Wednesday, 10 September 2014

Can state decision - making process be influenced through ‘third parties’?




Anti-War protests in Colombo at the onset of Eelam War IV. Norway provided the required funding to carry out the controversial project.

by Shamindra Ferdinando

NGO guru Dr. Kumar Rupesinghe, recently fired a broadside at the SLFP-led UPFA government for hiring expensive US public relations firms to influence the Obama administration.

Dr. Rupesinghe ridiculed UPFA policy makers for depending on costly propagandists to derail the US government project meant to haul Sri Lanka up before a formal UN investigation. One-time close confidant of Norwegian decision makers, Dr. Rupesinghe was addressing a colloquium on ‘3rd Narrative’, a book recently launched jointly by Marga Institute (MI) and Consortium of Humanitarian Agencies (CHA) which dealt with accountability issues during Eelam War IV.

Sri Lanka’s one-time top diplomat in Geneva, Dr. Dayan Jayatilleke, a fellow panelist at the well attended event, endorsed Dr. Rupesinghe’s assertion. In fact, none of those on the panel, or the audience, challenged Dr. Rupesinghe’s assertion or asked him to explain the circumstances under which he had quit the Western project. Dr. Rupesinghe spearheaded a costly internationally-funded exercise, targeting Sri Lank, in the wake of the then Premier Ranil Wickremesinghe entering into a Ceasefire Agreement (CFA) with LTTE leader, Velupillai Prabhakaran in February 2002.

The ongoing project involving US public relations firms, is undoubtedly one of the most expensive operations undertaken by the government overseas, to counter the Western push on the human rights front. Whether it can influence the US we’ll know later this month when the Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) takes up the accountability issues in Sri Lanka. The government will surely know the outcome of its effort March 2015, when the UNHRC makes a full presentation on the status of its investigations into the accountability issues here.

It would be pertinent to examine efforts made by various countries to influence successive Sri Lankan governments, and the majority community, as well as a sizable section of the Tamil speaking electorate, to reach an understanding with the LTTE. Some foreign governments spent massive sums of money, through various NGOs, even during Eelam War IV. These costly exercises failed to prevent the LTTE from quitting the negotiating table, in April 2003, and the eruption of all out war, in August, 2006. The peace lobby failed to realize that the LTTE had been committed to a battlefield victory and was making intense preparations for war, amidst the Norwegian peace initiative.

Dr. Vigneswaran on P’karan’s folly

Addressing the colloquium, on ‘3rd Narrative’, former EPDP MP, Dr. K. Vigneswaran declared that the LTTE had helped the then Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa to win the November, 2005, presidential election by depriving Opposition candidate, Ranil Wickremesinghe, of Tamil votes. Vigneswaran is the first Tamil politician to publicly admit the LTTE strategy which led to Eelam War IV. Therefore, the LTTE move meant that the group wasn’t in anyway influenced by expensive foreign funded projects to promote a negotiated settlement.

For want of a proper government audit, NGOs have been able to receive money, from overseas sponsors, for a variety of projects. In spite of The Island highlighting the pivotal importance, as well as the urgent need to inquire into overseas funding, authorities failed to conduct a thorough investigation. A comprehensive post-war Sri Lanka study, undertaken by the Norwegian government and released in September 2011, revealed large scale funding, received by local organizations. The project was meant to influence the decision makers, at various levels, to facilitate an understanding with the LTTE. Interestingly, Norway also made available sizable funds to the LTTE front organizations.

Some Muslim peace activists, too, benefited due to Norwegian largesse.

Norway names recipients of funds

The Norwegian report, titled Pawns of Peace: Evaluation of Norwegian peace efforts in Sri Lanka (1997-2009) by the Chr. Michelsen Institute (CMI, and the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) dealt with the role played by Sri Lankan NGOs. In a bid to support the Norwegian effort, a consortium of donors, including Canada, Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden, Switzerland, the UK and the US, sponsored special projects to shore up the Norwegian initiative. The study named the National Peace Council (NPC), the International Center for Ethnic Studies (ICES) and the Center for Policy Alternatives (CPA), as three of the leading organizations involved in the operation. The report discussed the work undertaken by the Berghof Foundation and the Foundation for Co-Existence. The report: "The funding for the Foundation for Co-Existence and the National Anti-War Front, both led by Kumar Rupesinghe, constituted a deliberate attempt by Norway to support an individual and wider organization that could engage with Sinhala politics and society. Additionally, the One-Text initiative brought together second tier politicians in an attempt to foster consensus and flurry of frameworks emerged to reach out to wider public, including the ‘peace and development programme’ at the CHA, an initiative called FLICT (Facilitating Local Initiative for Conflict Transformation), the peace building fund of the UNDP, and activities under USAID’s Office of Transition Initiatives. Studies about Sri Lanka’s ‘peace sector’ and evaluation of specific programmes tend to be critical. However, few programmes succeeded in generating new peace constituencies, they tended to pivot on part of the Colombo elite, and they had little success in influencing vernacular political arenas," (page 89).

The CHA, which also joined hands with the MI to launch ‘3rd Narrative’, had been involved in the peace support operation. The government and Western powers adopted a two-track policy. On one hand they painted a rosy picture of the CFA and, at the same time, tough measures were taken to control the reportage of the peace process. The first part of the operation entirely depended on funding and various other privileges, made available by the then government.

While the foreign funded NGO operation depicted a positive picture of the Norwegian-led peace process, the Wickremesinghe’s government, and the LTTE, silenced those who could say something contrary to the Norwegian version. The government closed down Vanni Sevaya, established in the late 80s in army-controlled Vavuniya, soon after the signing of the CFA (Vanni Sevaya closed down-The Island, April 7, 2002). The government a request by the military to restore Vanni Sevaya (Military wants ‘Vanni Sevaya’ restored-The Island, April 19, 2002). The government also directed Army Headquarters to stop issuing daily situation reports to prevent the public from knowing what Wickremesinghe and his top advisors believed was inimical to the Norwegian effort. Obviously, they felt the peace process would remain on track as long as the public remained convinced the LTTE was fully cooperating with the government (Incidents continue in East but no situation reports-The Island, April 5, 2002). The government turned a blind eye to the LTTE stopping the distribution of the EPDP’s party paper, Thinamurasu (LTTE bans EPDP’s Thinamurasu-The Island, April 5, 2002).

None of those, who had been demanding accountability on the part of the Rajapaksa government since May, 2009, didn’t dare at least to issue a media statement condemning the LTTE actions or, at least, publicly urge the group to adhere with the provisions of the CFA. They remained silent when the LTTE quit the negotiating table, in April, 2003.

$ 28 mn for local NGOs for

3-year period

The Norwegian study closely examined the funding of the Sri Lankan project. The CMI-SOAS in their report titled Pawns of Peace: Evaluation of Norwegian peace efforts in Sri Lanka (1997-2009) said: "During 2001-2004, NOK 210 mn (about US$ 28 mn) was allocated to mostly non-governmental Sri Lankan partners in the area of ‘peace building, rehabilitation and reconciliation.’ This includes projects on training and institutional capacity building; awareness creation; mobilizing people/campaigns and dialogue; policy influence; national integration; human rights and good governance; rehabilitation and reconstruction and mine clearance. For the period under review, ten organizations received altogether more than NOK 200 mn. The Foundation for Co-Existence, led by Kumar Rupesinghe, received the most funding, NOK 35 mn (about US$ 6 mn) during 2004-2008. Also the Milinda Moragoda Institute (MMIPE), led by the former Minister of Economic Reforms, Science and Technology, was a large recipient of Norwegian aid for the purpose of ‘humanitarian demining’ during 2003-2009. The Indian NGOs Horizon and Sarvatra and MMIPE together received more than NOK 60 mn, but the larger share of these funds went to Horizon and Sarvatra. While most of these partners received support for peace building purposes, Norway also provided substantial funding for non-governmental organizations with a broader development mandate like Sarvodaya, Sewalanka, the Sareeram Sri Lankan National Foundation and the Hambantota District Chamber of Commerce. Other important partners were the One Text Initiative, the National Anti-War Front (also led by Rupesinghe), the National Peace Council, the Centre for Policy Alternatives, the Forum of Federations and the People’s Peace Front. The Funding was also provided to the LTTE – affiliated organization Tamil Rehabilitation Organization (TRO). Efforts to link aid to the peace process entailed many small projects with a wide range of actors, and in 2004, at least 22 civil society organizations received Norwegian support, including four that worked specially with women’s groups," (page 113).

The Norwegians wouldn’t have named Dr. Rupesinghe as the largest recipient of their financial assistance if he remained faithful to them. The Norwegians reacted angrily to Dr. Rupesinghe switching his allegiance to President Rajapaksa at the on set of the Eelam War. Norway withheld funds allocated to a project launched by Dr. Rupesinghe during Eelam War IV. Dr. Rupesinghe has, on behalf of the Foundation for Co – Existence, alleged that Norway terminated a three-year contract for a special project aimed at improving relations among communities living in the Eastern Province. The project covered the period from 2008-2011.

Dr. Vigneswaran’s public acknowledgment, for the first time, that the LTTE had engineered Wickremesinghe’s defeat at the November, 2005, presidential poll (almost a decade after the event), should be studied by all those demanding accountability on the part of the Sri Lankan government. The government had never made a genuine attempt to inquire into the circumstances leading to all out war, in August, 2006. The Norwegians did absolutely nothing to thwart the LTTE strategythough the then President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga called for Norwegian intervention. The Norwegians, and the other Co-Chairs to the peace process, namely the US, EU and Japan, turned a blind eye to the despicable LTTE strategy. Almost all foreign funded NGOs, except the Centre for Policy Alternatives, declined to condemn the LTTE-TNA declaration that Tamil speaking people shouldn’t exercise their franchise at the November, 2005, presidential poll. It was a calculated move to ensure Wickremesinhe’s defeat as the LTTE believed that it could overwhelm newly elected President Rajapaksa. What Prabhakaran never realized was Gotabhaya Rajapaksa deciding to take up defence after having campaigned for his brother at the president. Had it not been for Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, formerly of the Gajaba Regiment, the government wouldn’t have been able to build a formidable defence team, comprising war veteran, Lt. Gen. Sarath Fonseka, Vice Admiral Wasantha Karannagoda, and Air Marshal Roshan Gunatilleke. In hindsight, the LTTE strategy could have succeeded, if not for Gotabhaya Rajapaksa’s return from the US.

Kumaran Pathmanathan, in his first interview with the media after his seizure in Malaysia, in August, 2009, and extradition to Colombo told the writer that the LTTE felt that it could defeat the army within two years.

Over $ 100 mn for Norwegian

NGOs in SL

The Norwegians spent lavishly on both the Sri Lankan as well as the Norwegian NGOs. Norway also made available funds to LTTE front organizations, including the TRO and the LTTE Peace Secretariat The funding had never been an issue as far as the Norwegian project in Sri Lanka was concerned. The Pawns of Peace: Evaluation of Norwegian peace efforts in Sri Lanka (1997-2009) revealed the extent of funding available to Norwegian NGOs operating in Sri Lanka. This was in addition to US$ 28 mn made available to Sri Lankan NGOs for a four-year (2001-2004) period. But they received much more funds throughout the conflict to engage in projects to influence decision makers. Even five years after the conclusion of the war, a full disclosure, as regards the funds received by local NGOs, hadn’t been made. Although, the government had vowed from time to time to, inquire into NGO activity, there had never been a comprehensive probe to establish the amount of funds received and how they were spent. The post-war Norwegian investigation revealed that nine Norwegian NGOs, including Caritas Norway, Norwegian Red Cross, Norwegian Refugee Council and CARE Norway, received NOR 804 mn during the 1999-2009 period.

The Norwegian funding for the National Anti-War Front was meant to discourage the government from militarily responding to the LTTE threat. That particular NGO was primarily engaged in propagating the lie that THERE WAS NO MILITARY SOLUTION to the national question. It engaged sections of the Catholic and the Buddhist clergy to campaign against the war. But the government didn’t take any notice of the campaign undertaken by that particular outfit, at the behest of the Norwegians. In fact, the outcome of Eelam War IV could have been different if the LTTE didn’t interfere with the November, 2005, presidential election. Had Wickremesinghe won the presidency, the LTTE could have had an opportunity to overwhelm his administration with a series of devastating attacks. Although, President Rajapaksa, too, faced the same, the response of his government took the LTTE by surprise. Perhaps, the most important policy decision taken at the onset of Eelam War IV was to double the strength of the army. That gave the army an opportunity to conduct large scale operations, on multiple fronts, in the northern theatre of operations. Interestingly, the Norwegian study, too, revealed that Norwegian decision makers believed the LTTE couldn’t be militarily defeated.

Unfortunately, the Sri Lankan government hadn’t bothered to study the Norwegian report. Although the government refused to cooperate with the Norwegian effort, it should have closely examined the report as it could have helped its defence in Geneva. It was the Norwegian report which pointed out the LTTE’s use of human shields, in late 2006, in the Eastern Province.

Norway has revealed that in May 2007, the Norwegian team responsible for Sri Lanka,(at a strategy session chaired by the then Foreign Minister, Jonas Gahr Store) declared that the Sri Lankan government couldn’t defeat the LTTE militarily. They believed that LTTE had the wherewithal to launch a counter attack to roll back the Sri Lankan Army as it did on several occasions in the past. This was two months before the government brought the entire Eastern Province under its control and two months after the army launched 57 Division on the Vanni Central front.

Interestingly, the Norwegian assessment was very much similar to that of Prof. Rohan Gunaratne, who declared in early 2007, the LTTE couldn’t be defeated under any circumstances, therefore the government should enter into a new dialogue with the group.

Canada based D.B.S. Jeyaraj echoed similar sentiments in late December, 2008. Jejaraj’s prediction was made less than two weeks before the army overran Kilinochchi.