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FeaturesNewsUN-Sri LankaMoves on to remove Tamara Kunanayakam as UN envoy in Geneva

Moves on to remove Tamara Kunanayakam as UN envoy in Geneva


”While a Colombo caucus consisting of ministers, officials and hangers on invaded Geneva during the sessions and practically throttled Ms.kunanayakam from discharging her duties efficiently, the aim now is to make her responsible for the negative vote.

 by D.B.S. Jeyaraj
Sri Lanka ’s ministry of External Affairs has initiated moves targeting Tamara Kunanayakam, Sri Lanka’s permanent representative to the United Nations in Geneva.

Ms. Kunanayakam who returned to Geneva last week after participating at the UNCTAD conference in Doha, has been informed over the telephone that she should move out from Geneva at short notice and take up duties in a Latin American Country by June this year.

It is learnt that External Affairs minister Prof. Gamini Lakshman Peiris himself contacted Ms. Kunanayakam directly on the Telephone on Saturday April 28th 2012 and informed the Lankan envoy that she was to be transferred out from her station in Geneva to Brazil or Cuba in Latin America.

While no plausible explanation was given by Prof.Peiris for this sudden decision to urgently transfer her, the External Affairs minister had indicated that Ms.Kunanayakam could help establish wider and closer links between Countries of the Latin America and Sri Lanka by relocating to the region from Geneva

Sources close to Ms. Kunanayakam told this writer that the Ambassador to Geneva had been deeply hurt by this sudden “transfer” order camouflaged as a friendly “offer”.

It is learnt that she would be writing a detailed letter to Minister Peiris outlining her reasons for wishing to stay on in Geneva at a crucial juncture for Sri Lanka in the International sphere.

According to sources close to Ms. Kunanayakam she opines that a sustained campaign based on principles needs to be waged in Geneva at the UN and that the element of continuity would be affected by her sudden transfer.

Ms. Kunanayakam also feels that as a patriotic Sri Lankan her services are more necessary to the Country in Geneva at the present time rather than in Latin America

Informed sources in Colombo told this writer that the current moves to transfer out Ms.Kunanayakam is a result of a deep-seated conspiracy to make her the scapegoat for the diplomatic set back suffered by Sri Lanka in Geneva during the 19th session of the UN Human Rights Council where a resolution sponsored by the USA was passed by 24 to 15 with 8 abstaining in a 47 member body.

While a Colombo caucus consisting of ministers, officials and hangers on invaded Geneva during the sessions and practically throttled Ms.kunanayakam from discharging her duties efficiently, the aim now is to make her responsible for the negative vote.

After denying even a seat among the Sri Lankan delegation to the Ambassador in Geneva at the UNHRC sessions during voting time the conspirators are now attempting to deflect criticism away by trying to make Ms.Kunanayakam as responsible.

The latest transfer order amounts to a sanction against the Ambassador in Geneva allege these sources.

Although the affable and articulate Peiris was the “messenger” who conveyed the bad news to Ms. Kunanayakam, informed sources at the External affairs ministry said that the “message” had been formulated through conspiratorial efforts of the duo dubbed as “terrible twins” by a number of employees at the Ministry.

As stated by this writer earlier the “terrible twin duo” comprise UPFA Galle District MP Sajjin de Vass Gunawardena who is the monitoring MP supervising External affairs ministry affairs and Additional secretary Ms. Kshenuka Seneviratne.

Informed sources say that Prof.Peiris regarded as “spineless” by ministry employees is a virtual puppet in the hands of this duo who pull and yank the strings effectively.

In the case of transferring Ambassador Kunanayakam the proposal in question was made by Prof.Peiris at the behest of this terrible twin cabal ,say sources in Colombo

It was only four weeks ago that Sri Lanka’s ambassador to France,Dr.Dayan Jayatilleka,was sent a letter by the External affairs ministry seeking his explanation over four matters concerning the mission in Paris.He was also warned that he could be charged under the penal code for some of the “offences”he had allegedly committed.

Dr.Jayatilleka responded to the charges by sending a detailed letter to the Ministy and also by answering queries made by sections of the Sri Lankan media in this regard

Subsequently Dr.Jayatilleka was summoned to Colombo for consultations and returned to Paris with his name fully cleared. He also met with President Rajapaksa and had lengthy discussions with him.

At the time of Dr.Jayatilleka being sent the charges, this writer stated openly that despite the letter sent to Dr.Jayatilleka being signed by External affairs ministry secretary Mr.Karunatilaka Amunugama the move had been covertly initiated by the cabal comprising Mr. Vass Gunawardena and Ms. Seneviratne.

This writer also wrote then that “ It is anticipated that Tamara Kunanayakam would be targeted after Dr.Jayatilleka’s removal” and pointed out that “Recent happenings in Geneva where the permanent representative Tamara Kunanayakam was sidelined by a caucus from Colombo ” was “perceived as part of a conspiracy by the powerful cabal in the External ministry”.

Tamara Kunanayakam who was earlier stationed in Cuba as Sri Lanka’s ambassador was hurriedly transferred to Geneva last year on a personal directive issued by President Rajapaksa.It was felt that she would be the ideal person to fight for Sri Lanka at the UN in Geneva at a critical time when powerful western nations were engaged in efforts to penalize Sri Lanka at the UN Human Rights Council.

Ms. Kunanayakam has extensive experience and knowledge about the UN system in Geneva as she has worked there in several capacities including a stint of over 10 years at the office of the Human Rights Comissioner. This was the prime reason for her being transferred to Geneva from Havana

President Rajapaksa himself laid down the guidelines for the approach to be taken by Sri Lanka at the UNHRC in Geneva regarding the US backed resolution. The President clearly stated that there would be no compromise in any way and that Sri Lanka should face the challenge with a principle based approach. He was prepared to go down in defeat rather than capitulate to the diktat of powerful nations.

These policy guidelines were faithfully executed by the minister Prof Peiris and the Ambassador Ms.Kunanayakam.

There were however elements within the power structure who were opposed to this approach and tried to pursue an agenda of their own in a bid to appease vested interests. These manouevres were apparently detected by Ms. Kunanayakam and nipped in the bud on time.

There is also an unpleasant history of sly, underhand moves by the cabal in the ministry to sabotage and undermine Ms. Kunanayakam from the time she was appointed envoy to Geneva. This writer intends recounting them in detail in a future article.

The current ‘transfer” is in effect the culmination of this sordid saga where our woman in Geneva has been subjected to an organized campaign by powerful sections of the establishment.

This writer also learns that Mr. Vass Gunawardena has been allegedly boasting to several people in the ministry that he would get Tamara moved out from Geneva very soon.

Rumours are afloat that Sri Lanka’s ambassador to Brussels Ravinatha Aryasinha would replace Ms. Kunanayakam shortly.

Observers point out that if the External affairs Ministry goes ahead with the proposal of transferring Ms. Kunanayam out from Geneva it would result in Sri Lanka ’s image being dented further internationally.

While the term of office for an envoy in a new station is usually three years in the case of Geneva it would mean a bizarre instance of having four ambassadors in three years if Ms. Kunanayakam is replaced by Mr. Aryasinha.

Observers also point out that transferring Ms. Kunanayakam out from Geneva at this stage would cause irreparable damage to Sri Lanka ’s image internationally. It would in a sense be a replay of how Dr. Dayan Jayatilleka was recalled from Geneva in 2009 after Sri Lanka won a diplomatic victory.

In the case of Ms. Kunanayakam the transfer would be seen as her being “scapegoated” for the Geneva UNHRC vote although the blame if any should be laid elsewhere.

The controversy surrounding her being victimized by vested interests could take a different turn if Ms. Kunanayakam who is a Non –career diplomat declines the transfer and is summarily recalled.

Sources close to Ms.Kunanayakam say that she accepted the assignment on the basis of certain principles and from a desire to serve her country in a place where she could contribute positively and would very likely refuse a transfer now.

Concurring with such transfer moves would amount to a sanction on her and relocating to Latin America would be construed as a punishment transfer or demotion, these sources said.

While Ms.Kunanayakam regards herself primarily as a Sri Lankan the fact of her ethnicity would also be a factor in the eyes of the international diplomatic community.

Ms. Kunanayakam is only one of three Tamils serving as envoys although some others of ambassador rank hold lesser office.

Ms. Kunanayakam’s removal from Geneva could also impact negatively on the diplomatic community as she has earned the respect of her peers through her ability and dedication while enhancing Sri Lanka ’s stature in the process.

Ms.Kunanayakam was elected Chairperson/Rapporteur of the UN Human Rights Council’s Council’s Intergovernmental Working Group on the Right to Development. She was also elected Vice-Chair of UNCTAD’s governing body, the Trade and Development Board, and recently made Vice-Chair of UNCTAD XIII conference in Doha

Diplomatic circles from countries that supported Sri Lanka at the UNHRC vote could get the wrong signal by Ms. Kunanayakam’s removal at this point of time.

Besides her knowledge and experience of the UN system should be utilized at this time instead of moving her out from Geneva , these circles opine.

News of the impending transfer has upset many loyal members of the staff at the Lankan mission in Geneva who feel that the ambassador is being victimized unfairly as a scape goat. Ms. Kunanayakam is supported by most staff members at the mission with the exception of a few careerists aligned to the Colombo cabal

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