Vacationing at the wrong time?

Right of reply

In response to the news items that appeared in the column Talk at the Cafe Spectator titled ‘Not Fair Lady’ and ‘Madam Machiavelli’ on December 27 2009 and January 3 2010 respectively, Sri Lanka’s Permanent Representative to the UN in Geneva, Kshenuka Senewiratne writes:

It is with much regret that I have to address you personally with regard to erroneous reporting in the Sunday Times of December 27 2009 and January 3 2010. The two reports in question appeared in the ‘Talk at the Café Spectator’ column, entitled “not Fair Lady” and “Madam Machiavelli” respectively (copies annexed). It was evident from the innuendos contained that the reference was to me.

My application for vacation leave of nineteen days to be spent in Sri Lanka was made to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on December 7 2009. An e-mail communication from the Foreign Ministry approving the requested leave was received on December 17 2009, with a request that I attended office from December 21 to 24 2009 to handle certain office issues including follow up work on the recently held Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting. Further, I was informed by Foreign Ministry email of December 18 2009 transmitted at 06.02 pm (Sri Lanka time), that the period of December 21-24 2009 would be treated as duty leave. It is therefore established that a period of duty leave was approved well prior to my arrival to Colombo on vacation.

With regard to handling the letter of December 18 2009 addressed to me by the UN Special Rapporteur Philip Alston, your newspaper report states that “… our envoy in Geneva, apparently in an attempt to win political plaudits, forwarded the letter to the Presidential Secretariat…” Please be informed that the practice has been for communications from such persons to be forwarded to the Secretary, Ministry of Disaster Management and Human Rights with copy to Secretary, Foreign Affairs and any other related officials. In this instance too, on receipt of the communication later that evening the same chain of command was followed due to additions of Secretary, Defence and the Attorney General considering the contents of the communication, which was received by the Foreign Ministry on December 19 2009 at 12.19am. At no point was the communication copy to the Presidential Secretariat sent by me as has been erroneously stated by your newspaper.

I wish to categorically state that I have not sought to convert my holiday to an official one and from the foregoing, it is clear that the period of duty leave has already been established from the very outset of having my vacation leave approved. Furthermore, I paid my own air fare and at no instance have made any request from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to meet the cost.


In seeking to absolve herself of the charges of politicizing the transmission of a letter from UN Special Rapporteur Philip Alston received by our UN Mission in Geneva, Ambassador Kshenuka Senewiratne says she followed the normal chain of command by forwarding it to the Ministry of Human Rights and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

She denies our assertion that the letter was also forwarded to the Presidential Secretariat in an attempt to curry favour with the upper echelons of the government. But if, as she says, she did not forward the letter, she obviously did one better: she phoned a senior official of the Presidential Secretariat and kept him very much in the loop even before the letter reached the two ministries.

As she rightly admits, she did apply for vacation leave to visit Colombo during the Christmas holidays. But the political urgency of Alston's letter, wittingly or unwittingly, helped transform her vacation into duty leave.

The more important question, however, is why an Ambassador holding a UN diplomatic posting should be vacationing in Colombo at a time when a UN report accusing the country of war crimes was being released by a Geneva-based UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial Killings.?

A former diplomat who had once served in Geneva points out that Ambassador Senewiratne should have been in her duty station trying to influence the outcome of last week's UN report highly critical of Sri Lanka.

Foreign Minister Rohitha Bogollagama criticized Alston for releasing the report without Sri Lanka being privy to it. But his own Ambassador was not in her duty station to upstage that report or to demand that she see the report before it was released to the public.

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