Complaints against the Ban Ki Moon Panel

I am totally perplexed to read the complaints of Jayantha Gunasekera, PC (DailyMirror, Saturday 28 May, 2011) against the Report to the UN by the Ban Ki-moon Panel.

He quotes Inga-Britt Ahlenius, “Under Secy General of the UN” in making a scathing attack on Ban Ki-moon’s integrity which Gunasekera implies impugns the panel appointed by him. First Ahlenius, contrary to Gunasekera’s claim, is a former Under Secretary General and her attacks lack the natural weight of a current Secretary General as Gunasekera wants to believe. More importantly, many people have made scathing attacks on HE Mahinda Rajapaksa. Do those attacks then, if we are to go by Gunasekera’s reasoning, invalidate all appointments by the President such as of Supreme Court Justices, Bribery Commissioners and so on? No; these appointees stand on their own merit and integrity, not on the President’s or UN Secretary General’s. Let us therefore look at what Gunasekera says against the three individuals appointed to the
Panel.

Gunasekera’s main charge against Marzuki Darusman is that he was a member of the International Group of Eminent Persons in 2009 observing the sittings at the Presidential Commission of Inquiry and withdrew alleging that the GOSL did not have the will to improve the human rights situation. Gunasekera argues that by this act Darusman has pre-judged and is a highly biased person.

It is an interesting reasoning for a lawyer to make. Several of our Supreme Court Justices have faulted the Government of Sri Lanka for violations of various laws. Does that fact make them unqualified to sit on further cases against the government? Most certainly not! Likewise Darusman’s faulting the government in one instance does not disqualify him from looking into other matters with impartiality. Remember also that the Panel was not to hold an inquiry but only to determine courses of action the UN is to take or recommend. For that we do not need a person who is totally ignorant of Sri Lanka as some of us might perhaps expect of a judge or juror. In fact someone knowledgeable on Sri Lanka like Darusman is in a better position to advise the UN Secretary General.

Gunasekera’s complaint against Steven Ratner is that he has been advisor to Human Rights Watch (HRW) which has constantly voiced concern against SL’s military while, as Gunasekera alleges, downplaying the atrocities of the LTTE. I am sure that Gunasekera has advised several clients in his long career who have had conflicts between themselves. Did that prevent Gunasekera from giving them untainted advice? Giving advice to a particular party is not a sign of prejudice. I am sure Gunasekera as a PC has advised even outright crooks. Can we take that to his being sympathetic to the crooks to whom he gave legal advice?

Gunasekera’s point against Yasmin Sooka is that she is the head of the Sooka Foundation which is said to have received millions from the European Union, which penalized Sri Lanka by withdrawing the GSP-Plus duty preferences for violations of human rights. But the Government of Sri Lanka continues to receive aid from the European Union. Our universities get generous grants as do many poor villagers through NGOs funded by the European Union. Are all of us disqualified then? Or is it only Sooka who should not take their money? Actually Gunasekera does not even say that the Sooka Foundation received funds from the European Union, it is merely “said to have” received funds.

Speaking of bias, one must note that according to news reports dated 24 April, Mr. Gunasekera proposed a resolution at the Executive Committee of the SL Bar Association on the 23rd of April 2011 condemning the report to the UN. His resolution was rejected outright on the grounds that the report had not been released and there were no grounds to condemn something they did not know anything about!

It seems that whatever facts Gunasekara will take only the position dictated by his genes. Writing in a Sunday paper, he condemns Navaneetham Pillai on the grounds she is a Tamil who has to side with Tamils because, “after all blood is thicker than water.”

Once the report was released the Bar Association obligingly condemned it unanimously at meetings on 30 April and 7 May. According to news reports at least three Tamils, voted for this resolution. This disproves Gunasekera’ theory about blood being thicker than water.

As citizens why do we fear an inquiry? On what facts did the Committee of
Vice Chancellors and Directors issue a declaration condemning the UN Report?

The fact that even those who knew better among the VCs, felt obliged to join the other VCs in this declamation shows the quality of these declamations from the highest quarters of our intellectual life.

S. Ratnajeevan H. Hoole

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