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Peace process and accountability issues: UN report out, await Norwegian evaluation

April 25, 2011, 10:13 pm

By Shamindra Ferdinando

In the wake of a simmering controversy over UNSG Ban Ki-moon’s dubious ‘war crimes’ report dealing with Sri Lanka’s successful war against the LTTE, Norway will  release a comprehensive evaluation of Norwegian peace efforts in Sri Lanka.

Christian Michelsen Institute (CMI) conducted the evaluation of four separate peace efforts by Norway from 1997 to 2009. It would have been better, if Oslo hadn’t picked a major recipient of Norwegian funding to evaluate their peace efforts.

The CMI receives funding through Research Council of Norway (NFR), which in turn is funded by the Norwegian Foreign Affairs Ministry and the Norwegian Ministry of Education and Research.

Gunnar M. Sorbo, who had held several positions in several Norwegian institutions, including NFR and the Agency for International Development now heads the CMI.

The CMI jointly conducted the evaluation with the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), which is part of London University (UK). Prof Jonathan Goodhand is the other key member of the joint evaluation team.

Norway earlier planned to release the report in April, though it is now expected to be presented in May.

Over the past several months, the evaluating team interviewed European, US and Indian officials and Sri Lankans. Although the Sri Lankan government declined to assist the Norwegian inquiry, the then Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe met Sorbo in Oslo a few months ago.

Although all four Norwegian attempts had been inter-connected, the focus of the evaluation was on the third bid (2002 to 2006) supported by the “Tokyo Co-Chairs”, comprising the US, EU, Japan and Norway.

According to the tender document calling for the evaluation of the Norwegian role seen by The Island, the total Norwegian development cooperation with Sri Lanka amounted to approximately NOK 2, 5 billion during the period 1997 – 2009. Out of this, approximately NOK 100 million had been allocated to activities aimed at directly supporting the peace process, including the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission (SLMM) and the peace secretariats of the parties, meaning the LTTE received a substantial amount of funds.

 Unlike UNSG’s three-member panel headed by Marzuki Darsuman, Sorbo’s evaluation team had access to first hand information relating to the Norwegian role in Sri Lanka. Thanks to US soldier Bradley Manning, now held in military detention and his associates, Sri Lanka had a chance to know what was going on through Wiki Leaks. If not for the Wiki Leaks, Sri Lanka would never have received information regarding how US officials based in Colombo and New Delhi and the Norwegians played pandu (read as games) with our sovereignty during 2003 to 2010. Unfortunately, the government had pathetically failed to exploit the information provided by Wiki Leaks with no expense to the Sri Lankan taxpayer. The bottom line is that Sri Lankan intelligence could never have obtained such information to help policy makers formulate strategy.

 The Norwegians have divided their engagement here into four phases: 1997-1999, 1999-2002, 2002- 2006 and 2006-2009.

 According to the Norwegian tender document, in the first phase, from 1997 to 1999, an agreement was made between the Norwegian and the Sri Lankan government that Norwegian development cooperation should support a negotiated solution to the conflict. Norway had quiet contact with the parties to the conflict.

In the second phase, from 1999 to 2002, the LTTE and the Sri Lankan government asked Norway to be a facilitator. A ceasefire agreement was negotiated. The Nordic civilian monitoring group, the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission (SLMM), was established under Norwegian leadership.

In the third phase, from 2002 to 2006, Norway was a facilitator between the parties in six rounds of negotiations, which among others resulted in the parties agreeing to explore a federal solution within a united Sri Lanka.

In the fourth phase, from 2006 to 2009, the escalation of the war put an end to an active Norwegian facilitator role. At the same time, Norway is in dialogue with the parties and the international society to limit civilian suffering and to get the parties to respect international law.

It would be pertinent to reproduce key evaluation questions to help the public understand what the Norwegians expected to achieve.

Evaluation questions

a) Map the Norwegian engagement in Sri Lanka from 1997 – 2009:

– How did Norway become engaged in peace facilitation in Sri Lanka?

– The Norwegian role and mandate in the peace negotiations, including number and character of peace negotiations, public and discrete.

– The institutional set-up of the peace facilitation.

– The Norwegian strategies and interventions aimed at supporting the peace process.

– The conflict picture and context in Sri Lanka at the time that Norway was invited to facilitate, and how it evolved up to 2009.

– Role of the international community in Sri Lanka

b) Assess the role as facilitator between the parties on one hand, and the relationship to the international community on the other.

– Assess the relation to the international community, including the participation in the “Tokyo Co-chairs”, the relationship to the UN, international organizations and other donors.

– Assess the relationship to regional actors, such as China and India

– How was the Norwegian relationship to the LTTE, and what means were available to influence the LTTE (economically and politically)?

– How was the international community’s relationship to the LTTE?

– How was the Norwegian relationship to GOSL, and what means were available to influence GOSL (economically and politically)?

– How was the international community’s relationship to GOSL, and to what extent did they have a coordinated approach?

– Norway’s relationship to the Tamil diasporas (in Norway and internationally).

– Assess the impact of the Norwegian politics and public opinion on the Norwegian role as a facilitator.

 c) Assessment of the Norwegian facilitator role and the relationship to local parties and stakeholders:

 – Discuss the usefulness of public versus discrete peace negotiation.

 – Discuss challenges for Norway as a facilitator in terms of defining the different parties at different stages in the conflict.

– Assess how Norway as a facilitator managed the question of impartiality (state versus non-state party, terror-listing of the LTTE).

– How did the facilitator follow up when the parties did not adhere to agreed commitments and intentions?

– How were interested parties with influence on the process identified and followed up? This includes the relationships between the Prime Minister and the President, between the government and the opposition, the relationship between religious groups and between different state institutions (military forces and others).

– Assess the facilitator’s relationship to civil society, media and the Muslim community in Sri Lanka.

– How was the gender dimension, with special reference to UN SC resolution 1325, followed up by Norway?

– To what extent was the broader Norwegian aid portfolio geared towards supporting Norway’s role as a facilitator of the dialogue in the peace process. Was the aid portfolio adapted to the changing context?

d) Assessment of the Ceasefire Agreement and how the parties observed it

– Assess the CFA; what were its qualities and defaults?

– SLMM’s mandate; what was its room for maneuver and its limitations?

– How were the dual roles of Norway in being the facilitator on the one hand and in charge of supervising the compliance with the ceasefire agreement on the other, managed?

– How did Norway follow up violations of the ceasefire agreements?

– Were any alternative options considered?

e) Assessment of Norway’s efforts in the last phase of the war (January – May 2009)

– Discuss the alternatives for intervention available to Norway and the international community in the final phase of the war.

– To what extent did Norway’s contact with the parties contribute to limit civilian suffering and prevent a humanitarian crisis?

– Assess Norway’s and the UN’s efforts to get the civilians in LTTE-controlled territory released, and facilitate surrender by LTTE.

– Describe strategies and objectives of the conflicting parties, including the change of international allies by the Sri Lankan government in the last phase of the war.

– How did international pressure on GOSL and the LTTE to abide by international humanitarian law influence the events?

– What was the international community’s response to GOSL’s actions in this period?

– Which role did Norway have in this last phase?

 f) Assessment of results achieved through the Norwegian facilitation of the peace process

– identify positive, negative, intended or unintended immediate outcomes from the Norwegian engagement in the various phases of the peace process.

g) Recommendations

– What are the lessons that Norway can take away from the Sri Lanka experience and use in future similar processes?

 In spite of CMI being a recipient of Norwegian funding, Sorbo’s outfit with its partner, School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) could help the world to realize the circumstances leading to eelam war IV.

The destructive eelam war IV, which is now the centre of a war crimes inquiry demanded by the UNSG Ban Ki-moon on the basis of a Marzuki Darsusman’s report was preceded by the collapse of the Norwegian peace bid. Those who believed Oslo could restore peace continued their commitment in spite of the LTTE quitting the negotiating process in April 2003, just 14 months after the signing of the CFA.

Kumar Rupesinghe quoted Erik Solheim as having said in ‘Negotiating Peace in Sri Lanka’ launched in Feb. 2006: “…I was approached in Oslo by different actors in the SL conflict. Then one day, the Tamil Tigers came to see me in Oslo saying they had been to the Norwegian Foreign Ministry asking whether Norway could engage in a dialogue with the Sri Lankan government to bring Anton Balasingham, their chief negotiator out of Sri Lanka for a vital medical operation…”

That 462 page book edited by Rupesinghe, Chairman of the Foundation for Co-Existence with the financial support of the governments of Norway and Sri Lanka and the Berghof Foundation for Conflict Studies gave an insight into thinking of key players involved in the peace process. Prof. G. L. Peiris, who spearheaded the UNF negotiating team declared: “We have a great deal of hope about the future with Ranil Wickremesinghe as the President-having access to presidential power, the entire picture is transformed. Then you have a government that single mindedly pursues this objective, backed by the full power of the State; not truncated State power. So, would identify that as a principal power which went against the success at that time.” 

Prof. Peiris was responding to a query on hostile action taken by the then President Chandrika Kumaratunga to stifle the peace process.

Until the launch of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) last August, the country remained in the dark as to how the CFA came into being. Dr. John Gooneratne, veteran diplomat and key member of the Sri Lanka Peace Secretariat from Jan.

2002 to May 2006, revealed how the Norwegians ignored four key provisions proposed by the Government of Sri Lanka in the drafting of the CFA.

Gooneratne told the LLRC: (I) there was no reference to the need for the parties to use the CFA to pave the way for talks to find a negotiated settlement

(II) Specific reference to the prohibition of unlawful import of arms, ammunition and other material was not included

(III) LTTE members were allowed to do political work in government-controlled areas, but other political parties were not allowed to work in LTTE controlled areas of Mullaitivu and Kilinochchi. As it turned out, the LTTE used the opportunity afforded by the CFA to indulge in extortion, child recruitment, harassment and assassinations et al.

(IV) Forcible conscriptions were not added to the activities prohibited.

Dr. Gooneratne said that the LTTE got away with the assassination of the then Foreign Minister, Lakshman Kadirgamar on Aug 12, 2005.

Wiki Leaks revealed top secret talks between the Norwegians and London-based Anton Balasingham immediately after the assassination of Kadirgamar. A classified US diplomatic cable exposed by Wiki Leaks revealed Norway lambasting Prabhakaran over the assassination, though publicly Oslo remained silent. The National Peace Council, one of the major recipients of Norwegian funding went to the extent of asserting that the Kadirgamar assassination was tragic but inevitable.

For want of punitive action, the LTTE obviously felt that it could get away with anything. At the Nov. 2005 presidential polls, the LTTE engineered UNP candidate Ranil Wickremesinghe’s defeat by denying people living in areas under its control their right to exercise franchise, thereby helping Mahinda Rajapaksa to win the presidency. Still the international community remained silent, though making desperate efforts to get the Tigers back to the negotiating table under the auspices of the Norwegians. Believing President Rajapaksa could be overwhelmed by a lighting war, the LTTE launched a simultaneous multi-pronged offensive in Aug 2006 only to lose the entire Eastern Province by mid 2007 and the Vanni region by May 2009.

Those now campaigning for international war crimes probe firmly believed that the Sri Lankan military couldn’t match the LTTE either in conventional war or small scale operations. They also felt LTTE suicide cadres and intelligence operatives could cause debilitating damages, thereby undermining the entire war effort. They remained confident of an ultimate LTTE victory until Sri Lankan troops regained Kilinochchi on Jan 1, 2009 and set the stage for the final assault, which I believe was the focus of Norwegian investigation.

The Island


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