UNITED NATIONS – When the late Lakshman Kadirgamar made his annual pilgrimage to the United Nations General Assembly sessions in the mid-1990s and early 2000s, he used the world body as a platform to continue his intense diplomatic campaign to have the Tigers banned — particularly in the US, the UK and other European countries. [...]

Sunday Times 2

Kadirgamar’s blunt advice to UN: Stick to malaria and mosquitoes


UNITED NATIONS – When the late Lakshman Kadirgamar made his annual pilgrimage to the United Nations General Assembly sessions in the mid-1990s and early 2000s, he used the world body as a platform to continue his intense diplomatic campaign to have the Tigers banned — particularly in the US, the UK and other European countries.

Lakshman Kadirgamar: Opposed the pretext of humanitarian intervention

And it was also during his tenure as Sri Lanka’s Foreign Minister that the United Nations gave its collective blessings to his proposal to declare an annual “International Day of Observance for Vesak”.

Still, Kadirgamar, whose 15th death anniversary falls on August 12, remained sceptical about the UN — even though it was his primary battleground, as he shunted in and out of closed-door meetings, while holding court in the diplomatic lounge, the UN’s watering hole, with an endless parade of foreign ministers.

When I interviewed him at the UN Plaza Hotel back in September 1999, he lambasted the UN for its “humanitarian intervention” in the domestic affairs of member states—and particularly in Sri Lanka.

Since the primary mandate of most UN agencies is socio-economic — including poverty and hunger alleviation, reproductive health, the environment, and healthcare — the foreign minister said the UN would be best advised to “stick to malaria and mosquitoes” — “and leave us to resolve our own political problems.”

That was a stunningly contemptuous rebuke by someone who once held a senior UN position as head of the Asia Pacific Bureau of the Geneva-based World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO).

As he pitched into UN officials for shooting their mouths off in public, he dismissed a former UN official, who was based in Colombo, as “a pompous ass” who was told in no uncertain terms where his authority began — and ended.

At a more official level, the former President of the prestigious Oxford Union routinely dispensed with the traditional gesture of meeting with the UN Secretary-General for “photo-ops” — an annual ritual in New York every September.

Speaking before the UN Correspondents’ Association (UNCA) back in 1999, he said the UN really has no mediating role — or for that matter any role at all — in resolving the civil strife in Sri Lanka.

His comments, which received wide publicity worldwide, were an affirmation of the strong sentiments expressed at that time by China, India, Algeria and the 54-member Organization of African Unity (OAU,) on the issue of UN intervention.

Sri Lanka’s foreign policy at that time was perhaps dictated to, and formulated by, three Trinitians — an old boys’ network of Trinity College, Kandy — led by Kadirgamar and comprising Jayantha Dhanapala and Nihal Rodrigo — a trio jokingly dubbed as the “unholy Trinity”.

Dhanapala (1956) and Kadirgamar (1949) were Ryde Gold medalists, the highest accolade bestowed on “best all-round students” at Trinity.

When the Asian Group had unanimously approved our candidature as a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council for a two-year period, there was widespread speculation that Sri Lanka was planning to concede the potential seat to South Korea in return for increased investments, development aid and employment for Sri Lankan expatriates.

Asked for a confirmation of the virtual “barter” agreement, Kadirgamar pondered for a while and asked me: “What did Nihal tell you?”

The Trinity mafia was at work.

While the UN has made positive and lasting contributions, including on climate change, refugees and pandemics — not forgetting malaria and mosquitoes — it has occasionally remained deadlocked while responding to humanitarian emergencies in several strife-torn countries, including Yemen, Libya, Iraq, Somalia, Sudan, Nicaragua, Syria and Afghanistan.

This is largely because of the infighting among the five veto-wielding big powers — the US, Russia, China, France and the UK — which are politically and militarily supporting their proxies in most of the military conflicts worldwide.

Perhaps the most positive and significant UN contributions have been confined to its humanitarian work.

Last month, the UN humanitarian chief, Mark Lowcock released $100 million from the UN’s Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) to urgently boost humanitarian response in 10 under-funded emergencies in Africa, the Middle East, Southeast Asia and the Americas.

The funds were also aimed at helping front-line aid groups to deliver life-saving assistance to extremely vulnerable people, as well as support programmes that address greater needs due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The largest single allocation of $35 million was granted to Yemen, facing “the world’s worst humanitarian crisis”, while the rest of the funds are to be distributed among relief organizations in Afghanistan, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Colombia, Haiti, Mozambique, Nigeria, Pakistan and Uganda.

The UN has also been reaching out to resolve the spreading economic crisis in Syria which has deepened poverty pushing more people into humanitarian need. And at least 4.6 million people are receiving monthly food assistance; more than 8.9 million medical procedures have been conducted; and over 1.6 million children have received help with their education, according to official figures.

In Pakistan alone, there have been more than 280,000 COVID-19 cases and nearly 6,000 deaths. Last week, more than $3 million in cash was distributed to people affected by drought in Balochistan and Sindh provinces, while food aid was provided to 12,000 households affected by a snow emergency in Kashmir.

The UN says it is also remains concerned about a possible humanitarian disaster in Libya should the current escalation and mobilisation around Sirte lead to military operations. The lives of more than 125,000 people in and around Sirte are at great risk.

COVID-19 cases continue to increase across Libya, with 3,837 cases reported and 83 deaths to date, most of them in the western and southern parts of the country.

The UN and humanitarian partners are at the forefront in supporting the national authorities with its COVID-19 response, particularly in the provision of health supplies and personal protection equipment.

Meanwhile, speaking of political intervention, India’s then Foreign Minister Jaswant Singh said, in a bygone era, it would be an error to assume that the days of state sovereignty were over.

“The United Nations was not conceived as a super State, it will not ever become so, principally, because there is no viable substitute to the sovereign state,” he declared.

Speaking on behalf of the OAU, Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, a former president of the General Assembly, said he did not deny the right of Western states to denounce breaches of human rights violations. Nor did he deny the UN’s right and duty to help suffering humanity.

“But we remain extremely sensitive to any undermining of our sovereignty not only because sovereignty is our final defence against the rule of an unequal world, but also because we are not taking part in the decision-making process by the Security Council nor in the monitoring of their implementation,” he added.

Share This Post


Advertising Rates

Please contact the advertising office on 011 - 2479521 for the advertising rates.