Tuesday, 29 May 2018

Tamil Guardian report on Genocide Remembrance Day irks GSLF



By Shamindra Ferdinando

Tamil Guardian posted a series of messages, from sitting British politicians and other schemers, issued to mark what they called ‘Tamil Genocide Remembrance Day.’ The Island carried the Tamil Guardian report in its Saturday, May 27, 2018, printed edition. The full report can be accessed online.

The Global Sri Lanka Forum (GSLF), in a letter to The Island, alleged that the pro-LTTE Diaspora had paid a person in the editorial to publish the Tamil Guardian report. The grouping also called for an inquiry to establish how the report, without a byline, was carried. The writer, in his capacity as the News Editor of The Island, carried the Tamil Guardian report on page 4 of May 26 edition of our newspaper. Let me assure GSLF that the writer takes the full responsibility for carrying Tamil Guardian report and will continue to accommodate news reports which the GSLF may feel anti-Sri Lanka and also statements issued by UK headquartered Global Tamil Forum (GTF). In fact, by the time, the GSLF complained, the writer had almost finished the Wednesday piece that dealt with ‘Tamil Genocide Remembrance Day.’

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

The spineless current administration gave up Sri Lanka’s right to celebrate its triumph over terrorism, with a Victory Day Parade, immediately after the change of government, in January 2015. War-winning President Mahinda Rajapaksa inaugurated the Victory Day Parade in May, 2009. It was last held in May, 2014, in Matara.

British MPs right to call the commemoration ‘Tamil Genocide Remembrance Day’ shouldn’t be disputed under any circumstances. In fact, it would be unfair on Sri Lanka’s part to oppose the British playing politics with the Sri Lanka conflict for their advantage. When our present and former members of Parliament had exploited/continue to exploit the conflict and pursued agendas of their own, it would be foolish to expect others to be mindful of Sri Lanka’s plight.

The UK never expected the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) to lose the war, though the Sri Lankan military made steady battlefield progress on the Vanni front, after having liberated the Eastern Province, by mid 2007. The war commenced in August 2006 with devastating simultaneous LTTE attacks, both in the northern and eastern theaters of operations. The British believed the LTTE could mount a massive counter offensive and reverse the ground situation in late 2008 as fighting formations converged on the Vanni east theatre.

As long as the UK believed the LTTE could somehow overwhelm the Sri Lanka Army (SLA) on the Vanni east front, British politicians never bothered to push the LTTE to give up arms. Those MPs, shedding crocodile tears today, never demanded the LTTE to give up holding its own civilian population as human shields or surrender. It would be pertinent to mention that MPs remained silent because the UK-based Tamil Diaspora really believed the LTTE was on the verge of defeating the Sri Lanka Army (SLA). Had the Tamil Diaspora realized by Dec 2008/Feb 2009, the LTTE was cornered by several fighting formations and counter attack wasn’t realistic, interested Britishers would have called for their government intervention. Unfortunately for them, it wasn’t the case.

Ryan’s relationship with GTF

And some British politicians benefited by the LTTE’s defeat. Let me briefly examine the case of British Labour Party politician for Enfield North.

Among those who had been quoted in the Tamil Guardian report headlined ‘British MPs release messages to commemorate Mullivaikkal Genocide’ was Labour Party MP Joan Ryan, former Chief Executive and Policy Advisor of UK headquartered Global Tamil Forum (GTF).

Ryan is the Vice Chair of All Party Parliamentary Group for Tamils (APPGT). The APPGT came into being years before the conclusion of the war, whereas the GTF was established in Feb, 2010, less than a year after the LTTE’s demise.

Tamil Guardian quoted Joan Ryan, MP for Enfield North, Vice Chair of APPGT, as having said: "My thoughts and best wishes are with you all as we commemorate the tragic events of Mullivaikal. 9 years on from the end of Sri Lanka’s armed conflict, I share your deep concerns that the Sri Lankan Government has made no meaningful progress on truth, justice and reconciliation. Justice delayed is justice denied.

"Unless the culture of impunity on the island is tackled, and there is a genuine reckoning with the country’s past, Sri Lanka will be unable to lay the foundations for a sustainable peace.

"I can assure you that I will continue to support all efforts to ensure an enduring peace in Sri Lanka and the recognition of the Tamil people’s fundamental rights and freedoms."

Having represented Enfield North from 1997, Ryan was rejected by the electorate at the 2010 parliamentary polls and soon joined the GTF as its Chief Executive and Policy Advisor. Ryan gave up the assignment in 2015 when she regained Enfield North.

The Labour Party politician had been also embroiled in parliamentary expenses scandal and was one of those beneficiaries of highly controversial claims and was directed to repay.

Oh McDonagh

Another Labour Party MP, Siobhain McDonagh, who declared in the UK parliament, in Sept. 2011, that the Sri Lankan military killed 100,000 Tamils, including 60,000 civilians, in the final phase of the war, too, issued a statement to the Tamil Guardian.

The Tamil Guardian quoted Siobhain McDonagh MP for Mitcham and Morden, Senior Vice Chair of APPGT, as having said: "Dear All, today we pause to mark the 9th anniversary of the massacre at Mullivaikal. We reflect and remember all those who died during Sri Lanka’s civil war. And we reaffirm our strong belief that only truth, justice and accountability will set Sri Lanka on a path to lasting peace. Each of you will be fully aware of the failure of the Sri Lankan Government to live up to its promises on justice and reconciliation. The Tamil community has valiantly brought the damning evidence of the Sri Lankan Government’s war crimes to the attention of the world. And yet, the overwhelming majority of the commitments made by the Sri Lankan Government remain unachieved. None of the four key transitional justice mechanisms pledged have even been operationalised." McDonagh, too, has been embroiled in parliamentary expenses scandal.

Those, who had been quoted in the Tamil Guardian report, conveniently refrained from mentioning the accountability on the part of the LTTE whose British theoretician, of Sri Lankan origin, Anton Balasingham, was allowed to operate freely in the UK in spite of the massive death and destruction caused by the group. The British turned a blind eye to the LTTE assassination of former Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, in May 1991. Soon after the LTTE assassinated Sri Lankan Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar, in Aug. 2005, UK-based Balasingham was allowed to receive top Norwegian representatives to discuss ways and means to overcome the latest high profile killing. The Independent newspaper, in a piece titled ‘negotiator for Tamil Tigers’ posted on Dec. 18, 2006, described how Britisher Balasingham received international recognition. The Independent obituary referred to how the Norwegian Prime Minister addressed Balasingham as ‘Excellency.’ Let me reproduce the first paragraph of that obituary: "Anton Balasingham was the international face of the militant group that pioneered suicide bombing, yet he was welcomed in the drawing rooms of Europe. The Prime Minister of Norway addressed him as "Excellency", as if he were an ambassador for an internationally recognized state, instead of chief negotiator for the Tamil Tigers, banned as a terrorist organization in the European Union and the United States".

Balasingham died, in London, on Dec. 14, 2006, four months after the LTTE launched Eelam war IV expecting swift and decisive battlefield victories, especially in the northern theatre. The UK turned a Nelsonian eye. On the basis of British High Commission diplomatic cables from Colombo, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office believed the LTTE was right on top of the situation. The British remained confident, even after the SLA regained Pooneryn, on the Vanni mainland, in Nov. 2008, and swiftly turned east and rapidly advanced across the Kandy-Jaffna A9 road to seize Paranthan, and then moved northwards and southwards to liberate Elephant Pass and Kilinochchi, respectively.

The fall of Kilinochchi, in early January 2009, sealed the LTTE’s fate.

UK diplomats visit The Island

The writer received New Delhi-based British diplomat at The Island editorial a few months before the fall of Kilinochchi. The visitor was accompanied by a British diplomat, based in Colombo (not the defence attache). They inquired about the ground situation on the Vanni front where the Army was making progress. But when the writer, having showed them the latest battlefield map and explained that the LTTE couldn’t hold Kilinochchi much longer and the re-opening of the Kandy-Jaffna A9 road was on the cards, the Britishers looked amused. Obviously, The Island assertion certainly was contrary to that of other media as well as political party spokesmen who knowingly or unknowingly propagated the lie the LTTE had strong conventional forces deployed on the Vanni east front. They continued to believe the propaganda, even after the SLA had Kilinochchi partially cut off, thereby leaving demoralized defenders with no option but withdrawing eastwards.

The likes of Ryan and McDonagh remained mum throughout this period. They never felt the need to discourage the LTTE from continuing the unwinnable war. They never called for punitive measures against Balasingham, who obviously abused his British citizenship and exploited the coveted British passport to promote and justify terrorism, along with his wife Adele. They readily accepted all those terrorists who had obtained British citizenship after having entered the UK over the years. But, the duo demanded immediate expulsion of Sri Lanka’s defence attache Brig. Priyankara Fernando whose throat cutting gesture in response to unruly protest outside the Sri Lankan diplomatic mission in London on Feb. 4, 2018, drew condemnation. The UK forced the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe government to recall Fernando of the Gemunu Watch (GW), one of the infantry formations engaged in anti-terrorist operations.

Ryan and McDonagh found Brigadier Fernando’s gesture unacceptable especially as he was there as a guest of the UK. The writer is of the opinion that whatever the provocation, Brigadier Fernando shouldn’t have run a finger across his throat.

Wouldn’t it be interesting to know whether the British at least sought an explanation from Balasingham in the wake of Kadirgamar’s assassination in Aug 2005? Did the UK warn Prabhakaran, through Balasingham, that war shouldn’t be resumed under any circumstances? The abortive bid to assassinate Army Chief Lt. Gen. Sarath Fonseka, in April 2006, made it clear the LTTE was ready for final war. Obviously, the UK didn’t care or felt the need to pressure the LTTE to return to the negotiating table which it quit in April 2003.

The UK government accepted the stand taken by the two Labour Party MPs. If Brigadier Fernando was found fault with running a finger across his throat, could the UK explain a British citizen allowed to represent a terrorist organization responsible for massive death and destruction and at least three dozen of political assassinations, including one President (Ranasinghe Premadasa, May 1993) and one former Prime Minister (Rajiv Gandhi, May 1991) and presidential candidate (Gamini Dissanayake Oct.,1994). Balasingham not only represented the LTTE but actually advised the LTTE on strategy.

Did the UK ever threaten to deprive Balasingham of its citizenship if he did not dissociate from the LTTE at least after the NATO power proscribed the organization in Feb 2001? Had they been comfortable with a British citizen being a key member of a proscribed international organization?

The Amirthalinghams

Those who had been upset of the LTTE’s defeat remained mum on atrocities committed by the LTTE on the Tamil community. Mangaiyarkkarasi Amirthalingam moved to the UK soon after the LTTE assassinated her husband, Illankai Thamil Arasu Kadchi stalwart, Appapillai Amirthalingham, on July 13, 1989. Mrs Amirthalingham, too, received British citizenship. Before the LTTE assassinated Appapillai, his sons had moved to the UK, where a substantial number of Tamils, who fled the LTTE, lived. However, British political parties realized the importance of developing relationship with those who took extremely anti-Sri Lankan stand for their advantage. They needed continuation of anti-Sri Lanka sentiments for political purposes as some of those who had fled Sri Lanka, fearing the LTTE as well as other Tamil terrorist groups sponsored by India, propagated lies primarily to ensure British acceptance of bogus political refugees.

Mrs. Amrthalingham passed away in the UK a few years after the end of the war.

Over nine years after the end of the conflict, British politicians continued to talk of abductions and disappearances, in Sri Lanka, for obvious reasons.

Thanks to Wiki Leaks, the world knows how one-time British Foreign Secretary David Miliband intervened on behalf of the LTTE in a bid to win over British voters of Lankan Tamil origin.

Miliband’s strategy to win the support of expatriate Tamils living in key Labour marginal seats came to light when US diplomatic cable, quoting one of his own Foreign Office staff, was posted in Dec. 2010.

Tim Waite, a Foreign Office team leader on Sri Lanka, was quoted, in a leaked cable, explaining why Miliband gave so much attention to the war in Sri Lanka.

"Waite said that much of (the government) and ministerial attention to Sri Lanka is due to the ‘very vocal’ Tamil diaspora in the UK, numbering over 300,000, who have been protesting in front of parliament since 6 April," wrote Richard Mills, a political officer at the US Embassy in London.

"He said that with UK elections on the horizon and many Tamils living in Labour constituencies with slim majorities, the government is paying particular attention to Sri Lanka, with Miliband recently remarking to Waite that he was spending 60 per cent of his time at the moment on Sri Lanka."

Had there been over 300,000 Tamils there, by early 2009, one could imagine their strength nearly 10 years after the war. British political parties, especially Labour politicians, will continue to exploit the Tamil community there for their advantage. Politicians world over are the same. They cannot be faulted for seeking to enter parliament, or retain their seats, under any circumstances.

The bottom line is that as the group of British of citizens of Sri Lankan Tamil origin grow, major political parties will bash Sri Lanka to secure their votes.

Wednesday, 23 May 2018

A country divided over eradication of terrorism!



The Global Sri Lanka Forum (GSLF) celebrated Sri Lanka’s triumph over terrorism in May, 2009 with a public gathering in Dubai. Former Foreign Secretary Palitha Kohina addressed the gathering. On the invitation of the GSLF, Mrs S.G Juliet, mother of Corporal Gamini Kularatne of the Sixth Battalion of the Sinha Regiment garlanded a statue of her son. Gunaratne carried out suicide attack on an LTTE bulldozer on July 14, 1991 during the battle for the strategic Elephant Pass base, the gateway to the Jaffna peninsula.The event took place in the wake of the recent split in the GSLF, leading to the formation of another organization, World Patriotic Lankan Forum (WPLF), headed by Wasantha Keerthiratne.

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Nine years after the successful conclusion of the war, Sri Lanka is still struggling to cope up with her greatest post-war achievement. A deeply divided Sri Lanka marked the ninth anniversary of the defeat of the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), once considered invincible by many, on the Vanni east front, with a series of countrywide commemorative events this month. Much to the disappointment of the vast majority of people, the government and the military couldn’t even organize these events in one day.

Commemorative events were held on May 18 at the Security Forces Headquarters, Division Headquarters, Forward Maintenance Areas, Regimental Centers, Army Training Schools, Units, Field Headquarters and military rehabilitation centers.

Many an eyebrow was raised when the Security Forces Headquarters, Jaffna, organized a commemorative event on May 4 with Northern Province Governor Reginald Cooray as the Chief Guest. It is still not clear why the Jaffna Security Forces Headquarters organized a commemorative event in the first week of May.

Religious events, too, were held with an aaloka pooja at Kelaniya Raja Viharaya, where 28,619 lamps were lit in memory of the fallen officers and men and those listed missing. The Kelaniya event was held on May 19.

The main national event was held at the National War Heroes Monument at Battaramulla on May 19, with the participation of President Maithripala Sirisena and service commanders. PM Wickremesinghe was very conspicuous by his absence. War-winning Army Chief and Sri Lanka’s only five-star General Sarath Fonseka, at the center of a recent controversy over publicly flaying President Sirisena, attended the event.  

BUT THE GOVERNMENT REFRAINED FROM RESUMING THE VICTORY DAY PARADE, SUSPENDED IN 2015, AFTER THE CHANGE OF GOVERNMENT. UPFA General Secretary and Sirisena loyalist Mahinda Amaraweera declared, on May 19, that as the costly event wasn’t held, funds could be utilized for the welfare of the military.

Mullivaikkal Genocide Day 

Northern Province Chief Minister and former Supreme Court judge, Canagasabapathy Visuvalingam Wigneswaran, took part in a commemorative event organized at the Mullivaikkal memorial ground on May 18 to mark what the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) stalwart called the 9th anniversary of the Mullivaikkal Genocide Day.

The Tamil Guardian quoted Wigneswaran as having said: "Even in this situation where we are not in a position to deliver any sort of justice to our people who have been affected; our people are protesting continuously on the streets for justice and their fundamental securities; and our land is becoming colonized by Buddhism by the many thousands of military officers deployed across the North-East today, we gather together to remember the 9th anniversary of Mullivaikkal Genocide Day."

The Mullivaikkal event underscored the sharp split in the four-party TNA with Wigneswaran asserting leadership in a movement that could challenge the current TNA leadership.

 Addressing the crowd, Wigneswaran urged the international community (read as Western powers) to establish what the Tamil Guardian called an international strategic mechanism to ensure justice.

Alleging that the Tamil community had been subjected to ‘institutional genocide’, Wigneswaran sought an assurance from the international community (read as Western powers) as regards a sustainable political settlement based on their sovereignty, their homelands and their individuality.

"Sri Lanka consented to install a hybrid Inquiry Panel before the world body. Now they refuse to abide by their promise and undertaking. This would point out to the world the manner in which our successive governments, for 70 years, have deceived and fooled our Tamil people.

 "Still steadfast in their Mahawansa-oriented perception, the Sinhalese politicians consider the Mullivaikal debacle as the end of a Tamil – Sinhala war. That is why commemorative victory festivals are held in the South during this period."

Calling on the military to withdraw completely from the North-East, Wigneswaran said, "The Vanni area has become the citadel for Sinhala colonization. Especially in this Mullaitivu District both land and sea have been seized by force by the Armed Forces.

 "Next year, it would be the 10th anniversary since the brutal massacre at Mullivaikal. Let us dedicate the 18th of May, every year, as a day of mourning and as a symbol of our unity. Let us resolve that in the coming years we would bring all interest groups among us together, appoint an appropriate committee, devoid of political party affiliations and regional considerations, to organize an appropriate Day of Remembrance on 18th May in the coming years. Let us pray for peace to the souls of all those who died in Mullivaikal nine years ago."

 Those leaving the commemorative event at Mullivaikkal were offered cool drinks by the Army. Troops of the 68 Division, deployed in the Mullivaikkal area, provided the cool drinks. Those returning to the Jaffna peninsula, after having participated in the Mullivaikkal commemoration, were also provided refreshments by troops deployed at Iyyakachchi. The 55.2 Brigade is deployed in the Iyyakachchi area, a former LTTE stronghold, north of Elephant Pass.

Those at the Mullivaikkal commemoration had forgotten the origins of Tamil terrorism, fighting between various Tamil terrorist groups and Indian trained groups ‘exporting’ terrorism.

Institutional genocide

 It would be pertinent to mention that Wigneswaran broke ranks with the State about two years before the change of the Rajapaksa government. Mullivaikkal accusation that his community had been subjected to ‘institutional genocide’ must be examined against the backdrop of his long standing association with the State as a member of the judiciary, especially being a member of the Supreme Court for four years, beginning 2001. When did Wigneswaran realize institutional genocide was taking place? Did the Northern CM at least discuss his fears with Vasudeva Nanayakkara, whose daughter is married to one of his sons. Having served the judiciary for over three decades, Wigneswaran couldn’t have served successive administrations if institutional genocide took place as alleged. Or, did institutional genocide begin only after Wigneswaran retired as a member of the Supreme Court in late 2004? If that was the case, twice President Mahinda Rajapaksa could be accused of institutional genocide? Wigneswaran should explain institutional genocide undertaken by the Rajapaksa administration. It would be interesting to know whether the likes of Wigneswaran felt institutional genocide still continued even after the change of government, in January 2015.

Having launched a political career, in 2013, thanks to the TNA, Colombo-born Wigneswaran is now stepping up pressure on his original sponsors. Wigneswaran’s strategy is obvious. As the most prominent leader of the Tamil People’s Council (TPC), Wigneswaran is seeking to undermine the incumbent TNA leadership in the wake of those opposed to R. Sampanthan’s outfit making progress at the Feb. 10 Local Government polls. Wigneswaran has no option but to take a very strong anti-establishment stand to strengthen his campaign, both here and abroad.

As long as the government didn’t counter unsubstantiated war crimes allegations, propagated by interested parties, Sri Lanka will continue to be mauled at local political platforms and abroad. For want of a cohesive strategy, the armed forces had been flayed with Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Commission (UNHRC) recommending far reaching security sector reforms in response to wild war crimes allegations.

Responsibility of the media

 The Sri Lanka Press Council (SLPC), in collaboration with the Information Department, organized a workshop on May 18 for the Colombo District print and electronic media provincial journalists. The workshop dealt with post-war national reconciliation process nine years after the war was brought to a successful conclusion on the banks of the Nanthikadal lagoon. The writer was invited to speak on the responsibility on the part of the media in national reconciliation process whereas Director General, Government Information Department attorney-at-law Sudarshana Gunawardena, former Irida Divaina editor now on the Presidential Secretariat staff Gamini Sumanasekera, Chairman of SLPC attorney-at-law Koggala Wellala Bandula and Senior Lecturer, Department of Mass Communication, University of Kelaniya Aruna Lokuliyana tackled related issues.

 The writer took advantage of the opportunity to stress that reconciliation wouldn’t have been a reality if the armed forces offensive against the LTTE failed on the Vanni front. Obviously, the incumbent government is reluctant to acknowledge that eradication militarily of the LTTE, consisted of Tamils, paved the way for national reconciliation. The TNA that had regained its legitimate right to represent the Tamil community in the wake of the LTTE’s defeat, too, is reluctant to accept the reality. Both the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe government and the TNA still remain committed to the Geneva Resolution 30/1, co-sponsored by Sri Lanka, in Oct. 2015.

Jaffna District TNA MP M.A. Sumanthiran is on record as having said that the Geneva Resolution had been adopted on Oct 1, 2015, following tripartite negotiations, involving the Sri Lankan government, the US and the TNA. The MP declared that they had agreed for a hybrid court with foreign judges, prosecutors, defence attorneys and investigators.

The TNA, in a statement, issued on June 16, 2016, quoted MP Sumanthiran as having told the congressional hearing: "I was personally involved in the negotiations, with the United States of America also participating in that particular process. There were some doubts created, as to whether the Constitution of Sri Lanka would allow for foreign nationals to function as judges and we went into that question, clarified it, and said yes they can and that is how that phraseology was agreed upon. And so, to us having negotiated and compromised and agreed that there would be a hybrid tribunal to try these mass atrocities, it is not open for the government now to shift its stance and say "well, international involvement yes, but it’s in a different form, now...’. That is not acceptable to us all."

The writer raised the following matters with the gathering:

(1) National reconciliation not possible as long as the LTTE retained conventional military power

(2) Battlefield defeat of the LTTE paved the way for national reconciliation

(3) Eradication of the LTTE allowed the Illankai Thamil Arasu Kadchi led TNA to recommence normal political activity

(4) The TNA had no option but to recognize the LTTE as the sole representative of the Tamil people

(5) Having backed the LTTE, until the very end of the war, in May 2009, the TNA switched its allegiance to war-winning Army Chief Lt. Gen. Sarath Fonseka at the January 2010 presidential poll. Can there be a better example to prove the TNA never really believed Fonseka’s Army massacred civilians

(6) None of those shedding crocodile tears today for the Tamil people ever pleaded with the LTTE to release over 300,000 civilians held hostage on the Vanni east front as a human shield to protect the cornered rump of the LTTE

(7) Sri Lanka is the only country to co-sponsor in Geneva a Resolution against its own armed forces and wartime leadership on the basis of unsubstantiated war crimes allegations

(8) The Sirisena-Wickremesinghe government deliberately avoided an opportunity to effectively disapprove war crimes accusations on the basis of wartime British High Commission dispatches (Jan-May 2009) revealed in the UK House of Lords in mid Oct 2017

(9) Failure on the part of lawmakers representing the government and the Opposition to use the late Subramanium Sivakamy aka ‘Colonel’ Thamilini’s memoirs ‘Thiyuni Asipathaka Sevana Yata’ to expose lies propagated by interested parties. The writer stressed the fact that civil society activists Dharmasiri Bandaranayake and Gamini Viyangoda together with Thamilini’s husband, a British national of Sri Lankan origin, launched memoirs after her demise. She succumbed to cancer while receiving treatment from Sinhala doctors. The writer suggested that SLPC and the Information Department make arrangements to provide the late Thamilini’s memoirs to journalists.

(10) The TNA and the LTTE facilitated the then PM Mahinda Rajapaksa’s victory at the Nov. 2005 presidential polls by ordering the Tamil electorate not to exercise their franchise under any circumstances. Their move ensured Rajapaksa’s victory at the expense of UNP candidate Ranil Wickremesinghe, who lost by less than 200,000 votes

(11) The LTTE felt confident dealing with Rajapaksa whom the LTTE and Tamil Diaspora believed lacked experience and international support to face the LTTE

(12) The LTTE believed that Jaffna could be regained and the Army pushed southwards to Anuradhapura within two years. The writer based this assessment on what Kumaran Pathmanathan told him in Colombo several months after he was captured in Malaysia and brought down to Sri Lanka

The gathering was also told that the media couldn’t be expected to reconcile communities at a time major political parties were at logger heads over post-war reconciliation process. Recent verbal exchange between Health Minister Cabinet Minister Dr. Rajitha Senaratne and two journalists at the post-cabinet press briefing highlighted the lack of understanding of the contentious issue of Mullaivaikkal commemoration. Dr. Senaratne earned the wrath of the Joint Opposition and was vilified in social media for comparing the JVP with the LTTE and recognizing the Tamils’ right to commemorate those who fought for the LTTE.

The writer told the Information Department gathering that the right of the Tamil people to commemorate fallen LTTE cadres should not be challenged. In fact, interference and sabotaging such commemorative events can be counterproductive and those in power should be mindful of the loss of sentiments. But the contentious issue is not Mullivaikkal commemoration but the cancellation of the annual Victory Day parade at the behest of Western powers. There cannot be any other instance of a country depriving itself of its right to celebrate victory over terrorism. Shame on those politicians who suspended the Victory Day celebrations.

Finally, it was also brought to the notice of the journalists and the panel comprising Sudarshana Gunawardena, Gamini Sumanasekera and Aruna Lokuliyana European Union launching post-war reconciliation project on March 21, 2018 worth Rs 2.7 bn. It was pointed out that the European Union, since 2017, had funded various reconciliation projects to the tune of a staggering Rs. 3.7 bn. Strangely, the EU as well as all those trying to facilitate reconciliation seemed to be determined not to use wartime British High Commission dispatches to prove that (1) 40,000 civilians hadn’t been killed as alleged in UN Panel of Experts’ report released on March 31, 2011 (2) political and military leaderships hadn’t instructed the fighting forces to deliberately target civilians trapped on the Vanni east front and (3) the Army willingly suffered losses as it took civilian factor into consideration as revealed by classified US diplomatic cable originating from its Geneva mission a few months after the conclusion of the war.

Although President Sirisena reiterated at the Armed Forces Commemoration, at Battaramulla, that the military hadn’t been accused of war crimes by the UN, his government co-sponsored the Geneva Resolution on Oct. 1, 2015, on the basis that such atrocities took place on the Vanni front, particularly after the fall of Kilinochchi. President Sirisena maintained that war crimes allegations were propagated by those connected to the LTTE living overseas. Obviously, the government seemed to have conveniently ignored the UN stand on the issue of accountability and pronouncements that the country faced the prospect of Universal Jurisdiction unless Sirisena-Wickremesinghe fulfilled the four key Geneva recommendations, in addition to a brand new Constitution subjected to a referendum. The four specific measures meant to address accountability issues are (1) a judicial mechanism with a Special Counsel to investigate allegations of violations and abuses of human rights and violations of international human rights law (2) A Commission for truth, justice, reconciliation and non-recurrence (3) An Office for Missing Persons (OMP) and (4) An Office for reparations.

Tuesday, 15 May 2018

Forgotten war victory



Wartime General Officer Commanding (GOC) of the celebrated 58 Division and present Adjutant General Maj. Gen. Shavendra Silva greeting visiting Indian Army Chief General Bipin Rawat at the entrance to the parade grounds at the Army Headquarters on Monday. The Indian Chief is on a week (May 13-18) long visit which coincided with Sri Lanka’s triumph over terrorism on May 19, nine years ago (pic courtesy army.lk)

By Shamindra Ferdinando

The Sirisena-Wickremesinghe government has reduced the annual Victory Day parade to a mere commemoration ceremony for fallen officers and men, at Palaly, in the Jaffna peninsula.

Jointly organized by the Northern Province Governor Reginald Cooray’s Office and Ranaviru Seva Authority, in coordination with the Security Forces Headquarters, Jaffna, the brief ceremony, held on the morning of May 4, 2018, was certainly not quite enough to celebrate Sri Lanka’s biggest post-independence achievement.

Sri Lanka inaugurated the Victory Day parade, soon after bringing the war to a successful conclusion, on the morning of May 19, 2009, on the banks of the Nanthikadal lagoon, on the Vanni east front.

The annual event reflected the liberation of the Eastern Province (Aug 2006-July 2007) and the Northern Province (March 2007-May 2009).

The commemoration ceremony was held opposite the War Heroes’ monument, in Palaly, with the participation of Security Forces Commander Darshana Hettiarachchi. Northern Province Governor and former Member of Parliament Reginald Cooray, and Anoma Fonseka, wife of Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka, now embroiled in a simmering controversy over his criticism of President and Commander-in-Chief Maithripala Sirisena, participated at the event.

Among the other invitees was Indian Consulate General in Jaffna, S. Balachandran. The decision to invite Jaffna-based Indian diplomat is debatable. Balachandran’s presence at the event was a grim reminder of the Indian covert and overt intervention in Sri Lanka, in the early ‘80s, leading to death and destruction on an unprecedented scale, before the eradication of terrorism, in the third week of May, nine years ago.

In fact, the recent Palaly commemoration ceremony can be compared with that of IPKF (Indian Peace Keeping Force) officers and men killed at the hands of Indian-trained LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam) terrorists in Oct. 1987.

Senior representatives of Security Forces headquarters, Mullaitivu and Security Forces headquarters, Kilinochchi, too, participated at the Palaly commemoration.

A report, headlined Northern Province remembers fallen war heroes, posted on army.lk four days after the event reflected the current thinking of the decision makers. The print media largely ignored the event. However, Northern Governor Cooray should be commended for recalling tremendous sacrifices made by the military to restore normalcy. Having underscored that peace wouldn’t have been a reality without the armed forces efforts, Cooray also referred to their post-war commitments.

Decision makers are of the opinion that separate low key commemoration ceremonies can be held at provincial level during May. The bottom line is that the shameless government gave in to Western pressure to do away with the annual Victory Parade. Some Colombo-based diplomats worked overtime to discourage the then government to call off the event.

Lanka succumbs to Western pressure

On behalf of all those, who had been pursuing war crimes allegations since the conclusion of the war, against the Sri Lankan military, Canada in 2014 demanded the cancellation of the parade. Sri Lanka quite rightly rejected that blatant Canadian interference in purely a domestic matter. Although The Island had carried a threatening Canadian statement, issued ahead of the fifth Victory Day parade to be held in Matara, let me reproduce the same again.

In the run-up to the 2014 Victory Day parade, in Matara, Canada publicly declared that it wouldn’t be represented. It was the fifth Victory Day parade held amidst stepped up international pressure.

Canadian High Commissioner in Colombo, Shelly Whiting, in a strongly worded statement, issued exclusively to ‘The Island’, explained the Canadian decision to boycott the event. The writer front-paged Whiting’s statement, in the May 16, 2014 edition of The Island. The then Military spokesman Brigadier Ruwan Wanigasooriya explained Sri Lanka’s right to continue with the Victory Day parade, on the following day.

The following is the text of Shelly’s statement, headlined ‘Canada to boycott Victory Day parade’ with strap line ‘such events won’t help post war national reconciliation’: "As in past years, heads of mission, resident in Sri Lanka, have recently received invitations to participate in this year’s Victory Parade, scheduled to be held, in Matara, on May 18. As Canadian High Commissioner to Sri Lanka, part of my role includes celebrating the successes of the country, alongside the Sri Lankan people. However, I will not be attending the Victory Day Parade on May 18. Some commentators will no doubt rush to judge and erroneously conclude that I am doing so out of some misplaced nostalgia for the LTTE. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Let me be clear the LTTE was a scourge that brought untold suffering to this island nation and all its people.

Prior to arriving in Sri Lanka, my previous assignment was in Afghanistan where I saw first-hand the terrorist tactics (use of suicide bombers, IEDs) that are sadly the LTTE’s legacy to the world. The LTTE and its supporters were ruthless and single-minded, and did not faithfully represent the political aspirations of the communities they purported to represent. Canada joined the world in welcoming the defeat of the LTTE, in 2009. In fact, the LTTE has been proscribed as a terrorist entity in Canada since 2006. To help stop the flow of funding to the LTTE, Canada further proscribed the World Tamil Movement (WTM) in 2008. Both of these organizations remain banned in Canada today.

However, five years after the end of the conflict, the time has arrived for Sri Lanka to move past wartime discourse and to start working seriously towards reconciliation. It is time to mend relations between communities and to ensure that all Sri Lankans can live in dignity and free from discrimination, based on ethnic, religious or linguistic identities. Fathers and daughters, sons and mothers, all were victims, who were killed or never returned home at the end of the conflict. No community here – whether Sinhalese or Tamil, Muslim or Burgher – was spared during the conflict. In this vein, Canada has encouraged the Government of Sri Lanka to retire its annual Victory Day Parade, which perpetuates roles of victors and vanquished within the country, for a day of remembrance for all those who suffered as a result of the conflict. Indeed, Sri Lanka’s own homegrown Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission report recommends that a solemn day of remembrance for all victims of the war would be more conducive to sustaining peace here. Such a gesture would go a long way towards putting wartime posturing behind Sri Lanka.

I will not be in Matara, but I will be thinking and remembering all those who lost their loved ones over the 30-year conflict."

SLA in a dilemma

Joint Opposition (JO) never really challenged the government decision to cancel the Victory Day parade. Twice President Mahinda Rajapaksa, over the last weekend, referred to the cancellation at a function, held at a temple, though his political outfit was yet to take up the issue, forcefully.

In fact, parliament never really challenged the war crimes accusations propagated by various interested parties since the conclusion of the conflict and inquired into the circumstances leading to the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe administration decision to co-sponsor Geneva Resolution on Oct 1. 2015. The shameless decision to cancel the Victory Day parade should be examined against the backdrop of the unanimous adoption of the Resolution: Promoting reconciliation, accountability and human rights in Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka has, subsequently, and repeatedly, reiterated its commitment to the 30/1. Sri Lanka never sought to challenge unsubstantiated war crimes allegations even after the revelation of war time British High Commission dispatches that contradicted the very basis for the Geneva Resolution.

Sri Lanka meekly gave up its right to celebrate its greatest achievement. By doing so even before agreeing to co-sponsor the Geneva Resolution, the current government betrayed the armed forces. The War-winning Rajapaksa government, too, should accept responsibility for the unfortunate situation. The Rajapaksa administration lacked a clear strategy to address accountability issues, thereby unintentionally facilitated high profile project meant to bring in selected armed forces officers, regiments and fighting formations to disrepute. The previous government didn’t at least bother to closely examine specific allegations directed at the military and the political leadership. The Rajapaksas’ failure certainly helped Western powers and their associates here to trap Sri Lanka. Their despicable project succeeded in January 2015. Soon after the change of government and the massive robbery at the Central Bank, the military was told of the decision to cancel the Victory Day parade. The government never explained why the Victory Day parade cannot be held.

Although President Maithripala Sirisena repeatedly claimed that he had been able to save the armed forces from UN strictures and action taken by individual countries, the Sri Lanka Army is now struggling to cope up with war crimes accusations.

President Sirisena, in the presence of Army Chief Lt. Gen. Mahesh Senanayake and Defence Secretary Kapila Waidyaratne, last November assured the Army that tangible action would be taken to sort out problems. Presidential assurance was given in the wake of Australia denying a visa to Gajaba Regiment veteran Maj. Gen. Chagi Gallage for commanding the 59 Division on the Vanni east front. Gallage took over the Division on May 7, 2009-12 days before the conclusion of the conflict.

In response to inquiries made by Gallage, the Australian High Commission has stated that troops under his command certainly committed war crimes and crimes against humanity.

The Australian Department of Immigration and Border Protection has extensively cited Report of the OHCHR (Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights) on Sri Lanka (OISL) to turn down Gallege’s visa. On the basis of the OISL report, Geneva adopted Resolution 30/1 to pave the way for foreign judges in a domestic judicial mechanism.

Australia also cited the UNSG Panel of Experts (PoE) report on accountability issues released on March 31, 2011. POE accused Sri Lanka of massacring over 40,000 civilians and depriving the Vanni population of their basic needs. The combined security forces brought the war to a successful conclusion on May 19, 2009.

The government turned a blind eye to Gallage’s predicament. Since then the situation has worsened, further with now the Army struggling to save its mission in Lebanon. Interested parties had protested against the appointment of Lt. Col. Rathnappuli Wasantha Kumara Hewage as the Commanding Officer of the 12th Force Protection Company (FPC) for the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL). They had found fault with Hewage for being involved in operations in the Vanni region. They had also accused Sri Lanka of not subjecting some of those personnel already dispatched to Lebanon to vetting procedures carried out by the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka (HRCSL). In addition to those already sent to Lebanon in trouble over not being subjected to HRCSL vetting, the 101-strong contingent, assigned for Lebanon, is yet to leave on its assignment.

Recent statement attributed to Lt. Gen. Senanayake clearly indicated SLA’s frustration as well as lack of understanding of the situation. Let me reproduce an AFP piece by Amal Jayasinghe based on Senanayake’s address to Colombo-based foreign correspondents: "The Sri Lankan army has formed a special unit to defend itself against allegations of grave human rights abuses at the end of the country’s decades-long ethnic war.

Army chief Lt. Gen. Mahesh Senanayake said the group would collate local and international reports, and establish the truth to clear the military’s name.

International rights groups accuse the military of killing 40,000 Tamil civilians in the final months of the war which ended in May 2009. The government of the time said not one civilian was killed.

"Different people have been saying different things, but our voice has not been heard."

"That is why I set up the special directorate of overseas operations to prepare our position."

Senanayake distanced the military from the previous claims that no civilians died, and acknowledged there may have been individual excesses.

"If someone says they know of specific instances (of rights violations) we are ready to investigate," Senanayake said. "I am not going to look the other way. I want to clear the name of the army." He said there were conflicting claims of casualties from the 37-year-old Tamil separatist war.

"Different units of the army involved in the final offensive maintained figures of casualties. I want to collate all that.

"I know the (then) government said no civilian was killed, but it was not our voice. We never said that. This time, we want to come back with our story."

He said the 236,000-strong army wanted to clear its name and play a bigger role in UN international peacekeeping.

The government has said it lost at least 26,000 soldiers in the war with another 37,000 wounded. About 20,000 of the injured ended up with a permanent disability.

The Tamil Tiger rebels also lost heavily and the entire guerrilla leadership was wiped out in the military onslaught.

The government under then president Mahinda Rajapaksa, who ordered the offensive, faced international censure for refusing to acknowledge what the UN called credible allegations.

The administration which came to power in January 2015 said it was willing to investigate and pay reparations to victims, but progress has been extremely slow."

Colombo page quoted Senanayake as having said in the absence of adequate support from those outside the army, the army considers it necessary to have an organization or a think tank of its own, to defend the institution in the context of the grave charges and the defense has to be carried out with facts and figures.

"That is why I set up the special directorate of overseas operations to prepare our position," Senanayake said acknowledging that there may have been individual excesses.

Herculean task

Current Army leadership should be first convinced that systematic massacre of Vanni civilians didn’t take place as alleged by the UN on the basis of unproved and uncorroborated allegations. It’ll have to convince the political leadership to take up its case as the matter should be taken up in Geneva. The Army cannot ignore the fact that its dealings with the HRCSL will be guided by current UN assessment as regards the Army on the basis of war crimes allegations.

The British High Commission wartime dispatches from Sri Lanka should be the basis for its defence though the government turned a blind eye to immensely valuable revelations, along with those foreign news agencies that routinely refer to unsubstantiated war crimes allegations and continues to remain silent on Lord Naseby’s revelations.

The Army should examine those British dispatches along with wartime US Defence attache Lt. Colonel Lawrence Smith’s statement as regards ‘white flag’ executions and alleged surrender agreement between the then government and the LTTE, made over two years after the conclusion of the war.

It would be interesting to know whether the Army would explore the possibility of obtaining a copy of UN report on the Vanni war that dealt with loss of lives from Aug 2008 to May 13, 2009, Wiki Leaks cables on Sri Lanka war as well as correspondence between the government and various diplomatic missions. Let me reproduce one such critically important letter dated Feb. 16, 2009 written by the then Norwegian Ambassador Tore Hattrem to presidential advisor Basil Rajapaksa.

The following is the text of Ambassador Hattrem’s letter, addressed to Basil Rajapaksa: "I refer to our telephone conversation today. The proposal to the LTTE on how to release the civilian population, now trapped in the LTTE controlled area, has been transmitted to the LTTE through several channels. So far, there has been, regrettably, no response from the LTTE and it doesn’t seem to be likely that the LTTE will agree with this in the near future."


In last week’s piece headlined ‘How UK manipulated RTI law to deny Lanka chance to counter war crimes allegations’ it was inadvertently mentioned that Lord Naseby requested Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) for classified wartime dispatches from the British High Commission in Colombo on Nov. 6, 2016, a year after the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe government co-sponsored Geneva Resolution against Sri Lanka, and seven years after the successful conclusion of the war. The request was made on Nov 6, 2014, nearly a year before Sri Lanka co-sponsored Geneva Resolution 30/1, much to the disappointment of the country, and five years after the end of the conflict.

Wednesday, 9 May 2018

How UK manipulated RTI law to deny Lanka chance to counter war crimes allegations



Norwegian Ambassador Thorbjørn Gaustadsæther and Chairman, Sri Lanka Press Institute Kumar Nadesan at the inauguration of ‘Empowering Citizens with RTI’ on Tueaday (May 8) at the Institute of Policy Studies (IPS). Norway funded the two-day conference. (pictures by Sujatha Jayaratne)

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Having adopted the Freedom of Information Act, way back in 1970, Norway is now ranked 67 in the Global Right to Information Rating, maintained by the Center for Law and Democracy.

Sri Lanka enacted the Right to Information Act, No. 12 of 2016, a year after the change of the war-winning Rajapaksa administration. The UNP, and a section of the civil society and media, campaigned for the right to information (RTI) law though they couldn’t convince the previous government to introduce the Right to Information Act. However, since the adoption of the right to information law, the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe administration has quickly reached third position in international rankings. The government and all those who had campaigned for RTI law consider it a key good governance administration’s achievement.

According to the Global Right to Information Rating, the top 10 countries are Mexico, Serbia, Sri Lanka, Slovenia, India, Albania, Croatia, Liberia, El Salvador and Sierra Leone.

The UK is ranked 35, way ahead of Norway, while the US stands at 56.

The Sri Lanka Press Institute (SLPI) has received financial backing from Norway to organize a two-day conference on the RTI, themed ‘Empowering Citizens with RTI – the first year’ in Colombo on May 8 and 9, 2018. The event marks the first anniversary of the implementation of the Right to Information Act in Sri Lanka and the World Press Freedom day.

The following is part of a press release issued by the SLPI, on May 3: "The two-day conference, which will be held at the Institute of Policy Studies, Independence Avenue, Colombo 07, will be covering a series of thematic sessions on risk and safety of information seekers, privacy data protection, the role of civil society and media, future of RTI law and technicalities in information disclosure. RTI experts from Norway, India, Mexico, Bangladesh, Pakistan and Myanmar, along with Sri Lankan experts, from the RTI Commission, advocates from the civil society organizations, good governance promoters and leading journalists are scheduled to speak at the thematic sessions.

Representatives of ministries, civil society organizations, and internationally and locally renowned RTI activists will attend the conference. This will create a platform for civil society organizations, the public sector and the media to interact in creating the way forward of RTI in Sri Lanka.

Right to Information (RTI) Act was put into effect in Sri Lanka on 03 February, 2017, and the bill was passed by the Cabinet of Ministers in August, 2016. By organizing the international conference the SLPI hopes to capture lessons learnt of the RTI practice in the country within the first year it was implemented."

Colombo-based NGOs (civil society) groups, including Center for Policy Alternatives (CPA), National Peace Council (NPC) and Transparency International Sri Lanka (TISL) pushed for the RTI law. Sri Lanka’s RTI provides for citizens or organizations, comprising more than 75 per cent of Sri Lankans, to seek information from those NGOs receiving funds from overseas. Colombo Telegraph in a revealing report headlined Colombo Telegraph challenges CPA under the RTI Act-Colombo NGOs yet to appoint Information Officers! posted on March 3, 2017, pointed out the failure on the part of some of those who had campaigned for the RTI law to comply with it. (CT report can be accessed https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/colombo-telegraph-challenges-cpa-under-rti-act-colombo-ngos-yet-to-appoint-information-officers/)

UK Freedom of Information Act to Sri Lanka’s rescue

In spite of propagating the value of the RTI law here, the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe administration and those foreign-funded NGOs never wanted to take advantage of information that had been obtained by a foreigner under the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (FOIA) UK to successfully counter unsubstantiated war crimes allegations directed at Sri Lanka. Michael Wolfgang Laurence Morris (Baron Naseby) is his name. As the SLPI, with the backing of Norway, mark the first year anniversary of the RTI law, it would be pertinent to examine Sri Lanka’s pathetic failure to exploit crucial information obtained by Lord Naseby with the intervention of the Information Commissioner’s Office, UK. Sri Lanka could have successfully used the information obtained by Lord Naseby to counter lies propagated by the UN, Western powers, some NGOs and a section of the Tamil community. But Sri Lanka did not. Instead of using Lord Naseby’s disclosure to its advantage, the incumbent government is struggling to suppress available information. Perhaps, the SLPI-Norway latest venture can discuss Sri Lanka’s failure to properly use information obtained through some other system as the latter facilitated peace talks between Sri Lanka and the LTTE, in the run up to the eelam war IV.

Norway intervened in Sri Lanka on the invitation of the then President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga and the LTTE in 2001. The LTTE made an assassination bid on Kumaratunga in Dec. 2001 while Norwegian-facilitated secret negotiations were taking place. Norway entered the scene formally with the signing of a Ceasefire Agreement, on Feb. 21, 2002, between Sri Lanka and the LTTE. The LTTE quit the negotiating table in April 2003. The LTTE launched an all-out war in August 2006 expecting a swift and decisive victory. In spite of initial success on both the northern and eastern theaters, the armed forces turned the tide quickly and eventually brought the LTTE to its knees in May 2009.

In March 2010, the UN, on the basis of unsubstantiated accusations, alleged that Sri Lanka massacred over 40,000 Tamil civilians.

In Oct. 2015, Sri Lanka co-sponsored Geneva Resolution 30/1 directed against the country.

In Oct. 2017, Lord Naseby disclosed in the House of Lords how the UK, a current member of the Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) suppressed information that could have cleared Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka Foreign Ministry ignored Lord Naseby’s disclosure, based on wartime dispatches (January-May 2009) from the British High Commission in Colombo. Instead, initially, the Foreign Ministry sought to dismiss Naseby’s revelations. The British High Commission, too, made a pathetic bid to brush aside the House of Lords’ revelation. Basically, Lord Naseby, on the basis of the UK High Commission dispatches, asserted there was no basis for the over 40,000 death toll claim and most importantly Sri Lanka political and military leadership had no intention of deliberately targeting civilians on the Vanni east front.

The role of UK Information Commissioner’s Office

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) made a desperate bid to deprive Lord Naseby of required information. Obviously, the FCO realized that the revelation of wartime dispatches could jeopardize the high profile UN project meant to replace Sri Lanka’s Constitution. Geneva declared, in 2016, that Sri Lanka should have a new Constitution. In fact, the change of government, in January 2015, was to facilitate the UN project, spearheaded by the US-UK combine. The Constitution making process is still in progress though the government is in deepening political turmoil.

It would be pertinent to examine the circumstances leading to Lord Naseby’s disclosure in the House of Lords, in Oct. 2017. Let me discuss the developments on the basis of what the UK Information Officer’s Office called a ‘decision notice,’ dated May 4, 2016, that dealt with Lord Naseby’s efforts to secure information from the FCO.

Lord Naseby made his request to FCO on Nov. 6, 2016, a year after the Sri Lanka co-sponsored Geneva Resolution against Sri Lanka, and seven years after the successful conclusion of the war. The FCO, on Dec. 3, 2014, informed Lord Naseby that it had the required information though it needed time to consider the Conservative Party politician’s request. Obviously Naseby’s request rattled the FCO. On January 5, 2015, FCO told that his request couldn’t be granted. Lord Naseby, on January 14, 2015, requested for an internal review of the decision. The FCO informed Lord Naseby, on Feb. 19, 2015, that the decision couldn’t be changed. Lord Naseby complained to FCO on March 16, 2015. The FCO on May 7, 2015 reiterated its original decision to deprive Lord Naseby of the requested information. Interestingly, the FCO, on Dec. 21, 2015, offered to provide a section of the previously withheld documents claiming that the move was made possible due to the releasing of Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) report on the investigation on Sri Lanka on Sept. 15, 2015. However, the FCO withheld a substantial section of the requested documents on the basis of Sections 27 (1) (a), 31 and 41 of FOIA.

Having received a part of the requested documents, Lord Naseby had raised concerns with the Information Commissioner’s Office that the FCO could be still holding documents that could be released. Subsequently, the FCO released three more censored documents on Feb. 23, 2016. The three documents were dated April 7, 25 and 26, 2009.

The FCO wouldn’t have released any documents if not for Lord Naseby seeking the intervention of the Information Commissioner’s Office. Lord Naseby got in touch with the Information Commissioner’s Office, on June 10, 2015, five months after the last presidential election brought an end to the Rajapaksa rule. Following Rajapaksa’s defeat, President Maithripala Sirisena, as agreed in the run up to the presidential poll, invited UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe to form a new government. Violating all parliamentary norms, Wickremesinghe was sworn in as the Prime Minister, in spite of having the backing of less than 50 members. The SLFP-led UPFA had a staggering two-thirds majority in parliament with the SLFP group alone comprising 126 members.

If Naseby’s disclosure was made before Jan 8, 2015 prez poll…

Had the classified Sri Lanka wartime British High Commission dispatches come to the public domain before the last presidential poll, the UNP-led coalition against twice President Mahinda Rajapaksa could have suffered irreparable damage.

The British dispatches could have been successfully used to counter war crimes allegations directed at the Rajapaksas. Interestingly, Lord Naseby made his move to secure vital documents from the FCO, two weeks before Rajapaksa announced early presidential polls on the completion of four years of his six-year term. The British would have certainly realized the danger in releasing their own diplomatic cables that challenged the very ‘regime change’ operation they were involved in. Those dispatches could have been used to easily challenge or perhaps even destroyed the case being build against Sri Lanka on the basis of unproven war crimes accusations. One-time LTTE mouthpiece, the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) threw its weight behind the UNP operation in the guise of seeking an end to the murderous Rajapaksa regime responsible for tens of thousands of Tamil deaths. The 2010 UNP-led coalition for the presidential poll, too, was built on the same basis. Don’t forget the British knew that over 40,000 civilians didn’t perish on the Vanni east front when war-winning Army Chief Gen. Sarath Fonseka confronted President Rajapaksa at the January 2010 polls.

On the basis of unproven war crimes accusations, the UNP warned the Sri Lanka electorate that a victory for Rajapaksa could result in crippling international sanctions. Those who had campaigned for the Rajapaksas ouster in 2014-2015 propagated the lie that only Maithripala Sirisena victory could save Sri Lanka. The British refrained from releasing wartime British High Commission dispatches until the conclusion of the August 2015 parliamentary polls.

Sri Lanka never examined the British strategy. Interestingly, the British declared that the UK wanted a change of government in Sri Lanka. That declaration was made at the Geneva sessions. The British project was simple. It was essentially meant to appease the UK citizens, of Sri Lankan origins, to secure their support at elections. No less a person than one-time British Foreign Secretary David Miliband is on record as having explained to UK based US diplomat how he played politics with Sri Lanka issue during the last phase of the war.

Those who had been demanding that Sri Lanka address accountability issues never faulted the government for not seeking clarification from the British. They feared the British dispatches could clear Sri Lanka and place the high profile international project in difficulty.

Former British Premier David Cameron went to the extent of threatening to haul Sri Lanka up before an international war crimes tribunal unless President Mahinda Rajapaksa addressed accountability issues before the March 2014 Geneva sessions. The British ultimatum was given in Colombo on the sidelines of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in November, 2013. Premier Cameron insisted that Sri Lanka would have to face the consequences, in spite of it being at the helm of the Commonwealth, unless it addressed accountability issues.

Cameron couldn’t have been unaware of the British High Commission dispatches from Colombo. Cameron certainly did.

The FCO declined to disclose dispatches on the basis that the revelation could jeopardize UK relations with Sri Lanka. It was nothing but a blatant lie. The FCO, at the behest of its political masters, suppressed dispatches and censored some of those released to Lord Naseby as they certainly exposed their lie. The disclosure would have surely strengthened UK’s relations with Sri Lanka at the expense of its own domestic political arrangements with the Tamil Diaspora and also undermined the US political project to ensure a Sri Lanka government within its orbit.

According to Information Commissioner’s Office, the FCO censored sections of the British High Commission dispatches that were handed over to Lord Naseby under 27 (1) (a) of FOIA on the basis that full disclosure could prejudice relations between the UK and Sri Lanka. But the reality was that the disclosure could have certainly cleared the misunderstanding between two Commonwealth member states. If the disclosure could have undermined UK-Sri Lanka relations, the UK headquartered Global Tamil Forum (GTF) would have done so immediately after the conclusion of the conflict. In fact, citizens, of the US, Canada, France, Norway, Australia, Germany, Sweden and South Africa (of Sri Lanka origin) would have sought wartime dispatches from their diplomatic missions in Colombo or New Delhi, authorized to represent a particular country.

Had the FCO released the relevant documents before the last presidential poll or the August 2015 parliamentary election, the Yahapalana coalition would have suffered at both hustings.

TNA responsibility

Perhaps those foreign RTI experts and their local counterparts invited for the two-day event in Colombo, should examine the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (FOIA) UK in relation to Sri Lanka post-war reconciliation process. Although the war was brought to a successful conclusion, nine years ago, reconciliation couldn’t be achieved due to allegations regarding massacre of Tamils on the Vanni east front, in 2009. Lord Naseby called for a review of Geneva Resolution following his disclosure in the UK parliament in Oct. last year.

The TNA hasn’t responded to The Island queries regarding Lord 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 to respond to the queries. The following questions were posed to Sampanthan: 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 findings?, Did TNA leaders discuss Naseby’s assertion among themselves? Did TNA respond to MP Dinesh Gunawardena’s statements in parliament on Naseby’s disclosure? And did TNA take up this issue with the UK High Commissioner James Dauris?