Dhanapala: Defending the Indefensible:

by Ana Pararajasingham

Ambassador Jayantha Dhanapala is no novice when it comes to diplomacy.  But even he cannot defend the indefensible.

Sent to Washington to defend the Sinhala regime’s appalling failure to implement the Cease-Fire, its abject indifference to the survivors of the tsunami in the Tamil Homeland and its blatant use of paramilitaries to destabilise the East, Dhanapala resorted to demonising the enemy and, in the process, exposed his own latent chauvinism.

On 10th September this year, in the course of his speech to the Sri Lanka Caucus of the US Congress, Dr Dhanapala launched a vituperative and virulent attack on the LTTE.  Two days later he attacked again, this time the Tamil diaspora for "sustaining the conflict," when he addressed the Asia Society forum on "Sri Lanka's Peace Process: Problems and Prospects" at the Willard Inter-Continental, Washington D.C.

The attacks by Dhanapala come as a surprise because he is a seasoned diplomat expected to be constrained and diplomatic in his utterances.  Furthermore, as the Secretary General of Sri Lanka’s Peace Secretariat, Dhanapala is obliged to project the image of a peacemaker and not that of a warmonger hell-bent on demonising the enemy.  Unfortunately, Dhanapala’s behaviour in Washington was more reminiscent of a crude Sinhala chauvinist than that of a suave and ambitious diplomat with aspirations to the highest office in the UN.

There are a number of possible reasons for Dhanapala’s uncharacteristic and undiplomatic outbursts.

The most obvious is that his Government is under considerable pressure from the international community for its appalling failure to implement the Cease-Fire, its abject indifference to the survivors of the tsunami in the Tamil Homeland and its blatant use of paramilitaries to destabilise the East.

This pressure was driven home, on 19th July this year, when the co-chairs to the peace process (US, Japan and the EU) said, "The Sri Lankan government, in accordance with the Ceasefire Agreement, must ensure that all paramilitary groups are disarmed and prevented from any activity that might lead to acts of violence.  The government must also guarantee the security of unarmed LTTE cadres in government controlled areas."

In less than a month, on 16 August, the UN Security Council called on the parties "to implement fully the provisions of the Cease-Fire Agreement and to continue their dialogue, in order to attain sustainable peace and stability in the country."

Although couched in diplomatic language, both statements were primarily directed at the Sri Lankan Government whose disregard for Clause 1.8 of the Cease-Fire Agreement calling for the disarming of the paramilitary forces had become the major impediment to maintaining the Cease-Fire.

Dhanapala’s visit to Washington was to counter this pressure and defend his Government’s conduct.  Given an indefensible position, particularly in respect of the activities of the paramilitaries, Dhanapala was forced to fall back on the strategy of the desperate attack when cornered.

But surely Dhanapala could have been as diplomatic and restrained as he was when he addressed the Sri Lanka Development Forum on May 17th this year.  On that occasion he spoke of reconciliation and even referred to the President’s apology to the Tamil people who had suffered in July 1983 during the state-orchestrated attack on Tamil lives and property.  (Of course being a diplomat he was careful to refer to the July 1983 happenings as a ‘riot’ not by its proper name - pogrom)

There is no doubt that Dhanapala was rattled by the actions of the international community.  As a diplomat he was able to detect the impatience on the part of the international community, which, is becoming increasingly conscious of the intransigence of the Sinhala regime.

It appears that Dhanapala, agitated by the pressure exerted on his Government and confronted with the spectre of the international community’s treating the Tamils as equals, allowed his latent chauvinism to dictate his response.  The result was his shrill outbursts in Washington, during which he reverted to type by attacking the LTTE and the Tamil diaspora.

Dhanapala’s unbecoming conduct ought to be an eye-opener to those who subscribe to the notion that Sinhala chauvinism is simply confined to the JVP and the ‘patriotic’ parties.  The extent to which this chauvinism has permeated the Sinhala polity comes to the fore at times of crisis.  This is when the likes of Dhanapala, despite their veneer of sophistication, come undone.


Posted September 20, 2005