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What went wrong with Sri Lanka in Geneva?

Sweden, April 8 -- It was Eelam War V - phased five of the battle between the Tamil Diaspora groups in the West and the Sri Lanka Government. The battle this time was in Geneva, Switzerland, at the 19thsession of the UN Human Rights Council. The war was fought in the capitals of the West.

Tamil Diaspora Groups

I have heard that the Tamil Diaspora delegations were in almost all the capital cities of the 47 member countries of the UN Human Rights Council and in New York.

In New York the delegates of the Trans National Government of Tamil Eelam visited almost all the permanent Missions canvassing support for the American sponsored resolution. But I learnt that some permanent Missions did not receive them and more or less chased them out as they try to visit those Missions without any prior appointments.

In India alone, there were more than fifty members of the Tamil Diaspora teams. one of them were notable personalities, but were second or third rung leaders.

It may be recalled that earlier M.K. Sivajilingham, a former TNA Member of Parliament and a Presidential candidate was deported by India twice from entering Tamil Nadu. He was deported when he landed first time at the Chennai International airport on 26 December 2009 and later on 13 April 2010.

On the 19th April 2010, the immigration authorities at the Chennai airport deported Parvathi Ammal Velupillai, the mother of the slain LTTE leader Prabakaran, when she landed at the airport from Malaysia with a valid medical visa.

Subsequently, Fr. S.J. Emmanuel, the President of the UK-based Global Tamil Forum (GTF), was deported back to Dubai after immigration officers refused entry to India, when he landed in the Chennai airport via Dubai on 11 October 2011.

Those deportations reflected that India was not prepared to receive leaders from the Tamil Diaspora groups, who are alleged to be supporters of the LTTE, in one-way or other.

Tamil Diaspora Delegations to Tamil Nadu

After the deportation of Father Emanuel, Tamil Diaspora groups were alerted of the Indian Government mentality and they arranged to send second and third rung members, whose names are not in the "Warning Circular," list of the Union government of India. Those who managed to obtain visa to India on the guises pilgrimages and for other purposes were sent to Tamil Nadu for lobbying.

According to a report, majority of the Tamil Diaspora members were in touch with the Tiger Supporter P. Nedumaran, who is the Head of the World Tamil Movement.

The Tamil Diaspora groups planned their strategy along with Nedumaran, Vaiko of the Marumalarchchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, Ramados of the Pattali Makkal Kadchchi, Thirumalavan of Indian Panthers and many other pro-LTTE groups in Tamil Nadu and exerted pressure on the DMK patriarch M.Karunanidhi and Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J. Jayalalithaa to stage political dramas in Chennai as well as in New Delhi, to force the Union Government of India to vote in favor of the US sponsored resolution.

We witnessed the political dramas enacted by the Tamil Nadu political leaders, which resulted in the Indian Government taking a U-turn to vote with USA.

When referring about India voting for the American sponsored resolution, Sri Lanka's Human Resources Senior Minister D E W Gunasekera in an interview with Ceylon Daily News of 05 March said, "Although India voted against Sri Lanka under pressure by the situation of their domestic politics in Tamil Nadu, they must be respected for the amendment they have moved in to the resolution that any assistance from the Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights or visits of UN special procedures, 'should be in consultation and with the concurrence of the Sri Lankan government' ".

High Profile Personalities In Geneva

In Geneva we saw several high profile personalities involved in the lobbying against Sri Lanka.

J.David Whaley , a strong critics of Sri Lanka, who worked for the UN and serving in a few African countries, and also did some consultancy work in Sri Lanka, when Ranil Wickremasinghe was the Prime Minister from 2002 to 2004.

We also witnessed Peter Splinter of the Amnesty International who was highly critical about Sri Lankan Government at all and available opportunities.

He spearheaded the smearing campaign against Sri Lanka in almost all the side events held at the UN in Geneva. He spoke at length of the continuing atrocities on civilians in the form of enforced disappearances, torture and impunity.

The International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) welcomed the initiative of the United States of America for introducing the t resolution on promoting reconciliation and accountability in Sri Lanka.

Also there were the British Members of Parliament of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Tamils, namely - Lee Scott MP - Ilford North; Siobhain McDonough MP - Mitcham and Morden ; Tom Brake MP - Carshalton and Wallington and John Mann MP - Bassetlaw. They were in Geneva and attended the UN Human Rights Council session and did a lot of lobbying in favor of the American sponsored resolution.

In the meantime, Forum Asia of Bangkok, Thailand, expressed the need to provide security to the Bishop of Mannar, whom they referred, has appealed to the International Community present in Geneva to vote for the resolution, as in his view, accountability and independent investigation of war crimes are the only way forward towards genuine reconciliation.

Tamil Diaspora groups made their presence felt in Geneva

Representatives of the Transnational Government of Tamil Eelam (TGTE), the British Tamil Forum (BTF), the Tamil Centre for Human Rights (TCHR), and the Global Tamil Forum (GTF) were in Geneva seen actively lobbying and meeting all the diplomatic missions of the 47 UNHRC countries.

I was there when Fr. S. J. Emmanuel was critical of Sri Lanka Government at The Council for Liberal Democracy headed by Prof. Rajiva Wijesinha who organized two side events which was joined by the Consortium of Humanitarian Agencies President Jeevan Thiyagarajah and Javid Yusuf the former ambassador to Saudi Arabia.

I was in Geneva from 26 of February and was able to report the day to day developments of the Nineteenth Session of the UN Human Rights Council as the session commenced on 27 February and the final curtain was drawn on 23rd March.

In the meantime, I saw Pakiasothy Saravanamuttu (Centre for Policy Alternatives), Sunila Abeysekera (the Global Campaign for Women's Human Rights), Nimalka Fernando (President of the International Movement Against All Forms of Discrimination and Racism), Farah Mihlar (Minority Rights Group) and Sandya Ekneligoda (wife of disappeared journalist Prageeth Ekneligoda). They all were involved in lobbying for or against the resolution one way or another.

I also met Garry Sangari and his two deputies from Canadian Tamil Congress. There was Suren Surenthiran of the Global Tamil Forum. Then there was S.V. Kirupakaran, General Secretary of Tamil Centre for Human Rights based in Paris.

Ego clashes within the high profile Government delegation

There was Mahinda Samarasinghe, the Minister of Plantation Industry, and Human Rights, Special Envoy of the Sri Lanka President, and he was the Leader of the Sri Lanka delegation in Geneva.

Also we had Sri Lanka's Permanent Representative Ambassador Tamara Kunanayakam, an unassuming savvy diplomat. When I met her she was suffering from laryngitis and lost her normal voice and suffered a lot to communicate with others.

Also before the commencement of the 19th session of the UN Human Rights Council on 27th February, there was Professor G.L. Pieris, External Affairs Minister of Sri Lanka. But he left as the Council session commenced and was back by 20th March and was in Geneva until the United Nations Human Rights Council 19th session resolution on Sri Lanka [A/HRC/19/L.2] was taken up for voting on 22 March.

It was very sad that I was a witness to some high profile battle of egos in the midst of those who were in Geneva to safeguard the interest of the Country, Government as well as that of President Mahinda Rajapaksa. It was very unfortunate and the clash of egos in a big way diminished our efforts.

Other Sri Lankans in Geneva

There was lot of other Sri Lankan delegates working hard to win the support of countries to vote for and behalf of Sri Lanka in the proposed American resolution against Sri Lanka.

Unfortunately we did not have any friendly academics, journalists, politicians and others from other countries to work for Sri Lanka, to lobby for Sri Lanka's interests in Geneva.

But we had Ms. Ira De Silva from Canada, Douglas Wickramaratne - President of the Sinhala Association of Sri Lankans in the UK, Ms. Rajeswary Balasubramaniam from UK, Dr. Noel Nadesan of Australia and the veteran journalist H.L.D. Mahindapala also from Australia.

Sri Lanka Government Sponsored Side Event

The Sri Lanka Government officially conducted a side event at the UN Conference room. The event was presided over by Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe and there was many Sri Lankan Ministers in the podium including Minister Douglas Devananda, as well as Minister Rishad Bathiyutheen.

At the side event, Suren Surenthirann of the Global Tamil Forum as well as S.V. Kirupakaran, General Secretary of Tamil Centre for Human Rights based in Paris began to target Minister Douglas Devananda. At one stage Suren Surenthiran questioned Minister Douglas Devananda as to how he was able to obtain the highest preferential votes in the Jaffna Electoral District in the last Parliamentary General Elections held on April 2010.

The Minister explained and said there was no adverse comment by any election monitoring groups after the general election, unlike in the 2004 Parliamentary elections in the Jaffna Electoral District where votes were stuffed by the LTTErs and by their supporters and even the EU Election Commissioners in their report condemned it.

At that time S.V. Kirupakaran also started targeting Minister Douglas Devananda and as the chair failed to bring about order, I shouted and said "All of You Shut up and Keep quiet," at those involved in leveling unparliamentarily attacks.

After the conclusion of the side event, Suren Surenthiran met the Minister Douglas Devananda and threw a challenge whether he is prepared to contest in the next Parliamentary election in Jaffna against him?

The immediate response from the Minister Douglas Devananda was "yes" and he accepted the challenge with an innocuous smile hovering in his lips. The ball is now in Suren Surenthran's court.

For the Government's side event, there was Jaffna Mayor Yogeswari Patkunarajah , Thuraiappa Navaratnaraja, EasternnProvincial Councuil Minister for Agriculture, Livestock Development, Rural Industries Development and Fisheries, Arun Thambimuthu, the SLFP organizer for the Batticaloa District, Mr. S. Kanagaratnam the former TNA Member of Parliament and at present Sri Lanka President's coordinator for the Mullaitivu district and Dr. Shanmugarajah.

Unfortunately, Kanagaratnam was not given any opportunity to speak in the side event; Arun Thambimuthu spoke about how he was rendered orphaned after his father and mother Sam Thambimuthu and Kala Thambimuthu were killed by the LTTE in 1990, as they came out of the Canadian High Commission in Colombo. Dr. Shanmugarajah spoke about the medical facilities in the Mullaitivu district but he survived a kidnap attempt by a Tamil Diaspora group in Geneva.

Lobbying by both sides

In Geneva, Sri Lankan delegation was involved in lobbying the support of those countries that had the right to vote. I noticed Sri Lanka' Permanent representative meeting with the Botswana's Ambassador and sought the country's support. On the very next day, I understood that the Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe met separately with the same Botswana Ambassador and was lobbying for Botswana's support. This showed that there was no coordination within the Sri Lankan side. Unfortunately on 22nd March, Botswana abstained from voting in the US sponsored resolution.

When the high segment meeting was on, I went and met the Angolan Government representatives who were seated in the assembly and spoke with them. I went to meet them just to say 'hello' and to inquire about the Country's President Jose Eduardo dos Santos and some Ministers with whom I have worked with in Luanda, Angola from 1995 to 97.

After my meeting, I saw four or five Tamil Diaspora groups went and met with those Angolan Government Representatives and canvassed and lobbied for their support.

Later, I happened to meet one of the Angolan Representatives and inquired him about the meetings he and his colleagues had with the Tamil Diaspora groups.

The Angolan Representative told me that all of them emphasized that they were Tamilsand they were experiencing ethnic discrimination in Sri Lanka and the Tamils were defeated in the Eelam War IV and in the last days of the battle thousands of Tamils were killed.

They have said that more than three hundred thousands were displaced and the Tamils in Sri Lanka were discriminated and treated as second class citizens. They are the minorities and the government harasses the ethnic minorities - Tamils.

Tamils of Sri Lanka denied opportunities to work with Government leaders

As a Tamil, I knew this would be the line the Tamil Diaspora groups would be taking. When I met the leader of the Sri Lankan Government delegation, I told him to take along one or two Tamils whenever he went to meet the leaders of the other countries.

Unfortunately, Tamils were not taken whenever the Sri Lankan leaders went for lobbying. I don't know why they failed to take Tamils when they went for lobbying. May be those leaders were either megalomaniacs or arrogant and discarded the Tamils.

If Tamils were taken into confidence and taken for lobbying, they would have said, "we are Tamils, we live in Sri Lanka and we live peacefully and live harmoniously in Sri Lanka with Sinhalese, Muslims, Burgers and would have refuted the arguments put forward by the Tamil Diaspora groups.

They would have said that the so called Tamil Diaspora group representatives have never visited Sri Lanka and these are the very people who justified the killings by the LTTE and Prabhakaran, these are the very people who justified the forceful recruitments of underage children and these are the very people who glorified suicide killings. They would have also said that until Prabhakaran was alive, these are the very people who never uttered one word to protect the Tamils living in Sri Lanka from the ruthless grip of the LTTE.

Channel 4

The release of the video - Sri Lanka Killing fields - "Unpunished war crime allegations," did not have any impact as expected.

Britain Channel-4 television aired the second edition of Lankan Killing fields named - "Unpunished war crime allegations."

This time the Channel 4 simply recycled the old footage as new evidence with the compliant forensic pathologist called Prof Derrick Pounder to evaluate photographic evidence, but without a body lying on his table.

It was surprising to note Channel 4 second edition was not released as a side event at the UNHRC. I was told that there were no takers to give prominence to the second edition and have it as a side event.

Vote of Gulf Countries

At the last minute, on 20th of March, Lankan Minister of Industry and Trade Rishad Bathiyudeen was dispatched to Qatar as Sri Lanka President's special Envoy to meet Emir of Qatar Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani.

The Emir received a special message from Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapakse on co-operation between the two countries and matters of mutual concern. The message was handed over by the Sri Lankan Minister during an audience with the Emir at the Emiri Diwan.

This meeting confirmed the support of Qatar as well as that of Saudi Arabia and Kuwait for Sri Lanka.

Conclusion

* The Tamils were not given an opportunity to fight for the country. It was unfortunate. There cannot ever be Sinhalese solution to a Tamil problem.

* Since from 2007, I was insisting that we should have a Sri Lankan Minister for Sri Lankan Overseas to look after the welfare of the Sri Lankan Diaspora in the West. But to date not a single person was appointed as Minister for Sri Lankan Overseas.I still insist that there has to a Minister for Sri Lankan Overseas.

With the African countries, it has been a longstanding relationship in the context of Non- Aligned Movement (NAM) and G 77.

Leaders like Dr. Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana, Julius Kambarage Nyerere of Tanzania and Abdul Nasser of Egypt were associated with Sri Lanka in the formation stage of NAM and also had close contacts with Srimavo Bandaranayake.

We had earlier some relationship with African countries but never had Ambassador Level and friendly relationship with majority of the African countries.

* It is time we should cultivate relationships with countries in Africa. This time Congo, Mauritania - two of the West African countries and Uganda voted against the American sponsored resolution in favour of Sri Lanka.

At present Sri Lanka has embassies in Egypt, South Africa, Kenya, and also in Libya and Sri Lanka intends to open up a new embassy in Nigeria before the end of this year.

Sri Lanka does not have any Ambassador level relationship with any West African countries and majority of those countries are Francophone countries. People in the West African Countries enjoy Music and Dance and it is high time Sri Lanka cultivate friendly relationship with these countries.

* Similarly Sri Lanka has one Embassy in Brazil and another in Cuba, but Sri Lanka has to consider bilateral relations with countries like Chile, Argentine, Peru and Venezuela as these are some of the important Latin American countries.

It is time we cultivate relationship with African and Latin American countries as Tamil Diaspora in the West are not going to rest with the one resolution sponsored by America.

According to my information they are planning to something serious by which they will be able to bring about the regime change.

This will not happen in Sri Lanka as far as Sri Lankan Tamils have a friendly relationship with the majority community.

Therefore the triumphalism attitude has to be given up and work hard to bring about reconciliation in the country.

- Asian Tribune -

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Publication:Asian Tribune (India)
Geographic Code:9INDI
Date:Apr 8, 2012
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