Wednesday, 18 October 2017

US influences Lanka’s foreign policy, undermines China relations

SPECIAL REPORT : Part 188

 

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By Shamindra Ferdinando

The US recently twice commented on Sri Lanka-China relations, in an extremely negative way.

There hadn’t been such highly controversial and critical US statements regarding Sri Lanka-China relations during the war, or after the successful conclusion of the conflict, in May 2009.

 One statement was made in Washington and the other in Colombo, much to the embarrassment of Sri Lanka, a recipient of substantial Chinese investments and loans, military supplies during the war, as well as critical support at international forums, such as the Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC).

If not for China, Pakistan and Russia, Western powers and India would have had isolated Sri Lanka in Geneva during the Rajapaksa administration. Their support had been special because they also provided military hardware, as well as much required training.

 The US-spearheaded a project against Sri Lanka in Geneva, which culminated in the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe administration co-sponsoring Resolution 30/1 inimical to post-war Sri Lanka. There hadn’t been a previous instance, at Geneva, where an elected government co-sponsored a Resolution against its own country. The Resolution has paved the way for contentious constitutional making process meant to devolve powers to the provinces.

Alice Wells, Acting Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs, in the second week of Sept 2017, declared in Washington, the US was seriously concerned over what she called unsustainable debt burden on Sri Lanka due to non-concessional loans from China.

 That statement was made soon after she visited Colombo for the Indian Ocean Conference (IOC), held at Temple Trees and organized by the India Foundation.  Minister of Commerce and Industry of India, Suresh Prabhakar Prabhu, heads the India Foundation. The Colombo event was not meant, in anyway, to give China an opportunity to promote its strategies at the expense of the growing US, India and Japan military-political cooperation. The event received much attention due to the participation of President Maithripala Sirisena and Ranil Wickremesinghe.

 In Colombo, Wells joined a candlelight vigil at Vihara Mahadevi Park, on Aug 30, to mark the UN Day of the victims of Enforced Disappearances. She was accompanied by US Ambassador in Colombo Atul Keshap. They joined top representatives of the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) that recognized the LTTE as the sole representative of Tamils, way back in 2001.

International media quoted Wells as having told a Congressional Sub Committee: "China is providing non-concessional loans that promote unsustainable debt burdens, which I think are increasingly now of concern to the Sri Lankan people in the government."

"In Sri Lanka, we’re the largest grant provider of assistance. China is providing non-concessional loans that promote unsustainable debt burdens, which I think are increasingly, now of concern to the Sri Lankan people in the government. But what we bring to our relationship are multiple tools."

 Wells conveniently ignored that China had made substantial investments even during the war, including the Hambantota port agreement. Obviously, China had believed in Sri Lanka’s capability to bring the war to a successful conclusion, though the LTTE behaved as if it was invincible. The China-funded Hambantota port construction commenced in January 2008 at a time the Army was still struggling on the Vanni front.

 Those grants are channelled primarily to NGOs working to the US agenda

 Against the backdrop of Wells unwarranted statement, the US military delivered unprecedented advice to the government of Sri Lanka at the 8th edition of the Galle Dialogue, a few days ago.

Rear Admiral Donald D. Gabrielson, of the US Navy, declared, in Colombo, that every country should be cautious when working with China for want of transparency in certain engagements. The Rear Admiral was responding to a query regarding Chinese presence in the region, particularly Sri Lanka.

 The top US official accused China of trying to rearrange the very system from which they were already receiving benefits. Rear Admiral Gabrielson also expressed concern over Chinese One Belt One Road (OBOR) initiative.

Had Sri Lanka failed to defeat the LTTE, in May 2009, perhaps India wouldn’t have had felt the desire to hold the Indian Ocean Conference here. Had the Army suffered a reversal on the Vanni east front, the US wouldn’t have seen the requirement for a special relationship with Sri Lanka, under any circumstances. It would be pertinent to mention that wartime Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa authorized the Army and the Navy to organize annual symposiums, with high level foreign participation, ONLY after the conclusion of the war. Bottom line is that the Galle Dialogue wouldn’t have been a reality had the Army failed on the Vanni east front.

Former President Rajapaksa earned the wrath of the US for thwarting a despicable effort to throw a lifeline to LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran. The US had been prepared to deploy its naval and air assets to evacuate Prabhakaran and other senior cadres, as well as their families. However, Rajapaksa strongly objected to US intervention and ordered the Army to continue with ground operations.

The LTTE was brought to its knees on the morning of May 19, 2009.

Sri Lanka should be always grateful to China for providing arms, ammunition and equipment, as well as critically important diplomatic support, at its hour of need.

Chinese support and interventions prevented Sri Lanka being overwhelmed by Indian sponsored terrorist groups in the 80s and early 90s. The situation gradually changed in the wake of the LTTE assassination of former Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, in May 1991.

LSSP General Secretary, veteran politician Prof. Tissa Vitharana, last week lambasted the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe administration for giving into US influence. Prof. Vitharana asserted that the current US-Sri Lanka partnership was severely inimical to the latter. However, Rajapaksa loyalist, Prof. Vitharana overlooked the fact that the US provided vital intelligence required by the Navy to hunt down four LTTE floating arsenals, sharply upgraded the firepower of Fast Attack Craft (FACs) at critical stages of Eelam War IV (Aug 2006-May 2009).

The US, at the onset of Eelam War IV, sabotaged the LTTE project to acquire advanced surface-to-air anti-aircraft missiles to destroy the country’s precious jet squadrons.

In spite of the US forcing Sri Lanka to accept Geneva Resolution 30/1, prepared on the basis of unproven allegations, Sri Lanka cannot deny the US role in its triumph over the LTTE. Thanks to the US, the best navy Commander Vice Admiral Wasantha Karannagoda received specific intelligence required to hunt down LTTE ships. That was due to Karannagoda’s diplomatic skills rather than any government initiative. Karannagoda will always be remembered for giving unwavering leadership, under extremely difficult conditions.

Many an eyebrow was raised when Rear Admiral Gabrielson spoke ill of China, in Colombo, against the backdrop of US-China disputes at various theaters, especially South China Sea conflict.

In the aftermath of the change of the government, in January 2015, Sri Lanka adopted an anti-China posture with various spokesmen condemning China. The government acted belligerently as if it could do away with all major Chinese investments. A section of the government apparently believed the US would invest here and the subsequent realization of its folly forced Sri Lanka to seek continued Chinese assistance.

Having declared to do away with China’s flagship Port City Project, in the run up to the presidential poll, in January 2015, the government suspended it. The foolish move caused irreparable damage though the project resumed over a year later.

In Oct 2015, the then Finance Minister Ravi Karunanayake appealed for Chinese help. South China Morning Post quoted Karunanayake as having said: "Chinese loans are a big part of our problem. A bulk of the government expenditure goes into servicing them.

"I urge China to put the acrimony of the past behind us and come and help us by adjusting the terms of the loans to make them more viable. We are serious about putting our relationship on the right path and mending the pathetic finances we have inherited from a corrupt regime."

Karunanayake was asked to quit in Aug 2017 in the wake of shocking revelation made at the Presidential Commission of Inquiry (P-CoI) regarding the owner of Perpetual Treasuries, Arjun Aloysius, paying the monthly rental of Monarch Residencies’ penthouse, occupied by the Karunanayake family.

In Nov 2016, Karunanayake’s criticism of Chinese loans triggered an angry response from China’s Ambassador Yi Xianliang. The Chinese diplomat lashed out at the then minister publicly inquiring why Sri Lanka sought more loans if terms and conditions were so bad. Xianliang went to the extent of quoting Karunanayake as having told him of how Sri Lanka had obtained USD 50 mn loan from Europe at a higher interest rate.

The most recent controversy between Sri Lanka and China was over the accusation that the latter disrupted the debate on the lease of the Hambantota port in parliament. Close on the heels of that controversy, Parliament received a huge donation of computers from a Chinese state-run company, China National Corporation for Overseas Economic Cooperation. The donation was received by Speaker Karu Jayasuriya from the Chinese Ambassador in Colombo, Yi Xianliang.

Let me mention how Sri Lanka acquired jets from China in spite of Indian and Western pressure. Air Force on January 1, 1991, established No 5 jet squadron comprising F7s, six months after the LTTE launched Eelam War II. Although the Air Force had sought Chinese manufactured A 5s, capable of carrying a higher payload, external pressure compelled China to provide F7s. Subsequently, Air Force pilots had to be sent to Pakistan to receive training in jet ground attack maneuvers as the Chinese weren’t prepared to share experience and knowledge. The writer received a briefing regarding the Chinese role in Air Force build-up by the then Commander Harsha Abeywickrama, first Commanding Officer of Katunayake-based No 5 squadron.

Abeywickrama recalled how the Air Force had acquired four F7 GS jet interceptors on what he called a soft loan, in June 2007, in the wake of the first LTTE air attack, on the Katunayake air base, in March 2007. But the Chinese interceptors hadn’t been available for missions until January 2008.

In Sept 2007, the Air Force acquired Chinese JY 11 three dimensional radar (3D) though India strongly opposed such deployment years ago.

China provided a range of arms, ammunition, equipment, aircraft, as well as artillery, on loan schemes. Chinese manufactured T-56 remains the standard assault rifle in use among armed forces here.

Unfortunately, the LTTE, too, had received a range of armaments of Chinese origin. The situation has been so bad, the previous government requested China to take tangible measures to prevent the LTTE from acquiring weapons with the help of corrupt officials. Alleged North Korean involvement, too, had been mentioned in that regard. Several LTTE ships hunted down had carried weapons and ammunition of Chinese origin.

Perhaps Rear Admiral Gabrielson is not aware of US interventions at two presidential elections, in January 2010, and January 2015 in a bid to defeat war-winning President Rajapaksa.

 The US has been so keen to remove Rajapaksa; it played the central role in bringing in the TNA into the UNP-led coalition that included the JVP, on both occasions. The US succeeded in its second attempt. The American project to change the Colombo government should be now examined against the backdrop of shocking revelation that both Fonseka and Maithripala Sirisena had contested on the New Democratic Front (NDF) ticket whose leader Shalila Moonasinghe held British citizenship. That wouldn’t have come out if he didn’t receive foreign currency stolen from Taiwan’s Far Eastern International Bank recently.

Former Times of Ceylon journalist Hassina Leelarathna, recently revealed how USAID made available urgently required funds to the tune of US 3.4 mn, to the UNP-led 100-day administration, in the run-up to the August 2015 parliamentary polls. The funds had been meant to provide, what the USAID called, visible support to the newly elected administration. The US made fresh commitments through the USAID in spite of contemplating a lesser role for the agency here a few years ago. The change of US policy is obviously a sign of new post-Rajapaksa era strategy.

US-based Leelarathna, who co-edited with her husband Deeptha, the first Sri Lankan newspaper published in the US, years ago, made the revelation on the basis of information she had obtained from USAID under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). (Former Lankadeepa staffer and the founder editor of Sri Lanka Express Deeptha passed away in late Feb 2006)Accordingly, USD 3.4 mn had been released from Complex Crises Funds (CCF) which was meant to make available USD 40 mn in support of governance, rule of law and economic reform in Sri Lanka.

In addition to USAID funding, it would be interesting to know who had received funds made available by the US under high profile project to promote democracy here. According to State Department financial report for 2016, the US has invested USD 585 mn in 2015 in three countries, including Sri Lanka. Money had been spent by the State Department under the article ‘Democracy, human rights and governance’ – $70 million down from the previous year’sfigure. Although, the report refrained from specifying projects funded by the State Department, former Secretary of State John Kerry wrote in the foreword that "we have supported important democratic gains in Sri Lanka, Nigeria, and Burma."

Kerry also stressed that "in an era of diffuse and networked power, we (the US) are focusing on strengthening partnerships with civil society, citizen movements, faith leaders, entrepreneurs, innovators, and others to promote democracy and good governance and address gender-based violence."

Those who had been demanding transparency, accountability as well as good governance on the part of Sri Lanka should seek clarification from the US Embassy here as regards disbursement of funds for whatever the basis.

The National Election Commission (NEC) shouldn’t turn a blind eye to reports regarding US funding. In fact, the US has funded various projects, including one implemented by Maryland headquartered Development Alternatives Inc. (DAI) meant to reform Sri Lanka’s public sector, in accordance with an agreement between Sri Lanka and the House Democracy Partnership of the US House of Representatives.

Strengthening Democratic Governance and Accountability Project (SDGAP) worth Rs 1.92 bn (USD 13 mn) is first of its kind implemented in Sri Lanka.

DAI operates in Asia, the Pacific, Eastern Europe, Central Asia, Latin America, the Caribbean, West Asia, North Africa as well as Sub-Saharan Africa.

Such high profile projects carried out at US taxpayers’ expense should be studied against the backdrop of current administration delaying local government polls by over two years, put off Provincial Council polls and the probe of mega Central Bank of Sri Lanka-Perpetual Treasuries Limited (PTL) bond scams.

It would be interesting to know whether those funding/implementing SDGAP project had taken up with Speaker Karu Jayasuriya the inordinate delay in government adopting the National Audit Bill, aimed at curbing corruption. They cannot be unaware of strong demands by Auditor General Gamini Wijesinghe and audit trade unions to adopt the National Audit Bill.

They cannot be insensible to members of parliament routinely skipping sessions while receiving a range of perks and privileges. The country was humiliated recently when members skipped special session in spite of Speakers and senior officials from all SAARC countries being invited to attend parliament.

Interesting, nearly 120 members of the current parliament had so far visited China in addition to receiving computers recently. China altogether provided computers for members as well as officials. Speaker Jayasuriya is on record as having said that he requested China to arrange for members to visit the country. Obviously, US funded high profile project has failed, pathetically.

Sri Lanka cannot further delay recognizing its real needs.

Tuesday, 10 October 2017

Country at a crossroads as SLA celebrates 68th anniversary

SPECIAL REPORT : Part 187

 

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As the SLA surrounded the LTTE fighting cadre, on the Vanni east front, India stepped up pressure on President Mahinda Rajapaksa to stop using heavy weapons. Indian Foreign Secretary Shivshankar Menon and Mayankote Kelath Narayanan insisted and secured agreement that compelled President Rajapaksa to direct the SLA to cease using heavy weapons and also suspend air strikes. The US-backed Indian move was meant to save civilians held hostage by retreating LTTE fighting cadre. During the final phase of the offensive, Maj. Gen. Shavendra Silva’s celebrated 58 Division and Maj. Gen. Kamal Gunaratne’s 53 Division fought on the Vanni east front. Fourth battalion of the Vijayabahu Infantry Regiment (VIR) attached to the 53 Division was credited with the killing of Prabhakaran. 4VIR hadn’t been a famous battalion like some of the other formations engaged in the battle. It was however lucky to bag Prabhakaran at the conclusion of the offensive, which involved five infantry divisions (57, 58, 59, 53 and 55) plus Task Forces. During January-May 19, 2009, the SLA lost nearly 2,500 personnel. The SLA could have minimized losses if it had deployed heavy weapons and jets without taking civilian factor into consideration. A few years after the conclusion of the war, a confidential US diplomatic cable sent from its Geneva mission to State Department included the following statement: "In fact, the army actually could have won the military battle faster with higher civilian casualties, yet chose a slower approach which led to a greater number of Sri Lankan military deaths."

That statement was based on a meeting the then US Ambassador to Geneva, Clint Williamson, had with Jacques de Maio, ICRC’s head of operations for South Asia, on July 15, 2009.

Would you believe the SLA, Foreign Ministry or any other ministry never exploited that US statement. They never bothered to examine Wiki Leaks cables pertaining to Sri Lanka until President Rajapaksa expanded the scope of the Paranagama Commission to include foreign experts. Unfortunately, that decision was taken in July 2014, six years after the conclusion of the war. Due to grave omissions on the part of the SLA / previous administration, the country paid a very stiff price. Sri Lanka was deprived of proper defence, much to the disappointment of the armed forces.

By Shamindra Ferdinando


Sri Lanka Army (SLA) celebrated its 68th anniversary yesterday (Oct 10) in the wake of the country celebrating 70 years of parliamentary democracy.

Under the auspices of Lt. Gen. Mahesh Senanayake, the SLA organised a series of religious events, with the focus on the traditional flag blessing ceremony, at Sri Maha Bodhi, Anuradhapura, to invoke blessings on formations.

Senanayake’s return to the SLA, in time for the 68th anniversary celebrations is a grim reminder of the events leading to the late 2009 split, following Sri Lanka’s triumph over terrorism.

It would be pertinent to examine the SLA’s role in preserving parliamentary democracy by defeating two Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) led insurgencies in April 1971 and 1987-1990 and the LTTE in May 2009, as it celebrated its 9th post-war anniversary. The SLA spearheaded all three campaigns. For the SLA, defeating the JVP, which comprised almost 100 per cent Sinhala Buddhists and in spite of it (SLA) also being overwhelmingly Sinhala Buddhist is not a simple achievement. The JVP never managed to influence the SLA, particularly the fighting formations though, at the onset of its second insurgency, the Marxist group believed a substantial section would switch their allegiance. Instead, the SLA butchered the JVP.

Rajarata Rifles mutiny in the early 80s shook the SLA. However, in the wake of that roughly dealt situation, the SLA raised the First Battalion of the celebrated Gajaba Regiment by amalgamating a section of Rajarata Rifles officers and men with Vijayabahu Infantry Regiment.

During the deployment of the Indian Army (July 1987-March 1990) under the Indo-Lanka Accord, the SLA was confined to barracks. The LTTE went on the rampage in the eastern Trincomalee District soon after that while the SLA was confined to barracks. Indian Army blocked entry/exit points of SLA bases.

During direct negotiations, between President Ranasinghe Premadasa and the LTTE (May 1989-June 1990), there had been a tacit understanding between the LTTE and the SLA to enable the former to hunt down rival Tamil groups. The LTTE killed several hundred members of the Tamil National Army (TNA), established by India soon before Varatharaja Perumal’s North East administration collapsed. At President Premadasa’s behest, the SLA also provided arms, ammunition and equipment to the LTTE. Premadasa provided millions of rupees to the LTTE as part of his efforts to strengthen the group. In June, 1990, it was the SLA turn to be at the receiving end. Within days after the resumption of Eelam War II that month, the SLA lost the overland route to Jaffna. SLA couldn’t regain the road until January 2009.

In spite of setbacks, in some instances with massive loss of lives and equipment (example July 1996 overrunning of Mullaitivu base), the SLA retained offensive capability.

There had been shocking lapses on the part of the SLA that caused heavy losses. Debacles at Pooneryn (Nov 1993), Mullaitivu (July 1996) and collapse of the entire Vanni east front in late 1999 were caused by lapses on the part of the SLA. Only in the case of Pooneryn, the then Army Chief Lt. Gen. Cecil Waidyaratne took responsibility and quit.

There had been excesses in all three campaigns. There is absolutely no point in denying the SLA had committed atrocities. For want of the previous government’s refusal to inquire into alleged atrocities, as well as unsubstantiated war crimes allegations, Sri Lanka is under international scrutiny.

The LTTE infiltrated the SLA at various levels. The failed attempt on the then Lt. Gen. Sarath Fonseka was made in late April 2006 with inside help. Investigators identified the Army’ chief’s cook as the LTTE’s conduit. The suspect subsequently committed suicide while in the custody of the Terrorist Investigation Division (TID).

The SLA-led offensive action resulted in the Vanni east front being blamed for causing the deaths of over 40,000 people, thousands of disappearances and systematic and continuing abuse of Tamil civilians. For want of a cohesive plan and the failure on the part of the previous administration, the SLA pathetically failed to address accountability issues. Sri Lanka’s defence has been so weak, it couldn’t even exploit vast discrepancy in figures quoted by the UN, Amnesty International and various others, including the British parliament.

Had the SLA failed, the JVP and the LTTE would have definitely succeeded. However, achieving success by itself wouldn’t have been possible under any circumstances. The SLA battlefield and counter-insurgency accomplishments should be examined taking into consideration significant contributions made by the Navy and the Air Force, as well as the Police.

SLA brought Jaffna under its control in Dec 1995. It was certainly its biggest achievement until successful conclusion of the Vanni campaign (March 2007-May 2009).

During the war against the LTTE, the SLA also suffered debilitating battlefield losses and massive reversals which threatened to disintegrate the country. The SLA faced its worst crisis, in April 2000, in the wake of the shocking defeat at Elephant Pass. The failure on the part of the fully fledged 54 Division to thwart a sustained LTTE offensive shocked the nation. The situation had been so bad, the then President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga sought Indian intervention to evacuate the SLA from the Jaffna peninsula. Had India consented to Kumaratunga’s desperate plea, Eelam would have been granted and the country divided on ethnic lines.

But 19 years after the Elephant Pass debacle, the SLA achieved what Western powers, India and the vast majority of Sri Lankans believed not possible. In fact, in the third week of Dec 2008, Canada-based veteran political analyst, D.B.S. Jeyaraj, who had been with The Island when this writer joined the editorial, in June 1987, asserted the LTTE could force the SLA to reverse. Within two weeks, after Jeyaraj’s prediction, the SLA brought Prabhakaran’s administrative center Kilinochchi under its control.

Unfortunately, the parliament at least failed to mention the immense sacrifices made by the SLA in special session on Oct 3 to mark 70 years of parliamentary democracy. Among those special invitees were representatives from India, responsible for causing terrorism here, and ‘all weather friend’ Pakistan. The SLA throughout the war received Pakistan support. The SLA immensely benefited by Pakistani training which was crucial to its overall buildup.

The SLA brought the war to an end on the morning of May 19, 2009 on the banks of the Nanthikadal lagoon when troops recovered LTTE leader Prabhakaran’s body following a gunfight.

But, sadly, the eradication of terrorism didn’t result in peace and stability the people desired. Soon after the combined armed forces had defeated the LTTE’s conventional military challenge, sharp differences emerged among members of war-winning President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s team.

Simmering hostility between Fonseka and Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, one-time Commanding Officer of the IGR (First Battalion Gajaba Regiment) sent shock waves through the establishment. Their battle disheartened vast majority of Sri Lankans, who realized the immense contribution made by them in Eelam War IV.

President Rajapaksa wouldn’t have expected a political challenge, under any circumstances, from Sinha Regiment veteran Fonseka. Seasoned politician Rajapaksa wouldn’t have expected any political arrangement between Fonseka, whom the UNP despised at that time, and UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe. But, Fonseka and the UNP reached an accord much to the surprise of the Rajapaksas. Many an eyebrow was raised when they also received the blessings of the JVP that had been twice crushed by the SLA. The JVP conveniently forgot how the SLA had killed its beloved leader Rohana Wijeweera and wiped out hundreds of cadres. Having accused the SLA of massacring thousands of Tamils during the conflict, especially during fighting on the Vanni east front, in early 2009, the TNA, too, threw its weight behind Fonseka, at the behest of the US. Thanks to whistle-blowing wiki leaks, the US role in forming the coalition that had unsuccessfully campaigned for Rajapaksa’s ouster in January 2010 is well known. Common presidential candidate Fonseka, too, forgot how the TNA contributed to terrorism since its formation by Prabhakaran in late 2001. Veteran politician R. Sampanthan, having recognized Prabhakaran as the sole representative of the Tamils during the war, urged his people to exercise their franchise in support of Fonseka, within a year after the SLA killed the LTTE leader.

Unprecedented political crisis ruined the war-winning Army. Swift change of command in July 2009, with wartime Security Forces Commander, Vanni, the then Maj. Gen. Jagath Jayasuriya taking over the 200,000 SLA caused dismay among some sections. The then government resorted to measures to dilute Fonseka’s hold though he was named the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS). Fonseka quit in late 2009 to contest the presidential election, an unthinkable situation made possible by the LTTE’s eradication. Fonseka, having been fully occupied with the war, didn’t even bother to register himself as a voter hence his inability to exercise franchise at the presidential poll, where he was the common opposition candidate.

In spite of a general belief that the SLA would back Fonseka at the presidential, it didn’t materialize leading to his heavy defeat, though Sampanthan delivered the northern and eastern electorates to the war hero. Fonseka contested under the Swan symbol.

Having suffered defeat at the presidential, Fonseka, had no option but to contest the parliamentary polls in 2010 on the Democratic National Alliance (DNA) ticket. The DNA, under Fonseka’s leadership secured five seats, including two National List slots. Influential businessman Tiran Alles filled one of the NL slots while the JVP obtained the other seat. Elected members included Fonseka and former national cricket captain Arjuna Ranatunga.

The UNP’s refusal to contest the general election, under the Swan symbol, prompted the JVP to contest under the Swan symbol.

Perhaps, the SLA’s most humiliating experience was the arrest of Fonseka soon after his defeat at the presidential poll. Then he was deprived of his parliamentary seat. But, Fonseka, himself, had caused massive damage in the run-up to the presidential poll. The Sunday Leader quoted Fonseka as having alleged that wartime Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa ordered surrendering LTTE cadres executed on the Vanni east front, in May 2009. Fonseka repeated the allegation at Ratnapura, soon thereafter.

The then Maj. Gen. Mahesh Senanayake was one of those who had been at the receiving end due to his alleged loyalty to Fonseka. Having fled the country, in the wake of Fonseka’s defeat, Senanayake returned soon after President Rajapaksa’s failure to secure a third term, in January 2015. Reinstated, Senanayake succeeded Lt. Gen. Crishanthe de Silva last August. Senanayake received public appreciation, when he declared that he wasn’t a political victim. The Special Forces officer declared in no uncertain terms that he didn’t engage in politics for him to be politically victimized. Senanayake proved his mettle again when he publicly urged now Field Marshal Fonseka not to issue statements at the expense of the SLA. The SLA Chief made unexpected intervention close on the heels of the damaging battle between Fonseka and Gen. Jagath Jayasuriya, who received the backing of the Joint Opposition and various nationalist organizations.

Their ‘battle’ centered on Gen. Jayasuriya’s war time conduct as Security Forces Commander, Vanni. Although, Gen. Jayasuriya had never commanded fighting formations deployed on the Vanni front, Fonseka’s allegation that crimes were committed under Jayasuriya’s watch received media attention with interested parties exploiting the situation.

The war-winning SLA had pathetically failed to address accountability issues, thereby causing a situation extremely inimical to Sri Lanka. Overall failure of political and SLA leadership finally led to the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe coalition, in Sep 2015, to sponsor Resolution 30/1 at the Geneva-based Human Rights Council. Based on that Resolution, Western powers, through former Jordanian diplomat, Zeid bin Ra’ad al Hussein prescribed in June 2016, a new Constitution for Sri Lanka. The Jordanian, in no uncertain terms called for a new Constitution, subject to a referendum. Obviously, the Geneva prescription is also acceptable to the TNA and those elements who had strongly believed in the LTTE’s prowess until the very end.

Can there be anything as unfortunate as Sri Lanka’s victory over terrorism paving the way for a division of the country on ethnic lines?

Eradication of the LTTE, finally, has restored the Illankai Thamil Arasu Kadchi (ITAK) led TNA status as the dominant Tamil grouping. TNA leader Sampanthan last week reiterated his call for re-merger of the Eastern and Northern Provinces when he met the UK Minister of State for Asia and Pacific, Mark Field at Westminster House, Colombo.

Sampanthan’s call is all part of the overall strategy meant to create an autonomous region in an area covering eight administrative districts. As Sri Lanka celebrated 70 years of parliamentary democracy and SLA’s 68th anniversary, post-war Sri Lanka is at cross roads with the fate of its unitary status under  serious threat. The emerging threat is far bigger than the conventional military challenge posed by the LTTE. The TNA is applying pressure on the government, both in and out of parliament. In parliament, the TNA works closely with the government to ensure stability. Recently, the TNA voted for the controversial Provincial Council Elections (Amendment) Act to provide a two-thirds majority required for its passage. Its passage, in contravention of the Supreme Court ruling, meant to thwart the government’s Provincial Council polls delaying project, dealt a deadly blow to democracy.

Those who had been worried about good governance during the previous administration conveniently turned a blind eye to what was happening for obvious reasons. They are certainly of the view Local Government and Provincial Council polls can undermine their primary objective, namely a new Constitution with federal features.

Although there are policy differences between the Northern Province Chief Minister C.V. Wigneswaran and the Colombo based TNA leadership, the former is relentlessly pushing for further reduction of the SLA in the Jaffna peninsula as well as the Vanni region. In case Sri Lanka amalgamated the two provinces, the TNA leadership will certainly take up the SLA deployment in the entire region. Can Sri Lanka subject deployment of her armed forces to the dictates of a political grouping that once represented the interests of the LTTE, both in and outside parliament?

The writer recently sought an explanation from former Supreme Court judge Wigneswaran as to his strong opposition to the SLA presence in the North. Wigneswaran suggested that government pulled out the SLA entirely from the Northern Province to pave the way for an enhanced police presence. Wigneswaran alleged that the SLA was maintaining an overbearing presence. The Chief Minister’s statement should be examined against the backdrop of Zeid bin Ra’ad al Hussein‘s declaration in Colombo. At the conclusion of the visit, the Jordanian said that the size of the military forces in the North and the East could be reduced to a level that is less intrusive and intimidating as a first step in security reforms.

In the name of security reforms, recommended by Geneva, a section of the international community had taken punitive measures against senior SLA officers. Australia found fault with Gajaba Regiment veteran Maj. Gen. Chagi Gallage for commanding the 59 Division on the Vanni east front. On the basis of that Division being involved in the Vanni offensive, Australia turned down Gallage’s visa request. Australia simply ignored the fact that none of the allegations had been proved in a court of law or at least thoroughly examined. But Australia had never been bothered when Australian Adele Balasingham and her husband Anton Balasingham, British passport holder and LTTE theoretician, promoted terrorism.

The UK based Balsinghams supervised LTTE’s unbridled terror in Sri Lanka. The UK or any other country, or those well-funded civil society organization, never bothered to raise the issue publicly. They remained silent even after the LTTE assassinated Sri Lankan Foreign Minister, Lakshman Kadirgamar in Aug 2005. Balasingham, who had been a British High Commission employee, in Colombo, enjoyed special status in the UK during the conflict. Years later, a leaked US diplomatic cable revealed how top Norwegian diplomats met Balasingham in London to discuss implications of Kadirgamar’s assassination. Today, Mrs Balasingham, who had encouraged the use of child soldiers against the SLA, lives peacefully in the UK.

Tuesday, 3 October 2017

Celebrating parliamentary democracy Sri Lankan way

SPECIAL REPORT : Part 186

 

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By Shamindra Ferdinando

Provincial Councils and Local Government Minister Faiszer Musthapha, (UPFA, National List MP), recently declared that out of 225 MPs less than 50 actively participated in parliamentary work.

 Parliament comprises 196 elected members and 29 appointed on the often abused National List.

 Musthapha didn’t mince his words when he asserted that the vast majority of members were there only to enjoy a range of perks and privileges available to them.

 The current parliament comprises 106 members elected on the UNP ticket, one on the SLMC ticket (some SLMC members were elected on the UNP ticket), 95 UPFA, 16 Tamil National Alliance (TNA) and six JVP. Of the 95 elected on the UPFA ticket, 55 members, including former President Mahinda Rajapaksa, functions as an independent group, dubbed the Joint Opposition (JO).

 UPFA member Musthapha, representing the SLFP group in parliament, loyal to President Maithripala Sirisena, emphasized that it was the responsibility of the electorate to ensure efficient, educated and active men and women represented them in parliament. The minister took up the position that the electorate should take up the responsibility for the men and women elected to parliament.

 The SLFPer was responding to Sirasa Pathikada host Bandula Jayasekera on Sept. 25, 2017. Asked whether Minister Mustapha was satisfied with the performance of female members of the current parliament, the politician emphasized that less than 50 men and women members functioned responsibly in parliament.

 Musthapha said that some members were there to have cake. Obviously, Mustapha considered himself an active parliamentarian, one among the less than 50 strong group.

The SLFPer urged the electorate not to choose handsome men and beautiful women, sportsmen et al to serve them.

 Parliamentary attendance has been shocking with members routinely skipping sessions. In May last year, during a vote on a supplementary estimate was taken it was revealed that out of the 225 members, only 62 were present. Some of those who had been missing were at a posh cinema on the invitation of Deputy Speaker Tilanga Sumathipala for the screening of a new film Paththini.

 Sri Lanka’s celebration of 70 years of parliamentary democracy, on Oct 3, should be examined against the backdrop of Musthapha’s damning statement regarding the conduct of his colleagues. Controversial declaration, in response to Jayasekera’s query, is nothing but an indictment of those who had neglected their responsibilities in spite of receiving a range of perks and privileges at the taxpayers’ expense.

 Each Member of parliament is entitled to a pension at the conclusion of just one term in parliament and also enjoys the right to accommodate spouses, children and other relatives on their staff. Members also receive special benefits. Puttalam District MP Milroy Fernando secured the release of his wife convicted of murder with President Rajapaksa’s intervention. The then President released the woman on the international’s women’s day. Among those released with her were two Indian women arrested on a heroin smuggling charge.

JRJ pardoned Gonawela Sunil after he was convicted of abducting and raping the daughter of a doctor from Ward Place. Premadasa pardoned several terrorists and even convicted ones, including Maradana bomber Daniels.

 Musthapha also claimed that politicians were the most selfish category of people in Sri Lanka.

A special session was held yesterday (Oct. 3) to mark the 70th anniversary of Parliament. President Maithripala Sirisena participated at the session amidst simmering political turmoil over the recent passage of the Provincial Council (Amendment) Bill at the expense of the Supreme Court ruling. The JO has flayed Speaker Karu Jayasuriya over what veteran MP Dinesh Gunawardena called shameless way the Bill was endorsed in parliament with a two-thirds majority.

 The decision of former Chief Justice Sarath Nanda Silva to file a fundamental rights petition in the Supreme Court, citing as respondents Attorney General Jayantha Jayasuriya, Speaker Jayasuriya and head of the National Elections Commission (NEC) Mahinda Deshapriya, challenging the Provincial Council Election (Amendment) Act, highlighted the developing crisis. There had never been a previous instance of a former CJ filing a fundamental rights petition against the passage of a Bill. Obviously, political parties and civil society should examine the developing situation in the wake of Speaker Jayasuriya declaration that Sri Lanka was able to continue parliamentary democracy for 70 years in spite of many obstacles, including two failed military coup attempts in 1960, youth unrest in 1971, 1989 and the 30-year-old war.

 Eight years after the successful conclusion of the war, on the banks of the Nanthikadal lagoon, Sri Lanka is at crossroads with sharp differences over ongoing attempts to introduce a new constitution. The constitutional making process is in turmoil with even the ruling coalition members, the UNP and the SLFP, unable to reach an understanding on some crucial matters. The JO, too, has been divided with the National Freedom Front (NFF) withdrawing from the constitution making process in the wake of the top JO leadership turning down a NFF leader Wimal Weerawansa’s request to it to quit the process.

 Parliament cannot ignore the developing crisis as failure to address contentious issues will certainly cause chaos. President Maithripala Sirisena on Friday (Sept. 29) claimed that he hadn’t yet seen a copy of the interim committee report on the new draft constitution which was presented to parliament on Sept. 21. Addressing a group of monks, President Sirisena reassured the nation that he had received an assurance from constitutional affairs expert, UNP National List MP Dr. Jayampathy Wickramaratne, that the interim report didn’t undermine Sri Lanka’s unitary status or sought to abolish privilege status of Buddhism. President Sirisena said he asked Dr. Jayampathy whether he was telling the truth.

President Sirisena’s claim has underscored the pathetic failure of the current system.

 Dr. Wickramaratne last Sunday (Oct. 1) responded to President Sirisena’s statement when the issue was brought up by The Island at a special media briefing called by the government to explain the ongoing constitution making process.

 How can the executive head of a government, deprived of an opportunity to study the most vital document placed before parliament since the introduction of the 1978 constitution, be justified under any circumstances.  

 Parliament, as well as senior SLFPers engaged in the constitutional making process cannot remain silent in the wake of President Sirisena’s accusation. They should explain the lapse on their part to consult President Sirisena or face the consequences.

The crisis over constitution making process should be studied against the backdrop of Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) calling for a new constitution.

Let me reproduce verbatim what UN Human Rights Commissioner, Zeid-Hussein, stated in his June 28, 2016 address, in Geneva:

* Significant momentum has been achieved in the process of constitutional reform. On 10 March 2016, Parliament adopted a resolution establishing a constitutional assembly to draft and approve a new constitution or amendments by the end of 2016, which would then be put to a referendum in 2017. The drafting process has benefited from an inclusive public consultation process overseen by a Public Representations Committee that received submissions and held district level consultations in the first quarter of 2016.

 * From a human rights perspective, the constitutional reform process presents an important opportunity to rectify structural deficiencies that contributed to human rights violations and abuses in the past and reinforce guarantees of non-recurrence. These could include a more comprehensive Bill of Rights, stronger institutional checks and balances, enhanced constitutional review, improved guarantees for the independence of the judiciary, effective individual complaints mechanisms and greater direct enforceability of international human rights treaty. Also, as demonstrated by other countries’ experience, is the strengthening of civilian oversight over the military in the form of multiple oversight and accountability mechanisms over defence policy, discipline and promotion, budgeting and procurement. The new Constitution will also be important in facilitating the establishment of the transitional justice mechanisms envisaged by the Government, for instance the criminalization of international crimes in national law or allowing for the involvement of international judicial personnel. At the same time, the High Commissioner hopes that the political process of adopting constitutional changes will not involve tradeoffs and compromises on core issues of accountability, transitional justice and human rights (emphasis mine).

As current parliament celebrated 70 years of parliamentary democracy, the former Jordanian diplomat Zeid-Hussein has reminded us again that tradeoffs and compromises, on core issues of accountability, transitional justice and human rights, weren’t acceptable to the international community.

Political parties and civil society should make a genuine and honest attempt to examine the entire gamut of issues, both pre/post-conflict, and address them without playing politics at the expense of the vast majority of people trying to make ends meet.

Sri Lanka survived two southern insurgencies spearheaded by the JVP and the 30-year war, caused by neighbour India adding fuel to the fire by training and arming Tamil extremists to launch a guerrilla war initially. Sri Lanka crushed the two JVP uprisings in April 1971, and 1987-1990 with the execution of its leader Rohana Wijeweera after being captured and tortured. Wijeweera was executed in Nov 1989. War against the LTTE was brought to an end with the killing of its leader Velupillai Prabhakaran in May 2009.

 The JVP, the LTTE and the TELO (Tamil Eelam Liberation Organization) killed nearly 50 members of parliament.

 Prime Minister S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike however was the first member of parliament to die at the hands of an assassin, Talduwe Somarama thera on Sept 26, 1959. The assassin was hanged on July 7, 1962. Bandaranaike’s assassination paved the way for his widow  Sirimavo’s entry into politics. Over the years, LTTE assassinations resulted in many widows entering politics. The last to enter parliament following her husband’s assassination was Dr. Sudarshini Fernandopulle. Vijayakala Maheswaran, who had entered parliament in 2010 in the wake of her husband UNP MP T. Maheswaran’s assassination in January 2008, is under fire for intervening on behalf of a person sentenced to death for Vidya killing.

 As we celebrated 70 years of parliamentary democracy, the country should remember them in a meaningful way. Then, there had been allegations directed at the previous SLFP-led administration in respect of the assassination of TNA MP Nadarajah Raviraj on the morning of Nov 10, 2006. The killing that took place, about a year into the Rajapaksa presidency, drew international condemnation. The then administration was accused of killing attorney-at-law Raviraj and his police bodyguard Sergeant Lakshman Lokuwella. Although G.G. (Kumar) Ponnambalam Jr. never had the opportunity to represent parliament, his assassination, on January 5, 2000, during CBK’s presidency, dealt a massive blow to parliamentary democracy. Outspoken lawyer and leader of All Ceylon Tamil Congress, Ponnambalam contested Jaffna district at the 1977 parliamentary election, as an independent, after the TULF declined to accommodate him on its nomination list. Ponnambalam made another unsuccessful bid to enter parliament, from the Colombo electoral district, at the Aug 1994 polls.

 Today, the JVP that had been responsible for many deaths, including those members of parliament assassinated during the second insurgency, as well as former Indian sponsored terrorist groups, TELO, PLOTE and EPRLF represented parliament. The JVP entered parliament in 1994. Today, the party has been split into three with Anura Kumara Dissanayake, Wimal Weerawansa and Kumar Gunaratnam (Noel Mudalige) heading them.

 The JVP carried out a grenade attack on a UNP parliamentary group within parliament on the morning of Aug 18, 1987. Matara District MP Keerthi Abeywickrema died in the grenade explosion, though the intended targets, president JRJ and PM Ranasinghe Premadasa survived. Had they perished, the outcome of the second insurgency could have been different. Would democracy have survived if the UNP succumbed to JVP terror, amidst turmoil in the country over the deployment of the Indian Army in the Northern and Eastern Provinces, in accordance with an agreement forced on Sri Lanka?

Indian intervention here transformed low level northern conflict to a war that at one point threatened to destroy the entire country. India’s creation the LTTE killed members of parliament and former members of parliament with impunity. The last politician to die in an LTTE suicide attack was MP and Minister Jeyaraj Fernandopulle. The LTTE assassinated him on April 6, 2008, at Weliweriya, at a time the Army was still struggling on the Vanni front.

The LTTE also assassinated Indian lawmaker and former PM Rajiv Gandhi in May 1991, over a year after the Indian Army pulled out of Sri Lanka. Gandhi’s widow, Sonia entered active politics 1997.

The military brought the war to a successful conclusion in May 2009.

PLOTE Member of Parliament, Dharmalingham Siddarthan is on record as having alleged that the TELO of killing his father, Jaffna District TULF MP Dharmalingham, and colleague, Jaffna District MP Alalasundaram in Aug 1985. Siddarthan alleged India’s premier intelligence agency, the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) ordered Jaffna assassinations to weaken the party. Siddarthan alleged that RAW wanted two more Jaffna MPs assassinated though the assassins didn’t carry out the order. Siddarthan dealt with RAW-led assassinations in a comprehensive interview with the writer, way back in 1997.

Interestingly, today, the TELO, PLOTE and EPRLF are coalition members of the TNA, led by Illankai Thamil Arasu Kadchi (ITAK) that fully cooperated with the LTTE, until the very end of the eelam war IV.

 Prabhakaran formed the TNA in late 2001 to represent its interests in parliament and the group faithfully served its master and made every effort to save the monster as the armed forces relentlessly pursued him on the Vanni east front. Thanks to President Rajapaksa’s resolute political leadership, Sri Lanka sustained the offensive until Prabhakaran was killed.

Parliament never took any notice of a damning European Union report that blamed the TNA of securing the lion’s share of seats in the Northern and Eastern electoral districts at the April 2004 general with direct assistance of the LTTE. Parliament was not bothered. TULF leader V. Anandasangaree’s attempts to bring the EU report to the government’s attention, through statements given to The Island were in vain. The Colombo-based NGO community, too, turned a blind eye to the EU report though the writer, on several occasions raised the issue. The Rajapaksa administration hadn’t been interested in inquiring into the TNA-LTTE partnership. The Election Department, too, acted as if it wasn’t concerned. Parliament or the Election Department (now called the National Election Secretariat established in accordance with the 19 Amendment to the Constitution) never discussed the EU report.

Since late 2001, TNA nominations, in respect of parliamentary polls, had to be cleared by the LTTE. The situation remained the same even after Batticaloa-Ampara cadres, led by one-time LTTE commander Karuna, quit the organization in early 2004. During eelam war IV, President Rajapaksa accommodated Karuna on the National List and subsequently made him Minister of National Integration. Karuna received the ministerial appointment two months before the conclusion of the war.

The PLOTE almost succeeded in assassinating Maldivian President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, in early Nov 1988. Had the PLOTE succeeded, Indian trained terrorists would have received the notoriety for killing politicians from three SAARC (South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation) countries. Today, India had conveniently forgotten what its murderous foreign policy resulted in the region plunging into turmoil. No less a person than former Indian High Commissioner in Colombo, Foreign Secretary and National Security Advisor J.N. Dixit in his memoirs Makers of India’s Foreign Policy: Raja Ram Mohun Roy to Yashwant Sinha launched in 2004 acknowledged Indian military intervention in Sri Lanka as one of the two foreign policy blunders committed by Indira Gandhi.

President Maithripala Sirisena, too, has been targeted by the LTTE at least on three occasions. In a strange twist of events, the TNA, that once represented the LTTE’s interest in parliament, threw its weight behind the UNP-backed common candidate Sirisena at the January 2015 presidential polls. It was a calculated move to facilitate the Western powers-led project meant to introduce a new Constitution, in the guise of addressing accountability issues.

Parliament should also examine the circumstances under which the TNA, while being in parliament, ordered the Tamil community, in Nov 2005, not to exercise their franchise in support of Mahinda Rajapaksa or Ranil Wickremesinghe. The directive issued on behalf of the LTTE was clearly meant to deprive Wickremesinghe of the Tamil vote. The LTTE-TNA combine, thus ensured Rajapaksa’s victory, in a move calculated to plunge the country into an all-out war. The LTTE-TNA achieved their objective but the government turned the tables on the LTTE.

The Rajapaksa brothers, Mahinda, Gotabhaya and Basil, Lt. Gen. Fonseka, Vice Admiral Wasantha Karannagoda, Air Marshal Roshan Gunatilleke and intelligence services, under the overall leadership of Maj. Gen. Kapila Hendavitharana, brought the LTTE to its knees within three years. In January, 2010, the then, US Ambassador in Colombo, Patricia Butenis, in a confidential diplomatic cable to, State Department, called the Rajapaksa brothers and Gen. Fonseka war criminals. Thanks to Wikileaks, the world had been made aware how the US, clandestinely worked hard to form a coalition to back Fonseka’s candidature at the January 2010 presidential polls, while calling him a war criminal.

Parliament was never unanimous in its support for a military campaign. There had been efforts, both in and outside parliament, to undermine the military campaign. During the war, scurrilous attempts were made to defeat the budget. The project was meant to bring the war to an end, thereby save the LTTE. Once, SLFP heavyweight Dallus Alahapperuma claimed, at an UPFA media briefing, that some members were even offered foreign prostitutes in a bid to influence them.

The controversial circumstances under which the Provincial Council Election (Amendment) Act came into being late last month underscored the need to examine the role of parliament. Those who had wielded power abused parliament to achieve their political objectives. Impeachment of Chief Justice Dr Shirani Bandaranayake, at the behest of President Rajapaksa, certainly discredited parliament. Introduction of the 18 Amendment to pave the way for Rajapaksa to contest the presidential poll a third time in January 2015, dealt a heavy blow to parliamentary democracy. Messrs Dew Gunasekera and Prof. Rajiva Wijesinhe were the only MPs who had the backbone not to vote for the 18 Amendment. All those SLFPers, including President Maithripala Sirisena, voted for the 18 Amendment that subsequently contributed to Rajapaksa’s eventual downfall.

Constitutional provisions to accommodate defeated candidates in parliament, through their respective National Lists, too, contributed to the deterioration of the standards. Once, President Kumaratunga named Mervyn Silva’s wife as a National List MP while Mervyn contested the general election. Then the defeated candidate was accommodated through the National List slot of his wife.

As Sri Lanka celebrated 70 years of parliamentary democracy, provision to make National List appointments had been challenged in the Supreme Court by attorney-at-law and public litigation activist, Nagananda Kodituwakku. Kodituwakku has challenged the appointment of defeated candidates on the basis of what he called an Amendment smuggled in by President JRJ in contravention of what was decided by the Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC), headed by the then Prime Minister Ranasinghe Premadasa.

 Minister Musthapha’s declaration that less than 50 MPs actually participated in parliamentary proceedings should be examined against the backdrop of perks and privileges afforded to them. Over the years, MPs had been allowed to sell super luxury vehicles, imported on duty free permits, provided by the parliament (members of current parliament received duty free exemptions up to Rs 30 mn each), but thanks to lawyer Nagananda Kodituwakku cleverly using the Right to Information (RTI) introduced by the government, the massive abuse of duty free vehicle permit scheme is in public domain. Kodituwakku made available all data pertaining to MPs receiving massive tax exemptions to The Island. Although all MPs hadn’t sold their vehicles, a sizable number did so and their identities are in the public domain. In fact, Kodituwakku had moved the Supreme Court against the CIABOC over its failure to take action as soon as vehicle abuse was brought to its notice over a year ago.

Political parties should examine allegations directed at its members regardless of their standing in the society. The number of MPs facing corruption charges is astonishing though their respective parties conveniently turn a blind eye to this pathetic situation. In addition to serious accusations, faced by members of the previous administration, the Central Bank-Perpetual Treasuries Ltd bond scams revealed dubious conduct of several members of the UNP. The revelation, before the Presidential Commission of Inquiry (CoI), the circumstances under which former Finance Minister Ravi Karunanayake penthouse rent was paid by the owner of PTL, Arjuna Aloysius, shocked the country. Aloysius’ decision not to give evidence before the CoI made matters worse, though the CoI admitted the entrepreneur exercised his right. There have been allegations in respect of some UNP MPs of the COPE that investigated alleged bond scams. The fact that PTL CEO Kasun Palisena’s admission that Aloysius deceived COPE should not be ignored by parliament. Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe’s name transpired in last Monday’s proceedings when former CB Governor Arjuna Mahendran was questioned. Names of UNP Chairman and Minister Kabir Hashim, Minister Malik Samarawickrema and MP Ravi Karunanayake, too, had transpired, thus compelling parliament to examine the issue further.

 As the government proudly celebrated 70 years of parliamentary democracy it would be pertinent to inquire into what lapses on the part of parliament, such as failure to ensure the government responded to questions raised by Opposition members.

Parliament should be mindful of the fact that the JO has declared war on Speaker Jayasuriya over the passage of Provincial Council Elections (Amendment) Act.

 The JHU’s entry into parliament following April 2004 general election can be considered a significant development. The JHU secured nine seats in its first attempt. Although, all of its candidates had been Buddhist monks at that time, over the years, the party suffered due to various conflicts. Today, JHU senior, Ven. Athureliye Rathana thera, having been appointed on the UNP National List, functions as an independent member whereas another JHU stalwart Udaya Gammanpila ended up with the JO loyal to Mahinda Rajapaksa.

 Let me end this piece by reminding a case involving UNP MP. UNPer Range Bandara, formerly of the police and another person (Jagath Kumara Liyanage) were recently acquitted following a lengthy case in respect of a fraudulent transaction allegedly committed in 2002. Bandara is certainly not the only beneficiary.

Wednesday, 27 September 2017

Why Geneva wants new Constitution to address accountability issues?

SPECIAL REPORT : Part 185

 

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By Shamindra Ferdinando

President Maithripala Sirisena’s meeting with UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid bin Ra’ad Zeid-Hussein, on Sept 22, 2017, on the sidelines of the 72 United Nations General Assembly (UNGA), underscored Sri Lanka’s pathetic failure to counter a high profile propaganda project that brought about Geneva Resolution 30/1, on Oct 1, 2015.

Sri Lanka created history by co-sponsoring a resolution against itself in spite of it being severely inimical to its interests. The unprecedented resolution has paved the way for a new Constitution, in addition to implementing four specific measures meant to address accountability issues, namely (1) a judicial mechanism with a Special Counsel to investigate allegations of violations and abuses of human rights and violations of international human rights law (2) A Commission for truth, justice, reconciliation and non-recurrence (3) An Office for Missing Persons (OMP) and finally (4) An Office for reparations.

In support of the OMP, that has been established, the government intended to introduce the Enforced Disappearances Bill, though President Sirisena, before leaving for UNGA, stayed it from being debated in parliament, on Sept 21.

Had Sri Lanka succeeded in thwarting the Geneva project, President Sirisena wouldn’t have had to meet Zeid-Hussein in New York. The Geneva Resolution facilitated the Western powers’ led project meant to undermine post-war stability in Sri Lanka. Sadly, our political parties hadn’t realized how Western powers and India had set in motion a mega political project to change Sri Lanka’s Constitution in response to still unproven war crimes allegations.

Although war crimes allegations hadn’t been at least verified let alone proved, Geneva has prescribed a change of Constitution as the remedy. Perhaps, their intention has been to bring about far reaching constitutional changes to achieve what Velupillai Prabhakaran couldn’t accomplish through terrorism. It seems unsubstantiated war crimes allegations have been propagated to justify Constitutional changes. It would be pertinent to mention that the change of the Constitution, in response to war crimes allegations, would also justify LTTE’s terrorism, on the basis that the group, too, sought the same.

Sri Lanka brought the war to a successful conclusion, in May, 2009. During the conflict, various interested parties, as well as the LTTE, proposed different arrangements to bring the war to an end.

Perhaps those who had been propagating lies regarding massive human rights violations, during the last phase of Eelam War IV, never really expected a war crimes probe to take place. Instead, what they had been really craving for is a new Constitution which could weaken parliament, vis-a-vis provincial administrations.

The much hyped 19 Amendment to the Constitution that had facilitated the UNP-SLFP marriage, in 2015, is meant to keep the two major parties together to ensure the implementation of the project. Their decision to put off Local Government polls, as well as the Provincial Councils polls, should be examined against the backdrop of the implementation of a far bigger political project to bring in constitutional changes. The UNP-SLFP coalition cannot suffer a political setback, at any level, amidst the project to bring in a new Constitution.

Last week, the ruling coalition overlooked the Supreme Court ruling in respect of the proposed 20 Amendment to the Constitution as it put off scheduled PC polls through other means.

The day before President Sirisena met Zeid-Hussein, in New York, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe submitted the Interim Report of the Steering Committee, tasked with framing a new Constitution to the Constitutional Assembly. Unfortunately, the Joint Opposition (JO), loyal to former President Mahinda Rajapaksa, still remains involved in the constitutional making process though Wimal Weerawansa, MP, pulled his five-member parliamentary group out of what he called a mechanism to divide the country.

Zeid-Hussein, at the 32 session of the Geneva sessions, on June 28, 2016, dealt extensively with Sri Lanka. The former Jordanian career diplomat, in a statement headlined ‘Promoting reconciliation, accountability and human rights in Sri Lanka’, explained, in no uncertain terms, what Geneva expected Sri Lanka to do.

 The 30/1 should be examined along with Zeid-Hussein’s statement, on June 28, 2016, and the findings and conclusion of the so-called comprehensive investigation undertaken by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).  Zeid-Hussein wanted Sri Lanka to implement recommendations contained therein. He also wanted other countries to abide by the recommendations, in line with Zeid-Hussein’s request, Australia, several months ago, denied a visa to Maj. Gen. Chagi Gallage, Director General of Infantry. They found fault with the Gajaba Regiment veteran for commanding a fighting formation, on the Vanni east front, during the last phase of the offensive. 

 The bottom line is that Zeid-Hussein unveiled a political agenda meant to transform the country, at the expense of its unitary status. Western powers, at the onset of 2015, caused the change of government to enable the intended transformation. Sri Lanka’s triumph over terrorism, in May 2009, had been used as a rallying point, twice; against the war-winning President on the basis his armed forces committed war crimes. Although the first project, in which they used General Sarath Fonseka, had failed, in January 2010, the second attempt succeeded. Maithripala Sirisena’s election was meant to ensure political transformation. Last Thursday’s handing over of the Interim Report of the Steering Committee, tasked with framing a new Constitution, to the Constitutional Assembly, by Premier Wickremesinghe, marked an important step towards achieving overall political objective, namely a brand new Constitution.

Although, the Geneva project has been delayed, obviously, it is on track.

Let me reproduce verbatim what Zeid-Hussein stated in his June 28, 2016, address in Geneva:

* Significant momentum has been achieved in the process of constitutional reform. On 10 March 2016, Parliament adopted a resolution establishing a constitutional assembly to draft and approve a new constitution or amendments by the end of 2016, which would then be put to a referendum in 2017. The drafting process has benefited from an inclusive public consultation process overseen by a Public Representations Committee that received submissions and held district level consultations in the first quarter of 2016.

* From a human rights perspective, the constitutional reform process presents an important opportunity to rectify structural deficiencies that contributed to human rights violations and abuses in the past and reinforce guarantees of non-recurrence. These could include a more comprehensive Bill of Rights, stronger institutional checks and balances, enhanced constitutional review, improved guarantees for the independence of the judiciary, effective individual complaints mechanisms and greater direct enforceability of international human rights treaty. Also, as demonstrated by other countries’ experience, is the strengthening of civilian oversight over the military in the form of multiple oversight and accountability mechanisms over defense policy, discipline and promotion, budgeting and procurement. The new Constitution will also be important in facilitating the establishment of the transitional justice mechanisms envisaged by the Government, for instance the criminalization of international crimes in national law or allowing for the involvement of international judicial personnel. At the same time, the High Commissioner hopes that the political process of adopting constitutional changes will not involve tradeoffs and compromises on core issues of accountability, transitional justice and human rights.

For some strange reason, the previous government steadfastly refused to make representations on behalf of Sri Lanka. In fact, their refusal facilitated the UN project.

Zeid-Hussein’s predecessor, Navanethem Pillay, gave the former government an opportunity to cooperate with the investigation or face the consequences. Obviously, the then government wasn’t in a mood to defend Sri Lanka at that time, having decided to advance presidential polls by two years. President Maithripala is on record as having said that his predecessor called early polls as he couldn’t face accusations in respect of war crimes and tackle a deepening economic crisis. The government certainly believed that it could exploit the battle with the UN to its political advantage whereas the UNP-led campaign warned of international sanctions in case President Rajapaksa secured a third term.

THE FOLLOWING IS THE FULL TEXT OF THE LETTER RECEIVED BY EXTERNAL AFFAIRS MINISTER PROF. G.L. PEIRIS, ON JUNE 5, 2014, from FORMER UN HUMAN RIGHTS CHIEF, NAVANETHEM PILLAY

 Further to a meeting between the Permanent Mission of Sri Lanka and my staff in Geneva, on 30 May, 2014, I am writing to Inform you about the steps we have taken in setting up the comprehensive investigation into alleged serious violation and abuses of human rights and related crimes committed by both parties in Sri Lanka, as mandated by the Human Rights Council resolution 25/1.

I am in the process of forming a dedicated investigation team composed of OHCHR staff. I am pleased to convey that, after a competitive and thorough selection process, I have appointed Ms. Sandra Beidas as the Coordinator of the Investigation team, and she will be shortly assuming this position. Ms. Beidas is a senior staff member with more than 20 years of experience in the field and extensive expertise to conducting human rights investigations. We will introduce Ms. Beidas to the Permanent Representative and his colleagues in Geneva as soon as she commences duty. The selection of other members of the Investigation Team is currently underway, and is expected to be finalized soon.

In accordance with the resolution, I have also decided to appoint senior external experts who would advise and support the investigation team. Some of the experts I have approached are former Heads of State or of major international organizations, or specialists in international human rights and humanitarian law. The experts would play a supportive and advisory role to the investigations team, and would not lead the investigation. Their purpose would be to provide expert advice and guidance to the investigation, but also to accompany the process and provide an Independent verification of the investigation. I am currently reaching out to these senior experts to ascertain their availability and interest. Once confirmed and accepted by them, I will convey their names and titles to the Government of Sri Lanka. I will also be encouraging relevant Special Procedure mandate holders to provide inputs to the process in accordance with the resolution.

The budget for the Investigation has now been cleared by the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions of the United Nations Secretariat in New York. The Investigation Team will be operational for a period of 10 months, from mid-June 2014, and will be based in Geneva. The first meeting of the investigation team with the senior experts is expected to be held in Geneva in July 2014, and this will be an early opportunity for the Government of Sri Lanka to establish formal contact with the investigation team. The investigation team hopes to undertake field visits to Sri Lanka and one or two other locations where information is available between July and November 2014.

Considering the public and media interest in the Investigation, the Office will prepare a facts sheet for public information purposes about the commencement of the investigation. As requested by resolution 25/1, the High Commissioner will provide an oral update to the 27th HRC session in September 2014, and a comprehensive final report to the 28th session in March 2015.

As per usual practice, my Office will ensure that the Government of Sri Lanka has the opportunity to provide comments on both the oral and comprehensive report before they are issued.

I sincerely hope that the Government of Sri Lanka will cooperate fully with the investigation, including by providing the investigation team with regular access to the country, and by sharing information and interacting regularly with the team in Geneva. In this context, I encourage you to appoint a focal point on the Government side.

I would like to take this opportunity to once again encourage the Government of Sri Lanka to conduct an Independent and credible domestic investigation into allegations of violations of international human rights and humanitarian law. OHCHR will continue to assess the progress made in national accountability processes, and the next High Commissioner will report accordingly to the Human Rights Council, in accordance with resolution 25/1.

I trust that the Government of Sri Lanka will take all necessary measures to ensure the safety and security of witnesses, victims and other individuals who may come forward to share information as well as to prevent any reprisals against those who cooperate with the international and national investigation.

Please accept, Excellency, the assurances of my highest consideration.

 Navanethem Pillay,

High Commissioner for Human Rights

MAIN ALLEGATIONS PROPAGATED BY WESTERN POWERS/MEDIA

 (A) GoSL ordered UN/INGOs to quit Kilinochchi in early September, 2008, to facilitate an all-out attack. British media outfit Channel 4 News alleged the government wanted to conduct a war without witnesses.

(B) Vanni population denied medicine, food and other basic needs.

(C) Coordinated mortar/artillery/MBRL attacks on civilian population. Channel 4 News alleged that the Secretary Defence and the then Army Commander executed the project. GOSL allowed the use of cluster bombs.

(D) At least 40,000 civilians killed.

(E) Rape of combatants/civilians. Subsequently, the military was accused of abusing men.

CRITICAL FAILURE

The Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) didn’t directly address the above mentioned allegations. The LLRC didn’t counter specific allegations. The LLRC made a series of important recommendations to promote post-war national reconciliation, though it failed to tackle specific accountability issues.

The Paranagama Commission, subsequently, appointed, didn’t address the main allegations. The Commission simply ignored evidence and various statements which could have been used in Sri Lanka’s defence.

If not for the former President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s much delayed decision to expand the scope of the Paranagama Commission, on July 15, 2014, to accommodate a team of international legal and military experts, to assist the domestic mechanism, Sri Lanka would never have received the benefit of Wiki leaks revelations. The team comprised Sir Desmond de Silva, QC, Chairman of the legal advisory council (UK), Professor Sir Geoffrey Nice QC. (UK), and Professor David M. Crane (USA). They were backed by Rodney Dixon, QC. (UK/ South Africa), Professor Michael Newton (USA), Commander William Fenrick (Canada), Professor Nina Jorgensen and Major General John Holmes, DSO, OBE, MC (UK) former Commanding Officer of the Special Air Service (SAS) Regiment, Paul Mylvaganam (UK) and Victoria de Silva and Delarney Uyangodage.

The expanded Paranagama Commission, too, overlooked some critically important developments, such as wartime US Defence Advisor in Colombo Lt. Col. Lawrence Smith’s comment on war crimes allegations, including white flag executions.

The former government failed to bring up the following at the correct forum:

(A) Although the UN vacated Kilinochchi, in September 2008, the ICRC was allowed to continue in the Vanni east for many more months. UN international staff was also allowed to accompany food convoys to the Vanni east. Some of them remained there, even in early part of 2009. GoSL also allowed an Indian medical team, at Pulmoddai, in the early part of 2009. The Indian team remained there until the very end. When overland movements weren’t possible, GoSL allowed ICRC to operate ships between Pulmoddai and Puthumathalan (Feb 10, 2009, to May 9, 2009 -16 movements/14,000 wounded and their relatives evacuated). Although ICRC staff left the rapidly shrinking LTTE held area on Feb 10, 2009, they returned and stayed onshore several hours each time ICRC-chartered ships came back.

Having completed its assignment at Pulmoddai, the Indian team moved to Menik farm, the main displaced camp.

Would a government, hell-bent on genocide, give a foreign medical team access to people arriving from the LTTE held area? Would it permit ICRC and WFP to move supplies to the war zone? Would it engage in deliberate massacre of people knowing that those trying to arrange a ceasefire had the wherewithal to closely monitor what was happening on the ground?

Norwegian government (Pawns of Peace: Evaluation of Norwegian peace efforts in Sri Lanka-released in September, 2011) acknowledged that Sri Lanka was under surveillance by both Indian Intelligence as well as NATO (page 100). International powers had the means to monitor deployment of weapons.

(B) The ICRC and WFP can reveal data as regards the amount of food, medicine and other items moved overland, and by ships, to Vanni east since Oct 2008 until May 9, 2009. The war ended 10 days later. Sri Lanka never deprived civilian population of food and medicine. In fact, the GoSL launched food ships to Jaffna peninsula, way back in 1990, after having lost the Kandy-Jaffna A9 road. Except during on and off peace talks, the road remained closed until the SLA regained full control, in January 2009.

(C) and (D) Unsubstantiated claim of over 40,000 civilians’ deaths during the final phase of the assault was blamed on mortar/artillery/MBRL attacks as well as the use of cluster bombs. According to The Report of the Secretary General’s Panel of Experts on Accountability in Sri Lanka, it had received altogether over 4,000 submissions from 2,300 persons (page 5/point 17).

But the UN report released on March 31, 2011 declared that the identities of those who had made submissions wouldn’t be revealed for two decades. Even after two decades, information cannot be released without a declassification review (page 6/point 23)

How could such allegations be accepted without verification? Even four years after the release of the UN report, the issue hadn’t been resolved.

In the backdrop of the UN Panel of Experts’ directing that ‘sources’ wouldn’t be released for two decades (March, 2031), various claims as regards the number of civilians killed should be examined. Unfortunately, the government never highlighted the discrepancy in various figures quoted by interested parties.

* British Labour Party MP Siobhan McDonagh (Mitcham and Morden-Labour) told the House of Commons, in September, 2011, that 60,000 LTTE cadres and 40,000 Tamils perished during the period January-May 2009. She made the only specific reference to the number of LTTE cadres killed during a certain period. Obviously the British MP categorized the January-May 2009 period as the final phase of the conflict. The British High Commission declined to comment on the MP’s claim. She didn’t even respond to The Island queries. The UK-based Global Tamil Forum (GTF) asserted that it couldn’t force the MP to respond to The Island queries.

* Special Amnesty International report, titled "When will they get justice: Failures of Sri Lanka’s Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission", also issued in September 2011 estimated the number of civilian deaths at 10,000. From the Amnesty International Report: Amnesty International’s conclusions, derived independently from eyewitnesses’ testimony and information from aid workers, are at least 10,000 civilians." According to London headquartered Amnesty International report, thousands died in the final months, though the figure couldn’t be more than 10,000 (page six).

* Western powers, international human rights organizations and the Panel of Experts continue to ignore a confidential report prepared by The United Nations Country Team during the conflict. The report that dealt with the ground situation from August 2008 to May 13, 2009 placed the number of dead (including LTTE combatants) at 7,721. The report estimated the number of wounded at 18,479. (War ended less than a week after the UN stopped collecting data due to the intensity of fighting. point number 134/page 40 of the Panel of Experts report).

Sri Lanka should push the UN to release the report/make it available to UN investigators. Important to remember, the UN report was based on information provided by those who had been trapped in the war zone and even today further verification could be made. Very surprisingly the UN Panel of Experts refused to accept the report. Why? The UN’s own report can easily contradict the exaggerations of its own investigation.

Except for the British MP’s foolish claim that 60,000 LTTE cadres killed during January-May 2009, all those wanting to haul Sri Lanka up before an international war crimes tribunal remain silent on losses suffered by the LTTE. As the Army headquarters admitted losing 2,350 officers and men during January-May 2009 period on the Vanni east front, the government should make every effort to establish the number of LTTEers killed during the same period.