Tuesday, 18 July 2017

Lanka sledgehammered by UN

SPECIAL REPORT : Part 175

 

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Ben Emmerson responds to the media at UN compound in Colombo on the afternoon of July 14, 2017.UN Resident Coordinator and UNDP Resident Representative Una McCauley looks on.

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Ben Emmerson, QC, UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms, while countering terrorism, is fully cognizant of Sri Lanka’s long and complex history of ethnic tensions and the tremendous security challenges this has generated. For almost 26 years, Sri Lanka dealt with violent acts of terrorism, committed by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), including suicide bombings and political assassinations, which culminated in a prolonged armed conflict that came to an end only in 2009.

UN Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner Britisher Emmerson succeeded the first Special Rapporteur (Aug.1 2005 – July 31, 2011), Finish national, Martin Scheinin, on Aug 1, 2011.

At the conclusion of a visit to Sri Lanka, Emmerson flayed the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe government for not implementing the Geneva Resolution 30/1 adopted on Oct 1, 2015. Addressing the media, at the UN compound, in Colombo, last Friday, Emmerson declared that the Counter Terrorism Act proposed in place of the Prevention of Terrorism Act, (PTA), could become the cornerstone of a new order in Sri Lanka.

Having pointed out that the PTA had been enacted in 1979 as an emergency measure, Emmerson alleged that it was used against the Tamil community. "Since the authorities use this legislation disproportionately against members of the Tamil community, it is this community that has borne the brunt of the State’s well-oiled torture apparatus", he said.

The lengthy statement, readout by Emmerson, conveniently made no reference to the origin of the conflict, 26 years ago. Had the UN intervened, on behalf of Sri Lanka, in early 80s, despicable Indian destabilization project here could have been thwarted. Those who had bitterly complained about the security apparatus never bothered to examine the daunting challenges faced by Sri Lanka during the conflict. India, too, struggled to cope up with security challenges during the deployment of its Army in the Northern and Eastern Provinces in Sri Lanka (July 1987-March 1990).

The UN can never absolve itself of the responsibility for allowing India to destabilize its neighbour. The UN turned a blind eye as India forced Sri Lanka to accept deployment of its Army in two provinces in July ‘87, for an indefinite period, after having destabilized Sri Lanka to such an extent the government couldn’t cope up with the situation. However, the Indian project meant to establish federal administrative structure, in the two provinces, went awry due to the LTTE’s intransigence. Those who had been sent to guarantee the eelam project ended up fighting its own creation.

Although there had been some excesses, on the part of law enforcement authorities, as well as the armed forces, during the conflict, it would be pertinent to mention that the PTA was utilized against the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) in late 80s. Although it hadn’t been state policy, some law enforcement personnel, and armed forces, resorted to torture and extra judicial measures.

Emmerson dealt with the PTA on the basis of it had been exclusively used against the Tamil community. In fact, the police and the armed forces, in spite of being overwhelmingly comprised Sinhalese Buddhists, mercilessly crushed the JVP, though the Marxist group, consisted of almost 100 per cent Sinhalese Buddhists.

Emmerson was the former senior counsel for the Independent Inquiry into child abuse in the UK, headed by Prof. Alexis Jay. Emmerson quit the Independent Inquiry late last year following an allegation of sexual assault in a lift against him. However, Emmerson was fully cleared by his law chambers, Matrix, following an independent inquiry into the allegations of sexual assault and sexual harassment.

Emmerson should examine allegations directed against the Indian Army by the Tamil community here. India never acknowledged atrocities committed by its Army here, or accepted responsibility for training thousands of terrorists. Some of those Indian trained terrorists, belonging to the PLOTE, mounted a sea borne raid on the Maldives, in early Nov 1988. They almost succeeded in assassinating the then Maldivian President Abdul Gayoom. Western powers overlooked the regional security crisis created by India. Interestingly, the PLOTE is now a constituent member of the Illankai Thamil Arasu Kadchi (ITAK) led Tamil National Alliance (TNA), represented in parliament.

Those who hadn’t been familiar with clandestine operations, undertaken by the LTTE, would find it difficult to comprehend counter measures that were required to neutralize enemy threat.

Having had access to current, as well as former PTA detainees, Emmerson accused Sri Lanka of practicing what he called extremely brutal methods of torture. On the basis of what he had heard, Emmerson, in his media briefing, referred to beatings with sticks, the use of stress positions, suffocation of detainees by using plastic bags drenched in kerosene, pulling out fingernails, the use of various forms of water torture, suspension of people for several hours by their thumbs, the insertion of needless beneath the finger nails as well as mutilation of genitals. Emmerson declared that these allegations had been backed by independent medical evidence. Emmerson’s unsubstantiated allegations reminded me of one-time US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton alleging Sri Lankan Army had raped Tamil women as a tactic. Subsequently, release of some emails, sent and received by Clinton, during 2009, revealed the circumstances under which uncorroborated accusations had been directed at the Sri Lankan government at a time Western powers were trying to take the shine off the country’s triumph over terrorism.

The emails, released by the US State Department, disclosed the issuing of a clarification without actually retracting baseless claim made by Clinton that rape had been used as a tactic of war in Bosnia, Burma, and Sri Lanka, and elsewhere. The statement was made on Sept. 30, 2009, at the UN Security Council. That was a calculated move to appease those who had been calling for an international inquiry into the Vanni offensive, at Sri Lanka’s expense.

Self-infliction by proxy

Against the backdrop of Emmerson’s obvious faith in what he had been told by PTA detainees, during his stay here, let me examine a high profile case involving a Tamil seeking political asylum in the UK.

British judges ruled, in April, this year, a Sri Lankan asylum seeker allowed himself to be tortured, with hot iron rods, to support his bid to stay in the UK.

The Sri Lankan Tamil claimed five scars on his back were evidence of how he was badly treated by security authorities in Sri Lanka.

However, the Court of Appeal ruled that the Sri Lankan probably consented to the torture as part of a ruse called ‘self-infliction by proxy’ or SIBP.

The court asserted that a ‘cooperative and clandestine’ doctor might have put the asylum seeker under general anesthetic while the heated iron rods were placed on him.

In a 22,000-word appeal ruling, one of UK’s most senior judges, Lord Justice Sales, questioned why the 35-year-old man had not experienced any significant infection as a result of the burning.

The judge said an earlier immigration tribunal which threw out the man’s asylum claim was justified in highlighting the ‘highly unusual’ type of scarring as a ‘central implausibility’ in his account.

The UK court also raised doubts about his relationship with the LTTE and his alleged detention and escape from the country.

The Sri Lankan had arrived in the UK on a fake passport after the conclusion of the war, in May 2009 before seeking asylum. The Sri Lankan is alleged to have racked up enormous legal bills at taxpayers’ expense in his desperate bid to avoid deportation.

Sri Lankan claimed that he was detained in the aftermath of LTTE attack on Colombo airport in 2007 over possible links to the organization.

His alleged torture occurred in August 2009, where it was claimed he ‘felt intense pain from the first burn’ before falling unconscious while receiving other burns. In support of his torture claim, he produced a medical report from a professor that backed the theory.

The man also claimed he would face ‘a real risk of persecution’ if deported because authorities would regard him as having been ‘actively involved’ with the LTTE.

Dismissing the Sri Lankan’s appeal, Lord Justice Sales said the earlier tribunal hearing – which rejected the asylum seeker’s claims – had ‘conscientiously balanced the probabilities of infliction of the scarring by SIBP and by torture’.

The SIBP was the ‘only real possibility’ that could not be discounted, the court ruled.

In a majority decision, Lord Justice Sales and another senior judge, Lord Justice Patten, rejected the challenge by the claimant, identified only by the initials KV.

Those wanting to humiliate Sri Lanka had accepted all sorts of allegations directed at security authorities without bothering at least to verify them. British politicians had shamelessly sought the backing of UK voters, of Sri Lankan origin, at general elections. Presence of all major political parties at the inauguration of the Global Tamil Forum (GTF) in the House of Commons in February 2010 is proof of this.

The GTF was launched on Feb 24, 2010 with the participation of the then British Foreign Secretary, David Milliband, Conservative Shadow Foreign Secretary, William Hague, and Liberal Democrats Shadow Foreign Secretary, Ed Davey, as well as delegates from 14 countries. The formation took place in the wake of a failed joint UK-French bid to throw a lifeline to the LTTE. They made a desperate effort as Sri Lankan troops were closing in on the LTTE-held area on the Vanni east.

Terrorists take refuge overseas

Sri Lanka successfully brought the war to a successful conclusion, in May, 2009, on the banks of the Nanthikadal lagoon. Since the conclusion of the war, thousands of those who had fought for the LTTE had entered other countries, illegally. In addition to them, a substantial number of Sri Lankan Tamils, who had escaped forced conscription, as well as those who weren’t in Sri Lanka, during the war, sought asylum in the West on the false pretext of being persecuted by Sri Lanka. Asylum seekers had accused Sri Lanka of torturing them. Interestingly, Western powers hadn’t been really bothered about those receiving asylum, on the basis of unsubstantiated allegations, being guilty of human rights violations, including torture, during the war here. The LTTE had operated ‘prisons’ in the Northern and Eastern Provinces during the conflict where they held Tamil speaking people opposed to them, members of rival Tamil terrorist groups, dissident members of the LTTE, and captured and surrendered police and armed forces personnel. They had been organized to such an extent, the London headquartered Amnesty International was given an opportunity to examine some of their facilities in the Northern Province years ago. The Amnesty International recommended legal status to the LTTE against the backdrop of the grouping having ‘courts.’

The LTTE had subjected those who revolted against the group, or suspected of working against it, to torture before execution. The likes of Emmerson pursuing an agenda against Sri Lanka will never accept transformation of Sri Lanka. They cannot stomach Sri Lanka’s triumph over the ruthless LTTE terrorists whose capabilities even stunned one of the largest armies in the world in late 80s. Having trained the LTTE in India, India experienced its fighting capabilities as LTTE units killed well over 1,000 Indian officers and men and caused injuries to 3,000.

Sooka reveals terrorists living in UK, Norway...

An expensive survey conducted by the International Truth and Justice Project (ITJP), affiliated to the Foundation of Human Rights, in South Africa, last year, revealed how LTTE cadres, including those who had been with Shanmugalingam Sivashankar alias Pottu Amman’s dreaded intelligence service, secured citizenship in European countries, including the UK.

The releasing of the survey titled ‘Forgotten Sri Lanka’s exiled victims’ coincided with the commencement of the 32 sessions of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.

The report inadvertently revealed the existence of clandestine networks, facilitating Sri Lankans of Tamil origin, including former members of the LTTE, reaching Europe, through illegal means.

The report dealt with information acquired from 75 Tamils, living in the UK, France, Switzerland and Norway. Almost all of them had fled Sri Lanka after the conclusion of the war, in May, 2009. The vast majority of interviews had been conducted in London. However, an ITJP bid to include some of those ex-LTTE cadres, based in Germany, in the project, had gone awry. The report claimed that the targeted group declined to participate, in protest against the role of the international community in supporting the transitional justice process in Sri Lanka.

Surprisingly, ITJP didn’t bother about those who had taken refuge in India during the conflict and post-conflict period.

A group of human rights experts, international prosecutors, investigators and transitional justice experts, who had previously served the United Nations (UN) International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) and the International Criminal Court (ICC), produced the report under the guidance of Yasmin Sooka, one of the three persons on UNSG Ban Ki-moon’s panel of experts. Sooka teamed up with Marzuki Darusman and Steven R. Ratner to produce Report of the Secretary General’s Panel of Experts on Accountability in Sri Lanka.

On the basis of the interviews conducted, with the help of Sri Lankan Tamil interpreters, who had either worked for the UN or other International NGOs, in the Vanni, during eelam war IV, the report estimated that 72 per cent of the 75 interviewed had served various LTTE units. The report named those combat and support units as Radha, Sothiya, Imran Pandiyan and Malathy regiments as well as the Intelligence Wing. The non-combat units included the LTTE Media Unit, the TV station, the Political Wing, the Peace Secretariat, the International Secretariat, the Medical Wing, the Transport Unit, the Computer section and the Education Section.

Those who had been interviewed, but not members of the LTTE, were either at school or university, or were in some cases housewives, photographers, teachers, accountants, office administrators, farmers, businessmen, or fishermen, during the conflict. Eighty per cent of the interviewed had survived the last phase of the war on the Vanni east front.

Sooka’s team claimed having unhindered access to those who had fled Sri Lanka during the eelam war and post-war period as well as the largest collection of witness testimony and other evidence, outside Sri Lanka, pertaining to the final phase of the conflict and post-war torture and sexual violence. (The claim as regards having the largest collection of witness testimony and other evidence outside Sri Lanka should be closely examined against the backdrop of UNSG Panel of Experts declaration that it received 4,000 submissions from 2,300 persons. Interestingly, Sooka also served the Panel of Experts which released its report on March 31, 2011).

Sooka appreciated the support extended by wartime BBC correspondent in Sri Lanka, Frances Harrison, to the ITJP project. Declaring that the project couldn’t have been brought to a successful conclusion without Frances’ support, Sooka referred to the role played by lawyers in facilitating interviews with those who had clandestinely left Sri Lanka. (Obviously, they had repeated to Sooka’s team what they told their lawyers engaged in the lucrative business of obtaining asylum for aliens.)

Thanks to Sooka, the OMP, and those wanting to know the truth, now have an opportunity to verify the situation in the wartime Vanni with the help of former UN and INGO workers living overseas. In fact, no other INGO had so far claimed to have access to former UN and INGO workers who had experienced war and were lucky to survive the final assault on the Vanni east front. They can help establish the circumstances under which the LTTE forced the population in the Vanni west to cross the Kandy-Jaffna A9 road and move towards the Vanni east coast. The LTTE imposed severe restrictions to prevent civilians fleeing the war zone to secure refuge in army-held areas. The LTTE went to the extent of detaining UN workers responsible for helping some civilians to escape.

But most importantly, former LTTE cadres, now living overseas, should be subject to scrutiny by the UN.

Did they secure citizenship in European or Scandinavian countries on the basis of false claims? Had they been really in northern Sri Lanka during the war or lived in the South and sought to exploit the situation at the expense of Sri Lanka’s impugned notoriety?

Perhaps, premier contemporary French director Jacques Audiard’s Dheepan that secured the Palme d’Or in Cannes in 2015 is evidence how blatant lies had enabled Sri Lankan Tamils to secure citizenship. Dheepan dealt with a Tamil terrorist trying to make a new life in France with a fake family. The bogus family succeeded in France. Dheepan is the story of thousands of former terrorists and fake terrorists.

Sri Lanka, obviously paying a very heavy price for not properly countering propaganda. The war-winning previous Rajapaksa government cannot absolve itself of failure to defend Sri Lanka. Instead of countering lies, the former government played politics with the issue until it was too late.

Tuesday, 11 July 2017

Changing security landscape

 

Jaffna peninsula:

SPECIAL REPORT : Part 174

 

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by Shamindra Ferdinando

Prisons Reforms, Rehabilitation, Resettlement and Hindu Religious Affairs Minister, D.M. Swaminathan, recently expressed gratitude to yahapalana leaders, President Maithripala Sirisena, Premier Ranil Wickremesinghe, and the current military leadership for releasing 54 acres of land, along the coastal belt, in the Thaididi grama niladari area, including the Myladdi fisheries harbour, adjoining the strategic Palaly cantonment

Myladdi harbour is second only to the Mirissa fisheries harbour, in terms of its size, and the Navy-maintains a crucial presence there as it is required for the overall security of the Jaffna peninsula.

The navy constructed a new pier, at Myliddy, in Dec-Jan 2007, following Basil Rajapaksa’s intervention. The then Navy Chief, Vice Admiral Wasanha Karannagoda, sought an additional pier to enhance their capability to bring in supplies required by Tamil civilians in the Jaffna peninsula. Deprived of overland Main Supply Route (MSR), to the Jaffna peninsula, both the armed forces and civilians received supplies from sea. The SLAF, too, played a tremendous role, in spite of having to operate in ‘missile environment.’

UNP National List MP Swaminathan hadn’t been present at the land handing over ceremony, held on July 3, hence issuance of brief press release, three days later, underscoring his role in regaining the land.

Jaffna Security Forces Commander, Maj. Gen. Darshana Hettiarrachchi, handed over documents regarding the release of land to the District Secretary for Jaffna, Nagalingam Vedanayaham.

Maj. Gen. Hettiarrachchi of the Engineers and a former Commissioner Gen of Rehabilitation (Feb 2012 to July 2013) succeeded Maj. Gen. Mahesh Senanayake, in April this year. Senanayake, last week, received the coveted appointment as the 22 Commander of the Army, after having held the post of Chief of Staff for a brief period.

The releasing of land enabled 187 families, who had been living in refuge camps, or with relatives, to return to their original places of living.

In April this year, the Army released 35 acres of land, in Urani, including Urani fisheries harbour that had been under Jaffna Security Forces headquarters.

Swaminathan concluded his brief statement, issued on July 6, 2017, declaring that he had received an assurance from the ‘security sector’ to release more lands by the end of this year.

In Colombo, newly appointed Lt. Gen. Senanayake explained his efforts to promote post war national reconciliation, in the Jaffna peninsula, during his post-war stay there.

Commenting on Northern Province Chief Minister C.V. Wigneswaran’s repeated calls for the military to vacate the Jaffna peninsula, the Army Chief emphasized that the country shouldn’t be unduly worried about such statements. "The deployment of troops is the prerogative of the armed forces, depending on requirement. There is absolutely no point in taking up armed forces deployment on the political platform."

Lt. Gen. Senanayake said the land held by the military would be released following proper assessment. Calling Wigneswaran a good friend of his, the former Jaffna Commander explained various measures taken by the military to strengthen post-war reconciliation process.

"We are ready for any eventuality", the new Army Commander said.

Against the backdrop of giving up Myladdi land, adjoining Palaly cantonment, and Swaminathan expecting further reduction of military presence in former war zones, it would be pertinent to examine the circumstances leading to releasing of land. The vast majority of the people are glad Lt. Gen. Senanayake is ready for any eventuality.

TNA heavyweight, MP M.A. Sumanthiran, was among those present at the Myladdi land release. Jaffna District MP Sumanthiran was also given an opportunity to address the gathering. Army headquarters posted pictures of Sumanthiran with other invitees, including Maj. Gen. Hettiarrachchi, on its website, army.lk.

"We welcome release of Myliddy fishery harbour; it is of symbolic significance," Sumanthiran said in TNA’s Twitter account.

"The rest of the land must also be released, as per the promise of the Sri Lankan government," Sumanthiran has further said.

Had the LTTE secured an understanding, with the previous government, with the intervention of Western powers, in 2009, perhaps attorney-at-law Sumanthiran wouldn’t have been able to enter parliament through the TNA National List, in April 2010. Having gained influence among the parliamentary groups, as well as the electorate, within a few years, Sumanthiran successfully contested the Jaffna District at the August 2015 parliamentary polls. Had the LTTE survived, Prabhakaran would have had the ultimate say in who contested elections, at any level, or entered parliament through the National List.

Let me stress that the eradication of the LTTE in May 2009, freed the TNA from LTTE control and paved the way for the grouping to take decisions on its own. The LTTE formed the TNA, in late 2001, to facilitate its overall eelam project. In line with its overall strategy, the TNA had to recognize the LTTE as the sole representative of the Tamil speaking people. The LTTE received that recognition until a soldier shot Prabhakaran through his head on the morning of May 19, 2009 on the banks of Nanthikadal. That brought relief to the entire nation and paved the way for post-war national reconciliation process.

Unfortunately, none of those, who had been preaching importance of reconciliation, are willing to accept the fact that peace wouldn’t have been a reality as long as Prabhakaran lived, here or abroad. No less a person than President Maithripala Sirisena acknowledged that a negotiated settlement would never have been possible with Prabhakaran. President Sirisena said so in response to a query posed by the writer at a meeting between the president and a group of journalists.

Had the LTTE survived the Vanni onslaught, releasing of military-held civilian land wouldn’t have been a possibility. The bottom line is that as long as the LTTE maintained sizable combat presence in the Vanni, the army couldn’t have given up the Jaffna land taken over the years in defence of its strategic bases.

Jaffna land release

The combined armed forces brought the Jaffna peninsula under government control, in early 1996. But, the LTTE had again gained the upper hand, in the northern theater of operations, by 2002. The LTTE inflicted devastating battlefield defeats on the army at Mullaitivu (July 1996) and Kilinochchi-Elephant Pass (1998-2000) and Muhamalai (2001) thereby deprived the Army of an opportunity to strike back. The LTTE had been so strong, on the northern front (Kilaly-Muhamalai-Nagarkovil sector) Jaffna Divisions, that even the elite 53 Division couldn’t move southwards, across Elephant Pass, until the then Brigadier Shavendra Silva’s celebrated 58 Division cleared the area, northwards of Paranthan, during eelam war IV. The military brought the war to an end in May 2009. Then Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa authorized the releasing of Jaffna land several months after the restoration of peace. The armed forces could begin gradually giving up areas as the defeated LTTE lacked the strength to launch a sustained hit and run attack campaign.

In the Jaffna district, three Divisions held nearly 15,400 acres of land at the time Prabhakaran was killed, with the 52 Division holding nearly 11,000 acres. The 51 and 55 held the rest. In addition to the areas held by the three Divisions, the Palaly cantonment comprised about 11,600 acres and since the conclusion of the conflict, nearly 8,300 acres had been released. Over eight years after the restoration of peace, 14,000 acres, out of 15,400 acres, that had been held by the 51, 52 and 55 Divisions, were released gradually.

According to the latest statistics available, the land, in acres, held by the Army, in the Jaffna district, has been reduced to 4,700 acres from nearly 27,000, in 2009. With the gradual releasing of land, the number of displaced families, too, has come down to 770 from 2,300 in 2009. The number of welfare centers has come down to 29 from 64 in 2009.

In addition to 4,700 acres held by the Army (three Divisions plus Palaly cantonment), the Air Force and the Navy occupied nearly 1,000 acres and 580 acres, respectively.

The much anticipated process, to release Army-held land, coming within the Palaly cantonment, commenced in late Oct 2010. The Army released 370 acres of land in the first phase. It was followed by the release of nearly 1960 acres, in late Nov 2010.

The previous government released land on a staggered basis leading to gradual decreasing of military presence in the Jaffna peninsula. Parallel to the giving up of land, in the Jaffna peninsula, the Army reduced the number of battalions deployed there.

In addition to the 51,52 and 55 Divisions, deployed in the Jaffna peninsula, the elite 53 Division, too, had been positioned there until 55 and 53 joined the Vanni offensive, in early January, 2009.

Expansion of Myliddy harbour

Myliddy played a significant role in the previous government’s overall strategy meant to defend the Jaffna peninsula. The ground situation in Jaffna changed with a massive LTTE attack, on Muhamalai, in Aug 2006, which resulted in the closure of the MSR. Uncertainty gripped the north as the government and the military struggled to ensure sea and air supplies to the Jaffna peninsula under extremely difficult conditions. For want of a larger transport fleet, the Air Force couldn’t sustain supply operation on its own. The government faced the daunting task of maintaining supplies to the military, police as well as the entire civilian population. Those who had been shedding crocodile tears, for the Tamil community, didn’t utter a word to discourage the LTTE from depriving Jaffna of required supplies. Former President Mahinda Rajapaksa and wartime Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa had the courage to face the LTTE challenge. In response to the LTTE threat, the Navy, on the instructions of Vice Admiral Karannagoda, constructed a new pier at Myliddy within 45 days, to facilitate movement of cargo. While the Navy had been busy constructing pier, LTTE suicide squads attacked civilian cargo ship MV Liverpool unloading essential supplies at the Point Pedro harbour. The attack on Liverpool disrupted the Point Pedro harbour. The availability of Myliddy to bring in cargo eased pressure on the government and the military. The armed forces ensured the supplies needed by civilians. Western powers, in spite of having direct contacts with the LTTE, refused to demand an end to LTTE operations meant to disrupt civilian food supplies. The ICRC declined to accompany civilian food supply lines for want of security guarantee from the LTTE. The LTTE was never allowed to succeed in its effort to starve the people of Jaffna. Sadly, the UNP refrained from at least commenting on the situation at that time.

Unfortunately, the government pathetically failed to remind the country how Myliddy harbour was used for the benefit of the Jaffna community. Had Myliddy harbour being situated outside Palaly cantonment area at that time, the government would have faced a major problem. Thanks to Myliddy being situated in the military held area, the then government could swiftly use it.

Since the end of the war, Western powers and the UN (on behalf of Western powers) had been putting pressure on Sri Lanka to reduce the military presence in the northern province, particularly the Jaffna peninsula. The Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) had repeatedly requested Sri Lanka to sharply decrease military presence there. India, too, had taken up the issue, on several occasions.

Those who had been pushing for a military-free environment, in the Northern Province, are keen to ensure police powers to the Northern Province Chief Minister C.V. Wigneswaran in accordance with the 13th Amendment to the Constitution forced on Sri Lanka 30 years ago. The same crowd succeeded in forcing Sri Lanka to do away with her annual armed forces’ victory day parade in 2015. Appalachian government meekly gave into Western demands though only Canada officially requested for the permanent cancellation of the event. Shame on spineless politicians.

Those who had bent backwards to appease elements who couldn’t stomach Sri Lanka’s victory over terrorism caused irreparable damage to national security. Yahapalana leaders hadn’t countered ongoing efforts to weaken the military through devious means. A section of the media, as well as the so called civil society, too, had contributed to this despicable project. Unfortunately, the Joint Opposition, in spite of being dubbed as the real opposition, both in and outside parliament, has pathetically failed to initiate an effective campaign. Former President Mahinda Rajapaksa cannot absolve himself of the responsibility for not properly defending the country in Geneva. Instead of countering specific allegations, the Rajapaksa administration played politics with the issue. The former President also authorized a controversial project that resulted in millions of US dollars squandered on international PR firms. The project meant to improve Sri Lanka’s image overseas, particularly in the US achieved nothing. Sri Lankan ended up having to face the Geneva Resolution in Oct 2015.

Having won the war, the previous government couldn’t justify its actions. A pathetic situation, indeed.

It would be necessary to inquire into an internationally backed project to compel Sri Lanka to do away with High Security Zones (HSZ) in Jaffna in 2002-2003. Had that happened, the outcome of eelam war IV would have been different. Thanks to the then Jaffna Commander Sarath Fonseka, the UNP couldn’t do it.

2002-2003 controversy over Jaffna HSZ

In accordance with the CFA, arranged by the Norway, the then government made an attempt to at least partially do away with HSZs. The project went awry due to Fonseka, publicly opposing the plan.

Sri Lanka sought the advice of one-time Indian Army Chief of Staff, Lt. Gen. Satish Nambiar, to advice the Sri Lankan military, on security matters, as regards the Jaffna HSZs. Subsequently, Sri Lanka obtained advice from retired Vice Chief-of-Naval-Staff, Vice Admiral P. J. Jacob.

Sri Lanka initially engaged Nambiar, who commanded the UN troops, in what was previously Yugoslavia, to review the Jaffna HSZs. His report on HSZs was released in mid 4 January, 2003. It was his second report on the HSZs as the LTTE rejected his first report which basically endorsed the views of Fonseka.

Fonseka declared a set of tough per-conditions for the military to give up Jaffna HSZs. The war veteran emphasized that giving up of HSZs should be directly linked to a series of measures to prevent the LTTE from taking advantage of the situation.

Fonseka earned the wrath of the then government, as well as all those who had been backing the Norwegian initiative, regardless of its security consequences. Had the then government had its way, the LTTE could have destabilized the Palaly-Kankesanthurai sector (Palaly cantonment). Large scale destabilization/sabotage operations could have undermined both air and sea supply routes, and that would have affected the government position in the entire peninsula. Had that happened, Jaffna would have been vulnerable for a massive assault and the ground situation, altered to such an extent, that the LTTE would taken the upper hand in the Jaffna peninsula.

Fonseka went to the extent of releasing his controversial proposals as regards the Jaffna HSZs in a bid to pressure the UNP leadership to drop its plan. Fonseka imposed tough conditions to prevent the LTTE from taking advantage of proposed resettlement of civilians in areas demarcated as HSZs. The Sinha Regiment veteran also involved the Norwegian-led Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission (SLMM) in proposed counter measures. Fonseka proposed additional powers and fresh mandate to the SLMM to pave the way for the five-nation grouping to play a pivotal role in an effective de-escalation plan.

Fonseka highlighted the danger in doing away with Jaffna HSZs without taking adequate precautions. Fonseka’s stand should be examined in the backdrop of extremely poor ground situation in the Northern Province at that time. Having suffered a humiliating defeat, at Elephant Pass, in April, 2000, the army held a forward defence line, extending from Kilali on one side to Nargarkovil on the Vadamaratchchy east coast via Eluththumaduval and Muhamalai. The LTTE retained strong forces capable of breaching defended positions. In that background, doing away with HSZs, in the Jaffna peninsula, to facilitate the Norwegian led peace process, could have caused catastrophe unless counter measures were taken, in accordance with Fonseka’s plan. Perhaps, no other army officer, at that time, had the guts to publicly oppose controversial plan to do away with HSZs much to the embarrassment of the then political leadership.

Key points identified by Fonseka

*Withdrawal of LTTE weapons as well as decommissioning of artillery pieces and long range mortars, positioned against military in the Jaffna peninsula. This was to be done with the assistance of the SLMM.

*Measures to prevent resettlement of LTTE cadres, their families and sympathizers close to military camps.

*Possibility of the LTTE having military hardware, including missiles within areas categorized as HSZs.

*Threat posed by suicide cadres operating in HSZs.

*Use of information provided by civilians in HSZs to direct accurate artillery and mortar fire at specific targets.

*Under any circumstances, LTTE will not be allowed to engage in politics (Under the CFA, the LTTE was allowed to enter government-held areas in both Northern and Eastern districts to engage in political activity. The LTTE used that opportunity to organist hit squads to eliminate those individuals whom it considered a threat to the organization).

*Strict controls on movement of those allowed to return to HSZs with certain areas declared out of bounds for returnees, under any circumstances.

*Regular checks on people, at both entry and exit points, at HSZs.

*The need to retain buffer zones within the HSZs to meet any eventuality.

*Prohibition of resettlement of civilians at places that could be used to threaten ship movements, to and from Kankesanthurai, and aircraft operating to and from the Palaly air base.

*Under cover LTTE units exploiting the presence of civilians to mount attacks on the military.

What armed forces won through blood, sweat and tears, the politicos might surrender on a platter

Tuesday, 4 July 2017

Justice Minister strikes a discordant note


Accountability issues

SPECIAL REPORT : Part 173

 

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By Shamindra Ferdinando

Justice and Buddha Sasana Minister Dr. Wijeyadasa Rajapakse, PC last week flayed the UN system for propagating lies in respect of the post-war situation in the country.

Rajapakse dealt with the report produced by the Office of the Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers following a visit undertaken by Ms Monica Pinto in April-May 2016. Rajapakse didn’t mince his words when he declared Pinto’s report presented by her successor Diego Garcia-Sayan at the recently concluded 35 th session wasn’t acceptable.

Rajapakse was responding to the writer’s observation that his position contradicted the stand taken by Sri Lanka’s Permanent Representative in Geneva Ambassador Ravinatha Aryasinha in respect of Pinto’s report. Arysinha responded to Pinto’s report on June 12, 2017.

The media had an opportunity to take up the Geneva project at a media briefing called by the Justice Ministry on June 30, 2017. Foreign Secretary Esala Weerakoon was among senior officials present. The respected career diplomat is also a member of the high powered seven-member sub committee assigned to assist the ministerial committee. The officials’ committee comprises Secretary to the Prime Minister, Representative of the Secretary to the President, Representative of the Attorney General, Defence Secretary, Foreign Secretary, Justice Secretary and Law and Order Secretary.

Rajapakse criticism of the UN report at the Justice Ministry followed a devastating attack on the same by him in parliament two weeks ago. Rajapakse teared into UN report just days after Premier Wickremesinghe authorized the formation of the ministerial committee.

Rajapakse questioned the very basis of ongoing UN intervention here in the wake of Oct 1, 2015 Geneva Resolution 30/1 which authorized a hybrid judicial mechanism to address accountability issues.

Interestingly, Rajapakse strongly criticized the UN system soon after being appointed to ministerial central coordination monitoring to implement the Geneva Resolution. The prime ministerial committee comprised foreign minister Ravi Karunanayake, Ports and Shipping Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe, Law and Order Minister Sagala Ratnayake, Justice Minister Dr. Wijeyadasa Rajapakse, PC, Development Assignments Minister Tilak Marapone, State Defence Minister Ruwan Wijewardena and Deputy Minister of National Policies and Economic Affairs Dr. Harsha de Silva.

The committee consisted of senior UNP and SLFP representatives. A surprising

Rajapakse is certainly not the only yahapalana spokesperson critical of UN intervention here. However, Rajapakse remains the only minister to take a different stand on Geneva issue publicly much to the discomfort the government. The PC has earned the wrath of the civil society grouping that campaigned for Maithripala Sirisena at the January 2015 presidential poll and backed the UNP at the August 2015 parliamentary election.

Now that the Justice Minister has twice challenged the UN report prepared on the invitation of yahapalana government, it would be pertinent to examine allegations directed during the previous administration leading to Oct 1, 2015 Resolution co-sponsored by Sri Lanka. The Sirisena-Wickremesinghe government in March this year reiterated its commitment to the same controversial resolution. The prime ministerial committee headed by FM Karunanayake is tasked with ensuring the full implementation of the resolution.

In the run-up to presidential poll in January 2015, the electorate was repeatedly warned of the country having to face international sanctions unless a change of government took place. Those wanting to oust the Rajapaksas repeated unsubstantiated war crimes allegations with the UNP and civil society grouping confidently declaring Maithripala Sirisena’s victory would put an end to the Geneva process.

Justice Minister Rajapakse’s attack on the UN system is evidence that the Geneva process is on track.

Exercise Shadow Dance

Over eight years after the successful conclusion of the war against the LTTE, Sri Lanka is still struggling to handle the media coverage of the conflict. The writer was among a small group of journalists, including Colombo correspondent of AFP Amal Jayasinghe invited to participate in stimulated mock media briefings given by foreign army occupying northern part of Sri Lanka and Sri Lankan military struggling to regain the lost territory. The AP, the BBC as well as Reuters were also represented.

Briefings took place at the end of Exercise Shadow Dance on June 30, 2017 at the Defence Services Command and Staff College (DSCSC). The establishment situated at Batalanda, Makola South was formerly called Sri Lanka Army Command and Staff College.

Maj. Gen K.A.D.A. Karunasekara formerly of the Directorate of Military Intelligence (DMI) functions as the Commandant of the DSCSC.

Senior representatives of the two warring forces who had called the media briefings in the wake of ceasefire struggled to cope up with the barrage of questions posed to them.

Questions relating to soldiers posting pictures of executed combatants, nude women killed in operational areas, casualty figures, possible conscription in response to growing battlefield losses and desertions as well as supply of weapons of inferior quality troubled military spokesmen. Under pressure from the media, a spokesperson for Sri Lankan military declared that the briefing had to be curtailed as the presence of the General Officer Commanding (GoC) was required somewhere else.

Veteran journalist Jayasinghe explained ways and means they could improve their presentations and how to handle the media. Jayasinghe briefly discussed pluses and minuses in the media accompanying armies and his own experience in occupied Afghanistan and Iraq.

The writer took advantage of the opportunity to remind those who had been present of the circumstances leading to Sri Lanka co-sponsoring January 2015 Geneva Resolution. Sri Lanka’s failure to effectively counter lies propagated by interested parties with the support of a section of the media, too, was pointed out. The media working with hostile foreign governments, political parties, civil society as well as terrorists was also raised by the writer while underscoring the requirement to take remedial measures.

For want of a cohesive strategy, Sri Lanka allowed those who couldn’t stomach Sri Lanka’s triumph over the LTTE in May 2009 to undermine post-war stability.

Justice Minister Rajapakse’s criticism of Pinto’s report to Geneva that reiterated the participation of foreign judges including those from the Commonwealth, defense lawyers and authorized prosecutors and investigators in a judicial mechanism should have jolted the Joint Opposition. DSCSC officers responses to the media, too, highlighted the urgent need to examine accountability issues afresh. Had the officers been aware of the high profile post-war anti-Sir Lanka project and diverse views expressed in the recent past, they would have had the confidence to face the media confidently.

The JO should take up issues raised by Justice Minister Rajapakse without further delay.

The outfit comprises about 50 members of parliament loyal to former President Mahinda Rajapaksa. Unfortunately, the JO hadn’t been able to address the Geneva issue efficiently.

A plethora of contentious issues

The yahapalana government is obviously unable speak in one voice with policy makers pulling in different directions. The administration has been preoccupied with a range of other issues, including deepening crisis over Iranian funded Uma Oya project now threatening a revolt in Badulla, Meethotamulla garbage crisis, conflict over the South Asian Institute of Technology and Medicine (SAITM), dengue epidemic, stalled deal with China on Hambantota port, rumble in the postal department over move to sell some property, CEB employees threatening strike over salary anomalies, probe on Central Bank-Perpetual Treasuries bond scams in Feb 2015 and March 2016, conflicts between members of the cabinet and failure to make progress on the economic front. In addition to those issues, the government is in crisis over not having sufficient funds to provide short term and permanent solutions to thousands affected by recent devastating floods and earth-slips. Over 300 men, women and children perished due to floods and earth slips last month.

Coalition partners, UNP and the SLFP are under heavy fire over prolonged delay in holding local government polls. Obviously, the SLFP feared to face JO at local government polls against the backdrop of the national economy in a mess due to mismanagement, corruption, waste and irregularities.

Having appointed Presidential Commission to inquire into Central Bank-Perpetual Treasuries fraud now widely subbed Sri Lanka’s biggest robbery, the SLFP now faced the prospect of the Attorney General ordering proceedings on the basis of Presidential Commission report expected to be handed over to President Sirisena at the end of this month.

Yahapalana leaders are also on a collision course with influential civil society grouping with the latter stepping up pressure on the administration to go ahead with proposed constitutional reforms in accordance with the Geneva dictates. Yahapalana government is also clashing with the JVP which played a significant role in the project to oust the Rajapaksa.

Contrary to expectations, much touted 19th Amendment to the Constitution has failed to improve good governance. Instead, the new law has legitimized the appointment of ministers, deputy ministers and state ministers without restriction though the original plan was to curtail the number of ministers and deputies through constitutional means.

The JO’s pathetic failure to address Geneva issues anew, particulaly in the wake of Justice Minister challenging UN report is inexcusable. The JO leadership needs to reexamine the project backed by Western countries that led to the Rajapaksa’s defeat in January 2015. The requirement to study specific allegations cannot be ignored. The JO, the Socialist Alliance (SA) also supportive of the JO as well as other civil society organizations such as Yuthukama and Viyath Maga, too, should scrutinize the Geneva Resolution. Co sponsored by Sri Lanka, the Geneva Resolution 30/1 is meant to introduce a new Constitution. Those responsible for Sri Lanka’s defence should keep in mind the Resolution was based on unsubstantiated allegations propagated by Western powers.

In spite of failures on all fronts, all political parties have obtained perks and priveleges at the expense of taxpayers. They have approved a monthly payment of Rs 100,000 each to members of parliament in addition to massive tax exemptions to secure vehicles. However, the JVP has received Rs 30 mn tax exemptions for six members of parliament, whereas others got as much as over Rs 30 m each. Massive expenditure incurred by taxpayers annually to maintain lavish lifestyles of honourable members of parliament and parliament itself is shocking.

Reappraisal of strategy needed

The ministerial committee headed by FM Karunanayake cannot ignore the facts below.

Main allegations

(A) Sri Lanka ordered UN/INGOs to vacate Kilinochchi in Sept, 2008 to conduct ‘a war without witnesses’.

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

(C) Coordinated mortar/artillery/MBRL attacks on civilians population.

(D) Massacre over 40,000 civilians.

(E) Rape of combatants/civilians.

(F) The use of cluster bombs

*Primary evidence

Geneva was moved on the basis of about 4,000 submissions received by Darusman Panel. About 2,300 persons furnished information to the panel. But UN directed that these accusations cannot be verified until 2031. Even then, verification has to be approved by the UN.

*Critical failure

Previous government ignored the need to conduct a thorough inquiry into allegations.

*Glaring omissions

The GoSL ignored two critical events (A) In June, 2011 (over two years after the successful conclusion of the war) the then Colombo based US Defence Attache Lt. Colonel Lawrence Smith defended GoSL at a seminar organized by the Army. The seminar dealt with ‘Defeating Terrorism: The Sri Lanka Experience.’ In response to a question regarding the alleged move by some LTTE cadres to surrender during the last few days of the war, the US official denied that possibility, thereby effectively contradicting those propagating massacre of surrendering persons. The US official was responding to a query posed by retired Indian Maj. General Ashok Metha. (Metha served in Sri Lanka during the deployment of the Indian Army in the 80s in accordance with the Indo-Lanka accord).

This is what Lt. Col. Lawrence Smith had to say.: "Hello, may I say something to a couple of questions raised. I’ve been the defense attache here at the US Embassy since June 2008. Regarding the various versions of events that came out in the final hours and days of the conflict-from what I was privileged to hear and to see, the offers to surrender that I am aware of seemed to come from the mouthpieces of the LTTE – Nadesan, KP – people who weren’t and never had really demonstrated any control over the leadership or the combat power of the LTTE.

So their offers were a bit suspect anyway, and they tended to vary in content hour by hour, day by day. I think we need to examine the credibility of those offers before we leap to conclusions that such offers were in fact real.

And I think the same is true for the version of events. It’s not so uncommon in combat operations, in the fog of war, as we all get our reports second, third and fourth hand from various commanders at various levels that the stories don’t seem to all quite match up.

But I can say that the version presented here so far in this is what I heard as I was here during that time. And I think I better leave it at that before I get into trouble."

(B) The GoSL never bothered to take advantage of leaked US diplomatic cables in spite of them being crucial for its defense. One leaked cable dealt with a discussion Geneva-based US Ambassador Clint Williamson had with ICRC Head for Operations for South Asia Jacques de Maio. The US envoy declared on July 15, 2009, that the Army actually could have won the battle faster with higher civilian casualties, yet chosen a slower approach which led to a greater number of Sri Lankan military deaths.

Other developments

advantageous to GoSL

(A) Deployment of Indian medical team at Pulmoddai, north of Trincomalee to receive the wounded transferred from Puthumathalan under ICRC supervision. The Indian team remained there until the conclusion of the war. The Indian team received several thousand wounded civilians during February-May, 2009 via sea. The government commenced transferring war wounded by sea soon after fighting blocked overland routes to and from Vanni east. The vessels deployed to evacuate the wounded transported several thousands of essential supplies to Puthumathalan. Foreign relief workers were also allowed to go ashore.

Allegations in respect of Vanni population denied medicine, food and other basic needs should be probed against the backdrop of supplies made available to Puthumathalan until the second week of May, 2009. The war ended in the following week.

India and ICRC, too, should be requested to explain their roles in the operation. The World Food Programme (WFP) can establish the amount of supplies moved to the area held by the LTTE during Feb-May 2009 period.

*Contradictory claims in respect of civilians killed

The GoSL never sought an explanation from Geneva in respect of the number of civilians perished during the eelam war IV. Those who had been strongly opposed to foreign intervention, too, failed to take it up.

I British Labor Party MP Siobhan McDonagh (Mitcham and Morden-Labour) told House of Commons in September, 2011 that 60,000 LTTE cadres and

II 40,000 Tamils perished during January-May 2009. The MP made the only specific reference to the number of LTTE cadres killed during a certain period.

III Special Amnesty International report titled When will they get justice: Failures of Sri Lanka’s Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission also released in September 2011 estimated the number of civilian deaths at 10,000.

IV A confidential UN report placed the number of dead and the wounded, including LTTE combatants at 7,721 and 18,479, respectively. The report dealt with

the situation in the Vanni from August 2008 to May 13, 2009. The War ended a week after the UN stopped collecting data due to intensity of fighting.

US Defence Advisor confirms Norwegian assessment

Wartime Norwegian Ambassador in Colombo Tore Hattrem on February 16, 2009 asserted that the LTTE was unlikely to release civilians held on the Vanni east front. The following is the text of the Norwegian’s missive addressed to the then presidential advisor Basil Rajapaksa: "I refer to our telephone conversation today. The proposal to the LTTE to how to release the civilian population now trapped in the LTTE controlled area has been transmitted to the LTTE through several channels. So far there has regrettably been no response from the LTTE and it does not seem to be likely that the LTTE will agree to this in the near future."

The US Defence attache in June 2011 (over two years after the war) confirmed there had never been an agreement or an understanding regarding organized surrenderbetween the GoSL and the LTTE through the intervention of the UN or Western governments. GoSL never sought to use available information on the Geneva front

UN role in LTTE human shields

The UN remained silent and engaged in secret negotiations with the LTTE even after the group detained Tamil UN workers for helping Tamils to leave Vanni west in early 2007. The LTTE made its move in the wake of the GoSL opening up a new front in the Vanni (west of Kandy-Jaffna A9 road).

Co-Chairs to Sri Lanka Peace Process knew what was happening. They, too, remained silent. The UN mission in Colombo kept UN headquarters in the dark. The UN Colombo never contradicted exclusive The Island reports in this regard. Other print and electronic media ignored the issue. However, UN New York confirmed The Island reports.

Response to UN accusation that Vanni population denied food and medicine

The minutes of Consultative Committee on Humanitarian Assistance (CCHA) meetings can prove UN and Western governments never complained about food and medicine shortage. The then President Rajapaksa set up CCHA in Oct 2006 to ensure essential supplies to the Northern Province. I have the entire set of CCHA documents. CCHA included UN, US, UK and all key international NGOs operating in Sri Lanka at that time.

Office for Missing Persons

ICRC, Foreign Ministry, Paranagama Commission have furnished vastly different numbers with regard to missing persons. UN, too, discusses the issue.

They ignore the issue of thousands of Sri Lankans living overseas though being listed missing. A comprehensive investigation will expose those hiding overseas. Let me highlight three cases (A) Front line Socialist Party leader Kumar Gunaratnam received Australian passport bearing the name Noel Mudalige (B) The Army was accused of killing wartime Vanni Tech Director Thayapararajah in Sept. 2009. Thayapararajah was asrrested along with wife and children in Tamil Nadu in May, 2014 ( C ) ex-LTTE cadre Anthonythasan declared missing since early 90s appeared in an award winning French move Dheepan last year. The media quoted the ex-Tiger as having said: "I came to France because at the time I was able to only find a fake French passport and not a fake British or Canadian passport."