SPECIAL REPORT : Part 261March 12, 2019, 9:19 pm
The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights obviously believed the lies propagated by the interested parties. The Commissioner went to the extent of referring to the Mannar mass grave site in her latest annual report (section 23) submitted to the UNHRC. The following is the relevant section: "On May 29, 2018, human skeletal remains were discovered at a construction site in Mannar (Northern Province), Excavations conducted in support of the Office on Missing Persons, revealed a mass grave from which more than 300 skeletons were discovered. It was the second mass grave found in Mannar following the discovery of a site in 2014. Given that other mass graves might be expected to be found in the future, systematic access to grave sites by the Office as an observer is crucial for it to fully discharge its mandate, particularly with regard to the investigation and identification of remains, it is imperative that the proposed reforms on the law relating to inquests , and relevant protocols to operationalize the law be adopted. The capacity of the forensic sector must also be strengthened, including in areas of forensic anthropology, forensic archaeology and genetics, and its coordination with the Office of Missing Persons must be ensured." Geneva never expected the US report on Mannar mass graves to go against its strategy.
By Shamindra Ferdinando
A recent report by a reputed Miami-based laboratory, on the Mannar Sathosa mass grave samples, cleared, the war-winning Sri Lanka Army (SLA) of the responsibility for extra-judicial killings.
The remains of over 300 men, women and children were found, beginning early last year, at the site in the northern Mannar district, where terrorists fought the military during a 37-year war that ended in May 2009. In terms of the Indo-Lanka Accord, forced on then President JR Jayewardene, by New Delhi, the Indian Army, too, was deployed there during July 1987 to January 1990. During the Indian deployment, the Sri Lankan military was confined to barracks, not only in Mannar, but also the entire northern and eastern administrative districts.
The independent carbon testing report, from the internationally recognized US laboratory, concluded that the victims likely died up to 615 years ago — predating even the first European colonization of the country by the Portuguese.
Sri Lanka’s Office on Missing Persons (OMP) funded tests on the remains to determine whether the victims were killed during the conflict.
The LTTE and government forces held the Mannar district at different times during the conflict.
The mass grave, in the former war zone, was discovered by construction workers.
The US report, made available to the Mannar Magistrate court, undermined the ongoing project, undertaken by a section of the international community, to humiliate Sri Lanka. Among those really upset by the outcome of the US lab findings are members of the four-party Tamil National Alliance (TNA), one time LTTE representatives in parliament.
On behalf of the TNA, a lawmaker, representing the Vanni region, has called for a fresh testing in another lab in some other country. Our Vavuniya correspondent Dinasena Ratugamage quoted Mullaitivu District MP Nirmalanathan Sivamohan as having said:" This is not to say that we do not accept the reports sent by a lab in Florida, US, but given the importance of the Mannar grave site we need to get a second opinion."
The MP insisted that the lab in Florida had not attempted to identify the victims that and further tests, to determine the identity of those in the graves, should be done.
"A lot of people went missing in Mannar during the war. We need to expand the excavations at the mass grave site. We must do further tests to identify the victims. The TNA insists that the excavations and testing should go on."
The OMP, established in accordance with the Human Rights Resolution 30/1 on promoting reconciliation, accountability and human rights in Sri Lanka, declared, in late Dec 2018, its intention to fund the US tests.
Chairperson of OMP Saliya Pieris, PC, in late Dec 2018, explained the circumstances how his outfit got involved in the Mannar investigation with the focus on the process of selecting six bone samples for radio carbon dating.
The process of selecting samples was carried out at the excavation site, under the supervision of the Mannar Magistrate, T. Saravanaraja. The team carrying out the sample selection included representatives from the Consultant Judicial Medical Officers, the Post Graduate Institute of Archeology from the University of Kelaniya, the Police Scene of Crime Officers (SOCO) and crime investigation branch), and the Government Analysts Department.
OMP Commissioners Mirak Raheem and K. Venthan were present as observers. Lawyers representing families of the disappeared and a member from the Citizens’ Committee were also present as observers.
The OMP was established under the Office on Missing Persons (Establishment, Administration and Discharge of Functions) Act No 14 of 2016, and has a primary mandate to search for and trace missing persons. Under its investigative powers, the OMP has the authority to apply to a Magistrate’s Court to act as an observer at excavations and exhumations of suspected grave sites [Section 12(d)]. The Mannar Magistrate on 4th June 2018 accepted the OMP’s application to act as an observer and it has been observing the process of excavation since.
Prior to the sampling process, the OMP recommended guidelines for selecting and recording the samples. The OMP emphasized the need to ensure representatives of families of the disappeared and missing were present at the time of selecting samples to ensure accountability and transparency of the process. Further, the OMP recommended measures to secure the chain of custody of samples.
The OMP also funded excavation team beginning July 2018.
The TNA and all those seeking a second opinion must be reminded how the bone samples were selected. It would be pertinent to ask the OMP whether it accepted the TNA’s recommendation. Would those members of the international community, hell bent on hauling Sri Lanka up before a hybrid war crimes investigating mechanism, too, throw their weight behind the TNA.
Obviously, the TNA, a prime mover in the ongoing campaign against the SLA, expected the US lab report to facilitate its project in Geneva. Had the report referred to a period less than 40 years, the SLA would have been in serious trouble, especially against the backdrop of the Geneva sessions taking place. The 40th sessions commenced on Feb 25, 2019 and will continue till March 22, 2019. A report favourable to the TNA and its Western masters would have caused a catastrophe in the absence of a proper mechanism to counter those propagating lies.
Int’l community interest in mass grave site
A section of local and foreign media spearheaded a high profile campaign, based on the Mannar Sathosa mass grave site. Some Colombo based diplomats, too, supported the project. German Ambassador in Colombo, Joern Rohde, visited the site on November 27, 2018. The German Ambassador’s visit was followed by a British delegation on Dec 11, 2018. The British visit took place close on the heels of the discovery of two pieces of human bones, bound by a cable, on Dec 7, 2018. The recovery prompted some ‘experts’, as well as those engaged in excavating the mass grave, speculate whether some of the people buried there had been tortured before being killed. Interests shown in the Mannar mass grave site by those countries, pushing for full implementation of the Geneva Resolution co-sponsored by Sri Lanka in Oct 2015, strengthened the campaign directed at the Army. A section of the Catholic clergy, too, facilitated the project meant to blame the Army over the Mannar mass grave.
It would be pertinent to mention that both the UK and Germany play a bigger role in the Geneva project in the wake of the US quitting the UN body over policy differences. The US discontinued its involvement with the Geneva body, in June last year, calling it a cesspool of political bias.
In spite of foreign envoys visiting Mannar, and wide media coverage it received, the Foreign Ministry was not bothered. The FM never called a meeting of Colombo-based envoys to explain the government’s response. The Island recently raised the failure on the part of the FM to address this issue. The Defence Ministry and Army Headquarters, too, did nothing so far as regards the Mannar findings. Had the US carbon testing report referred to a period less than 40 years, it would have become a major issue in Geneva and further strengthened the call for full implementation of the Oct 2015 Resolution. Thanks to the independent US report, Sri Lanka is now in a much better position to face the contemptible project. It would be interesting to see how the government used the US report to Sri Lanka’s advantage in Geneva. But the question is whether the government would do so against the backdrop of its treacherous refusal to bring Lord Naseby’s disclosure the in House of Commons, in Oct 2017, to the notice of the Geneva body. Lord Naseby, on the basis of Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) records obtained with the intervention of the Information Commissioner’s Office, challenged the very basis of the Oct 2015 Resolution. Sri Lanka refused to take advantage of the revelation that countered two major allegations (1) killing of 40,000 civilians on the Vanni east front and (2) Sri Lanka political and military leaderships deliberately targeted the civilian community.
President Sirisena’s reaction
The US report couldn’t have come at a better time for the Army, struggling to cope up with the Geneva challenge. It certainly brought relief to the military, unable to properly counter lies, propagated by interested parties, nearly a decade after the successful conclusion of the war, with the crushing of the LTTE militarily. The failure on the part of President Sirisena to intervene on behalf of the armed forces against the backdrop of the UNP government’s reiterating its commitment to the Oct 2015 Resolution has made matters worse for the military. President Sirisena’s March 06, 2019 declaration was that he would dispatch a three member team comprising Dr. Sarath Amunugama, MP, Mahinda Samarasinghe, MP and Dr. Suren Raghavan, Governor of the Northern Province to explore ways and means to reaching a consensus with Geneva as regards the Oct 2015 Resolution. President Sirisena assured the media that his team would seek a way out for Lanka to deviate from the current course of action based on the Oct 2015 Resolution. The issue came at President Sirisena’s regular meeting with senior representatives of both print and electronic media at the President’s House. The writer sought an explanation from President Sirisena as to what he expected to achieve by sending a delegation in the wake of the UNP government already accepting the latest Resolution. Sri Lanka’s Permanent Representative in Geneva, Ambassador A.L.A. Azeez, signed the document on the instructions of the government even before the formal discussion on the UK prepared document. The writer also pointed out to the President the failure on the part of his government (The President is head of the cabinet) to use Lord Naseby’s Oct 2017 disclosure in Geneva.
Two days after President Sirisena’s meet with media representatives, Chief of Defence Staff Admiral Ravi Wijegunaratne, flanked by Lt. Gen. Mahesh Senanayake, Air Marshal Kapila Jayampathy and Vice Admiral Piyal De Silva, asserted that responding to the Geneva allegations wasn’t their (the military) responsibility. Admiral Wijegunaratne said so when the writer pointed out to the top brass that the military had neglected their responsibility in this regard for 10 years. The Island raised the contentious issue of the military conveniently forgetting its responsibility at a special media briefing called by the Defence Ministry at the Media Centre for National Security (MCNS) to explain the role played by them in President Sirisena’s high profile battle against the lucrative narcotics trade.
Joint Opposition Leader in Parliament Dinesh Gunawardena, on behalf of the UPFA, raised the Geneva issue in parliament. But, by then, Azeez had already placed his signature on the latest resolution and the government is no longer in a position to change its stance.
UPFA MP Dayasiri Jayasekera, too, last Friday (March 08) raised the Geneva issue in parliament. Responding to Jayasekera, Leader of the House Lakshman Kiriella assured parliament that the government had made it clear to the international community that Sri Lanka would not permit foreign judges to try war heroes or any other.
MP Jayasekara, claiming that the government had agreed to allow foreign judges by co-sponsoring the UNHRC resolution in 2015, questioned whether the administration was planning to co-sponsor another resolution in Geneva this year and whether its content had been revealed to the Cabinet or Parliament.
By the time, this question was posed to Minister Kiriella, as explained earlier, Ambassador Azeez’s signature had already been placed on the document. The writer brought this to the notice of MP Jayasekera last Monday (March 11).
Did Kiriella deliberately mislead the House when he claimed that the government was planning to get the consent of the international community to amend the Oct 2015 Resolution in favour of the country. Kiriella noted that discussions were going on with the international community in that regard. The minister stressed that the government had never agreed to permit international judges and the resolution only sought technical assistance from them.
But, a report presented to the 40th Geneva session, proved, beyond any doubt, that those who couldn’t stomach Sri Lanka’s victory over terrorism a decade ago, expected the full implementation of the Oct 2015 Resolution. There is no basis for Kiriella’s optimism that the original Resolution can be amended or President Sirisena’s belief that a consensus can be worked out with Western powers. Those responsible for foreign policy seem to have turned a blind eye to the situation there, much to the disappointment of the vast majority of people.
The report, titled ‘Promoting Reconciliation, Accountability and Human Rights in Sri Lanka’, by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights that dealt with Sri Lanka from Oct 2015 to January 2019, told the government to ensure the full implementation of the agreed agenda. President Sirisena’s delegation cannot be expected to achieve anything in Geneva. Sri Lanka cannot be represented by two delegations in Geneva or any other forum. The UNP government has decided not to send a ministerial delegation to Geneva, thereby entrusted the task to Ambassador Azeez, a career diplomat who will carry out directives from Colombo. The Ambassador cannot disobey Colombo under any circumstances. Remember, Azeez’s predecessor, Ravinatha Aryasinha had no option but to accept the Oct 2015 Resolution at the behest of the then Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera about 10 days after he rejected the draft resolution at the first informal session with the Core Group led by the US. The UK dealt with Ambassador Azeez.
The latest report reflected the Western powers thinking as regards possible change of government in Colombo. Geneva realized that President Sirisena’s unprecedented intervention in Oct 2018 could have jeopardized the Western project meant to weaken the country by abolishing Sri Lanka’s unitary status. In a section headlined ‘Developments in Reconciliation and Accountability,’ the report dealt with the Oct 2018 constitutional coup. The report asserted that President Sirisena’s strategy implemented with the former President threatened to regress human rights, transitional justice, reconciliation agenda and mechanism agreed in the Oct 2015 Resolution.
Interestingly, the report alleged that due to constitutional coup (Oct 26, 2015 to Dec 15, 2018), the implementation of original Geneva Resolution endorsed again in March 2017 for a two-year period was further delayed and caused further problems.
If one goes by the latest Geneva report, Western powers are likely resist a change of government until the full implementation of the original Geneva Resolution.