Ex-Foreign Secy. frowns on Geneva draft resolution

* ‘It looks like a novel to me’
* US forewarned FS, Bogollagama of  deteriorating situation and consequences


by Shamindra Ferdinando

Veteran career diplomat and one-time Foreign Secretary Bernard Goonetilleke frowns on the draft of the proposed Geneva resolution currently under discussion.

Pointing out that the draft resolution contained 24 preamble paragraphs and 26 operative paragraphs, Goonetilleke said, "It looks like a novel to me."

Goonetilleke was on live programmes on Sirasa and MTV yesterday morning.

Goonetilleke basically echoed Sri Lanka’s Permanent Representative to the UN in Geneva, Ambassador Ravinatha Aryasinha that the sections of the current draft were counterproductive to reconciliation efforts.

Aryasinha warned that the approach of those sponsoring the current draft would pave the way for what he called negative interpretation, thereby facilitating efforts of those seeking to undermine the process.

Aryasinha made the intervention at the informal session called by the ‘core group’ on the draft resolution last Monday (Sept. 21). Sri Lanka urged those sponsoring the resolution to change their strategy, taking into consideration the change of the government in January this year.

Responding to a query, Goonetilleke asserted that the outcome of the Geneva resolution would largely depend on how the government managed the situation.

Having commenced his career in 1970, Goonetilleke held postings in Kuala Lumpur, New York, Bangkok, Washington D.C., Geneva and Beijing. He has held several positions in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs ending as Director General (Multilateral Affairs) (1997-2000), and Secretary Ministry of Foreign Affairs (2003-2004). Goonetilleke served as Director General of the Secretariat for Coordinating the Peace Process (SCOPP) and functioned as a member of the government negotiating team during the Norwegian-led peace process.

Expressing confidence in Aryasinha’s capacity to handle the situation, Goonetilleke said that he expected the government would take the correct path.

The retired top diplomat emphasized the responsibility on the part of the decision makers to comprehend the ground realities.

In spite of the formation of United Nations Human Rights Council in place of United Nations Human Rights Commission, that instrument remained a political tool, Goonetilleke alleged, asserting that the Geneva UN body’s real intention wasn’t actually promoting human rights. The veteran pointed out that resolutions had never been brought against the US, UK, Canada or Australia.

Asked to comment on UNHRC accommodating Saudi Arabia as a member in spite of its government being under a cloud, Goonetilleke emphasized that Sri Lanka, too, functioned as UNHRC member. Selection of a particular country to the Geneva body wouldn’t reflect the actual ground situation, Goonetilleke said.

The 47-member body is divided into five regional groupings. Members are chosen for three year periods.

Goonetilleke said that unless both parties could reach a consensus on the draft resolution, there was the option to go for a vote.

Western powers moved three resolutions targeting Sri Lanka in 2012, 2013 and 2014. The third resolution demanded an external inquiry into accountability issues. The draft resolution currently under discussion is largely based on the findings and recommendations made in the report prepared in accordance with the 2014 resolution.

Goonetilleke said that influential countries pursued agendas beneficial to them. Some claimed credit for introducing certain sections to a particular resolution whereas others sought commendation for deleting parts. Goonetilleke emphasized that Sri Lanka couldn’t expect overnight change in such international opinion.

Goonetilleke briefly explained the dilemma of the developing countries in taking a position on the Geneva issue due to Sri Lanka’s new friendship with the US. Commenting on Sri Lanka’s relationship with China, Goonetilleke stressed that Beijing was strongly committed to the principle that there shouldn’t be external interference in domestic affairs of member states. Goonetilleke said that China was most likely to remain an all-weather friend.

India’s position on the Geneva resolution would be largely depend on the Centre’s stand though Tamil Nadu factor couldn’t be ignored, he said.

Asked to comment on the status of US-Sri Lanka relationship, Goonetilleke said that the country had excellent relations with the world solitary superpower in 2005. In early 2005, Sri Lanka took delivery of a US Coast Guard vessel Courageous, the veteran diplomat said, adding that the Sri Lankan military received a range of assistance. However, the US indicated its displeasure regarding the conduct of the military during the then Army Chief Lt. Gen. Sarath Fonseka’s visit to Washington in 2006. "We were cautioned. In the following year, the then Foreign Minister Rohitha Bogollagama was given the same message. The situation deteriorated rapidly. By 2009, the situation was so bad in Sri Lanka through the eyes of US decision makers."

Goonetilleke asserted that the situation wouldn’t have deteriorated to such an extent had the then government at least demonstrated its willingness to act on US concerns. The retired diplomat asserted that the previous government had to pay a heavy price for picking up a fight with a heavyweight.

By the time the previous government sought the assistance of costly US public relations groups in a bid to influence the decision making process the game was almost over. One-time Sri Lanka’s top diplomat in the US said that the country should have formed a Washington based team tasked to develop relations with various branches of the US administration.

Goonetilleke referred to the valuable contribution made by Milinda Moragoda, one time member of parliament to improve relations with the US.

Goonetilleke recollected the US providing Bushmaster cannon at the height of the eelam war IV to be mounted on navy Fast Attack Craft (FACs). The US also ensured the supply of required ammunition for the 30 mm weapons, a move that enabled the navy to counter Sea Tigers. Goonetilleke said that the navy experienced severe difficulties due to Sea Tigers deploying 23 mm cannon against FACs mounted with the same caliber weapon.

Commenting on Diaspora operations, Goonetilleke recollected Hillary Clinton returning funds received from the eelam lobby after the Sri Lankan mission brought the issue to her attention. Goonetilleke said that influential Diaspora groups sent children of members to serve on the staff of various US, British, Canadian politicians, et al in a campaign to influence them. They had succeeded in their efforts to a large extent, Goonetilleke said, adding that the government should adopt effective measures to counter external challenges.

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