The American dilemma


By Prof. Rajiva Wijesinha

Now that the LLRC Action Plan is out, it has drawn the usual reactions. Those who find good things in it claim that these have been forced on government. Others claim that it does not go far enough. Kusal Perera does both. Interestingly we do not yet find criticism that it goes too far, though I suspect this viewpoint too will be expressed in time, for the usual reason. Meanwhile, predictably, we do not find credit given to government, and we certainly do not find expressions of regret that the government has indeed produced a plan, when the claims of the critics were that nothing would be done.

I can think of several instances of such failure to admit to unwarranted suspicions. Firstly, when the war ended, there were claims that we planned to use the army to occupy the North, that we would keep the displaced in camps for several years, and that we would incarcerate the former LTTE combatants. None of these things happened, but no one has granted that their predictions were wrong. Indeed hardly any credit has been given by the usual critics of government – though I should note that Mr Sumanthiran is an honourable exception with regard to the former combatants, for he has publicly granted that the government did well in that instance.

As part of this programme of predictions of doom, when the LLRC was appointed, it was claimed that they would produce nothing of consequence. I should note though that, when the Report appeared, we found some sort of exception to the rule, in that most critics of government welcomed it. I was at the farewell given by the then Australian High Commissioner on the evening of the report being issued, and found general satisfaction, in some cases accompanied by disbelief, by most members of the diplomatic community present. Surprisingly, though the statements issued thereafter were more grudging than the immediate reactions, by and large they were very positive.

There were three exceptions. One was the statement of the Centre for Policy Alternatives, which it may be recalled had been amongst the most vociferous critics of government at the event arranged by the American Ambassador to discuss the Darusman Report, along with the representative of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights – who had been invited by Ambassador Butenis, without the knowledge of the Acting UN Resident Representative. The second was the statement of the TNA, which was doubly unfortunate since it came at a time when the talks between the government and the TNA were going reasonably well. After that there were no more talks.

And, thirdly, there was the American pronouncement, not in Colombo, but by Victoria Nuland in Washington. I found this surprising, because it seemed so vindictive. It was only later that I heard about the performance of the American Ambassador in Geneva who, when the move against us that had been planned in September fell flat, had indicated to our Ambassador there that, come what may, they would get us in March. Obviously welcoming the LLRC Report in December would not have fitted in with that strategy.

I was not entirely surprised by this. We had, after all, been there before. In 2010, when all those who were relieved the war was over but wanted a positive approach to the Tamils realized that Mahinda Rajapaksa was a better bet for this purpose than Sarath Fonseka, there were three astonishing exceptions. One was the TNA, another was the CPA led group of NGOs, which specialized in shouting at us in Geneva and see the agent of the UNHCHR as their natural ally, the third were the Americans, sadly at that stage supported by the British – to the surprise of the European ambassadors who discussed the matter with me afterwards, having known, as one of them put it, all about Sarath Fonseka.

Continued tomorrow

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