Tuesday, 30 October 2018

Change of premiership and other matters



Newly appointed Premier Mahinda Rajapaksa congratulating new Education and Higher Education Minister Dr. Wijeyadasa Rajapaksa, PC, one of the four elected on the UNP ticket at the last parliamentary polls in August 2015 to join the Sirisena-Rajapaksa administration. Wijeyadasa Rajapakse quit the SLFP-led UPFA during Mahinda Rajapaksa’s first tenure (2005-2010) as the President (Pic by Sudath Silva)

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Justice Minister Thalatha Atukorale profusely appreciated Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe for accommodating her in the 10-member Constitutional Council (CC).

The UNPer declared that she was the first woman named to the CC, chaired by Speaker Karu Jayasuriya - elected from the Gampaha District at the 2015 August parliamentary polls. Parliament and political parties constituted the first CC by way of enactment of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution.

The Ratnapura District MP said so at a Sirikotha meeting on the morning of Oct 12, 2018. Atukorale said that she had to leave the Sirikotha meeting early to attend a CC meeting to decide on the next Chief Justice. The CC recommended Nalin Perera, a career judge, fourth in line for the top job. President Maithripala Sirisena endorsed that appointment.

Obviously, Atukorale hadn’t been aware of one-time Under-Secretary General of the United Nations, Radhika Coomaraswamy, being a civil society member of the CC until late Sept., 2018. Coomaraswamy functioned as the Special Representative of the Secretary General on Children and Armed Conflict from 2006 until her retirement in 2012.

 Attorney-at-law Atukorale, a leading member of the UNP, obviously hadn’t been interested in the CC. Had she been, she couldn’t have missed Coomaraswamy’s role in the CC where she served it as one of the three civil society representatives.

 Coomaraswamy, before her term here ended as CC member, in Sept, 2018, flayed Myanmar’s political and military leaderships for the current situation there. Coomaraswamy joined hands with Marzuki Darusman and Christopher Sidoti to call for war crimes probe targeting Myanmar. The call was made on behalf of the UN. Marzuki Darusman, one time Attorney General of Indonesia, is no stranger to Sri Lankans. Darusman spearheaded the UN project, targeting Sri Lanka, leading to the hotly disputed Panel of Experts (PoE) Report put out in late March 2011.

A section of the international media quoted Coomaraswamy as having said at the launch of the UN report on Myanmar: "The scale, brutality, and systematic nature of rape and violence indicate that they are part of a deliberate strategy to intimidate, terrorize, or punish the civilian population. "They’re used as a tactic of war that we found, include rape, gang rape, sexual slavery, forced nudity and mutilations."

How could our Justice Minister completely miss Coomaraswamy’s role in the CC when such statements were made? 

When the writer queried Justice Ministry media on the afternoon of Oct 12, 2018, as to how Atukorale didn’t know there had been a woman on the CC before her inclusion, courtesy Wickremesinghe, the ministry issued an amended statement in which Atukorale described herself as the first woman parliamentarian to serve the CC. But, the original video is clear. Atukorale really believed she is the first woman on the CC. The original CC comprised Speaker Karu Jayasuriya, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, Opposition Leader R Sampanthan, President Sirisena’s nominee Patali Champika Ranawaka, Prime Minister’s choice Dr. Wijeyadasa Rajapakse (subsequently WR was replaced by Tilak Marapana), Opposition Leader’s nomination John Seneviratne, Parliament’s nomination Vijitha Herath and civil society members, Coomaraswamy, A.T. Ariyaratne and the late Shibly Aziz, Attorney General 1995-1996.

Atukorale predecessor Wijeyadasa Rajapakse quit the CC in late Dec 2017 after losing the Justice and Buddha Sasana portfolios in late Aug 2017. Rajapakse earned the wrath of Wickremesinghe by publicly criticizing the handing over of the Hambantota Port, on a 99-year lease, to China. Rajapaksa was also accused of shielding the Rajapaksas. The President’s Counsel is on record as having alleged that his removal was meant to sweep the mega treasury bond scams under the carpet.

Interestingly, Rajapakse was replaced in the CC by National List MP Tilak Marapana who quit the Law and Order portfolio, in early Nov 2015, following accusations of his involvement with Avant Garde Maritime Services (AGMS) that is alleged to have received privileged status under the Rajapaksas. Some of his ministerial colleagues accused him of protecting AGMS owned by retired Army Commando Maj. Nissanka Senadhipathy.

On the night of Monday (Oct. 29) UNPer Wijeyadasa Rajapake retained his cabinet portfolio - Education and Higher Education. Rajapakse was among four UNPers, Wasantha Senanayake (Minister of Tourism and Wildlife), Suresh Vadivel (State Minister of Plantation Industries) and Ananda Aluthgamage (Deputy Minister of Tourism and Wildlife) to join the Sirisena-Rajapaksa administration. Wijeyadasa Rajapakse quit the SLFP-led UPFA during Mahinda Rajapaksa’s first tenure (2005-2010) as the President.

Following Marapana’s resignation, the former Attorney General was quoted as having told the media: "I never interfered with the ongoing investigations. But there is a doubt among people and parliamentarians that the Police investigations are being affected because of me. That’s why I decided to resign from my ministerial portfolio."

Those who found fault with Marapana for allegedly representing the interests of AGMS did not oppose him on the CC - the highest body responsible for making recommendations for all independent commissions in addition to key appointments to the Supreme Court, Courtof Appeal, etc.

Now, Marapana has been succeeded by Atukorale who didn’t at least know the composition of the original CC.

Second CC in turmoil

Having repeatedly alleged that he would have been buried by the Rajapaksas if defeated at the 2015 January presidential election, President Sirisena last Friday appointed Mahinda Rajapaksa as the Prime Minister. Wickremesinghe has strongly challenged the Sirisena-Rajapaksa move, vowing to prove his majority in parliament. In spite of rhetoric, the UPFA wouldn’t find it easy to prove they have a majority in parliament. However, the coming showdown in parliament could result in a debilitating setback for one party and one emerging victorious, the CC will be in dilemma as regards the status of the Prime Minister.

As far as President Sirisena is concerned, Wickremesinghe is no longer the Prime Minister with effect from Oct. 26 and therefore he didn’t belong to the CC.  At the time of Friday’s stunning move, the Second CC comprised Speaker Karu Jayasuriya, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, Opposition Leader R. Sampanthan, President Sirisena’s nominee Mahinda Samarasinghe, Parliament’s nominee Bimal Ratnayake, Prime Minister Wickremesinghe’s nominee Thalatha Atukorale, Opposition Leader Sampanthan’s nominee Chamal Rajapaksa and three civil society nominees, Jayantha Dhanapala, Javid Yusuf and Naganathan Sellvakumaran. With President Sirisena recognizing twice President Rajapaksa as Premier, he is automatically a member of the CC.

The Constitutional Council/Parliament will have to decide whether Thalatha Atukorale can continue as the PM’s nominee as Wickremesinghe no longer holds that position.

It would be pertinent to mention that some decisions, taken at the last CC meeting on the afternoon of Oct 25, before President Sirisena divorced the UNP, didn’t go down well with President Sirisena. Having met at 1.30 pm, the CC announced the endorsement of two of the four names recommended to the Supreme Court by the Office of the President. The CC also approved one of the four names recommended by the Office of the President as judges of the Court of Appeal.

Appointments to the CC are effective for a period of three years.

In case the Sirisena-Rajapaksa duo manage to prove their simple majority, in parliament, next month and the UNP is forced to recognize Rajapaksa as the Prime Minister, the CC will find a different environment to work in. In the event they succeed, the TNA will lead the Opposition Leader’s post. In that case, the Constitutional Council/Parliament may have to decide on the Opposition Leader’s nominee, currently Chamal Rajapaksa.

Among the Second CC are two persons - Jayantha Dhanapala (former United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Disarmament Affairs (1998-2003) and Javid Yusuf (attorney-at-law and former Ambassador to Saudi Arabia) who was involved in the Norway-led peace process that led to all-out war in August 2006. Norway finalized the Ceasefire Agreement between Sri Lanka and the LTTE on Feb 21, 2002 close on the heels of the LTTE attempt to assassinate President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga who was having talks with the group. Yusuf functioned as the Director General of the Muslim Peace Secretariat at that time. The Muslim Peace Secretariat struggled to secure the LTTE’s consent to participate in the Norway-mediated talks overseas and to tackle problems faced by the community, especially those driven out of the Northern Province during Ranasinghe Premadasa’s presidency.

Dhanapala headed the Secretariat for Coordinating the Peace Process (SCOPP) tasked with coordinating, facilitating, and strengthening the Norway-led peace process. Dhanapala, a retired career Foreign Service officer, succeeded B.A.B. Gunatilleke as SCOPP chief in 2004.

The writer believes of all those who appeared before the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC), Dhanapala, made the two most important recommendations on the subject of International Humanitarian Law (IHL) and the controversial issue of responsibility to protect concept.

The writer was among the media present at the Lakshman Kadirgamar Institute of International Relations and Strategic Studies (LKIIRSS) to cover Dhanapala’s presentation. It was named in memory of our late Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar assassinated by the LTTE in 2005 Aug. Today, it is called the Lakshman Kadirgamar Institute (LKI).

Dhanapala asserted that IHL should not apply to Sri Lanka’s war against the LTTE and that a conventional army couldn’t be bound by IHL in fighting a terrorist organization.

Sri Lanka paid a huge price for the previous government’s failure to properly examine accountability issues and also neglecting its responsibilities in this regard. The Sirisena-Wickremesinghe combination in October 2015 treacherously co-sponsored the Resolution against Sri Lanka, thereby paving the way for direct Western intervention in the constitutional making process.

Impact on Constitutional making process

 President Sirisena and Kurunegala District MP Rajapaksa made their surprise move ahead of the presentation of the second interim draft, prepared by the Steering Committee tasked with preparing a draft constitutional proposal for Sri Lanka. With President proroguing parliament the interim draft cannot be presented to parliament on Nov 5 as planned. Parliament will meet again on Nov 16.

Wickremesinghe in his capacity as the head of the Steering Committee, was scheduled to present the report to the Constituent Assembly. Now that President Sirisena has unceremoniously sacked Wickremesinghe, who would be at the helm of the Steering Committee to lead the constitution making process? Having repeatedly berated the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe duo for giving into Western and Indian pressure to introduce constitutional changes, Rajapaksa will find it extremely difficult to continue with the process. It would be pertinent to mention that the National Freedom Front (NFF) quit the Constituent Assembly in July last year claiming the process posed a grave threat to Sri Lanka’s unitary status. However, Wimal Weerawansa’s NFF couldn’t convince Rajapaksa to quit the Constituent Assembly as well as the Steering Committee. Two Joint Opposition seniors serve the Steering Committee. Against the backdrop of the UPFA factions shedding their differences, it would be interesting to see whether they seek a consensus on the constitution making process. In spite of the NFF quitting the Constituent Assembly, the UNP continued with the project though the Constituent Assembly should consists of all 225 elected and appointed lawmakers.

The NFF parliamentary group, in a letter to Speaker Jayasuriya, said: "As per the motion passed in Parliament for the setting up of the Constituent Assembly, it is mandatory that all MPs in Parliament become its members. When we leave the assembly, that condition is violated and the legitimacy of the Constituent Assembly is now in question. We hope the Speaker would inform Parliament that the legality of the Constituent Assembly is now in question with our exit."

"We, as representatives of the public, accept the call by Mahanayakes of all three chapters that the present situation is not suitable for a new constitution or amending the constitution. The Mahanayakes conveyed that message to the government, all MPs and the general public in a statement dated July 04, 2017.

 The writer raised the issue with the Joint Opposition, the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna as well as Yuthuma organization. Their spokesmen steadfastly asserted that they should remain in the constitutional making process. JO heavyweight Bandula Gunawardena once told the writer that the decision to remain in the Constituent Assembly and the Steering Committee had been taken at a meeting chaired by Mahinda Rajapaksa.

Nationalist Groups backing Mahinda Rajapaksa, too, believe that the JO should have quit Wickremesinghe’s project along with the NFF. Against the backdrop of the complete change in the political environment, President Sirisena and Premier Rajapaksa will have to review the UPFA’s stand on the constitution making process.

In terms of the Geneva Resolutions 30/1 and 34/1, Sri Lanka will have to fulfill obligations in relation to accountability issues by March 2019 Geneva session.

Now, it would be the responsibility of President Sirisena and Premier Rajapaksa to take tangible measures to clear Sri Lanka of unsubstantiated war crimes allegations. Both the Rajapaksas and the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe duo cannot absolve themselves of the responsibility for depriving Sri Lanka of best possible defence much to the disappointment of the people who enjoyed genuine peace.

US-led Western powers and India went to the extent of facilitating the change of government in January 2015 as part of their overall strategy to do away with the Rajapaksas relationship with China. They achieved success in January 2015 after experiencing defeat in January 2010 when General Sarath Fonseka lost badly.

Will they simply allow President Sirisena’s move to jeopardize a high profile project in which interested parties invested millions of USD. Bringing the constitution making project to a successful conclusion will certainly offset the battlefield debacle the LTTE suffered on the Vanni east front with its bloody end militarily at Nandikadal in May, nearly a decade ago.

Former UNHRC Chief Zeid-Hussein, at the 32 session of the Geneva sessions, on June 28, 2016, dealt extensively with Sri Lanka. The former Jordanian career diplomat, in a statement captioned ‘Promoting reconciliation, accountability and human rights in Sri Lanka’, explained, in no uncertain terms, what Geneva expected Sri Lanka to do.

 Let me reproduce verbatim what Zeid-Hussein stated in his June 28, 2016, address in Geneva:

* "Significant momentum has been achieved in the process of constitutional reform. On 10 March 2016, Parliament adopted a resolution establishing a constitutional assembly to draft and approve a new constitution or amendments by the end of 2016, which would then be put to a referendum in 2017. The drafting process has benefited from an inclusive public consultation process overseen by a Public Representations Committee that received submissions and held district level consultations in the first quarter of 2016."

* "From a human rights perspective, the constitutional reform process presents an important opportunity to rectify structural deficiencies that contributed to human rights violations and abuses in the past and reinforce guarantees of non-recurrence. These could include a more comprehensive Bill of Rights, stronger institutional checks and balances, enhanced constitutional review, improved guarantees for the independence of the judiciary, effective individual complaints mechanisms and greater direct enforceability of international human rights treaty. Also, as demonstrated by other countries’ experience, is the strengthening of civilian oversight over the military in the form of multiple oversight and accountability mechanisms over defense policy, discipline and promotion, budgeting and procurement. The new Constitution will also be important in facilitating the establishment of the transitional justice mechanisms envisaged by the Government, for instance the criminalization of international crimes in national law or allowing for the involvement of international judicial personnel. At the same time, the High Commissioner hopes that the political process of adopting constitutional changes will not involve tradeoffs and compromises on core issues of accountability, transitional justice and human rights."

Sri Lanka needs to be watchful and move swiftly and decisively to obliterate allegations with real evidence and accept responsibility for individual battlefield excesses in case there were any during the eelam war IV (2006 – 2009). Taking up Lord Naseby’s revelations in Geneva can be the first step in a daunting task, something Sri Lanka cannot afford not to do. Strategic thinking is necessary as Sri Lanka has already fulfilled some of the key measures prescribed by Geneva, including Office for Missing Persons and Office for Reparations.

Tuesday, 23 October 2018

Did RAW eye Prez, ex-Defence Secy?



by Shamindra Ferdinando

Just hours after Ports and Shipping Minister and SLFP spokesman Mahinda Samarasinghe last Thursday (Oct.18) categorically denied Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) role in an assassination plot, targeting President Maithripala Sirisena, Shiral Lakthilaka, one of the closest associates of Sirisena, reiterated serious concerns over the Sri Lankan leader’s safety and security.

Samarasinghe cleared India of any involvement, whatsoever, in a plot allegedly hatched by former head of the Terrorist Investigation Division (TID), interdicted DIG Nalaka Silva, at a packed media conference at the SLFP party office on T. B. Jayah Mawatha. Lakthikala, a former UNP Provincial Councillor and civil society activist, addressed the media at Hotel Nippon, Slave Island. One-time UNP National List MP, former Ambassador in Berlin and ex-Sirasa employee, Sarath Kongahage sat next to Lakthilaka.

The alleged assassination controversy takes place amidst Sri Lanka’s refusal to allow Indian takeover of the East Container Terminal of the Colombo Port as well as President Sirisena’s opposition to Indian role in the development of the Palaly Airport.

Lakthilaka declared that Sirisena took undisclosed security measures against the backdrop of police informant Namal Kumara who revealed the alleged assassination attempt on Sept 13, 2018. It would be pertinent to mention that Samarasinghe didn’t make reference to the threat on former Defence Secretary Gothabhaya Rajapaksa, as claimed by Namal Kumara. Namal Kumara is on record as having said that DIG Nalaka Silva expressed fears of Sirisena and Gotabhaya Rajapaksa getting together in the run up the to the forthcoming national elections.

"The president has taken the threat very seriously," Lakthilaka told reporters in Colombo. "The president’s security has been increased."

Lakthilaka quoted Sirisena as having told his cabinet of ministers of local media reports about the involvement of an Indian intelligence agency. "He did not name the agency."

The Nippon briefing, too, was organized by the Presidential Media Division (PMD). It would be pertinent to mention that Kongahage, currently Chairman of the Sri Lanka Foundation Institute (SLFI), too, functions as an advisor to the President.

Less than 24 hours before the media briefings given by Samarasinghe, and the Lakthilaka and Kongahage duo, the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Office announced receiving an assurance from President Sirisena that he categorically rejected the reports in sections of media about him alluding to the involvement of India in any manner whatsoever in an alleged plot to assassinate the President and a former Defence Secretary of Sri Lanka (Gotabhaya Rajapaksa).

The PM’s Office said: "He (President Sirisena) mentioned that the mischievous and malafide reports were utterly baseless and false, and seemed intended to create misunderstanding between the two leaders as well as damage the cordial relations between the two friendly neighbours.

"The President apprised the Prime Minister of the urgent steps taken by him personally and the Government of Sri Lanka to publicly reject these reports."

The bottom line is that Presidential Advisors Lakthilaka and Kongahage had basically confirmed media reports pertaining to the assassination attempt on President Sirisena, a day after Cabinet spokesman Dr. Rajitha Senaratne, the Foreign Ministry and SLFP spokesman Mahinda Samarasinghe denied Indian involvement.

Although, the government tried, desperately, to reject reports of President Sirisena and PM Wickremesinghe exchanging words over the former’s refusal to allow Indian take over of the East Container Terminal, at the cabinet meeting, an unprecedented ‘battle’ took place, causing irreparable damage to their fragile relationship.

In fact, the writer had to remind Minister Samarasinghe, at last Thursday’s media briefing, that those denying any Indian involvement had conveniently forgotten that an Indian, in his forties, is in custody in terms of the Prevention of Terrorist Act (PTA). Samarasinghe was also told of DIG Nalaka Silva, former head of the Terrorist Investigation Division (TID), being interdicted following Namal Kumara’s shocking claims.

Speaking of those who had disputed the credibility of reports, pertaining to the threat on President Sirisena’s life, Lakthilaka said: "They try to play the role of judge and jury both and create an opinion which suits their agenda. They did not want to allow the CID investigations to be concluded."

The Hindu has emphasized that it stood by its original story thereby contradicted denials issued by SLFP spokesman Minister Samarasinghe, the Cabinet Office and the Foreign Ministry. Did President Sirisena really believe his life is in danger?

The writer personally doesn’t think of RAW role in the current situation but nothing can be ruled out until a thorough inquiry is carried out. The investigation must be conducted with the past RAW record here in mind.

RAW project through the eyes of Thamilini

India established RAW in 1968 in the wake of the disastrous Indo-China border war, four years before. Having realized how the intelligence failure contributed to India’s 1962 defeat, New Delhi worked tirelessly to meet the Asian giant’s covert and overt objectives. Primarily meant to counter India’s powerful adversaries China and Pakistan, RAW played a major role in ‘destabilization the Sri Lanka project’ in the 80s. Those who had authorized that project wouldn’t have taken into the consideration the possibility of their monstrous creation killing the very person largely responsible for the situation. The LTTE assassinated Rajiv Gandhi on May 21, 1991, in Tamil Nadu.

Subramaniam Sivakamy, 43, or Thamilini Jayakumaran, formerly a senior cadre of the LTTE seven years following the LTTE’s humiliating battle-field defeat, completed her memoirs though she couldn’t release it before succumbing to cancer on Oct 18, 2015. Having participated in several LTTE operations against the Sri Lankan military, ‘Colonel’ Thamilini headed the LTTE Political Wing at the time she surrendered to the military. She was held in Welikada prison for three years, before being moved to the Poonthottam rehabilitation camp, in the western part of the Vanni. She was released to her family in June 2013. In her memoirs, published by Jeyakumar, her husband, a British citizen of Sri Lankan origin, with the support of Gamini Viyangoda and Dharmasiri Bandaranayake of Purawesi Balaya in March 2016, the top LTTEer dealt with an alleged RAW attempt to eliminate LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran. The LTTE executed the LTTE’s No 02, Mahattaya over the alleged RAW plot. Thamilini quoted senior LTTE cadres as having told the cadre how commander Sornam had arrested Mahattaya at the latter’s base at Manipay, in the Jaffna peninsula, for being involved in a RAW - engineered assassination plot.

Thamilini also explained how the LTTE changed projects launched by Mahattaya, in his capacity as the Deputy Leader of the organization. The LTTE transformed PFLT (People’s Front of Liberation Tigers), the political unit to Political Section, and it was placed under S.P. Thamilselvam, the then Special Commander in the Jaffna peninsula. The LTTE also disbanded a special study group, comprising 50 persons, formed by Mahattaya. Members of the disbanded group had been attached to other sections.

According to Thamilini, a base set up by Mahattaya at Kokuvil, in the Jaffna peninsula, for the PFLT, had been placed under the command of Thamilselvam, the new leader of the Political Section. Thamilini discussed how members of the PFLT/Political Section had served the fighting formation. The RAW obviously, felt that Prabhakaran obstructed its grand strategy in Sri Lanka; hence attempts were made to assassinate the LTTE leader. According to Thamilini, the Indian Intelligence agency had conspired to get Mahattaya to shoot dead Prabhakaran, and another LTTEer, identified as Kiruban, to kill Mahattaya in turn, thereby paving the way for the latter to take over the leadership. Kiruban was described as a RAW agent who pretended that he managed to escape from Indian custody though in reality Indian authorities released him to carry out the operation to eliminate Prabhakaran.

The LTTE ‘officially’ revealed the RAW operation at the opening of the Kodikamam memorial for those men and women killed in battle with the military. Although many believed Prabhakaran would attend the event, finally, it was LTTE Intelligence Chief Pottu Amman who declared open the memorial. The fighting cadre was also told how Mahattaya went out of his way to win hearts and minds of the members in a bid to fulfill the RAW objectives.

Thamilini also dealt with how the LTTE targeted those who had been suspected of having been part of Mahattaya’s conspiracy.  Alleging involvement in the conspiracy, the LTTE had detained many senior and experienced combat cadres. Thamilini recalled an LTTE Intelligence wing cadre at the then Political School, in the Jaffna peninsula, declaring charges against a group of senior cadres in their custody over the RAW plot. She remembered one of the detained as Suseelan who commandeered a T-55 main battle tank during the battle for Pooneryn, in early Nov 1993. Thamilini acknowledged that such a fighter couldn’t have gone against the leadership.

Assassination of Jaffna MPs

The RAW can never absolve itself of creating the monstrous Tamil terrorism movement which also claimed the life of Rajiv Gandhi and over 1,200 Indian Army officers and men. Sri Lanka never made a genuine attempt to examine the role played by RAW throughout the conflict and post-conflict period.

Tamil National Alliance (TNA) Jaffna District MP Dharmalingham Siddarthan told this writer, many years ago, how his father V. Dharmalingham (Manipay MP) and another MP M. Alalasunderam were abducted and killed by TELO (Tamil Eelam Liberation Organization) in late Sept,1985 at the behest of RAW. Dharmalingham said the RAW assassinated them to weaken the Jaffna political leadership, to strengthen armed groups and also to increase its influence over negotiations between the government of Sri Lanka and the Tamils. Dharmalingham, as the political leader of the PLOTE (People’s Liberation Organization of Tamil Eelam), discussed RAW operations directed at Tamil political parties here, with the writer, years after his party entered the political mainstream.

Sri Lanka needs to examine the Indian role here thoroughly, and the proposed project to record Sri Lanka’s war history should definitely take into consideration the Indian hand here. If not for India, there wouldn’t have been a war here though Tamil armed groups could have caused some nuisance. But, India transformed largely a domestic problem to an international security issue.

The reportage of Premier Ranil Wickremesinghe’s recently concluded visit to New Delhi revealed that the Modi Government is keen on securing the East Terminal regardless of President Sirisena’s declaration that it wouldn’t be handed over to any party under any circumstances. India and the UNP seem continuing with the Palaly Airport modernization project though Civil Aviation and Transport Minister Nimal Siripala de Silva, on behalf of President Sirisena, repeatedly said that the Palaly project would be handled by the government and its new runway would be handled by the Air Force.

The high profile Indian project to exploit terrorism in Sri Lanka to influence the country resulted in massive death and destruction. Having lost control of its own project, India struggled to cope with the monstrous organizations created by her intelligence service - one of them; the LTTE took on the Indian Army in Oct 1987. In spite of the LTTE going back on the Indo-Lanka Accord, Indian intelligence still worked with the group. It would be interesting to investigate the failure on the part of the RAW to thwart suicide missions, originating in northern Sri Lanka.

Former UNP MP’s claim

One-time UNP MP J. Sri Ranga, appearing on Sirasa Dawasa, hosted by Buddika Wickremadhara, on Oct 18, 2018, flayed India for its intervention in Sri Lanka. Pointing out that the conspiracy wouldn’t have come to light if not for police informant Namal Kumara spilling the beans, Ranga asserted that the threat to the lives of President Sirisena, former Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa and former President Mahinda Rajapaksa was real.

Referring to a statement issued by the Indian High Commissioner, Taranjit Singh Sandhu, in the wake of the arrest of an Indian allegedly involved in the conspiracy, Ranga asked Wickremadhara and Sydney Chandrasekera, the third participant in the programme, whether they had ever heard of an arrested person described as a mental patient. Ranga questioned the circumstances under which the Indian High Commissioner Sandhu issued a statement claiming the arrested person had a history of mental illness since 2000.

"Taking a serious note of the matter and acting on limited information provided to us by Sri Lankan authorities, we immediately alerted Indian counterparts to conduct a background check of the said individual", a High Commission communiqué said. According to the HC, the arrested person has had a history of mental disturbance since 2000.

The police arrested the Indian while he was visiting the Warakapola home of Namal Kumara late last month.

Ranga directly accused Sandhu, who had earlier served in Colombo as the Head of the Political Wing in the High Commission of India, Colombo, from December 2000 to September 2004, of interfering in a domestic affairs. The former MP recalled Sandhu intervening in political battle between the then President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga and Premier Ranil Wickremesinghe in the wake of the signing of the Norway-run Ceasefire Agreement. Ranga alleged Sandhu intervened in the Kumaratunga take-over of three ministries held by UNP Ministers. Nirupam Sen had been the Indian High Commissioner (2002-2004) in Colombo at that time. Ranga asked Wickremadhara whether the Sri Lankan High Commissioner in New Delhi could intervene in a domestic political issue there. The former MP also claimed that Sandhu intervened to save Premier Wickremesinghe from the Joint Opposition moved No Confidence Motion against the UNP Leader in April this year over his alleged involvement in treasury bond scams in 2015 and 2016.

Ranga alleged that Sri Lanka had never benefited from agreements with India. India pursued policies inimical to Sri Lanka, Ranga said, pointing out that the Indian now in custody was an Indian Tamil. Had the conspiracy been brought to a successful conclusion, it would have conveniently blamed the assassination/assassinations on the killing of someone some time ago. Had the LTTE been around, the conspirators would have taken advantage of the situation. The presence would have made it easier for them, the former MP charged. Basically the programme blamed India for, current plight of Sri Lanka, as well as being covertly responsible for the change of the 2015 Rajapaksa administration.

Ranga twice stressed that Shamindra Ferdinando, News Editor of The Island, couldn’t bear when he (Ranga) blamed the Indian High Commission/High Commissioner Sandhu. The writer sought an opportunity to respond to Ranga, who participated in the programme as a journalist and media personality. Ranga, over the years, made some controversial statements. Some time back, he raised the possibility of the Army using poison gas on the Vanni east front. It would be pertinent to ask Ranga whether he took up war crimes in and outside parliament after having entered parliament in April 2010 on the UNP ticket. Ranga certainly owed an explanation to the Tamil speaking people as to why he switched allegiance to war-winning President Mahinda Rajapaksa after having entered parliament through the UNP. Ranga joined Mahinda Rajapaksa’s delegation to New York, in Sept 2010, several months after the releasing of the UN PoE report that accused Sri Lankan military of killing at least 40,000 Tamil civilians. The then UNP MP accompanied government delegation, comprising President Rajapaksa, External Affairs Minister Prof. G. L. Peiris and MP Namal Rajapaksa. In fact, the then government released photographs of the Rajapaksa-led delegation with Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg and one-time peace facilitator Erik Solheim. Ranga also owed an explanation as regards his inclusion in the UPFA National List at the August 2015 parliamentary polls after the change of government, in January 2015.

The writer challenges the former UNP MP to explain his claim that I couldn’t bear criticism of the Indian High Commission/High Commissioner Sandhu as regards Indian interventions in Sri Lanka. Ranga should be able to point out any articles authored by the writer or statements made on television channels backing Indian policy on Sri Lanka during his 31-year career. India can never absolve itself of culpability for destroying its tiny neighbour. Can India ever forget how Indian trained Sri Lankan terrorists (PLOTE) who nearly assassinated the Maldivian President Gayoom in early 1988? Did RAW know about the sea borne PLOTE raid on Male? Could PLOTE have mounted the operation without RAW knowing it? And, finally, who ordered the assassination of PLOTE leader Uma Maheswaran outside the Maldivian High Commission in Colombo? It was Maheswaran who organized the raid on Maldives by two trawler loads of PLOTE cadres.

Wednesday, 17 October 2018

Munich betrayal, Moscow pact and Geneva sell-out



By Shamindra Ferdinando

German Ambassador to Sri Lanka Jorn Rohde recently contradicted his Russian counterpart in Colombo Juri Matery’s widely published statement in the local English print media that dealt with dismemberment of Czechoslovakia, close on the heels of the Munich Agreement, finalized on Sept 30, 1938.

There had never been a previous instance of a Colombo-based diplomat, of a European power, sharply contradicting his counterpart, representing another great power.

Matery, in a statement issued to the print media, flayed the UK, France, Germany and Italy over what Russia called Munich betrayal. The Russian envoy also emphasized the importance of respecting the principles set down in the United Nations Charter.

Acknowledging Russia’s strong criticism of the Munich Agreement, Rohde chided Matrey for conveniently forgetting a second betrayal perpetrated by Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union, just 11 months after the Munich Agreement. Rohde slammed Russia over the Aug 23, 1939 agreement between the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany that paved the way for Blitzkrieg (lightning war thrust). Rohde reminded Matery of the Nazi invasion of Poland, a week after the signing of the German-Soviet Non-aggression pact in Moscow, and almost simultaneous occupation of Eastern Poland by the Soviet forces. The pact remained in force for nearly two years until Nazi Germany launched military campaign against the Soviet Union.

The German envoy depicted the Moscow Pact as bad as the Munich Agreement.

The German response to Russian statement, in Colombo, is nothing but a lesson to Sri Lanka. Germany, quite rightly set the record straight, immediately, thereby thwarted the Russian move. The outspoken German Ambassador, obviously with the approval from his Foreign Ministry, in Berlin, tore into the top Russian envoy. The German response clearly asserted that both the Munich and Moscow Agreements contributed to the bloodiest war in history.

Questionable Sri Lanka strategy

Sri Lanka, of course, lacked the wherewithal to respond the way Germany did. Sri Lanka shouldn’t hesitate to counter lies propagated here, and at international forums, by interested parties. However, the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe government continues to shun its responsibility in spite of having the required ammunition. No less a person than Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka, who led the victorious Army, in response to a query raised by the writer, at a media briefing, over a month ago, admitted that the cabinet never bothered at least to discuss Sri Lanka’s response to Geneva Resolution 30/1. Ports and Shipping Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe, too, had confirmed Field Marshal’s revelation, also in response to the writer raising the issue at the regular SLFP media briefing, nearly two months ago.

Germany recently succeeded the US as a member of the four-nation Sri Lanka core group at the Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC). Rohde represents the core group as the German envoy in Colombo. A statement, dated Sept 11, 2018, issued by the core group, comprising the UK, Germany, Macedonia and Montenegro, dealt with Sri Lanka, with the latter being blamed for the lack of progress in important areas of reform risks’ undermining reconciliation efforts.

The statement was delivered at the 39th session of the Geneva council.

The joint statement said that in co-sponsoring a resolution that called for an accountability mechanism with international judges, "Sri Lanka recognized that national accountability mechanisms are essential to dealing with the past, and to restoring confidence among its communities".

The following is the full text of the statement: "We welcome further recent steps Sri Lanka has taken to implement commitments made to the Council in 2015 and 2017. We welcome the Government’s continued engagement with the UN system and actions to implement its National Reconciliation Action Plan and Peace-building Priority Plan. We applaud the Office on Missing Persons’ commencement of work and encourage everyone able to advance or contribute to its work to do so. We hope the Government will establish an Office for Reparations quickly. We also welcome the return of further private land in the north, and commitments to return more military-occupied land to civilian ownership.

"Nonetheless, the pace of progress, on important areas, remains much slower than many hoped for. As time passes, lack of progress in delivering key steps risks undermining reconciliation efforts.

"In co-sponsoring resolution 30/1, Sri Lanka recognized that national accountability mechanisms are essential to dealing with the past, and to restoring confidence among its communities. These have yet to be established. The Prevention of Terrorism Act has not been replaced with a law that accords with international standards. And, though processes to consider reform to important provisions of the Constitution, including devolution of political authority, has been ongoing since 2016, a way forward has not been found. We are concerned by recent reports of harassment of and attacks on human rights defenders.

"Our view remains that, with determined leadership and a clear time-bound action plan, this Government can make more progress towards delivering its Council commitments, and that doing so will better position Sri Lanka and its people to enjoy a more enduring reconciliation and prosperity. We urge Sri Lanka to prioritize and drive forward implementation of resolutions 30/1 and 34/1, before the Council next considers Sri Lanka in March."

Core Group members, the UK and Germany never bothered at least to revisit the Geneva Resolution 30/1 following the revelation of wartime British High Commission dispatches from Colombo (January-May 2009) contradicted the very basis of the Resolution. Sri Lanka, has so far refrained from officially requesting Core Group and the members of the Geneva council to examine all available information.

The government, had, in fact betrayed the people by not presenting available facts before the Geneva council.

Recently concluded Geneva session

Anti-Sri Lanka elements (Tamil Diaspora) successfully carried out their campaign at the recently concluded Geneva session. Sri Lanka Permanent Mission in Geneva did nothing to counter lies. Retired Rear Admiral Sarath Weerasekera, Dr. Nalaka Godahewa and Prof. Channa Jayasumana, who represented Sri Lanka at Geneva bitterly complained about the failure on the part of the Permanent Mission to object to propaganda campaign directed at the country. Appearing on ‘Aluth Parliamenthuwa’ (New Parliament) on Derana, they pointed out that the Sri Lanka mission turned a blind eye to what was going on, while senior representatives of other countries, including India, challenged the accusers.

Having raised the Geneva mission’s failure with Ambassador A.L.A. Azeez, the Permanent Representative of Sri Lanka to the UN in Geneva, Weerasekera quoted the top career diplomat as having told Sri Lanka didn’t want to downgrade itself by responding to Diaspora elements.

Ambassador A.L.A. Azeez succeeded Ravinatha Aryasinghe, in April this year, soon after the conclusion of the March sessions in Geneva.

A career Foreign Service Officer with over 25 years of experience, Ambassador Azeez previously served as the Permanent Representative of Sri Lanka to the United Nations Organisations in Vienna from 2011 – 2015. Azeez coordinated EU related matters and multilateral treaties, acting as Additional Secretary in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs immediately prior to his new assignment.

The Geneva mission has no option but to follow directives from Colombo. That applies to all missions. During President Ranasinghe Premadasa’s time Sri Lankan High Commission in the UK facilitated senior LTTE cadre Sathasivam Krishnakumar alias Kittu to receive medical treatment there during the UNP-LTTE honeymoon. At the behest of Velupillai Prabhakaran, Kittu decimated members of the Tamil Eelam Liberation Organization (TELO) in 1986. Northerners experienced violence like never before. Those who were killed were ‘necklaced’ - tyres soaked in petrol were placed around the victims’ neck and set alight. Kittu personally killed TELO leader Sri Sabaratnam. Having machine gunned Sri Sabaratnam, his body was displayed.

Those demanding accountability on the part of Sri Lanka, and bending backwards to appease the LTTE rump, had quite conveniently forgotten mindless violence perpetrated on the Tamil community by the terrorist organisation, dubbed to be the most ruthless by the American Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Panacea for all post-war issues

Western powers and the LTTE rump consider the Geneva Resolution as panacea for all problems. Having adopted the resolution on the basis of now strongly disputed allegations, Western powers are forcing Sri Lanka to implement it fully. During the live Derana political programme, the writer intervened over the phone to remind the panel how the government co-sponsored the resolution just over a week after the then Permanent Representative there Ravinatha Aryasinghe strongly opposed it at an informal meeting with Sri Lanka Core Group. Foreign Ministry in Colombo released Ambassador Aryasinghe’s full statement not realizing the consequences. Thanks to the Foreign Ministry oversight, the statement is in the public domain. Unfortunately, those battling the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe government never bothered to examine all available evidence, ranging from Ambassador Aryasinghe’s statement, Wiki Leaks to the late J.N. Dixit’s memoirs. Had they done that the country could have had a better defence. The writer also queried the Derana panelists, Rear Adm. Weerasekera, Prof. Jayasumana and Dr Godahewa as to why no reference was made at all regarding Lord Nasebys’ disclosure in the House of Lords in Oct 2017 which disputed the very basis of the Geneva Resolution. Presidential Advisor Shiral Lakthilaka and Director General Information battled well for the government strongly endorsing the Geneva Resolution. Interestingly, Lakthilaka dismissed UNSG Panel of Experts (PoE) report released in March 2011, the very basis of the project against Sri Lanka. The writer reminded the panel that President Maithripala Sirisena in spite of his Sept 14 promise to furnish a set of written proposals in respect of accountability issues on behalf of Sri Lanka to Geneva and New York, disappointed the vast majority of people of this country.

Against the backdrop of Sri Lanka reiterating its commitment to Geneva Resolution, it would be pertinent to examine Ambassador Aryasinghe’s statement to the Sri Lanka Core Group, on September 21, 2015, at the first informal session called by the Core Group. The group comprised the US, the UK, Montenegro and Macedonia. Germany has replaced the US in the Core Group.

In fact, it was Sri Lanka’s position in Geneva during the war-winning Rajapaksa administration.

The US team, at the first informal session, included US Ambassador in Geneva, Keith M. Harper, who had been a partner at the law firm of Kilpatrick Townsend & Stockton LLP, with newly appointed US Ambassador in Colombo, Atul Keshap. Keshap had presented his credentials to President Maithripala Sirisena exactly a month before the first informal session in Geneva. Keshap recently completed his assignment in Colombo.

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

Let me reproduce verbatim the sections relating to judicial mechanism in the two draft resolutions:

(September 21, 2015 draft resolution) Welcomes the government’s recognition that accountability is essential to uphold the rule of law and build confidence in the people of all communities of Sri Lanka in the justice system, takes note with appreciation of the government of Sri Lanka’s proposal to establish a Judicial Mechanism, with a Special Counsel to investigate allegations of violations and abuses of human rights and violations of international humanitarian law, as applicable; and affirms that credible transitional justice process should include independent judicial and prosecutorial institutions led by individuals known for integrity and impartiality; and calls upon the government of Sri Lanka, to involve international investigators, prosecutors and judges in Sri Lanka’s justice processes.

(September 24, 2015 draft resolution) Welcomes the government’s recognition that accountability is essential to uphold the rule of law and build confidence in the people of all communities of Sri Lanka in the justice system, takes note with appreciation of the Government of Sri Lanka’s proposal to establish a Judicial Mechanism with a Special Counsel to investigate allegations of violations and abuses of human rights and violations of international humanitarian law, as applicable; and affirms that a credible justice process should include independent judicial and prosecutorial institutions led by individuals known for integrity and impartiality; and further affirms in this regard the importance of participation in a Sri Lankan judicial mechanism, including the Special Counsel’s office, of Commonwealth and other foreign judges, defence lawyers, and authorized prosecutors and investigators.

The Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council, on October 1, 2015, adopted, what it called, a consensus resolution on accountability for the alleged human rights violations during the war.

In spite of government leaders and various spokesmen declaring that foreign judges will not be acceptable, the Resolution remains the same.

Western powers moved three resolutions, targeting Sri Lanka, in 2012, 2013 and 2014. The third resolution demanded an external inquiry into accountability issues. The draft resolution finally adopted in 2015 is largely based on the findings and recommendations made in a report prepared in accordance with the 2014 resolution. The report was prepared by UN staffer, Ms. Sandra Beidas, formerly of Amnesty International. The Beidas report followed the PoE report.

It would be pertinent to reproduce what Ambassador Aryasinha told the Core Group on Sept 21, 2915: "At a time when we have a new Government that is adopting a calmly different path to that which was followed in the era, before 8 January, the expectation is, naturally, that there would be a similar change in tone, tenor, and even strategy on the part of the Council as well."

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

"Further, given that both the HCHR’s report (A/HRC/30/61) and the Report on the OHCHR investigation on Sri Lanka (OISL) (A/HRC/30/SRP.2) recognizes that the report represents a ‘human rights investigation’ and not a ‘criminal investigation’, emphasizing excessively on the criminal justice aspects, makes the resolution imbalanced. It would be more helpful to have a holistic approach when making recommendations in this resolution on promoting reconciliation in Sri Lanka.

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

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

Obviously, Sri Lanka is under pressure not to challenge the Geneva Resolution. With two key national elections-presidential in 2019 and parliamentary in 2020 set to take place, all political parties, including the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna, are likely to come under pressure in this regard. Regardless of the consequences, Sri Lanka should set the record straight.

Tuesday, 9 October 2018

How govt., ‘int’l community’ deliberately undermined reconciliation



By Shamindra Ferdinando

Two photographs - one taken on the banks of the Nanthikadal lagoon on the morning of May 19, 2009 and the other captured in Vishvamadu on June 10, 2018 - can be used to depict the gradual transformation of the northern community, since the demise of the conventional military capability of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) nearly a decade ago.

Although, both pictures accessible on line and published and telecast by private television channels, they had never been used side-by-side in a bid to strengthen post-war national reconciliation efforts though a section of the international community funded a range of activities to promote amity among the communities.

The picture of LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran, 54, carried by young infantrymen, who had been engaged in the last phase of offensive operations on the Vanni east front and ex-LTTE cadres and their families carrying Sinha Regiment officer Lt. Col. Ratnapriya Bandu, formerly of the Special Forces in a mark of respect underscored the urgent need for reappraisal of high profile and costly reconciliation efforts.

 The Sirisena-Wickremesinghe government remains determined not to recognize and appreciate the transformation of the northern community. The government, the four-party Tamil National Alliance, Tamil Diaspora and Western powers had conveniently turned a blind eye to much improved relationship between the armed forces and the northern community over the years. There cannot be a better example than the unprecedented sending off given to Lt. Col. Ratnapriya Bandu by the Vishvamadu community. It would be pertinent to mention that the officer, who had been recently recognized by Derana Sri Lankan of the Year Awards, functioned as the Second-in-Command of a Sinha Regiment battalion attached to the 59 Division deployed on the Vanni east front.

As the Sri Lanka Army (SLA) celebrates its 69th anniversary today, the country is in a crossroads with the government unable to cope up with economic challenges. The Joint Opposition (JO) loyal to former President Mahinda Rajapaksa, too, has failed to give the required leadership, both in and outside parliament. The military, too, unfortunately, seems confused with its duties and responsibilities. Many an eyebrow was raised when Army Commander Lt. Gen. Mahesh Senanayake offered to deploy troops for operations to eradicate heroin trade. There cannot be a role for the SLA in such operations. The war-winning Army should remain clear of law enforcement operations under any circumstances. 

Media responsibility in post-war transition

The writer had an opportunity to make a brief presentation at the inauguration of a two-day seminar meant to discuss media responsibilities in post-war transition at the Colombo Hilton on Sept. 26. The Institute for Social Development, Kandy, and the Sri Lanka College of Journalism organised the seminar for the benefit of journalists from all parts of the country, including the Jaffna peninsula. The panel of speakers comprised South African media and rights activist Christine Karen Williams, Director General Government Information Department attorney-at-law Sudarshana Gunawardena, editor of Jaffna-based Kalai Kathir N. Vithyatharan and the writer. Journalist and leading commentator on social, cultural and political impacts on ICTs (Information and Communication Technologies) Nalaka Gunawardene didn’t turn up though he was named as a panelist.

Muthulingan Periyasamy, Executive Director, Institute for Social Development, Kandy, delivered the introductory remarks. The welcome address was delivered by Shan Wijetunge, head of the Sri Lanka College of Journalism and a former colleague of the writer.

The writer made use of his presentation to underscore the inexcusable deliberate failure on the part of the government to counter lies propagated by interested parties to justify Geneva Resolution 30/1, adopted in Oct 2015. The gathering was told how the state-owned media, including the Army media, conveniently turned a blind eye to significant developments such as Vishvamadu sending off to Lt. Col. Ratnapriya Bandu, the senior officer in charge of rehabilitation of LTTE cadres after the war. The images from Nanthikadal and Vishvamadu were displayed on a large screen side-by-side along with dates they were taken. The audience, especially those from the North, never expected the screening of Prabhakaran’s body along with that of a military officer receiving appreciation of the Tamil community. The writer posed the query why the government and the Army media refrained from using the images from Vishvamadu in support of post-war reconciliation efforts. The gathering was reminded that the government did absolutely nothing to defend the country thereby allowed continuing humiliation of its armed forces.

The display of Nanthikadal and Vishvamadu images were followed by showing of the primary allegation directed at the Sri Lanka Army by UNSG Panel of Experts (PoE) report released on March 31, 2010. Let me reproduce the paragraph, bearing no 137, verbatim: "In the limited surveys that have been carried out in the aftermath of the conflict, the percentage of people reporting dead relatives is high. A number of credible sources have estimated that there could have been as many as 40,000 civilian deaths. Two years, after the end of the war, there is no reliable figure for civilian deaths, but multiple sources of information indicate that a range of up to 40,000 civilian deaths cannot be ruled out at this stage. Only a proper investigation can lead to the identification of all of the victims and to the formulation of an accurate figure for the total number of civilian deaths." 

The UN never bothered to initiate what the PoE called a proper investigation to identify the victims and formulate an accurate figure for the total number of deaths. Sri Lanka co-sponsored Geneva Resolution in Oct 2015 on the basis of original accusations (1) killing of civilians through widespread shelling (2) Shelling of hospitals and other humanitarian objects (3) denial of humanitarian assistance (4) human rights violations suffered by victims and survivors of the conflict and finally (5) human rights violations outside the conflict zone.

The writer sought an explanation from the panel and those journalists present why a government that always takes pride in enactment of Right to Information (RTI) Law on June 23, 2016, shunned crucial information uncovered by a friend of Sri Lanka, Lord Naseby (Conservative Party) by way of UK Freedom of Information Act 2000..

Unlike the previous Rajapaksa administration, those who followed yahapalana polices always maintained the pivotal importance of freedom of information. They propagated that freedom of information should be exercised for the benefit of the people and since the enactment of the RTI Law in 2016; the government went out of its way to encourage the public to use the new law. However, the government turned a blind eye to revelations made by Lord Naseby, thanks to the UK Freedom of Information Act 2000. There hadn’t been a previous instance of a politician exercising Freedom of Information Act/Right to Information Law for the benefit of another country (Sri Lanka) but the latter has so far failed to utilize those findings to clear its own name.

Those present were reminded how the government dismissed authentic Naseby revelations based on severely censored wartime British High Commission dispatches from Colombo while the PoE report that denied Sri Lanka an opportunity at least to scrutinize accusers until 2031 were accepted. The PoE however violating universally accepted rules decreed that allegations that led to the estimation 40,000 killed cannot be examined for a period of 20 years from the day of the report issue nor can the accusers be identified, sometimes even after the 20 year period.

The government ensured that Naseby revelations were never made use of. The government bent backwards to appease Western powers by not exposing lies. The media collectively lacked courage to expose the despicable government operation. Foreign funded civil society groups for obvious reasons never found fault with the government for not bringing Naseby’s revelations officially to the notice of the members of the UNHRC. 

A South African experience

Christine Karen Williams shared her experience as a journalist, rights activist and international critic on political matters with the gathering. Essentially, Williams justified the ongoing post-war reconciliation process undertaken by Sri Lanka though some shortcomings were pointed out.

Sirisena-Wickremesinghe created history by co-sponsoring a resolution against itself in spite of it being severely inimical to its interests. The unprecedented resolution has paved the way for a new Constitution, in addition to implementing four specific measures meant to address accountability issues, namely (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 (MOP) and finally (4) An Office for reparations. 

At the end of Williams’ presentation, the writer posed the following query to Williams: You dealt with situations and developments in several countries pertaining to Truth Commissions. Reference was made to Charles Taylor, one time Liberian leader found guilty of UN-backed court. The UN found fault with Taylor causing death and destruction in the neighbouring country. Against that background, could you please explain accountability on the part of India over death and destruction on a massive scale in neighbouring Sri Lanka?

Taylor’s issue was raised as Williams made no reference to Taylor now being held in British custody.

Williams responded that it would entirely depend on the mandate given to the Truth Commission. The writer emailed the same query and an additional query to Williams within hours after the conclusion of the inauguration of the workshop seeking comprehensive answers. The following is the additional query: Do you think Truth Commissions should be established in Libya, Iraq and Afghanistan devastated by US-led Western interventions?

Williams never responded. The writer made several attempts to secure her response through Shan Wijetunga without success.

Obviously, those wanting to find fault with Sri Lanka for what had happened conveniently forgot how India destabilized her neighbour over a period of time.

The writer in his presentation made before the South African’s keynote address emphasized the responsibility on the part of India in destroying Sri Lanka. India created several monstrous organizations in the 80s at the expense of democratic Tamil political system. For want of a comprehensive examination of the events leading to the outbreak of war in 1983, the despicable Indian intervention was never ever raised at the UNGA or Geneva. The Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LRRC) appointed in 2010 refrained from referring to the Indian role. Sri Lanka political leadership lacked strength to present Sri Lanka’s case at UNGA or Geneva much to the disappointment of the vast majority of people enjoying restoration of peace in May 2009.

The writer pointed out at the Hilton seminar that the four Geneva recommendations in respect of post-war reconciliation process in addition to the formulation of a new Constitution were necessitated on the assumption that the war-winning Sri Lanka military deliberately massacred 40,000 Tamil civilians. The writer underscored the importance of inquiring into the failure on the part of the international community, Sri Lanka, the civil society as well as the media as to why indisputable evidence unearthed by Lord Naseby were never used though Foreign Minister Tilak Marapana, PC, assured parliament in late November last year that UK dispatches would be used appropriately. The Sunday Observer in a report dated Nov 26, 2017 quoted Marapana, a former Attorney General, as having said: "We are not saying that we will not use Lord Naseby’s statement. We certainly will use it at the proper time and at appropriate forums. There may be a time when the UNHRC will ask us to conduct investigations into the allegations of war crimes. We will use this statement when such a time comes. Otherwise, our opponents will find counter arguments so we must use it as an ace."

The UNP not only discarded Naseby’s revelations, the Grand Old Party managed so far to prevent reappraisal of Sri Lanka’s Geneva position against the backdrop of Naseby revelations. The Joint Opposition/Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP), too, contributed to the UNP strategy by its extremely poor performance in parliament in defence of the country’s interest. The JO failed in its duty both in and outside parliament. For want of a clear strategy, the JO lacked foresight to examine a detailed report by Gerrard Tracey, Principal Advisor, Information Commissioner’s Office. The report accessible online dealt with Naseby’s efforts to obtain wartime dispatches from Colombo. The writer discussed decision notice dated May 4, 2016 issued by Tracey in terms of the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (FOIA) UK that dealt with Naseby’s query made to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) on Nov 6, 2014.

The decision notice revealed desperate efforts made by the FCO to prevent the releasing of wartime dispatches. 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. Can there be a bigger lie than this?

But the reality was that the disclosure could have certainly cleared the misunderstanding between two Commonwealth member states.