Tuesday, 25 April 2017

Post-war role for Lanka: A Japanese perspective




By Shamindra Ferdinando

America’s longstanding strategic partner, Japan, is working overtime to induce Sri Lanka to their camp.

Japan and Sri Lanka reached an agreement, on ‘Comprehensive Partnership’, in Oct 2015, within months after the change of the Rajapaksa government perceived to be very close to China.

The change of government in January 2015, paved the way for the ‘Comprehensive Partnership’ and the growing US-Sri Lanka relationship. Japan underscored the relationship a with high profile naval squadron visit to Colombo in Oct last year with the media invited for the first time to visit the training squadron of the Japanese Maritime Self Defence Force (JMSDF).

Having facilitated the ouster of war - winning President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s government, the Western camp has been engaged in a high profile campaign to ‘secure’ Sri Lanka. Visits undertaken by the then US Secretary of State, John Kerry, in May, 2015, and the US Secretary of the Navy, Ray Mabus, in August last year, underlined Sri Lanka’s strategic importance.

Japanese security expert Dr. Satoru Nagao recently speculated about Japan helping Sri Lanka to acquire Lockheed P-3C maritime surveillance aircraft. The First Lieutenant of the Japanese Army believes Sri Lanka can be a base for strategic maritime surveillance over the Indian Ocean.

Nagao, who is now Research Fellow at the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe government - run Institute of National Security Studies (INSS), in his latest paper, titled ‘Japan can be the best partner for Sri Lanka and India.’ discussed Japanese assistance meant to strengthen Sri Lanka’s maritime capabilities.

India seeks US assessment

on H’tota port

In the wake of Nagao’s latest paper, the writer examined the Japanese expert’s contribution to INSS Defence Review 2017, titled ‘Changing US-China Power Balance and the Role of Japan-Sri Lanka-India Co-operation.’ Considered Sri Lanka’s only security think tank, INSS included Nagao’s piece in its first publication. Before discussing Nagao’s piece, it would be pertinent to examine the classified US diplomatic cable that dealt with US-India talks on the proposed China building of the Hambantota port. Thanks to Wikileaks, Sri Lanka is aware of the discussion in New Delhi, on the Hambantota port even before the construction of the inland port got underway, in January 2008. Sri Lanka and China inaugurated the first stage in Nov 2010.

Let me reproduce the relevant section of the US diplomatic cable that dealt with the April 26, 2007, meeting the New Delhi - based US diplomat had with the then Joint Secretary, at the External Affairs Ministry Mohan Kumar, presently India’s Ambassador to France. Having functioned as the Desk Officer in charge of the Maldives, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka (1990-1992), Kumar received the appointment as Deputy High Commissioner, in Colombo, in late 2001. At the time Kumar had taken up the Hambantota port issue with the US as revealed in Wikileaks cable, he had been head of the division that handled relations with Sri Lanka, the Maldives, Myanmar and Bangladesh.

Kumar has discussed the Indian navy stepping up patrols in the waters between India and Sri Lanka and expressing concern over Chinese involvement in the Hambantota port project. Kumar has also bitterly complained about Chinese taking advantage of the situation in Burma, at the expense India, and warned the US pressure on New Delhi to take up democracy and human rights issues with the Burmese military leadership facilitated the Chinese project there. The US diplomat quoted Kumar as having told him "We’re getting screwed on gas."

The following is the section on the Hambantota port: "The situation in Sri Lanka is "bad, really bad - beyond bleak" in Kumar’s judgment. Characterizing the government and the LTTE as two sets of people with scant regard for the international community, Kumar was sceptical that political progress could be achieved anytime soon. He confirmed reports that the Indian Navy has stepped up patrols in the Palk Strait, and said that India and Sri Lanka are doing coordinated patrolling to prevent the smuggling of weapons from the Tamil Nadu coast. Kumar said it would be helpful to get the American assessment of the port being built in Hambantota, which he estimated China was willing to spend $500 million to help develop. He noted that China has increased its influence with President Rajapaksa, opining that Rajapaksa had a "soft spot" for China following his visit to Beijing on March 9."

At the time of the New Delhi discussion, the Sri Lankan military had been battling the LTTE in the Eastern Province and was engaged in building up fighting formations to launch the Vanni offensive. An outright battlefield victory over the LTTE seemed very unlikely at that time with the Divisions based in the Jaffna peninsula unable to overcome the LTTE northern front-line.

The construction of the Hambantota port commenced in January 2008 amidst fierce fighting on the Vanni front. Even then, the LTTE retained formidable fighting capacity in spite of the US providing required intelligence to Sri Lanka to hunt down four LTTE floating arsenals in international waters. US intelligence certainly helped Sri Lanka to change the course of the war though subsequently the world’s solitary super power went out of its way to oust the war-winning President.

Western project fails to

thwart Chinese

Having failed to oust Rajapaksa, at the January 2010, presidential polls, in spite of ensuring the Tamil National Alliance support to Gen. Sarath Fonseka, Western powers and their allies, including India, succeeded at the January 2015, presidential poll. However, they appeared to have failed to thwart major Chinese projects here. The Sirisena-Wickremesinghe government has been compelled to defend and praise Chinese projects after having flayed China in the run up to the presidential and general elections, in January and August, 2015, respectively. Interestingly, the Chinese made an abortive bid to win over former President Rajapaksa’s support for its Hambantota project. Although, Rajapaksa, accompanied by former External Affairs Minister Prof. G. L. Peiris, recently visited Beijing, where they discussed the impending agreement, they failed to reach consensus with Rajapaksa declaring that he would extend his support only if China and yahapalana government followed the original agreement on Hambantota.

Sri Lanka in turmoil

Today, Sri Lanka is in turmoil over proposed agreements with India and China on the ports of Trincomalee and Hambantota, respectively. The UNP-SLFP coalition is sharply divided over the agreements with one time Petroleum Minister Susil Premjayantha flaying India over her bid to secure vital land in Trincomalee. Subsequently, former President Mahinda Rajapaksa threw his weight behind Minister Premjayantha whose candid assessment raised many an eyebrow. Minister Premjayantha has alleged that India was hell bent on acquiring Trincomalee land through the acquisition of Trincomalee oil tank farm.

Regardless of President Maithripala Sirisena’s recent assurance that he wouldn’t do anything inimical to Sri Lanka’s interest, obviously, petroleum sector trade unions, affiliated to various political parties, including the UNP, seemed to be sceptical about President Sirisena’s assurance. Over the last weekend, they threatened to bring the country to a standstill unless the ruling coalition abandoned the proposed agreement on Trincomalee harbour with India. Petroleum sector workers disrupted supplies on Monday resulting in chaos. They returned to work Monday night after having received an assurance from Premier Wickremesinghe that the Trincomalee oil tank farm wouldn’t be handed over to India. Premier Wickremesinghe yesterday left for India.

Premier Wickremesinghe seems to be determined to go ahead with both Hambantota and Trincomalee projects in spite of growing opposition. Wickremesinghe is of the opinion that both projects are equally important to Sri Lanka. Wickremesinghe subscribes to the opinion that the agreement with India is of crucial importance in the wake of China-Sri Lanka deal on Hambantota.

Former Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa has alleged Indian National Security Advisor Ajit Doval called for the cancellation of USD 1.4 bn Chinese flagship project, the Colombo Port City. In addition to that demand which Rajapaksa said was very unfair; India demanded that Sri Lanka take over Colombo International Container Terminals Limited (CICT), a joint venture between China Merchants Port Holdings Company Limited (CMPH) and the Sri Lanka Ports Authority (SLPA).

CMPH holds 85% of the partnership whilst the balance 15% is being held by SLPA.

Rajapaksa quoted Doval as having told him that India wanted all Chinese funded infrastructure projects stopped and for Sri Lanka to have full control of the Hambantota port. Rajapaksa quoted Doval as having said: "Sri Lanka is a small country; you don’t need such development projects."

Nagao’s comment on co-operation among Japan, India and Sri Lanka should be examined against the backdrop of US building up an alliance to counter China. Obviously, Nagao is promoting Japanese policy in respect of Sri Lanka in an environment Colombo can be part of the US led grouping. The proposal to use Sri Lanka as a base for strategic maritime surveillance over the Indian Ocean has been made in the wake of US-India agreement to enable US forces to utilize Indian bases and vice versa. India recently signed Logistic Exchange Memorandum of Understanding (LEMOA) with US. The agreement irked some though it certainly served India’s strategic objectives and the inclusion of Japan in Malabar naval exercise in 2015 is evidence of US project meant to form a strong military alliance to meet the Chinese challenge.

Growing relationship between India and Vietnam, too, should be taken into consideration when the US project is analysed.

Nagao on New Delhi’s intentions

The Japanese expert has alleged that India intervened in Sri Lanka in the 80s to thwart the US from using Sri Lanka as a base. While emphasizing Sri Lanka’s strategic importance in relation to security in the Indian Ocean and the Pacific, Nagao assented that India deployed its Army in northern and eastern districts of Sri Lanka because New Delhi dreaded the likelihood of the US using Sri Lanka as a naval base at that time. Indian High Commissioner in Colombo at the time of military intervention here, J.N. Dixit, in his memoirs "Makers of India’s Foreign Policy: Raja Ram Mohun Roy to Yashwant Sinha’ discussed the circumstances leading to destabilization of Sri Lanka.

Dixit said that India’s motivations and actions vis-a-vis Sri Lanka should be analysed taking into consideration the larger perspective of the international and regional strategic environment between 1980 and1984. Dixit justified Indian project in Sri Lanka while blaming the US and Pakistan for exploiting the situation to cause a rift between Sri Lanka and India at that time. Dixit stated: "The rise of Tamil militancy in Sri Lanka and the Jayewardene government’s serious apprehensions about this development were utilised by the US and Pakistan to create a politico-strategic pressure point in India in the island nation."

Surely, Nagao cannot be unaware that India destabilized Sri Lanka to pave the way for the deployment of its Army. India swiftly deployed troops after having forced Sri Lanka to halt a large scale military operation in early 1987 wipe out the LTTE. Had Nagao bothered to peruse Dixit’s chapter on Sri Lanka ‘An Indo-centric Practitioner of Realpolitik’, he would realize that Cold War era strategic decision making India had another reason to cause terrorism in Sri Lanka. Alleging that Indian intervention in Sri Lanka had been one of the two major foreign policy blunders of Indian Premier India Gandhi, Dixit said that she had feared emergence of Tamil separatism in India if New Delhi refused to throw its weight behind Sri Lankan Tamils.

India ended up losing over 1,500 officers and men during Indian Army deployment here. In May 1991, over a year after Indian Army pulled out from Sri Lanka, a Tamil female suicide bomber blew up one-time Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi in Tamil Nadu.

Sri Lanka brought the war to a successful conclusion in May 2009. China remained a major weapons supplier to successive Sri Lankan governments throughout the war. In the post-war era, China strongly defended Sri Lanka at the Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) whereas the US and India targeted Sri Lanka. Japan and South Korea had no option but to refrain from siding with Sri Lanka owing to their strategic partnership with the US.

Today, India is working closely with the US in a bid to counter Chinese challenge. Both India, Japan as well as South Korea depend on US military might to counter China whereas the US, too, heavily depend on partners support in case of an emergency. Obviously, the long term objective of the US-led grouping is to deprive China of the opportunity to build up a lasting partnership with Sri Lanka and also to bring Colombo under its sphere of influence. Western powers as well as yahapalana leaders appeared to have underestimated China’s determination to secure an agreement on the Hambantota port. Had the Chinese not been so unfair in seeking totally a one-sided agreement, they could have easily concluded negotiations. The Chinese appeared to have jeopardized the entire project by seeking an arrangement at Sri Lanka’s expense, thereby creating an extremely hostile environment to Hambantota project.

Nagao has strongly underscored the importance of Japan, India and Sri Lanka partnership in the security domain. The bottom line is that Nagao wants Sri Lanka to be a member of US led alliance at Sri Lanka’s expense. Interestingly, the Japanese expert has used Sri Lankan government run project to promote closer cooperation among Japan, India and Sri Lanka to counter China.

The Sirisena-Wickremesinghe government has been plunged into crisis over the Hambantota and Trincomalee projects. With consensus among various stakeholders unlikely, the Joint Opposition is expected to exploit situation to its advantage ahead of May Day. The government, grappling with the unprecedented crisis caused by deaths of nearly 50 men, women and children due to the collapse of Meethotamulla garbage dump, displacement of families and subsequent protests against disposal of Colombo garbage in areas outside Colombo City limits is now in chaos. The coalition seemed to be incapable of responding rationally to plethora of issues ranging from daylight robbery at the Central Bank at the onset of President Maithripala Sirisena’s 100-day programme to disposal of garbage.

Wednesday, 19 April 2017

AI's longstanding ‘alliance’ with the LTTE



By Shamindra Ferdinando

Publicly declining to testify before the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) that has been tasked by the then President Mahinda Rajapaksa to inquire into war crimes allegations, London headquartered Amnesty International (AI) joined the International Crisis Group (ICG) and the Human Rights Watch (HRW) to flay Sri Lanka.

 The LLRC commenced sittings in Aug 2010.

 In a joint statement issued on Oct 14, 2010, the three organizations called for a genuine, credible effort to pursue political reconciliation and accountability in Sri Lanka. Declaring that the LLRC had failed to meet what they called minimum international standards for commissions of inquiry, they said: "There is little to be gained by appearing before such a fundamentally flawed commission."

 "Accountability for war crimes in Sri Lanka demands an independent international investigation."

The Rajapaksa administration brought the war to a successful conclusion in May 2009.

 In the wake the change of the Rajapaksa administration in January 2015, those who had been demanding an international investigation reached a consensus with the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe government for inclusion of foreign judges in a local judicial mechanism. Their consensus paved the way for Geneva Resolution 30/1 on Oct 1, 2015.

 Against the backdrop of the AI Chief Salil Shetty calling for credible fresh investigation to examine major allegations directed at Sri Lanka, it would be pertinent to discuss the group’s intervention in Sri Lanka years before Shetty assumed leadership of the organization, in Dec 2009.

‘Sri Lanka, play by the rules’

 AI launched a high profile campaign, using the slogan ‘Sri Lanka, play by the rules’ in March-April 2007, targeting Sri Lanka. The project got underway at the onset of Vanni offensive west of the Kandy-Jaffna A9 road. By then, the combined forces had been successful in seizing the upper hand in the Eastern theatre of operations. ‘Sri Lanka, play by the rules’ campaign coincided with the 2007 ICC Cricket World Cup, the 9th edition of the tournament that took place in the West Indies from March 13 to April 28, 2007.

The AI campaign was meant to pressure Sri Lanka to accept an international body to monitor abuses.

The campaign covered the Caribbean, Europe and South Asia, excluding Sri Lanka. AI planned to persuade celebrities, and members of the public, to sign foam cricket balls bearing the words: "Sri Lanka, play by the rules."

Explaining their choice of theme, Amnesty’s then deputy Asia Pacific director, Tim Parritt, said: "Just as all cricket teams need an independent umpire to make objective decisions, so too does Sri Lanka need independent human rights monitors to ensure that the government, Tamil Tigers and other armed groups respect the rules and protect civilians caught up in the conflict."

"Currently all parties to the conflict in Sri Lanka are breaking international law by killing civilians, destroying homes and schools, or forcibly disappearing people," he said in a statement.

"The situation has got far worse over the last year, and we decided it was time to take action."

A blatant lie

 Having rejected the LLRC, AI in Sept. 2011, launched its own report, titled: ‘When will they get justice? Failures of Sri Lanka’s Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission.’ The report estimated the number of civilian deaths, due to military action, over 10,000. The AI based its assertion on eyewitness testimony and information from aid workers. AI, too, guaranteed confidentially of its ‘sources.’ Perhaps for want of close cooperation among those who had wanted to drag Sri Lanka before an international tribunal, they contradicted themselves in respect of the primary charge. Interestingly, none of those, except British Labour Party MP Siobhan McDonagh (Mitcham and Morden-Labour) propagating lies, regarding civilian deaths dared to speculate about losses suffered by the LTTE. McDonagh estimated the number of LTTE cadres killed, in fighting, during January 1, 2009 to May 19, 2009, at 60,000. The previous government didn’t even bother to raise the Labour MP’s lie with the UK though The Island pointed out the need to clarify matters. The absurd claim was made during the third week of Sept 2011, in parliament. The previous government never realized the requirement to inquire into the possibility of British parliamentarians’ relationship with Tamil Diaspora. In fact, some politicians had benefited from their relationship. Influential Global Tamil Forum (GTF), during the previous administration, had hired former MP for Enfield, North Joan Ryan, as its policy advisor. Of course, the GTF had the backing of all major political parties with key politicians participating in its inauguration in the UK parliament, in Feb 2010, in the wake of the LTTE’s demise.

London headquartered AI is certainly aware of the propaganda project directed at Sri Lanka though it obviously failed to coordinate with others engaged in the operation. Had there been some basic engagement, among them, they wouldn’t have such discrepancy in numbers, pertaining to the civilians killed, due to military action. MP McDonagh should at least try to get her estimates right. Had she bothered to contact the UK or Europe-based LTTE rump, she would realize that 60,000 men and women hadn’t sacrificed their lives for the group since its inception.

The writer raised MP McDonagh’s lie with AI researcher Jeannine Guthrie at the conclusion of the press conference, given by the organization, at the Sri Lanka Press Institute (SLPI), at Kirula Road, Colombo 6, on April 5, 2017. Guthrie declared that they knew how McDonagh’s estimate came about. In response to queries raised by The Island, AI admitted that a credible investigation was required to ascertain the number of people killed as well as enforced disappearances. AI called the briefing, after having met Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera. Shetty was flanked by Biraj Patnaik (Regional Director, South Asia) and campaigner Yolanda Foster. The AI delegation included David Griffiths, Chief of Staff, Office of the Secretary General, Jeannine Guthrie, researcher, Grant Bayldon, Section Director, AI, New Zealand and Omar Waraich, media manager, South Asia and South East Asia.

Sri Lanka should be grateful to AI for inadvertently telling the truth. AI’s call for hybrid judicial mechanism to probe war crimes allegations on the basis of the Geneva Resolutions of Oct 2015 and March 2017 is ridiculous against the backdrop of Shetty’s admission that the basis for Oct 2015 resolution is wonky.

Former AI senior in LTTE


 The LTTE and Tamil Diaspora had the clout to hire not only members of British parliament but former members of AI. It would be pertinent to mention that GTF policy advisor Joan had been once the Chairperson of Labour Friends of Israel (LFI) an influential group within the British parliament. The GTF hadn’t found fault with her for backing Israel, Sri Lanka’s key weapons supplier since the 80s. In fact, Sri Lanka couldn’t have brought the LTTE to its knees if not for the steady availability of Israeli ground attack aircraft Kfirs, Fast Attack Craft (FACs), Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), anti-missile defence mechanism for Mi 24 helicopter gunships and a range of other equipment.

The LTTE hired Professor Francis Boyle who had served on the board of directors of AI (1988 to 1992) to represent the group at a high level meeting with the EU in Geneva in Oct 2005. The EU had been one of the co-chairs of the Norwegian-led Sri Lanka peace process. The inclusion of one time AI heavyweight, in an LTTE delegation, revealed the group power in spite of it being a proscribed organization in many countries, including the UK and EU as well. Francis Boyle, professor of international law at the University of Illinois, and a leading practitioner and advocate of international law, had represented the LTTE under controversial circumstances. The Geneva meeting took place on Oct 24, 2005, against the backdrop of an EU decision not to invite LTTE delegations. The EU slapped travel ban on the LTTE on Sept 26, 2005.  But this did not bar V. Rudrakumaran, a New York based attorney-at-law and a member of the LTTE negotiating team at the Norwegian-managed peace talks during Ranil Wickremesinghe’s tenure as the Premier meeting the EU on behalf of the LTTE.

Boyle had thrown his weight behind the LTTE in spite of him knowing atrocities committed by the LTTE. Boyle had been a member of the AI board of directors at the time the LTTE assassinated one-time Indian Prime Minister and Congress leader Rajiv Gandhi. The academic had no qualms in representing a group that threatened resumption of war in Sri Lanka unless the EU lifted the ban imposed on LTTE cadres visiting EU member states in the wake of Sri Lankan Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar’s assassination on the night of Aug 12, 2005. The Jaffna University Students’ Union issued the dire warning on behalf of the LTTE. Boyle represented the LTTE in Geneva where the group threatened to resume military operations. The LTTE also demanded that Norway speak on behalf of the LTTE to the EU or face the consequences (LTTE front warns: Lift EU ban or face war, The Island, Oct 10, 2005). Perhaps, Shetty should examine Boyle’s relationship with the LTTE if he is really keen to understand the LTTE’s strategy. The writer is certain that Boyle hadn’t been the LTTE’s only contact. With Boyle’s backing the LTTE demanded the EU recognition for Prabhakaran’s leadership and the influential grouping support to achieve its objectives. The LTTE organized large scale protests on Oct 24, 2005 in Brussels and Oslo in support of its demands. (LTTE wants EU recognition of its national leadership; plans protest in Brussels, The Island, Oct 13, 2005).

Kadir’s assassination

The bottom line is that the LTTE wanted western powers to ignore Kadirgamar’s assassination. Regardless of the EU travel ban, the EU met LTTE representatives in Geneva. In addition to Rudrakumaran and Boyle, the LTTE delegation included TNA MP Gajendran Selvarajah and Norway and Denmark based representatives (Travel ban no bar for LTTE, EU meet in Brussels with strapline Ex-Amnesty International heavyweight in delegation, The Island Oct 28, 2005).

A deeper investigation is required to establish the LTTE’s relationship with Western governments. Thanks to Wikileaks, the world knows how the UK had facilitated a meeting between LTTE representative British passport holder of Sri Lankan origin Anton Balasingham and the then Norwegian Foreign Minister Jan Petersen and his deputy Vidar Helgesen in London regarding Kadirgamar’s assassination. The meeting took place on Aug 17, 2005, less than a week after an LTTE sniper shot and killed Kadirgamar through his chest during Norway supervised Ceasefire Agreement (CFA).

AI had never been bothered by even such a high profile assassination during the CFA. Would London have allowed a meeting between any other proscribed terrorist group and a foreign government to discuss a political assassination?

Let me reproduce a US diplomatic cable which dealt with Norway–LTTE talks in the wake of Kadirgamar’s assassination. The letter sent by the Norwegian Foreign Minister to Prabhakaran is of crucial importance. The following is the full text:

Dear Mr Prabhakaran,

As I am sure you realise, the peace process is in a critical situation. The killings and counter killings over the last few months have been watched with mounting concern by Norway and the international community. Along with the continued recruitment of children to the LTTE, this has created distrust about the LTTE’s intentions as regards the peace process. The assassination of Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar has exacerbated the situation. It is not up to Norway to draw conclusions about the criminal investigations now underway in Colombo, or on any other judicial matter in relation to the killings. However public perception both in Colombo and internationally is that the LTTE is responsible. This public perception is a political reality. The LTTE needs to respond to this situation in a way that demonstrates continued commitment to the peace process.

I see it as my obligation to make clear to you the political choice now facing the LTTE. If the LTTE does not take a positive step forward at this critical juncture, the international reaction could be severe.

Against this backdrop I would ask you urgently to consider the following steps:

1. To accept the Norwegian Government’s invitation to participate in a review of the implementation of the ceasefire agreement in order to find practical ways of ensuring full compliance by both parties.

2. To establish direct communications between the LTTE and the Sri Lankan Army in the East, in order to improve security.

3. To accept without delay the Sri Lanka monitoring mission proposal for transportation of LTTE cadres.

4. To collaborate in a practical way with Govt. initiatives to speed up reconstruction in the North and East. The LTTE’s continued commitment to the P-TOMs agreement is vital in this regard.

5. To take effective steps to halt killings and to cease the recruitment of underage combatants.

I trust that you appreciate the gravity of the present situation and will take steps to demonstrate to the international community that the LTTE is committed to the peace process.

Yours sincerely,

Jan Petersen

AI project during CFA

 In the wake Norway arranged CFA in Feb 2002; the LTTE launched a project to legitimise its control over areas held by the group. The then premier Wickremesinghe government hadn’t been aware what was going on in the Northern and Eastern Provinces. The LTTE and its supporters among the international community moved swiftly and decisively to help the group consolidate its power in the region.

The LTTE secured the support of AI to spearhead the project.

 Interestingly, both AI and the UN under Secretary on children in conflict areas scheduled visits in the wake of the CFA.

 Olara Otunu, who had been here in May 1998 to explore ways and means of compelling the LTTE to end the use of children as cannon fodder met the then Foreign Minister Tyronne Fernando in New York (Olara Otunu to visit Wanni again––The Island June 20, 2002). AI ignored reports from UNICEF and the ICRC, which dealt with a major child recruitment drive under the nose of the Norwegian-led Scandinavian truce monitoring mission. (More flee training camps as LTTE assures UNICEF it will not recruit children–The Island June 21, 2002).

 On the invitation of the LTTE, a delegation of AI representatives arrived in Colombo in June 2002 for a two-week long visit. The government welcomed the AI delegation, which was led by Derek Evans, one-time Deputy Secretary General of AI. Evans was accompanied by Ingrid Massage, researcher on Sri Lanka at AI’s International Secretariat in London. Although AI had been in touch with the LTTE, the June 2002 visit was its first to an area under the outfit’s control in Sri Lanka.

Addressing the media in Colombo, at the conclusion of their visit here, Evans said that AI was ready to help the LTTE to refine its police force and judiciary. AI was of the view that it could go ahead with the plan. Evans declared in Colombo that AI had the expertise and resources to help the LTTE (LTTE seeks Amnesty help to tighten control–The Island).

The AI delegation went on to explain how its members had been given access to LTTE ‘police stations’ as well as detention centres in the Vanni. Much to the surprise of journalists covering its media briefing in Colombo, AI revealed that members of the delegation made some suggestions to help improve conditions at LTTE ‘police stations’ and detention centres. AI revealed that the LTTE was planning to establish more ‘police stations’ in areas under its control, though it already had 15 ‘police stations’ at the time of the AI visit.

The LTTE and AI also discussed training for ‘Thamileelam Police’, handling of prisoners and streamlining of the ‘Thamileelam judiciary.’

Obviously, the LTTE had high hopes of legitimising its terror through an international mechanism. AI asserted that the LTTE needed to prepare to take over police functions as it could be soon in charge of law and order operations under the proposed interim administration, for the then temporarily merged North-Eastern Province.

AI stressed the need to do away with what it called the draconian Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA), to facilitate the peace process. Shetty’s delegation demanded the abolition of the PTA at the end of AI’s recent visit to Colombo.

The then President Kumaratunga had told AI in no uncertain terms that the LTTE had taken advantage of its visit to legitimise its reign of terror. The President said that AI’s presence in Vanni would only legitimise illegal detention facilities run by the group. The President criticised AI for visiting LTTE prisons, while suggesting that the visitors wouldn’t have been shown underground detention facilities. While Kadirgamar endorsed CBK’s assertion, AI bluntly told them that it had been invited by the government.

Had the LTTE remained committed to the Norwegian initiative, it could have had the opportunity to advance its strategy. However, it quit the negotiating process in April 2003 and set the stage for an all-out war three years later. The rest is history. Now, the AI is facilitating separatist objectives though the LTTE no longer commanded powerful fighting cadre in Sri Lanka.

The move to provide overseas training for ‘Thamileelam police’ should have been viewed against the backdrop of the AI plan to streamline both ‘Thamileelam police’ and its ‘judiciary. In fact, there hadn’t been a similar project in any part of the world. AI attempted to compare its project in the Vanni with its assignment in Afghanistan to train the police there. AI didn’t see a difference between the situation in Afghanistan and the areas under LTTE control.

Tuesday, 11 April 2017

Amnesty admits very basis of Geneva Resolution questionable




By Shamindra Ferdinando

The Amnesty International last Wednesday (April 5) admitted that the very basis of the Geneva Resolution 30/1 adopted in Oct 1, 2015 is questionable.

The London headquartered AI acknowledged that it couldn’t even vouch for its own report titled ‘When will they get justice?: Failures of Sri Lanka’s Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission’ released in Sept. 2011. The report submitted to the Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) dealt with the eelam war IV (Aug 2006 to May 2009).

The AI asserted that a credible investigation is required to examine unsubstantiated allegations directed at Sri Lanka. Can there be a situation as ridiculous as calling for a credible investigation to verify accusations two years after adopting Geneva Resolution 30/1 on the basis of the same unproven claims.

The Sri Lankan military brought the war to a successful conclusion on the morning of May 19, 2009 on the banks of the Nanthikadal lagoon.

Secretary General of AI Salil Shetty admitted that a credible investigation was required to ascertain the number of people killed as well as enforced disappearances during the conflict in Sri Lanka. Bengaluru born Indian was responding to the writer at a media conference called by the AI at the Sri Lanka Press Institute (SLPI) on Kirula road, Colombo 6. Shetty was flanked by Biraj Patnaik (Regional Director, South Asia) and campaigner Yolanda Foster. The AI delegation included David Griffiths, Chief of Staff, Office of the Secretary General, Jeannine Guthrie, researcher, Grant Bayldon, Section Director, AI, New Zealand and Omar Waraich, media manager, South Asia and South East Asia.

In addition to the local media, The Hindu, AFP and the AP covered the event. Both the AFP and AP didn’t even bother to report the briefing. The AFP correspondent was there for the opening statement.

In spite of him being responsible for the release of ‘When will they get justice?: Failures of Sri Lanka’s Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission,’ Shetty refrained from at least reconfirming the number of civilians killed as mentioned therein. Obviously, he is not sure of his own report though AI repeatedly made representations at UNHRC as well as at various other international forums over the years demanding accountability on the part of Sri Lanka.

Shetty sought the support of Jeannine Guthrie, Researcher for Sri Lanka when the writer, having displayed a copy of ‘When will they get justice?: Failures of Sri Lanka’s Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission’ sought an explanation in respect of the AI claim 10,000 civilians perished in the final phase of the conflict vis a vis varying claims made by other accusers.

Shocking secret pay-offs

Before discussing AI project in Sri Lanka, let me briefly focus on the circumstances under which Shetty succeeded Irene Khan in late Dec 2009 in the wake of the latter quitting the organization in a huff. Khan’s deputy, Kate Gilmore, too, left. Subsequently, an embarrassed AI admitted that Khan and Gilmore had been paid over £500,000 and £300,000, respectively. Massive secret AI payoffs shocked the entire NGO community against the backdrop of the organization primarily depending on funding from its membership and public donations.

Shetty had served the UN and Action Aid before succeeding Bangladeshi Khan, the first Muslim to head the organization.

Shetty and his associates at the briefing hadn’t been at least aware that ‘When will they get justice?: Failures of Sri Lanka’s Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission’ was released several months after the Report of the Secretary General’s Panel of Experts’ (PoE) on Accountability in Sri Lanka issued in March 2011.

Reminding Shetty that his own ‘When will they get justice?: Failures of Sri Lanka’s Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission’ estimated the number of civilians killed at 10,000, the writer sought an explanation as regards various figures that had been quoted by others, the UN, Tamil National Alliance (TNA) leader R. Sampanthan and British Labour Party MP

Siobhan McDonagh.

*In March, 2011, PoE claimed 40,000 civilians perished on the basis of information provided by ‘credible sources.’ However, PoE insisted that its ‘credible sources’ wouldn’t be revealed until 2031.

*In Sept., 2011, AI estimated the number of civilians deaths due to military action at over 10,000. The AI based its assertion on eyewitness testimony and information from aid workers. The AI, too, guaranteed confidentially of its ‘sources.’

*In Sept., 2011British Labor Party MP Siobhan McDonagh (Mitcham and Morden-Labour) told House of Commons 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.

*In March, 2017, MP Sampanthan declared in New Delhi that three decades long conflict claimed the lives of over 150,000 Tamil speaking people and over 50 per cent of the total Tamil population had fled the country. MP Sampanthan’s Office hasn’t so far not responded to the writer’s request for an explanation regarding the claim made at an anti-terrorism conference organized by the government of India.

Shetty and Guthrie couldn’t explain vast discrepancy in the numbers quoted by those wanting to haul Sri Lanka up before a hybrid war crimes court. Obviously, verification of accusations should have been done before they moved Geneva against Sri Lanka. They repeatedly assured the need for credible investigation to examine accusations when the writer suggested they should have reached consensus on allegations before passing resolution on Sri Lanka.

Shetty and Guthrie struggled to justify their call for war crimes court inclusive of foreign judges after having admitted that the basis of the Geneva Resolution had to be examined.

India let off the hook

While repeating a plethora of accusations against successive Sri Lankan governments in respect of a range of crimes and atrocities committed since early 80s, the AI conveniently let India off the hook. There hadn’t been absolutely no reference to India whose intervention here in the 80s transformed a violent campaign undertaken by several hundred Tamil youth to a war which couldn’t be even fully suppressed by the mighty Indian Army.

Shetty looked almost embarrassed when the writer asked whether the AI would take up the contentious issue of accountability with the government of India in respect of allegations made by the Tamil community here against the Indian Army. Shetty expressed the opinion that depending on the availability of evidence, issues could be taken up with India. Shetty didn’t expect the Sri Lankan media to question the basis of the Geneva Resolution or raise the issue of India’s culpability.

AI Chief refrained from commenting on the deaths and disappearances in the wake of Indian Army intervention in the Maldives in early Nov, 1988. Shetty gave the impression that he hadn’t been fully aware of Indian trained Sri Lankan terrorists making an attempt on the life of then Maldivian President Maumoom Abdul Gayoom. India thwarted the attempt to grab power in the Maldives but never accepted the responsibility for destabilizing the entire region.

Now that Shetty had announced plans to set up regional office in Colombo and demanded that Sri Lanka address accountability issues within the stipulated period of two years granted by Geneva, he should make a genuine effort to verify accusations directed at Sri Lanka and India. Perhaps, Shetty should speak with TNA MP Dharmalingham Suddarthan, who is on record as having blamed the premier Indian intelligence agency, Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) for killing his father, a lawmaker in Sept 1985. Vanni District TNA MP has alleged that his father V. Dharmalingam and his colleague M. Alalasundaram had been abducted and killed by the TELO (Tamil Eelam Liberation Organization) at the behest of the RAW. In fact, Dharmalingham had explained the RAW role in his father’s assassination in the 90s when he was interviewed in Colombo.

Having taken over the AI seven years ago, Shetty cannot pretend he lacked knowledge of the Indian intervention in Sri Lanka. Subsequently, the AI made available to the writer a report titled ‘SRI LANKA: THE INDIAN PEACE KEEPING FORCE AND "DISAPPEARANCES’ that dealt with 43 cases of disappearances blamed on the Indian Army during its deployment here. The report revealed that the AI had urged both India and Sri Lanka to inquire into the disappearances. Alleging that the Indian Army had been accused of human rights violations, including torture, extrajudicial execution and "disappearances", the report released in Sept. 1990 underscored the Indian Army held thousands of prisoners without reference to the provisions of either Sri Lankan or Indian law. However, the report dealt with reports of "disappearances" only.

The Hindu report

The following is Colombo based Meera Srinivasan’s The Hindu report titled ‘It’s time to act in Sri Lanka’ with strap line Amnesty urges govt. to repeal Prevention of Terrorism Act:

"Acknowledging "important improvements" in the overall situation of human rights in Sri Lanka, Secretary General of Amnesty International Salil Shetty on Wednesday said it was now time for the government to act, after it recently got a two-year extension at the UN Human Rights Council to fulfill its commitments.

Drawing from a report that Amnesty released earlier this week on enforced disappearances, Mr. Shetty said: "Families of the disappeared have spent years, sometimes decades, waiting for answers. The government can delay no longer." Urging the government to swiftly operationalise the Office On Missing Persons and to repeal the Prevention of Terrorism Act, Mr. Shetty emphasized that Sri Lanka would not be able to break away from its violent past until families of the disappeared "get the truth they demand and the justice they deserve".

In addition to questions on accountability and militarization, people in the north constantly underscored poverty and the loss of livelihoods, particularly among women-headed households, Mr. Shetty observed.

"Often, this was closely linked to land... these are people whose land is their livelihood," he said, even as hundreds in the island’s north and east are protesting for their land, currently held by the military, to be returned.

On the sidelines of the press conference, Mr. Shetty told The Hindu geopolitical dynamics had a direct bearing on the nature of engagement of international actors. The fact that there was now a UNHRC resolution co-sponsored by the U.S. and Sri Lanka was positive. "But once it comes into the domestic sphere, I am not sure how much influence the U.S. or anybody else has."

Geneva Resolution forced

on Lanka

Obviously, Shetty has either no idea of what was going on in Sri Lanka and growing US influence here or he pretends lack of knowledge. Shetty couldn’t be unaware how US directed Sri Lanka to accept Geneva Resolution moved on the basis of unsubstantiated accusations in spite of the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe government expressing serious concern over the draft resolution. Sri Lanka’s Permanent Representative in Geneva, Ambassador Ravinatha Aryasinha at the first informal session called by the US on the draft resolution on Sept 21, 2015 rejected it. Ambassador Aryasinha called for drastic changes. At the behest of the US, the government instructed Sri Lanka’s Geneva mission to accept the draft resolution based on unproven allegations.

It would be interesting to see whether the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe government sought an explanation as regards the validity of allegations in the wake of Shetty’s admission. The PoE alleged that killing of civilians through widespread and indiscriminate deployment of heavy artillery and shelling of hospitals. Even if the present government lacked courage to take up Shetty’s statement with those who had been demanding hybrid court to address accountability issues, the latter certainly owed an explanation to the world.

The fact that Amnesty International is not certain of its allegation at least 10,000 had been killed due to military action is evidence of the previous government’s failure. The previous government turned a blind eye to repeated requests to take up significant discrepancies in the number of dead and disappearances claimed by the self-proclaimed international community with Western powers and NGOs propagating those lies. The Rajapaksa administration played politics with the Geneva issue. It lacked a cohesive strategy to address issues raised by Western powers. Instead of constantly engaging those who had been propagating lies with the intention of humiliating war winning Sri Lanka, the previous government hired costly US public relations firms to improve Sri Lanka’s image overseas.

Against the backdrop of Shetty’s shocking admission that credible investigation is required to ascertain the validity of numbers killed as well as enforced disappearances, would Sri Lanka request the UNHRC to examine still confidential UN report that dealt with the situation in the Vanni from Aug 2008 to May 13, 2009. The report placed the number of dead at 7,721 and the wounded at 18,479 on the basis of information provided by Tamils working for the UN and NGOs in the Vanni, the ICRC and the clergy.

The writer intended to ask the AI whether it had received a copy of the UN report or would request the UN to share it in the wake of Shetty’s scandalous admission in Colombo.

In fact, Shetty had now admitted that the entire process leading to Geneva Resolution is questionable as the very accusations which were basis for the co-sponsored resolution required reexamination.

The four party Tamil National Alliance (TNA) cannot act as if it is not concerned. As the main party representing Tamil speaking people, the TNA shouldn’t hesitate to seek an explanation from AI with regard to war dead and enforced disappearances. Although, Shetty at the onset of his briefing estimated the number of enforced disappearances at 100,000, it would be pertinent to ask the AI whether his organization had taken into consideration Sri Lankans leaving and entering foreign land through illegal means.

Western governments have repeatedly refused to assist Sri Lanka to establish the whereabouts of Sri Lankans living overseas under different names. In addition to those still languishing in refugee camps or similar facilities, the number of Sri Lankans given foreign citizenship over the past 30 years has never been revealed. Both Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and Justice Minister Dr. Wijeyadasa Rajapakse had declared that those reported missing were either dead in battle or living overseas.

Did Shetty take into account those who could have died in treacherous Australian seas or seas adjoining while trying to reach Down Under in boats?

Although issuance of passports to Sri Lankans under new names is well known over the years, Sri Lanka never realized that some governments went to extent of changing ethnicity of those receiving new identities. One time top JVPer Kumar Gunaratnam received a new identity with changed nationality courtesy Australia. Canberra had renamed him Noel Mudalige Today, Gunaratnam is trying to become Gunaratnam again though Australia seems in no hurry to do away with his Australian citizenship.

Can Sooka help AI?

Perhaps, Shetty should get in touch with Yasmin Sooka, a member of the PoE to verify entire range of unproven allegations directed at Sri Lanka. Sooka, in her Forgotten: Sri Lanka’s exiled victims launched in June 2016 claimed to have had information pertaining to former LTTE cadres living overseas and the proprietor of the most comprehensive data on Sri Lanka.

The writer strongly believes proposed war crimes probe shouldn’t be a political issue. For those who really wanted to clear Sri Lanka’s name the issue is not the inclusion of foreign judges and other foreign experts, including defence lawyers but whether the accusations were valid. It would be the government’s responsibility to seek clarification in respect of unproven allegations before proceeding with the setting up of (1) A Commission for Truth, Justice, Reconciliation and Non-recurrence (2) An Office on Missing Persons (3) hybrid court and (4) An Office for Reparations.

Tuesday, 4 April 2017

Chagie’s plight grim reminder of Sri Lanka’s failure in Geneva




By Shamindra Ferdinando

Having defended Sri Lanka, in Geneva, during the recently concluded 34th session of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC), Rear Admiral Sarath Weerasekera grudgingly acknowledged the power of the foreign funded Non Governmental Organizations (NGOs) backing war crimes and crimes against humanity allegations, against the government of Sri Lanka (GoSL).

Obviously, the naval veteran hadn’t been fully briefed about the well funded NGO operation, conducted in Geneva, over the years, much to the detriment of the GoSL. The Rajapaksa administration pathetically failed to counter the NGO project though it brought the war to a successful conclusion, in May, 2009.

Addressing the media, at war-winning President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s office, at Nelum Mawatha, Battaramulla, the former member of parliament, representing the Digamadulla District, last Friday (March 31), explained the circumstances under which local NGO activists, spearheaded by Dr. Pakiasothy Saravanamuttu and Nimalka Fernando, and diaspora operatives, had overwhelmed him, in Geneva.

Flanked by former External Affairs Minister Prof. G. L. Peiris and Dr. Channa Jayasumana of the National University Teachers’ Association (NUTA), Weerasekera disclosed how a Geneva-based Buddhist temple deprived him of an opportunity to use time allocated to the temple to defend Sri Lanka. Weerasekera admitted that he had to secure time allocated to another Buddhist temple, situated at Birmingham, for the same purpose.

Although, the Federation of National Organizations (FNO), the Joint Opposition as well as the Global Sri Lanka Forum (GSLF), behind Weerasekera’s effort, knew that the naval veteran required time allocated to an NGO registered with the UNHRC to make a presentation. They wouldn’t have thought the opponents power to influence Geneva temple to renege on its promise. Weerasekera claimed the Geneva temple had reneged at the last moment.

It would be pertinent to keep in mind the previous government lacked a cohesive strategy to counter lies propagated by various interested parties ranging from Western powers to local NGOs funded by them. Dr. Pakiasothy Saravanamuttu, who had been recently present at the launch of an academic programme at the Kotelawela Defence University (KDU) campaigned for the implementation of the Oct 1, 2015 Geneva Resolution. Executive Director of the Center for Policy Alternatives (CPA) Dr. Saravanamuttu, in his capacity as the Secretary to the CTFRM (Consultation Task Force for Reconciliation Mechanisms), threw his weight behind the Geneva sanctioned road map to address contentious issues. Dr. Saravanamuttu has taken a clear and consistent stand on allegations directed at Sri Lanka, regardless of the political party in power, and courageously demanded robust international participation in accountability process.

Although foreign judges’ participation is definitely contrary to Sri Lanka’s constitution, the writer is of the view that foreign participation can be quite advantageous to Sri Lanka and place those propagating lies in a difficult situation. Those who had been propagating high profile lies would have to prove them in the hybrid court. Let there be judges as well as other experts from India (in case there’ll be more than one such court) whose responsibility for launching terrorist groups here in the 80s is well documented. It would be the responsibility of the Joint Opposition to prove NGO operatives wrong without calling them traitors. Had the previous government acted responsibly in the wake of unsubstantiated allegations, Sri Lanka wouldn’t have ended up being accused of war crimes and crimes against humanity. Australia’s decision to deny visa to Maj. Gen. Chagie Gallage, over such wild allegations, is a grim reminder of the previous government’s failure. Australia based its decision on unproven UN reports.

The writer raised the issue with Weeraselera at last Friday’s meeting at the former president’s office, at Nelum Mawatha, Battaramulla. Asked whether the JO would defend the country, even reluctantly, at a hybrid tribunal, Weerasekera said: "Such mechanisms aren’t acceptable under any circumstances."

Prof. Peiris refrained from responding to The Island query whether former President Rajapaksa and Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa would defend themselves in a proposed hybrid court. The JO should examine the issue afresh without being influenced by political factors. Now that the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe government has reiterated commitment to the Oct 2015 resolution and secured two years to fulfill Lanka’s obligations, both the ruling coalition and the JO should reach a consensus on a Sri Lanka strategy. They shouldn’t engage in petty politics at the expense of the war-winning military and seek consensus on a strategy to meet the Geneva challenge. They cannot be absolved of their responsibility for defending Sri Lanka.

Premadasa era story

Before commenting further on the current situation, let me discuss the second JVP – inspired insurgency taken up at the then United Nations Human Rights Commission, way back in Feb-March, 1990. The United Nations Human Rights Council was established in 2006. Members of parliament Mahinda Rajapaksa and Vasudeva briefed the media, in late March 1990, at Hotel Taprobane, regarding the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) commending Sri Lanka’s human rights record much to their disappointment at the Geneva session. The duo had been there to raise the bloody counter insurgency campaign directed by President Premadasa at the JVP. However, the LTTE had negated their campaign by praising President Premadasa for restoring peace in the temporarily merged Northern and Eastern Provinces. The LTTE threw its weight behind the then UNP government as President Premadasa had been engaged in direct negotiations with the group. The LTTE worked closely with the government delegation, in Geneva, to thwart Rajapaksa and Nanayakkara. The writer had been among those journalists present at the Taprobane briefing, where Rajapaksa and Nanayakkara praised UK support for their effort. They commended one time British High Commissioner David Gladstone, who had earned President Premadasa’s wrath and was deported for interfering in national election. Who would have believed the LTTE coming to Sri Lanka’s rescue in Geneva just a few months before the group launched eelam war II. Whatever twice president Mahinda Rajapaksa said now, the SLFPer, at that time, strongly pushed for UN intervention in Sri Lanka.

Having defended President Premadasa in Feb-March 1990, the LTTE resumed hostilities in June 1990. The LTTE brought the 14-month honeymoon, with President Premadasa, to an end, alleging that their grievances weren’t addressed. Rajapaksa and Nanayakkara claimed that LTTE representatives in Geneva clearly undermined their effort though they promised not to interfere. During the media briefing, given on March 27, 1990, it also transpired that the then Opposition Leader Mrs. Sirimavo Bandaranaike’s private secretary Lasantha Wickrematunga had fled the country following threats (Tigers commend President for bringing peace to N.E Province-The Island, March 28, 1990 and UN Human Rights Commission to visit Sri Lanka in June, also in the same edition).

The LTTE had no issue in praising Sri Lanka, at Geneva, as long as the Geneva project was within its overall strategy. Mahinda Rajapaksa wouldn’t have thought, at that point in time, he would one day face Geneva allegations in respect of decisions taken as President and Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces. Those taking a particular stand, in Geneva, or some similar forum, for that matter, would be always guided by the interests of their sponsors. In fact, sponsorships will entirely depend on NGOs readiness to pursue specific strategies developed by sponsors. That is the undeniable truth.

Slain State Defence Minister Ranjan Wijeratne, in January, 1990, alleged that the Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL) had transferred a part of funds, that had been received from the London headquartered Amnesty International, to subversives, a reference to members of the Janatha Vimukthi Peramina (JVP). The unprecedented allegation was made at the weekly cabinet briefing, where Wijeratne flayed the BASL for not being concerned about the victims of violence unleashed by the JVP (AI funds to Bar Association channelled to subversives, The Island, January 26, 1990).

The LTTE defending Sri Lanka, in Geneva, and the unsubstantiated claim in respect of the BASL allegedly providing funds to ‘subversives’ meant controversial decisions could be made under extraordinary or not so extraordinary circumstances.

NGO operations

The National Peace Council (NPC), one of the most influential NGOs among the Western diplomatic community, threw its weight behind Sri Lanka’s call for two years to implement the Oct 1, 2015 resolution. Dr. Jehan Perera, executive director, NPC, sat with the GoSL delegation and expressed views in support of a resolution calling for time and space to Sri Lanka. Of course, Dr. Perera had the approval of NPC’s sponsors to back Sri Lanka as US-led Western powers, too, endorsed the resolution.

In fact, the GoSL, the LTTE rump, diaspora elements and local NGOs had approved the resolution whereas nationalist elements made an abortive bid to make an intervention through submission of reports countering war crimes accusations. Weerasekera handed over a comprehensive report, prepared by attorney-at-law Dharshan Weerasekera, on behalf of the Federation of National Organizations (FNO) titled ‘A factual appraisal of the OISL report: A rebuttal to the allegations against the armed forces’ to the Office of UNHRC Zeid bin Ra’ad Zeid al-Hussein. In addition to that dossier, several other written reports, commissioned by the previous administration, had also been handed over to al-Hussein’s Office.

Obviously, the Western operation, against Sri Lanka, is certainly not reversible and every effort must be made to counter lies. It would be pertinent to mention that operations undertaken by the NGOs will continue as long as they received foreign sponsorships. Norwegian study Pawns of Peace: Evaluation of Norwegian Peace Efforts in Sri Lanka, 1997-2009 revealed the extent of funding available to local NGOs.

Christian Michelsen Institute (CMI) based in Bergen, a major recipient of Norwegian funds, led the evaluation of four separate peace efforts by Norway from 1997 to 2009.

A nine-member evaluation team comprised CMI’s Gunnar Sorbo, Jonathan Goodhand of the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) in London and seven others, including four Sri Lankans. SOAS is part of London University (UK).

The CMI receives funding through the Research Council of Norway (NFR), which in turn is funded by the Norwegian Foreign Affairs Ministry and the Norwegian Ministry of Education and Research. Gunnar M. Sorbo, who had held several positions in several Norwegian institutions, including NFR and the Agency for International Development, headed the CMI investigation.

The report, in a special section, titled Aid and Peace, discussed the costly NGO project. Let me produce verbatim what the Norwegian investigation said regarding the expanding role of the NGOs: "However, they (NGOs) were invited for occasional meetings in the embassy and the foreign ministry in Oslo and when it became difficult for Norwegian diplomats to access the north, some of them played important roles in providing information about local developments. A Sri Lankan NGO network was established in Norway and the dialogue with the ministry was generally positive and fruitful."

The Norwegian report revealed that those who had been engaged in the peace process and related projects in support of the primary objective were funded to the tune of NOK 210 mn (approximately 28 mn US), between 2001 and 2004. Of the total funding, NOK 200 mn were received by ten organizations, including the Foundation for Co-Existence led by NGO guru the then darling of the Norwegians, Dr. Kumar Rupesinghe. According to the report, Rupesinghe’s outfit received about NOK 35 mn (about 6 mn US between 2004 and 2008). The National Anti-War Front also led by Dr. Rupesinghe, received substantial funding. The Norwegians named Dr. Rupesinghe as he had switched allegiance to President Rajapaksa at the onset of the eelam war IV after having immensely benefited from the Oslo government.

Among the other recipients were the Center for Policy Alternatives, One Text Initiative and the National Peace Council. Those receiving Norwegian grants were careful not to say anything critical of Norway’s handling of the peace process here. They refrained from being critical of the LTTE for obvious reasons. The Norwegians even funded the Tamil Rehabilitation Organization (TRO), in spite it being a front for LTTE operations overseas.

Both CPA and NPC had been in Geneva at the recently concluded sessions with both backing the implementation of the Oct 1, 2015 resolution. The government seems to be either unable to comprehend the developments or simply accepted it had no option but to appease those who facilitated change of government in January 2015.

In addition to Norway, several other countries and major foreign NGOs, provide funds for their local counterparts. During the war, funding received from overseas was meant to promote a negotiated settlement, influence politicians representing major political parties, undermine military effort, discourage recruitment to armed forces and exploit the media. Those who had been wanting a settlement, favorable to the LTTE, propagated the lie that it cannot be defeated. A section of the media, and Colombo-based Western embassies as well as the Indian High Commission, promoted that view until the very end. They believed in an LTTE counter attack on the Vanni east front, even after the Army regained Kilinochchi, in early, January, 2009.

After the conclusion of the conflict, in May 2009, some of those who had been involved in projects, inimical to Sri Lanka, redirected their energies to implicate the Sri Lankan military in war crimes and influence the new administration to introduce a brand new constitution et al. They had never tried to convince the LTTE that it could never secure an outright victory over the military and therefore a negotiated settlement should be sought. Had they made a genuine bid, they could have proved their effort today.

Foreign funding had been made available to NGOs in spite of the end of war. The CPA, the NPC and Transparency International Sri Lanka had been major recipients of foreign grants during the 2008 to 2010 period. The war ended in May 2009. The CPA has received Rs. 272.31 million during the three-year period. The NPC and TI had received Rs. 171.23 million and 174.79 million, respectively.

The funding sources included Meyers Norris Penny Ltd RM (Canada), Canadian International Development Agency, Berghof Foundation (Germany), Facilitating Local Initiatives for Conflict Transformation (Germany), Stichting Cordaid (The Netherlands), Norwegian Embassy, Commission Des Communautes (Norway), ICT for Peace Foundation (Switzerland), Dep. F. Auswaert, Angelegenheiten (Switzerland), Swedish Embassy, Swedish International Development Agency, Goldman Sachs Grant (UK), Minority Rights GRP Ltd BCA (UK), European Commission, Transparency International Division (UK), Catholic Agency for Overseas Development (UK), European Union, Diakonia (US), Forum of Federations/Forum Des (US), International Media Support (US), the Ford Foundation (US), Fredskorpset Bergen (US), National Endowment for Democracy (US), Partnership for Transparency Fund (US) and Academy for Educational Development (US).

Of Rs. 618.33 million received by the CPA, NPC and TI during the three-year period, Rs. 111.48 million had been donated by various other sources, not mentioned above.

Unfortunately, the previous government lacked a strategy to probe NGOs thoroughly.

Norway had been the largest donor to the three NGOs during the three year period. Norway had granted NGOs Rs. 148.11 million during the three-year period and the NPC the recipient of the single largest grant from them; it received Rs. 70.48 million.

The TI has received its largest single grant from Norway amounting to Rs. 63.28 million, whereas CPA’s single biggest contribution came from the European Commission (Rs. 43. 27 million).

The Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation (NORAD) has revealed that of NOK 2.5 billion spent on development cooperation during the period 1997 to 2009 in Sri Lanka, NOK 100 million was allocated for the peace process.

The European Commission (Rs. 55.61 million) and the Swedish International Development Agency (Rs. 43.11 million) are the second and the third major contributors.

The country’s banking system has no records of the exact amount of funds received by NGOs over the past three decades. An enormous amount of funds had been received by NGOs since Feb. 2002, with some countries and the UNDP providing funds to the LTTE Peace Secretariat.