By Ayesha Zuhair
In an e-mail interview with Ayesha Zuhair of the Daily Mirror, Ambassador Tamara Kunanayakam,Sri Lanka’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations in Geneva, discusses the US-backed resolution against Sri Lanka which was adopted at the 19th session of the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) and the challenges ahead.
A crucial report on Sri Lanka was presented last week to the US Congress by Stephen J. Rapp, Ambassador-at-Large in the Office of Global Criminal Justice at the US State Department, which emphasised the need to investigate accountability issues in Sri Lanka.
Although reconciliation was the main premise on which the resolution at the UN HRC was presented, it appears that greater priority is now being accorded to the issue of accountability. How do you view the key thrust of the report – that an independent mechanism should be established to investigate the “credible allegations which the LLRC failed to address”? Don’t you think that the Sri Lankan government should take this report seriously?
Opinions of critics must be taken seriously! Ambassador Rapp’s report cannot be divorced from the US resolution voted by the Council, nor from the Darusman report. All three have one thing in common – US authorship. Let us recall that Steven Ratner, who began his career with the US State Department’s Office of the Legal Adviser, was an influential member of the Darusman Panel. When serving as member of the Panel, he also served on the State Department’s Advisory Committee on International Law
Let’s take a closer look at the three documents. They all say one and the same thing: the LLRC has failed to address the issue of accountability, without which, they say, there can be no reconciliation. Of course, they didn’t say this about the totalitarian regimes in Latin America or South Africa’s apartheid regime. Then, they argued accountability would hinder reconciliation. Bishop Tutu’s guiding principle was there can be no future without forgiveness. So was Latin America’s reconciliation process after decades of US-backed military juntas.
Dismissing the LLRC report will leave us with the Darusman report and its recommendations, so goes the logic. The reference in the Council resolution to the LLRC report functions as a feint in military strategy. If you take out all the references, what remains looks very much like the recommendation in the Rapp report or Recommendation 1 (A) of the Darusman report. They all call for the establishment of an independent, credible, and effective domestic process or mechanism to investigate into the alleged violations of international humanitarian and human rights law. The Darusman and Rapp reports provide details of the allegations to be investigated.
Remember the Rapp report bases itself on allegations in the Darusman report. So, to justify establishment of an international investigation mechanism, the US will have to (a) have the Darusman Report recognized as an official UN document, and (b) demonstrate that domestic efforts at accountability have failed.
The US is not taking chances. Navi Pillay – we all know from where she derives her power – will do what the Darusman Panel couldn’t do, that is, conduct, or pretend to conduct, investigations on the ground. She has already said that her proposed visit to Sri Lanka must be preceded by a senior team from her Office to identify the gaps in the LLRC report, so that she can decide on the type of advice and assistance it can offer. Her statement to the Council that the LLRC report fell short of the accountability process recommended by the Secretary-General’s Panel was deliberate. So was the unusual move by the US to table the resolution under Item 2 of the Council’s agenda, which deals with the Annual Report of the High Commissioner, and not under Item 4 that deals with countries that require particular attention or under Item 10 that deals with technical assistance
All these initiatives are part of efforts to justify external intervention. This shouldn’t come to us as a surprise. In a cable sent to Washington in 2007, leaked by Wikileaks, the then US Ambassador to Sri Lanka Robert Blake quoted Rory Mungoven, who was the OHCHR Colombo representative at the time, that the High Commissioner ‘s objective was not just to provide technical assistance to Sri Lanka, but to set up a “robust” monitoring and reporting mechanism. Today, Mungoven is one of Navi Pillay’s closest collaborators, and leads the internal OHCHR operation against Sri Lanka!
I’m in the possession of an internal note written by a triumphant Mungoven, immediately after adoption of the resolution, in which he calls on OHCHR staff to prepare “a good follow on strategy” to make most of “new opportunities “ opened by the resolution, “and “to pursue this agenda further.”
Why was Sri Lanka unable to defeat the US-backed resolution at the Council?
I’ve never masked the difficulties of this battle and I have refrained from making triumphant speeches or declarations. We were facing the US and its allies. Combined US-EU pressure was brought to bear on all developing countries, Africa in particular, and threats to withdraw ODA on which many depend. US failure to obtain sponsors from outside their circle of natural allies and abstentions from Africa is a reflection of the resistance they faced from developing countries.
Continuity is needed if our efforts are to show results. We cannot ignore certain regions of the world for years and then be surprised when they hesitate to support us. The problem of strategy is posed and, especially, our vision of the world. Countries smaller than ours and with far fewer resources have gained international credibility by being present in all corners of the world. The result obtained is, partially, a reflection of this reality.
Having said that, however, many delegations have shown their eagerness to continue to work with us and to find ways of supporting Sri Lanka. That’s why I don’t like to hear one speak of failure, defeat, or debacle!
What did you (personally) feel at the point at which the resolution against Sri Lanka was adopted?
A sense of disappointment, but the results came as no surprise. I had been informed of the change in India’s position the night before and I knew that that would have an impact on many a developing country vote. Until then, we had had reason to believe that we had a chance of winning, albeit with a small margin.
The fact that practically all of Asia remained with us was by itself a significant victory. Even those Latin American countries that had voted in favour, had refused to join as co-sponsors.
I felt we had won a moral victory, a battle well fought. We had set in motion a number of things, we had managed to create a movement and, by our example, we had given hope.
If we take into account the means employed by the US, the result obtained was more than honourable. I cannot repeat often enough that 2012 had little to do with 2009. Then, the US was not a member of the Council, this time it was. Our like-minded friends had warned me that a US sponsored resolution would be practically impossible to defeat.
There were those who, basing themselves on the 2009 experience, argued for a compromise. What they didn’t say was that a Special Session had to produce an outcome document, good or bad. This time, we were dealing with an Ordinary Session and we were resisting efforts to place Sri Lanka on the agenda!
Certain things could have been done differently and errors avoided. On the last day, after my concluding statement, I received many expressions of solidarity and friendship. One Permanent Representative, echoing many others, congratulated me, “you also fought for us”! For the US, it was a Pyrrhic victory.
It just goes to show, when you fight for principles, even if you don’t obtain the desired result, you win respect. As Etienne de La Boétie said, « They appear large, only because we are on our knees.” I think our people have understood !
Do you think the resolution was a result of intense lobbying by certain Tamil pressure groups, or the US’s own broader foreign policy interests?
You raise a pertinent question about the true objective of this resolution! During the recent Council session, many of my peers asked me why the US was so aggressively pursuing the resolution on Sri Lanka. “What do they really want”, they asked repeatedly. “If they really care about human rights, then why aren’t they pursuing, with equal zeal, the situation in Palestine, for example?” Then came other questions and answers. Isn’t Sri Lanka located on a strategic maritime corridor? Isn’t it the gateway to a region that massively concentrates the world’s natural wealth and resources, and, increasingly, the technology, shifting the balance of global power in its favour? Didn’t Zbigniew Brzezinski (Advisor to President Obama) argue that control over Eurasia was key to ensuring US global supremacy?
I don’t think we can separate US foreign policy interests from the pro-LTTE diaspora, which benefits from the complacency, facilities and material resources provided them by many a host country. Tamils for Obama or Tamils for Hillary Clinton constitute lobbies that we shouldn’t underestimate. NGOs lobbying on their behalf are known for their lack of ethics and independence.
Human Rights Watch, International Crisis Group, Amnesty International, and Freedom House, are directly linked to USAID and the National Endowment for Democracy, which, since the Reagan years, benefits from millions of dollars in subsidies to assume what the intelligences services cannot do. I think we are seeing and will be seeing greater use by certain countries of what US Professor Joseph Nye calls ‘soft power’ or ‘smart power’.
What factors prompted India to deviate from its position that it does not support country-specific resolutions to vote in favour of the resolution against Sri Lanka? Do you agree with the view that had Sri Lanka shown a sincere commitment to implement the 13th Amendment, India may not have supported the resolution?
India must be seen for what it is, not for what it was and not as hostile to Sri Lanka. We have much in common and, in some ways, we are part of the same family, and in all families there can be disagreements. This doesn’t mean that whenever we disagree, we must break up.
As for the 13th Amendment, India does not make a secret of its desire to see it implemented, but to reduce its vote to this sole requirement is to fall short! We cannot ignore US strategy in the region or bilateral agreements of a geostrategic nature between the two countries.
There is more that unites than divides us. We are natural partners, not only because of the geographic proximity but because of the values and principles that we share and which we jointly promoted during our struggle for independence and in founding the Non-Aligned Movement.
Do you think that India has a role to play in resolving the ethnic issue in Sri Lanka?
I think we must solve our own problems! Assistance cannot be imposed. For almost 30 years, we were confronted with separatism and terrorism. These are also problems that India faces and it is quite normal that we share common experiences and concerns.
What are the practical implications of this resolution, and what might be the consequences of non-compliance? Do you fear that a harsher motion could be moved at the 22nd Session of the HRC next March should Sri Lanka choose to ignore it?
This resolution is only a first step. As I said earlier, it is a repeat of the Darusman Panel’s Recommendation 1 (A). If, by March 2013, the Government does not implement the LLRC, but, more importantly, if it does not take the additional measures required of it, then we may see a call for implementation of Recommendaton 1 (B) of the Darusman Panel, the immediate establishment by the Secretary-General of an independent international investigative and monitoring mechanism, and Recommendation 2 relating to “other immediate measures to advance accountability.”
The UN Secretary-General will also soon begin implementing Recommendation 4 of the Darusman Panel on conduct of an internal review of actions by the UN system during the conflict and the aftermath. OHCHR will be contributing to that review.
During the interim period, those behind the resolution may seek to make the case that the Government is unwilling or incapable of protecting its own citizens. The objective of our detractors is to produce a damning report that encompasses the past, the present and the future. They will try to show that the Government does not have the intention, the political will, nor the means to address the issues raised in the resolution. We may see an intensification of the NGO and media campaign on allegations of intimidation, reprisals, abductions and disappearances.
The UPR in November will be a key moment. OHCHR has already begun preparations. Declarations by Navi Pillay have multiplied in the recent past and it is likely they will be incorporated into her report. If they succeed in creating a sufficiently unfavourable climate, certain countries may even try to raise the issue at the General Assembly later this year.
I believe that those behind the resolution are partial and selective in their approach, because they have an hidden agenda. Rory Mungoven’s internal note is evidence of this partiality. The extent to which they will succeed, however, will depend on how much support and solidarity we are able to mobilise.
There is a general impression that you have carried out your duties as Ambassador / Permanent Representative to the UN in Geneva remarkably well given the circumstances – and this has won you a large number of admirers. However, your statement that the West wants regime change in Sri Lanka lifted many an eye-brow and there are those who considered it to be too strong a statement to emanate from a diplomat. Could you share your reflections of your own performance?
I appreciate the many expressions of support that I have received, but I don’t have a personal agenda, I am not here for career, fame, or fortune. I try to do my job the best I can! It is not for me to judge my personal performance; there will be plenty of others to do so!
Yes, I did speak of regime change. For many Ambassadors this is obvious! UK Foreign Office Minister Jeremy Browne’s reference to a failed State when speaking of Sri Lanka and Navi Pillay’s description of Sri Lanka in her oral presentation of her Annual Report means what it means! This concept in the vocabulary of certain countries implies regime change. The 2010 Failed States Index produced by a research institution linked to the US State Department lists 35 of the 47 members of the Council either on its Alert or Warning list! In that sense too, the resolution sets a dangerous precedent.
Besides, several US Congressmen have characterized the LTTE as “freedom fighters,” which implies recognition of the need for regime change. Doesn’t that make sense?
What are your thoughts on Sri Lanka’s current foreign policy trajectory? A common criticism is that the current administration is generally reactive and not proactive?
We should be on the offensive! For this, we must have a vision and an ambition. This Council session has shown us that it is not by subjugating ourselves that we make ourselves understood, create the conditions for unity and gain respect, but by taking the offensive on principles. We need to invest more in such sensitive areas as international law, right to development, multilateralism, solidarity and cooperation, and to learn from the reflections of others.
We are only at the initial stages of the battle and I am perplexed at the “time and space” formula that some of us so easily use. I believe that corrective measures are urgently needed to face the challenges ahead.
What steps should Sri Lanka take to win more friends internationally, and to deal more effectively with the pro-LTTE propaganda machinery?
A few years ago, I wrote an article on “Why Latin America is important for Sri Lanka.” Before assuming duties in Geneva, I spent almost four years in Latin America, in Brazil and Cuba. Despite the expectations and sympathy for us, I was struck by how little is known of Sri Lanka in the region, except in Cuba with which we have close ties since the Triumph of the Cuban Revolution. The situation is similar in Africa, especially in francophone Africa. To win more friends, we must first know what it is that we want, then we must exist by being present, then we must be able to communicate in their language. I was dismayed that our Foreign Minister’s recent visits to Africa were described as “African safaris.” The Human Rights Council has 13 members from Africa, 8 from Latin America, and 13 from Asia, which means 34 out of 47 Council members are our natural allies. The question is, what are we going to do about this reality? courtesy: Daily Mirror