‘I Used Myanmar As An Example, Just As Others Have Used Israel And Cuba As Examples’– Amb. Dayan Jayatilleka

By Dianne Silva

Sri Lanka’s Ambassador to Paris Dr. Dayan Jayatilleka has come under scrutiny in recent days for his controversial remarks in the aftermath of the passing of the United States sponsored resolution against Sri Lanka at the United Nations Human Rights Council Sessions, last month. Certain remarks that were misconstrued as having compared Sri Lanka to Myanmar, a call for reform of Sri Lanka ’s foreign policy strategy and his unorthodox independent style of functioning have put him in the spotlight and opened his actions up for criticism.

Mar 8, 2012: Minister Baird Delivers Certificate of Honorary Canadian Citizenship to Aung San Suu Kyi | Le ministre Baird remet à Aung San Suu Kyi un certificat de citoyenneté canadienne honoraire-pic: Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada (DFAIT)

Media reports claimed that he was to be recalled on charges of mismanagement of the Embassy in Paris and that he was being targeted as a wider conspiracy to overhaul the power structure within the Ministry of External Affairs. However, later the Ministry denied the speculations of a recall.

Dr. Jayatilleka was instrumental in Sri Lanka ’s victory at the UNHRC Special Session on Sri Lanka in May 2009, as the Permanent Representative to the UN in Geneva . However he was recalled soon thereafter.
In an email interview with the Daily Mirror he explains his position.


Question: You have noted that it is your post-Geneva opinions that led to this urgent action, what are the other factors, which led to this action by the Ministry?

Answer: One factor is that of institutional culture or subculture. This Ministry’s bureaucratic apparatus has a decades-long history of harassing those they consider to be outsiders. For instance Prof Ediriweera Sarachchandra, who served as ambassador to Paris, wrote a short novel after his term, in which the main character, an academic and ambassador (modeled on himself), is driven to a breakdown and suicide because of harassment by petty officialdom which seeks to replace him in that post, with one of their tribe. In real life, Prof Sarachchandra was asked by the bureaucracy to explain about a broken teapot!

In my case however, there are added factors, I think. There is the resentment that a mafia of powerfully networked or ‘connected’ cut-throat mediocrities instinctively have towards someone who is neither a crook nor a mediocrity.

There is also resentment towards someone who succeeded on behalf of the country in the Geneva battle of 2009, which bought the country’s sovereignty three years, and those who contributed greatly to the failure in Geneva in 2012.

Finally there is the resentment on the part of xenophobic, anti-reform elements as well as their apparent opposites, the pro-western elements (some of which are the same personalities) against me because I stand for the defence of national sovereignty through the accelerated implementation of national-democratic reforms and political dialogue to resolve the long-standing ethnic issue.

Q: What was the trigger for this recent onslaught? Do you think it was the comments about Myanmar ?

A: The timing of the recent, viciously threatening onslaught, was the immediate aftermath of the defeat in Geneva, my analytical articles after Geneva as well as my use of Myanmar’s reforms as an example of how to escape the encirclement and intervention that some of our adversaries have planned for us. I did not say that Sri Lanka was like Myanmar ; I used Myanmar as an example, just as others have used Israel and Cuba as examples which I think are less applicable and relevant.


Q: Has your independent style of functioning led to a number of enemies? And do you think, this will lead to your downfall?

A: My style of functioning was commented on several times in the Wikileaks cables revelations, when the US Mission referred to me and our ‘very effective diplomacy’ and specifically our ‘very effective public diplomacy’ at that time in Geneva 2008-9. The proof of the pudding is in the eating. Those who cannot function that effectively, perhaps feel a deep sense of intellectual inferiority and resentment. I am independent minded and outspoken, but I have never been summoned to the French Foreign Ministry and pulled up, though I have been perhaps the only Sri Lankan ambassador invited, certainly in recent times, to address the prestigious French Institute of International Affairs ( IFRI), one of Europe’s and the world’s top think tanks.

If my style, which has been of benefit to the nation in its hour of need in Geneva , leads to my downfall, it says more about those who cause and permit my down fall than about me!

Q: Do you believe that diplomats should have opinions contrary or unapproved of by their governments? Does a diplomat work for the State—as an apolitical bureaucrat? Or the ruling government?

A: A distinguished senior colleague, the current Ambassador of Portugal to Paris , writes his own blog in which he comments also on Portuguese developments. The Russian deputy Prime Minister, Dmitri Rogozin, who until recently, was Russia’s Ambassador to NATO, used to air his controversial views in the international and Russian media, and has recently published an autobiography, while in service. As an Ambassador, I serve and represent my country and the national interest. I serve the Sri Lankan state. I am not a party man; I have no party affiliations. As a political scientist I am acutely conscious of the distinction between the state and a regime. A diplomat, especially an academic, intellectual and media commentator – as distinct from a career diplomat– who has been picked to serve as Ambassador by the President, continues to bring all those skills and capacities to his work. It is my duty, especially when Sri Lanka has had a serious setback and is facing danger internationally, to use my knowledge to help shape the policy and public discourse in the manner which best serves the national interest.

Q: Your independent views, personality traits and controversial opinions were well known prior to your deployment to France , some say it is these very factors which led to the diplomatic victory in Geneva in May 2009. If these factors, were so distasteful to the government that they now feel they need to recall you, then why deploy you in the first place?

A: Your question is very valid. I really have no answer, though. All those who claimed credit in Colombo for the Geneva 2009 victory as well as a few who actually deserve credit for having contributed to it, were involved this time, in Geneva 2012, with one exception, namely myself. Though the role of the individual in history, even diplomatic history, must not be exaggerated, it is now possible to have some understanding of the relative importance of each variable, including my role in Geneva 2009.


Q: There are allegations that there is certain mismanagement of the Mission :
the accommodation of a first secretary who had taken up duties in Paris at a Hotel until he was able to find a suitable house and the whitewashing of the Mission prior to the visit of Minister G.L Peries. Is there any truth to these allegations? And are they significant enough to even be classified as “mismanagement”?

A: I can confirm that the Mission was painted and cleaned prior to the Minister’s visit and that a diplomatic officer stayed at a hotel until he found permanent accommodation. Long before the Minister thought of coming to Paris , we had sent a Report on the shortcoming at the mission as a reply to a fine initiative by Neomal Perera, deputy M/EA. In my covering letter I pointed out that far from being a window on post-war Sri Lanka to Parisians, the embassy was so dilapidated and dirty it looked like a disused railway station or police station! As for the young diplomatic officer, his unavoidable stay at the hotel was not the only one in the history of our Embassy, before my time. Others had stayed even longer. However, I do not get involved in mundane matters of this sort and rely on diplomatic officers, such as the Head of Chancery, who are there for the purpose of dealing with them. I am also guided by them in relation to these matters and place my signature for approval, upon their recommendation.


Q: The attempt to remove you, is seen as a “conspiracy targeting G.L. Peiris”, is there any truth to this?
A: I cannot say and should not speculate on that, though there seems to be a parallel effort to target him. In any case, I was fired from Geneva even after we had won in 2009, and Prof Peiris was not a factor on that occasion, so it could be some of the same elements and thinking involved, and may not be connected to the Hon Minister.

Q: Where do you see G.L Peiris in the spectrum (you have delineated) of ;

a) those collaborationists and appeasers who wish to cave in to the US
(b) those neo-conservatives who wish to resist the US resolution by stalling or rolling back local reforms and whipping up xenophobia
(c) those reform-minded Realists,

A: No comment.

Q: Do you look to Prof. Peiris as an ally? Do you feel he acted appropriately in Geneva and the aftermath?

A: An ally? No, he is my Minister whom I respect for his academic credentials and achievement. I regard him as the most intelligent foreign minister we have had since the late Mr. Kadirgamar, and one of the most intelligent we have ever had. I cannot comment on Geneva since he was not the head of the delegation and did not represent Sri Lanka at the High Level segment.

Q: Who at the Ministry of External Affairs is targeting you? Is the Ministry now working independently of the Minister in charge?

A: I do not wish to speculate.

Q:What is the role of Monitoring Minister Sajin Vaas Gunerwardene?
A: I do not know.

Q: Do you feel that the gentlemanly politics of Prof.G.L Peiris and his apparent displeasure in confrontation has led to him losing reigns of his own Ministry?

A: I cannot comment as I do not know. courtesy: Daily Mirror