by D.B.S. Jeyaraj
Tamara Manimekhalai Kunanayakam, Sri Lanka ’s permanent representative to the United Nations in Geneva has been transferred out from her current station with effect from July 1st 2012.
Ambassador Kunanayakam was sent an official facsimile message from External Affairs Ministy secretary Mr.Karunatilake Amunugama dated May 7th 2012 which informed her that she was being given notice of transfer as Ambassador to Cuba and that she should take up duties in Havana with effect from July 1st 2012.
The External Affairs ministry secretary has also stated in the fax that Ms.Kunanayakam was being transferred from Geneva to Havana on the instructions of his excellency President Mahinda Rajapaksa.
It was President Rajapaksa who had wanted Ms.Kunanayakam to assume duties in Geneva last year and had issued specific guidelines as to how Sri Lanka should conduct its campaign against proposed action by the USA and other western powers regarding Sri Lanka at the UN Human Rights Council.
It appears that the transfer order has been issued without any “dialogue” between the President and the ambassador on the matter.
It may be recalled that it was Tamara Kunanayakam who had helped and supported Mahinda Rajapaksa at the UN in Geneva when the Machiavelli of Medamulana was an opposition MP.
Being a long time resident of Geneva with a lot of experience in matters concerning the UN,Ms.Kunanayakam had been o0f immense help to the President in 1989 -1990.
Ironically the same Mahinda Rajapaksa has instructed the External Affairs Ministry to transfer Ms.Kunanayakam out of the UN in Geneva without even extending the courtesy of discussing the matter with her.
Only External Affairs Minister Professor Gamini Lakshman Peiris had discussed the matter with her earlier.
Prof.Peiris had telephoned her on April 28th and suggested that Ms.Kunanayakam take up duties in either Brazil or Cuba from June 2012.
Ms. Kunanayakam had declined the oral “order” couched as an “offer” and outlined her reasons for it.
She had firmly stated that she was not willing to relinquish her post in Geneva at the present juncture and relocate to Latin America.
Subsequently she followed up the purportedly “unofficial” telephone conversation with an “official” letter to the External Affairs minister.
Some parts of this letter were allegedly leaked to sections of the media by a powerful cabal controlling affairs of the External affairs ministry in Colombo
Inspired leaks –some contradictory to each other- also appeared in sections of the media that Ms.Kunanayakam was “willing to go to Cuba” on the one hand and that “she was going to resign” on the other.
News items were also planted that she was responsible for the defeat in Geneva and that her type of diplomacy was unsuitable at the UN.
What was blatantly omitted in these stories was the fact that Ms.Kunaayakam was acting solely on guidelines issued by the President himself.
It is in this context that Ms.Kunanayakam has now been officially transferred out.
It is against this backdrop that this writer who obtained a copy of Ms.Kunanayakam’s letter from journalistic circles in Colombo has decided to publicise its contents.
This writer hopes that the letter would help the people of Sri Lanka and others interested in the welfare of the Island nation to comprehend the prevailing situation more clearly
The text of the Letter is as follows-
1St May 2012
I am writing in response to your telephone call on the morning of Saturday, 28th April, onIy a few hours after my return from UNCTAD XIII in Doha, to propose that I be transferred to either Brazil or Cuba.
I appreciate the recognition of what I have long been advocating, the importance of Latin America for our diplomacy. The proposal to move me there, however, comes as a surprise, since a reversion to a previous posting may give the wrong signals to the countries concerned. In addition, it was only last week, on 23 April, that the Ministry of External Affairs, in a statement sent to the press, affirmed that no decision has been made to change the posts of officials ofthe Ministry or Missions abroad, or to transfer them.
On reflection, I feel that in the interests ofthe country I should reject the offer. There are several reasons for this, as given below.
1. When l discussed the importance of Latin America with H.E. the President, he was ofthe view that l could eventually contribute to opening a new Embassy in Caracas to cover all countries of the Andean region. As for Cuba, he was ofthe firm opinion that a return to a previous posting would be interpreted as a demotion and was, therefore, out of the question. Assured that his appreciation of the situation in Geneva remained unchanged and needed active promotion, I carried out his instructions under your ieadership. It is vital for the country that we continue to build on the foundations iaid to cope with new threats that may emerge.
2. Your proposal to move me out only 9 months after assuming duties as PR in Geneva, will suggest instability in our diplomacy and an ad hoc character, when, in a multilateral Mission, it is essential to display cohesion, unity and stability if we are not to be continuously on the defensive. lf l were to accept your proposal, Sri Lanka would be the only country to have had four Ambassadors in 3 years, which is normally the minimum period of postings for envoys of other countries.
3. The haste to transfer me out of Geneva, coming in the wake of a public debate on responsibility for what has been presented in certain quarters as a national defeat at the 19th Session on the Human Rights Council, will be interpreted, and quite rightly, as a sanction. lt will convey the impression that those loyally carrying out instructions ofthe President and his Minister of External Affairs are penalised, precisely for this loyalty, whereas those responsible for compromising on principles, creating divisions, and undermining unity, are rewarded.
4. What seems to be a campaign to have me ousted seems to be related to efforts to undermine my work from the moment I was posted here. Ever since my assuming duties in Geneva, every effort has been made to keep me in ignorance of information indispensable for the conduct of my Mission :
* You will recall that my instructions were to bein Geneva on time to handle the 18th Session of the Council in September 2011. However, vital information on a US initiative calling for an interactive dialogue on Sri Lanka was withheld from me. lt was only fortuitousiy, and oniy 5 weeks before the Session opened, that I discovered that this information had been communicated, as early as June 2011, to the private emaii address of my predecessor in Geneva by the US Ambassador. After that, an emaii exchange had taken piace on the subject, unknown to the i\/iìnistry of External Affairs.
Had this information remained a secret, we would not have had the time to counter the initiative and a resolution against Sri Lanka would have been inevitable, placing the country on the Council’s agenda for me to dea! with, along with its fail out, from almost Day One of my assuming duties in Geneva.
* In preparation for that 18th Session, no instructions were received by me nor guidelines provided on the strategy to be adopted, and no response was forthcoming on my own proposai. My urgent request for authorization to trave! to Colombo for consultations on the matter was first verbally approved by you and then denied by the Ministry of External Affairs, leaving me with no other option but to travel without authorization, given the gravity. The question of strategy, however, remained unanswered and l had to wade my way through that Session.
* Similar strategies seemed to have been adopted once more at the 19th Session in an attempt to withhold information on crucial matters and to isolate me from my own staff at the Mission. You are aware of meetings on strategy and policy that were conducted by the Head of Delegation to which l was not invited, but certain Mission staff were. What I can only describe as a dangerous attempt to send Minister Douglas Devananda away from Geneva, without any consultation of myself, and in total ignorance of Swiss Law, is perhaps the most worrying example of strategies damaging to Sri Lanka.
* What was true for the 18th and 19th Sessions ofthe Council continues to be true for preparations for the forthcoming Session, and Sri Lanka’s UPR in November 2012.
The objective of the orchestrated campaign targeting those who defend positions of principle, initially Ambassador Dayan Jayatìlleke and now encompassing others, may be viewed as an effort to put our diplomacy on the defensive.
5. l believe l have acted consistently with loyalty toward our people and our country, and that l have worked on the basis of principles rather than devious schemes and maneuvers, pettiness, and mediocrity. Mine is not a personal agenda, and my motivations are not career, fame, nor fortune. I have 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 ofthe UN System, more than 10 years of which was spent within the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.
I beiieve this has been much appreciated by many in Sri Lanka and in Geneva, where we have succeeded in winning new friends and allies.
* Barely a month after my arrival in Geneva, on 7 September 2011, l was elected Chairperson/Rapporteur of the Counci|’s Intergovernmental Working Group on the Right to Development in recognition of my many years of experience in OHCHR as Secretary of the Commission on Human Rights Working Group on the Right to Development, as Secretary of the Commission’s Working Group on Structural Adjustment Programmes and Policies, and as head of the Commission’s economic, social and cultural rights mandates;
* A few days later, on 12th September 2011, and for the reasons outlined above, l was elected Vice-Chair of UNCTAD’s governing body, the Trade and Development Board;
* Ten days ago, on 21st April 2012, l was elected ViceChair of the thirteenth session of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development in Doha, and member of the Bureau ofthe Conference;
* I have aiso gained much respect within the Like-Minded Group of more than 30 countries and have become its defacto expert and resource person on the functioning ofthe UN System, in particular ofthe Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, and of the Council’s special procedures mechanisms.
6. Although I maintain that I am Sri Lankan and proud to be one, I am also Tamil, which makes clear the pluralistic nature of our country. Removing one of the very few Tamils heading diplomatic missions abroad will allow questioning of the bonafìdes of the Government’s commitment to reconciliation, will reinforce extremist elements on all sides, and validate the argument that mine was only a token appointment.
7. We have already paid a heavy price for the absence of cohesion and unity within our ranks, and a decision to remove me will only add to the already negative image we have acquired in Geneva and elsewhere. We are facing a serious challenge to our independence and sovereignty, and itis likely that the intensity of the battle will grow in the coming months. As we prepare ourselves for important appointments with the Human Rights Council, it is essential that we project an image of unity rather than discord. Our recent experience at the 19”’ session of the Human Rights Council has demonstrated the damage that absence of cohesion and unity can cause to the image and credibility of a country.
8. The proposal to remove me from Geneva will, inevitably, be interpreted as a sanction for having defended principles, sending a wrong signal to our friends and allies in Latin America, especially to our Cuban friends, who have consistently fought alongside us, and also to our African and Asian friends who, in various forms, have expressed their support and solidarity toward Sri Lanka. The sanction would be interpreted as a shift in policy that may cost Sri Lanka the dignity and selfrespect gained at the recent Session. Under the present circumstances, it is unlikely that my transfer to Brazil or Cuba will be looked upon kindly by either Brasilia or Havana, which would not appreciate being viewed as punishment stations.
9. l remain convinced that itis by defending Sri Lanka on the basis of principles that we will gain the respect of all, and, for my part, this line of conduct will guide my actions. l believe this volition should find approbation rather than censure and, it is in this spirit, that I reaffirm my availability to serve my country and its people to the best of my ability.
In conclusion, Honourable Minister, I Wish to clarify that, contrary to certain media reports, it is not my intention to submit my resignation.