Dhanapala: Defending the Indefensible
17 September 2005
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 has resorted to demonising the enemy and in the
process exposed his own latent chauvinism.
On 8 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. Four days later he attacked again, this time the Tamil
diaspora for “sustaining the conflict” when
he addressed the Asia Society forum on “Sri Lanka 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 an image of a peacemaker and not that of a warmonger
hell bent on demonising the enemy. Unfortunately,
Dhanapala’s behaviour in Washington was 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.
These were driven home, on 19th July this year
when the co chairs to the peace process (US, Japan and the
“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 the indefensible position,
particularly in respect of the activities of the paramilitary,
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 on to the Tamil people
who 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
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, was
becoming increasingly conscious of the intransigence of the Sinhala
It appears that Dhanapala agitated by the pressure exerted on his
Government and confronted with the spectre of the international
community’s treatment of the Tamils as equals had 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 Sinhala polity comes to the fore
at times of crisis. This is when the likes of Dhanapala, despite
their veneer of sophistication become undone.