Norway in unprecedented legal wrangle with NGO guru: Warns of irreparable damage to diplomatic relations

One-time peace facilitator Norway and Sri Lanka are on a collision course over NGO guru Dr. Kumar Rupesinghe moving the District Court of Colombo against the Nordic country for refusing to make payments amounting to millions of rupees to the Foundation of Co-Existence, headed by the plaintiff, in accordance with a tripartite agreement signed in June 2008.

The British government is party to the agreement which covered a three-year period.

The signatories to the agreement are Tore Hattrem, the then Norwegian Ambassador in Colombo, on behalf of Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Tom Owen–Edmunds, Head of Political and Development Section of the British High Commission, on behalf of British High Commission in Colombo and Dr. Kumar Rupesinghe, on behalf of the Foundation for Co-Existence.

Well informed sources told The Island that under the agreement, the Foundation for Co-Existence was to implement projects in support of the peace process with funds received from Norway and the UK. The agreement was finalized at the height of the war on the Vanni front. There hasn’t been any previous case similar to the ongoing legal dispute involving a local NGO and its foreign partners.

Interestingly, Norway was to fund the project to the tune of 75 percent with the remaining funding from the UK.

Having made some payments in accordance with the agreement, Norway suspended further payments in early May 2009, just weeks ahead of the conclusion of the conflict. However, the UK met its full commitment in keeping with the agreement.

Responding to a query, sources revealed that the Attorney General’s Department had intervened after the Norwegian Embassy obtained a commitment from the External Affairs Ministry not to proceed with the case due to respondents enjoying diplomatic immunity. However, the Attorney General’s Department has asserted that the case could be heard in Colombo.

Sources said that the Norwegian Embassy had taken up the position that any attempt to summon Norwegian officials and diplomats before the High Court of Colombo would cause irreparable damage to diplomatic relations between the two countries.

Among the defendants cited in the petition are International Development Minister Erik Solheim and Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Store.

Rupesinghe incurred the wrath of some his donors, particularly Norway by switching his allegiance to President Mahinda Rajapaksa at the height of the Vanni battle. A major rift surfaced after Rupesinghe had met LTTE representatives on behalf of President Rajapaksa shortly before the LTTE made an attempt to assassinate Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa in late 2006.

Evaluation of Norwegian peace efforts in Sri Lanka, during the period from 1997 to 2009, revealed Norwegian funding for a range of NGO-run projects, with Rupesinghe being identified as the recipient of the Lion’s share of Norwegian finding amounting to $ 6 mn (NOK 35 mn).

By Shamindra Ferdinando

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