankan military decimated the LTTE’s conventional military capability, the writer, who had been 17 at the time she joined the group in 1987, discussed Thileepan’s death against the backdrop of Velupillai Prabhakaran’s decision to take on the Indian Army. Sri Lanka was forced to accept the deployment of the Indian Army in late July 1987.
The writer ‘Niromi’ questioned Velupillai Prabhakaran’s choice as Thileepan was physically fragile and too intelligent to be sanctified. She had been one of those assigned for crowd controlling duties at Nallur Kandasamy Kovil where she witnessed Thileepan being welcomed onto the makeshift podium. The LTTE’s No. 02 at the time Mahattaya had been with Thileepan at the launch of his fast. ‘Niromi’ had been at the scene of the hunger strike on many days and experienced the LTTE propagating the lie that the dying man’s wish was for the LTTE to defeat the Indian Army. Recalling the opportunity she received to get onto the podium, the writer translated four lines of a Tamil song heard about a week after Thileepan launched his much advertised action.
A sweet-smelling flower is withering
It cannot speak, it cannot walk
Will Thileepan anna’s desire be satisfied?
Won’t the foreign army flee?
The writer named Thileepan as the person who conscripted her, handed her first assault rifle as well as a cyanide capsule which the writer called kuppie.
She had been present when a doctor who examined Thileepan on Sept. 26, 1987, pronounced him dead.
‘Niromi de Soyza’ wrote: With his life Thileepan had paved the way for war (Chapter 09: There’s still time to change your mind).
Less than 10 days after Thileepan’s death, the Sri Lanka Navy intercepted a trawler carrying a group of hardcore LTTE terrorists in the northern seas. Their detention and their subsequent mass suicide in Sri Lankan custody led to the resumption of war in the second week of Oct. 1987.
Niromi de Soyza quoted Velupillai Prabhakaran as having told a group of cadres, including herself, soon after the mass suicide at Palaly, “The Indian government engineered the so-called peace process as a plot to gradually eliminate us.”
Propaganda war will continue unabated until Sri Lanka countered lies. Fifteen years after the conclusion of the war, Sri Lanka is still struggling to counter various narratives. There cannot be a better example than the bid to exploit deliberately caused Thileepan’s death to launch a fresh rift between the Sinhalese and Tamil speaking people. The vehicle convoy that had been launched from Pottuvil was meant to cause maximum harm to these yet fragile relations. Unless the government takes tangible measures against such exploiting tactics to create fresh wounds between the two communities, the day the country erupts again is not far off.
The Masked Gentry
By Lynn Ockersz
In the Lil Isle’s survival saga,
Desperation, dark and subtle,
Is now starkly visible,
And ponder we must on this duality,
For, out of humans given to avarice,
The worst explodes to the surface,
Drive-by killings being a proof of this,
But elders walking the streets,
Teeming with bargain hunters,
Out of neglect and dire need,
Their Covid masks proving handy,
To hide their genteel identity,
Are a sound measure as well,
Of the nation’s state of health,
For, in their frail persons they carry,
An indictment on a society past caring.
How shoddy handling of accountability issues facilitated anti-Sri Lanka Geneva project
Sri Lanka’s failure on the Geneva front has facilitated a high profile project to undermine the country’s unitary status. The Geneva role in the controversial bid to introduce a brand new Constitution during the Yahapalana administration with the involvement of the rebel UPFA group (now SLPP) has been quietly forgotten. At one point, Wimal Weerawansa quit the process, warning the then Opposition Leader Mahinda Rajapaksa to leave the UNP-led operation or face the consequences.
By Shamindra Ferdinando
In the absence of a cohesive and holistic effort on the part of Sri Lanka, till now, to counter unsubstantiated war crimes allegations, the country remains enmeshed in the Geneva trap.
Sri Lanka brought the war to a successful conclusion in May 2009 in spite of Western efforts at scuttling it, even at the eleventh hour, by dispatching a powerful team of foreign Ministers from the UK and France to prevail on the then President Mahinda Rajapaksa to halt the war when we were on a certain winning path, proving many a pundit wrong.
With such a powerful Western delegation, comprising French Minister of Foreign and European Affairs Dr. Bernard Kouchner and Secretary of State for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office of the United Kingdom David Miliband trailing President Rajapaksa he even conveniently fled to Embilipitiya to avoid them but they pursued him there and pleaded their case in late April 2009. The President simply rejected their plea. So, no wonder, the West left no stone unturned to destroy that government and the Rakapaksas! That is not to say that we consider the Rajapaksas’ to be lily white; they were far from it.
The basis for the continued harassment, and humiliation, of war-winning Sri Lanka, is the report of the Secretary General’s Panel of Experts (PoE) on Accountability here, released on 31 March, 2011. It was authored by Marzuki Darusman (Indonesia), Yasmin Sooka (South Africa) and Steven Ratner (US).
On 01 October, 2015, Sri Lanka became the first country to betray her own armed forces by co-sponsoring UN Human Rights Council’s Resolution 30/1 that ostensibly promoted reconciliation, accountability and human rights. Since then Geneva has gleefully engaged in bashing Sri Lanka annually.
The ongoing 54th Geneva sessions (11 Sept. – 23 Oct., 2023) is no exception. Sri Lanka’s Permanent Representative in Geneva Himalee Arunatilaka rejected the latest Geneva statement (written update). The career diplomat also strongly disputed the reference to the 2019 Easter Sunday carnage. That reference, obviously, was based on UK television station Channel 4 allegation that wartime Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa engineered near simultaneous Easter Sunday suicide attacks which claimed the lives of 269 persons, including 45 foreigners, based on an allegation levelled by a sole individual, while trying to seek political asylum in Switzerland.
On the basis of Geneva claims, some of those who successfully spearheaded what was repeatedly dubbed an unwinnable war, have been harshly dealt with. Chief of Defence Staff Gen. Shavendra Silva is one. Maj. Gen. Chagie Gallage, who retired in late 2018, is another. The list is long. When the writer raised the issue with Foreign Minister Ali Sabry, PC, a year ago, he didn’t mince his words when he declared that not only individuals but the entire fighting formations have been condemned.
Sri Lanka never made a genuine effort to address accountability issues. The Rajapaksas unashamedly exploited the Geneva threat to their advantage, whereas other political parties played politics with the issue. Defeated LTTE’s sidekick, the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) threw its weight behind the Geneva project.
Arunatilaka who previously served as our Ambassador to Nepal (Oct. 2019 to Dec. 2022) succeeded C.A. Chandraprema in January this year following the election of Ranil Wickremesinghe as President. Parliament elected Wickremesinghe on July 20, 2022, a week after Gotabaya Rajapaksa, elected with a thumping 6.9 mn votes, was forced to flee the country, following an unprecedented public protest campaign over the disruption of basic services, with lavish funding from both local and foreign sources angry with the Rajapaksas. In the latter case they were angry at them for delivering a crushing defeat to the LTTE. The declaration of bankruptcy by the Governor of the Central Bank Dr. Nandalal Weerasinghe, during the tail end of Gotabaya Rajapaksa presidency, was long overdue. In January, this year, Dr. Weerasinghe said that Sri Lanka had been bankrupt much earlier but didn’t acknowledge the reality.
But the irony is Sri Lanka has gone bankrupt with a foreign debt of little over USD 50 billion, a sizeable amount out of it had been borrowed at high interest rates during the Yahapalana regime (2015-2019). The situation had been exacerbated by that regime loosening exchange controls by doing away with the time-tested Exchange Control Act that had been in place since the early 1950s. As a result, Sri Lanka has been made open to unscrupulous elements to steal valuable foreign exchange from the country. To make the situation worse, even according to Justice Minister Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe, some unscrupulous exporters have parked export proceeds abroad to the tune of about USD100 billion that should have been legitimately brought back to Sri Lanka. So in actual fact our bankruptcy is entirely an artificial one created by interested parties! So the billion dollar question is why the government is not taking action to bring back the money that legitimately belongs to this country, or at least name the culprits in public.
At the time Sri Lanka co-sponsored resolution 30/1, career diplomat Ravinatha Aryasinha (currently Executive Director, Lakshman Kadirgamar Institute) served as Permanent Representative there (19 July, 2012 to 31 March, 2018), according to our mission website. The late Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera directed Aryasinha to go ahead, regardless of serious concerns raised by him. At the behest of the then Premier Ranil Wickremesinghe, Aryasinha was simply overruled.
Another career diplomat A.L. Azeez succeeded Aryasinha. Azeez and served there from 12 April, 2018 to 31 January, 2020, also according to the website. Therefore, at the time Sri Lanka declared its withdrawal from the Geneva process, on 26 February, 2020, the Geneva position remained vacant. That silly announcement was meant to deceive the gullible people as the ongoing Geneva session reminds Sri Lanka of the tightening noose laid by the West.
Veteran bilingual newspaper columnist Chadraprema served as our PR there 10 Nov., 2020 to 31 Dec., 2022, and was replaced by Arunatilaka, who joined the Foreign Service in 1998.
A pathetic response
Whoever had been at the helm, the Government of Sri Lanka was determined not to set the record straight, both locally and internationally. The war-winning Rajapaksa administration and the Wickremesinghe-Sirisena government, that co-sponsored the treacherous 30/1 US-led resolution in Oct. 2015 against one’s own country, refrained from addressing specific issues. The Gotabaya Rajapaksa government was definitely the worst. Instead of mounting a proper defence, it merely declared the country’s withdrawal from that resolution.
It would be pertinent to mention that Mahinda Rajapaksa’s government hired US-based WR group and a private equity fund manager Imaad Zuberi at a cost of USD 6.5 mn (approximately Rs 1.31 bn) to influence US policy. The payments made over a period of five months, in 2014, were meant to divert US attention from Sri Lanka, ahead of the 2015 Geneva sessions. With the change of government, Sri Lanka joined the US in co-sponsoring a 30/1 resolution against her own armed forces.
In February 2021, Imaad Zuberi was sentenced to 12 years in prison after pleading guilty to tax evasion, foreign influence-peddling and campaign finance violations.
Five years before the endorsement of the 30/1 resolution, the Tamil speaking people, living in the Northern and Eastern Provinces, declared their faith in the warwinning Army Commander, Gen. Sarath Fonseka, for President. The US, too, affirmed her confidence in the SLA by throwing its weight behind Gen. Fonseka, who contested the first national election after the eradication of separatist Tamil terrorism. The Tamil electorate voted for Fonseka against the backdrop of the TNA’s endorsement of the General, whose ruthless tactics brought the LTTE down to its knees within three years. Then why did the Tamil electorate overwhelmingly vote for Fonseka? Had they really despised General Fonseka for Sri Lanka’s triumph over the LTTE, the electorate could have boycotted the poll, regardless of the TNA’s intervention. Let me stress that all those Tamil speaking people, who voted for Fonseka and Commander-in-Chief of armed forces Mahinda Rajapaksa, in the Northern and Eastern Provinces, did so because they appreciated the eradication of the LTTE. That is the truth.
Unfortunately, no government ever referred to this fact in Geneva. Sri Lanka should have taken up this matter with the Sri Lanka Core Group,comprising the US, the UK, Canada, Malawi, Montenegro and North Macedonia, at the UNHRC.
Having endorsed Fonseka at a national election, less than a year after his Army crushed the LTTE, it would be quite absurd for Tamil representatives in Parliament to press for an international inquiry. And those demanding for external intervention are silent on the origins of terrorism. The TNA, instead of demanding an international investigation, should make a public apology for its recognition of LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran as the sole representative of the Tamil-speaking people, way back in 2001.
Sri Lanka shouldn’t hesitate to declare a sordid relationship between the TNA and the LTTE before the UNHRC as well as to bring it to the notice of the UN, officially. TNA lawmaker M.A. Sumanthiran, PC, attended meetings on the sidelines of the UNGA in New York. For some strange reason, successive governments refrained from placing all facts, officially, before the international community, thereby allowing all those interested in hounding Sri Lanka for defeating LTTE terrorism, especially in the West, along with their cronies like Malawi, exploit a hapless country.
In fact, there is no point in blaming the Western powers, and India, for Sri Lanka’s pathetic failure to set the record straight no doubt because of their international clout. In addition to the far reaching disclosure made by Lord Naseby in the House of Lords in Oct. 2017 that disputed the very basis of the Darusman report, there were a number of other instances/developments which could have been utilized to build Sri Lanka’s defence. But irresponsible political leadership ignored such developments. Sri Lanka’s first major mistake was its failure to use the overwhelming Tamils’ recognition of General Fonseka at the 2010 presidential election.
Having faulted the SLA, on three major counts, the PoE (Panel of Experts) accused Sri Lanka of massacring at least 40,000 civilians. Let me reproduce the paragraph, bearing No. 137, verbatim: “In the limited surveys that have been carried out in the aftermath of the conflict, the percentage of people reporting dead relatives is high. A number of credible sources have estimated that there could have been as many as 40,000 civilian deaths. Two years after the end of the war, there is no reliable figure for civilian deaths, but multiple sources of information indicate that a range of up to 40,000 civilian deaths cannot be ruled out at this stage. Only a proper investigation can lead to the identification of all of the victims and to the formulation of an accurate figure for the total number of civilian deaths.”
Those in authority should have paid attention to the following cases. The writer, on numerous occasions, underscored the responsibility on the part of the government to explore ways and means of exploring the following matters as part of overall strategy to build a solid defence (1) Dismissal of war crimes accusations by wartime US Defence Attaché Lt. Col. Lawrence Smith in Colombo. The then US official did so at the May-June 2011 first post-war defence seminar in Colombo, two months after the release of the PoE report. The State Department disputed the official’s right to represent the US at the forum though it refrained from challenging the statement. (2) Examination of the US statement along with Lord Naseby’s Oct. 2017 disclosure based on the then British Defence advisor Lt. Colonel Anthony Gash’s cables to London during the war (Jan.-May 2009). Sri Lanka never used Lord Naseby’s disclosure to her advantage. (3) WikiLeaks revelations that dealt with the Sri Lanka war. A high profile Norwegian study on its role in the Sri Lanka conflict examined some of these cables. However, the Norwegian process never strengthened Sri Lanka’s defence. Instead Norway merely sought to disown its culpability in the events leading to the annihilation of the LTTE. One of the most important WikiLeaks revelations disputed Sri Lanka deliberately targeting civilians. The cable proved that our ground forces took heavy losses by taking the civilian factor into consideration. (4) Wide discrepancies in loss of civilian lives claimed by the UN and various other interested parties. The UN estimated the figure at 40,000 (March 2011) whereas Amnesty International (Sept, 2011) placed the number at 10,000 and a member of the UK Parliament (Sept. 2011) estimated the death toll at 100,000. (5) Disgraceful attempt made by Geneva to exploit the so-called Mannar mass graves during the Yahapalana administration. The Foreign Ministry, under the Yahapalana rule, conveniently remained silent on the Mannar graves, while Western diplomats played politics, only to be proved utterly wrong. Acting at the interest of those hell-bent on blaming Sri Lanka, the then Geneva Chief Michelle Bachet faulted Sri Lanka before the conclusion of the investigation. The then Northern Province Chief Minister C.V. Wigneswaran (Jaffna District MP now) rejected scientific findings of the Beta Analytic Institute of Florida, USA, in respect of samples of skeletal remains sent from the Mannar mass grave site. Human Rights Commissioner Michelle Bachelet went to the extent of commenting on the Mannar mass grave in her report that dealt with the period from Oct. 2015 to January 2019. We come to wonder whether she was actually a victim of Gen. Pinochet or a mere manufactured victim. Had the US lab issued a report to suit their strategy, would they have accepted fresh tests in case the government of Sri Lanka requested? The following is a relevant section bearing No. 23 from Bachelet’s report: “On May 29, 2018, human skeletal remains were discovered at a construction site in Mannar (Northern Province), Excavations conducted in support of the Office on Missing Persons, revealed a mass grave from which more than 300 skeletons were discovered. It was the second mass grave found in Mannar following the discovery of a site in 2014. Given that other mass graves might be expected to be found in the future, systematic access to grave sites by the Office as an observer is crucial for it to fully discharge its mandate, particularly with regard to the investigation and identification of remains, it is imperative that the proposed reforms on the law relating to inquests, and relevant protocols to operationalize the law be adopted. The capacity of the forensic sector must also be strengthened, including in areas of forensic anthropology, forensic archaeology and genetics, and its coordination with the Office of Missing Persons must be ensured.” (6) Wigneswaran, in his capacity as the then Northern Province Chief Minister in August 2016, accused the Army of killing over 100 LTTE cadres held in rehabilitation facilities. Wigneswaran claimed the detainees had been given poisonous injections resulting in the deaths of 104 persons. The unprecedented accusation made by the retired Supreme Court judge had been timed to attract international attention. Wignewaran is on record as having said a US medical team visiting Jaffna at that time would examine the former rehabilitated LTTE cadres, who he alleged had fallen sick because they were injected with poisonous substances at government detention or rehabilitation centres.
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