That warning to Radhika?
by Bandu de Silva
Dr. Radhika Coomaraswamy, Chairperson of the Human Rights
Commission leaves today for New York to take up her new and
prestigious appointment as UN Sectretary General’s Special
Representative on Children and Armed Conflict. As a parting remark
she has, quite rightly, given her considered opinion to President
Mahinda Rajapakse that Sri Lanka will increasingly find it difficult to
defend itself before international treaty bodies if the country does not
speedily reactivate the Commission once its members leave on April
3rd. Certainly, that is more important than putting the clock back,
which seems to be a single visible light at the end of the first Hundred
Days tunnel of the new President’s rule, as the day breaks on the New
Sinhala-Hindu New Year!
Dr. Radhika Coomaraswamy carries with her the experience of having
been the UN Rapporteur on abuses of women in war, a task which she
carried out with commendable efficiency and without fear or favour for
which she earned accolades all round. Sri Lankans can be proud of
her personal achievements as well as her eminent contribution to the
international community following in the footsteps of her father, former
Civil Servant and International Civil Servant, Raju Coomaraswamy. I
have not known Dr. Radhika Coomaraswamy except meeting her
casually a few times around the world and here in Sri Lanka but that
gave no opportunity to know her intimately but as a former Sri Lankan
Ambassador I have had the opportunity to watch her progress in her
career with admiration and a sense of pride. I had the privilege of
coming to know her father for a short time when he joined the former
Minister of Finance, Ronnie de Mel as one of his advisers in the
Ministry and attended the World Bank chaired Aid Consortium
meetings in Paris and also Investment Promotion Conferences in
Europe and to benefit from his wide experience and advice. In fact, he
sought my presence at these European events a number of times
even though my substantive work then was a Minister of the Embassy
of Sri Lanka in France. That was before I became the Ambassador to
France, Switzerland and several other countries. I do not mention
these with the intention of patronizing. That I leave to Prof.
Suriyakumaran, another former distinguished Civil servant of this
country who later made his mark on the international scene. He who
has every right to it. [See his article in The Island of 18th March, 2006].
Be it as it may, I was taken back by Prof. Suriyakumaran’s little bit of
advice to Dr. Radhika Coomaraswamy on the eve of her taking up the
high post at the UN in charge of matters concerning child combatants.
How could one call it -’Advice,’ a ‘Signal’ or a ‘Warning’? What made
him address these publicly? Couldn’t he have addressed her privately
if he really wanted her to use her new office to pull the chestnuts out
of the fire for the LTTE who are being accused all round for their role
in child recruitment as war combatants?
Isn’t it clear that he wants to prepare the ground for Dr. Radhika to act
in the direction he wants her by flying a kite which he may want the
international community to pick up? Wouldn’t she be embarrassed by
these signals sent to her showing the direction that the good
Professor might want her to take as the whole world would now be
Now to come to the subject closely, Prof. Suriyakumaran gives his
judgement that child recruitment as combatants is part of a world
process of slavery, child labour practised by the developed countries.
He even points to the practice of child recruitment for war which
‘prevailed freely till "the other day," as he calls, "both in the U.S. and U.
K. armies, with no qualms and apologies." Quite rightly. This is exactly
what the LTTE delegation to Geneva negations pointed out last month
when they were cornered on the issue of child recruitment for war.
That cannot be made an apology for others to repeat what was done
by these ‘civilised’ countries of the West.
Prof. Suriyakumaran does not really put the point across emphatically
as one would have expected him with his background as a sober
internationalist. He only says "the whole purpose is not to recommend
it for us." That is a very mild way of saying it. With his background and
the culture he represents, he could have taken a more positive stand
on not repeating that action followed by the West. But, look at what he
says next: "`85but to know the context in which a group or country is
driven to get the maximum possible manpower for its resistance
against being openly overwhelmed by the enemy."
Now he applies this argument to the North of Sri Lanka and says:
"In this country in the North there was no physical alternative to child
recruitment as an additional resource. Two evaluations then become
One on the recruitments themselves, and Two, the manner in which
these were concluded – both clearly matters for every evaluation.
Inducement, propaganda and others, Yes; but force, abduction from
home, certainly are violations with no excuse`85."
Then he refers to a passing recollection of seeing a "well trained
teenage contingent, then on R&R in Jaffna from the Vanni looking self
confident, indeed with education, capable – as their mentor said, `the
inevitable price of a total National Folly, perpetual for years, by so
called political leaderships of this country (which meant solely
Southern) and then forced into a situation with all hands to battle.’
[Question? Why then refer to Leaderships? (plural].
Isn’t what the good Professor is trying to say quite clear? That
becomes even more so from the illustration he gives next of his own
personal experience of forcing a young boy to take up arms in ’58 on
the point of assault by him, to stand up with him out front. That is
The next point is more important as it is here that the Professor directs
the attention of the newly appointed envoy of the UN on Child
Combatants. He says:
"One may not easily tar only the agency or group (in this case the
LTTE) but the powerful National – Political perversions which led to
Here is the warning to Dr. Radhika: "The Rapporteur on Children in
War would need to be careful in reporting and look beyond
recruitment, to causes mid solutions."
She is being directed to look where "Lakshman Kadiragamar erred in
the same manner in unqualified attacks on the LTTE on this and other
matters." He accuses Kadiragamar for his ‘concern,’ including
branding the LTTE as a purely terrorist organisation on the World
stage`85to virtual silence of killing a church full of Christians in his
home town in Jaffna and a string of others; and says `85 did not
attract him to the LTTE, or indeed others in the Community. He quotes
"He knows no Tamil; no Tamil knows him."He avoids references to
attacks on mosques – Kattankudy, Eravur, Sammanthurai, etc., not to
speak of the attacks at the Sri Maha Bodhi and the Temple of the
Sacred Tooth Relic.
He goes on to attack Kadiragamar further by referring to his being a
hopeful for the post of Secretary General [of U.N.] and having failed
that declaring himself for the post of Secretary General of the
Commonwealth Secretariat. Why? Why? This attack on a person who
is now deceased? Wasn’t he eminently qualified for both these
positions? What has that got to do with the issue of Child
Combatants? Is it in any way connected to Dr. Radhika’s position? Or
some old memories of one’s own past failures?
Sadly, isn’t the Professor whom we all once held in high esteem for his
well balanced views now showing different signs? Or, is that it is he
who has lost the balance with age creeping in? What is the object of
bringing in Neelam Tiruchelvam and Laksman Kadiragamar to the fore
and heaping accusations on them? To please some one, I suppose.
More importantly, what is behind all this?
Let us wish her well and success in her endeavours whatever the
detractors might say!