If the pre-Geneva performance by some of our leading actors seemed like scenes out of a diplomatic Keystone Cops episode, the post-resolution drama was even more hilarious. For that was joined by other political and politically-committed actors crowding the stage not wanting to be left out of the modern nadagam. Those in power cannot claim [...]


From farce to the more farcical


If the pre-Geneva performance by some of our leading actors seemed like scenes out of a diplomatic Keystone Cops episode, the post-resolution drama was even more hilarious. For that was joined by other political and politically-committed actors crowding the stage not wanting to be left out of the modern nadagam.

Those in power cannot claim that they were unaware Sri Lanka would figure at the March 2021 sessions of the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC). Anyone seriously concerned about what the Ides of March could bring would marshal their existing forces and try to rally new diplomatic allies in readiness to meet the attacks which would most probably come on many fronts.

Yet what does Sri Lanka do? It begins to undermine the relationship with one of its most important friends and neighbours knowing only too well that geographically we are stuck where we are, whether we like it or not,? next to India, an influential and rising world power, a nuclear nation and with close cultural, religious and ethnic affinities between the two countries.

Having committed itself at the highest political level to a trilateral development project in the Colombo Port along with Japan we renege on it just a month or two before the Geneva meeting.

If that is not bad enough, Colombo’s rulers then lease, sell or give away summa -- as they say — three islands or islets in the north to the Chinese for power projects within spitting distance, so to say, of India.

It cannot be crass ignorance that led our power wielders to not only long-lease terra firma to China but even the northern most islands within ‘hoo kiyana’ distance as they used to say, to India’s main rival with which it had clashed militarily in the snow covered mountainous frontiers not too long ago.

All this while in the early days of this government, Foreign Secretary Jayanath Colombage, a former admiral, was pontificating on Sri Lanka’s new foreign relations strategy and its ‘India First’ policy.

Since then the strategy appears to have been changed to “Drop India First” policy, though even now Foreign Secretary Colombage maintains his boast as he did in a newspaper interview the other day saying that since the government came to power it did “quite a lot to make India comfortable” and repeated it saying, “We did quite a lot to make India strategically comfortable.”

India must indeed be elated at the special attention and the great reverence the grandmasters of Sri Lankan diplomacy have paid to their neighbour as did visitors to the Chinese Emperor’s court in the time of the Ming dynasty.

If India was let down with broken promises so was Japan whose Light Rail project was abandoned after it had been agreed to and then the Colombo Port deal was dropped showing the world how Sri Lanka treats nations near and far.

To professional diplomats and others knowledgeable in international affairs, Sri Lanka’s conduct must surely come as a shock not merely because both India and Japan are longstanding allies and friends but both are member states of the UN Human Rights Council and carried votes that would have been crucial to Sri Lanka.

But instead of supporting Sri Lanka as Colombage said India had assured it would, both countries abstained. Not that it ultimately mattered because the political head of the foreign ministry and Colombage’s boss, Minister Dinesh Gunawardena, had already counted them as voting for Sri Lanka arbitrarily swelling its total vote.

Though Foreign Minister Gunawardena’s venture into modern applied maths might earn him encomiums, even belatedly, from his alma mater by the former Colombo Race Course, he is not the first to outwit the ancient Egyptians who introduced the subject to the world.

Perhaps Education Minister Prof. G.L. Peiris might be better prepared to educate the uninitiated like his parliamentary colleagues whose educational qualifications are being kept a deep dark secret by parliament officials whose own qualifications remain obscure.

Before we turn to other more farcical episodes from the post-Geneva voting which, by the way, Sri Lanka won according Minister Gunawardena, state minister Ajith Cabraal an account and a cluster of others, a couple of more points of interest from the Colombage interview deserve a hearing.

While Foreign Secretary Colombage claims in the interview referred to above that the Resolution was “in a real sense….adopted” thereby debunking the Gunawardena-Cabraal higher math theory, Colombage’s constant reference to “white” countries having been instrumental in initiating the resolution underscores a racist inclination and hides the real content of the resolution.

Those better versed in diplomatic vocabulary and balance would have resorted to describing the divide in Geneva as Global North and Global South. If it was a matter of colour than politics and ideology then surely the non-white member states that outnumber the white nations should have voted against the resolution.

One other point that needs to be stressed is Secretary Colombage’s current claim that he was misquoted about India, saying it would support Sri Lanka on the resolution. In case I am accused of quoting him incorrectly as well let me quote his words directly from the interview.

Asked by the interviewer about the India remark, Colombage says:

“Well, to begin with, I never said that India will support us. I think I was misquoted. I was echoing the words of the honourable Prime Minister of India. He said India will not do any injustice to Sri Lanka. These are the exact words that I used. But in the Sinhala translation, unfortunately, one of our journalist friends took it as me saying that India will support us. Then it was headline news in Sri Lanka, and Indian news also picked it up and said that the Sri Lankan Foreign Secretary said India will support.”

It is of course not uncommon for politicians, bureaucrats and uniformed men to blame the media in a ham-fisted attempt at the clawback. In trying to do so he exposes himself even more. He blames the Sinhala translation which obviously means he spoke in English unless he resorted to Hindi or another language which required translation.

If the fault, Dear Brutus is in the translation, how is it that the English-language media in Sri Lanka and Indian print media such as The Hindu quoted Colombage’s words as having been said by him — all saying the same thing.

Moreover if he was misquoted on such an important issue at this crucial time one would have immediately issued a release correcting the mistake and setting out exactly what he now says he said. Did he do that? If he did which media carried the correction and where is the proof. If he did not why not for in retrospect could this remark have contributed in part to India’s abstention just as Security Minister Sarath Weeraseakara’s unwanted and untimely remarks on Muslims helped in self sabotage.

This surely is a serious mistake that no professional diplomat or experienced official would have ignored and let pass.

There was another glorious faux pas in a twitter by State Minister Ajith Cabraal which one must keep for the next Geneva saga because a little space is required for another issue that the government has been mum over possibly because it will wound the vanity of the government.

Readers will remember how couple of thousand or so Ukrainian tourists were brought to Sri Lanka via Mattala while the Coronavirus was raging in the country and locals were under various restrictions. The Ukrainians were brought here supposedly for some pilot project given red carpet treatment and even various discounted facilities, the man behind all this being Sri Lanka’s former ambassador there Udayanga Weeratunga.

Lo and behold. Glance at the Geneva voting. Ukraine has voted for the resolution. Pity Sri Lanka.

(Neville de Silva is a veteran
Sri Lankan journalist who was Assistant Editor of the Hong Kong Standard. Later he was Deputy Chief of Mission in Bangkok and Deputy High Commissioner in


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