Wednesday, 29 March 2017

War crimes: Lanka overwhelmed by unsubstantiated allegations



By Shamindra Ferdinando

Having received two additional years to fulfill the Oct 1, 2015 Geneva Resolution 30/1, the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe government last Friday (March 24) thanked those who had brought a second resolution 34/1 to give time and space to Sri Lanka.

Director Information, M. G. Jayathissa, on behalf of the government, issued a one page statement thanking the US-UK led countries for backing the second resolution that called for judicial mechanism, comprising local and foreign judges.

There had never been such a situation at the Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC), where a country welcomed punitive action proposed on the basis of unsubstantiated allegations. Those who had fought the LTTE had been unjustly punished on the basis of unfounded UN allegations. A case in point is Maj. Gen. Chagie Gallage being denied an Australian visa over war accusations directed at the Sri Lanka Army (SLA). Australia has found fault with Gallage for giving leadership to the 59 Division, deployed on the Vanni east, front during the final phase of the offensive. Alleging that the 59 Division had massacred Tamils, Australia turned down Gallage’s visa application. Gallage, presently Director General Infantry, wanted to visit his brother, in Australia, last Dec-January (2017).

An external investigation, launched during the previous Rajapaksa administration, led to resolution 30/1, and now the government reassured its commitment to the same resolution without even bothering to at least examine the accusations. In fact, yahapalana rulers hadn’t examined the UN allegations at all. The Rajapaksa administration, too, lacked a cohesive strategy to counter lies. The Rajapaksas squandered millions of USD on expensive US public relations firms in a ridiculous project to influence the US administration.

For want of a clear strategy, those who had been propagating unsubstantiated allegations pertaining to war crimes, and crimes against humanity, since the conclusion of the war, in May 2009, humiliated Sri Lanka at the Geneva sessions. The government turned a blind eye to what was going on in the run up to the crucial Geneva sessions.

The government did absolutely nothing to counter accusations. The government’s failure facilitated those who had been propagating unsubstantiated allegations against the war-winning military. The government lacked courage at least to point out the vast discrepancy in varying figures pertaining to war dead, quoted by those wanting to haul Sri Lanka up before a hybrid court.

Sampanthan’s claim

Attorney-at-law Rajavarothiam Sampanthan, MP, recently declared that the nearly three decades long war had claimed the lives of 150,000 Tamils.

Trincomalee district MP conveniently refrained from differentiating civilians from those who had died fighting for the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).

Sampanthan asserted that 50 per cent of the Tamil population had fled the country, during the conflict, while blaming successive Sri Lankan governments for the plight of his people.

The 84-year-old veteran politician was addressing the Counter Terrorism Conference 2017 at the Hyatt Regency, New Delhi, organized by The India Foundation, in association with the Government of Haryana, and the National Investigation Agency (NIA). India established NIA close on the heels of the devastating Mumbai massacre, in late Nov 2008, blamed on Pakistan - based Islamic terrorist organization Lashkar-e-Taiba (l-e-T).

The third edition of the Counter Terrorism Conference attracted both politicians and various security experts. In addition to Sampanthan, Premier Ranil Wickremesinghe and Law and Order and Southern Development Minister Sagala Ratnayake made presentations.

The Indian government - sponsored event coincided with the ongoing 34 sessions of the Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC).

Key speakers discussed issues relating to ‘terrorism in the Indian Ocean region’ without any reference whatsoever to the LTTE whose sea going arm, Sea Tigers, once threatened international shipping. LTTE terrorism had inspired terrorist groups in various parts of the world. Daring Sea Tiger attacks on the Sri Lankan Navy vessels had inspired Al-Qaeda suicide bombing of guided missile destroyer USS Cole, in Oct 2000, in Aden, Yemen. Israel has said that the Jewish State had been a victim of suicide bombing, pioneered by the LTTE, and Indian trained terrorists, belonging to the People’s Liberation Organization of Tamil Eelam (PLOTE), almost succeeded in assassinating Maldivian President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, in early Nov 1988.

Leader of the Opposition, Sampanthan, who heads the four-party Tamil National Alliance (TNA) addressed the gathering on March 15. Sampanthan tackled the issue in his speech, aptly titled ‘ballot vs bullet’ and was extensively covered in the local media. Sampanthan justified LTTE terrorism. (Of course, he conveniently refrained from mentioning how India sponsored terrorism in Sri Lanka to achieve its geo political objectives, as outlined by no less a person than one time Foreign Secretary, J.N. Dixit, in his memoirs, Makers of India’s Foreign Policy, launched in January 2004)

Sampanthan declared that Tamils had resorted to terrorism (TNA leader called it armed revolt) more than three decades after Sri Lanka gained independence, following the failure of democratic and political process. Referring to the bloody war in Sri Lanka, Sampanthan declared: "... was a classic instance, in which the bullet filled the void created by failure in the process of the ballot."

Sampanthan asserted that the war could have been avoided had the government accepted the Tamils right not to be governed from Colombo.

Sampanthan’s unprecedented claim, in respect of 150,000 Tamils killed should be thoroughly examined against the backdrop of different figures quoted by the UN, and various other parties wanting to haul Sri Lanka up before the proposed hybrid war crimes court, in accordance with the Geneva Resolution 30/1 adopted on Oct 1, 2015. Sri Lanka, last week, reiterated its commitment to 30/1.

Though the writer had referred to the TNA’s sordid past in numerous times, it would be necessary to recall the formation of the grouping consisting of politicians and members of one-time India sponsored terrorist groups. The PLOTE that had made an abortive bid to assassinate Maumoon Abdul Gayoom is among constituents of the TNA, now in control of the Northern Provincial Council, as well as parliament.

The LTTE formed the TNA, in late Oct 2001. Having joined the LTTE-led formation, Sampanthan remained faithful to its cause though his colleague V. Anandasangaree quit the outfit at an early stage. The TNA remained an appendage of the LTTE until the Sri Lankan military brought the war to a successful conclusion in May 2009. Had Sri Lanka allowed Western powers to rescue LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran, in May 2009, Sampanthan would certainly not have received an invitation to address the India - sponsored event at Hyatt Regency. Had Prabhakaran survived, perhaps Western powers, the TNA, as well as funded civil society organizations wouldn’t have moved Geneva against Sri Lanka. They wouldn’t have moved a series of resolutions in Geneva, finally leading to consensus on resolution 30/1 in Sep/Oct 2015.

Had the war ended in a stalemate, the LTTE would have remained the sole representative of the Tamil speaking people as declared by Sampanthan, himself, in the run up to eelam war IV. Prabhakaran would never have accepted the TNA, in the decision making process, under any circumstances. The TNA had no option but to carry out Prabhakaran’s directives or face the consequences. A case in point is Prabhakaran’s decision to prevent Tamils exercising their franchise in support of UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe, at the Nov 2005, presidential polls. Prabhakaran purposely sabotaged the understanding between the UNP and the TNA to ensure Wickremesinghe’s victory. Prabhakaran wanted UPFA’s Mahinda Rajapaksa to win as he naively believed the SLFPer could have been easily overwhelmed, both on the political front as well as on the battlefield. Rajapaksa proved Prabhakaran wrong within three years after the latter launched eelam war IV, with spectacular coordinated attacks on the northern and eastern theaters, in Aug 2006.

TNA silent on key issues

Now that Sampanthan has quite confidently placed the number of Tamils killed at 150,000 before an international audience, he should be able to provide a breakdown in respect figures during the different stages of the conflict.

The TNA chief should also explain the despicable partnership between his party and the LTTE confirmed by the EU, in June 2004, following the parliamentary polls, in April 2004.

First of all, Sampanthan should explain whether those who had been killed, fighting for the LTTE, were included in the 150,000. Even seven years after the war, the LTTE appendage TNA is silent on the number of Tamils, including children, perished in fighting for the LTTE.

The TNA shouldn’t hesitate to present evidence it had in respect of ‘150,000 Tamils killed’ to the proposed hybrid court and demand tangible action against successive governments, including that of twice President and Commander-in-Chief of armed forces Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga (Aug 1994-Nov 2005). Kumaratunga, widely credited for liberating the Jaffna peninsula during her first term, today functions as the Chairperson of the Office for National Unity and Reconciliation (ONUR).

Sampanthan’s recent claim should be examined against the backdrop of the UNSG Panel of Experts (PoE) placing the number of civilians killed at 40,000. The UN assessment has been made on the basis of about 4,000 submissions received by the three-member Darusman Panel. The PoE has received information from about 2,300 persons. It would be pertinent to mention that these accusations cannot be verified until 2031 in accordance with a UN directive. Even then, verification has to be approved by the UN.

Obviously, Sampanthan has received and gathered much more evidence than the PoE to place the number of dead at 150,000.

Sampanthan should be able to reveal how many Tamils were killed during fighting among various terrorist groups as well as the battle between the LTTE and the Tamil National Army (TNA) formed by India, in late 1989.

Various interested parties quoted varying unsubstantiated figures since the conclusion of the conflict. Interestingly, Sampanthan claim that 150,000 had been killed in 30 years placed into insignificance when one considered what the British parliament was told two years after the conclusion of the conflict, in May 2009.

= British Labor Party MP Siobhan McDonagh (Mitcham and Morden) told the House of Commons, in September, 2011, that 60,000 LTTE cadres and 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. The politician ignored the writer’s emails seeking a clarification regarding her sources. The British HC in Colombo declined to comment on the MP’s claim.

* 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 during the final phase of the eelam war IV.

* A confidential UN report placed the number of the dead and 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 the intensity of the fighting.

The UN is yet to release the report though it was made available to Darusman. Will it be placed before the proposed judicial inquiry? It would be pertinent to mention that the UN report had been based on information provided by those who were trapped in the war zone and even today further verification can be made as the identities of those who had provided information are known to the UN. Darusman refused to accept the report as it contradicted his own claims.

Ramadoss in Geneva

The eelam lobby also brought in Dr Anbumani Ramadoss, MP, in support of their Geneva project. Former Indian Health Minister claimed that the Sri Lankan military had massacred over 100,000 Tamils, in 2009. The Indian’s statement should be examined against the backdrop of Sri Lanka bringing the war to a successful conclusion on May 19, 2009. Perhaps, Ramadoss and British Labor Party MP Siobhan McDonagh had been adviced by the same party as both claimed 100,000 Tamils died, in 2009.

Let me reproduce the statement made by Ramadoss posted on UK Tamil News website: "I come here on behalf of 78 million Tamil people in India.

The Tamils in Sri Lanka have been subjected to constant racial abuses, ethnic cleansing and structural genocide since its independence, which culminated in the killings of more than 1,00,000 Tamils, in 2009, by the Sri Lankan Government forces. Even after 8 years Justice has not yet reached the victims.

The report of the High Commissioner on Sri Lanka assesses the progress the Government of Sri Lanka has made on transitional justice as ‘worryingly slow,’ describing actions taken so far as ‘inadequate to assure real progress.’ It is vital, therefore, that the Human Rights Council continue its oversight of the accountability process in Sri Lanka with renewed vigor.

"The High Commissioner’s report reiterates the need for international involvement in a special hybrid court for crimes committed during and after the war. A weak and ethnicized judicial system refuses to punish military personnel when the victims are Tamils. Just last week, we learned that 10 Sri Lankan soldiers, accused of the 1997 murder of two Tamil youths, in Siruppiddy, are to be acquitted on the instructions of the Attorney-General.

"The structural genocide of Tamil Eelam continues as Sinhalisation, land grab and military presence in the Tamil region remains. The democratically elected Tamil Nadu assembly, in India, representing 78 million Tamil people, had unanimously passed three resolutions demanding a Judicial tribunal on war crimes and genocide and conducting a referendum.

"Sri Lanka has got the audacity to not only kill its own citizens but also the neighbouring Indian citizens as well. Just a fortnight ago the Sri Lankan navy brutally shot and murdered an Indian fisherman, from Tamil Nadu, called Bridjo. It is highly condemnable that Sri Lankan Navy has murdered more than 600 Indian fishermen from Tamil Nadu in the last 35 years and still continue to do so.

"The President and Prime Minister of Sri Lanka have repeatedly stated that no international involvement will be allowed, contrary to commitments made in resolution 30/1. As the next step of non-compliance, Pasumai Thaayagam strongly recommends that the UNHRC must immediately refer Sri Lanka to the General Assembly and the International Criminal Court (ICC). It is high time the UNHRC and the International Community  respects the right of the Tamils to exercise the right to self determination and find a lasting solution through a referendum."

Ramadoss should be asked to reveal the number of SriLanka Tamils killed by the Indian Army during its deployment (July 1987-March 1990) and comment accusations pertaining to rape of women.

Sushma’s anguish and pain

Having caused massive death and destruction in Sri Lanka, neighbouring India continues to shed crocodile tears. Unfortunately, Sri Lankan politicians lacked the courage to remind India of its duplicity. Indian External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj strongly condemned Sri Lanka’s human rights record ahead of the passage of resolution endorsing 30/1.

The Indian media quoted Swaraj as having said that India felt anguish and pain over the Sri Lankan military’s alleged war crimes against unarmed Tamils in the 2009 war.

Ms. Swaraj reiterated India’s commitment to the protection of the rights of the Tamils in Sri Lanka.

"The anguish with which the members have raised the issue [of crimes committed during the war of 2009], the government associates itself with the same pain," Ms Swaraj said.

"Our aim is to protect the interests of Tamils in Sri Lanka. You can achieve this through two means: by either doing it forcefully or through persuasion with the friendly country," she said answering a question from D. Raja of the Communist Party of India (CPI).

India should take the responsibility for her actions in the 80s that caused massive destruction in Sri Lanka. It would be pertinent to ask Swaraj whether mother India accepted Sampanthan’s claim in respect of 150,000 Tamils killed in 30 years or Ramadoss’s over 100,000 massacred in five and half months. Sampanthan, too, should acknowledge his outfit’s relationship with the LTTE and how it benefited as a result of LTTE terrorism. Sri Lanka shouldn’t hesitate to face the hybrid court, let Indian judges take part in the process, and hear how India subverted a small neighbour to her heart’s content until Sri Lanka finished off the murderous LTTE, in May, 2009.

Tuesday, 21 March 2017

"Foreign judges’ issue mere exaggeration on Mahinda’s part"



By Shamindra Ferdinando

Finally, Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera has acknowledged that, in terms of the Constitution foreign judges couldn’t participate in proposed domestic accountability mechanism in accordance with Geneva Resolution 30/1.

Samaraweera hadn’t said anything to that effect since Sri Lanka co-sponsored the resolution in Oct 2015.

Twice Foreign Minister Samaraweera made the declaration at the Foreign Ministry on the afternoon of March 16, 2017.

Samaraweera held the foreign ministry portfolio at the onset of the eelam war IV, in Aug, 2006 till he switched his allegiance to the UNP, in early 2007

On the day, before the media briefing, Samaraweera, referring to the Geneva Resolution, co-sponsored by the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe administration said: "Former President Mahinda Rajapaksa, especially as a lawyer, is very well aware that the issue of foreign judges is mere exaggeration on his part, and he does this on purpose to mislead the public. Let us not forget that it was under his leadership that multiple transitional justice processes were initiated, and international prosecutors were engaged. The International Independent Group of Eminent Persons (IIGEP), established by him, engaged foreigners invited by him, and also nominated by Australia, Canada, the European Commission, the UK, Japan, the Netherlands, USA, the Inter-Parliamentary Union, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), and a Cypriot nominated by the Government of Sri Lanka. International prosecutors were also engaged in connection with the Paranagama Commission."

Samaraweera also declared that the decision to co-sponsor the resolution was not imposed on the government of Sri Lanka.

Having dismissed former President Rajapaksa’s criticism and concerns, Samaraweera said: "We know that truth, reparation and justice are essential, and further, that international jurisdiction over serious crimes only applies when national jurisdiction fails. We are declaring our vision in a resolution before the world to demonstrate that, as an independent, sovereign, and responsible nation, we are fully able to pursue accountability, with our national capacities, and in cooperation with our friends and partners in the international community, thus restoring credibility to our judicial processes and building capacity."

Samaraweera flayed Rajapaksa for interpreting resolution 30/1 in what he called a wildly unreasonable and illogical manner in order to drive fear into people’s minds and divide Sri Lankans in an attempt to realize his dream of returning to power.

Jaffna District MP M.A. Sumanthiran responded to Samaraweera last Saturday. Addressing the media, Sumanthiran said that Samaraweera hadn’t previously said that foreign judges participation in judicial mechanism was contrary to the constitution. Sumanthiran urged the government to bring in the required amendment to pave the way for foreign judges, in accordance with resolution 3/1.

TNA in Washington

A statement issued by the four-party Tamil National Alliance (TNA), in June, 2016, should be examined against the backdrop of Samaraweera’s assertion in respect of foreign judges in domestic judicial mechanism.

The TNA has claimed to have reached a tripartite consensus in respect of foreign judges, defence attorneys, investigators, etc, in a local judicial mechanism before Geneva unanimously adopted resolution 30/1.

On behalf of the TNA, its spokesperson, and Jaffna District parliamentarian, M.A. Sumanthiran, told ‘Congressional Caucus for Ethnic and Religious Freedom in Sri Lanka’, in Washington, that the government of Sri Lanka, the TNA and the US had been involved in the negotiations leading to the agreement.

The declaration was made in the presence of Sri Lanka’s Ambassador in Washington, Prasad Kariyawasam. The TNA released the text of Sumanthiran’s statement. The electronic media completely ignored the MP’s statement. Except The Island, Sinhala and English print media, too, didn’t give the coverage Sumanthiran’s statement deserved. The Joint Opposition loyal to former President Rajapaksa, hadn’t been aware of it until the writer brought it to the grouping’s notice.

The event in Washington had been moderated by Sadhanand Dhume of the American Enterprise Institute, a Washington-based think tank. The Caucus is an initiative launched by the United States House Representatives, Bill Johnson of Ohio, and Danny Davis of Illinois, in November, 2013.

Attorney-at-law Sumanthiran stressed that the resolution was moved in Geneva, following an understanding that the participation of foreigners wouldn’t be contrary to Sri Lanka’s Constitution. Declaring that he had been personally involved in the negotiations, with the United States of America also participating in that particular process, Sumanthiran said: "There were some doubts created as to whether the Constitution of Sri Lanka would allow for foreign nationals to function as judges and we went into that question, clarified it, and said, yes, they can".

Sumanthiran told the Congressional Caucus that the resolution accepted at Geneva had been negotiated and they settled for a hybrid model, though they originally asked for an international inquiry.

The Global Tamil Forum (GTF) spokesperson, Suren Surendiran, told the writer that the agreement, on the text of the resolution, had been reached, following negotiations among what he called Core Group of members at the UNHRC, the government of Sri Lanka and representatives of Tamils. The agreement on a Sri Lankan judicial mechanism, including the special counsel’s office, of Commonwealth and other foreign judges, defence lawyers and authorized prosecutors and investigators, was certainly not negotiable, Surendiran stressed.

In his lengthy presentation to the Congressional Caucus, on June 14, 2016, Sumanthiran discussed a range of issues, including the role of the US and India in resolution of the national issue.

Both MP Sumanthiran and Surendiran emphasized that they expected the full implementation of the UNHRC resolution.

In his brief remarks, Ambassador Kariyawasam provided an overview of the measures taken by Sri Lanka to promote its two-pronged policy of reconciliation and development since the January 2015 election of the current government, and reiterated in detail, measures taken by the government to vindicate its commitment to these processes and explained the several challenges that militate against government efforts. Kariyawasam conveniently refrained from making any reference to Sumanthiran’s revelation.

The TNA, nor the Foreign Ministry, had never challenged The Island coverage on the Washington meet.

Obviously, the yahapalana government is in severe difficulty over Geneva Resolution 30/1. Having failed to muster the required support, in parliament, to bring in constitutional amendments to implement resolution 30/1, the government is now playing a different tune. The government wants two years to address war—related issues, hence the decision to move a fresh co-sponsored resolution.

A few days before Samaraweera’s briefing, the TNA stressed that space for Sri Lanka should be subjected to a fresh commitment to fulfill Geneva obligations, including foreign judges, in the proposed judicial mechanism.


* Between March-Sept. 2015: GoSL, US, TNA reached an agreement on foreign judges, defence lawyers and authorized prosecutors and investigators.

* Sept 21, 2015: Ambassador Ravinatha Aryasinha strongly opposed sections of the draft resolution based on GoSL, the US, TNA agreement. Aryasinha made GoSL’s position clear at the first informal session on the resolution.

* Sept 24, 2015: GoSL accepted US resolution regardless of concerns expressed three days before.

* Oct 1, 2015: GoSL co-sponsored Geneva Resolution 30/1

* June 14, 2016: TNA revealed existence of tripartite agreement on foreign judges, defence lawyers and authorized prosecutors and investigators.

* Jan 3, 2017: The government appointed Consultation Task Force for Reconciliation Mechanism (CTFRM) endorsed foreign judges, defence lawyers and authorized prosecutors and investigators.

The CTFRM comprised Muttetuwegama, Dr Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu, Gamini Viyangoda, Prof. Sitralega Maunaguru, Dr Farzana Haniffa, Mirak Raheem, Prof. Gameela Samarasinghe, Visaka Dharmadasa, Shantha Abhimanasingham, PC, K.W. Janaranjana and Prof. Daya Somasundaram.

= Jan 5, 2017: CTFRM reiterated its stand on foreign judges, defence lawyers and authorized prosecutors and investigators, at a media briefing, at the Government Information Department.

= Jan 6, 2017: State Finance Minister Lakshman Yapa Abeywardena declared, at President’s House, foreign judges wouldn’t be accepted under any circumstances.

= March 11, 2017: TNA reiterated its demand for the full implementation of resolution 30/1.

= March 13, 2017: US supported GoSL bid to secure time and space to implement resolution 30/1.

= March 16: Foreign Minister Samaraweera ruled out foreign judges, defence lawyers and authorized prosecutors and investigators.

The GoSL, TNA and the US owed an explanation to the public as regards resolution 30/1. Sumanhiran should speak out now. Having revealed the existence of a tripartite agreement in respect of foreign judges et al in June last year, in Washington, Sumanthiran cannot continue to remain silent as the government contradicted the very basis of resolution 30/1. The developing situation must have quite embarrassed the US as well as Sumanthiran, chief negotiator for the TNA. Obviously, both the US and the TNA are not in a position to contradict the government publicly.

The Joint Opposition, loyal to Rajapaksa, still seems to be unable to take advantage of the situation. Those who had been tasked to address the Geneva issue never bothered, at least to refer to Aryasinha’s statement at the first informal session on the draft resolution, on Sept 21, 2015. The JO is obviously clueless as to the developments in Geneva. In fact, the JO should seek a clarification as regards the contradictory nature of the yahapalana rulers decision to co-sponsor resolution 30/1 after having rejected critically important sections of it.

Aryasinha told the informal meeting: "At a time when we have a new Government that is adopting a calmly different path to that which was followed in the era, before 8 January, 2015, the expectation is, naturally, that there would be a similar change in tone, tenor, and even strategy on the part of the Council as well."

"In this context, my delegation is of the view that a lengthy resolution of the nature of the current draft before us which contains 24 preambular paras and 26 operative paras, which is repetitive, judgmental and prescriptive, is not in keeping with the spirit of the process of reconciliation and reform that is underway in my country under the National Unity Government. Neither is it helpful in adopting a collaborative approach to reaching consensus. Many paragraphs in the current draft are in fact counter-productive to the reconciliation efforts of the government, and have the tendency to polarize communities, vitiate the atmosphere on the ground that is being carefully nurtured towards reconciliation and peace building and restrict the space required for consultations. There is a real danger that the current approach will leave room for negative interpretation, thus, only helping ‘spoilers’ in this process."

"We also remain concerned regarding the formulations provided in several of the Operative paragraphs. Certain terminology used such as ‘verification’, is new and intrusive language to be presented in a human rights resolution, especially when the country concerned is engaging with the international community including with the OHCHR."

"I, therefore, urge, that in order to enable consensus, this resolution be sensitive to the constitutional and institutional difficulties that will have to be overcome in implementing its recommendations as well as political realities. It must also observe clear, cogent language that the people of Sri Lanka find respectful."

Had yahapalana rulers threw their weight behind Aryasinha the government wouldn’t have been in a dilemma today. But, the administration had no option but to overrule Aryasinha due to tripartite agreement involving the GoSL, the US and the TNA. If not for Sumanthiran going public on the secret agreement, the world wouldn’t have known about the circumstances leading to Sri Lanka co-sponsoring resolution 30/1.

Both Sumanthiran and Surendian are on record as having stressed that they accepted foreign judges, defence lawyers and authorized prosecutors and investigators in a domestic set up after giving up their original demand for exclusive foreign mechanism. They told the writer on more than one occasion that the there had been prior agreement on robust foreign participation in the run up to resolution 30/1.

It would be a mistake on the part of the public to find fault with Manouri Muttetuwegama-led CTFRM for recommending foreign judges and other personnel. During a recent discussion on the Geneva process on TV I involving the executive director of the Center for Policy Alternatives (CPA) Dr. Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu, who is also the Secretary to the CTFRM, Dr. Jehan Perera of the National Peace Council and the writer, Dr. Saravanamuttu explained that the Geneva decision on foreign judges preceded CTFRM recommendation on the same. Saravanamuttu pointed out that resolution 30/1 had been adopted in Oct 2015 whereas the CTFRM submitted its recommendations on January 3, 2017.

Former President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga received the CTFRM report from Muttetuwegama at the Presidential Secretariat on Jan 3, 2017. Minister Samaraweera was also present on the occasion.

The eleven-member CTFRM stressed that foreign participation was required as those who had suffered during the conflict had no faith in local judiciary, which lacked expertise to undertake such a task. They endorsed Human Rights Commissioner Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein’s declaration in Colombo, in February, 2016, that the judiciary here was incapable of undertaking the process. The Jordanian questioned the integrity of the local judiciary.

War crimes accusers’ responsibility

Samaraweera’s assertion on behalf of the government that inclusion of foreign judges is contrary to the constitution has undermined the very basis of Muttetuwegama’s report.

During the TV I discussion, the writer strongly articulated the pivotal importance of foreign judges participation to ensure an inquiry acceptable to all. Having been accused of massacring over 40,000 Tamil civilians by the UN in March 2011, Sri Lanka should seek a credible investigation to clear her name. The UN should be asked to prove its unsubstantiated allegations before a hybrid court. Yahapalana leaders seemed to be blind to the fact that the external inquiry undertaken by Sandra Beidas on the basis of unproved accusations led to resolution 30/1. Let war crimes accusers prove their allegations before hybrid court. It would be their responsibility to prove these allegations having manipulated the entire process to Sri Lanka’s disadvantage. They had been so unfair that the Sri Lankan military was blamed for killing over 40,000 civilians on the basis of over 4,000 still unverified submissions received by UNSG Panel of Experts (PoE). In fact, the POE recommended those submissions couldn’t be subjected to scrutiny until 2031. Let the well funded NGO fraternity prove their often repeated allegations before hybrid court. Sri Lanka should push for a comprehensive inquiry to ensure those who had been propagating war crimes accusations are forced to prove them. Previous administration’s failure to properly address accountability issues facilitated the despicable Geneva project. The previous government played politics with the issue since the end of the conflict in May 2009 until it was too late.

A credible investigation undertaken before a hybrid court, the writer has no doubt would help establish the truth. Let those who had been demanding hybrid court prove their accusations

(A) The GoSL ordered UN/INGOs to vacate Kilinochchi in September, 2008 to conduct ‘a war without witnesses’.

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

(C) Coordinated mortar/artillery/MBRL (multi barrel rocket launchers) attacks on civilian population. Channel 4 News alleged the then Secretary Defence and the then Army Commander executed the operation.

(D) Massacre over 40,000 civilians.

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

(F) The use of cluster bombs

Now the onus is on the accusers, particularly TNA, whose leaders played ball with the LTTE until the very end in May 2009 after having worked closely with the murderous outfit since Oct 2001. If the government is genuine in its effort to defend the armed forces, it’ll place European Union Election Observation Mission report on April 2004 general election to prove LTTE-TNA unholy alliance in the run-up to the war. The EU report is evidence that cannot be dismissed by the hybrid court. The TNA will find it extremely difficult to justify its relationship during the war and its current efforts to seek justice against the backdrop of its failure at least to issue a statement calling for the release of over 300,000 Tamil civilian hostages used by the LTTE.

Tuesday, 14 March 2017

Can foreign judges et al be avoided?

Debate over Geneva Resolution 30/1



By Shamindra Ferdinando

Amidst mounting pressure, on the political front, with the Joint Opposition (JO) relentlessly undermining his authority, President Maithripala Sirisena has apparently ended his ‘honeymoon’ with those who had brought him to power, just over two years ago.

President Sirisena has thrown a coalition that had helped him to defeat war-winning President Mahinda Rajapaksa, at the January 2015, presidential polls, into disarray.

The President made his move at the onset of the 34th sessions of the Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC). Obviously, the change of the President’s stance was meant to consolidate his position, both in and outside parliament.

The Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces assured loyalists that foreign participation in war crimes probe wouldn’t be allowed, under any circumstances. President Sirisena told an executive committee meeting, of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP), on Thursday (March 2), that he had the ‘backbone’ to reject foreign judicial investigation.

A robust foreign participation, in the proposed judicial process, is the cornerstone of the Geneva Resolution 30/1, co-sponsored by the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe government, in Oct 2015. The government-appointed Consultation Task Force for Reconciliation Mechanism (CTFRM), in January this year, strongly endorsed foreign participation. President Sirisena was certainly having CTFRM recommendation, on his mind, when he rejected foreign judges’ participation. It was the President’s first reaction to the CTFRM report since former President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga accepted it on behalf of the government at the Presidential Secretariat on January 3, 2017.

"Two weeks ago, the UN Human Rights High Commissioner, in his report on Sri Lanka, called for a probe by foreign judges. Within 24 hours, I rejected it saying I am not ready to bring in foreign judges here," said President Sirisena.

The President declared that those who had been tasked to represent the country should have the backbone to do the right thing. Although, President Sirisena refrained from naming Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera, it was obvious whom he referred to in his speech. The writer is of the opinion that Foreign Minister Samaraweera had discussed Geneva matters, candidly, even at his expense, and the cabinet of ministers has been fully aware of the ground situation.

In fact, Samaraweera, in July last year, expressed confidence that a consensus could be reached on accountability mechanism acceptable to the majority of stakeholders, by January-Feb, 2017.

Samaraweera was briefing the media as regards accountability issues taken up at the 32 session of the UNHRC.

When the media pointed out that both President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe had ruled out the participation of foreign judges, Samaraweera said that they could express their opinion. There could be a difference of opinion on this matter though the final decision, acceptable to the majority of stakeholders, would be taken after having examined all options, he asserted. Samaraweera stressed that there couldn’t be a dispute regarding international participation in the proposed mechanisms. So, the issue has been discussed though some acted as if the President and the Premier hadn’t ruled out foreign participation before.

On the day after President Sirisena’s talk at the SLFI, Premier Ranil Wickremesinghe, too, ruled out foreign judges’ participation in the proposed judicial process. Unlike President Sirisena, Premier Wickremesinghe asserted that foreign judges’ participation (in hybrid courts) weren’t politically feasible as such a move was subjected to approval at a referendum. Premier Wickremesinghe made his position public at an event held at the Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL) auditorium. New Chief Justice, Priyasath Dep was present on the occasion.

Wickremesinghe declared that the proposal to set up a hybrid court was not practical. The UNP leader said the international community called for a hybrid court at a time they had no faith in local judiciary.

President Sirisena stepped up his offensive on the following day (March 4). The former General Secretary of the SLFP couldn’t have chosen a better place to reassure the military against the backdrop of mounting criticism of the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe administration in respect of accountability issues.

Prez flays NGOs

Addressing the armed forces, at Palaly air base, President reiterated that foreign judges wouldn’t be allowed to come in. Assuring his commitment to the safeguard of the interests of the military, President Sirisena flayed the civil society for working against the national interest. President Sirisena lambasted civil society activists for pursuing foreign judges participation in domestic judicial process and seeking a role in the decision making process.

Those who had taken advantage of the then SLFP General Secretary Sirisena’s animosity towards the Rajapaksas wanted constitutional reforms an integral part of the Geneva process. They sought a brand new Constitution at the expense of Sri Lanka’s unitary status. Under heavy pressure, on the political front, against the backdrop of the devastating Central Bank bond scam, and foreign debt crisis, President Sirisena seems to be making a desperate bid to stabilize the situation. The President’s much publicized claim that his predecessor Rajapaksa had called presidential poll two years ahead of schedule as the former SLFP leader couldn’t counter Geneva allegations seemed frivolous in the wake of the on-going confusion over foreign judges.

A clueless parliamentary reforms and mass media minister who is also the Chief Government Whip Gayantha Karunatilleke declared that President Sirisena and Premier Wickremesinghe had settled the Geneva issue. In spite of being the minister in charge of the media portfolio and co-cabinet spokesperson, Karunatilleke hadn’t received a proper briefing from those handling the issue. Karunatilleke declared that the Geneva issue no longer existed, soon after President Sirisena ruled out foreign judges’ in proposed judicial mechanism.

Fresh TNA demands

The yahapalana government is in turmoil over the Geneva issue with Opposition Leader R. Sampanthan demanding the full implementation of the Geneva Resolution. Having met in Vavuniya, over the weekend, the TNA issued the following statement, headlined TNA decision concerning impending UNHRC Resolution: "The following decision was arrived at, following a meeting of TNA Members, of Parliament and Provincial Council Members, held in Vavuniya today (11th March 2017).

All Sri Lanka’s obligations in terms of UN Human Rights Council Resolution 30/1 of 1st October 2015, co-sponsored by the Sri Lankan Government, must be fully implemented. These obligations must be fulfilled under strict conditions, under the monitoring of an office of the UN High Commissioner for Human rights, which must be established in Sri Lanka.

The UN Human Rights Council must ensure that, in the event that the Sri Lankan Government fails to fulfill the abovementioned obligations by way of an appropriate mechanism, victims will receive the intended benefits of the fulfillment of such obligations, by way of international mechanisms.

MP Nadesu Sivasakthi stated that the EPRLF did not agree to the above mentioned decisions."The TNA statement is evidence that the government is not in a position to dismiss the Geneva Resolution. Sampanthan cannot compromise TNA’s stand on Geneva without jeopardizing his authority in the face of Northern Province Chief Minister C.V. Wigneswaran’s challenge. Having co-sponsored Geneva Resolution 30/1, the government cannot go back on its word for want of consensus on the accountability issue.

Colonne on Geneva

Resolution 30/1

The following front-page news report on Feb 4, 2016 edition of The Island applies to the current situation.

Geneva Resolution encapsulates pledge in 100-day programme - FM spokesperson

The Foreign Ministry says them Oct 1, 2015 Geneva Resolution encapsulates what was promised by the new administration during its 100-day programme and subsequently stated at the Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) on Sept. 14, 2015.

Foreign Ministry spokesperson Mahishini Colonne was responding to a query by The Island whether UNHRC or some members of the Geneva-based body, had sought clarification from the Foreign Ministry as regards recent contradictory statement pertaining to Geneva Resolution made by President Maithripala Sirisena. The Island also asked whether the Foreign Ministry had briefed or reassured UNHRC regarding Sri Lanka’s commitment to the Oct 1, 2015 Geneva Resolution.

Spokesperson Colonne said: "No to both. What the government of Sri Lanka has committed to her people already in the 100-Day Work Programme and set out in the UNHRC on 14 September was what was encapsulated in the resolution."

Colonne was referring to a Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera’s statement in Geneva.

President Maithripala Sirisena, in recent interviews with the BBC, and Al Jazeera, had ruled out the possibility of having foreign judges in the proposed court to inquire into accountability issues as envisaged in the Oct. 1 Resolution.

The issue is expected to be taken up during a four-day visit undertaken by United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein. The Geneva delegation is scheduled to arrive on February 6.

High Commissioner’s spokesperson Rupert Colville said he couldn’t respond to several queries raised by The Island as he had been unable to contact their ‘main Sri Lanka expert’ as well as the High Commissioner who was travelling. The Island: "Recently, Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena issued a statement contrary to Oct 1, 2015 Geneva Resolution. However, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, subsequently, clarified Sri Lanka’s position. Premier assured Sri Lanka’s commitment to the Oct. 1 resolution. My queries (1) Did UNHRC seek a clarification from the government regarding its stand?

(2) Will UNHRC Chief take up this issue during his visit to Colombo?

(3) Did UNHRC receive representations from members of the UN body as well as other interested parties such as the GTF regarding the Sri Lankan President’s statement?"

Although, the yahapalana government has repeatedly asserted that Geneva Resolution 30/1 is meant for a domestic inquiry, various individuals pushed Sri Lanka to accept robust international participation in the proposed judicial mechanism.

Leahy on hybrid mechanism

Influential U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy, Ranking Member, Senate Judiciary Committee, speaking on Sri Lanka at the U.S. Senate, in June 9, 2015 strongly recommended hybrid mechanism to address post-war accountability issues here. Leahy said: "It is essential that the justice process is not only about truth telling, but is a credible, independent mechanism with authority to investigate, prosecute, and appropriately punish those responsible for war crimes and crimes against humanity, on both sides. It is also important to the development of a credible accountability mechanism and to the success of this endeavour that Sri Lankan officials consult with local civil society organizations, including the families of the war’s victims. They should also invite international bodies, such as the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, to take part in this process, to provide technical assistance as well as substantive input and help with prosecutorial work, evidence-gathering, and judicial decision-making. A hybrid mechanism, with international experts involved at the prosecutorial and judicial level, will help ensure that the failings and cynicism associated with past domestic accountability mechanisms are not repeated."

Sumanthiran reveals tripartite understanding

TNA heavyweight M.A. Sumanthiran, in June last year, revealed the existence of an understanding. Let me reproduce the relevant section of MP Sumanthiran’s speech which he made at Congressional meeting in June 2016. Sri Lanka’s Ambassador in Washington, Prasad Kariyawasam, was seated next to the Jaffna District MP (The TNA) made available the full text of Sumanthiran’s speech to the writer requesting coverage.

Commenting on the international involvement in the accountability process, Sumanthiran said: " far as I know the Government has not said ‘no’ to international involvement. All the multiple voices that you talk about say ‘international involvement - yes, but not judges’. Now I take great exception to that, because as I said at the beginning, the text of the 2015 Resolution is a negotiated text. We asked for an international inquiry, and we settled for a hybrid model. So that was negotiated with the Government of Sri Lanka. And having compromised and settled to a model which in the Resolution doesn’t merely say hybrid but explains in detail judges, prosecutors, defence attorneys and investigators, it obviously means judge qua judges, prosecutors qua prosecutors, so on and so forth. So it does not mean (for) judges to be advisors or judges to be involved in some other capacity. And that was well understood. I was personally involved in the negotiations, with the United States of America also participating in that particular process. There were some doubts created, as to whether the Constitution of Sri Lanka would allow for foreign nationals to function as judges and we went into that question, clarified it, and said yes they can and that is how that phraseology was agreed upon. And so, to us having negotiated and compromised and agreed that there would be a hybrid tribunal to try these mass atrocities, it is not open for the Government now to shift its stance and say ‘well, international involvement yes, but it’s in a different form, now...’. That is not acceptable to us at all. And we have said this. Quite openly I have spoken in Parliament at least two or three times and the Government has not contested me on that. We have said it to the President when he called for an all party conference on the implementation of the UN resolution, and he has not contested us on that. But, as you say, in the public there are different voices that we hear. So we are concerned as much as people are, with regard to this particular issue, wondering if the Government is shifting its stance. However, such a mechanism has not been brought about as yet. So we will wait until we reach that particular point of setting up a court of the Special Counsel’s office and so on and so forth and insist that every word, and spirit, in that resolution will be complied with.

Aryasinha in failed bid

Now that there is absolutely no question as regards Sri Lanka accepting the Geneva Resolution 30/1, it would be pertinent to closely examine the disputed intervention made by Sri Lanka’s Permanent Representative to the UN in Geneva, Ambassador Ravinatha Aryasinha, at the first informal session that dealt with the draft resolution on Sept 21, 2015. Among those present, on that occasion, were US Permanent Representative to the UNHRC Ambassador Keith Harper and current US Ambassador Atul Keshap as well as other representatives of the ‘Core Group’ pursuing the matter. Ambassador Aryasinha, in no uncertain terms, rejected several sections in the draft resolution.

Ambassador Aryasinha said: "At a time when we have a new Government that is adopting a calmly different path to that which was followed in the era, before 8 January, the expectation is, naturally, that there would be a similar change in tone, tenor, and even strategy on the part of the Council as well."

"In this context, my delegation is of the view that a lengthy resolution of the nature of the current draft before us which contains 24 preambular paras and 26 operative paras, which is repetitive, judgmental and prescriptive is not in keeping with the spirit of the process of reconciliation and reform that is underway in my country under the National Unity Government. Neither is it helpful in adopting a collaborative approach to reaching consensus. Many paragraphs in the current draft are in fact counter-productive to the reconciliation efforts of the government, and have the tendency to polarize communities, vitiate the atmosphere on the ground that is being carefully nurtured towards reconciliation and peace building and restrict the space required for consultations. There is a real danger that the current approach will leave room for negative interpretation, thus, only helping ‘spoilers’ in this process."

"We also remain concerned regarding the formulations provided in several of the Operative paragraphs. Certain terminology used such as ‘verification’, is new and intrusive language to be presented in a human rights resolution, especially when the country concerned is engaging with the international community including with the OHCHR."

"I therefore urge, that in order to enable consensus, this resolution be sensitive to the constitutional and institutional difficulties that will have to be overcome in implementing its recommendations as well as political realities. It must also observe clear, cogent language that the people of Sri Lanka find respectful."

The government simply overruled the Ambassador’s objections and ordered the Geneva mission to accept the draft resolution.

In the wake of Sri Lanka’s strong objections, the ‘Core Group’, on the draft resolution, submitted an amended resolution, on September 24, 2015. Sri Lanka accepted the amended resolution though it was essentially the same. That is the undeniable truth.

Wednesday, 8 March 2017

Conflict over Air Force presence at Mullaitivu



By Shamindra Ferdinando

Various interested parties relentlessly push for further reduction of military presence in the Northern, as well as the Eastern Provinces, comprising eight administrative districts.

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

Following the nearly three-year combined security forces campaign, the military brought back the whole of the two provinces under state control, in May, 2009.

Since then, those who had faith in the LTTE’s battlefield strategies are pursuing Velupillai Prabhakaran’s objectives.

 Among those wanting the government to further scale down armed forces deployment are some foreign governments as well as the Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC). Geneva has repeatedly called for significant armed forces pull-out, regardless of the re-deployment of formations since the conclusion of the war over seven years ago.

Geneva on military presence

 Geneva has interpreted the first step in proposed security sector reform as withdrawal of a section of security forces.

United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, 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 as the first step in security sector reform.

 The declaration was made in the afternoon of February 9, 2016, during a media briefing at the UN compound, in Colombo. The media didn’t seek an explanation from the former Jordanian diplomat 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.

 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, claimed that the continuing existence of fear, among the people living there, was due to intrusive as well as the 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, to create normalcy in the Northern and Eastern Provinces. Hussein urged the government/military to vacate land, used by security forces, immediately.

Expressing serious concern over the 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."

 They believe post-war national reconciliation couldn’t be achieved unless the government abandoned military bases to such an extent their presence would be irrelevant. Sri Lanka’s military deployment is now under discussion, both here and overseas.

TNA project

Last week, The Island dealt with on-going efforts to force the Air Force out of their Mullaitivu station, established over five years ago. Former Supreme Court judge, C.V. Wigneswaran-led Northern Provincial administration is determined to get rid of the Air Force presence at Mullaitivu as well as Iranamadu. Mullaitivu and Iranamadu airstrips established by the LTTE during the Norway arranged Ceasefire Agreement (CFA), have been categorized as Air Force stations after  the crushing of the Tigers.

 The airstrip, near the Iranamadu tank, was meant to bring in plane loads of ammunition and some specialized armaments, which could have had helped the LTTE to stall the advancing army, on the Vanni east front. The Air Force transformed the Iranamadu airstrip to the largest such facility in the eastern part of the Vanni region. Spanning a length of 1,500 metres and width of 25 metres, it can accommodate even a fully loaded C-130 Hercules transport aircraft, the largest in service with the SLAF. Even a jet can land there in an emergency. The SLAF’s Rapid Runway Repair Wing (RRRW) had spearheaded the runway building project with the main work commencing in Feb. 2012, nearly three years after the liberation of the entire Vanni region.

Those pushing for the eviction of the Air Force, from Mullaitivu, have claimed that during the tenure of the UNP-led United National Front (UNF) government some Mahaveer families were given the land now occupied by the military. They called the disputed area Keppapulavu. According to them, the deeds for forest department land had been issued during the CFA. The UNP bended backwards to appease the LTTE even after the group quit the Norwegian-facilitated negotiating process, in late April, 2003.

LTTE strategy

 Having finalized CFA, in Feb 2002, the LTTE implemented a well-coordinated project to challenge the military presence in the Northern and Eastern provinces. The LTTE executed the plan in coordination with the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) and the public. The LTTE formed the TNA, in Oct, 2001, in accordance with its overall plan to overwhelm the Sri Lankan state. 

The European Union Election Observation Mission, in mid 2004, confirmed the LTTE-TNA partnership, where Tigers stuffed ballot boxes in their presence to ensure victory of TNA candidates. The EU dealt with the LTTE-TNA operation in its report on the April 2004 parliamentary election. The Rajapaksa administration didn’t even bother to comment on the EU confirmation that the TNA had secured the lion’s share of parliamentary seats in the North-East with the LTTE’s support. The Election Commission, too, conveniently remained silent.

Soon after signing the CFA, the LTTE launched protests outside selected military bases. The LTTE leadership had no qualms in involving students in violent protests directed at military bases. The TNA publicly endorsed the despicable LTTE strategy. Western diplomatic missions turned a blind eye to what was going on. The much talked about ‘Pongu Thamil’ protest campaign was meant to put pressure on the UNP over military bases.

An embarassed UNP administration directed Army headquarters not to release daily situation reports in an effort to suppress the crisis up North and in some parts of the Eastern Province. But, the military released information to a section of the media, regardless of government directives. Much to the discomfort of the UNP leadership, its attempts to influence the media failed.

On the one hand the LTTE and its allies strongly pushed for reduced military presence in the Northern and Eastern Provinces while they consolidated the LTTE-held area recognized by the CFA.

Austin on LTTE scheme

Austin Fernando, who had been the Defence Secretary at the time of the CFA, explained the situation faced by the then government. In an article titled ‘The Peace Process and Security Issues’ accommodated in ‘Negotiating Peace in Sri Lanka: Efforts, Failures and Lessons’ edited by NGO guru Kumar Rupesinghe, in early 2006, Fernando dealt with the issue at hand. Let me reproduce verbatim what present Governor of the Eastern Province Fernando stated: "...even the long established forward defence lines were challenged by the Tamil public, purportedly instigated by the LTTE causing political embarrassment to the government of Sri Lanka as happened in the army camp raid in Point Pedro and numerous attempts to break into the High Security Zones (HSZ) in the Jaffna peninsula. At an inspection of the Point Pedro camp immediately after the incident, it was apparent that the LTTE had instigated children and parents demanding ‘public presence’ (inclusive of LTTE cadres) within the HSZs. The contradiction is that the Tamil public in HSZs of the LTTE (eg. Kilinochchi, Mullaitivu, Puthukudirippu, Vakarai, Pittugala, Taravai and Karadianaru camp areas) did not enjoy such freedom."

The so-called civil society turned a blind eye to LTTE actions. The Tamil National Alliance (TNA) threw its weight behind the LTTE project.  The CFA facilitated their campaign to weaken the military presence, in accordance with the CFA.

The on-going efforts to further reduce military presence up north should be examined with overall eelam objectives in mind.

Swaminathan’s role

Prisons reforms, rehabilitation, resettlement and Hindu religious affairs Minister D.M. Swaminathan, on Feb 28, 2017, explained his role in securing some land held by the Air Force in Mullaitivu. Fifty two families had received land. Referring to the on-going public protests at Mullaitivu, which commenced on Feb 1, 2017, the ministry, said that Swaminathan had discussed the issue with President Maithripala Sirisena on Feb 14. The discussion led to President Sirisena issuing instructions to the military vacate land, held by them, as soon as possible. Subsequently, the Air force handed over 42 acres of land. In addition to Swaminathan, TNA leader, who is also the Opposition Leader, R. Sampanthan, has received an assurance from President Sirisena regarding the planned release of 42 acres of land on March 1. President Sirisena has reiterated his commitment on Feb 27.

Present Air Force leadership will have to take all factors into consideration in responding to the new threat. Mullaitivu situation must be tackled carefully. The government shouldn’t allow its partners to exploit the situation at Mullaitivu or any other district to their political advantage. Obviously, both members of parliament and outside are seeking political gains at the expense of national security. The Air Force leadership, the writer is sure is pondering over the crisis as the service celebrated its 66 anniversary last week.

Handing over of a part of the Air Force held area in Mullaitivu will certainly not stop on-going public protests instigated by an influential section of the TNA. In fact, both Swaminathan and Sampanthan hadn’t been originally involved in the project to evict the Air Force from Mullaitivu. High profile public protests had been an integral part of the campaign to undermine the current TNA leadership. Sampanthan had earned the wrath of some members of the TNA for promoting Jaffna District MP M.A. Sumanthiran, leading attorney-at-law, and the party spokesman. With the TNA deeply divided over issues ranging from the release of military held land to the 30/1 Geneva Resolution, different factions are likely to step up pressure on the government. Evidently, they’ll go all out against military presence in areas that had been previously held by the military.

Constitutional reforms

A determined bid to force significant scaling down of the military should be examined amidst stepped up calls for empowering Provincial Councils with land and police powers.

Nationalist groups are of the opinion that in spite of political rhetoric, the government, the TNA and their foreign partners may soon reach consensus on the full implementation of the 13 Amendment to the Constitution that was forced on President JRJ by New Delhi. Police powers to PCs should be examined vis a vis drastic cut in military muscle in the Northern and Eastern Provinces.

The National Joint Committee (NJC) asserts that those wanting to divide the country on ethnic lines are likely to be satisfied with the full implementation of the 13 Amendment to the Constitution and few critical amendments meant to weaken the executive presidency in relation to Provincial Councils. Police powers to Provincial Councils against the backdrop of the Governors losing executive powers can cause quite a problem. Those wanting to empower PCs believe they didn’t require a brand new Constitution. Instead, they will influence the government to bring in an Amendment meant to fully implement the 13 Amendment to the Constitution. That’ll set the stage for a federal state in the North-East region. The 20th Amendment will be aimed at diluting presidential power to bring a province under direct rule, weakening of Office of the Governor, elimination of the Concurrent List and the government ability to implement ‘national policy’ in all provinces in respect of all subjects and functions.

The deployment of armed forces should be the sole prerogative of the government. That right shouldn’t be subjected to negotiations with political parties and civil society organizations. Those who had been shedding crocodile tears for civilians deprived of their original land turned a blind to the LTTE build up leading to the Eelam War IV.

 The LTTE built seven airstrips in the Vanni region. The Task Force I/58 Division captured the seven airstrip in the first week of February, 2009, north-east of Piramantharukulam in the Puthukudirippu area.  The two-km long airstrip situated west of Sundarapuram, Thirivilaru, had been among a network built in Mullaitivu and Kilinochchi districts.  However, only those at Iranamadu and Mullaitivu had been built to acceptable standards. The SLAF acquired both. The LTTE enforced tough security measures to prevent civilians coming near airstrips. There had never been protests against measures adopted by the LTTE to protect installations vital to them. Those who had been complaining about heavy military presence in the Northern and Eastern Provinces since the conclusion of the war never found fault with the LTTE. In fact, they never found fault with the LTTE for withdrawing from Norway managed negotiations in April 2003 with the then Premier Wickremesinghe.

The TNA remained silent. The civil society and the diplomatic community, too, contributed to the LTTE strategy. The LTTE complained about everything. They resorted to various tactics to impose restrictions on the armed forces. Specific measures were made to protect its airstrips. The LTTE called for the intervention of the Norwegian-led Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission (SLMM) to stop the Air Force from flying over the Vanni. The LTTE stepped up pressure on the mission, comprising Scandinavian countries, in the wake of the Air Force spotting light aircraft on the Iranamadu airstrip. Norway and SLMM ignored Sri Lanka’s concerns. Although, the SLAF pointed out the danger in allowing the airstrip project, the then government lacked the strength to bring the operation to an end. Although government representatives complained to the SLMM, they didn’t really pursue the matter. National security certainly hadn’t been on the minds of the then leaders, who believed in appeasing the LTTE. Had the LTTE remained at the negotiating table it could have developed its military infrastructure under the very noses of the then government leaders. The SLFP-led government that succeeded Wickremesinghe’s administration followed foolish policy of appeasement. No government would have tolerated the assassination of its Foreign Minister like Mrs Kumaratunga’s did in Aug 2005. Don’t forget, her successor Mahinda Rajapaksa, too, promptly accepted Norwegian facilitation as well as Peace Co-Chairs’ role. The President twice sent delegations for talks with the LTTE abroad. President Rajapaksa also made an attempt to negotiate with the LTTE through NGO guru Dr Kumar Rupesinghe. The LTTE spurned Rajapaksa’s efforts as it was convinced of its military capability. Those who had been demanding accountability on the part Sri Lanka never found fault with the LTTE strategy as they, too, had faith in the LTTE’s strength until the fall of the strategic Elephant Pass, on January 1, 2009.