SPECIAL REPORT : Part 195December 5, 2017, 8:46 pm
By Shamindra Ferdinando
Five years after the release of the Report of the Secretary General’s Panel of Experts (PoE) on Accountability in Sri Lanka, in March 2011, South African Yasmin Sooka, a member of that questionable outfit, proudly claimed to possess unhindered access to those who had fled Sri Lanka during the Eelam War, and post-war period, as well as the largest collection of witness testimony and other evidence, outside Sri Lanka, pertaining to the final phase of the conflict and post-war torture and sexual violence.
Sri Lanka brought the war to a successful conclusion, in May, 2009, on the banks of the Nanthikadal lagoon.
Sooka made her claim in her capacity as the executive director of the Foundation for Human Rights in South Africa, and the International Truth and Justice Project (ITJP).
The claim was made in June 2016 in an expensive report ‘Forgotten Sri Lanka’s exiled victims.’ released by the ITJP, affiliated to the Foundation of Human Rights in South Africa.
Sooka’s claim, as regards having the largest collection of witness testimony and other evidence outside Sri Lanka, should be closely examined against the backdrop of UNSG Panel of Experts declaration that it had received 4,000 submissions from 2,300 persons.
The mainly Western backed NGO community often working according to their agenda consider Sooka as a leading human rights lawyer, activist and an international expert in the fields of transitional justice, gender equality and international war crimes.
The release of the report ‘Forgotten Sri Lanka’s exiled victims’ coincided with the commencement of the 32 sessions of the Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC).
The report made an obvious bid to deceive those who fund her as well as the public. The writer sought a clarification from the UNSG’s Office in the wake of Sooka claim that she was a legal adviser to the then UNSG Ban Ki-moon.
The report: "She is a former member of the South African & the Sierra Leon Truth and Reconciliation Commissions and was a legal adviser to Ban Ki-moon on Sri Lanka. She was the Soros inaugural Chair at the School of Public Policy and recently sat on the Panel investigating sexual violence by French peacekeeping troops in the Central African Republic."
The writer received the following response from UNSG’s Deputy spokesperson Farhan Haq: "Yasmin Sooka has been on high level panels, including on Sri Lanka, but she has not been the legal adviser to the Secretary-General."
Will Sooka take up Lord Naseby’s challenge?
Now that former Royal Air Force (RAF) pilot Michael Wolfgang Laurence Morris, aka Lord Naseby, has challenged the PoE report, pertaining to the Vanni death toll, as well as the then Rajapaksa government’s military strategy, on the basis of wartime dispatches from Colombo, it would be the responsibility of the PoE, comprising Sooka, Steven R. Ratner and its chairman Marzuki Darsusman, to set the record straight. None of them had so far responded to Lord Naseby’s two primary claims (a) maximum Vanni death roll 7,000 to 8,000 not 40,000 as claimed in PoE report (paragraph 137) (b) deliberate killing of civilians by indiscriminate shelling of three no fire zones, attacks on hospitals and makeshift medical facilities and denial of humanitarian assistance (paragraph 176).
Lord Naseby secured wartime heavily censored dispatches from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) with the intervention of the Information Commissioner’s Office and used what was made available with devastating success.
Sooka shouldn’t have any problem in humiliating Lord Naseby in public by using the so called largest collection of witness testimony and other evidence outside Sri Lanka. In fact, the UN cannot afford to remain silent in the wake of Lord Naseby’s claims, made on Oct 12, 2017. The Conservative politician has challenged the very basis of the PoE report as well as the subsequent OHCHR Investigation on Sri Lanka (OISL). The bottom line is that Lord Naseby’s assertions, made during a debate on Sri Lanka, in the House of Lords, were based on diplomatic dispatches from Colombo from the then British military attache Lt. Colonel Anton Gash whereas PoE and OISL ‘sources’ remains confidential!
Sooka recently targeted Gen. Jagath Jayasuriya as well as Maj. Gen. Shavendra Silva, the wartime General Officer Commanding (GoC) of the celebrated 58 Division. Let us see whether the INGO guru can challenge Lord Naseby.
According to PoE, those who had provided information to the inquiring body wouldn’t be subjected to scrutiny for a 20-year period, from the date of the release of the report. As the report has been released in March 2011, those ‘sources’ can not be verified until 2031 but the UN can easily seek British approval to ‘interview’ Gash as regards his reports from Colombo. Although, the FCO has withheld crucial sections of the Gash reports, the sections released effectively contradicted the PoE claims.
It would be interesting to know whether the PoE and OISL had received the Gash reports from the FCO. The FCO’s refusal to release Gash reports, sought by Lord Naseby, in accordance with the Freedom of Information Act 2000, is evidence that they were certainly inimical to the despicable British political project to bring the Rajapaksa rule to an end. Had the Gash reports in anyway strengthened unsubstantiated war crimes allegations propagated by various interested parties, the UK based Global Tamil Forum (GTF) or some other Tamil Diaspora would have sought the Gash reports.
It would be pertinent to mention that an expensive international study, funded by Norway, in the aftermath of Sri Lanka’s triumph over terrorism, took into consideration leaked US diplomatic cables.
Chr. Michelsen Institute (CMI) and School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, produced Pawns of Peace: Evaluation of Norwegian peace efforts in Sri Lanka, with the focus on the disastrous 2002 Feb bid. The team comprised Gunnar Sorbo, Prof. Jonathan Goodhand, Bart Klem, Ada Elisabeth Nissen and Hilde Selbervik. The report released in Nov. 2011 acknowledged the examination of US diplomatic cables pertaining to Sri Lanka. Therefore, there cannot be any issue over the studying of British diplomatic cables. Having repeatedly pledged to find out the truth, the UK shouldn’t block access to its records.
The PoE and OISL had never sought, nor offered, wartime dispatches from Western missions in Colombo though they received information provided by various interested parties. There couldn’t have been any issue in UN investigators receiving unhindered access to diplomatic cables originating from Colombo. The Rajapaksas’ NEVER realized ground realities. Instead of addressing accountability issues promptly, the war-winning administration like the proverbial ostrich burying its head in the sand, ignored its responsibility to disprove the damaging allegations, leading to the US forming a grand coalition, at the 2010 January and 2015 January presidential elections. The 2015 January project succeeded. Over two years, after the change of government, the Rajapaksa Camp, now called the Joint Opposition, is still struggling to comprehend the Geneva issue. Although MP Dinesh Gunawardena, on behalf of the JO, raised the Naseby issue in parliament twice, the group never really succeeded in exploiting the situation.
UN et al respond to Naseby claims
Farhan Aziz Haq, Deputy Spokesperson for UNSG António Guterres told the writer last week that the Geneva-based UNHRC could revisit resolution 30/1 titled ‘Promoting reconciliation, accountability and human rights in Sri Lanka’
The US resolution, co-sponsored by Sri Lanka was adopted on Oct 1, 2015 without a vote. Sri Lanka accepted the US led resolution days after Sri Lanka’s Permanent Representative in Geneva, Ravinatha Arysinha, rejected the draft at an informal session.
Haq said that decisions regarding actions taken by the UNHRC were solely in the hands of the members of the Human Rights Council. He added that it would be up to the member states of the Human Rights Council to decide whether to revisit Sri Lanka’s case.
The UNHRC comprises 47 countries, divided into five zones.
The UN spokesperson said so when the writer asked him whether there was a possibility in the UN revisiting Geneva Resolution in the wake of Lord Naseby assertion during a debate that the Vanni death toll was, maximum, 7,000 to 8,000, and not 40,000 as reported by the PoE in March 2011 and that the GoSL never targeted civilians purposely.
"Decisions about the actions taken by the Human Rights Council are solely in the hands of the member of the Human Rights Council. It would be up to the member states of the Human Rights Council to decide whether to revisit this case."
Charge d’Affaires, Delegation of the European Union to Sri Lanka and the Maldives Paul Godfrey told the writer that the EU had no reason to question the PoE estimate in respect of the Vanni death toll.
The Geneva Resolution has recommended a hybrid court, inclusive of foreign judges, and other experts.
Godfrey said: "Of course, we would support the establishment of a credible truth-seeking process, in line with the UNHRC resolution, to better document the fate of the thousands of people killed. Establishing the truth about their fate has the potential to limit any distortion for political reasons and can be the basis for the much needed process of national reconciliation."
International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) spokesperson Sarasi Wijeratne told the writer that the ICRC wouldn’t inquire into Lord Naseby’s claims. "We are a humanitarian organization not an investigative agency."
Top Norwegian negotiator, Erik Solheim, who had been deeply involved in deliberations during the tenures of Chandrika Kumaratunga and Mahinda Rajapaksa regimes, told the writer that it wouldn’t be appropriate for him to respond to Naseby issue as long as he headed the UN Environment.
The author of ‘To End a Civil War: Norway’s Peace Engagement in Sri Lanka’ as well as an international expert on Sri Lanka, Mark Salter told the writer that at this stage he had no comment to make on Naseby allegations.
"It may become easier to do so if and when the evidence on which he bases his allegations becomes publicly available."
Perhaps, the UK should release uncensored Gash reports, at least to the UN, and other experts, and diplomats, such as Salter and Solheim, to review the situation.
Lord Naseby, in an exclusive interview with India headquartered WION global television network, explained how the FCO tried to deprive him of confidential dispatches from Gash. In its second interview with Naseby, WION sought Naseby’s views on accusations that the Sri Lanka Army, and the CID personnel had raped 50 Tamil men, now seeking political asylum in Europe, mostly in the UK.
UK based Global Tamil Forum (GTF) spokesperson, Suren Surendiran, dismissed Lord Naseby’s statements. Surendiran said: "Lord Naseby is one of over 800 Lords in the House of Lords. He is not a representative of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee or the FCO. His views do not represent the FCO or the British Government’s policy on Sri Lanka. Britain was one of the main sponsors of the Geneva Resolutions and Britain still insists that the resolutions must be fully implemented."
A spokesperson for TNA leader R. Sampanthan told the writer that the party would comment on this matter once the Opposition Leader had studied Lord Naseby’s statement.
UK based Channel 4 News presenter Jon Snow, who had repeatedly accused Sri Lanka of massacring 40,000 civilians during the Vanni offensive didn’t get in touch with The Island, though the Channel acknowledged receiving The Island request.
The National Peace Council (NPC) spokesperson Jehan Perera, who had accompanied the government delegation, headed by then Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera, told the writer that the numbers mentioned by Lord Naseby had been cited much earlier by others. Declaring that Naseby hadn’t given anything new, Perera issued the following statement in response to the writer’s query: "Respected civil society organizations, such as the Marga Institute, have consulted with other civil society groups, done their own research and come up with conclusions. This issue has been the subject of exhaustive debate in the past and different opinions continue to exist. The National Peace Council would see the need for an impartial investigation into claims and counter claims about these figures. A truth-seeking commission, appointed by the government, as promised in the co-sponsored UNHRC resolution of 2015, and with all-party support, would be an appropriate way forward"
Jehan Perera should now name those who had cited figures mentioned by Naseby in his address to the House of Lords on Oct 12, 2017.
Anti-Sri Lanka project exposed
Interestingly, none of those who had been propagating war crimes allegations didn’t take on Naseby. Sooka, in spite of claiming to have possessed unhindered access to those who had fled Sri Lanka during Eelam War and post-war period as well as the largest collection of witness testimony and other evidence, outside Sri Lanka, pertaining to the final phase of the conflict and post-war torture and sexual violence, remains silent.
Colombian Pablo de Greiff, UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion of truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-recurrence, who had been here last month, declined to comment on matters raised by Lord Naseby. In a pathetic bid to side-step the issue, de Greiff claimed that all his meetings in Colombo, over a two-week period, were private, hence his inability to respond to The Island queries sent to his office: Greiff has had a series of meetings with political and military leaders in Sri Lanka during his two-week official visit. We asked him (a) Did Sri Lankan political and military leaders or civil society representatives make representations to him regarding a statement made by Lord Naseby in respect of accountability issues in Sri Lanka and the responsibility on the part of the UN/Geneva to revisit unsubstantiated war crimes allegations? (b) Did he discuss Lord Naseby’s claims with Sri Lankan officials and civil society?
The Sirisena-Wickremesinghe government committed the cardinal sin when it treacherously refrained from referring to Naseby revelations at Universal Periodic Review (UPR) in Geneva, mid last month. In fact, the government sought to play down the issue even after the JO raised it twice in parliament. Both Foreign Minister Tilak Marapana, PC and his deputy Wasantha Senanayake, struggled to explain the delay/failure on the part of the government to take up the Naseby revelations at the right time.
Now the UNSG’s Office, in response to the writer’s query, has stated that it would be up to members of the UNHRC to decide whether to revisit Sri Lanka’s case, Sri Lanka should act now. Therefore, the government, should, without further delay, bring the issue to the notice of Geneva. Lord Naseby, too, has requested Theresa May’s government to officially request Geneva to drop war crimes charges levelled against Sri Lanka.
TNA chief R. Sampanthan, who has been in the forefront of the war crimes campaign remained silent claiming that he was in the process of studying the Oct 12, 2017 debate on Sri Lanka. The bottom line is UK High Commission dispatches are unchallengeable. The UK’s dilemma is obvious. The Theresa May government cannot deny dispatches of its own from Colombo. There cannot be any sharp difference between the US and the UK wartime dispatches from Colombo and, therefore, Western powers will certainly suppress them.
Remember, how the US State Department had to distance itself from US Defence Advisor Lt. Col Lawrence Smith’s defence of the Sri Lanka Army at an international seminar held in Colombo in June 2011. The then government ignored the US official’s statement made over two years after the conclusion of the war. Had the government acted on the US statement, the country could have been better defended and lies countered. Unfortunately, the Rajapaksa government missed that opportunity.
Now Lord Naseby has given us another opportunity. With the UNP, and the sharply divided SLFP, struggling with the forthcoming local government polls, countering Western lies is unlikely to be high on anyone’s agenda.