Tuesday, 23 February 2016

Judiciary faces tough test amidst calls for foreign judges in war crimes court

SC moved against SF



War winning Army Chief the then Gen. Sarath Fonseka pictured outside Welikada prison in May 2012 soon after his release.

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Against the backdrop of the UN expressing serious doubts over quality of Sri Lanka’s judges, and judicial impartiality, the Centre for Policy Alternatives (CPA) moved the Supreme Court against the leader of the Democratic Party (DP) Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka’s appointment as a UNP National List.

The war veteran contested the August 17 parliamentary polls on the DP ticket. The DP failed to secure a single seat though Fonseka is on record as having said, in the run up to the election, that his party would win at least 15 seats.

The CPA, on February 18, filed a fundamental rights application challenging the appointment of the war - winning Army Chief to fill the vacancy created by the death of M.K.A.D.S. Gunawardana. The SC was moved in terms of Article 99A of the Constitution.

"The CPA’s position is that in terms of Article 99A of the Constitution, only a person whose name was included in the district nomination papers or the National List, submitted by the relevant political party, is entitled to be nominated to fill such a vacancy," the NGO said in a statement.

Among the respondents are UNP General Secretary, Kabir Hashim, Speaker Karu Jayasuriya, Secretary General of Parliament Dhammika Dassanayake, Attorney General Jayantha Jayasuriya, and members of the National Election Commission, namely Mahinda Deshapriya, Dr. Nalin Abeysekera and Professor Ratnajeevan Hoole.

The CPA stated in its petition, that the appointment of a person, as a Member of Parliament, contrary to the provisions of the Constitution, violated several rights guaranteed under the Constitution and, in particular, the franchise which is part of the sovereignty of the people. The CPA argued that any attempt to interpret legislation, in a manner contrary to the provisions of the Constitution would imperil the supremacy of the Constitution, which is the cornerstone of constitutional democracy.

The CPA called for the abolishing of an extraordinary gazette notification, dated February 16, 2016, in respect of Field Marshal Fonseka’s appointment. The NGO also prayed that the Field Marshal be prevented from functioning as a member of Parliament, as well as holding any portfolio, until the conclusion of the case.

The CPA went ahead with its move though it had been initially reluctant to move Supreme Court in line with its long-standing position against appointing persons ‘not included in the National List published under Article 99A of the Constitution’ in respect of the Field Marshal.

The move against Field Marshal Fonseka should be examined against the backdrop of UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein castigating the Sri Lankan judiciary, at the conclusion of his four-day visit here. Reiterating the pivotal importance of having foreign participation in the proposed judicial mechanism, to inquire into alleged war crimes during the eelam war IV, Prince Hussein said: "Sri Lanka has many excellent judges, lawyers, and law enforcement officials. But, over the years, the system they depended on, and which depends on them, became highly politicized, unbalanced, unreliable. The country’s history, over the past few decades, is littered with judicial failures. Virtually all Sri Lankans recognize this, and the Prime Minister commented on it at great length, and with admirable candour, during a 27 January debate in Parliament. Virtually every week provides a new story of a failed investigation, a mob storming a court-room, or another example of a crime going unpunished. Sexual violence and harassment against women and girls is particularly poorly handled by the relevant State institutions — especially when the alleged perpetrators are members of the military or security services — and, as a result, it remains all too widespread."

Interestingly, Pivithuru Hela Urumaya (PHU), too, has sought the judicial intervention over the appointment of Jayantha Jayasuriya as the new Attorney General. Whatever the merits of PHU leader and UPFA MP Udaya Gammanpila’s move, it can not have taken place at a worse time for the country. On the one hand MP Gammanpila, on behalf of the Joint Opposition, is pushing for a domestic inquiry into alleged atrocities committed during the eelam war IV but on the other hand questions the appointment of the AG. Certainly, a pathetic development. Geneva will exploit the situation. The February 9 statement, issued by Prince Hussein, referred to Sri Lankan judiciary in a disparaging way. MP Gammanpila is on record as having castigated the government in respect of the appointment of the Auditor General. The MP alleged that there were procedural flaws in the appointment of the Attorney General and the Auditor General. The MP’s argument will certainly strengthen those who had been demanding foreign judges in a judicial mechanism to inquire into alleged atrcities committed during the war.

Addressing the media recently, MP Gammanpila said the process of the appointment is flawed and the same would set a bad precedent and also affect the independence of the Attorney General.

"According to Section 41 (f) 6 of the Constitution, the Constitutional Council has to formulate the criteria and gazette them and present same before Parliament within three months.

"But as a parliamentarian I know neither the criteria has been gazetted nor be presented before Parliament.

"So recommending the appointment of the Attorney General by the Constitutional Council is unconstitutional," he said.

The CPA’s action against the National Election Commission will certainly divide those who had backed the January 2015 revolution which brought Maithripala Sirisena into power. Defeated presidential candidate, Fonseka, played a significant role in the common Opposition campaign, strongly supported by Western powers. Members of the National Election Commission had been made respondents in respect of a National List appointment for the first time since the parliament adopted the 19th Amendment to the Constitution with an overwhelming majority, in late April, 2015.

The yahapalana government has repeatedly vowed to abide by the 19th Amendment.

The legislation envisages the dilution of many powers of Executive Presidency, which had been in force since 1978.

At a marathon sitting that lasted over 12 hours, the 225-strong Parliament cleared the Bill, with 212 members voting in favour of the legislation. Ten members were absent. While one voted against the Bill (retired Rear Admiral Sarath Weerasekera), another member abstained from the voting. The 14-member Tamil National Alliance (TNA) also supported the Bill. It would be pertinent to keep in mind that the majority of those now identified as members of the Joint Opposition voted for the 19th Amendment.

Among the important features of the Bill are: the reduction in the terms of President and Parliament from six years to five years; re-introduction of a two-term limit that a person can have as President; the power of President to dissolve Parliament only after four and a half years]; the revival of Constitutional Council and the establishment of independent commissions. The National Election Commission is one of those Commissions established in accordance with 19th Amendment.

Those who had voted for the 19th Amendment will find it difficult to support Fonseka’s efforts to retain the National List slot given to him. The former Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) took oaths as an MP before Speaker Karu Jayasuriya on February 9. The Joint Opposition is wary of Fonseka’s appointment with former President Mahinda Rajapaksa himself commenting on the former Army Chief’s re-entry into parliament.

The UNP-SLFP coalition accommodated Fonseka in parliament, through the UNP National List, in conformity with an understanding between President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe. Defeated Colombo District candidate Rosy Senanayake (Colombo District) publicly expressed disappointment over the party not giving her an opportunity to re-enter parliament. Justice Minister Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe, also a Colombo District representative, privately told the leadership that Fonseka’s appointment was contrary to the Constitution.

In the run-up to Fonseka’s appointment receiving the endorsement by the UNP Working Committee, Leader of the House and Kandy District MP Lakshman Kiriella revealed that President Maithripala Sirisena and PM Wickremesinghe agreed on the move. They also promoted Fonseka to the rank of Field Marshal, on March 22, 2015, in recognition of services rendered to the nation. There had never been an instance of the two major political parties agreeing on a National List appointment. Obviously, Field Marshal Fonseka’s appointment had been made in accordance with the overall objectives of yahapalana administration.

The CPA’s decision to move Supreme Court over Field Marshal Fonseka’s appointment will certainly test the judiciary, amidst the UN push for participation of foreign judges in the proposed war crimes investigating mechanism. The CPA’s move has placed the grouping, which campaigned for the then President Rajapaksa’s defeat at the January 2015 presidential poll, in a difficult position. The Joint Opposition loyal to former President and Kurunegala District MP Mahinda Rajapaksa (in spite of its differences with the CPA over the issue of accountability) will not speak on behalf of the war - winning Army Chief, It is certainly an unfortunate situation.

Had it not been for the Sinha Regiment veteran, the war could never have been brought to a successful conclusion, in May, 2009. The triumph over terrorism would never have been a reality if not for team effort, with the former President Rajapaksa, providing the much required political leadership, and former Defence Secretary, Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, coordinating the overall anti-LTTE project. The Navy and the Air Force, under the leadership of Vice Admiral Wasantha Karannagoda, and Air Marshal Roshan Gooetileke, achieved success. Had one of them failed, or the then President gave into Western pressure, the LTTE could have survived and secured an agreement to retain what was left of its conventional military power.

On the eve of January, 2010, presidential election, the then US Ambassador, Patricia Butenis alleged that both common candidate retired Gen. Sarath Fonseka and President Mahinda Rajapaksa were responsible for war crimes. In a confidential diplomatic cable, originating from Colombo, dated January 15, 2010, Butenis alleged that one of the reasons for lack of progress towards a genuine Sri Lankan inquiry into the killings was that the Pthe resident and the former army commander, Sarath Fonseka, were largely responsible. "There are no examples we know of a regime undertaking wholesale investigations of its own troops or senior officials for war crimes while that regime or government remained in power," Butenis noted. But, that didn’t deter the US from backing Fonseka’s candidature. The US went to the extent in suggesting to the Illankai Tamil Arasu Kadchi led Tamil National Alliance (TNA) to throw its weight behind Fonseka. In spite of reservations, the TNA leadership backed Fonseka’s bid to the hilt. Fonseka comfortably secured all predominately Tamil speaking electoral districts in Nothern and Eastern Provinces as well as Nuwara Eliya, though he couldn’t defeat President Rajapaksa.

At the January 2015 presidential poll, the TNA and Fonseka joined the UNP led effort to use the then SLFP Gen. Secy., an irate Maithripala Sirisena, to bring down the curtain on the Rajapaksa administration. The Sirisena-Wickremesinghe administration rewarded Fonseka with prestigious title of Field Marshal and accommodated him in parliament through the UNP National List. The TNA received the Opposition Leader’s post, though the party didn’t reflect sentiments of those opposed to the yahapalana administration at all.

Even after experiencing two major defeats, at national elections last year, former President Rajapaksa is still going places on war victories because of the UNP’s foolish statements during the war. The then main Opposition party ridiculed the military, while the war being waged under extreme conditions, and belittled hard won battlefield victories. The UNP leader pooh-poohed the liberation of the Eastern Province by claiming that Thoppigala was only a jungle patch of no military significance. The military brought major offensive action in the Eastern Province to an end with the capture of the LTTE bastion Thooppigala-Narakkanmulla area. Wickremesinghe also questioned the map reading skills of the then Eastern Commander Maj. Gen. Parakrama Pannipitiya who had wrested control of that terrain. While the troops were forging ahead, smashing Tiger defences, in the Vanni, Lakshman Kiriella boldly declared that any ninny could wage war––ona gonekuta yudda karanna puluwan.

Senior UNP MP Ravi Karunanayake, while speaking in Parliament during a bloody battle for Kilinochchi, ridiculed the then Lt. Gen. Fonseka’s troops by claiming that the army was all at sea and it had mistaken Medawachchi for Kilinochchi and Alimankada (Elephant Pass) for Pamankada! Such deplorable remarks, oozing with contempt, were meant to impress some Colombo-based western diplomats and the INGO/NGO circuit sympathetic to the LTTE. The UNP’s stand certainly antagonized the vast majority of Sri Lankans who loathed terrorism and wanted it crushed at any cost. Thus, the UNP committed political hara-kiri in style.

Another UNP senior, the then Chief Opposition Whip, Joseph Michael Perera, in July, 2008, accused Lt. Gen. Fonseka of carrying out attacks on journalists. The UNP couldn’t stomach stunning battlefield victories achieved by the military. UNP bigwigs stepped up attacks when they realized the army was gaining ground.

MP Joseph Michael Perera told parliament that the attacks were carried out by a "special team" controlled by Lt. Gen. Sarath Fonseka.

Gampaha District MP Perera said the government should arrest the offenders and "immediately bring them to justice".

"We are told by those in the army itself that journalists are abducted and subjected to grievous injury by none other than a special unit, under the army commander," MP Perera, a former parliamentary speaker, said.

Having ruined the war winning Army Chief’s reputation, the then Opposition fielded Fonseka as the common candidate at the January 2010 presidential election. The grouping that supported included the JVP, TNA, SLMC as well as Western powers. Consequent to Fonseka’s defeat, the UNP distanced itself from the war veteran thereby paving the way for the JVP to use him at the April 2010 parliamentary elections as head of the Democratic National Alliance (DNA). Although, the DNA secured seven seats, including two National List slots (Anura Kumara Disanayake and Tiran Alles) it couldn’t sustain the momentum in the wake of Fonseka being deprived of his seat on the findings of a Court Martial. Fonseka was elected from the Colombo District. Fonseka’s vacancy was filled by actor-turned politician Jayantha Ketagoda, who repeatedly pledged to step down as soon as Fonseka walked free and was in a position to regain his seat. The four-member JVP parliamentary group elected on the DNA ticket, too, split with Galle District MP Ajith Kumara pledging his allegiance to Kumar Gunaratnam/Noel Mudalige.

The Democratic Party came into being after the then President Rajapaksa released Fonseka, in May, 2012, in accordance with an understanding reached with his one-time favourite General. Fonseka was behind bars for over two years.

Immediately after Maithripala Sirisena’s victory, Fonseka made a desperate bid to regain his seat. But Ketagoda declined. A furious Fonseka blasted the Attorney General’s department for failing to bring the case to a speedy conclusion. Fonseka couldn’t achieve his objective during President Sirisena’s 100-day project. Fonseka failed again at the August 17 parliamentary polls. Untimely, the death of M.K.A.D.S. Gunawardana paved the way for his return to parliament thanks to President Sirisena and PM Wickremesinghe.

Now, a dejected Fonseka faces another challenge by way of a fundamental rights case filed by the CPA, an NGO at the forefront of tough campaign against President Rajapaksa. The CPA action will have far reaching consequences whatever the outcome may be.

Tuesday, 16 February 2016

Geneva demands less intrusive and intimidating military presence in N & E



By Shamindra Ferdinando

Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) has interpreted the first step in security sector reform as withdrawal of a section of security forces from the Northern and Eastern Provinces.

The Northern Province comprises the administrative districts of Jaffna, Kilinochchi, Mannar, Mullaitivu and Vavuniya. The Eastern Province consists of Trincomalee, Batticaloa and Ampara

United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Prince Zeid Ra’ad Zeid Al-Hussein, didn’t mince his words when he called for the reduction of the military force, deployed in the two provinces, to a less intrusive and intimidating (emphasis mine) as first step in security sector reform.

The declaration was made in the afternoon of February 9 during a media briefing at the UN compound in Colombo. The media didn’t seek an explanation from the former Jordanian diplomat Prince Hussein, as regards Geneva’s right to decide on military deployment here.

Hussein had served as Jordan’s Permanent Representative to the UN (2007 to 2010) before being appointed United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, in 2014. Immediately before being PR in New York, Hussein served as Jordan Ambassador to the US.

Jordan wanted Prince Hussein to succeed UNSG Kofi Annan in 2007. South Korean Ban kimoon succeeded him.

Prince Hussein asserted that over six years after the end of war, people of the Northern and Eastern Provinces still lived in fear to a certain extent. Hussein, who had played a significant role in setting up of the International Criminal Court, attributed the continuing existence of fear, among the people living there, to intrusive as well as intimidating presence of the military.

Hussein declared: "The element of fear has considerably diminished, at least in Colombo, and the South. In the North and the East, it has mutated but, sadly, still exists."

Having helped to form the ICC, Hussein received the appointment as the first President of the Assembly of State Parties of the ICC, in Sept 2002.

The UN diplomat called for urgent measures, on the part of the government of Sri Lanka(GoSL), to create normalcy in the Northern and Eastern Provinces. Hussein urged the government/military to vacate land, used by security forces, immediately. The bottom line is that the UN expected GoSL to reduce troops, as well as size of the bases, in eight administrative districts.

Expressing serious concern over slow progress, Hussein declared: "There are some measures that could be taken quickly which would reverse this trend of draining confidence. First of all, the military needs to accelerate the return of land it has seized (and is still holding) to its rightful owners. While some land has been returned in the Jaffna and Trincomalee areas, there are still large tracts which can and should be swiftly given back. Once the land has been given back, the remaining communities of displaced people can — if given the necessary assistance — return home, and a lingering sore will have been cured once and for all."

The UN position will certainly affect, not only the Army, but the Navy and Air Force deployment as well. Judging by statements issued by various ministers, it is clear that they hadn’t bothered at least, to peruse Prince Hussein’s prepared statement issued at the onset of the February 9 briefing. The well-funded civil society, backing the UN intervention, too, paid glowing tribute to Prince Hussein whereas the Joint Opposition struggled to comprehend the rapidly developing situation.

Prince Hussein’s statement meant that the UN expected military deployment here to be in accordance with what Geneva considered less intrusive and intimidating (emphasis mine). In other words, military deployment here should be subjected to Geneva approval.

Fisheries and Aquatic Resources Minister, Mahinda Amaraweera, recently spoke highly of the UN statement. Addressing the media, at the SLFP party office at T.B. Jayah Mawatha on February 10, Minister Amaraweera claimed that the UN had changed its hostile approach towards Sri Lanka consequent to regime change, in January 2015. When the writer challenged his position on the basis of UN dictates, especially castigation of the local judiciary and call for pruning of military, Minister Amaraweera walked out the briefing requesting Provincial Councils and Local Government Minister Faizer Musthapha to respond. Minister Musthapha justified Prince Hussein’s comment, on the judiciary, on the basis of the impeachment of Chief Justice Dr. Shirani Bandaranayake at the behest of the then President Mahinda Rajapaksa in January 2013. There is no doubt President Rajapaksa’s actions caused irreparable damage to his government. Minister Musthapha voted in parliament for the Rajapaksas move. Minister Musthapha refrained from commenting on Prince Hussein’s call to reduce the military strength.

Against the backdrop of the UN statement, the possibility of the armed forces deployment being subjected to Geneva dictates cannot be ruled out. In fact, concerns raised by Geneva cannot be met by reducing the number of troops deployed in each administrative district. The military will have to review deployment of amour, artillery as well as other assets accordingly.

Had it not being for Indian intervention, in the 80s, the then UNP government wouldn’t have changed the largely ceremonial status of the armed forces. By late 90s, the LTTE acquired a conventional fighting capability. The overrunning of the fully fledged 54 Division, headquartered at Elephant Pass, in April 2000, underscored the LTTE’s achievement. At the commencement of eelam war IV in early August 2006, the LTTE wielded conventional military capability to thwart two Divisions (53 and 55) fighting their way southwards across Jaffna front-line. The LTTE defeated all their attempts until the celebrated Task Force I/58 Division advanced on enemy fortifications, northwards from Paranthan. In addition to the two fighting Divisions (53 and 55), there had been two other Divisions, on defensive posture, deployed in the Jaffna peninsula. All in all, there had been approximately 45,000 army deployed in the Jaffna backed by sizable navy and air force deployment.

Over a year, after the conclusion of the conflict, in May, 2009, the then government commenced handing over land to their rightful owners. With the re-deployment of the army, the strength in Jaffna peninsula has now come down to less than 15,000 personnel, though Prince Hussein seems to wanting further reduction.

The four-party Tamil National Alliance (TNA) and Tamil Diaspora groups, particularly the Global Tamil Forum (GTF), want the government to decrease military presence, to the bear minimum, in the two provinces. They receive the support of some well-funded civil society groups. With Geneva backing their efforts, Sri Lanka now faces the daunting task of convincing the world of her right to maintain the wherewithal to meet any eventuality.

A section of the media, too, had questioned the need to sustain armed forces as well as having a military parade, on Independence Day. They asserted that such a parade, and rehearsals, caused much inconvenience to the public and therefore, should be discontinued. Even ‘peace loving’ Norway, a founding member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) maintains a modern fighting force capable of overseas deployment. Norwegian involvement in air strikes, in Libya, during 2011, is a case in point. During a recent live television programme, Retired Professor Deshamanya Jayaratna Banda Dissanayake, one of the leading authorities of the Sinhala Language, as well as former Sri Lankan Ambassador to Thailand queried the need for a military parade in Colombo to coincide with 68th Independence Day celebrations. Dissanayake asserted that people living in the provinces had no interest in such a parade. With Geneva pushing for down sizing armed forces, various interested parties will propagate that post-war national reconciliation required a diminished military presence in the Northern and Eastern Provinces.

Sri Lanka should never succumb to Western pressure meant to weaken military strength. Those who had been pushing Sri Lanka for military reform really want the government to decrease the manpower to such an extent to make it ineffecive. The denial of land will automatically compel the military to move out substantial number of troops from the Northern and Eastern Provinces. The Joint Opposition should take up this issue in parliament. Retired military officers, too, should express their opinion.

Can Geneva decide post-war military deployment in Sri Lanka? What would be the military strength/deployment acceptable to the TNA, pro-LTTE Diaspora and civil society groups?

Sri Lanka needs to sustain a robust military power though the army strength can be reviewed. Former President Mahinda Rajapaksa authorized the increase of the army strength from approximately 120,000 to 220,000, at the onset of eelam war IV. Sri Lanka must decide her requirements, pertaining to security, taking into post-war factors without being directed by Geneva.

It would be pertinent to mention that foreign powers always wanted to diminish military presence in the Northern and Eastern Provinces. The following section from Norway - arranged Ceasefire Agreement (CFA), finalized in February, 2002, is a case in point.

Article 2: Measures to restore normalcy

The Parties shall undertake the following confidence-building measures with the aim of restoring normalcy for all inhabitants of Sri Lanka:

2.1 The Parties shall, in accordance with international law, abstain from hostile acts against the civilian population, including such acts as torture, intimidation, abduction, extortion and harassment.

2.2 The Parties shall refrain from engaging in activities or propagating ideas that could offend cultural or religious sensitivities. Places of worship (temples, churches, mosques and other holy sites, etc.) currently held by the forces of either of the Parties shall be vacated by D-day + 30 and made accessible to the public. Places of worship which are situated in "high security zones" shall be vacated by all armed personnel and maintained in good order by civilian workers, even when they are not made accessible to the public.

2.3 Beginning, on the date on which this Agreement enters into force, school buildings occupied by either Party shall be vacated and returned to their intended use. This activity shall be completed by D-day + 160 at the latest.

2.4 A schedule, indicating the return of all other public buildings, to their intended use, shall be drawn up by the Parties and published at the latest by D-day + 30.

2.5 The Parties shall review the security measures and the set-up of checkpoints, particularly in densely populated cities and towns, in order to introduce systems that will prevent harassment of the civilian population. Such systems shall be in place from D-day + 60.

(A jointly agreed ceasefire between the GOSL and the LTTE shall enter into force on such date as is notified by the Norwegian Minister of Foreign Affairs, in accordance with Article 4.2, hereinafter referred to as D-day.)

In addition to withdrawal of troops from the then temporarily merged North-Eastern Province, the CFA also called for disbanding of Tamil para-military units supporting the military effort. The following is the relevant section from the CFA: "Tamil paramilitary groups shall be disarmed by the GOSL by D-day + 30 at the latest. The GOSL shall offer to integrate individuals in these units under the command and disciplinary structure of the GOSL armed forces for service away from the Northern and Eastern Province."

The then UNP-UNF government accepted the CFA without reservations. Secret negotiations, initiated by President Chandrika Kumaratunga in May, 1999, led to the finalization of the CFA, in February, 2002, following the PA’s defeat at the Dec 2001 parliamentary polls. In spite the CFA impacting on military deployment, including intelligence, the government didn’t bother to consult armed forces chiefs. While imposing severe restrictions, on the military, in the North-Eastern Province, including areas under its control, the CFA paved the way for the LTTE to make inroads into government-held areas in the war zone. The LTTE fully exploited the section which dealt with ‘Freedom of Movement’ to infiltrate the government-held area. The following is the relevant section: "Fifty (50) unarmed LTTE members shall as of D-day + 30, for the purpose of political work, be permitted freedom of movement in the areas of the North and the East dominated by the GOSL. Additional 100 unarmed LTTE members shall be permitted freedom of movement as of D-day + 60. As of D-day + 90, all unarmed LTTE members shall be permitted freedom of movement in the North and the East. The LTTE members shall carry identity papers. The right of the GOSL to deny entry to specified military areas applies."

Geneva never felt a desire to intervene in Sri Lanka until the conflict, caused by India, was brought to an end on the banks of the Nanthikadal lagoon, in May, 2009.

In terms of the Indo-Lanka Accord, the Indian Army imposed severe restrictions on the military. India curbed military movements in the then temporarily merged North Eastern Province, thereby prevented security forces from thwarting the massacre of Sinhalese. India didn’t allow Sri Lanka to reinforce bases and security remained the then UNP leader President Ranasinghe Premadasa’s least concern until the LTTE resumed hostilities, in June, 1990. The UNP and the then military top brass had neglected security to such an extent, there had been just one battalion, plus infantry, deployed in the entire Jaffna peninsula and a few detachments south of Elephant Pass, including Kilinochchi, when fighting resumed, during the second week of June,1990.

Sri Lanka played an extremely heavy price for neglecting security over a long period of time. Whatever the shortcomings, on the part of the previous administration, President Rajapaksa never resorted to measures detrimental to national security. The former President’s resolute political leadership ensured a great battlefield victory. Those who had been fighting to evict the military from the Northern Province were annihilated during the Vanni battle (March 2007 to May 2009). (The LTTE almost succeeded in capturing Jaffna in early 2000).

The UN seems to be seeking to evict the military in the guise of post-war national reconciliation. With Prince Hussein unveiling his plan in Colombo, there cannot be any ambiguity.

Tuesday, 9 February 2016

Norway failed in SL for want of broader int'l involvement - Solheim



Former Norwegian Minister Solheim at the Atlantic Council in early January, 2015. (L-R) Bharath Gopalaswamy, Director of the Atlantic Council’s South Asia Center, Mark Salter, author of To End a Civil War, Solheim and Richard L. Armitage, former Deputy Secretary of State

by Shamindra Ferdinando

Washington DC-based Atlantic Council was recently told that Norwegian peace efforts, in Sri Lanka, in the 2002-2006 period, would have certainly succeeded had there been a broader international involvement. Nothing could be further from the truth.

The then powerful Norwegian minister and chief peace negotiator in Sri Lanka, Erik Solheim, told the Atlantic Council that the Norwegian project failed for want of required international support. The participants, at the discussion, as well as the audience, accepted Solheim’s assertion.

The Sri Lankan government hadn’t been involved in the discussion.

The Norwegian alleged that in the absence of a dedicated international commitment, the Sri Lankan military had waged war until an offensive was brought to a conclusion, in May, 2009. The then government launched a combined forces offensive, in early Sept. 2006, in the wake of the LTTE resuming eelam war IV, with large scale simultaneous operations in both the northern and eastern provinces.

Recalling the role played by India, Japan and Norway to broker peace in Sri Lanka, Solheim said: "a broader and stronger coalition of outside international players was needed."

The Norwegian conveniently failed to mention a significant US effort in support of the Norwegian initiative.

Solheim was participating in a panel discussion hosted by the Atlantic Council’s South Asia Center. Richard L. Armitage, who has served as Deputy Secretary of State, in the George W. Bush administration, and Mark Salter, author of To End a Civil War, which recounts mediation efforts in Sri Lanka, were also part of the panel. Bharath Gopalaswamy, Director of the Atlantic Council’s South Asia Center, moderated the discussion.

Solheim said patience was paramount from the first day on the ground: "Only if you can be patient and accept that there will be ups and downs then you can potentially have some impact on the path to peace."

Solheim identified specific challenges, surrounding the diplomatic mission—namely, the dearth of information his team had on dealing with senior officials in both the Sri Lankan government and the LTTE. "We needed a bigger team to tap into Tamil-Sinhala relationships and, more importantly, we needed to gain insight into the unique leadership of the Tamil Tigers," he said. "At the end of the day it was about this."

Obviously, Solheim was making a foolish attempt cover up the Norwegian failure in Sri Lanka. Hadn’t there been a major international interest, in the Sri Lankan conflict, during the Norwegian project, the Atlantic Council wouldn’t even have considered taking it up, nearly seven years after the annihilation of the LTTE. The panel discussion, moderated by Bharath Gopalaswamy, underscored the abiding international interest in post-war Sri Lanka.

Seven years after her triumph, over terrorism, Sri Lanka is facing war crimes probe under the supervision of the Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council.

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, today concluded a four-day visit to Sri Lanka.

The heavily US funded Atlantic Council is one of the most influential organizations shaping American and European foreign policy. Established over five decades ago, to promote the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), the Atlantic Council wields immense power. Having served the Obama administration, former Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel joined the Atlantic Council in early last year. Hagel served the Atlantic Centre as its chairman (2009-2013).

Contrary to Solheim’s assertion that a broader and stronger international coalition could have prevented an all out war, thereby ensured a negotiated settlement in Sri Lanka, the grouping, involved in the 2002-2006 peace effort, had been perhaps one of the strongest backing a particular peace initiative.

Indian Bharath Gopalaswamy, Director of the Atlantic Council’s South Asia Center, as well as other panelists, conveniently forgot the circumstances leading to Norway’s involvement in Sri Lanka, consequent to New Delhi’s diabolical project to destabilize the neighbouring country. India employed both terrorism and conventional military strategies to subvert Sri Lanka. No less a person than one-time Indian Foreign Secretary, J.N. Dixit, had acknowledged the Indian destabilization project in his memoirs, launched in 2004.

Norway has been involved in Sri Lanka since 1997. Two years, later in May, the then President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga secretly requested Norway to explore ways and means of bringing the LTTE back to the negotiating table. Mrs. Kumaratunga revealed the Norwegian role soon after the LTTE made an abortive bid to assassinate her during the third week of December, 1999. Mrs. Kumaratunga’s extended an invitation to Norway, with the LTTE’s blessings. In fact, Norway was among five countries chosen by the LTTE as the likely third party to spearhead the peace initiative.

Against the backdrop of Solheim’s claim that the 2002-2006 peace initiative had failed for want of broader international involvement, it would be pertinent to examine the Norwegian-led highly publicized effort. The Norwegian arranged Ceasefire Agreement had the backing of the US, EU and Japan. The US, EU, Norway and Japan functioned as Co-chairs to the peace process throughout this period. India, too, threw its weight behind the process though New Delhi refrained from playing a public role. Regardless of what the likes of Solheim said today, Oslo ran a well coordinated, as well as an expensive project here. In fact, Norway gave the LTTE as much as possible international exposure, consequent to the then Prime Minister, Ranil Wickremesinghe, and LTTE leader, Velupillai Prabhakaran, endorsing the CFA, in February 2002. Norway arranged six rounds of direct negotiations between the two parties at overseas venues - Sattahip Naval Base, Chonburi, Thailand (mid - Sept 2002), Rose Garden Hotel, Nakhorn Pathom, Thailand (Oct-Nov 2002), Radisson SAS Plaza Hotel, Oslo, Norway (early Dec 2002), Rose Garden Hotel, Nakhorn Pathom, Thailand (January 2003), Norwegian Embassy, Nordic Embassy Complex, Berlin, Germany (early Feb 2003) and Hakone Prince Hotel, Hakone, Japan (mid March 2003).

In spite of Premier Wickremesinghe going out of his way to reach a negotiated settlement, to the conflict, the LTTE acted belligerently. In fact, Wickremesinghe took decisions, even at the risk of his political career, to pursue a peaceful settlement. Unfortunately, those who had been pushing Sri Lanka to reach an understanding with the LTTE never put real pressure on the LTTE. Had Solheim and other international players resorted to tough actions, to rein in the group, Prabhakaran wouldn’t have jeopardized the entire process by quitting the negotiating table, in April, 2003. The LTTE move created an environment for then President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga to dissolve parliament to pave the way for a general election, in April, 2004.

Western powers could have certainly prevented all out war had they taken tangible measures against the LTTE in the wake of Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar’s assassination, in Aug. 2005, and the assassination attempt on the then Army Chief Lt. Gen. Sarath Fonseka, in April, 2006. Peacemakers turned a blind eye to high profile LTTE operations, thereby further strengthening Prabhakaran’s position, as well as those who believed in division of the country on ethnic lines. Instead of taking action against terrorism, perpetrated by the LTTE, Norway engaged in massive propaganda campaign meant to somehow keep the process on track.

Two years after the annihilation of the LTTE, Norway carried out a costly evaluation of its involvement in Sri Lanka under the leadership of Gunnar Sørbø of the Chr. Michelsen Institute (CMI) and Jonathan Goodhand from the University of London’s School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS).

The Norwegian study revealed even the involvement of NATO in support of the Norwegian effort. Both NATO as well as India had provided intelligence to Norway as well as the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission, comprising Scandinavian countries. The support received from Norway, from the most powerful military organization in the world, underscored the significance of the Norwegian project here. The amount of secret US diplomatic cables, released by WikiLeaks, revealed the US interest in the conflict here and her efforts to manipulate political parties et al. Solheim had been among about 120 politicians and officials from various countries interviewed by those who had been involved in the Norwegian evaluation. The report, released in Sept., 2011, revealed the Norwegian project went awry primarily due to wrong Norwegian assessment on Sri Lanka. Norway, and its partners, excluding the US, believed that Sri Lanka should tolerate the high handed actions of the LTTE. They took up this position on the basis of wrong assumption that the LTTE couldn’t be defeated on the battlefield, under any circumstances. They asserted that the Sri Lanka military could never succeeded against the Indian Army’s failure to crush the LTTE. Had the then President Ranasinghe Premadasa not succumbed to the LTTE ploy, India could have wiped out the LTTE. Premadasa saved the LTTE only to be blasted by a suicide cadre, four years later, on May Day, 1993.

The Norwegian evaluation report revealed the circumstances under which Oslo pursued a wrong policy, thereby paving the way for the LTTE to dig its own grave. The bottom line is that both Norway and the LTTE failed to realize the previous political-military leadership’s commitment to defeat the LTTE. The following section, reproduced verbatim, exposed the weakness in the Norwegian strategy: During an internal strategy session with Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Store, in May, 2007, the mediation team reiterates that all observers think that this is a conflict that cannot be won by military means and most believe that the government cannot beat the LTTE militarily..." "In hindsight, the Norwegian underestimates the Sri Lankan government’s strength, both militarily and politically. The team considers a wide range of likely and less likely scenarios, but (like most observers at that time), it does not reckon with the sequence of events that is to follow: a strong SLFP-led coalition and military victory.

Even after the assassination of Minister Kadirgamar, and the attempt on Lt. Gen. Fonseka’s life, Norway continued to mollycoddle the LTTE. The peace co-chairs, too, failed to bring the LTTE to heel. In fact, they allowed the LTTE a free hand. In between the assassination of Minister Kadirgamar, in Aug., 2005, and the attempt on Lt. Gen. Fonseka’s life, the LTTE engineered UNP presidential candidate Ranil Wickremesinghe’s defeat at the Nov. 2005 polls. Although, the TNA, on behalf of the LTTE, announced the polls boycott order, over a week before Nov. 17 polls, Western powers refrained from taking action. The then President Mrs Kumaratunga personally requested the then Norwegian Prime Minister, Kjell Magne Bondvik, to ensure the LTTE didn’t interfere with the electoral process. The request was made on the sidelines of UNGA sessions in New York, in late September, 2005 (Norway to facilitate presidential poll-The Island September 2005). Veteran politician, R. Yogarajan, MP, in a brief interview with this writer, on Nov. 22, 2014, explained the LTTE move as well as the UNP’s efforts to persuade the LTTE not to interfere with the electoral process. Had the LTTE listened to reason, perhaps, eelam war IV would never have taken place, Yogarajan asserted. "We knew something was amiss when the LTTE ordered public servants not to exercise their franchise at postal voting during the first week of November, 2005. All of us were seriously concerned. On the advice of the CWC leader, Arumugam Thondaman, I requested LTTE political wing leader, Thamilchelvam not to interfere with the electoral process. Thamilchelvam declined to cooperate. He also turned down my request for an urgent meeting with LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran to discuss the matter. I was to accompany Thondaman. But Thamilchelvam insisted there is no point in visiting Kilinochchi as the decision cannot be changed under any circumstances. Thamilchelvam faulted the UNP for not making a formal request to the LTTE leader. We never wanted the LTTE to tell the people to vote for the UNP candidate."

Still the Norwegians continued to appease the LTTE. Having narrowly won the presidential poll, Mahinda Rajapaksa, in spite of strong opposition from those nationalist elements, who had worked tirelessly for his victory, accepted Norwegian mediated talks, in Geneva. Rajapaksa sent top level delegations twice only to be humiliated by the LTTE which believed in swift battlefield victory over the military. The first round of talks, during the Rajapaksa’s presidency, took place in Feb. 2006, and the second, in Oct. 2006. The former President bent backwards to reach an understanding with the LTTE even after the LTTE resumed eelam war IV with large scale attacks in the northern and eastern provinces during the second week of August, 2006.

Solheim should explain Norway’s failure to rein in the LTTE. The Peace co-chairs, too, should examine their wartime strategy. Western powers could have intervened, at least in mid 2007, after the government liberated the Eastern Province. They refrained from exerting pressure on the LTTE to return to the negotiating table because they firmly believed Prabhakaran’s Vanni bastion couldn’t be conquered. Colombo-based Western diplomatic missions, the Indian High Commission, as well as UN, acted on the premise that the LTTE couldn’t be defeated in the Vanni. A section of the media, too, propagated that theory as late as the third week of December, 2008, as the Task Force I/58 Division and the 57 Division advanced on Kilinochchi, which the LTTE considered as its administrative capital. Canada-based veteran journalist, D.B.S. Jeyaraj confidently declared that the advancing Army would be defeated on the Vanni east front. Jeyaraj asserted that in spite of vacating the Eastern Province by mid-2007, the LTTE retained an elite fighting cadre capable of routing the Army. Jeyaraj predicted the LTTE rolling back the Army. The Norwegians believed in the LTTE’s capability to turn around the situation. The Norwegian evaluation, in May, 2007, prompted the peace facilitator and co-chairs to continue their friendly policy towards the LTTE. They strongly believed that the government lacked the strength to bring the war to a successful conclusion. The Norwegians asserted the LTTE had the wherewithal to cause a battlefield stalemate by either rolling back the Army or resorting to guerrilla tactics. Solheim should peruse Pawns of Peace: Evaluation of Norwegian peace effort in Sri Lanka-1997 -2009 and make available copy to Bharath Gopalaswamy, Director of the Atlantic Council’s South Asia Center.

Tuesday, 2 February 2016

Relevance of British concern about accusations against UK war veterans




By Shamindra Ferdinando

HMS Defender arrived, in Colombo, on January 30, on a brief visit. The Type 45 Destroyer left on the following day. The British High Commission asserted that the naval visit, the first in four years, signified developing defence relations between the two countries, since the conclusion of the conflict, in May, 2009.

The warship is on a nine-month deployment in the Middle East, and it’s her second assignment. It would be interesting to know whether HMS Defender had been scheduled to visit Colombo when it left Portsmouth in late Oct last year.

Having failed, in April, 2009, to thwart the final phase of the Vanni offensive, the UK withdrew its military representative in Colombo.

At the Feb-March, 2012, session at the Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC), the UK called for regime change in Sri Lanka.

Jeremy Browne, MP, the UK’s Foreign Office Minister, responsible for the human rights portfolio, 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 response had been based on extremely serious, but yet unsubstantiated allegations, pertaining to battlefield atrocities committed by the Sri Lankan military on the Vanni front. The British, as well as the abiding Canadian interest, in the issue, should be examined against the backdrop of electoral reasons. Large electorates of British and Canadian nationals, of Sri Lankan Tamil origin, had compelled successive governments to appease them.

Having abundantly vilified the Sri Lankan military, on the basis of unsubstantiated accusations, pertaining to wartime atrocities, the UK recently expressed serious concern over trumped-up charges of human rights violations being directed at the British military.

The British played a pivotal role in having an external inquiry into accountability issues in Sri Lanka. On the basis of that inquiry, supervised by British national, Ms Sandra Beidas, Western powers, with the overwhelming approval expressed by Sri Lanka, adopted a Resolution moved in Geneva, on Oct 1, last year. Being a member of the 47-nation United Nations Human Rights Council, the UK, too, backed the Resolution 25/1. It would be pertinent to mention that the entire process, leading to the Oct.1 Resolution, had been based on claims that hadn’t been verified. The issue of confidentiality of sources/eyewitnesses remains a thorny issue. UNSG Ban ki moon’s Panel of Experts (PoE) recommendation, pertaining to confidentiality of sources/eyewitnesses for a 20-year period, with effect from the date of the release of the report, remained in force. The recommendation was made in PoE’s report, released on March 31, 2011.

The UK wholly accepted these accusations. Those who had been making stupendous accusations received the blessings of the British political establishment. Recent British claims, of British troops being wrongfully targeted, should be examined, taking into account, a spate of allegations directed at the Sri Lankan military by UK politicians in mind. The UK unflinchingly subscribed to these accusations propagated by influential Tamil Diaspora groups.

British political parties bashed Sri Lanka, in Sept. 2011, during a debate in the House of Commons on the subject of human rights in the Indian sub-continent. Recently, the British media reported that UK Prime Minister David Cameron had been deeply concerned over the possibility of Iraq war veterans being prosecuted on the basis of ‘fabricated’ or ‘unjustified’ claims. The media reports had been based on a statement issued by Downing Street. The statement had been issued in the wake lawyers referring, approximately 280 complaints, pertaining to alleged atrocities, to Iraq Historic Allegations Team (IHAT).

No 10 quoted Cameron as having said that he feared that people are being solicited and enticed by lawyers into making accusations. PM Cameron’s spokeswoman had also expressed serious concern over some servicemen having to face repeated inquiries over the same incidents. The official spokeswoman said: "We are deeply concerned about these types of situation."Every false claim that the government has to respond to, investigate and defend, is diverting spending from the front line and from the work that our armed forces do to keep us safe. It is important that the government looks at what it can do to stop these types of scenarios where the claims may be fabricated, or not justified, and to look at how we deliver a better system in the future.

"On the basis of findings made by a top level inquiry, dubbed the Al-Sweady Inquiry, the British media reported allegations that troops executed and mutilated Iraqis in custody were ‘wholly without foundation’, though some of the detention techniques used had amounted to mistreatment." The British media quoted the PM’s spokeswoman as having said: "We are concerned at reports about people being solicited by lawyers to make allegations that – as the Al-Sweady Inquiry showed – can often be fabricated."

British Defence Secretary, Michael Falon, too, castigated what he called ambulance-chasing British law firms for discouraging troops deployed overseas. Falon alleged that troops feared being hauled in front of the courts on their return.

Falon is also on record as having argued that there was "a strong case" for suspending the European human rights law when sending forces into action overseas. The official asserted that their fight against terrorism was being impaired by human rights lawyers.

Fallon attacked ‘ambulance-chasing law firms’ that have brought thousands of cases against the Ministry of Defence over the conduct of British forces in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The British policy towards Sri Lanka can be compared with the UK law firms targeting British troops on overseas missions. Obviously, British law firms pursued such a despicable strategy for monetary gains, whereas British political parties sought to win over growing Tamil electorate. The Conservatives, Labour, as well as Liberal Democrats, had gone out of their way to appease Diaspora groups with the influential Global Tamil Forum (GTF) inaugurating its project in Feb., 2010, in the House of Commons.

Two years later, the GTF hired an expensive law firm, Birnberg Peirce and Partners, to move court in a bid to compel the UK to expel the then Sri Lankan Defence attaché in London, Maj. Gen. Prasanna Silva, over war crimes allegations. Interestingly, the GTF moved court against one of its key benefactors, the then British Foreign Secretary William Hague, for turning a blind eye to its call to declare Silva and his family personae non grata.

The case had been a first of its kind in an overseas court since European countries, and the US, gave sanctuary to those pursuing a separatist agenda in Sri Lanka.

The law firm hire sought a judicial review proceedings against Hague, at the London High Court, against his failure to act against Silva as Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs

Hague had addressed the inaugural meeting of GTF in the UK parliament on February 24th, 2010, along with his predecessor, David Miliband.

The GTF, which operates in 15 countries, is widely believed to be the most influential diaspora grouping, though the self-styled Transnational Government of Tamil Eelam (TGTE), headed by US-based V. Rudrakumaran, too, is active.

Maj. Gen. Silva moved to London in late 2010. A former Special Forces commander, Silva was promoted to the rank of Maj. Gen. at the conclusion of the conflict. The 55 Division, under his command, played a significant role on the Vanni East front, though wasn’t directly involved in the final phase.

On the basis of information provided by the GTF, the British lawyers pressed charges against Hague over the failure on the part of the government to expel Maj. Gen. Silva for atrocities committed during the last five months of the conflict. The GTF claimed that some of those detained, and tortured by Sri Lankan troops, during January-May 2009, were in the UK.

Soon after the conclusion of the conflict, the GTF made an abortive bid to have Maj. Gen. Chagi Gallage, who was accompanying President Mahinda Rajapaksa overseas, detained on war crimes charges.

The UK and Israel too had been at loggerheads over attempts by interested parties to have visiting Israeli military and political leaders detained over unsubstantiated human rights violations.

Foreign Secretary Hague had also been targeted by human rights crusaders alleging complicity in the US drone strikes directed against targets in Pakistan.

British political parties competed with each other to appease Diaspora groups for political reasons. No less a person than the then British Foreign Secretary, David Miliband, had admitted the administration playing politics with Sri Lanka for domestic political reasons. Thanks to disgraced US soldier, Bradley Manning, who had been sentenced, in 2013, to 35 years in prison for releasing hundreds of thousands of classified US documents, the British political project came to light. In spite of that various British politicians continue to preach their values.

The soldier, in his mid-twenties, was convicted, in July, 2013 of leaking more than 700,000 classified documents and video. The disclosures amounted to the biggest leak in history. Many documents dealt with the wartime situation in Sri Lanka and nothing could reflect the true British interest in the matter than the documents which contained comments attributed to Miliband (now one of the highest paid NGO operatives).

According to Sebastian Shakespeare, of the Daily Mail, Miliband now earns almost three times more than the British prime minister in his role as head of a refugee charity in New York.

Miliband receives $600,000 (£425,000) annually for working a 37-and-a-half hour week as president, and CEO, of the International Rescue Committee,

Miliband waged a high profile diplomatic campaign, targeting Sri Lanka, during 2009. The then British Foreign Secretary’s project had been largely driven by domestic political calculations, according to Tim Waite, identified as British Foreign Office team leader that dealt with wartime Sri Lanka.

A leaked May 2009 cable, from the US embassy in London, quoted the official as having explained Miliband’s intense focus on the issue in terms of UK electoral geography.

"Waite said that much of [Her Majesty’s government] and ministerial attention to Sri Lanka is due to the ‘very vocal’ Tamil diaspora in the UK, numbering over 300,000, who have been protesting in front of parliament since 6 April," Richard Mills, a political officer at the US embassy, reported.

"He (Waite) said that with UK elections on the horizon and many Tamils living in Labour constituencies with slim majorities, the government is paying particular attention to Sri Lanka, with Miliband recently remarking to him that he was spending 60% of his time at the moment on Sri Lanka."

On 4 May 2009, a few days before the US diplomatic cable was sent to Washington, the prime minister’s special envoy for Sri Lanka, Des Browne, was part of a cross-party group allowed in by the Sri Lankan government, which had blocked Browne’s entry for months.

Waite told Mills that Britain would be sustaining its "concerted drive to achieve a fully inclusive political settlement" in Sri Lanka.

British government accusations directed against UK law firms, as well as sordid operations undertaken by various Sri Lankan outfits here, can be studied. Professionals have engaged in lucrative projects The British High Commission recently accused Sri Lankan lawyers of providing false documents to those seeking political asylum. Sri Lankans had sought asylum in developed countries on the basis their lives are in danger in Sri Lanka. They had naturally provided a range of documents to prove their claims and the documents supplied by lawyers had been among them. The British have declined to reveal the names of the offending attorneys-at-law on the basis they didn’t comment on ongoing operational matters. The recent Sunday Times revelation embarrassed the Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL) prompting the organization to request the British High Commission to reveal the names of those of its members who had provided false documents. The Sunday Times reported how an officer of the British High Commission here wrote to the Home Office in Britain claiming that a vast majority of endorsement documents provided by Sri Lankan attorneys-at-law in support of asylum seekers were "not credible".

This conclusion was drawn after the British High Commission’s Migration Division checked 80 asylum cases referred to it by the Asylum Casework Directorate and Appeals and Litigation in Britain.

Obviously, the British authorities have problems not only with UK law firms but Sri Lankan lawyers, as well.

Since the conclusion of the war, some Sinhalese, after having reached the UK, had sought political asylum there on the basis of their lives being in danger due to their involvement with the LTTE. Can there be anything as shocking as Sinhalese claiming to have being involved with LTTE terror to secure political asylum in the UK. The Island learns that UK lawyers routinely suggest that Sinhalese clients, claiming LTTE link, is advantageous to them. The BASL should investigate accusations made by the British even if the British HC will not release names of the offending attorneys-at-law. Perhaps, the BASL should request the police to initiate an investigation. Those lawyers making false claims here, and in the UK, should be investigated and punitive action taken.