The UNSG Panel, the diaspora and “a blinding case of clientitis”

by Lasanda Kurukulasuriya

(December 25, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) The graphically descriptive phrase in quotes is borrowed from a WikiLeaks cable from former US ambassador Robert O’Blake to the US State Dept. In it he describes the selective ‘blindness’ of certain INGOs operating in Tigerland before the war’s end. It describes in detail the modus operandi used by the Tigers to hijack INGO dollars and euros sent to Sri Lanka for relief purposes in the Wanni, channelling them through the Tamil Rehabilitation Organisation (TRO) to Tiger coffers.

The process is described in a cable dated June 12 2007 with the subject title “Sri Lanka: Tamil Tigers siphon off part of International Relief Funds” (with names of sources deleted, apparently by the publisher of the cable):
The three member UN panel with Secretary General Ban Ki-moon

Quote……………… told us the LTTE had ordered INGOs to provide all project funding through local NGOs, which are managed collectively by the Tamil Rehabilitation Organization (TRO). For example, …………………….receives money in its bank account from its headquarters or from international donors, then deposits the money into a separate bank account operated by a local NGO. The local NGO's director is always a member of TRO, as are many other members of the local NGO staff. The TRO representative withdraws the money from the local NGO's account, provides a cut to the LTTE, and distributes the rest to accomplish the particular project ………………….. is funding with that donation.

Blake goes on to describe how, although some INGOs admitted to the LTTE-controlled ‘process,’ Quote “According to ……………………, other organizations have not complained about LTTE interference in their operations because they suffer from "a blinding case of clientitis." Unquote

It is interesting to ask whether the case of the British government in its attitude towards the Tamil diaspora represents another “blinding case of clientitis.” The diaspora Tamils represent a significant “client base” of constituents for British politicians, as it becomes clear during election time. This was admitted by none other than the then British Foreign Secretary David Miliband, as revealed in a previous leaked cable. By extension could this condition of ‘clientitis’ also explain some of the ‘symptoms’ shown by other western states that host significant numbers of diaspora Tamils?

Questions persist in the context of the mystery that surrounds a recent statement by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon at his year-end press conference in New York. He said he is “pleased that the panel of experts is now able to visit Sri Lanka and meet with the Commission on Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation.” Ban was referring to the three member panel appointed by him in June to advise him on issues of accountability in Sri Lanka. The Sri Lankan government viewed the move as unwarranted interference in its domestic affairs, and said it would not grant visas to the panel’s members to enter the country.

Ban’s statement came out almost by accident, in response to a journalist’s question. After that Sri Lanka’s External Affairs Ministry announced that it would make necessary arrangements for the panel members to make representations before the LLRC if they wished to do so, in line with its newspaper notice calling for representations. The ministry said this position has already been conveyed through diplomatic channels to the UN.

The Sunday Times of December 19 however quoted UN sources in Colombo saying the Panel “has no plans to make representations but would interact with members of the LLRC on subjects that are of common interest to both,” adding that “it would not be correct to say they have any representations to make.” The LLRC has also said no request has been made either by the Sri Lanka government or by the UN, for Ban’s panel to make representations before it.

Meanwhile a UNSG spokesman, Farhan Haq, has told the BBC Sinhala service he could not confirm if the team would travel to Sri Lanka, or meet the LLRC “in some other location.”
With these contradictory statements in circulation, there is an urgent need for clarification as to what is afoot here. A key question would seem to be, will the UN Panel be making representations before Sri Lanka’s LLRC, or will the LLRC be making ‘submissions’ to the UN Panel? An extension of the Panel’s deadline for receiving submissions (originally 15.12.10) was announced on the same day as Ban’s statement about its members ‘being able to visit Sri Lanka.’

Another simultaneous development was the receipt of letters by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton from a group of US lawmakers, urging the US to press for a UN role in investigating the last stages of Sri Lanka’s war. This took place shortly after the sudden cancellation of President Rajapaksa’s engagement at the Oxford Union and the equally sudden postponement of UK Defence Secretary Liam Fox’s scheduled visit to Sri Lanka. Both actions were in response to pro-LTTE Tamil diaspora pressure in Britain. AFP reported that “The House letter was led by Representatives Danny Davis and Jan Schakowsky, both Democrats from the Chicago area that has a sizable Tamil community.” Had the US lawmakers been lobbied by LTTE activists in the US? Is it possible these seemingly separate developments in different parts of the world were in fact orchestrated?

It may be relevant to recall that during the latter stages of the war when the Tigers’ defeat was almost certain, some western states sought to stop it, under pressure from sections of the diaspora. They were foiled in their attempt. These same states backed by human rights organizations (again lobbied by LTTE proxies and sympathizers) were defeated in their attempt to pass a UN Human Rights Council resolution calling for war crimes investigations in Sri Lanka. Ban’s Panel itself was set up under pressure from the same quarters.

It is against this background that the question arises as to ‘who will be making submissions to whom,’ if and when the UNSG Panel meets with the LLRC. The LLRC has already been discredited by sections of the western media, so why the sudden interest in it? The Sri Lankan government would do well to think carefully before submitting itself to a process that may later be interpreted by interested parties as lending credibility to the Panel’s “findings,” that are as yet unknown. The chances are this inquiry would have been a lopsided affair, with the Panel being swamped with submissions from rump LTTE activists. How much of the submitted material would have been fabricated, is anyone’s guess.The Sri Lankan government’s initial response to the UNSG’s panel seemed to be based on the position that it would not play a game in which the dice were loaded. It remains a puzzle as to why it has capitulated. Is the government walking into a trap – again?

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