Tuesday, 25 February 2014

Accountability issues: The UK factor



British High Commissioner in Colombo, John Rankin, and former Canadian High Commissioner, Bruce Levy, are pictured at the annual Cannon Ball Run in Colombo on April 5, 2012, three years after the conclusion of the conflict. The event is held to commemorate the occupying British army misfiring a cannon ball during a training session on Galle Face Green, in 1845. The ball crashed through the roof of the boarding house that was the predecessor to the Galle Face Hotel, and rolled under a chair in the drawing room. The mishap is commemorated with two invited guests racing against each other along the promenade to the hotel, with the first to touch the cannon ball being declared the winner.

The competitors in April, 2012 were John Rankin and Bruce Levy. Interestingly, the race was formerly flagged off by Lord Naseby, former Deputy Speaker of the British House of Commons, who was on a visit to Colombo at that time. Naseby is one of the few British members of parliament supportive of Sri Lanka’s cause against LTTE terrorism throughout the conflict.

By Shamindra Ferdinando

British High Commissioner, John Rankin, recently dismissed allegations that Western powers were seeking a regime change in Sri Lanka. The British envoy was commenting on accountability issues ahead of the forthcoming 25th session of the Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC). The declaration was made a few days before BHC Rankin, accompanied Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) staffer, Julie Scott, on a two-day fact-finding mission. For some reason, a statement issued by the British High Commission, at the conclusion of their visit, chose not to reveal the identity of the FCO official visiting Jaffna. The BHC also refrained from releasing a picture of the FCO official, though several photographs of HC Rankin, taken during the visit, were released.

The visit was meant to increase pressure on the government of Sri Lanka in the run-up to the vote on Sri Lanka at the UNHRC.

It would be pertinent to examine the circumstances under which successive British governments cooperated/facilitated the Eelam project, though the LTTE was listed as a proscribed organization, under the Terrorism Act of 2000. Sri Lanka shouldn’t hesitate to remind the UNHRC of the UK’s culpability and that of Canada in the terrorism project in Sri Lanka. Had the UK and Canada deprived the LTTE of required funds, it would never have been able to acquire a conventional military capability by early 1990s. Although the LTTE had raised funds, in about 20 countries, the UK and Canada the two leading Commonwealth nations - are widely believed to be the largest contributors. Although the US has now taken up cudgels for the LTTE rump, it never supported LTTE terrorism. In fact, the US supported the war against terrorism by not disrupting the Israeli weapons supply line during the conflict. (Obama administration moved two resolutions targeting Sri Lanka in 2012 and 2013. It will move another next month). However, successive British and Canadian governments played politics with the issue, enabling the LTTE to have a free hand.

Now that BHC Rankin has assured that the West wouldn’t seek a regime change here, let me recollect the position taken by the UK at the UNHRC session in March, 2012.

UK’s Foreign Office Minister, responsible for the human rights portfolio, Jeremy Browne, MP, emphasized the responsibility on the part of the global community to intervene in Sri Lanka unless the government addressed accountability issues. The Liberal Democrat member, Browne, called for UN intervention to support a change in Sri Lanka.

Browne said: "We, as UN member states, must take seriously our human rights obligations and, where states fail, the institutions of the UN should act and support change. Such actions are what make the Council an effective human rights body, able to scrutinize states’ compliance with their obligations and offer technical assistance" (UK for UN intervention to ‘support change’ in Sri Lanka with strap line UNHRC chief pushes for new mechanism to tackle uncooperative government - The Island Feb 28, 2012).

The British statement, in Geneva, made expensive propaganda campaigns undertaken by various Diaspora groups against Sri Lanka irrelevant. The UK based Global Tamil Forum (GTF), as well as several other organizations, including the British Tamil Forum (BTF) and the LTTE rump in Canada, had been campaigning for tougher action in spite of the UK already calling for UN intervention here. Unfortunately, the Sri Lankan government seemed ignorant of the British strategy. In fact, the British wouldn’t have taken up such a strong position without consulting the US which moved the March, 2012, resolution as well as the EU. The UK was among 40 countries which co-sponsored the US resolution titled Promoting Accountability and Reconciliation in Sri Lanka. Twenty four countries backed the resolution (Austria, Belgium, Benin, Cameron, Chile, Costa Rica, Czech Republic, Guatemala, Hungry, India, Italy, Libya, Mauritius, Mexico, Nigeria, Norway, Peru, Poland, Moldova, Romania, Spain, Switzerland, US and Uruguay). Fifteen countries voted against (Bangladesh, China, Congo, Cuba, Ecuador, Indonesia, Kuwait, the Maldives, Mauritania, the Philippines, Qatar, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Thailand and Uganda) while eight countries abstained (Angola, Botswana, Burkina Faso, Dhijibothi, Jordan, Kyrgyzstan).

At the time Browne had called for UN intervention in Sri Lanka at the 19th session of the UNHRC, the UK hadn’t been a member of the UNHRC, though was elected to the grouping last November. The UK will address the forthcoming Geneva session as a member of the rights body consisting of 47 countries.

An unprecedented UK appeal to Diaspora

Although the then British government publicly admitted that funding, made available to the LTTE by the Diaspora in many countries, including the UK, caused death and destruction, the operation was allowed to continue. The British didn’t want to antagonize British voters of Sri Lankan origin. No less a person than former British Foreign Secretary, David Miliband, is on record as having said that he spent time on the Sri Lankan issue for political reasons. Sri Lanka should be eternally grateful to the Wiki Leaks for releasing the relevant confidential diplomatic cable that dealt with views expressed by Miliband. The cable, originating from the US Embassy Highlighted the relationship between the UK based Diaspora and the political establishment. At the behest of the Diaspora, Miliband went to the extent of rushing to Sri Lanka during the last week of April, 2009, to pressure President Mahinda Rajapaksa to halt the offensive. Miliband involved his French counterpart, Bernard Kouchner, in the unprecedented move.

The then BHC in Sri Lanka, David Tatham, in late August, 1998, made an important announcement in Jaffna. It was Tatham’s third visit to Jaffna since the liberation of the peninsula by the government of the then President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga. The entire Jaffna peninsula was brought under government control in early 1996 after having liberated Jaffna town during the first week of December, 1995. Undoubtedly, it was the former President’s biggest achievement. Much to the dismay of Tamil political parties, Tatham urged the Tamil Diaspora not to fund the war. The British envoy was responding to a plea by the Jaffna Municipal Council for the UK’s intervention to end the conflict.

The BHC issued a statement quoting Tatham as having told the Jaffna councilors: "What I would urge you to do is to appeal to the Tamil Diaspora - to your relatives and friends living abroad - to help, not in destroying this island, but in re-building it. I think you should be asking people living in England, Canada, Australia, wherever, to send money to help restore the library, to help restore life in this city. If they have property here they should repair it. They should come and they should try to restore life in Jaffna. Jaffna Mayor, Pon Sivapalan, was among those present at the meeting. Tatham went on to declare that "War was wished on the government." It was an obvious reference to the LTTE launching Eelam war III in April, 1995, following a 100-day ceasefire with the CBK administration (British High Commissioner urges Tamil Diaspora not to fund ongoing war with strap line Support government’s efforts to solve N-E crisis, says envoy in Jaffna - The Island August 27, 1998).

Canada proscribed the LTTE in April, 2006, six years after Britain. In June, 2008, Canada listed the World Tamil Movement (WTM) as a terrorist organization. The demise of WTM cleared the way for the National Council of Canadian Tamils (NCCT) which came into being in July, 2010.

The Jaffna Municipal Council members, including Mayor Pon Sivapalan, earned the wrath of the LTTE for meeting BHC Tatham whose appeal to the Tamil Diaspora to cut off links with the LTTE sent shockwaves through the organization. The LTTE obviously believed that the TULF-led administration had cooperated with the military to pave the way for BHC Tatham’s visit to Jaffna.

The LTTE, on the morning of September 11, 1998, blew up the Kalyana Mandapam building, where BHC Tatham had met Jaffna Municipal Council members a few weeks before. The blast claimed the lives of several persons, including Mayor Pon Sivapalan. A genial Sivapalan succeeded Mrs Sarojini Yogeswaran immediately after the LTTE assassinated her in Jaffna. She was married to Vettivelu Yogeswaran, another TULF veteran, assassinated by the LTTE in Colombo, during the second week of July, 1989. The then senior Vice President of the TULF, V Anandasangaree who was flown to Jaffna to oversee Pon Sivapalan’s funeral arrangements, politely declined to comment when this writer queried him whether he held the LTTE responsible for the assassination.

The Colombo based diplomatic community largely remained silent. The UNP and the TULF even feared to condemn the heinous crime. They asserted that the September 11, 1998, attack meant that the government should resume talks with the LTTE without further delay (UNP, TULF reiterate call for talks with the LTTE with strap line Nallur bomb was a clear signal - The Island September 13, 1998).

Regardless of BHC Tatham’s appeal, the LTTE continued its fund raising projects without any hindrance. The Diaspora provided the funds required to secure armaments, ranging from assault rifles to 130 mm artillery pieces of Chinese origin. The LTTE never felt a shortage of funds due to a range of investments in Europe as well as the largest ever project undertaken by a terrorist group to extort money. Throughout the war, the UK and Canada remained the biggest sources of income. Although the conflict ended in May, 2009, the UK and Canada continue to be major sources of income to various Diaspora groupings. In the wake of the demise of the LTTE’s fighting cadre, the Diaspora groups emerged stronger with the blessings of some British and Canadian politicians. At the time the Diaspora had been under the direct supervision of the LTTE’s Vanni based leadership, British and Canadian political parties were somewhat apprehensive about keeping company with those who represented the LTTE. But that situation changed in May, 2009. Some of those who had been supportive of the Eelam project and those directly involved with the LTTE, with the blessings of British political parties, established the Global Tamil Forum in February, 2010. The inauguration of the GTF in the House of Commons was addressed by representatives from political parties, including the then Foreign Secretary, David Miliband. Miliband ignored Sri Lanka’s request for him not to attend the event as it would have given recognition to those who promoted separatism in Sri Lanka.

Former British Labour Party MP, Joan Ryan, received the appointment as GTF policy advisor when her electorate rejected her.

Although the GTF and the British Tamil Forum (BTF formed in 2006 at the onset of Eelam war IV) are at logger heads with the powerful NCCT as well Norway based LTTE rump throwing their weight behind the BTF, all groups remain committed for an international war crimes probe. Last week, The Island dealt with the continuation of the anti-Sri Lanka project in Canada though the LTTE no longer posed a conventional military challenge.

The Diaspora also elected the Transnational Government of Tamil Eelam (TGTE) during the third week of May 2010. The inauguration events were held on May 17, 18 and 19, 2010 in Philadelphia, London and Geneva. US national, Visuvanathan Rudrakumaran, a lawyer by profession, was appointed as the Interim Chief Executive of the IEC. Rudrakumaran had been involved with the LTTE for a long time and represented the group

William Ramsey Clark, a former US Attorney General, was one of the keynote speakers at the event held in Philadelphia. The TGTE had the wherewithal to involve Clark as its ‘Elections Commissioner’ in the US.

Many years before Canada proscribed the LTTE and WTM, the Canadian police revealed large scale operation meant to raise funds through extortion, fraud and drug dealings. The Toronto Star, in a lead story, headlined Tamils fund rebellion in its June 9, 1998, edition, quoted detective Paul Clark, of the Toronto’s Tamil Task Force, as having said: "The money is being used to buy arms and weapons to fight the Sinhalese government. Detective Clark didn’t rule out the possibility of the LTTE using Canadian funds to acquire explosives used in the suicide bombing of the Central Bank of Sri Lanka on January 31, 1996. The Toronto Star estimated that the Diaspora provided as much as $ 1 mn to the LTTE on a monthly basis.

Diaspora groups seem confident that they could achieve a regime change with the support of Western powers. They appear to have faith in the UNHCR process leading to UN sanctions on Sri Lanka thus causing chaos. Western powers and the Diaspora are hell bent on pushing the UNHRC to follow a course that would cause political turmoil in Sri Lanka, thereby giving the Opposition a chance to take the upper hand ahead of the next presidential or parliamentary poll.