Tuesday, 4 April 2017

Chagie’s plight grim reminder of Sri Lanka’s failure in Geneva




By Shamindra Ferdinando

Having defended Sri Lanka, in Geneva, during the recently concluded 34th session of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC), Rear Admiral Sarath Weerasekera grudgingly acknowledged the power of the foreign funded Non Governmental Organizations (NGOs) backing war crimes and crimes against humanity allegations, against the government of Sri Lanka (GoSL).

Obviously, the naval veteran hadn’t been fully briefed about the well funded NGO operation, conducted in Geneva, over the years, much to the detriment of the GoSL. The Rajapaksa administration pathetically failed to counter the NGO project though it brought the war to a successful conclusion, in May, 2009.

Addressing the media, at war-winning President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s office, at Nelum Mawatha, Battaramulla, the former member of parliament, representing the Digamadulla District, last Friday (March 31), explained the circumstances under which local NGO activists, spearheaded by Dr. Pakiasothy Saravanamuttu and Nimalka Fernando, and diaspora operatives, had overwhelmed him, in Geneva.

Flanked by former External Affairs Minister Prof. G. L. Peiris and Dr. Channa Jayasumana of the National University Teachers’ Association (NUTA), Weerasekera disclosed how a Geneva-based Buddhist temple deprived him of an opportunity to use time allocated to the temple to defend Sri Lanka. Weerasekera admitted that he had to secure time allocated to another Buddhist temple, situated at Birmingham, for the same purpose.

Although, the Federation of National Organizations (FNO), the Joint Opposition as well as the Global Sri Lanka Forum (GSLF), behind Weerasekera’s effort, knew that the naval veteran required time allocated to an NGO registered with the UNHRC to make a presentation. They wouldn’t have thought the opponents power to influence Geneva temple to renege on its promise. Weerasekera claimed the Geneva temple had reneged at the last moment.

It would be pertinent to keep in mind the previous government lacked a cohesive strategy to counter lies propagated by various interested parties ranging from Western powers to local NGOs funded by them. Dr. Pakiasothy Saravanamuttu, who had been recently present at the launch of an academic programme at the Kotelawela Defence University (KDU) campaigned for the implementation of the Oct 1, 2015 Geneva Resolution. Executive Director of the Center for Policy Alternatives (CPA) Dr. Saravanamuttu, in his capacity as the Secretary to the CTFRM (Consultation Task Force for Reconciliation Mechanisms), threw his weight behind the Geneva sanctioned road map to address contentious issues. Dr. Saravanamuttu has taken a clear and consistent stand on allegations directed at Sri Lanka, regardless of the political party in power, and courageously demanded robust international participation in accountability process.

Although foreign judges’ participation is definitely contrary to Sri Lanka’s constitution, the writer is of the view that foreign participation can be quite advantageous to Sri Lanka and place those propagating lies in a difficult situation. Those who had been propagating high profile lies would have to prove them in the hybrid court. Let there be judges as well as other experts from India (in case there’ll be more than one such court) whose responsibility for launching terrorist groups here in the 80s is well documented. It would be the responsibility of the Joint Opposition to prove NGO operatives wrong without calling them traitors. Had the previous government acted responsibly in the wake of unsubstantiated allegations, Sri Lanka wouldn’t have ended up being accused of war crimes and crimes against humanity. Australia’s decision to deny visa to Maj. Gen. Chagie Gallage, over such wild allegations, is a grim reminder of the previous government’s failure. Australia based its decision on unproven UN reports.

The writer raised the issue with Weeraselera at last Friday’s meeting at the former president’s office, at Nelum Mawatha, Battaramulla. Asked whether the JO would defend the country, even reluctantly, at a hybrid tribunal, Weerasekera said: "Such mechanisms aren’t acceptable under any circumstances."

Prof. Peiris refrained from responding to The Island query whether former President Rajapaksa and Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa would defend themselves in a proposed hybrid court. The JO should examine the issue afresh without being influenced by political factors. Now that the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe government has reiterated commitment to the Oct 2015 resolution and secured two years to fulfill Lanka’s obligations, both the ruling coalition and the JO should reach a consensus on a Sri Lanka strategy. They shouldn’t engage in petty politics at the expense of the war-winning military and seek consensus on a strategy to meet the Geneva challenge. They cannot be absolved of their responsibility for defending Sri Lanka.

Premadasa era story

Before commenting further on the current situation, let me discuss the second JVP – inspired insurgency taken up at the then United Nations Human Rights Commission, way back in Feb-March, 1990. The United Nations Human Rights Council was established in 2006. Members of parliament Mahinda Rajapaksa and Vasudeva briefed the media, in late March 1990, at Hotel Taprobane, regarding the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) commending Sri Lanka’s human rights record much to their disappointment at the Geneva session. The duo had been there to raise the bloody counter insurgency campaign directed by President Premadasa at the JVP. However, the LTTE had negated their campaign by praising President Premadasa for restoring peace in the temporarily merged Northern and Eastern Provinces. The LTTE threw its weight behind the then UNP government as President Premadasa had been engaged in direct negotiations with the group. The LTTE worked closely with the government delegation, in Geneva, to thwart Rajapaksa and Nanayakkara. The writer had been among those journalists present at the Taprobane briefing, where Rajapaksa and Nanayakkara praised UK support for their effort. They commended one time British High Commissioner David Gladstone, who had earned President Premadasa’s wrath and was deported for interfering in national election. Who would have believed the LTTE coming to Sri Lanka’s rescue in Geneva just a few months before the group launched eelam war II. Whatever twice president Mahinda Rajapaksa said now, the SLFPer, at that time, strongly pushed for UN intervention in Sri Lanka.

Having defended President Premadasa in Feb-March 1990, the LTTE resumed hostilities in June 1990. The LTTE brought the 14-month honeymoon, with President Premadasa, to an end, alleging that their grievances weren’t addressed. Rajapaksa and Nanayakkara claimed that LTTE representatives in Geneva clearly undermined their effort though they promised not to interfere. During the media briefing, given on March 27, 1990, it also transpired that the then Opposition Leader Mrs. Sirimavo Bandaranaike’s private secretary Lasantha Wickrematunga had fled the country following threats (Tigers commend President for bringing peace to N.E Province-The Island, March 28, 1990 and UN Human Rights Commission to visit Sri Lanka in June, also in the same edition).

The LTTE had no issue in praising Sri Lanka, at Geneva, as long as the Geneva project was within its overall strategy. Mahinda Rajapaksa wouldn’t have thought, at that point in time, he would one day face Geneva allegations in respect of decisions taken as President and Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces. Those taking a particular stand, in Geneva, or some similar forum, for that matter, would be always guided by the interests of their sponsors. In fact, sponsorships will entirely depend on NGOs readiness to pursue specific strategies developed by sponsors. That is the undeniable truth.

Slain State Defence Minister Ranjan Wijeratne, in January, 1990, alleged that the Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL) had transferred a part of funds, that had been received from the London headquartered Amnesty International, to subversives, a reference to members of the Janatha Vimukthi Peramina (JVP). The unprecedented allegation was made at the weekly cabinet briefing, where Wijeratne flayed the BASL for not being concerned about the victims of violence unleashed by the JVP (AI funds to Bar Association channelled to subversives, The Island, January 26, 1990).

The LTTE defending Sri Lanka, in Geneva, and the unsubstantiated claim in respect of the BASL allegedly providing funds to ‘subversives’ meant controversial decisions could be made under extraordinary or not so extraordinary circumstances.

NGO operations

The National Peace Council (NPC), one of the most influential NGOs among the Western diplomatic community, threw its weight behind Sri Lanka’s call for two years to implement the Oct 1, 2015 resolution. Dr. Jehan Perera, executive director, NPC, sat with the GoSL delegation and expressed views in support of a resolution calling for time and space to Sri Lanka. Of course, Dr. Perera had the approval of NPC’s sponsors to back Sri Lanka as US-led Western powers, too, endorsed the resolution.

In fact, the GoSL, the LTTE rump, diaspora elements and local NGOs had approved the resolution whereas nationalist elements made an abortive bid to make an intervention through submission of reports countering war crimes accusations. Weerasekera handed over a comprehensive report, prepared by attorney-at-law Dharshan Weerasekera, on behalf of the Federation of National Organizations (FNO) titled ‘A factual appraisal of the OISL report: A rebuttal to the allegations against the armed forces’ to the Office of UNHRC Zeid bin Ra’ad Zeid al-Hussein. In addition to that dossier, several other written reports, commissioned by the previous administration, had also been handed over to al-Hussein’s Office.

Obviously, the Western operation, against Sri Lanka, is certainly not reversible and every effort must be made to counter lies. It would be pertinent to mention that operations undertaken by the NGOs will continue as long as they received foreign sponsorships. Norwegian study Pawns of Peace: Evaluation of Norwegian Peace Efforts in Sri Lanka, 1997-2009 revealed the extent of funding available to local NGOs.

Christian Michelsen Institute (CMI) based in Bergen, a major recipient of Norwegian funds, led the evaluation of four separate peace efforts by Norway from 1997 to 2009.

A nine-member evaluation team comprised CMI’s Gunnar Sorbo, Jonathan Goodhand of the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) in London and seven others, including four Sri Lankans. SOAS is part of London University (UK).

The CMI receives funding through the Research Council of Norway (NFR), which in turn is funded by the Norwegian Foreign Affairs Ministry and the Norwegian Ministry of Education and Research. Gunnar M. Sorbo, who had held several positions in several Norwegian institutions, including NFR and the Agency for International Development, headed the CMI investigation.

The report, in a special section, titled Aid and Peace, discussed the costly NGO project. Let me produce verbatim what the Norwegian investigation said regarding the expanding role of the NGOs: "However, they (NGOs) were invited for occasional meetings in the embassy and the foreign ministry in Oslo and when it became difficult for Norwegian diplomats to access the north, some of them played important roles in providing information about local developments. A Sri Lankan NGO network was established in Norway and the dialogue with the ministry was generally positive and fruitful."

The Norwegian report revealed that those who had been engaged in the peace process and related projects in support of the primary objective were funded to the tune of NOK 210 mn (approximately 28 mn US), between 2001 and 2004. Of the total funding, NOK 200 mn were received by ten organizations, including the Foundation for Co-Existence led by NGO guru the then darling of the Norwegians, Dr. Kumar Rupesinghe. According to the report, Rupesinghe’s outfit received about NOK 35 mn (about 6 mn US between 2004 and 2008). The National Anti-War Front also led by Dr. Rupesinghe, received substantial funding. The Norwegians named Dr. Rupesinghe as he had switched allegiance to President Rajapaksa at the onset of the eelam war IV after having immensely benefited from the Oslo government.

Among the other recipients were the Center for Policy Alternatives, One Text Initiative and the National Peace Council. Those receiving Norwegian grants were careful not to say anything critical of Norway’s handling of the peace process here. They refrained from being critical of the LTTE for obvious reasons. The Norwegians even funded the Tamil Rehabilitation Organization (TRO), in spite it being a front for LTTE operations overseas.

Both CPA and NPC had been in Geneva at the recently concluded sessions with both backing the implementation of the Oct 1, 2015 resolution. The government seems to be either unable to comprehend the developments or simply accepted it had no option but to appease those who facilitated change of government in January 2015.

In addition to Norway, several other countries and major foreign NGOs, provide funds for their local counterparts. During the war, funding received from overseas was meant to promote a negotiated settlement, influence politicians representing major political parties, undermine military effort, discourage recruitment to armed forces and exploit the media. Those who had been wanting a settlement, favorable to the LTTE, propagated the lie that it cannot be defeated. A section of the media, and Colombo-based Western embassies as well as the Indian High Commission, promoted that view until the very end. They believed in an LTTE counter attack on the Vanni east front, even after the Army regained Kilinochchi, in early, January, 2009.

After the conclusion of the conflict, in May 2009, some of those who had been involved in projects, inimical to Sri Lanka, redirected their energies to implicate the Sri Lankan military in war crimes and influence the new administration to introduce a brand new constitution et al. They had never tried to convince the LTTE that it could never secure an outright victory over the military and therefore a negotiated settlement should be sought. Had they made a genuine bid, they could have proved their effort today.

Foreign funding had been made available to NGOs in spite of the end of war. The CPA, the NPC and Transparency International Sri Lanka had been major recipients of foreign grants during the 2008 to 2010 period. The war ended in May 2009. The CPA has received Rs. 272.31 million during the three-year period. The NPC and TI had received Rs. 171.23 million and 174.79 million, respectively.

The funding sources included Meyers Norris Penny Ltd RM (Canada), Canadian International Development Agency, Berghof Foundation (Germany), Facilitating Local Initiatives for Conflict Transformation (Germany), Stichting Cordaid (The Netherlands), Norwegian Embassy, Commission Des Communautes (Norway), ICT for Peace Foundation (Switzerland), Dep. F. Auswaert, Angelegenheiten (Switzerland), Swedish Embassy, Swedish International Development Agency, Goldman Sachs Grant (UK), Minority Rights GRP Ltd BCA (UK), European Commission, Transparency International Division (UK), Catholic Agency for Overseas Development (UK), European Union, Diakonia (US), Forum of Federations/Forum Des (US), International Media Support (US), the Ford Foundation (US), Fredskorpset Bergen (US), National Endowment for Democracy (US), Partnership for Transparency Fund (US) and Academy for Educational Development (US).

Of Rs. 618.33 million received by the CPA, NPC and TI during the three-year period, Rs. 111.48 million had been donated by various other sources, not mentioned above.

Unfortunately, the previous government lacked a strategy to probe NGOs thoroughly.

Norway had been the largest donor to the three NGOs during the three year period. Norway had granted NGOs Rs. 148.11 million during the three-year period and the NPC the recipient of the single largest grant from them; it received Rs. 70.48 million.

The TI has received its largest single grant from Norway amounting to Rs. 63.28 million, whereas CPA’s single biggest contribution came from the European Commission (Rs. 43. 27 million).

The Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation (NORAD) has revealed that of NOK 2.5 billion spent on development cooperation during the period 1997 to 2009 in Sri Lanka, NOK 100 million was allocated for the peace process.

The European Commission (Rs. 55.61 million) and the Swedish International Development Agency (Rs. 43.11 million) are the second and the third major contributors.

The country’s banking system has no records of the exact amount of funds received by NGOs over the past three decades. An enormous amount of funds had been received by NGOs since Feb. 2002, with some countries and the UNDP providing funds to the LTTE Peace Secretariat.