It seems to have become customary for the yahapalana government to make significant gestures towards compliance with the demands of the 2015 US-led Human Rights Council resolution, to coincide with visits by foreign officials.
UN Under Secretary General for Political Affairs Jeffrey Feltman with President Maithripala Sirisena
It’s notable that President Sirisena gazetted the controversial Office of Missing Persons (OMP) Act during the visit to Sri Lanka of Jeffrey Feltman (19-21 July), UN Under Secretary General for Political Affairs. Similarly it appears that high profile arrests of officials associated with the government’s political rivals from the previous regime, also tend to take place during these visits – as if to prove a point to external observers. The unprecedented arrest of Commodore D. P. K. Dassanayake took place while Ben Emmerson, UN Special Rapporteur on counter terrorism was in the country (10-14 July), leading Emmerson to (inappropriately) remark on it at the press briefing.
The government has good reason to be worried about the intentions of these visiting officials in UN garb, ostensibly to promote peace and reconciliation. Jeffrey Feltman’s visit came within five days of Emmerson’s departure, but little is known as to what transpired during his interactions with government and the TNA and in the Eastern Province, apart from his vague pledge that “UN would continue to extend fullest support to Sri Lanka’s development process and reconciliation.”
One should not forget that Feltman is the second highest official in the UN system after the Secretary General, and advises the UNSG on peace and security issues globally. What was his real mission?
The background of Feltman might suggest some answers. Feltman is an American who was appointed to the position of UN Under Secretary General for Political Affairs in July 2012 after having worked for 30 years in the US foreign service, including in the office of Deputy Secretary of State. His last position was as Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs. He was preceded in the UN post by Lynn Pascoe, also a former US diplomat. “The US essentially owns this UN position” wrote Daya Gamage, political correspondent for the ‘Asian Tribune.’ In a comment on Feltman’s first visit to Sri Lanka in February 2015, to prove this point Gamage described how: “At the meeting of the International Support Group for Lebanon last year, the UN Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, Jeffrey D. Feltman, filled in for US Secretary of State, John Kerry, when the latter had to leave to attend to the Ukraine crisis. This shows that Feltman is not an international civil servant, but a U.S. official attached to the United Nations. He retains his prerogatives as former Assistant Secretary of State for the Near East Affairs and combines them with his new international functions.”
Govt. has reason to worry over these visiting officials’ intentions
Feltman’s visit came within five days after Emmerson’s departure
Jeffrey Feltman worked for 30 years in the US Foreign Service
His name cropped up in relation to US backed coup in Ukraine
Ben Emmerson’s pompous behaviour widely seen as overstepping his mandate
UN Special Rapporteur on counter terrorism Ben Emmerson
Gamage’s profile of Feltman came with the warning that “Sri Lanka is on a ‘constitution-making’, and most importantly, ‘national government making’ when Feltman arrives in Colombo” (‘Divisive and Manoeuvring UN (or US ?) top official - Jeffrey Feltman - in Sri Lanka’ - 26.02.15)
It may be also relevant to recall that Feltman’s name cropped up in relation to the US backed coup in Ukraine that ousted democratically elected President Viktor Yanukovich in 2014. This came to light in the infamous leaked phone call between Victoria Nuland, then Assistant Secretary of State for Europe and Eurasia, and Geoff Pyat, then US ambassador to Ukraine, where Nuland unabashedly referred to the need to get UN officials into the picture during the US manoeuvring (which sought to exclude the EU) in order to give a vestige of credibility to the coup, or, ‘to glue this thing,’ as she put it. Her remarks suggest that Feltman, the UN Under Secretary General for Political Affairs, was used, to serve the US agenda:
Nuland: … “when I talked to Jeff Feltman this morning, he had a new name for the UN guy …Robert Serry – he’s now gotten both Serry and Ban Ki-moon to agree that Serry could come in Monday or Tuesday… so that would be great I think to help glue this thing and have the UN help glue it and you know f*** the EU.” (Counterpunch 05.03.14)
UN Special Rapporteur on counter terrorism Ben Emmerson visited Sri Lanka just ahead of Feltman. His pompous behaviour was widely seen as overstepping his mandate, by bullying, threatening and ‘taking sides’ in the host country’s politics. In a scathing critique, two former UN Permanent Representatives (in Geneva and New York respectively) Tamara Kunanayakam and Dr. Palitha Kohona said in a newspaper article published on Saturday, that Emmerson’s report and remarks were “arbitrary, judgemental, arrogant, accusatory, threatening, interventionist, and insulting.” They further said:
“His integrity, independence and impartiality, as well as his professionalism were brought into question by the threat he was reported to have made at the media briefing in Colombo that “a range of consequences” will “befall Sri Lanka” if it failed to meet “the United Nations Human Rights Council commitments.”
"Jeffrey Feltman’s visit came within five days of Emmerson’s departure, but little is known as to what transpired during his interactions with Govt. and TNA"
The two former ambassadors said Emmerson’s professionalism was called into question by his listing, among possible measures, “unilateral coercive measures that were contrary to international law and others that were the sole prerogative of the Council”: “ (a) the revocation of Sri Lanka’s “newly regained GSP+ facility” by the European Union; (b) “potentially increasing the various measures by the Human Rights Council or indeed a reference to the Security Council” – decisions that are the prerogative of the Human Rights Council; and (c) “a range of measures increasing in severity that are potentially available” to an “international community,” that he does not define. “
They asked: “If Emmerson was not acting within the scope of his mandate and in the interest of the UN, then the legitimate question is for whom was he acting, in whose interest?”
A clue to the answer, they said, was to be found in Emmerson’s identification, at the Colombo media briefing, with the party likely to initiate a follow-up resolution in March 2019, when the HRC discusses implementation of the 2015 resolution: “Emmerson said “all of that, we [our emphasis] will have to look at, at the end of the current extension” Emmerson’s ‘alignment’ is clear, as the two diplomats show.
After Emmerson left the country the government expressed dismay to the media saying it was ‘unhappy with his report.’ President Sirisena is reported to have queried who gave permission for Emmerson to meet LTTE detainees. These reactions are surprising considering that it was the Government of Sri Lanka that invited Emmerson and allowed him to go wherever he wanted and meet whoever he chose. Is the government trying to play ‘good cop, bad cop’ - in a bid to pander to the western architects of the HRC resolution on the one hand, and placate outraged public opinion and avoid disaffection within its ranks, on the other? For how long will people be fooled?
"After Emmerson left SL, the govt. expressed dismay to media saying it was ‘unhappy with his report.’ The President is reported to have queried who gave permission for Emmerson to meet LTTE detainees"