Wednesday, 11 September 2019

Did Lord Naseby deserve country’s highest honour, Sri Lanka Ratna?


By Shamindra Ferdinando

At the time the government of Sri Lanka (GoSL) conferred Sri Lanka Ratna, its highest national honour bestowed on foreigners for exceptional and outstanding service to the country, on Michael Wolfgang Laurence Morris (Rt. Hon. the Lord Naseby PC), in mid Nov 2005, who could have imagined the Britisher would defend the war-winning armed forces of the Commonwealth nation, over a decade later.

Lord Naseby would never have anticipated such an eventuality for obvious reasons. Having cleverly used the Oslo-led peace process, launched in Feb 2002, to consolidate its position in the Northern and Eastern regions, the LTTE enjoyed an overwhelming conventional military capability by Nov 2005. By then, Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar had been assassinated and the LTTE was engaged in a rapid build-up on the northern front.

The LTTE assassinated Kadirgamar, in early August 2005, at his Colombo residence using a sniper.

Those who had been critical of Lord Naseby for taking up cudgels on behalf of Sri Lanka on the human rights front for several years, after the conclusion of the conflict, conveniently forgot at the time Sri Lanka bestowed its highest honour on him, the Eelam war IV was yet to begin.

Sri Lanka brought the war to a successful conclusion, in May 2009, following a two-year ten-month long relentless combined security forces campaign.

It would be pertinent to ask whether Sri Lanka had conferred Sri Lanka Ratna, a decade before Lord Naseby really deserved the honour?

Obviously, Sri Lanka Ratna was meant to recognize services rendered by Lord Naseby in the run-up to 2005. However, in the light of Lord Naseby’s robust defence of Sri Lanka, on the basis of once confidential British government records, Sri Lanka should examine the possibility of conferring a special honour on him. The current dispensation should realize that conferring of Sri Lanka Ratna in Nov 2005 had nothing to do with Lord Naseby’s vigorous defence of Sri Lankan armed forces at international forums.

The writer was quite surprised and felt that we have demeaned the country’s highest award for foreigners, when President Maithripala Sirisena, who is also the Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces, recently conferred Sri Lanka Ratna on one-time Japanese peace envoy Yasushi Akashi. The Japanese envoy had been involved in the Oslo-led peace process that almost led to the division of the country, on ethnic lines. Sri Lanka Peace Co-Chairs comprised the US, EU, Norway and Japan. The Co-Chairs pursued a policy, vis a vis the LTTE, that was severely inimical to Sri Lanka. Japan played a significant role in the controversial Norwegian initiative. Akashi’s efforts, as well as those of his Norwegian counterpart Erik Solheim, failed to convince the LTTE not to abandon negotiations.

The LTTE quit the negotiating process, in April 2003. It totally disregarded Norwegian and Japanese efforts to resume negotiations. Instead, they gradually stepped up pressure on the GoSL. Had the LTTE succeeded in assassinating Army Chief Sarath Fonseka (April, 2006) and Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa (Dec, 2006) in the wake of Kadirgamar’s killing, in Aug 2005, it could have had gained the upper hand. Before conferring Sri Lanka Ratna on Akashi, Sri Lanka should have examined the Japanese role in the Norwegian deliberate actions to cover up for the Tigers.

The Norway-led Scandinavian truce monitoring mission played pandu with Sri Lanka’s national security. Japan never received the international recognition it sought by way of a significant role in the Norway-led process. In fact, the Norwegian, initiative, too, went awry, much to the disappointment of those who believed the LTTE could be influenced to toe the line.

If the GoSL asserted Akashi deserved Sri Lanka Ratna for his role in the failed peace process, there is absolutely no harm in bestowing a similar honour on the then Norwegian peace envoy Erik Solheim.

A fresh look at

Lord Naseby’s role

Lord Naseby will be soon back in Colombo to attend the inauguration of the 32nd Annual Conference of the Organization of Professional Associations (OPA) on September 17 at Cinnamon Lakeside in Colombo. It’ll be his first since the stunning disclosure he made on Oct 12, 2017 in the House of Lords pertaining to war crimes which dealt a massive blow to those propagating lies. Lord Naseby stunned those lobbying to prosecute trumped up war crimes allegations against Sri Lanka. The OPA deserved the praise of all for inviting Lord Naseby for the forthcoming event. Lord Naseby’s visit is quite important as it takes place in the run-up to the presidential election, in late Nov-early Dec 2019.

Lord Naseby’s disclosure, made on the basis of wartime British High Commission dispatches from its mission in Colombo, disputed the main UNSG Panel of Experts (PoE) allegation pertaining to 40,000 civilian deaths. The Vanni massacre is the main accusation among five allegations contained in the executive summary of the PoE report. Let me reproduce the relevant section verbatim (point number 137 in the report): "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 could have been as many as 40,000 civilian deaths. Two years after the end of the war, there is still 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 UNP-SLFP coalition ignored Lord Naseby’s disclosure though President Sirisena appreciated the British politician’s effort. The Foreign Ministry’s response to Lord Naseby was nothing but treacherous. 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).

Having co-sponsored an accountability resolution in Oct 2015 against its own armed forces the UNP-SLFP coalition was determined not to do anything that may jeopardized its despicable operation. Lord Naseby’s revelation threatened to undermine the whole project meant to pave the way for a new Constitution on the basis of unsubstantiated war crimes accusations. TNA leader R. Sampanthan’s Office never responded to Lord Naseby’s disclosure though the writer repeatedly asked for an explanation. The Island first raised the issue in late 2017.

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 the UK High Commissioner, James Dauris?

2019 initiative in House of Lords

Although, the GoSL sat on UK dispatches, Lord Naseby continued his high profile struggle, much to the dismay of those who could not stomach the LTTE’s annihilation on the Vanni battlefield.

Wartime dispatches, authored by Col. Gash, were the most important documents available for Sri Lanka’s defence. Those dispatches are incontestable.

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".

On the basis of UK military dispatches from Colombo, in 2009 (January-May), Lord Naseby 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. Of them, one fourth was LTTE cadres, the British dispatches asserted.

There were a couple of Geneva Resolutions against Sri Lanka. Lord Naseby directly blamed the UN Resolutions on the Tamil 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.

A treacherous coalition

The UNP-SLFP coalition accepted responsibility for accountability issues in accordance with its understanding with Western powers and the TNA. In spite of President Sirisena repeatedly denying knowledge of the then Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera agreeing to co-sponsor Geneva Resolution, absolutely no action was taken to reverse the process. Since Samaraweera lost the foreign ministry portfolio, Ravi Karunanayake (May 2017-Aug 2017), Tilak Marapana, PC (Aug 2017 to Oct 2018), Dr. Sarath Amunugama (Oct 2018-Dec 2018) and Tilak Marapana (regained the ministry in Dec 2018) remained in the Geneva process.

Soon after the change of government, in January 2015, the yahapalana grandees called off the annual combined security forces parade, initiated in 2009, to celebrate Sri Lanka’s triumph over the LTTE. The then Canadian High Commissioner, in Colombo, Shelly Whiting, at the behest of those trying to appease Canadians of Sri Lankan origin, demanded, in writing, that the parade be cancelled forthwith. There had never been a similar situation in any part of the world. The Yahapalana government ignored the fact that the Tamil electorate in January 2010 overwhelmingly voted for Sarath Fonseka. Fonseka, in spite of being routed in the South, comfortably won all the Tamil-speaking majority electoral districts. The Tamil electorate didn’t simply vote for Fonseka just because the TNA threw its weight behind the war-winning Army Chief at the behest of the US. The vast majority of Tamils knew that successive governments, including the Rajapaksa administration, that eradicated the LTTE, never deliberately targeted the civilian community. Lord Naseby, on the basis of still confidential British cables cleared the wartime Sri Lanka government of false accusations. Unfortunately, the government intentionally allowed the accusations to gain ground. The Rajapaksa Camp never really made a genuine attempt to exploit Lord Naseby’s revelations. Lord Naseby’s disclosure could have been used efficiently to convince the Tamil community of the war-winning government’s intentions. The TNA cannot be faulted trying to suppress Lord Naseby’s disclosure. Having recognized the LTTE as the sole representative of the Tamil speaking people, in 2001, the grouping steadfastly stood by the LTTE until the war was brought to an end. The TNA lost its credibility when it remained mum when the LTTE took refuge among over 300,000 civilians on the Vanni east front and used them as a human shield.

All other political parties failed in their responsibility and duty to safeguard the interests of the armed forces. For want of cohesive action plan and collective failure to properly defend the armed forces, the military continues to be at the receiving end. The US, EU, Canadian condemnation of new Army Chief Lt. Gen. Shavendra Silva reminded the public as to how our thieving politicians failed the military.

If GoSL actually felt Lord Naseby merited Sri Lanka Ratna, way back in 2005, for promoting the country, both in and outside the UK parliament, the GoSL should now consider as to how Sri Lanka should recognize the British politician’s role. We as a nation are truly indebted to Lord Naseby. None of those in our current parliament (August 2015 to now) or the previous dispensation had the strength to defend the country as Lord Naseby did. Those who called themselves people’s representatives never made a thorough effort though some of them shamelessly exploited battlefield success for political gain. Now that Lord Naseby is returning to Colombo, for the OPA event, the GoSL should act immediately to recognize his feat. Had he not fiercely fought with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office with the help of Information Commissioner’s Office, Sri Lanka, today, would have been overwhelmed by bogus war crimes allegations. Lord Naseby’s move exposed the despicable British policy towards Sri Lanka. During Lord Naseby’s visit to Colombo after the end of the war, the writer had the opportunity to meet him, with Editor-in-Chief Prabath Sahabandu at the offices of Upali Newspapers Limited, the publishers of The Island. Lord Naseby’s knowledge on Sri Lanka’s war against terrorism amazed us. The majority of lawmakers here struggled to discuss war or post-conflict issues sensibly. Lord Naseby didn’t mince his words when he explained as to how British voters of Sri Lankan origin influenced the British policy making process. Thanks to Wiki Leaks we now know how the UK played politics with Sri Lanka. No less a person than the British Foreign Secretary David Miliband is on record as having exposed the then Labour Government policy meant to appease the voter.

When Lord Naseby sought information from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office on Nov 06, 2014, Sri Lanka was heading for presidential election two months later. The Lord Naseby’s query stunned the FCO. The following is the text of the complaint submitted to the FCO on 6 November 2014:

‘Details of the dispatches written by Colonel Anton Gash, the defence attaché of the British High Commission in Sri Lanka, to the UK Foreign Office during the period January 2009 to May 2009. These dispatches described his assessment of what he had seen during this period of the Sri Lankan civil war’.

The FCO informed Lord Naseby on January 05, 2015 that the sought information couldn’t be provided. The FCO move followed after it informed Lord Naseby on Dec 03, 2014 that it had the required information. Lord Naseby on January 14, 2015 requested that his request be reconsidered. The FCO reiterated its refusal on Feb 19, 2015.Lord Naseby on March 16, 2015 complained to the FCO that he was not satisfied with its response to his legitimate request.

The FCO on May 07, 2015 reiterated that it wouldn’t change its stand on Lord Naseby’s request.

While the Information Officer’s was inquiring into Lord Naseby’s complaint, the FCO on Dec 21, 2015 offered a section of the much sought information. The FCO was exposed. Obviously, the FCO underestimated Lord Naseby’s determination.

Lord Naseby complained that the FCO could be holding onto more documents that may help establish the truth. Subsequent, search led to the recovery of three more documents. They were disclosed on Feb 23, 2016.

The truth is the FCO never made a full disclosure as it quite rightly believed it would jeopardized the project to discredit the Sri Lankan military. Thanks to Lord Naseby, the Western propaganda campaign directed at Sri Lanka suffered irreparable damage.

Let me stress that failure to use Lord Naseby’s disclosure to defend Sri Lanka is as bad as the current dispensation turning a blind eye to specific Indian intelligence alert to thwart the Easter Sunday National Thowheed Jamaat suicide bombing campaign. The Attorney General recently declared that those responsible would face murder charges…..

A year after Naseby disclosures, the amiable politician on Oct 13, 2018, received the BRISLA (British Sri Lanka Association) award for being an Outstanding Friend to the British-Sri Lankan community from the then British High Commissioner to Sri Lanka and Ambassador to the Maldives, James Dauris.

The Grow Traffic Limited sponsored the award at the fourth edition of the BRISLA awards, at the Long Room, Lord’s Cricket Ground.

The inaugural BRISLA awards ceremony was held on Nov 15, 2015 at Grange St Paul’s Hotel in London. Sri Lanka cricket great Kumar Sangakkara was also among those honoured at the inaugural event.