SPECIAL REPORT : Part 240October 16, 2018, 12:00 pm
By Shamindra Ferdinando
German Ambassador to Sri Lanka Jorn Rohde recently contradicted his Russian counterpart in Colombo Juri Matery’s widely published statement in the local English print media that dealt with dismemberment of Czechoslovakia, close on the heels of the Munich Agreement, finalized on Sept 30, 1938.
There had never been a previous instance of a Colombo-based diplomat, of a European power, sharply contradicting his counterpart, representing another great power.
Matery, in a statement issued to the print media, flayed the UK, France, Germany and Italy over what Russia called Munich betrayal. The Russian envoy also emphasized the importance of respecting the principles set down in the United Nations Charter.
Acknowledging Russia’s strong criticism of the Munich Agreement, Rohde chided Matrey for conveniently forgetting a second betrayal perpetrated by Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union, just 11 months after the Munich Agreement. Rohde slammed Russia over the Aug 23, 1939 agreement between the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany that paved the way for Blitzkrieg (lightning war thrust). Rohde reminded Matery of the Nazi invasion of Poland, a week after the signing of the German-Soviet Non-aggression pact in Moscow, and almost simultaneous occupation of Eastern Poland by the Soviet forces. The pact remained in force for nearly two years until Nazi Germany launched military campaign against the Soviet Union.
The German envoy depicted the Moscow Pact as bad as the Munich Agreement.
The German response to Russian statement, in Colombo, is nothing but a lesson to Sri Lanka. Germany, quite rightly set the record straight, immediately, thereby thwarted the Russian move. The outspoken German Ambassador, obviously with the approval from his Foreign Ministry, in Berlin, tore into the top Russian envoy. The German response clearly asserted that both the Munich and Moscow Agreements contributed to the bloodiest war in history.
Questionable Sri Lanka strategy
Sri Lanka, of course, lacked the wherewithal to respond the way Germany did. Sri Lanka shouldn’t hesitate to counter lies propagated here, and at international forums, by interested parties. However, the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe government continues to shun its responsibility in spite of having the required ammunition. No less a person than Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka, who led the victorious Army, in response to a query raised by the writer, at a media briefing, over a month ago, admitted that the cabinet never bothered at least to discuss Sri Lanka’s response to Geneva Resolution 30/1. Ports and Shipping Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe, too, had confirmed Field Marshal’s revelation, also in response to the writer raising the issue at the regular SLFP media briefing, nearly two months ago.
Germany recently succeeded the US as a member of the four-nation Sri Lanka core group at the Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC). Rohde represents the core group as the German envoy in Colombo. A statement, dated Sept 11, 2018, issued by the core group, comprising the UK, Germany, Macedonia and Montenegro, dealt with Sri Lanka, with the latter being blamed for the lack of progress in important areas of reform risks’ undermining reconciliation efforts.
The statement was delivered at the 39th session of the Geneva council.
The joint statement said that in co-sponsoring a resolution that called for an accountability mechanism with international judges, "Sri Lanka recognized that national accountability mechanisms are essential to dealing with the past, and to restoring confidence among its communities".
The following is the full text of the statement: "We welcome further recent steps Sri Lanka has taken to implement commitments made to the Council in 2015 and 2017. We welcome the Government’s continued engagement with the UN system and actions to implement its National Reconciliation Action Plan and Peace-building Priority Plan. We applaud the Office on Missing Persons’ commencement of work and encourage everyone able to advance or contribute to its work to do so. We hope the Government will establish an Office for Reparations quickly. We also welcome the return of further private land in the north, and commitments to return more military-occupied land to civilian ownership.
"Nonetheless, the pace of progress, on important areas, remains much slower than many hoped for. As time passes, lack of progress in delivering key steps risks undermining reconciliation efforts.
"In co-sponsoring resolution 30/1, Sri Lanka recognized that national accountability mechanisms are essential to dealing with the past, and to restoring confidence among its communities. These have yet to be established. The Prevention of Terrorism Act has not been replaced with a law that accords with international standards. And, though processes to consider reform to important provisions of the Constitution, including devolution of political authority, has been ongoing since 2016, a way forward has not been found. We are concerned by recent reports of harassment of and attacks on human rights defenders.
"Our view remains that, with determined leadership and a clear time-bound action plan, this Government can make more progress towards delivering its Council commitments, and that doing so will better position Sri Lanka and its people to enjoy a more enduring reconciliation and prosperity. We urge Sri Lanka to prioritize and drive forward implementation of resolutions 30/1 and 34/1, before the Council next considers Sri Lanka in March."
Core Group members, the UK and Germany never bothered at least to revisit the Geneva Resolution 30/1 following the revelation of wartime British High Commission dispatches from Colombo (January-May 2009) contradicted the very basis of the Resolution. Sri Lanka, has so far refrained from officially requesting Core Group and the members of the Geneva council to examine all available information.
The government, had, in fact betrayed the people by not presenting available facts before the Geneva council.
Recently concluded Geneva session
Anti-Sri Lanka elements (Tamil Diaspora) successfully carried out their campaign at the recently concluded Geneva session. Sri Lanka Permanent Mission in Geneva did nothing to counter lies. Retired Rear Admiral Sarath Weerasekera, Dr. Nalaka Godahewa and Prof. Channa Jayasumana, who represented Sri Lanka at Geneva bitterly complained about the failure on the part of the Permanent Mission to object to propaganda campaign directed at the country. Appearing on ‘Aluth Parliamenthuwa’ (New Parliament) on Derana, they pointed out that the Sri Lanka mission turned a blind eye to what was going on, while senior representatives of other countries, including India, challenged the accusers.
Having raised the Geneva mission’s failure with Ambassador A.L.A. Azeez, the Permanent Representative of Sri Lanka to the UN in Geneva, Weerasekera quoted the top career diplomat as having told Sri Lanka didn’t want to downgrade itself by responding to Diaspora elements.
Ambassador A.L.A. Azeez succeeded Ravinatha Aryasinghe, in April this year, soon after the conclusion of the March sessions in Geneva.
A career Foreign Service Officer with over 25 years of experience, Ambassador Azeez previously served as the Permanent Representative of Sri Lanka to the United Nations Organisations in Vienna from 2011 – 2015. Azeez coordinated EU related matters and multilateral treaties, acting as Additional Secretary in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs immediately prior to his new assignment.
The Geneva mission has no option but to follow directives from Colombo. That applies to all missions. During President Ranasinghe Premadasa’s time Sri Lankan High Commission in the UK facilitated senior LTTE cadre Sathasivam Krishnakumar alias Kittu to receive medical treatment there during the UNP-LTTE honeymoon. At the behest of Velupillai Prabhakaran, Kittu decimated members of the Tamil Eelam Liberation Organization (TELO) in 1986. Northerners experienced violence like never before. Those who were killed were ‘necklaced’ - tyres soaked in petrol were placed around the victims’ neck and set alight. Kittu personally killed TELO leader Sri Sabaratnam. Having machine gunned Sri Sabaratnam, his body was displayed.
Those demanding accountability on the part of Sri Lanka, and bending backwards to appease the LTTE rump, had quite conveniently forgotten mindless violence perpetrated on the Tamil community by the terrorist organisation, dubbed to be the most ruthless by the American Federal Bureau of Investigation.
Panacea for all post-war issues
Western powers and the LTTE rump consider the Geneva Resolution as panacea for all problems. Having adopted the resolution on the basis of now strongly disputed allegations, Western powers are forcing Sri Lanka to implement it fully. During the live Derana political programme, the writer intervened over the phone to remind the panel how the government co-sponsored the resolution just over a week after the then Permanent Representative there Ravinatha Aryasinghe strongly opposed it at an informal meeting with Sri Lanka Core Group. Foreign Ministry in Colombo released Ambassador Aryasinghe’s full statement not realizing the consequences. Thanks to the Foreign Ministry oversight, the statement is in the public domain. Unfortunately, those battling the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe government never bothered to examine all available evidence, ranging from Ambassador Aryasinghe’s statement, Wiki Leaks to the late J.N. Dixit’s memoirs. Had they done that the country could have had a better defence. The writer also queried the Derana panelists, Rear Adm. Weerasekera, Prof. Jayasumana and Dr Godahewa as to why no reference was made at all regarding Lord Nasebys’ disclosure in the House of Lords in Oct 2017 which disputed the very basis of the Geneva Resolution. Presidential Advisor Shiral Lakthilaka and Director General Information battled well for the government strongly endorsing the Geneva Resolution. Interestingly, Lakthilaka dismissed UNSG Panel of Experts (PoE) report released in March 2011, the very basis of the project against Sri Lanka. The writer reminded the panel that President Maithripala Sirisena in spite of his Sept 14 promise to furnish a set of written proposals in respect of accountability issues on behalf of Sri Lanka to Geneva and New York, disappointed the vast majority of people of this country.
Against the backdrop of Sri Lanka reiterating its commitment to Geneva Resolution, it would be pertinent to examine Ambassador Aryasinghe’s statement to the Sri Lanka Core Group, on September 21, 2015, at the first informal session called by the Core Group. The group comprised the US, the UK, Montenegro and Macedonia. Germany has replaced the US in the Core Group.
In fact, it was Sri Lanka’s position in Geneva during the war-winning Rajapaksa administration.
The US team, at the first informal session, included US Ambassador in Geneva, Keith M. Harper, who had been a partner at the law firm of Kilpatrick Townsend & Stockton LLP, with newly appointed US Ambassador in Colombo, Atul Keshap. Keshap had presented his credentials to President Maithripala Sirisena exactly a month before the first informal session in Geneva. Keshap recently completed his assignment in Colombo.
In the wake of Sri Lanka’s strong objections, the ‘Core Group’, on the draft resolution, submitted an amended resolution, on September 24, 2015. Sri Lanka accepted the amended resolution though it was essentially the same.
Let me reproduce verbatim the sections relating to judicial mechanism in the two draft resolutions:
(September 21, 2015 draft resolution) Welcomes the government’s recognition that accountability is essential to uphold the rule of law and build confidence in the people of all communities of Sri Lanka in the justice system, takes note with appreciation of the government of Sri Lanka’s proposal to establish a Judicial Mechanism, with a Special Counsel to investigate allegations of violations and abuses of human rights and violations of international humanitarian law, as applicable; and affirms that credible transitional justice process should include independent judicial and prosecutorial institutions led by individuals known for integrity and impartiality; and calls upon the government of Sri Lanka, to involve international investigators, prosecutors and judges in Sri Lanka’s justice processes.
(September 24, 2015 draft resolution) Welcomes the government’s recognition that accountability is essential to uphold the rule of law and build confidence in the people of all communities of Sri Lanka in the justice system, takes note with appreciation of the Government of Sri Lanka’s proposal to establish a Judicial Mechanism with a Special Counsel to investigate allegations of violations and abuses of human rights and violations of international humanitarian law, as applicable; and affirms that a credible justice process should include independent judicial and prosecutorial institutions led by individuals known for integrity and impartiality; and further affirms in this regard the importance of participation in a Sri Lankan judicial mechanism, including the Special Counsel’s office, of Commonwealth and other foreign judges, defence lawyers, and authorized prosecutors and investigators.
The Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council, on October 1, 2015, adopted, what it called, a consensus resolution on accountability for the alleged human rights violations during the war.
In spite of government leaders and various spokesmen declaring that foreign judges will not be acceptable, the Resolution remains the same.
Western powers moved three resolutions, targeting Sri Lanka, in 2012, 2013 and 2014. The third resolution demanded an external inquiry into accountability issues. The draft resolution finally adopted in 2015 is largely based on the findings and recommendations made in a report prepared in accordance with the 2014 resolution. The report was prepared by UN staffer, Ms. Sandra Beidas, formerly of Amnesty International. The Beidas report followed the PoE report.
It would be pertinent to reproduce what Ambassador Aryasinha told the Core Group on Sept 21, 2915: "At a time when we have a new Government that is adopting a calmly different path to that which was followed in the era, before 8 January, the expectation is, naturally, that there would be a similar change in tone, tenor, and even strategy on the part of the Council as well."
"In this context, my delegation is of the view that a lengthy resolution of the nature of the current draft before us which contains 24 preambular paras and 26 operative paras, which is repetitive, judgemental and prescriptive is not in keeping with the spirit of the process of reconciliation and reform that is underway in my country under the National Unity Government. Neither is it helpful in adopting a collaborative approach to reaching consensus. Many paragraphs in the current draft are in fact counter-productive to the reconciliation efforts of the government, and have the tendency to polarize communities, vitiate the atmosphere on the ground that is being carefully nurtured towards reconciliation and peace building and restrict the space required for consultations. There is a real danger that the current approach will leave room for negative interpretation, thus, only helping ‘spoilers’ in this process.
"Further, given that both the HCHR’s report (A/HRC/30/61) and the Report on the OHCHR investigation on Sri Lanka (OISL) (A/HRC/30/SRP.2) recognizes that the report represents a ‘human rights investigation’ and not a ‘criminal investigation’, emphasizing excessively on the criminal justice aspects, makes the resolution imbalanced. It would be more helpful to have a holistic approach when making recommendations in this resolution on promoting reconciliation in Sri Lanka.
"We also remain concerned regarding the formulations provided in several of the Operative paragraphs. Certain terminology used such as ‘verification’, is new and intrusive language to be presented in a human rights resolution, especially when the country concerned is engaging with the international community including with the OHCHR.
"I therefore urge, that in order to enable consensus, this resolution be sensitive to the constitutional and institutional difficulties that will have to be overcome in implementing its recommendations as well as political realities. It must also observe clear, cogent language that the people of Sri Lanka find respectful."
Obviously, Sri Lanka is under pressure not to challenge the Geneva Resolution. With two key national elections-presidential in 2019 and parliamentary in 2020 set to take place, all political parties, including the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna, are likely to come under pressure in this regard. Regardless of the consequences, Sri Lanka should set the record straight.