An Interview with Namini Wijedasa
On April 28, External Affairs Minister G.L. Peiris telephoned Tamara Kunanayakam, Sri Lanka’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations in Geneva, and instructed her to leave. She was told to choose between Brazil and Cuba for her next posting.
The development comes hot on the heels of the US-led resolution on Sri Lanka being passed at the UN Human Rights Council. In an unprecedented turn of events, Kunananayakam has refused to comply. In an interview with LAKBIMAnEWS she said she has no intention of leaving.
QUESTION:There are reports that you have resigned from your position in Geneva; that you have been asked to choose between Brazil and Cuba as your next posting. Have you resigned and will you leave Geneva to accept one of these postings?
ANSWER: Absolutely not! I have not resigned from my post in Geneva nor is it my intention to do so.
It is inevitable that my removal from Geneva will be interpreted as a sanction by the Sri Lankan people and also by the diplomatic community in Geneva. It will send the wrong signal to our friends and allies in Asia, Latin America and Africa, who have expressed their support and solidarity toward Sri Lanka. They might think that the decision was the result of external pressures, a punishment to those in Geneva who dared resist.
A sanction would also be interpreted as a shift in policy that may cost Sri Lanka the dignity and self respect gained at the recent Session. Under the circumstances, it is unlikely that my transfer to Brazil or Cuba will be looked upon kindly by either Brasilia or Havana. They will not appreciate their country being considered a punishment station.
Were you in any way to blame for our defeat in Geneva? If not, why are you being targeted for a transfer?
I would like to insist that ours was not a defeat. A battle fought in the interests of people and country, on the basis of principles, can only result in a moral victory. We grew in self respect and dignity and won the admiration of those in the developing world for having stood up for what is right.
I am convinced that, if we do not let our friends down and continue with the positive measures taken inside the country and cooperate with the United Nations, which, by the way, belongs to all of us and not just to a handful of big powers, then we can only go from strength to strength in the battles ahead.
If I was to be transferred in the wake of a public debate on responsibility for what has been presented in certain quarters as a national defeat, it will certainly be interpreted – and quite rightly – as a sanction. I was only carrying out the foreign policy orientation and instructions of our president and his minister of external affairs.
I am satisfied that I carried out my duties conscientiously, with the best interests of the Sri Lankan people at heart and to the best of my abilities, placing at their service my long experience and knowledge of the UN System, more than 10 years of which I spent in the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.
I do not have a personal agenda, my motivations are not career, fame, or fortune. I have worked on the basis of principles rather than devious schemes and manoeuvres, pettiness, and mediocrity. I believe this has been appreciated by many in Sri Lanka and in Geneva, where we have succeeded in winning new friends and allies.
Was the weakness of our diplomatic strategy a reason for the passing of the US resolution?
After Ambassador Dayan Jayatilleke’s recall in 2009 and his remarkable contribution to defeating a Western-backed resolution against Sri Lanka at the Council’s Special Session in 2009, no efforts were made to build upon the capital he left behind. At the time of his departure, Sri Lanka could count on the support of the overwhelming majority of its natural allies in Africa, Asia and Latin America. But, then we abandoned the principles of solidarity and reciprocity that is so important to our work at the international level, and ours became a pursuit of selfish interests.
In formulating our strategy, it is important to remember that only a Western country will submit a resolution against Sri Lanka and that its defeat will depend on the support received from Africa, Asia and Latin America, with whom we share a common history of colonization, of struggle, and principles on which these are founded. Let us not forget that these countries make up 34 of the 47 member States of the Human Rights Council.
Secondly, we have allowed ourselves to be placed on the defensive. An offensive strategy would have permitted us to challenge our opponents, their failure to respect international human rights and humanitarian law, instead of us becoming their victims. We should have been in a position to expose their hypocrisy, their double standards.
We should have been ready to engage in the battle of ideas. There is plenty of evidence to challenge the independence of so-called NGOs campaigning against Sri Lanka. Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, Reporters without Borders, International Crisis Group, and Freedom House, are directly linked to USAID and the National Endowment for Democracy or NED, which, since the Reagan years, receives millions of dollars to do what the intelligences services cannot do. We could have challenged their status in the United Nations and disarmed them!
Thirdly, over the past years, we should have been building a broad-based alliance with developing countries on the basis of common interests and common principles. Sri Lanka is admired and respected in Asia and Africa for the role it played as promoter of the Non-Aligned Movement in the 50s and 60s. Our concerns remain the same. Our struggle continues to be ensuring respect for sovereignty, independence, territorial integrity, non-interference and intervention in internal affairs. In the West, we should have multiplied our efforts to neutralize governments by building links of solidarity with the people. We all know that the interests of the ruling class are not necessarily those of the people. This is increasingly evident as the economic and financial crises intensify. We also know that the interests of the US and its European allies are not necessarily the same.
We should have been in a position to play on all these contradictions.
What other measures will now follow the passing of the US resolution?
This resolution is only a first step. The Council has called on the government to implement the LLRC recommendations and to take additional steps to address accountability issues. It has also encouraged the government to accept advice and assistance from the Office of High Commissioner for Human Rights, which, in turn, has been asked to report on the steps taken to the March 2013 session of the Human Rights Council. If the High Commissioner does not believe that the government has satisfactorily implemented the resolution and if, at the same time, our opponents can make the case that the government is unwilling or incapable of protecting its own citizens, the Council may decide that there is a need to establish an independent international investigative and monitoring mechanism.
Key to the process will be the Universal Period Review of Sri Lanka undertaken by the Council in November this year. We will have to demonstrate that the government has fulfilled the commitments it undertook in 2008, that civil society was engaged in the process, and that it cooperated with UN mechanisms in fulfilling its international obligations. The outcome will be crucial for Sri Lanka.
Apart from the steps that must be taken internally, we must also be prepared to counter the international campaign led by the Office of the High Commissioner, NGOs and the dominant media, by exposing their lack of independence and their partiality
All these, together, will enable us to mobilize the support and solidarity needed both internally and internationally. Cuba is an example of a small nation, with half the population of Sri Lanka, and subject to a US embargo for over 50 years, that has been successful in resisting the constant threat of intervention thanks to the unity of its people and international solidarity. Divisions and internal contradictions will always be exploited by our opponents to their advantage. The recent session of the Human Rights Council is a demonstration, and so is our almost 500 years of colonization.
Do you think that if the ground situation in Sri Lanka had been better at the time the resolution was taken up, Sri Lanka might have fared better?
As I remarked earlier, there is much hypocrisy and double standards in the Human Rights Council. It is clear to all that the motivations behind the US move had nothing to do with human rights in Sri Lanka or the wellbeing of its people. In only a short period of three years, Sri Lanka has done remarkably well in terms of progress than any other country that has suffered decades of conflict. Much of Latin America and Africa, even three decades later, is still grappling with the aftermath of military dictatorships and internal conflicts, mostly backed by the external forces that are, today, targeting Sri Lanka. Then, they argued that accountability would hinder reconciliation; today, they tell us that there can be no reconciliation without accountability.
There has been no accountability on the part of US authorities for abuses in Abu Ghraib or in the Guantanamo detention centre, in Fallujah, the use of Agent Orange during the Vietnam War, or for the treatment of the Palestinians
Were we being complacent in assuming India would support us no-matter-what?
We all have our national interests and ambitions, and these depend on our historical, cultural, social and economic specificities, and our geostrategic location. Politics, even in the family, is based on the exploitation of internal contradictions and divisions. A clear strategy, internal unity and cohesion, are crucial to ensuring that India is on our side. Some of us played into their hands. If past mistakes are to be avoided, we should do some self-criticism rather than point fingers at others or look for scapegoats. We must be capable of identifying our real enemies are, and also our friends!
Is there danger of another resolution being fielded? If so, where would it come from – the same source?
Obviously, the US would not have been able to dominate the world without a clear, well thought-through strategy. We can, therefore, expect that the next step will come from the same source and it is likely to be in the form of another resolution. Resolutions are, however, only a means to an end. There is no doubt that the real objective is to ensure that Sri Lanka’s leaders fall into line! The geostrategic importance of our country is well known and the interests of our people, who largely depend on the domestic economy, is in contradiction with that of international finance. With the intensification of the economic and financial crises, efforts to guarantee access to the wealth and resources of other countries and peoples are also increasing. The multiplication of external military interventions is part of that process.
Sri Lanka is also located on a strategic maritime and is 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? courtesy: LakbimaNews