After the Wikileaks revelation about Guy Rhodes, I went back to the various assessments I had made in 2008 and 2009. What I found was fascinating, and suggests that what we are going through now was carefully prepared by just a few members of what calls itself the international community. Sadly the many decent members of the international community who work here stand by their own kind, and will refuse to look at the evidence of shady dealing. But I suppose one cannot blame them, given the manner in which government too ignored the evidence placed before them.
The long history of the network that continues to hinder efforts at progress in Sri Lanka can be seen in the minutes of what was termed the UN Protection Group. This indicated that ‘In a daily meeting of Security Operations Information Centre comprising UNDSS, UNOCHA, SOLIDAR and UNOPS analysis of satellite imagery and other information is being used to try to identify numbers and locations of IDPs in the Vanni and in particular in the no-fire/safe area. The number of civilians in safe area is thought to be between 70,000 to 100,000 individuals.’
I wrote about this in March 2009, in an essay entitled ‘The Great NGO Game’, that ‘ I was not sure whether it was appropriate that the UN should be dealing in satellite imagery of conflict areas on a daily basis, but I could see that permission might have been given for this by the Ministry of Defence, given our continuing cooperation with the UN. But what was Solidar doing as a member of the Security Operations Information Centre?’
Incidentally it should be noted that this bunch of security experts, with access to satellite imagery, thought that there were between 70,000 and 100,000 civilians in the safe area. I thought then that ‘this particular bit of information had not been shared elsewhere in the UN system, so that the poor High Commissioner for Human Rights was still claiming that ‘According to UN estimates, a total of 150,000 to 180,000 civilians remain trapped in an ever shrinking area’. The significant point in the current context though is that the Darusman panelists are clearly bonkers to claim that we deliberately underestimated figures for the Wanni, since it would seem the UN too made similar errors to our own.
For my current analysis however what is vital is something I missed then, namely the components of this exclusive UN club of which Solidar was so unusual a member. In wondering what an NGO was doing in this Security Operations Information Centre, I did not focus on the involvement also of UNOPS. This last, I should note, is a strange entity that does not function like other UN agencies we are used to, which receive funding to fulfil particular purposes. UNOPS on the contrary brings no money to the countries in which it operates, but rather picks up contracts from other segments of the UN as well as donor countries.
I had wondered about UNOPS from the days when its head blithely assured me that he would find the money for a scanner, in the days when the LTTE did not permit the road northward from Omanthai to be open for more than three days a week. Instead of concentrating on getting it open, which I managed to do relatively quickly, UNOPS was recommending an expensive scanner. When I pointed out that such an instrument could easily be damaged by even a nearby explosion, Rainer Fraufels (if I remember his name aright) assured me that they could buy another.
Not knowing then how UNOPS operated, I marveled at the funds he had access to. Now I know that he would simply have creamed off the money from some pool that could have been used to provide actual relief. And in those days I did not realize that the UN too was subject to the same predilections that my father drew attention to many years ago, when he noted that all Members of Parliament wanted to be Ministers, and all Ministers wanted Ministries which engaged in procurement.
The shady nature of UNOPS was also revealed to me in the elaborate arrangements they had entered into with UNHCR to obtain the services of Chris Dixon, the so-called Shelter Expert in Vavuniya, who kept bleating about fire hazards when the monsoon was imminent. This was the genius who excused the cheap and shoddy work of NGOs that had prepared lavatory pits with plywood, on the grounds that the gully suckers could be prevented from extracting the bottom of the pit by being deployed to suck out just half what was in the pit. At the time I thought the man was just stupid, assuming that those operating the machines could judge the precise moment to stop, so as to avoid the contents of the lavatory pit flooding out along with its fragile bottom.
But I suspect now that, if not actually intent on sabotage, he would not have minded a few such disasters. In short, I am beginning to think that we are dealing with a bunch of creeps who were ruthlessly targeting the Sri Lankan state. I exempt the Head of OCHA from this, but I suspect it was not Zola Dowell who was invited to these meetings. Rather, I suspect it was a character called Vincent Hubin, whom I only met just before he left – he is the only other UN official thanked by Gordon Weiss in the preface to his diatribe, apart from the head of UNDSS, Chris du Toit, who had worked for the apartheid South African government and then for the Angolan terrorist Jonas Savimbi, and who according to Weiss set up a network of informers, the existence of which the Darusman report first made public.
Of this strange crew, only Rainer Fraufels still remains in the country. I had wondered on and off why he was still here, and indeed why UNOPS still continues to function in Sri Lanka, but now having put two and two together, I believe the Sri Lankan government should review his work here and perhaps indicate that it is time he and his organization packed up.
For there is one more connection which, to my mind, makes clear the insidious nature of UNOPS as well as Solidar. I had almost forgotten Benjamin Dix, who had run round Geneva in September 2008 to try to precipitate action against Sri Lanka. He had worked for the UN and we got in touch with Neil Buhne who stopped him acting in breach of his contract, something that it seems the UN is not willing now to do with Gordon Weiss.
But I had forgotten that it was Rainer Fraufels who had come in to the Minister’s office with Neil to tell us that Dix was not in order and would be stopped – though sadly my advice to get all this in writing was not followed. Reading through my writings now however, following on the Wikileaks revelations about Rhodes, I found that Benjamin Dix first worked for Solidar, and had then been taken on by UNOPS. When this happened, and what he had done for them is perhaps well worth checking on even now, given that Dix was the juvenile lead in the Channel 4 film, when Gordon Weiss took on the hero’s role and the terrorist Damilvany Gnanakumar was the heroine.
The cake it seems has been long in the baking, but it would be crass of us not to look into the ingredients that have gone into its making. And as though to provide frosting for the cake, the Britisher who had been head of ASB, the last component of Solidar to continue to work in Sri Lanka, left the country suddenly last month. It might have been coincidental, but I rather suspect the Wikileaks revelations about his erstwhile boss had something to do with his hurried departure.