Dayan decides what he is paid for …

 | Courtesy: LakbimaNews

( April 08, 2012, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) Dr. Dayan Jayatilleka, Sri Lanka’s ambassador to France says “The Sri Lankan public paid him to use his capacity to think and write, not to play the role of a deaf mute.” In an e-mail interview, in the aftermath of the controversy over his being sent a fax by the External Affairs Ministry over alleged corruption issues after he made some statements (post-Geneva), he answers questions about what happened …
What did you mean when you said that some elements were trying to ‘white van’ your reputation?
By that metaphor I meant that some ruthless and unscrupulous elements were trying to target, abduct, disappear and eliminate my reputation.

Your metaphor of a white van may have been influenced by the spectacle of white vans in Sri Lanka. What is your position on the white van phenomenon? Do you accept that the phenomenon exists?
The term ‘white van’ in its present meaning, and the white van phenomenon itself, arose during the 1980s during the JR Jayewardene administration’s counter-terrorist operations against southern radicals, especially the JVP. Judging by reports there are lawless elements, criminal elements engaged in abductions and murder, these simply must be brought to justice. In the aftermath of a thirty year war, such ugly phenomena do linger on in societies. This must be stamped out, uprooted, or else it can become endemic as in parts of Mexico, where this practice arises from the nexus between criminal elements and the drug trade.
You referred to Myanmar as an example of democratic reforms and suggested that Sri Lanka should learn from Myanmar’s experience. Your comparison between Sri Lanka and the military Junta in Myanmar, which held on to power disregarding the popular mandate of the 1992 election may have upset the applecart. What did you actually mean when you referred to Myanmar?
I used Myanmar not as being on all fours with Sri Lanka but as an example of a country, a state, that was subject to tremendous international pressure and escaped that encirclement by undertaking quite considerable domestic reforms of a democratic and democratizing character; by dramatic political dialogue and opening up. Since Sri Lanka has never been under a military regime, obviously we start at a much higher point, but what is important is the method and nature of the response to external pressure, namely dialogue with political opponents, reform, self-generated change, replacing a tightly closed system and a permanent siege mentality.
You seem to be on a collision course with the foreign ministry and, to some extent, with the government. How did it all begin?
With the Ministry of External Affairs, no, in the sense that the Minister, Deputy Minister and the Secretary to the Ministry have not had anything to do with the absurd, surreal fax that was sent to me, with terms like ‘fraud’, ‘corruption’, ‘undermining the objectives of the Government of Sri Lanka’, and threatening me with action under the Penal Code. These were ‘lies agreed upon’ among a powerful and power-hungry coterie. It is they who aggressively initiated this coup against me. I am merely defending myself.

Is it fair to say that your remarks on Myanmar were the trigger?
Well, the timing of the hysterical fax was post-Geneva defeat and my analytical and policy prescriptive pieces, including the point about learning from the example of Myanmar. However, this campaign has been going on for many months, and the lurid charges contained in the Ministry’s fax were first contained in scurrilous anonymous petitions which the Ministry sent to me repeatedly for my observations, despite the Mission having replied them.
Do you think there is a plan to recall you? (External Affairs Ministry denies that there is any ‘conspiracy’ against you.)
I would not know whether there is an attempt to effect ‘regime change’ at the SL Embassy in Paris. I was of course recalled without explanation from Geneva within several weeks of my role in our victory obtained at the Special session of the UN Human Rights Council in May 2009, and despite that success, ironically enough. The editor in chief of the Inter-Press Service (IPS) in New York, Thalif Deen, recalls my father, the late Mervyn de Silva, the internationally reputed editor after whom Sri Lanka’s premier journalism award is named, saying that he had the distinction of being fired from the editorship of two major newspaper groups, by SLFP and UNP governments successively! So I grew up to be unsurprised at such an outcome. If it could happen to Mervyn, described as a legend and as iconic, it can happen to me.
We could get a favourable resolution passed at the UNHRC in 2009, though at a much better time, only three months after the end of the war, and the world that had declared war on terror was in a congratulatory mood. And we lost in 2012. How did that happen?
That’s ironic isn’t it? How can May 2009 be a much better time than three years after the war, and if it was a much better time, is it not because we didn’t make this present moment a much better time in the eyes of world public opinion? In 2009, we had two powerful foreign Ministers personally spearheading the EU campaign against us, namely David Miliband and Bernard Kouchner. We now have confirmation from a Wikileaks revealed cable of May 4th 2009 that the US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton herself instructed that the US throw its weight behind that special session, the resolution, the search for votes and for the effort to deny a diplomatic victory to Sri Lanka. Unlike March 2012, where there were only a few thousand demonstrators outside the Palais, in May 2009 there were tens of thousands demonstrating in many capitals of the world, including Geneva where they caused traffic jams. The UN Palais was virtually under siege and a 21 year old Tamil man tragically set himself alight and died in front of the UN building before our special session. For weeks the world news on every TV channel had carried stories of the war and civilian suffering. This was the context in which we fought, with a mere handful of men and women on our team, and yet we prevailed. We were able to get more votes then, than the sole superpower, the USA, has secured this time around even with India’s vote. Obviously the defeat in 2012 means that our 17 vote majority of 2009 had been dismantled or dissipated, which in turn reflects and represents an erosion of Sri Lanka’s global political space. It is incumbent upon us to study why we have fewer votes, less space during peacetime; why our supportive coalition was smaller and narrower, than we had in the immediate aftermath of a hard fought war. Shouldn’t it have been the other way around? What did we do wrong or not do right for this erosion to have taken place? We have to ask the ‘why’ questions.
Do you think you have been made the scapegoat for the failure in Geneva? Though you didn’t attend sessions as a member of the government delegation, it is rumoured that you ‘remote controlled’ Sri Lanka’s permanent representatives to United Nations in Geneva, Tamara Kunanayakam. For instance, many of her media statements were issued by your office and many statements she delivered on the floor of UNHRC had your distinctive finger prints.
I wasn’t aware that I was made a scapegoat. How can one possibly scapegoat with any degree of credibility, a man who was associated with and to a considerable extent responsible for a diplomatic victory in 2009, for a defeat in the same arena sustained in 2012 after a battle that he had absolutely nothing to do with and was kept away from and out of? How could I have remote controlled Ambassador Kunanayakam and to what purpose, when, as noted by commentators like DBS Jeyaraj and Kalana Senaratne, she didn’t even appear on the webcast during the crucial session which they opine she should have addressed, and couldn’t find a seat behind the name board of her own country which she was permanent representative of, simply because she had been marginalised? And how could I or anyone else for that matter, have remote-controlled Ms Kunanayakam who, going by Mangala Samaraweera’s critical remarks, quoting her in parliament during the debate this week, had addressed the UN Human Rights Commission as far back as 1987? Tamara who is older to me, has written and published for decades, and her speeches are written by her and have a consistent and distinctive style, while I have never made a written speech –I always speak off the cuff, whether it is at the Sorbonne Law School, the French Institute of International Affairs, World Philosophy Day at UNESCO, the Sambuddathva Jayanthi international conference at UNESCO or when presenting our winning resolution at the Human Rights Council in May 2009. Frankly your presumption that an educated Tamil woman like Tamara can be remote-controlled and/or has to get her speeches written by a Sinhala male, is disgracefully racist and sexist; patronising and patriarchal.
What role did you exactly play in the affair of the Human Right Council resolution on Sri Lanka?
If you mean last time, in 2009, I was front and centre. If you mean this time, 2012, none whatsoever. I was not consulted, asked for assistance, and was totally out of the loop. I was not aware of strategy and tactics, the composition of the delegation, the message, etc. But then again, even after 2009, I was never once asked how I did what I succeeded in doing! It is little wonder then that the 2009 performance could not be approximated, let alone repeated. The lessons were unlearnt!

You have projected yourself as an outspoken advocate of democratic reforms and a political settlement based on the greater devolution of powers. Don’t you think that your personal beliefs are on a collision course with the government’s handling of these very issues?
I haven’t projected myself as anything; I have written and spoken over the years, undertaking analyses and providing what Nietzsche calls a ‘perspectival interpretation’. If as you say, my profile is of an outspoken advocate of democratic reforms and a political settlement based on greater devolution of powers, what’s wrong with standing for those values, and how do they put one on a collision course when these are essentially an upholding of the country’s basic law, our Republican Constitution? I have never suggested, in many years, that we move beyond our Constitution; only that we implement it fully and consistently. I do not see why that should put me or anyone on a collision course with the government or for that matter the opposition, and if it does, that speaks less about me and more about the project of those who regard these stands and values as being on a collision course with them and their thinking. 
Are you a team player or not a team player? Assuming your viewpoints on the relevant issues are right, how do you explain publicizing your own thoughts when they may be undermining the Sri Lankan position articulated by the delegation in Geneva? How can you have that kind of latitude – after all you are paid by the Sri Lankan government?
If I were not a team player, how could I have possibly done what I did in Geneva 2009, moving a counter-resolution negotiated with a broad coalition of diverse states and securing 29 votes from across the world? And how could expressing my own thoughts undermine the Sri Lankan position articulated in Geneva? If you mean my post-Geneva thoughts, well, they are by definition post-Geneva and there is no Sri Lankan delegation in Geneva. If you mean pre-Geneva or during Geneva, which thoughts of mine undermined the Sri Lankan position articulated by the delegation in Geneva, and which particular Sri Lankan position did they undermine? Yes, I am paid by the Sri Lankan government though I might add that I never asked for this job and I accepted it, securing my release from a contract at a think tank of the prestigious National University of Singapore, which was paying me a lot more than I am paid in this job. The Sri Lankan government, and may I say the tax paying Lankan citizenry, do not pay me to play the role of a deaf mute, but precisely to use my knowledge and capacity to think, write and talk, in the service of the country and the national interest.
You enjoy being controversial?
If I were controversial in a negative sense, I couldn’t have secured a broad consensus among diverse nations. If what I say makes me controversial, it is more revealing of the standards and context in which those views are considered controversial. As for enjoyment, my idea of it is watching with my wife, a high definition video of ‘Catfish Blues’ played by 28 year old guitarist Gary Clark jr, at the ‘Blues at the White House’ concert with Barack and Michelle Obama in the front row, rather than giving interviews in which such banal questions are posed.
Let’s talk about our foreign service. Who is running the foreign policy in the country? (There appears to be a huge confusion over the issue, very much similar to the confusion over as to who was the head of the Sri Lankan delegation to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva …)
I know who is constitutionally mandated to formulate foreign policy, and that is the President, and I know who is mandated to be the key manager, representative and practitioner of it, namely the Minister of External Affairs.

What is the position of monitoring MP Sajin Vas Gunawardene?
I wouldn’t know since I am here in Paris, not in Colombo in the Ministry of External Affairs.

Is it MP Sajin Vas who runs the affairs of the Ministry of External Affairs?
Isn’t that the same question? Anyway, it gets the same answer. I don’t monitor him.


Author: Sri Lanka Guardian

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