Tuesday, 26 February 2019

The US factor

Mangala 30 years in politics:



By Shamindra Ferdinando

One-time US Ambassador to the UN (2013-2017) Samantha Jane Power tweeted in early Nov. 2018: "The dangers of #SriLanka constitutional crisis are clear: violence is possible & Rajapaksa’s return to power will likely end flagging efforts at ethnic reconciliation. Where is US diplomacy? SL must know suspending aid, targeted sanctions on the table."

Power issued the warning in the wake of President Maithripala Sirisena quitting the UNP-led government. Having sacked Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe on Oct. 26, 2018 to pave the way for war-winning twice President Mahinda Rajapaksa to secure premiership.

Power tweeted again on Nov. 05, 2018: "Hard to know what will get #SriLanka president’s attention as he defies constitution. But good that US, EU & Japan showing urgent need to restore democracy. $500 million in US aid, trade privileges w/ Europe, Japanese loan of $1.4 billion hang in balance."

Power played a crucial role in securing Sri Lanka’s consent to co-sponsor a Resolution at the Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in Oct. 2015. The then Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera threw his full weight behind the Geneva Resolution. Samaraweera stood for the controversial Resolution. Unlike some of his colleagues, Samaraweera had the strength and the courage to support a course of action which he firmly believed was necessary to achieve post-war national reconciliation. Although President Sirisena repeatedly denied that he hadn’t been aware or briefed of the decision to co-sponsor the Geneva Resolution on Oct. 01, 2015, his government steadfastly remained committed to the resolution.

The 40th Geneva sessions commenced on Monday (Feb. 25). These will continue till March 22. In the absence of the US, the UK, together with Canada, Germany, Macedonia and Montenegro will move a new resolution seeking more time to fully implement the 2015 resolution.

Strategic US interests

US Indo-Pacific Command Chief Admiral Philip Davidson recently underscored the importance of continuing US engagement with the Sri Lankan military, particularly the Navy.

Davidson is on record as having said that increasing navy-to-navy engagement with Sri Lanka would be a US Indo-Pacific Command (INDOPACOM) focus in 2019. The US Admiral asserted that a well trained Sri Lankan Navy could contribute to multi-lateral maritime interoperability in the Indian Ocean.

"The recent transfer of an excess US Coast Guard cutter to Sri Lanka in August 2018, along with additional platforms from Japan and India, provides the Sri Lankan Navy greater capabilities to contribute to regional maritime domain awareness initiatives. Despite the political upheaval in Sri Lanka, it is in America’s interests to continue military collaboration and cooperation with Sri Lankan Forces."

Admiral Davidson said so before the US Senate’s Armed Services Committee, during a Congressional hearing. The US called Sri Lanka a significant strategic opportunity in the Indian Ocean and military-to-military relationship continues to strengthen between the two nations.

Transferring of additional platforms from Japan and India according to Admiral Davidson is part of the over US-engagement with Sri Lanka to counter China. Since the change of government in January 2015, Japan has stepped up its efforts here with Kentaro Sonoura, M.P. and Special Advisor to the Prime Minister of Japan, recently visiting Colombo. The Special Advisor attended the Japan-Sri Lanka Navy-to-Navy staff talks for the first times last year.

The Embassy of Japan said it expected that this visit would help further consolidate the "Comprehensive Partnership" between Japan and Sri Lanka. Japanese Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera visited Sri Lanka last August. It was the first time ever that a Japanese Defense Minister visited Sri Lanka.

The previous Rajapaksa administration, too, maintained close relationship with the US though some UPFA partners expressed concerns. The then Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa himself signed a military cooperation agreement with the US in March 2007 at the height of the war. Thanks to the then Navy Chief Admiral Karannagoda’s intervention, Sri Lanka secured US intelligence to hunt down four LTTE floating arsenals. The US help gave Sri Lanka advantage over the LTTE.

JVP protest against US

Samantha Power is in Colombo to deliver the keynote address at an event at the BMICH tomorrow (Feb. 28) to mark Samaraweera’s 30 years in politics. Power was last here in late Nov. 2015 in her capacity as the US Ambassador to the UN. Her visit followed the US Secretary of State John Kerry’s visit in May 2015 to reiterate Washington’s commitment to the new government which the US helped to install.

Having met the then Northern Province Governor H.M.G.S. Palihakkara, one-time Foreign Secretary, Power tweeted: "Met with Gov. Palihakkara in North #SriLanka. Agreed development, demilitarization in Jaffna cannot wait."

Samaraweera’s decision to invite Power drew criticism with some calling for a protest against her arrival. Samaraweera’s right to invite a guest speaker of his choice cannot be challenged under any circumstances by those opposed to the Geneva process. Let us hear what Power has to say specially against the backdrop of her strong opposition to President Sirisena’s constitutional coup.

Nimrata "Nikki" Haley succeeded Power as US Ambassador to the UN in 2017. Before leaving the post last year, Haley called the UNHRC a "cesspool of political bias." In spite of the US pull-out from the Geneva UN body, the Trump administration is still involved in the ‘Sri Lanka project’ now spearheaded by the UK.

Samaraweera called tomorrow’s event Khema’s boy, in memory of his mother, Khema, who passed away in March 2008. Before further discussing Samaraweera’s political life, it would be pertinent to talk about the recent JVP protest against the US in Colombo. Interestingly, having ignored repeated US interventions here and in spite of being part to US political projects, the JVP conducted a demonstration opposite the US embassy in Colombo on Feb.08, 2019 against the alleged US interference in Venezuela. In addition to JVP General Secretary Tilvin Silva, the JVP’s National Organizer Bimal Ratnayake and Dr Nalinda Jayatissa, MP et al participated in the protest.

The US has stepped up its efforts to get rid of President Nicolas Maduro to pave the way for an administration acceptable to Washington. The following is the text of the letter the JVP handed over to the US embassy: The Government of the United States, Through: The Ambassador of the United States of America

The Embassy of the United States of America in Sri Lanka, Colombo.

We, the JVP, as the political party representing the progressive masses including intellectuals, professionals and artists in Sri Lanka, write this letter to raise our collective voice in condemnation of the arbitrary act by the US administration of interfering in the internal affairs of Venezuela.

We strongly condemn the act of attempting to topple the legally elected President in Venezuela and the attempt to arbitrarily install a puppet instead. We feel that the goal of the international community should be to help Venezuela without destructive meddling from outside its borders. Let Venezuelans resolve their own domestic political issues without foreign forces meddling in their internal affairs. It should be mentioned here that millions of people, including US security personnel and citizens have paid with their valuable lives within the last decades due to the interventionist policy of various US administrations including the present one. Dozens of countries have been driven to complete destruction due to the invasions, coups and various undemocratic actions lead by US governments. Guatemala, Cuba, Vietnam, Brazil, Argentina, Honduras, Haiti, Yugoslavia, Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, etc., can be mentioned here for your retrospection. We believe no other invader or a colonizer in human history had created rivers of blood and sorrow to the people as the rivers of blood your administrations have created all over the world after the WW2. Enough is enough. This world and the people of Venezuela need Peace.

It is worthwhile to note what former US President Jimmy Carter had stated. He had said ‘of the 92 elections that they had monitored, the election process in Venezuela was the best in the world’. Venezuela’s voting technology is said to contain several security mechanisms for audits and verification of results, which have been accredited by national and international observers including the Carter Centre. We would also like to remind that the declaration of Juan Guaido as the interim president backed by the the USA has been rejected by the Supreme Tribunal of Justice in Venezuela. As such, we feel that the claim by the US government that the presidential election was rigged and corrupt has no basis.

We call upon the US administration to refrain from interfering in the internal affairs of Venezuela and let Venezuelans solve their own issues.

The JVP, as the principal political party of the progressive and left-oriented people in Sri Lanka, while advocating that the international community should help Venezuela to solve its economic and social problems, totally backs the progressive people’s struggle against foreign intervention and expresses its solidarity with the heroic resistance of the Venezuelan people to protect the sovereignty of their fatherland.

Long live sovereignty of Venezuela!

Long live Internationalism!

Political Bureau of the JVP 08.02.2019"

The JVP protests against the US intervention in Venezuela seemed ridiculous against the backdrop of growing US-Sri Lanka relationship.

Samaraweera warns the LTTE

Having backed Mahinda Rajapaksa at the Nov. 2005 presidential election, Samaraweera received the foreign ministry portfolio at the expense of the late Anura Bandaranaike. Samaraweera functioned as the foreign minister at the onset of hostilities between the Rajapaksa government and the LTTE. Samaraweera didn’t mince his words when he warned the group of catastrophic consequences unless it returned to the negotiating table. It would be interesting to know whether Power, in her keynote address discusses Samaraweera’s previous role as the foreign minister. It would be pertinent to mention Samaraweera’s declaration at a meeting with the Colombo-based diplomatic community in the second week of Sept 2006. Samaraweera said: "I must note here that while, the government would like to show the LTTE that any military aggression on their part, would entail military costs to them, the government remains committed to the ceasefire agreement and is vigorously continuing with the constitutional reforms process. The warning was given close on the heels of the military evicting the LTTE from Sampur in the Eastern theatre of operations and smashing LTTE fortifications across the Kilaly-Muhalamai line in the Jaffna peninsula (Forces seize Tigers’ Jaffna front-line with strap line...any military aggression on their part would entail military costs to them-Foreign Minister -The Island Sept 11, 2006)

Samaraweera, in an exclusive interview with veteran Indian commentator Padma Rao for Spiegel in June 2006 discussed the situation against the backdrop of the EU listing the LTTE as a terrorist organization. Let me reproduce Samaraweera’s answers to two of Rao’s questions included in the interview titled ‘Terrorism does not pay,’ posted on June 09, 2006.

SPIEGEL: Peace talks between the Sri Lankan government and the separatist LTTE, mediated by Norway since 2002, remain stalled. Violence is the order of the day in the island-state and Scandinavia monitors warn that the ceasefire agreement has deteriorated to the point that it’s little more than a "piece of paper." Even as the world continues to urge LTTE to return to peace talks, the EU last week listed LTTE as a terrorist organization. Was Brussels off in its timing?

Samaraweera: Not at all. LTTE is already proscribed in the United States, Britain, India and Australia; the EU should have done it earlier. LTTE has been escalating violence even before the EU ban; so we see the listing as a negative incentive for the LTTE to lay down their guns and start talking again. (LTTE’s) lifeline – the worldwide largest expatriate Tamil diaspora of Europe - has been cut off. Curtailing their funds will lead to a reduction of their violent activities and show them that terrorism does not pay.

SPIEGEL: For more than two decades, Europe sheltered Tamil refugees in the name of human rights. In doing so, however, the EU also turned a blind eye to money transfer made by the Tamils living here to the militant LTTE back home. But now, in the name of the international war on terror, the EU has declared LTTE to be a terrorist organization. That completes the international isolation of the Tamil Tigers, and observers say they can only return to war. Indeed, the Tigers are now demanding the departure of all EU-members participating in the Scandinavian monitoring mission, which would leave only the Norwegians and Finns.

Samaraweera: There is no magic wand to wish away LTTE terror. Their funding may not totally dry up, but the EU ban will certainly make things more difficult. But at least there won’t be an open European checkbook now. We have to realize the sad truth: members of the LTTE do not want a negotiated settlement for the Tamil people at all, they are fighting only for their own survival.

Samaraweera unhesitatingly acknowledged that the LTTE didn’t want a negotiated settlement. Although, Samaraweera publicly endorsed the military campaign, differences with the Rajapaksas persisted.

Formation of SLFP Mahajana Wing

Subsequently, President Rajapaksa dismissed Samaraweera from the cabinet in early 2007 over simmering differences. Political turncoat Rohitha Bogollagama was rewarded with the vital foreign ministry portfolio and accommodated in the cabinet. Samaraweera waged a lone battle with the Rajapaksas before joining the UNP in early Aug 2010. Samaraweera had no option but to take UNP membership after his efforts to entice a group of SLFPers failed. Samaraweera formed the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (Mahajana Wing) in a bid to engineer crossovers. The project failed primarily due to President Rajapaksa consolidating his position thanks to successive battlefield victories achieved by the military. As Samaraweera predicted in Sept 2006, the LTTE paid a huge price for not returning to the negotiating table. Over a year after the successful conclusion of the war against the LTTE, Samaraweera dissolved the SLFP (M) and joined the UNP in spite of him being one of the strongest critics of that party since his entry into parliamentary politics in 1989.

Samaraweera entered active politics on a request by the then SLFP leader Sirimavo Bandaranaike. Samaraweera played a significant role in ‘Mother’s Front’ a civil society organization that opposed the UNP resorting to indiscriminate strategies to counter the second JVP inspired insurgency. The writer interviewed Samaraweera in 1989 as regards his role in the ‘Mother’s Front’ and his joint efforts with Hambantota District MP Mahinda Rajapaksa. Samaraweera remained at the forefront of SLFP campaigns till President Rajapaksa sacked him in early 2007. Samaraweera waged a campaign targeting the Rajapaksa administration with the focus on the then Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, with whom the SLFPer clashed over the conduct of the armed forces. Samaraweera disagreed with Rajapaksa’s stand that overland route to and from the Jaffna peninsula via Muhamalai wouldn’t be restored until the war was brought to an end. The military closed the Muhamalai entry/exit point in the second week of August 2006. The road remained closed until the military cleared the entire Jaffna-Kandy road by early January 2009.

Samaraweera played a significant role in the campaign against the Rajapaksas, at both presidential elections in 2010 and 2015. Thanks to Wiki Leaks and US Statement Department 2016 report, the US role in the 2010 abortive bid to oust Mahinda Rajapaksa and the 2015 successful project that brought Maithripala Sirisena into power is known. Interestingly, both the TNA and the JVP joined the US backed UNP project to defeat Rajapaksa. The US, inadvertently ended up revealing its hand in both national elections. The US three years ago revealed that it spent as much as USD 585 mn in Nigeria, Myanmar and Sri Lanka to restore democracy. The US also revealed making available USD 3.4 mn soon after January 2015 presidential election. The US has also publicly acknowledged the role played by India in the Sri Lanka project, Having installed, a new UNP-led government, the US and its allies, including India got Colombo to co-sponsor a resolution in Geneva in Oct 2015 against its own political leadership and armed forces. President Sirisena later found fault with Samaraweera for co-sponsoring the resolution. Ravi Karunanayake replaced Samaraweera in May 2017. During Samaraweera’s tenure as the Foreign Minister, Sri Lanka-US-TNA agreed on foreign judges and other foreign experts in judicial mechanism set up in terms of the Geneva resolution. That agreement still stands. In Aug. 2017, one-time AG Tilak Marapana, PC, was brought in as the Foreign Minister in the wake of Karunanayake having to give up his portfolio over shocking connection with Arjun Aloysious, the owner of the disgraced primary dealer, Perpetual Treasuries Limited involved in treasury bond scams. Marapana lost the foreign portfolio for 50 days in Oct.-Dec. 2018 as a result of the Sirisena-Rajapaksa constitutional coup. Marapana regained the lost ministry in Dec. 2018. In spite of losing the foreign ministry in May 2017, Samaraweera still remains firmly involved in the post-war national reconciliation process as revealed by UK Human Rights Minister Lord Ahmad recently.

The inordinate delay in appointing an Ambassador to Washington since Aug. 2017 seems to have no detrimental impact on Sri Lanka-US relations.

Tuesday, 19 February 2019

A peacetime medal for Sri Lanka armed forces




By Shamindra Ferdinando

Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) Admiral Ravindra C. Wijegunaratne, on the afternoon of Feb. 13, 2019, received the Nishan-e-Imtiaz (Military) medal from President of Pakistan, Arif Alvi, at a special investiture ceremony, in Islamabad.

Wijegunaratne’s wife, Yamuna, and only son, Satyajith, were among those invited by the Government of Pakistan. Wijegunaratne received the appointment as CDS on Aug 22, 2017 after having served as the Commander of the Navy, from July 11, 2015.

The following is a section of a statement, issued by the Pakistan High Commission in Colombo on Feb. 14, 2019: The ‘Nishan-e-Imtiaz’ (order of Excellence) medal is the highest honour given to any civilian in Pakistan, based on their achievements towards world recognition for Pakistan or an outstanding service for the country. The award is not limited to citizens of Pakistan and while it is a civilian award, it can also be awarded to military personnel and worn on the uniform.

"It is regarded as the highest award one can achieve in Pakistan since the higher award Nishan-e-Pakistan is awarded only to foreign Heads of States.

"For those in the Military it is given after distinguished service and is also the highest award that can be awarded to those at the rank of Generals (Army), Air Chief marshals (Air Force) and Admirals of the Navy, Coast Guards and Marines.

"Nishan-e-Imtiaz" or Order of Imtiaz highly is a restricted and prestigious award roughly equivalent to the Presidential Medal of Freedom (USA) and Order of British Empire (UK).

"Few foreign military senior officers awarded this medal during recent past are Vice Admiral Abdulla Al- Sulthan, Chief of the Royal Saudi Naval Forces, General Zhang Youxia of the Chinese Military and Vice Admiral Adnan Ozbal, Chief of the Turkish Naval Forces."

Wijegunaratne couldn’t have received recognition from Pakistan, a true friend of Sri Lanka, at a better time. The honour Pakistan bestowed on Wijegunaratne should be examined against the backdrop of current UK-led efforts, inimical to Sri Lanka. In spite of deliberately undermining a friendly country, the UK continues to assure Sri Lanka of its friendly intentions.

Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)’s statement made on Feb. 05, 2019, in the House of Lords, in response to Lord Naseby’s call to annul the 2015 and 2017 Geneva Resolutions, exposed the duplicity in the British position.

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon, in his speech, desperately tried to convince the world that the UK is a friend of Sri Lanka. A true friend would never have allowed a friendly country to be intimidated, humiliated and faulted on the basis of unsubstantiated allegations. Actually, the UK should have been ashamed of the way successive British administrations mollycoddled by the LTTE till the very end of the organization on the banks of the Nanthikadal lagoon, in May 2009, and those who continue to pursue the separatist agenda.

Lord Ahmad, who is also the UK Human Rights Minister, expressed satisfaction regarding Canada and Germany joining the leader of the Resolutions core group (UK), Macedonia and Montenegro as co-sponsors of Geneva Resolutions in the wake of the US quitting the Geneva body. Lord Ahmad assured the House of Lords; "Both Canada and Germany share our understanding of the importance of achieving reconciliation in Sri Lanka. At the same time, the US remains a strong external supporter of the resolution and an advocate for progress..."

Canada and Germany owe the people of Sri Lanka an explanation as to why they still believe in unsubstantiated UN allegations, pertaining to the massacre of over 40,000 Tamil civilians on the Vanni east front, in 2009. It would be interesting to know whether Canada and Germany sought a clarification from the UK as regards the credibility of war crimes allegations before pledging their support to the British initiative. Canada and Germany couldn’t have turned a blind eye to Lord Naseby’s sensational disclosure, in Oct 2017, on the basis of wartime British Resident Defence Attache (RDA) Lt. Col. Anton Gash’s dispatches (January 1, 2009-May 31, 2009) to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. Gash cleared Sri Lanka of war crimes. It would be interesting to know whether the British had at least unofficially shared Gash’s reports, sought by Lord Naseby, in Nov 2014, with Canada and Germany, before they joined the UK-led core group. In spite of Lord Naseby seeking the intervention of the Information Commissioner’s Office, in terms of the Freedom of Information Act of 2000, he couldn’t secure the entire set of dispatches. Thereby, the so-called true friend of Sri Lanka deprived Sri Lanka of an opportunity to examine war crimes allegations afresh. Those in power, in Colombo, cooperated and, in fact, facilitated the despicable British project while the war-winning former President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s team lacked a strategy to counter lies. In a way, the latter’s failure is far worse than the treacherous conduct of the UNP-SLFP administration (January 09, 2015 – Oct 26, 2018) and the UNP government established on Dec 20, 2018. The Rajapaksa team, pathetically failed, both in parliament and outside, to expose those in power. The Rajapaksa team never conducted a vigorous campaign to highlight the injustice done to the armed forces though, from time to time the grouping sought to take political advantage.

The recognition of Admiral Wijegunaratne should be considered an honour bestowed, not only on an individual, but the war-winning armed forces now at the receiving end of a Western operation. The former Navy Chief himself is under investigation regarding his alleged role in helping one Lt. Commander Chandana Prasad Hettiarachchi to leave the country in a Fast Attack Craft (FAC). The Criminal Investigation Department (CID) accused Admiral Wijegunaratne of coming to the rescue of Hettiarachchi, one of the personnel allegedly responsible for nearly a dozen wartime disappearances, in Colombo and its suburbs. Since then the CID allegation has been proved baseless though the CDS case is pending in court. CDS is also under investigation for allegedly trying to assault and shoot Lt. Commander Laksiri Galagamage, a key witness in the disappearance case. The Fort Magistrate court granted Wijegunaratne bail, in early Dec 2018, pending further investigations.

There cannot be any dispute over the need to punish those responsible for killing civilians during war or peace or facilitated sordid operations, regardless of their standing in society.

Since Sri Lanka brought the war to a successful conclusion in May 2009, the armed forces are under fire over gross human rights violations. Today, those in power have conveniently forgotten the case of 11 disappeared youth, first reported by the wartime Navy Chief Admiral Wasantha Karannagoda about a week after Velupillai Prabhakaran died at the hands of the Army. The previous government should accept responsibility for its failure to bring the investigation to a successful conclusion before the change of government in January 2015. The Rajapaksa government sat on the investigation. The case sharply divided the Navy, with a section, following the change of government extending, its support to the political project meant to implicate Karannagoda.

The previous government’s failure facilitated the Western project. The abduction and assault of the Deputy Editor of The Nation, Keith Noyahr (on May 22, 2008), the assassination of The Sunday Leader Editor, Lasantha Wickrematunga (on January 08, 2009), attempt on the life of the then Editor of Rivira Upali Tennakoon (January 23, 2009) and the disappearance of media personality Prageeth Ekneligoda (on the eve of January 26, 2010) ruined Sri Lanka’s reputation. The previous government never made an honest attempt to bring the cases to a successful conclusion.

The writer sought an explanation from the then Foreign Minister, Prof. G.L. Peiris, who is the Chairman of the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP), and retired Maj. Ajith Prasanna, at a media briefing given at the SLPP Office at Nelum Mawatha, Battaramulla, as to why the cases couldn’t be solved until the change of government in January 2015. They couldn’t explain the indefensible failure on the part of the previous administration. The above mentioned cases, including the disappearance of the Tamil youths, will remain in public focus and will certainly become campaign issues at the next presidential and parliamentary polls, in 2019 and 2020, respectively.

Patriotic National Front (PNF) General Secretary, Dr. Wasantha Bandara, recently alleged that there was an attempt to take Admiral Karannagoda into custody, along with several other Navy personnel regarding the disappearance of the 11 youths. Dr. Bandara alleged that the arrests were to be made before the commencement of the 40th session of the Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) next month. The civil society activist offered to brief President Maithripala Sirisena, who is also the Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces, on the move against Karannagoda. Dr. Bandara, who has been at the forefront of nationalist efforts to expose the anti-Sri Lanka project alleged that in addition to Ministers, Mangala Samaraweera and Dr. Rajitha Senaratne, incumbent Defence Secretary Hemasiri Fernando was involved in the move to take Karannagoda into custody.

Dr. Bandara’s allegation should be examined against the backdrop of Defence Secretary Fernando, obviously referring to the case of the 11 missing youth case declaring that 11 military men would be prosecuted within the next two weeks. The assurance was given on the morning of January 21, 2019 at Nalanda College where he was felicitated by the College for being appointed the Secretary to the Ministry of Defence. Fernando had erred by referring to 11 suspects whereas 11 was the number of alleged victims. Many an eyebrow was raised when Fernando declared that only those who had received gallantry medals by way of a gazette issued by the government could be called ‘war heroes.’ A section of the media loved Fernando’s assertion. Those in the media who cannot stomach the LTTE’s annihilation defended Fernando. He had no qualms in inviting the Tamil Diaspora to furnish information regarding atrocities committed by the military.

Fernando declared: "There are only 39,000 war heroes in this country, out of which 34,000 are in the Army, 4,400 in the Navy, and 868 in the Air Force. To be a war hero, you have to have a war hero medal gazetted to your name. The young man who joined the Army three months before thinks he is a war hero when he returns home. That is not right."

Among those in the audience were both senior serving and retired officers. The assertion that only those who received gallantry medal can be called ‘war heroes’ is nothing but an affront to those who served the armed forces at the risk of their lives.

More on British stand on terrorism

Apropos last week’s piece titled ‘Naseby disclosure disregarded, Lanka reiterates commitment to Geneva process’, with strap line ‘Lord Ahmad reveals constructive meeting with Mangala in London’, a Sri Lankan, domiciled overseas, told the writer that Lord Naseby, in his Feb 05 speech, in the House of Lords, made a direct reference to Mrs Adele Balasingham, the Australian-born second wife of LTTE ideologue Anton Balasingham. "The Eelam conflict would not have lasted as long as three decades in SL, if the LTTE had not received material assistance (funds, equipment and political support) from the Tamil Diaspora. The countries that turned a blind eye to the support that the Tamil Tigers received, should now acknowledge that their inaction for so many years contributed to the slaughter of innocent civilians by the LTTE throughout the Eelam conflict. Thus countries such as the UK, Canada, the USA and Australia are also responsible for the atrocities that the LTTE committed," he said, adding Martin Luther King Jnr summed it up when he said: "An injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere."

The Balasinghams had a direct connection to the British state and establishment. Anton Balasingham served the British High Commission in Colombo before he settled in London. Balasingham passed away in the UK in Dec 2006 as his organization was battling the military in Sri Lanka. Balasingham wouldn’t never have believed the annihilation of the lot. Balasingham, would have been certainly proud of the British if he was alive to know how the UK government made a desperate effort to throw a lifeline to the LTTE. Thanks to secrets revealing Wiki Leaks, the British effort to save Prabhakaran, and his key leaders, in April 2009, is in the public domain.

The Sri Lankan who wished to remain anonymous recalled a BBC documentary titled "Suicide Killers Inside Story" on Sri Lanka’s Tamil Tigers (https://vimeo.com/304944042). This documentary was broadcast in the UK on Oct 23, 1991, and was shot in Sri Lanka a few months after the assassination by a woman LTTE suicide bomber of the former Indian PM Rajiv Gandhi, in Tamil Nadu, in May 1991. The documentary included interviews with both Anton Balasingham and Adele Balasingham. This documentary provides evidence of Adele’s role in the leadership of the LTTE and her position in the Tiger’s women wing.

Sri Lanka should have made a formal request for the investigation of Adele Balasingham’s role in the alleged human rights violations by the LTTE in Sri Lanka. "If both countries are serious about honouring the commitments of the UNHRC Resolution, then there should be no hiding place for those people in the LTTE who supported the Tamil Tigers from abroad," he told The Island.

Lord Ahmad, who on Feb 05, 2019, rejected, on the UK government’s behalf, Lord Naseby’s call to annul Geneva Resolutions, based on lies, was the Chief Guest at a diplomatic reception at the Sri Lanka Residence on the following day to celebrate Sri Lanka’s 71st independence anniversary. Lord Naseby, President of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Sri Lanka in the UK Parliament, was also present along with several other dignitaries, including Commonwealth Secretary General Patricia Scotland, QC, the Lord Mayor of Westminster Lindsey Hall and Sri Lankan-British author Romesh Gunasekera.

Sri Lankan High Commission quoted High Commissioner Manisha Gunasekera in her welcome address as having recalled the strong bonds of friendship, based on historical ties, which the two countries enjoy, which have, in recent times, been reinforced with high level visits. Gunasekera also referred to the significant progress made by the Sri Lanka Government in strengthening the democratic institutions, upholding good governance and the rule of law, and reconciliation. She also referred to Sri Lanka’s economic competitiveness, and the important role that the UK continued to play as Sri Lanka’s 2nd largest single export destination, the 3rd largest source market for tourism and as one of the top 10 investors in Sri Lanka. She also appreciated the support extended by the British Government towards Sri Lanka’s reconciliation process.

Sri Lanka’s political leadership lacked courage at least to request the UK to examine its own wartime RDA Lt. Col Gash dispatches along with other official reports from other missions, such as the US, Germany and Canada, without depending only on claims made by persons whose identities cannot be revealed until 2031. The UN Panel of Experts’ report, released in March 2011’, is clear about the confidentiality of ‘sources for a period of 20 years, beginning in March 2011. Sri Lanka never challenged this either. The Foreign Ministry, under the Rajapaksa watch, played politics with the issue after the end of the conflict. The period after the April 2010 general election was the worst.

Let me end this piece by recalling what one-time top diplomat Jayantha Dhanapala told the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation (LLRC) Commission, in 2010. Former head of the Sri Lanka Peace Secretariat Dhanapala dealt with the accountability on the part of the international community. The Rajapaksa government never felt the requirement to use Dhanapala’s significant statement though a section of the media pointed out the importance. So far, Dhanapala’s statement has never been mentioned even by a single politician, though, Sri Lanka, during the Rajapaksa watch, squandered millions of USD on US and other foreign PR firms. The government, at least now should initiate an inquiry into public funds spent on PR firms under extremely controversial and questionable circumstances. Below is what Dhanapala told the LLRC, on Aug 25, 2010, after having discussed several contentious issues:Now I think it is important for us to expand that concept to bring in the culpability of those members of the international community who have subscribed to the situation that has caused injury to the civilians of a nation. I talk about the way in which terrorist groups are given sanctuary; are harboured; are supplied with arms and training by some countries with regard to their neighbours or with regard to other countries. We know that in our case this happened, and I don’t want to name countries, but even countries who have allowed their financial procedures and systems to be abused in such a way that money can flow from their countries in order to buy the arms and ammunitions that cause deaths, maiming and destruction of property in Sri Lanka are to blame and there is therefore a responsibility to protect our civilians and the civilians of other nation States from that kind of behavior on the part of the members of the international community, and I think this is something that will echo with many countries in the Non Aligned Movement where Sri Lanka has a very respected position and where I hope we will be able to raise this issue."

Tuesday, 12 February 2019

Naseby disclosure disregarded, Lanka reiterates commitment to Geneva process

Lord Ahmad reveals constructive meeting with Mangala in London



Jan 2019 in London: Lord Ahmad received a commitment from Samaraweera as regards Sri Lanka’s commitment to Geneva process.

Oct 2018 in Colombo: Mark Field received an assurance from Marapana as regards Sri Lanka’s commitment to Geneva process. The meeting took place a few weeks before Oct 26, 2018 constitutional change.

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Thanks to UK Human Rights Minister Tariq Mahmood Ahmad (Baron Ahmad of Wimbledon- Conservative) we now know, instead of using Lord Naseby’s disclosure in Oct. 2017 in the House of Lords to defend Sri Lanka on the Geneva ‘front’, the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe government, in Oct. 2018, and the UNP, in January 2019, reassured Sri Lanka’s commitment to those controversial punitive UNHRC Resolutions.

On the basis of UK military dispatches from Colombo, in 2009 (January-May), Lord Naseby, in Oct 2017, revealed the maximum number of Tamil civilians killed was about 6,000 and not 40,000, as alleged by the UN Panel of Experts, and that the Mahinda Rajapaksa government never deliberately targeted the civilian community.

Foreign Minister Tilak Marapana, PC, in late Nov. 2017, assured Parliament that Lord Naseby’s revelations would be used at the appropriate time to defend Sri Lanka. Marapana is yet to carry through his promise.

Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon, on Feb. 05, 2019, made the revelation, regarding Sri Lanka’s unwavering commitment to the Geneva Resolutions, in his response to Lord Naseby’s call made during the House of Commons debate on UNHRC Resolutions - 30/1 in Oct. 2015 and 34/1 in March 2017. Lord Naseby initiated the debate, in his capacity as the President of the All Party British Sri Lanka Parliamentary Group.

Let me reproduce, verbatim, the section that dealt with the UK Ministers’ discussions with the Sri Lankan ministers. Declaring that the UK repeatedly urged Sri Lanka to go further and faster, Lord Ahmad, of Wimbledon, who is also a key member of Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, founded in Punjab, said: "On 21 January, I met the Minister of Finance and Mass Media, Mangala Samaraweera, in London. He has been a strong supporter of Sri Lanka’s commitments to Resolution 30/1. It was a pleasant and constructive meeting, during which he took the opportunity to engage directly with representatives of the diaspora in the UK, including members of the Tamil community. My honourable friend, the Minister for Asia and the Pacific, Mark Field, did the same when he met Foreign Minister Marapana and a number of other Sri Lankan Ministers and officials, in Colombo, last October. Last September, the UK led a statement on behalf of the core group at the 39th session of the Human Rights Council, urging Sri Lanka to prioritize and drive forward the implementation of its commitments."

Lord Ahmad’s declaration is evidence that Geneva process is firmly on track, ahead of reviewing of UN Resolutions, titled ‘Promoting reconciliation, accountability and human rights, in Sri Lanka.’

Did Mangala Samaraweera represent Marapana in London? Samaraweera served as Foreign Minister (Nov 2005-early 2007) at the onset of the Eelam War, under President Mahinda Rajapaksa. Samaraweera received the same portfolio, in January 2015. President Sirisena replaced Samaraweera in May 2017 following media furore over Samaraweera, in his capacity as the Foreign Minister co-sponsoring the first Geneva Resolution in Oct 2015.

During Samaraweera’s tenure, as the Foreign Minister, the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe administration cancelled the annual ‘Victory Parade’, in May, to celebrate Sri Lanka’s triumph over terrorism. The cancellation followed the then Canadian High Commissioner, Shelly Whiting, demanding Sri Lanka does away with the parade as it hurt the sentiments of the Tamil community. Canada shamelessly played politics with the Sri Lankan issue for domestic political reasons.

The Foreign Ministry lacked political direction, at national level, to counter foreign propaganda operations.

The writer examined the role of the Foreign Ministry in three articles - ‘Sri Lanka at the mercy of a treacherous setup’ (23.01.2019) ‘A still valid tripartite agreement on foreign judges: Foreign Ministry’s role’ (30.01.2019), and ‘A war crimes dossier on ‘arguably the most important ground commander with the strap line Foreign Ministry debacle on Geneva Front (06.02.2019)

The Island examined the Foreign Ministry’s role close on the heels of Marapana’s recent advice to the Sri Lanka Foreign Service (SLFS) to enhance the country’s image overseas through efficient and effective execution of public diplomacy, utilizing its intrinsic brands such as Buddhism, gems, tea, spices, high-end export products and the warmth of traditional Sri Lankan hospitality.

The Feb. 05, 2019 debate on the Sri Lanka Resolutions, in the House of Lords, disclosed the failure, on the part of Sri Lanka Parliament, to take up the most important foreign policy issue at all. Since the Joint Opposition raised Lord Naseby’s disclosure in Parliament, in Nov 2017, those politicians, represented in Parliament, never bothered to discuss the matter. One-time LTTE’s mouthpiece and political arm, the four-party Tamil National Alliance (TNA) hell-bent on hauling Sri Lanka political and military leaderships before the hybrid accountability mechanism, cannot be expected to take up Lord Naseby’s disclosure. The TNA parliamentary group comprises 16, including two National List members.

Silence of the TNA

The TNA never responded to the writer’s queries regarding Lord Naseby’s call to amend the Geneva Resolution 30/1 (This was before key co-sponsor, the US, quit Geneva). The Island submitted the following questions to TNA and the then Opposition Leader R. Sampanthan on Nov. 27, 2017 and repeatedly reminded his Office of the delay on its part to answer questions: Have you (TNA) studied Lord Naseby’s statement made in the House of Lords on Oct. 12, 2017? What is TNA’s position on Naseby’s claims?, Did the TNA leaders discuss Naseby’s claim among themselves? Did the TNA respond to MP Dinesh Gunawardena’s statements in parliament on Naseby’s statement? And did the TNA take up this issue with UK High Commissioner, James Dauris?

Lord Naseby’s appeal to the annual UN Resolutions was unceremoniously dismissed by Lord Ahmad on behalf of the UK Government. Lord Naseby, in spite of knowing that the UK will never, under any circumstances, give up Geneva Resolutions-tools in the hands of Western powers to manipulate Sri Lanka, highlighted why Sri Lanka shouldn’t subject to constant monitoring by them. Lord Naseby again highlighted the relevance of wartime UK military dispatches from Colombo which questioned the authenticity of UN Resolutions based on unsubstantiated allegations.

Lord Naseby directly blamed the UN Resolutions on the Tamils Diaspora particularly those based in the UK, Canada and the USA et al. The Conservative veteran reminded the UK of its failure to take action whatsoever in respect of UK-based Adele Balasingham, the Australian born wife of British citizen Anton Stanislaus Balasingham, wartime ideologue of the LTTE. Balasingham passed away in the UK, in Dec 2006, at the onset of the war. Lord Naseby presented a spate of indisputable facts to underscore the responsibility on the part of the UK to bring closure to UN Resolutions - the first one moved in Oct 2015 primarily on the basis five major allegations - (a) Killing of civilians through widespread shelling (b) Shelling of hospitals and other humanitarian objects (c) Denial of humanitarian assistance (d) Human rights violations suffered by victims and survivors of the conflict) and (e) Human Rights violations outside the conflict zone.

Sri Lanka brought the war to a successful conclusion, on the banks of the Nanthikadal lagoon, on the morning of May 19, 2009. The following six primary allegations were directed at the LTTE - (a) Using civilians as a human buffer (b) Killing civilians attempting to escape LTTE control (c) Using military equipment in the close proximity of civilians (d) forced recruitment of children (e) Forced labor and (f) Killing of civilians through suicide attacks.

Having faulted the government/military on five major counts, the UN accused Sri Lanka of massacring at least 40,000 civilians. Let me reproduce the paragraph, bearing no 137, in the UN report released in March 2011, 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."

Lord Naseby also discussed the reappearing of Sri Lankan Tamils overseas, categorized as disappeared or missing during and after the war.

UK mum on issues raised by Naseby

Lord Ahmad, of Wimbledon, refrained from commenting on issues raised by Lord Naseby. Shame on Lord Ahmad who chose not to respond to contentious issues other than the US pull out from the Geneva body. The US quit UNHRC, in June 2018, calling the vital UN body a cesspool of political bias.

Lord Ahmad conveniently refrained from commenting on wartime military dispatches from Colombo. Those vital documents, obtained by Lord Naseby, in 2017, thanks to the UK’s Freedom of Information Act, exposed the blatant British lie. Having tried its best to prevent the disclosure of dispatches from Resident Defence Attache (RDA), UK, in Colombo, the UK reluctantly released some pages. Now, they are in the public domain. For how long can the UK remain silent on its own evidence, furnished by Lt. Colonel Gash, the wartime RDA?

Lord Naseby told the House of Lords, on Feb. 05, 2019: "I have done a great deal of research. Nearly three years ago I made a request under the Freedom of Information Act and secured the publication of Colonel Gash’s dispatches to the United Kingdom. I have 40 pages of them here, some of which have been totally redacted, and I shall quote from one this evening. It is the dispatch of 16 February 2009 and concerns 400 IDPs being transferred from the fighting area to Trincomalee. Colonel Gash writes:

"The operation was efficient and effective, but most importantly was carried out with compassion, respect and concern. I am entirely certain that this was genuine — my presence was not planned and was based on a sudden opportunity".

There are many more references in the dispatches to the fact that it was never a policy of the Sri Lankan Government to kill civilians.

I have one other reference that I think is useful. It comes from the University Teachers for Human Rights, which is essentially a Tamil organization. It says:

"From what has happened we cannot say that the purpose of bombing or shelling by the government forces was to kill civilians … ground troops took care not to harm civilians".

There is a host of other references but I shall quote one more:

"Soldiers who entered the No Fire Zone on 19th April 2009 and again on the 9th and 15th May acted with considerable credit when they reached … civilians. They took risks to protect civilians and helped … the elderly who could not walk. Those who escaped have readily acknowledged this".

Why did the UK refuse to release its RDA’s missives in the first place? Why did some of the pages, released by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, to Lord Naseby, were heavily redacted? What did they really contain? And most importantly, why didn’t the UK make them available to the Marzuki Darusman-led UN panel to help the investigation process? Nothing can be further from the truth than the FCO claim that the full disclosure would have undermined relations with Sri Lanka.

Had the UK dispatches contained information which could have helped anti-Sri Lanka project, such missives would have been released years ago. The UK is obviously in a dilemma. They never expected one of their own to seek the intervention of the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) to secure RDA’s dispatches. Lord Naseby sought ICO’s intervention in the wake of the FCO turning down Lord Naseby’s request, made on Nov 04, 2014.

In fact, the truth is quite opposite. The full disclosure of the UK military dispatches would have exposed the British lie, and thereby undermined the Geneva process meant to hold Sri Lanka accountable for war crimes. The whole despicable project was meant to create an environment necessary to achieve two major objectives (a) Build a political alliance involving the UNP-JVP-SLMC and the TNA, a political arm of the LTTE. No person less than US Secretary of State John Kerry is on record, in 2016, as having discussed their role in funding changes of administrations in Nigeria, Myanmar and Sri Lanka. (b) The second aim was to bring about a new Constitution to appease the TNA and the Diaspora. Sri Lanka never challenged the claim that the proposed new Constitution was required to address the grievances of the Tamil community.

The writer on a number of occasions, raised the UK’s refusal to release Gash dispatches with the UK High Commission in Colombo.

The UK facilitated LTTE operations throughout the war by turning a blind eye to its activities. British citizen Balasingham, of Sri Lankan origin, was allowed to function as the ideologue of the group, even after it was categorized as a prohibited organization in the UK. Balasingham received privilege status even after his organization assassinated Sri Lankan Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar in Aug 2005. UK didn’t find fault with Balasingham for being a key member of the LTTE. Instead of taking punitive action against Balasingham, the UK allowed the terrorist access to the top Norwegian diplomatic delegation. Thanks to Wiki Leaks, the world knows the secret LTTE-Norway pow-vow in the UK in the immediate aftermath of the Kadirgamar assassination.

The UK stood solidly behind the Tamil separatist movement for political reasons. All major political parties played ball with the separatist lobby to secure their support at elections. Disclosure of a particular US diplomatic cable from London by Wiki Leaks underscored the relationship between the British political setup and the Tamil Diaspora. Wiki Leaks exposed one-time British Foreign Secretary David Miliband who sought to appease the LTTE and the Tamil Diaspora at Sri Lanka’s expense. A year after the successful conclusion of the war, the House of Commons allowed the Global Tamil Forum (GTF) to hold its inaugural meeting much to the dismay of Sri Lanka.

The relationship between those who are now in power, in Sri Lanka, and the GTF is known. The writer himself keeps in touch with the GTF and readily accepts the group’s right to pursue an agenda of its own. The TNA and the GTF take a common stand on post-war ‘situations’ and essentially insist on full implementation of the Geneva Resolutions. Jaffna District MP, M. A. Sumanthiran and Suren Surendiran, on behalf of the TNA and the GTF, respectively, declared that they agreed for hybrid accountability mechanism, initially having demanded an international war crimes tribunal.

The writer is of the view that the hybrid mechanism, involving foreign judges and other personnel, should be acceptable to all though some are of the view that the current Constitution doesn’t allow such an arrangement. However, MP Sumanthiran is on record as having said that our Constitution is no obstacle to the hybrid mechanism. But the issue at hand is why all available information, including Gash reports, cannot be released to assist the judicial inquiry. Similarly, the US and India can do the same along with the UN which still continues to hold the confidential report on the Vanni war (Aug 2008-May 2009).

The Panel of Experts (PoE), in its report, released in March 2011, referred to this dossier which placed the number of dead at 7,721 till May 13, 2009. The war was brought to an end on May 19, 2009.

With the 40th Geneva session just weeks away, the UNP government is still struggling to secure a simple majority in Parliament. The UNP is preoccupied with its daunting political project to secure the support of a section of the SLFP-led UPFA before the next budget. The group loyal to war-winning President Mahinda Rajapaksa, too, lacked a proper strategy to counter lies. In spite of grandiose projects, they hadn’t been able to address the accountability issues and efficiently counter Western lies though presented with plenty of extremely useful counter arguments. Our parliament hasn’t been able to achieve what Lord Naseby did on his own. Shame on those lawmakers who neglected their responsibilities. However, the TNA is excluded as its responsibilities since its inception in 2001 were different from those of the other political parties. It was the TNA that declared the LTTE as the sole representative of the Tamil speaking people.

Tuesday, 5 February 2019

A war crimes dossier on ‘arguably the most important ground commander’

Foreign Ministry debacle on Geneva front (part III)



By Shamindra Ferdinando

Sri Lanka celebrated her 71st Independence Day on Monday (Feb.04), 2019) against the backdrop of a defamatory 137-page dossier on Army Chief of Staff Maj. Gen. Shavendra Silva, the first General Officer Commanding (GoC) of the celebrated 58 Division of the Sri Lanka Army (SLA).

The 58 Division, formerly known as the Task Force I, played a significant role in eradicating the LTTE’s conventional fighting capability in the Vanni region. The Sri Lankan military brought the war to a successful conclusion, on the morning of May 19, 2009.

The report, dated January 29, 2019 by South Africa-based International Truth and Justice Project (ITJP), dealt with the 58 Division as regards its role in the Vanni offensive (late 2007-May 2009). The writer received the ITJP report from UK-based Suren Surendiran, the spokesperson for the Global Tamil Forum (GTF), affiliated with the four-party Tamil National Alliance (TNA). They formed an alliance in 2011, two years after the war. They closely work together to pressure Sri Lanka to adhere to Geneva Resolution 30/1, co-sponsored by Sri Lanka, in Oct 2015.

The report should be examined taking into consideration Sri Lanka’s pathetic failure to counter lies propagated by various interested parties since the LTTE’s defeat. The Foreign Ministry cannot absolve itself of the responsibility for this unfortunate situation. The writer dealt with the Foreign Ministry’s lukewarm response to war crimes allegations and related matters with the focus on its role in working out a tripartite agreement with the US on accountability mechanism on foreign judges and other personnel. ‘Sri Lanka at the mercy of a treacherous setup’ (published on 23.01.2019) and ‘A still valid tripartite agreement on foreign judges: Foreign Ministry’s role’ (published on 30.01.2019)," examined some aspects of the Foreign Ministry’s role.

The Island examined the Foreign Ministry’s role close on the heels of President’s Counsel Foreign Minister Tilak Marapana’s, recent advice to the Sri Lanka Foreign Service (SLFS) to enhance the country’s image overseas through efficient and effective execution of public diplomacy, utilizing its intrinsic brands such as Buddhism, gems, tea, spices, high-end export products and the warmth of traditional Sri Lankan hospitality.

The retired Attorney General was addressing the officers of the 2018 intake of the SLFS at a certificate-awarding ceremony, on January 11, 2019, at the ministry, following the conclusion of a two-week long public diplomacy and media relations training programme jointly organized with the collaboration of the Sri Lanka Press Institute (SLPI).

At the onset of the Eelam War, during the then President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s administration, Mangala Samaraweera had held the foreign ministry portfolio. Samaraweera represented the SLFP/UPFA from the Matara electoral district and served as the foreign minister at the time the LTTE resumed large scale attacks, in August 2006. In the wake of a damaging political row with President Sirisena and serious differences with the then Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, Samaraweera was replaced, in early 2007. The Rajapaksas brought in Rohitha Bogollagama in place of Samaraweera. Turncoat Bogollagama served during the war and was replaced by Prof. G.L. Peiris in 2010. The academic held the vital portfolio until Rajapaksa’s defeat. Since the change of government, in January 2015, four held the foreign ministry portfolio, beginning with Mangala Samaraweera (January 2015-May 2017) Ravi Karunanayake (May 2017 to August 2017), Tilak Marapana (Aug 2017-Oct 2018), Dr Sarath Amunugama (Nov 2018-Dec 2018) and Tilak Marapana received the same portfolio in Dec 2018 after Maithripala Sirisena-Mahinda Rajapaksa gave up parliamentary power after failing to prove a simple majority in parliament.

Both the Rajapaksa administration and the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe administration and the current UNP administration neglected their responsibility. The 51-day Sirisena-Rajapaksa administration (Oct 26, 2018-Dec 15, 2018) didn’t even bother to examine the Geneva issue.

The ITJP, under the leadership of its Executive Director Yasmin Sooka, issued several damaging reports on the Sri Lankan military over the years. The latest report, issued from Johannesburg, is certainly the worst. The report has cost ITJP’s international sponsors a substantial amount of money.

The Rajapaksa administration has been accused of squandering taxpayers’ money on expensive US foreign relations firms et al. during Jaliya Wickramasuriya (2008-2014) tenure as Sri Lankan Ambassador there. Controversy surrounds the costly project meant to save Sri Lanka from the US as the solitary superpower, having played a role in the 2015 change of government and compelled the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe government to co-sponsor Geneva Resolution in spite it being severely inimical to Sri Lanka’s interests.

Jaliya Wickramasuriya, a relative of President Rajapaksa, is under investigation for alleged fraudulent activities in the US. Wickramasuriya is also wanted in Colombo in respect of another case.

Recent revelation before the Presidential Commission of Inquiry (P CoI) on irregularities at SriLankan Air Lines, Sri Lankan Catering and Mihin Lanka on how Jaliya Wickramasuriya had ordered a chartered flight in 2013 April to fly from Washington to Mattala, via Dubai, and billed it to the Foreign Ministry, is evidence that those close to the powers that be, operated outside the law. Wickramasuriya’s case is just one instance of the Foreign Ministry losing control of a particular situation.

The Foreign Ministry lacked clear political direction and cohesive strategy to counter unsubstantiated war crimes allegations, even during the Rajapaksa administration. The Rajapaksa government squandered an opportunity, given by the US, in early June 2011, to counter UN war crimes allegations. The then US Defence Advisor Lt. Col. Lawrence Smith’s defence of Sri Lanka couldn’t have been made at a better time for the country. Sri Lanka’s defence could have been easily built on the US statement. The Rajapaksa government wasted that opportunity. The change of government made the situation worse. The Foreign Ministry, instead of countering allegations, played ball with accusers and finally in 2015 Oct co-sponsored resolution against the country.

Whatever our politicians say, Geneva Resolution, based on alleged UN findings, beginning with the Report of the Secretary General’s Panel of Experts on Accountability in Sri Lanka, targeted the country.

Sooka’s project

ITJP stepped up its campaign against Shavendra Silva in the wake of him being appointed the Chief of Staff of the Army, in 2019 January. ITJP executive director Sooka functioned as a member of the Secretary General’s Panel of Experts on Accountability in Sri Lanka. Having played a role in the UNP project, she launched one of her own for financial gain. Her latest report, titled ‘Shavendra Silva, Chief of Army Staff, Sri Lanka’, urged the international community to charge the SLA’s No 02 with war crimes.

ITJP statement issued from Johannesburg quoted Sooka as having said: "There is a staggering amount of evidence in this dossier meticulously collected by my team over many years. Many successful cases at international tribunals or the International Criminal Court had less to work with. There is now no excuse for this man to remain as number two in the Sri Lanka Army: he must be suspended immediately and a criminal investigation instituted."

Sooka was further quoted as having said: This dossier is just a fraction of the information we hold."

The report, released in 2019 January, dealt with what Sooka called (1) indiscriminate and intentional attacks on civilians (2) attacks on hospitals and medical staff (3) attacks on No Fire Zone sand (4) deployment of prohibited and indiscriminate weapons.

At the beginning of the report, Sooka quoted Shavendra Silva as having said: "Our aim was not to gain ground but to have more kills.’ In fact, that should have been the motto of every Division, Brigade, Battalion and Company Commander regardless where his officers and men were deployed. Sri Lankan should be quite rightly proud of wiping out the LTTE in a sustained offensive that was launched in Sept 2006. The Eelam War IV lasted two years.

Having called Shavendra Silva arguably the most important ground commander in the 2008-2009 war in Sri Lanka, Sooka found fault with President Maithripala Sirisena for promoting the Gajaba Regiment officer, aligned to the Rajapaksa family, as the Chief of Staff of the Sri Lanka Army. Sooka conveniently disregarded war-winning Army Chief Lt. Gen. Sarath Fonseka’s leadership role though reference was made to wartime Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa. The likes of Sooka wanted the world to forget Fonseka whose Army was accused of slaughtering men, women and children on the Vanni front, and received the blessings of the TNA at the 2010 January presidential election. Thanks to the TNA’s support, Fonseka won all predominately Tamil speaking districts, not only in the northern and eastern provinces but Nuwara-Eliya as well. Had the Tamil community believed Fonseka’s Army massacred 40,000, in 2009, the outcome of the presidential poll results would have been definitely different.

Sri Lanka’s defence further suffered for want of consensus between President Sirisena and the UNP over the accountability issue.

Counter arguments

Sooka’s latest report, released on January 29, 2019, should be examined and recommendations implemented keeping the following ‘developments’ in mind. Sooka ignored the following statements though she attributed various statements to nameless people. Sooka’s strategy reminds the writer of the UN panel, represented by her, declared that none of those accusers, quoted in the report, would be allowed to be questioned till 2031.

(1) Lt. Col. Smith’s defence of the SLA at the inaugural defence conference in Colombo in June 2011. The US statement made over two years after the end of the war was never contradicted by the US and the civil society

This is what Lt. Col. Lawrence Smith had to say.: "Hello, may I say something to a couple of questions raised. I’ve been the defense attache here at the US Embassy, since June 2008. Regarding the various versions of events that came out in the final hours and days of the conflict - from what I was privileged to hear and see, the offers to surrender, that I am aware of, seemed to come from the mouthpieces of the LTTE – Nadesan, and KP – people who weren’t and never had really demonstrated any control over the leadership or the combat power of the LTTE.

"So their offers were a bit suspect anyway, and they tended to vary in content hour by hour, day by day. I think we need to examine the credibility of those offers before we leap to conclusions that such offers were in fact real.

"And I think the same is true for the version of events. It’s not so uncommon in combat operations, in the fog of war, as we all get our reports second, third and fourth hand from various commanders at various levels that the stories don’t all seem to quite match up.

"But I can say that the version presented here so far in this is what I heard as I was here during that time. And I think I better leave it at that before I get into trouble."

(2) The GoSL never bothered to take advantage of leaked US diplomatic cables (Wikileaks) in spite of them being crucial for its defense. One leaked cable dealt with a discussion Geneva-based US Ambassador Clint Williamson had with ICRC Head for Operations for South Asia Jacques de Maio. The US envoy declared on July 15, 2009, that the Army actually could have won the battle faster with higher civilian casualties, yet chosen a slower approach which led to a greater number of Sri Lankan military deaths.

The Army lost nearly 2,500 officers and men during January-May 19, 2009. Thousands suffered injuries.

In fact, the previous government should be held responsible for depriving the maximum possible firepower required on the Vanni east front to overwhelm the enemy.

(3) Deployment of Indian medical team at Pulmoddai, north of Trincomalee, to receive the wounded, transferred from Puthumathalan, under ICRC supervision. The Indian team remained there until the conclusion of the war. The Indian team received several thousand wounded civilians during February-May, 2009, via sea. The government commenced transferring the war wounded by sea soon after fighting blocked overland routes to and from Vanni east. The vessels deployed to evacuate the wounded transported several thousands of essential supplies to Puthumathalan. Foreign relief workers were also allowed to go ashore.

(4) A confidential UN report placed the number of dead and the wounded, including LTTE combatants at 7,721 and 18,479, respectively. The report dealt with the situation in the Vanni, from August 2008 to May 13, 2009. The war ended a week after the UN stopped collecting data due to intensity of fighting. The vast majority of the wounded civilians were evacuated by the ICRC.

(5) Wartime Norwegian Ambassador in Colombo Tore Hattrem on February 16, 2009 asserted that the LTTE was unlikely to release civilians held on the Vanni east front. The following is the text of the Norwegian’s missive addressed to the then presidential advisor Basil Rajapaksa: "I refer to our telephone conversation today. The proposal to the LTTE 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 regrettably been no response from the LTTE and it does not seem to be likely that the LTTE will agree to this in the near future."

(6) Sooka also ignored Lord Naseby’s revelations in the House of Commons in Oct 2017. The Conservative party politician, on the basis of dispatches to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office by the wartime Resident British Defence Advisor in Colombo Lt Col. Gash, debunked the main UN allegation as regards the massacre of 40,000 civilians. The Britisher estimated the number of maximum dead at 7,000-8,000 with one fourth of them being LTTE personnel. The Sirisena-Wickremesinghe government also turned a blind eye to Naseby’s declaration in the House of Commons that Sri Lankan political or military leadership never deliberately targeted the civilian community.

(7) Sooka made no reference to the memoirs of ‘Lt. Col. Thamilini’ (Subramaniam Sivakamy), the senior most LTTE cadre to undergo rehabilitation under the military. Thamilini’s husband (British citizen) and two strongest critics of the Rajapaksa administration, Dharmasiri Bandaranayake and Gamini Viyangoda, launched the book in 2016 March. Thamilini’s succumbed to cancer in 2015 Oct.

Foreign Ministry responsibility

The Consultation Task Force on Reconciliation Mechanisms (CTFRM) in early 2017 called for full participation of foreign judges, and other foreign personnel, including defense lawyers, prosecutors and investigators, in transitional justice mechanism to address accountability issues. CTFRM endorsed the Oct 2015 Geneva Resolution recommendation in respect of foreign judges. Last week, the writer dealt with how the TNA, the government, and the US, agreed on tripartite agreement on foreign judges et al.

The Naseby’s revelation basically confirmed still the confidential UN report as well as US assessment (Lt. Col. Smith’s in 2011 June). Minister Marapana is yet to officially brief the Geneva-based UNHRC as regards Sri Lanka’s case. The minister appeared to have conveniently forgotten his much publicized promise to Parliament, in 2017 Nov., that he would use Naseby’s revelation at an appropriate time. Having wasted the opportunity given by Lord Naseby, Marapana has chosen to urge the 2018 SLFS batch and others to engage in public diplomacy.

The real problem is not having foreign judges and other international experts but the refusal on the part of the government to bring all relevant facts before the Geneva council. Parliament, too, has failed to inquire into this matter, especially against the backdrop of three former ministers, Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka, Mahinda Samarasinghe and Dayasiri Jayasekera, in response to queries raised by the writer on separate occasions, admitting that Naseby’s disclosure was never taken up at cabinet level.

Incumbent Foreign Minister President’s Counsel Marapana certainly owed an explanation as to why Sri Lanka refrained from using Naseby’s disclosure usefully in Geneva. Similarly, Prof. Peiris, as well as the then presidential human rights envoy Mahinda Samarasinghe, should some time explain why the Rajapaksa government turned a blind eye to US defence advisor’s Colombo statement. It could have been the base for Sri Lanka’s defence. There is no previous example of a government deliberately facilitating a campaign against the country to appease foreign powers and their local agents.

The ITJP’s dossier on Maj. Gen. Shavendra Silva is a glaring example of Sri Lanka’s treacherous and deliberate failure, since 2011, to organize proper defence of the country. Had there been proper defence Sri Lanka wouldn’t have been in current dilemma in Geneva. The war-winning government, and those in power today, must share the blame for the sorry state of affairs in every sector. Foreign affairs is no exception.