(Part I of this article appeared last Thursday)
by Bandu de Silva
Sri Lanka’s Entry to U.N. Delayed
Sri Lanka had to lie low for seven years leaving
Britain to take up her case for admission at the UN Security
Council sessions every succeeding year without success, with the
Soviet Union repeating her devastating refrain of ‘Nyet’ every
time. Several attempts at a ‘package deal’ was thwarted by U.S.
opposition to the inclusion of some Soviet satellites,
particularly, Outer-Mongolia in the package. The Chiang KaiSheck
regime itself which occupied the Chinese seat in the Security
Council opposed the creation of Outer Mongolia, which was always
considered part of China.
That Sri Lanka was caught up in the
international power game was clear from the way the issue was
finally resolved as part of a horse deal between western powers
and the Soviet Union. We were admitted to the UN organisation
not on honourable terms as an independent country on its own
right but under a package deal which ensured the admission of
Outer Mongola sponsored by the Soviet Union as a member.
However, that did not remain a blot on Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka did
not remain a Granada. She asserted her place among the comity of
nations even before she was admitted to the UN.
Sri Lanka’s performance at the General Assembly
sessions of 1955 was not the best indicator of what Sri Lanka’s
future role would be, but there were other developments both
nearer home in Asia and at the UN, which indicated the options
Sri Lanka had. On the Dutch invasion of Indonesia which had
declared independence, Sri Lanka was the first country to
respond by closing her air port to Dutch air craft flying armed
forces to Indonesia. The Agreement with Britain on the use of
air base did not interfere with the government’s decision,
though it cannot be said if there was any pressure from Britain
on behalf of the European ally.
There was, however, a delay in the response on
the part of Prime Minister D. S. Senanayake to the Indian Prime
Minister, Jawahalal Nehru’s call for an Asian leader’s
conference over the Indonesian situation. Whether this was due
to the Sri Lankan Prime Minister’s wish not to get too involved
in the matter after imposing the ban on the use of ports is not
clear. It is, however, a fact that Mr. S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike
was nominated to represent the country only after reminders by
Prime Minister Nehru about the delay in nominating a
The role that Mr. Bandaranaike played at the New
Delhi Conference is all history now, but some doubt remains as
to whether his leader would have wanted him to go that far. D.
S. Senanayake was more for non-involvement in international
politics. He was more a down to earth home-politician than an
internationalist and it is said that he even eschewed the
opportunity given to Sri Lanka to host some regional offices of
international organisations on the ground that it would lead to
a rise in cost of living of the average man!
There were other developments like the Colombo
Conference and the Colombo-Plan of economic cooperation which
were to determine Sri Lanka’s future role in regional politics.
Mr. Bandaranaike, who had formed his own political party in
opposition to the UNP had an international agenda which was
different from that of the UNP which carried the prospects of
the country moving away from overt commitment to the West and in
the direction of non-alignment in power politics which dominated
the international political scene at the time. His rise to power
immediately followed Sri Lanka’s admission to the UN.
Sri Lanka had opened up trade relations with
China (later with the Soviet Union as well) in 1952 amidst
opposition from the US and sold rubber to China which was a
strategic item tabooed under the US sponsored UN Resolution.
This was in the context of the-dual problem the country faced on
account of US. war stock-piles of rubber being released to the
detriment of the industry in producing countries and the world
shortage of rice arising partly on account of China purchasing
the entire production of Myanmar (Burma).
At the UN, new forces were gathering in the form
of Afro-Asian solidarity following the Bandung Conference. This
informal group remained a strong lobby in shaping the policy of
newly independent nations and that is where Sri Lankan policy
got merged with Afro-Asian interests. The Suez affair in which
Mr. Bandaranaike took a keen interest, earned Sri Lanka an
important role at the UN, when the Colombo powers selected Mr.
Bandaranaike to represent their collective opinion on the Suez
affair. Mr. Bandaranaike even met the British Prime Minister,
Sir Anthony Eden, his University contemporary, on the way to the
At the same time, Sri Lanka became a vociferous
critic of Soviet action in suppressing opposition in Hungary.
Though the government had not formulated its position over the
Hungary issue, her articulate Permanent Representative, Sir
Senarath Gunawardene, who had seen the Soviet opposition to Sri
Lanka’s admission to the UN and one who would speak on any
brief, decided what Sri Lanka’s stand should be. This may have
caused some flutter in Colombo where the leftists were coalition
partners in the government. Sir Senerath was shortly afterwards
replaced by Sir Claude Corea.
Professionalism in Foreign Service
The shortage of professional manpower at the
Foreign Office did not impede the work at the UN at the initial
stage. A dedicated band of young Foreign Service professionals
some of whom had exposure at conferences like the New Delhi
Conferences, the Colombo Conference, and the Bandung Conference,
brought their collective experience at the policy formulation
level and found themselves capable of matching up with the new
challenges and prepared extensive briefs on all agenda subjects
before the General Assembly at successive sessions.
Of the second generation men, suffice it to name
a few like NNMI Hussain, A. T. Moorthy, C. Gunasingham, Y.
Duraiswamy who formed the Foreign Office team and were no second
to the best anywhere in the world. I recall, when we were
trainees, we were asked by Neville Jansz, who was the head of
the Foreign Relations Division to read the reports sent by the
first three diplomats from their overseas posts. As trainees
five of us and others who joined later formed the initial
supporting group of resource personnel.
While the Foreign Office provided the expertise
for the UN Committees, Mr. Bandaranaile chose some prominent
personalities, both men and women, to be the spokes persons at
the Committees. One of them I recall, was Mr. E. R. S. R.
Coomraswamy. Another was Mrs. Ezlyn Deranniyagala, whose choice
was catastrophic. At one stage Dr. G. P. Malalasekera, disowned
what she said on the Committees and even reported her to the
Prime Minister for her disparaging remarks on the Africans at
the UN. Obviously, she had come under the influence of some of
the Western delegates and disowned the Afro-Asian group.
I have read her reports and the Permanent
Representative Dr. Malalasekera’s comments on them. Despite
these, she did not cease to be member of the Sri Lankan
delegation for sometime. So strong were the family ties which
determined the selection! As Foreign Service personnel matured
this exuberant and all round costly display of Sri Lankan talent
was abandoned and real professionals from the Foreign Service
manned these slots at the UN. That helped to produce a number of
experts at the UN. like the late Ben Fonseka, Nihal Rodrigo, B.
A. B. Goonetileke, Palihakkara and Prasad Kariyawasam. As years
went by the Foreign Ministry gained firm control over its
representatives and close two-way consultations were firmly
established with Francis de S. Jayaratne and later Shirley
Amerasinghe taking over affairs at the UN.
Some Important Issues
I was in the small team, all new recruits, led
by Neville Jansz which prepared for the Conference summoned by
Prime Minister Nehru over the Suez invasion and later for the UN
General Assembly sessions in 1956. Suez invasion took high
priority. For the first time Mr. Bandaranaike had an inkling of
what the youngsters whom he earlier downgraded could perform.
The question of restoring to the Peoples’ Republic of China its
legitimate place in the UN and on the Security Council also
received much attention and enthusiasm of policy formulation.
Congo became another vexed issue over which initiatives on the
part of Sri Lanka which had become a member of the Security
Council, was called for. Vietnam too became a hot subject on
which Sri Lanka cut a figure at the UN in addition to other
initiatives she took.
There were a number of other issues over which
Sri Lanka took initiatives which have to be excluded for want of
space. It was as a leading member of the NAM and its chairman
subsequently that Sri Lanka’ role came into greater focus. Mrs.
Bandaranaike’s Indian Ocean Peace Zone proposal was adopted by
the UN General Assembly and Sri Lanka was appointed as Chairman
of the Ad Hoc Committee. The late Ambassador N. Balasubramanium.
steered the difficult sessions of the Committee which was
plagued by lack of overall agreement of super powers but the
Committee could not make progress.
Sri Lankan Professionals’ Contribution
to the UN
It was on the contribution leading to the
successful conclusion of the Convention on the Law of the Sea
under the chairmanship of Ambassador Shirley Amerasinghe that
Sri Lanka left a lasting imprint at the UN, which will stand
good in future selection of Sri Lankans to the UN and its,
bodies. A similar contribution was made by eminent Judge Dr.
Christie Weeramantry to the International Court of Justice,
where his dissenting opinions on several important issues have
earned much recognition, The position stated by H. S. S.
Nissanka, that Dr. Weeramantry’s application was submitted by
Australia is incorrect.
His application was supported by the Sri Lankan
National Committee and formally submitted by the Sri Lankan
government under President R. Premadasa. It is correct that Dr.
Weeramantry had the full backing of the Australian government
throughout. Dr. Gamini Corea, who served as Secretary General of
UNCTAD was in a class of his own.
Other Sri Lankan representatives whose valuable
contributions to the UN have been recognised are Ambassador
Chris Pinto, former Legal Adviser of the Foreign Ministry and
Dr. Rohan Perera, present Legal Advisor. The impressive
contributions of Sri Lanka’s men who served on the U.N.
Secretariat like Dr. N. Jasenthuliyana, who was the head of the
U.N. organisation on Outer Space Law, Prof. Suriyakumaran, who
distinguished himself in several fields, and Dr. Jayantha
Dhanapala who functioned in the role of Under Secretary on
Disarmament and Nuclear weapons till recently have to be noted.
Reference to Sri Lanka’s role at the UN would
not be complete without consideration of the work at its
European office in Geneva. Here, in the last two decades Sri
Lanka has been active in the UN Human rights Commission and the
sub-Commission. Successive representatives at this Commission
have made their contribution to its work and it would not be
fair to ignore them. Our knowledge of the work done there
depends on the nature of publicity received. I cannot for
instance forget the initial work of Ambassador Tissa Jayakody,
which was followed by Ambassadors Susantha de Alwis, Jayantha
Dhanapala and several others including Ambassador B. A. B.
Goonetileke and Prasad Kariyawasam.
There were others like the late Dr. H. W.
Jayewardene, who made immense contributions. It was not only in
Geneva that canvassing went on against a resolution being passed
on Sri Lanka at this Commission but in individual capitals of
member countries of the Committee. Credit must go to Ambassadors
in those Capitals who prepared the background for the success at
Geneva. I think Dr. Nissanka’s observations on this matter are
far too much one-sided in heaping the accolades on one
The writer was former Sri Lankan Ambassador to
France and several European countries and to UNESCO, The Vatican
and Iran. He was also in charge of recruitment and training in
the Foreign Ministry and later Director-General.