Tuesday, 16 January 2018

Sri Lanka celebrating 70th anniversary under a cloud

Queen’s representatives due amidst Naseby controversy



By Shamindra Ferdinando

A group of British parliamentarians representing the ruling Conservative Party recently declined to respond to The Island queries pertaining to their visit (January 3 to January 8) to Sri Lanka.

The visit took place amidst continuing controversy over Lord Naseby challenging the basis for Geneva Resolution 30/1, co-sponsored by Sri Lanka on Oct 1, 2015.

Conservative Party member Lord Naseby on Oct 12, 2017, in the House of Lords, revealed the treacherous British role in the Geneva project. The UK is struggling to cope up with Naseby’s revelations, with British High Commissioner, in Colombo, James Dauris, playing down Naseby’s challenge. Sri Lanka, too, adopted a similar strategy.

Although the four-member delegation has been named as an All Party Parliamentary Group of Sri Lanka (APPG-SL) all of them represented the Conservative Party. The APPG-SL comprises, in addition to Conservative Party, the Labour Party, the Liberal Democrats, Ulster Unionists and the Democratic Unionist Party (of Northern Ireland).

The Conservative Party group that visited Sri Lanka consisted of MPs, Ranil Jayawardena, Chairman of the APPG-SL, Michelle Donelan, Chris Green, and John Lamont. Jayawardena is a British national of Sri Lankan origin.

The writer forwarded the following questions to the delegation on January 5 through the proper channel and was informed of its decision not to respond on January 10: (1) When did you decide to visit Colombo? (2) Did you raise the Oct 12, 2017 statement in the House of Lords by Lord Naseby with President Sirisena, TNA MP M.A. Sumanthiran or any other politician or Sri Lanka Foreign Ministry (Minister Marapana, Foreign Secretary Prasad Kariyawasam or anyone else) (3) Did President Sirisena, MP Sumanthiran or any other Government representative raise the Naseby issue with you? (4) Did you speak with Lord Naseby before you left London? and finally can you suggest ways and means of establishing the number of dead and missing, during the war, and after?

Obviously, the Conservative Party delegation didn’t want to discuss issues raised by Lord Naseby with the media. Perhaps, the delegation couldn’t have possibly admitted that the revelations made by the former Royal Air Force (RAF) and NATO pilot hadn’t been taken up during its stay here. Statements issued by the Sri Lankan Government in respect of the British delegation’s visit didn’t refer to the Naseby’s affair.

The delegates, also visited Palaly, where they met Maj. Gen. Dharshana Hettiarachchi, Security Forces Commander, Jaffna, and Speaker Karu Jayasuriya in Colombo. Surprisingly, the delegation, nor the hosts, had taken up the Naseby issue seriously. May be, both parties, severely rattled by the Naseby revelations, are of the view they shouldn’t respond to media queries though discussions took place on the contentious issue.

Those who had compelled Sri Lanka to co-sponsor Geneva Resolution 30/1 in Oct 2015 were worried over Naseby’s challenge. They side stepped the issue on several occasions.

UN Special Rapporteur, Pablo de Greiff, too, refused to comment on matters raised by Naseby, in Oct last year. The Island received the following response on Nov 17, 2017, from Pablo’s Office: I regret to inform you that the Special Rapporteur will not be able to comment on the content of private meetings. Thanks for your understanding and best wishes." His office was responding to our queries.

The Island queries: Greiff has had a series of meetings with political and military leaders in Sri Lanka during his two-week official visit. (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 against the country? (b) Did Greiff discuss Lord Naseby’s claims with Sri Lankan officials and civil society?

The UN acknowledged receipt of The Island queries on Nov 1 and promised to answer them, obviously the organization subsequently decided against.

Naseby’s Oct 12 declaration that the Vanni death toll couldn’t have been more than 8,000, though the UN quoted 40,000, and that Sri Lanka never purposely targeted the Vanni population, was made when Pablo de Greiff, UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion of truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-recurrence, visiting Colombo.

At the conclusion of his 14-day visit, Colombian de Greiff, at the UN compound, in Colombo, on Oct 23, 2017, referred to Lord Naseby’s statement. Una McCauley, UN Resident Coordinator and UNDP Resident Representative, flanked de Greiff. But, the UN didn’t want to answer the writer’s simple questions.

Now, the UK Conservative Party delegation has adopted similar tactics. The delegation couldn’t have stated anything contrary to the position taken by the British High Commission in Colombo. Sri Lanka Foreign Ministry, too, dismissed Lord Naseby’s statement when The Island sought its response. Subsequently, FM issued another statement to clarify its first comment that earned the wrath of the vast majority of Sri Lankans.

Army headquarters issued the following statement following the British delegation meeting with Maj. Gen. Hettiarachchi in Palaly."... delegation led by the Chairman of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Sri Lanka (APPG – SL), Ranil Jayawardana was briefed on the post-conflict military commitments in the region and civil-military cooperation projects with special focus on peace-building and reconciliation efforts, by the Jaffna Security Forces Commander during the meeting. They were also educated on other humanitarian projects, initiated by the SFHQ-J in coordination with civil sector participation."

Although, the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) Jaffna District MP M.A. Sumanthiran had met the British delegation, the Alliance refrained from issuing a statement though a photograph was issued. Having had propagated lies as regards the massacre of Tamil civilians, on the Vanni east front, in 2009, the TNA is yet to answer The Island queries in respect of Naseby’s call to amend the Geneva Resolution 30/1.

The Island submitted the following questions to TNA and Opposition Leader R. Sampanthan on Nov 27, 2017, and repeatedly reminded the Opposition Leader’s Office of the delay on its part: Have you (TNA) studied Lord Naseby’s statement made in the House of Lords on Oct 12, 2017, What is TNA’s position on Naseby’s claims?, Did TNA leaders discuss Naseby’s claim among themselves? Did TNA respond to MP Dinesh Gunawardena’s statements in parliament on Naseby’s statement? And Did TNA take up this issue with UK High Commissioner James Dauris?

Several days ago, The Island was again told of Sampanthan’s readiness to answer queries. However, that promise never materialised even though the Opposition Leader granted an extensive interview (We can’t despair, we can’t abandon things, says Sri Lanka’s R. Sampanthan, posted on January 3, 2018) to Colombo based The Hindu correspondent Meera Srinivasan and subsequently issued a statement to the media to mark Thai pongal. Sampanthan, certainly the senior most MP, in the current parliament, with six decades of experience, in his Thai pongal message expressed hope the country could replace the 1978 Constitution this year. Let me reproduce the relevant section verbatim: "...Tamil people’s long standing aspiration for a lasting political solution to the national question still remains unattained. During last year, meaningful steps were taken to frame a new Constitution in order to address this unresolved issue. As a result of such steps, an interim report of the Steering Committee has been submitted to the Constitutional Assembly which contains matters of importance that merit consideration. My prayer is that a new Constitution will be framed without any further delay in the new year, which will uphold the right of dignity, self respect and justice on the basis of equality amongst all citizens of Sri Lanka so as to ensure goodwill, unity and genuine reconciliation within an undivided and indivisible Sri Lanka."

Sri Lankans annually celebrates National Reconciliation Week, countrywide, from January 8 to 14. Unfortunately, the government and Western powers have refused to address primary issues that had undermined post-war national reconciliation efforts. The writer is of the view that national reconciliation will never be possible unless tangible measures were taken to disprove lies propagated against Sri Lanka. The Tamil community will never pardon the Sinhala leadership as long as it believed that a slaughter had taken place on the Vanni east front. Silly competitions and various other events, some sponsored by Western governments, will not make any difference as long as the Tamil community believed Sri Lanka military massacred civilians just for the fun of it. Just imagine, the response of the Tamil community if proper international examination of charges directed at Sri Lanka proved Naseby right. Naseby is on record as having declared that Sri Lanka never intentionally targeted the civilian community and the total number of civilians and LTTE cadres killed not more than 8,000. Naseby has asserted on the basis of wartime dispatches from British defence attache Lt. Colonel Anton Gash that one fourth of the dead could be LTTE personnel. Those who had moved Geneva against Sri Lanka during the previous administration and then forced the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe government to co-sponsor Resolution 30/1, in Oct 2015, are now in a dilemma. They realise that in the wake of Naseby’s revelations their project is no longer tenable. They realise Lord Naseby can be dismissed as a corrupt politician if not for wartime dispatches from the British Commission in Colombo. The bottom line is that they cannot discredit Lord Naseby without disregarding the British High Commission in Colombo. Had that happened, it would have brought all dispatches from Colombo to disrepute.

The UK should reconsider its policy towards Sri Lanka as Colombo prepares to welcome Queen Elizabeth’s representatives, Prince Edward, Earl of Wessex, and Countess of Wessex for Sri Lanka’s 70th anniversary celebration of independence on Feb 4. They’ll arrive in Colombo on 31 January and leave 4 February.

The British High Commission spokesperson said: "The Earl and Countess will travel to Colombo and other parts of Sri Lanka, celebrating the long-standing friendship between the two countries and shared interest in the Commonwealth, youth development and education.

"The royal couple will meet participants in The Duke of Edinburgh’s International Award and young Sri Lankans selected as Queen’s Young Leaders, an initiative to recognize and celebrate exceptional young people across the Commonwealth. The Earl and Countess will also meet representatives of a number of projects advancing causes they support through their work, including MENCAFEP, whose work to help differently-abled children and their families in the Nuwara-Eliya, Trincomalee and Batticaloa Districts illustrates the close links between the people of Sri Lanka and the United Kingdom.

"As the United Kingdom looks forward to hosting the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in April 2018, their visit will highlight our countries’ shared ambition to ensure the Commonwealth is well-placed to help deliver a bright future for its Members’ citizens.

"Prince Edward is the youngest child of the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh. The Earl and Countess support the queen in her official duties and undertake many public engagements each year in support of a wide range of charities and non-governmental organizations."

Can the UK and the Commonwealth continue to turn a blind eye to a friendly country being overwhelmed by unsubstantiated war crimes allegations. The UK-led Commonwealth never intervened on behalf of Sri Lanka, in the 80s, when regional Commonwealth power, India, destabilized its neighbour to its heart’s content. Top British diplomat here Dauris has earned the contempt of the vast majority of Sri Lankans by his recent silly attempt to dismiss Lord Naseby’s revelations, based on High Commission assessments.

There’ll never be a better opportunity than the forthcoming 70th anniversary celebrations to clear Sri Lanka of unsubstantiated war crimes allegations. The UK needs to give its consent to Lord Naseby’s call to review the Geneva Resolution. There cannot be any harm in examining allegations on the basis of all available information, particularly wartime dispatches from Western and Indian diplomatic missions in Colombo.

The world must not forget the LTTE attack on Dalada Maligawa, a few days before Sri Lanka’s 50th anniversary celebrations scheduled to take place in Kandy, in 1998. In spite of the attack, Prince Charles attended the event though many expected the UK to call off his visit. It would be pertinent to reproduce a statement that was attributed to the then main Opposition party, the UNP, in a CNN report headlined, "8 killed in Sri Lankan blast at temple," datelined January 25, 1998. The CNN quoted the UNP as having blamed the then Kumaratunga government for the attack. The CNN reported that the UNP, the country’s main opposition party, blamed the government, saying that the celebrations invite trouble.

"The government was baiting the LTTE.... It was a foolish act," the CNN quoted UNP leader Ranil Wickeremasinghe as having said.

The UNP took a similar controversial stand when the LTTE mounted a devastating attack on a civilian target in Jaffna, also during Kumaratunga administration.

The importance of a comprehensive review of Sri Lanka’s response to war crimes allegations shouldn’t be further delayed by the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe government.