Sri Lanka: Civil Society’s Dayan angst

July 2, 2018 Asia , Opinion , OPINION/NEWS , POLITICS



Malinda Seneviratne



When news broke out that Dr Dayan Jayatilleka was nominated by President Maithripala Sirisena to be Sri Lanka’s ambassador to Russia, the immediate reaction for those (still) loyal to the President and/or the Prime Minister were thrilled. This is because Dayan was widely seen as a staunch backer of the former President and more crucially his brother Gotabhaya. Gotabhaya Rajapaksa has not announced that he would contest the next presidential election but the Yahapalana regime or rather some of its key spokespersons are certainly treating him as the man to beat.


So when Dayan ‘switched camps’ as the nomination indicates, it was probably seen as a move that weakens the principal opponent. Dayan himself has been critical of Gotabhaya after the last ‘Viyath Maga’ show, arguing that his economic policies were no different to those of the United National Party (UNP). So thrill, as such there is, can be justified.


Now it seems that other sections of the yahapanala camp are upset by the nomination. A group of so-called civil society representatives have written to the Secretary to the High Post Committee of the Parliament, urging him to reject the nomination (click here for petition).


Two things need to be clarified before we proceed. First, the above contention that this letter was authored by Yahapalanists needs to the substantiated. The contents of the letter not only hurrahs the Yahapalana ‘change’ but is absolutely uncritical of the present regime, its incompetence, corruption and even subversion of the ‘yahapalana’ doctrine. Secondly, this is not a defense of Dayan, because a) Dayan can defend himself and does not need any help from anyone, and b) this is less about Dayan than about the intellectual poverty of the signatories (many of whom are actually academics!), their undisguised malice and utter ignorance about international relations.


A possible third note would be that Dayan and I have had lengthy debates in the print media on two occasions. We disagree vehemently on several issues although at times our views have coincided.


With respect to this nomination, only the following questions need to be asked: Are all other ambassadors more competent than Dayan? Did these signatories object to other such appointments, for example the appointment to London of the Prime Minister’s aunt, considering the cardinal principles of good governance that they seem to espouse? If Dayan’s track record as per political loyalty is an issue did these signatories howl in horror when the President brought into Parliament through the National List people with similar loyalties (and this after they had been rejected by the people in an election!)?


Now, to the letter. The signatories claim, ‘under the Rajapaksa regime (when we) experienced unprecedented levels of violence targeting civilians, civil society, media and other dissenting voices.’  There was violence, certainly, but ‘unprecedented’? Surely, these ladies and gentlemen are old enough and/or literate enough to know of the brutality that engulfed the country in the eighties?


They say that Dayan took a ‘hostile position and deliberately targeted those who held a different vie to his own at the Special Session of the UNHRC in 2009. Now hostility can be read into any kind of disagreement. Sri Lanka took up a certain position, some stood with Sri Lanka and others did not. So were those against Sri Lanka’s position ‘hostile’? Of course they were. So what’s the beef here? They talk of ‘divisive lines’. Surely they know that it is rarely that any UN agency comes up with a unanimous position on anything? They are upset about the ‘unity’ of the UNHRC. Do they expect the UNHRC to always come up with 100% agreement on all matters?


Then they say that the line Sri Lanka took at the session, ‘ultimately ran counter to Sri Lanka’s national interests.’ What these ‘national interests’ are they have not said.  They say professional diplomats have ‘argued convincingly that the line espoused by Dayan and triumphalism about his ability to “win” a resolution congratulatory of Sri Lanka’s execution of the war galvanized Geneva actors whose concerns had been cast aside by the Sri Lankan delegation.’


Interesting. As far as I can remember, Dr Jayantha Dhanapala was the only professional diplomat who took issue with Dayan in public. Dayan responded with cogent objections. There was no outright winner in that debate as far as I can tell.  Yes, Dayan was ‘triumphal,’ and that’s not very ‘diplomatic’ one can argue. However, what would these people have preferred him to do? Endorse the position taken by those who voted against Sri Lanka? Power comes, as some of the academics who signed this petition would know, from making others inhabit your version of their reality. So, for example, the USA says ‘This is what Sri Lanka is, and you Sri Lankans better believe it,’ and Dayan, then, had he said ‘Yes, sir/madam’ would be a hero?


The assumption here is that those who went against Dayan were always on our side. The USA? The EU countries? India?  Friends? Really?  Yes, there were several resolutions that were adopted by the UNHRC against Sri Lanka. The USA was clearly the principal mover in these efforts. The USA has now called the UNHRC a cesspool of hypocrites. That was BEFORE this ‘civil’ society actors wrote this petition. So much for the lovelies whose ire Dayan earned!


They conclude that the 2009 session ‘had a negative impact on the unity of the UNHRC and its impact on human rights globally.’ Wow! Dayan must have been quite a character if he could single-handedly divide the UNHRC and thereby negatively impact human rights the world over. Don’t these people have a sense of proportion, one has to wonder!


Dayan failed to get the French Government from voting against Sri Lanka in these resolutions when he was Ambassador to France. That’s incompetence in their book.  Now France was not the only country that voted in these resolutions. Sri Lanka has missions in most of the countries that voted. Did these petitioners, as individuals and/or as a collective call for the recall of those in office at that point on grounds of incompetence? Have they checked if some of these diplomats are still in the foreign service and if so have they called for their sacking?


The petitioners say they were relieved ‘to see President Sirisena and the coalition government reverting to a more conciliatory tone where there was recognition of past abuses and the need for genuine reforms towards reconciliation.’  This was based, they say, ‘on human rights being fundamentally a domestic issue, in recognition of the rights of all of Sri Lanka’s citizens rather than a game played with the international community.’


That’s great. However, are they so blind that they do not understand that human rights IS IN FACT a game played BY the international community or rather who play it in the NAME of the international community? If it was indeed a domestic issue they should have objected to Dayan tabling the resolution and to the USA-led group for tabling censuring resolutions thereafter.  They are not pushing the ‘domestic argument’ to its logical conclusion.  Strange!


Towards the end they talk about ideology. They claim that ideologically Dayan and that which shaped the ‘change’ (of January 8, 2015) ‘are poles apart’. Have they been sleeping since January 8, 2015. This government, today, as a coalition and its constituents is quite at odds with the January 8, 2015 ideological moment, if you will.


They talk of allies.  They say that Dayan had a personal agenda and it had detrimental consequences to Sri Lanka among its most important allies. Dayan does talk a lot about himself and his deeds, but that’s not the issue here. The key word here is ‘ally’.  Allies are those who support you, especially when others are against you. The USA was trying the give the LTTE another lease of life, do these people know? India was never an ally. The UK, another ally? Surely, at least some of the signatories to this petition knows something of colonial history, the plunder of resources, ethnic cleansing, cultural genocide and such? Surely they know what the USA has done and is doing all over the globe in the name of human right and democracy?


Of course there was ‘detrimental consequences’.  On the other hand, they were never our friends, were they?


Finally they warn that Dayan might damage the current administration. Are they saying that this current regime should be protected? If so, why?  If so, they are in fact saying that they are worried about the political fortunes of a corrupt, confused and incompetent regime.


Perhaps they should challenge Dayan to a debate on international relations, those resolutions, the supposedly fragile nature of the UNHRC or about the true meaning of words and terms such as good governance, allies, competence, domestic issues, international community and so on.


Better still, they should re-read their statement with the help of those among them who teach English in our universities. They might be embarrassed but then again the learning will help in the long run.





Malinda Seneviratne

I am a journalist, political commentator and a chess enthusiast. I was educated at the University of Peradeniya, Harvard University, University of Southern California and Cornell University and live in and work from Kottawa, Sri Lanka.

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