Sri Lanka : les années Rajapaksa, entre triomphe et désastre

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bookLe dernier ouvrage de Rajiva Wijesinha, « Triomphe et désastre : les années Rajapaksa » est un remarquable document sur les premières années au pouvoir de Rajapaksa qui constituèrent un tournant de l’histoire récente du Sri Lanka.

L’ouvrage célèbre la victoire sur la terreur du LTTE des tigres tamouls, qui avait imprégné tous les aspects de la vie des Sri Lankais au cours du dernier quart de siècle. Il donne un aperçu exceptionnel du travail d’une institution de l’état qui a joué un rôle central, même lorsqu’il a dû s’adapter aux circonstances lorsque le LTTE des tigres tamouls a imposé un changement radical de tactiques, en déplaçant le terrain de confrontation de la table des négociations à un champ de bataille féroce où les civils furent transformés en chair à canon.

C’est un récit personnel de grande qualité des événements tels qu’ils se déroulèrent de juin 2007, quand Rajiva Wijesinha fut nommé secrétaire général au secrétariat chargé de la coordination des pourparlers de paix et la fin de la guerre en mai 2009. En juin 2008, il fut aussi chargé du secrétariat au ministère des droits humains et de la gestion des catastrophes et son récit se trouve ainsi enrichi des expériences vécues au fil de cette période.

En dehors du caractère fascinant du texte et de sa description colorée et vivante des caractères et des situations, des intrigues et des duplicités étayées par une abondante documentation, j’ai trouvé dans cet ouvrage les pièces du puzzle qui manquaient à l’image que je m’étais faite de ce morceau d’histoire à partir du confortable point de vue dont je bénéficiais à Genève.

Quand je dis Genève, je n’évoque pas seulement l’année passée en tant que représentant permanent du Sri Lanka auprès des Nations-Unies, mais bien la part la plus importante de ma vie passée à Genève à étudier et travailler autour et alentour du système des Nation-Unies. Plus de dix années furent ainsi consacrées au service du Haut-Commissariat aux Droits de l’Homme. J’ai vu et vécu ce fonctionnement sous de nombreux angles : en tant qu’étudiant à l’Institut des Etudes Internationales à Genève qui formait les agents à ces fonctions, plus tard comme employée internationale et, plus récemment, comme représentante d’un état membre. Continue reading

Triumph and Disaster: The Rajapaksa Years – Part I

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‘Success in War: My time at the Peace Secretariat, 2007-2009’

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Tamara Kunanayakam

 

At first, they sought to wield influence through their support to the LTTE. The presence of pro-Western UNP governments under the Presidency of CBK was also reassuring. Rajiva’s book is replete with facts and figures demonstrating the mutually-reinforcing relationship that existed in particular between the CBK-Ranil Wickremesinghe regime, the LTTE, Western powers, sections of the UN, and interventionist NGOs – both national and international. During this period, millions of rupees in foreign funding had gone to finance the LTTE – authorised by the UNF government, even after the LTTE had made clear it would not attend the negotiations. Funding to the”conglomerate of like-minded interventionists,” as Rajiva described the NGOs, was on a massive scale, coming in good stead during the Rajapaksa years when this “funding for peace” was “diverted to critics of government,” which is the title of the book’s Chapter 6.


Presentation by Tamara Kunanayakam

 

On the occasion of the Launch of Prof. Rajiva Wijesinha’s latest book, 18 February 2015

 

Rajiva’s latest book, Triumph and Disaster: the Rajapaksa Years, is a remarkable documentary of the first Rajapaksa years that constituted a turning point in Sri Lanka’s recent history. The book celebrates the victory over LTTE terror, which had determined almost every aspect of our lives for a quarter of a century.

 

It provides an exceptional insight into the work of a state institution that played a central role, even as it had to adapt to changing circumstances when the LTTE forced a radical shift from talks across the negotiating table to a brutal war in which it transformed civilians into cannon fodder. It is a profound personal account of the events as they unfolded between June 2007, when Rajiva was appointed Secretary-General of the Secretariat for Coordinating the Peace Process, and the end of the war in May 2009. In June 2008, he was also appointed Secretary to the Ministry of Disaster Management and Human Rights, and his account, therefore, also includes insights gained while he was there. Apart from providing fascinating reading, painting as it does a vivid image of the characters and events,the duplicityand the intrigues, substantiated by a wealth of documentation, I found in his book pieces of the puzzle that were missing in my own analysis, from my Geneva vantage point.

 

When I say Geneva, I don’t mean only the year I spent as Permanent Representative of Sri Lanka to the United Nations. I mean most of my adult life, which I spent in Geneva, studying and working in and around the UN System, of which more than 10 years were in the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. I had seen and experienced the functioning of the UN System from various angles: – as a student at the Graduate Institute of International Studies in Geneva, which trained international civil servants; then, as an international civil servant; and, more recently, as Permanent Representative of a Member State.

 

Unlike the LTTE yesterday, the separatist lobby today, and their Western backers, the major failure of successive Sri Lankan governments was an underestimation of the international dimension of the conflict. In my view, it is this understanding that permitted the LTTE then, and the separatist lobby today, to occupy the international space fully, made easier by the absence of the Government in this domain. My presentation will, therefore, essentially focus on the chapters that address this dimension.

 

International intervention

 

Rajiva’s book is not so much about the military operations, but about an aspect of the war that is less spectacular, but perhaps more important and more dangerous, because insidious. It is about what Rajiva calls the “battle that had to be fought to prevent the government being stalled in its tracks by international intervention.” That battle is not over and that is also why this book is a must read for anyone interested in lasting peace. Continue reading

‘Triumph and Disaster: The Rajapaksa years’

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Book Review
By Enid Wirekoon

Prof. Rajiva Wijesinha had a ringside seat at recent events that shaped and defined the political environment of Sri Lanka today.

In June 2007, former President Mahinda Rajapaksa appointed Wijesinha to head his Secretariat for coordinating the Peace Process and he was in that position in May 2009 when the final military defeat of the LTTE took place.

Throughout the pages of his book, Triumph and Disaster: The Rajapaksa years, Wijesinha deals with events and people whose involvement in those events are commented on with an experienced and a critical eye that he brings to bear on the issues that confronted the army, politicians and the people. He begins his introduction by being critical of the failure of successive Governments to introduce simple reforms that may have assuaged resentments that festered and led to violence. He has no hesitation in concluding that politicians have failed the people with their own interest being put before all else in order to cling on to power. His stinging criticisms of the LTTE and its leadership are also set out in vivid detail.

The book highlights issues that are of contemporary concern by posing such questions as to how President Sirisena can keep in office such persons as the present Foreign Minister who on the 20th of September 2015 launched a savage attack on the armed forces of Sri Lanka who, he alleged in committing war crimes, were “following orders”. The author adds, “I did not expect the government under President Sirisena to thus attack our own armed forces”, and goes on to assert that he cannot believe that the President accepts, that large scale violation in terms of policy were carried out from above. The author’s observations in this regard are in fact coincide with the findings of the recent Paranagama Second Mandate Report which holds that there was no such overarching plan by the then Government to wantonly kill civilians. Continue reading

Acts of Faith – Chapter 9; Pt 2 – Transitional

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acts-of-faithPhyllis decided at once that she would leave for Colombo the very next morning. Harry was due the following week, and the march to start soon after. At the same time she tried repeatedly to get hold of Matthew to find out more, but was told that he was not at home. She did get hold of Diana, who told her that very strange things were happening and that no one was to be trusted, and then refused to say anything more since Phyllis would be down in person on the following day. So Phyllis too had a disturbed night; though she did have at least the satisfaction on the way down next morning of seeing, since she had made her intentions clear to Diana, that whereas the government papers declared in bold headlines that the march was to be postponed at the government’s suggestion, Indra’s proclaimed in even larger headlines that the march would most certainly go ahead.

Having got to Colombo, Phyllis found things even more upsetting than she had thought possible. Everyone at the house seemed in a distracted state, and though Diana did tell her that there was reason to believe Matthew had behaved very badly in the current crisis, no one would elaborate. Tom, who had been very upset by the conflicting reports in the newspapers, tried to refuse to see her and, when she insisted and forced her way in, refused to discuss the matter with her on the grounds that an even more urgent crisis had arisen. In its own way this was not entirely inaccurate, because John’s resignation, and the widespread publicity given to it and the fast, were driving him into an almost morbid frame of mind.

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Rajiva Wijesinha’s The Past Is Another Country – Down memory lane with Lionel Pieris

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The Past is Another Country is a series of interviews with individuals distinguished for their contributions to culture and to society. In addition to discussing their individual contributions, the programmes explore the context in which each of them functioned. The interviews, by Rajiva Wijesinha, cover a range of developments in post-independence Sri Lanka, and present a panoramic view of social change in the latter half of the 20th century.

Lionel Pieris is the son of Harold Pieris, who lived at the famous Alfred House and turned it into a centre for drama and other cultural activities. He was the brother in law of George Keyt and the confidante of the photographer Lionel Wendt, in whose memory he built the Lionel Wendt Theatre. His son Lionel describes the commitment of Lionel Wendt, as well as his father, to cultural activities that promoted a Sri Lankan identity.

Rajiva Wijesinha’s The Past Is Another Country – Down memory lane with Laki Senanayake

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The Past is Another Country is a series of interviews with individuals distinguished for their contributions to culture and to society. In addition to discussing their individual contributions, the programmes explore the context in which each of them functioned. The interviews, by Rajiva Wijesinha, cover a range of developments in post-independence Sri Lanka, and present a panoramic view of social change in the latter half of the 20th century.

Laki Senanayake is the son of Florence Senanayake, one of Sri Lanka’s first women legislators, and the brother of the distinguished lawyer Nimal Senanayake. Laki however was an artist, who collaborated for many years with Geoffrey Bawa, and designed some of the most remarkable features of Bawa Hotels. He was also a partner of Ena de Silva, and describes working with her to develop distinctive Sri Lankan designs in the sixties and seventies. The interview is conducted at Diyabubula, his idyllic rural retreat near Dambulla.

Rajiva Wijesinha’s The Past Is Another Country – Down memory lane with Tamara Kunanayakam

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The Past is Another Country is a series of interviews with individuals distinguished for their contributions to culture and to society. In addition to discussing their individual contributions, the programmes explore the context in which each of them functioned. The interviews, by Rajiva Wijesinha, cover a range of developments in post-independence Sri Lanka, and present a panoramic view of social change in the latter half of the 20th century.

Tamara Kunanayagam was born of Tamil parents from two different communities, who were both radical in their outlook. Educated in the Sinhala medium at Ladies College, she also studied for a while in Jaffna when radicalism was developing there during the sixties. Having travelled overland to Europe in her teens, she studied there and worked in Human Rights in Geneva, before being appointed by the present government as Sri Lankan ambassador in Cuba and then in Geneva.

Speech as delivered by Prof Rajiva Wijesinha as Chief Guest At the Launch of Reflections in Loneliness

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Speech as delivered by Prof Rajiva Wijesinha as Chief Guest

At the Launch of Reflections in Loneliness

By Chandana Ruwan Jayanetti

I am both pleased and proud to be here as Chief Guest at the launch of Chandana Ruwan Jayanetti’s ‘Reflections in Loneliness’, a collection of poems and prose. I am pleased because the book is a fine example of creativity. It covers a range of emotions through poetry, while the prose recreates a lost world which reminds us how swiftly the fabric of society is changing.

My pride however is perhaps the greater feeling on this occasion, for Chandana is one of the first pupils in a new programe I started, which will remain perhaps my most enduring contribution to this country. He was also one of the best, and amply justified the faith we had in our rural youngsters, when we offered them an opportunity that had been zealously guarded before by the privileged.

I refer to the opening up of tertiary level qualifications in English, which commenced at the Affiliated University Colleges in 1992. I had long been complaining of the fact that English continued to be the preserve of an elite, but those in charge of educational policy thought this was only proper. However President Premadasa appointed a visionary University Grants Commission Chairman in the form of Arjuna Aluwihare, and he embarked on a brilliant initiative to expand opportunities in this sector. Having met him by chance at a social event at the British Council at which I was then working, I was drawn into his orbit, and ended up leaving the Council to take charge of all his new English initiatives.

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Acts of Faith – Chapter 9; Pt 1 – Transitional

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acts-of-faithOn the Thursday there is a great deal of movement. Phyllis descends from the hills in her Range Rover, not as dramatically as she will later on when our story is galloping to its close, but with equal determination. John, though sick at heart, will be driven together with Lily in her Lagonda to Tom’s, and thence to the temple in a blaze of publicity, and will also cross the road as evening falls in pursuit of his destiny. Three shamefaced youths will trundle along from Negombo in a ramshackle Morris to a point near enough to Paul’s house, and then make their way there singly, as unobtrusively as possible. Paul himself will visit Indra three times in the course pf the day, early in the morning and at noon and late at night. Even Harry will advance the date of his arrival in Ceylon, and will buy himself an airline ticket. Only Tom will stay put, at the presidential mansion, the still centre of these whirling storms, but a great many of our acquaintance will of course visit him.

Let us begin with Paul since, though Phyllis left before dawn, he arrived at his destination, or to be more accurate the first station en route, before anyone else. Once again he is with Indra in the garden beneath the jacaranda tree. The scent of jasmine is stronger in the fresh morning air and Indra is calmer than on the previous days. Paul knows he must not be precipitate about shattering this calm. At first they talk just about Lily’s project, and Phyllis’ visit, and the part Indra’s newspapers are performing. Then Paul says that he thinks Radha should agree to the Black Shadow’s suggestion.

Indra knows there must be more, but Paul stays silent. ‘You don’t actually mean,’ Indra says at last, ‘that she should allow herself to be—whatever you call it?’

‘That of course is not the point of the exercise.’ Paul’s tone is matter of fact. He has been anxious that Indra should not be upset at the very start, and he thinks now that all is going as satisfactorily as it possibly could. ‘But to be entirely honest, I don’t think that matters very much in itself.’

Indra plucks a jasmine blossom, this time with a whole sprig attached, and sniffs it slowly. ‘What then is the point of the exercise?’

‘I intend to break in myself, to bear witness to the whole business.’ Paul pauses very briefly before going on. ‘I would hope to get there before anything has actually been done, but I can’t guarantee that.’

Indra throws the sprig of jasmine away. ‘You must be mad, if you think you can get away with that.’

‘I don’t intend to be alone. I shall have the security guards of various embassies with me.’ Paul allows himself to smile. ‘They have a sort of informal association, and can be relied upon to act together. Some of them are very well trained.’

‘But you can’t just break into a minister’s house.’ Continue reading

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