* Lanka’s collective failure to use ‘Gash reports’ for its defence:
SPECIAL REPORT : Part 289September 24, 2019, 8:28 pm
Lord Naseby gave the writer an opportunity to peruse copies of once classified British diplomatic dispatches ... (pic by Nirosha Soysa)
By Shamindra Ferdinando
Sri Lanka recently lost a golden opportunity to honour British politician Lord Naseby whose untiring efforts helped Sri Lanka to counter politically-motivated unsubstantiated war crimes allegations, propagated by interested parties. Unfortunately, Sri Lanka lacked the required political will to exploit the Conservative Party politician’s revelations. Instead, the current dispensation struggled to cope up with Lord Naseby’s disclosure in the House of Lords, on Oct 12, 2017. The revelation disputed the very basis of a Geneva Resolution, co-sponsored by Sri Lanka on Oct 01, 2015.
The yahapalana government did its best to downplay Lord Naseby’s revelation. In fact, the government did nothing, though Foreign Minister Marapana made reference to Lord Naseby’s disclosure at the March 2019 Geneva sessions.
Lord Naseby, who was in Colombo on the invitation of the Organization of Professional Associations (OPA), for the inauguration of their two-day conference, should have been invited for the ceremonial conferment of the five-star Marshal of the Sri Lanka Air Force and the Admiral of the Fleet rank to Roshan Goonetileke and Wasantha Karannagoda, respectively, at an investiture ceremony, at the East Container Terminal (ECT) of the Colombo harbour on the morning of Sept. 19, 2019.
The recipient of Sri Lanka Rathna, the highest Sri Lanka honour bestowed on a foreigner, who fought the British system, on Sri Lanka’s behalf, to secure the much-sought-after confidential British documents (dispatches from the UK British military attaché in Colombo Lt Col. Anthony Gash) which exposed an elephantine lie.
The writer was among those invited by wartime Air Force Commander Air Marshal Goonetileke to attend the investiture ceremony held more than a decade after the successful conclusion of the war. Wouldn’t it have been much better if the Defence Ministry’s guest list also included wartime President Mahinda Rajapaksa, the then Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa, Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka, Chief of National Intelligence (CNI) Maj. Gen. Kapila Hendavitharana and Lord Naseby. Their absence, at such a significant military event, highlighted the continuing political turmoil, over a decade after the eradication of terrorism. The writer learns the SLPP presidential candidate received an invitation for the event at the ECT, though he couldn’t attend. Gotabaya Rajapaksa wasn’t in a position to accept the invitation due to the ongoing polls campaigning.
Interestingly, President Maithripala Sirisena, who conferred the Field Marshal title on war-winning Army Commander Sarath Fonseka, on March 2015, less than two months after the last presidential poll, conferred the five star rank on Fonseka’s colleagues, four years later. Now, President Sirisena and Fonseka, who failed an abortive bid, in 2010, to oust Mahinda Rajapaksa, are not on talking terms, though, as a member of the Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC), probing the Easter Sunday attacks, Fonseka accompanied the lawmakers group to record the SLFP leader’s statement at the presidential secretariat.
The absence of cooperation, at the highest level, among President Sirisena and members of parliament, on ways and means to counter war crimes allegations, exposes the political bankruptcy of all concerned. Political parties, represented in parliament, should be ashamed of their pathetic failure to use Lord Naseby’s disclosure.
The yahapalana government much to the dismay of the vast majority of Sri Lankans terminated the annual victory day parade. The cancellation was meant to appease those who couldn’t stomach Sri Lanka’s victory over the LTTE.
In an exclusive interview with the writer, on Sept. 17 - two days before the conferment of five star rank to wartime Air and Navy chiefs - Lord Naseby dealt with a range of issues, with the focus on accountability.
Karannagoda and Goonetileke received top commands, on Sept 01, 2005, and June 12, 2006, respectively. Goonetileke and Karannagoda retired on July 14, 2009 and Feb 27, 2011, respectively. The latter also held the post of CDS for over a period of two years.
Lord Naseby also discussed his plans to launch his memoirs, titled Sri Lanka: Paradise Lost Paradise Regained - Recollections from 50 years of a unique friendship between a British Politician and the people of Sri Lanka, in the coming months.
UK upset over Shavendra’s appointment
It would be pertinent to reproduce the latest British statement, on Sri Lanka, made at the UNHRC, Geneva, just days before Lord Naseby’s arrival in Colombo. The UK’s International Ambassador for Human Rights, Rita French, said that the UK remained steadfast in its commitment to help Sri Lanka deliver peace, reconciliation and prosperity for all communities. Regrettably, the UK is hell-bent on pursuing war crimes allegations, regardless of Lord Naseby’s revelations that exposed the mega Western lie.
The following is the UK-led statement in Geneva: "This statement is on behalf of Canada, Germany North Macedonia, Montenegro, and the United Kingdom as members of the Human Rights Council core group on Sri Lanka.
"We thank the High Commissioner for her update and repeat our condolences to Sri Lanka for the appalling loss of life in April.
"It is four years since Sri Lanka took ownership of delivering wide ranging reforms to advance reconciliation, accountability and human rights through co-sponsorship of Council resolution 30/1. Sri Lanka repeated these commitments, most recently through HRC resolution 40/1, six months ago.
"The core group believes that the pledges made by Sri Lanka to its people are the essential ingredients for national healing, stability and prosperity. The core group remains steadfast in its commitment to supporting Sri Lanka’s future through the implementation of the resolution. Continued support for the process from the Government and people of Sri Lanka will be critical for these measures to succeed.
"There have been important developments since 2015 which demonstrate good intentions on the part of the Government and reflect the work of many committed individuals. Some key domestic institutions have been established. However, the pace of progress has remained slow in many areas, with bureaucratic constraints hampering delivery.
"In the most recent resolution, the Council encouraged Sri Lanka to set a clear time-line for action, through a national implementation strategy. We hope that Sri Lanka will put this in place as a matter of priority. Madame High Commissioner, we share the concern expressed in your statement of 19 August that the appointment of General Silva as Army Commander severely compromises Sri Lanka’s commitment to promote justice and accountability and undermines reconciliation efforts. The core group believes that it is vital for peace and prosperity that Sri Lanka builds confidence in its commitment to protecting political space and human rights.
"This Council has been seized with the situation in Sri Lanka over many years and has made an essential contribution towards addressing serious violations of the past. But this work remains incomplete, and requires our ongoing attention. It is vital that this Council and the international community continue to give the necessary attention and support to Sri Lanka as it continues on the path towards enduring peace and reconciliation."
Q&A with Lord Naseby
The Island: Did you make available Gash reports to the government of Sri Lanka before the House of Lords disclosure on Oct 12, 2017?
Lord Naseby: Before I made the statement...
The Island: We understand the Gash reports were made available to former President Rajapaksa and President Sirisena
Lord Naseby: I did not make them available to former President Rajapaksa. I told him about Gash reports. But I made them available to the government of President Sirisena. I haven’t given the full copy to former President Rajapaksa.
Lord Naseby, following consultations with Amal Abeywardene, who had been all along involved in his project, in support of Sri Lanka, asserted that Gash reports were made available to Sri Lanka, before being presented in the House of Lords, on Oct 12, 2017.
Both the incumbent government and former President Rajapaksa’s camp owed an explanation as to why they refrained from taking tangible measures on the basis of Gash reports before Lord Naseby made his statement. They failed to act even after the disclosure was made in the House of Lords.
Abeywardene was also present at the interview conducted at the luxurious Cinnamon Lakeside, situated opposite the former Air Force headquarters. Cinnamon Lakeside had its own security, at its main entrance, and also at the entry point to the lobby since the Easter Sunday attacks on six targets in Batticaloa, Katuwapitiya (Negombo) and Colombo. Attackers left Cinnamon Lakeside out of its list of targets which included Shangri-La, Kingsbury and Cinnamon Grand. My wife, Dilhani, was on hand to record the interview - my second meeting with Lord Naseby. The British politician visited The Island editorial years ago for a briefing and discussion on the situation with Editor-in-Chief Prabath Sahabandu.
The Island: Can you explain the circumstances under which you obtained Gash reports from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office?
Lord Naseby: I appealed against the decision to heavily redact the Gash dispatches. I went to courts. The judge, in summing up, said he had enormous sympathy for the cause...but he had to recognize...having been told by her Majesty’s government that the material that was redacted was sensitive in terms of UK relationship with friendly countries. The court had taken recognition of that fact but he said what is published in your domain your request you made it and it is there for you to use it as you fit. When I next came here, I bought one set of documents to deliver to the government.
Lord Naseby said former President Rajapaksa was told, during his 2017 visit to Colombo, as of how he secured Gash reports though the wartime leader wasn’t given a set of copies.
Why didn’t Sri Lanka take advantage of Gash reports? Can the deliberate failure on Sri Lanka’s part be compared with unprecedented negligence that led to the National Thowheed Jamaat (JMT) suicide bombing spree on April 21, 2019?
The Island: The war was brought to a successful conclusion, in May 2009. You could have sought the required information from the FCO before. Can you explain as to why you waited so long?
Lord Naseby: I never think about it….Ok..I should perhaps have known you could use the Freedom of Information Act to do this sort of thing. But I didn’t. And I went to the library with a colleague of mine of the House of Lords. I was told to go to the library and read the Act. I read the Act. Then I thought...maybe I can get Gash dispatches.
Amal Abeywardene interrupted to explain the circumstances under which Lord Naseby made his intervention on Sri Lanka’s behalf. According to Abeywardene, Lord Naseby had met the then British Premier David Cameron (Conservative Party), in early Nov 2013, before he left for the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM), in Colombo, in mid Nov 2013. The meeting had taken place in parliament at a time Cameron was being heavily influenced by the Tamil Diaspora. Cameron had seen Callum Macrae’s ‘Sri Lanka’s Killing Fields’, produced by UK’s Channel 4. Cameron had been under intense pressure to boycott CHOGM 2013.Having decided to attend CHOGM, Cameron stressed the importance of addressing the accountability issue. Abeywardene recalled as to how Lord Naseby told Premier Cameron as to how lies were being propagated at Sri Lanka’s expense. Lord Naseby also challenged the UNSG Panel of Experts (PoE) claim the last phase of the Sri Lankan offensive killed 40,000 civilians. Abeywardene recollected as to how Lord Naseby suggested to Premier Cameron to examine dispatches from Colombo-based British Defence Attaché. Lord Naseby had warned Cameron that if he was not willing to do so, he (Lord Naseby) might have to seek information in terms of the Freedom of Information Act 2000. Abeywardene: It was not a threat. The process of getting information from a government office is very tough.
Lord Naseby: We were not sure whether it was Defence or Foreign Office. We sought information from both and the Defence Department made it clear that this was a matter for the Foreign Office. They didn’t respond for at least two months, perhaps three, because they realized they were pretty sensitive stuff.
Lord Naseby sought information on Nov 06, 2014.
The Island: Why did the FCO delay the releasing of dispatches?
Lord Naseby: The FCO claimed that the releasing of such information infringed on their relationship with those countries which provided sensitive information. The FCO felt that would have undermined vital relationships.
The Island: Perhaps, the FCO realized that if those dispatches had been released unsubstantiated allegations against Sri Lanka could have been successfully countered.
Lord Naseby: You could well be right
The Island: The situation would have been different if the FCO released the dispatches promptly. That would have jeopardized their efforts to move a resolution in Geneva the following year.
In the wake of the change of government, in January 2015, the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe duo proceeded with the US-led project. Sri Lanka co-sponsored Geneva Resolution on Oct 01, 2015.
Lord Naseby: Each time the FCO refused, there was a mechanism to appeal. The FCO probably believed when appeals were repeatedly turned down, I would go away. I didn’t. That didn’t happen.
The Island: If you managed to obtain Gash reports, would it have helped thwart Geneva Resolution? Don’t forget the one-time LTTE mouthpiece, the TNA, was brought into powerful political grouping, comprising the UNP-JVP-SLMC on the basis that the military killed 40,000 civilians. That unsubstantiated claim was the basis of that coalition. The same group backed wartime Army Commander General Sarath Fonseka at the 2010 presidential election. Although Fonseka failed, Maithripala Sirisena succeeded five years later.
Lord Naseby: You are right. Had we managed to start earlier...But you must also not forget that we did not get anything out of the Foreign Office with ease. We had to appeal to the Information Commissioner. I had to make a separate submission to the Information Commissioner in this regard.
Lord Naseby has made representations to the Information Commissioner why he believed dispatches should be released on the basis of public interest. The Information Commissioner, according to Lord Naseby, accepted that assertion.
The Island: Have you been shocked by Sri Lanka’s collective failure to effectively use information provided by you in the defence of her armed forces? The recent UK-led statement, in Geneva, critical of the appointment of celebrated battlefield commander Shavendra Silva as the Commander of the Army is a case in point.
Lord Naseby: You had a census in the Northern Province before the releasing of Gash dispatches. That census collaborated the Gash reports to a fair degree.
The Island: In fact, there was another report prepared by the UN in Colombo during the Vanni offensive. That too sort of collaborated with the census and the Gash reports.
The Island: Are you really surprised Sri Lankan politicians, and the government failed to use the Gash reports?
Lord Naseby: Disappointed
The Island: When Sri Lanka turned a blind eye to your revelation, in the House of Lords, you directly wrote to the UNHRC. You sought re-examination of the resolution. What was their response? What happened?
Lord Naseby: Nothing. The UNHRC should have taken the detailed submissions made, seriously.
Lord Naseby said that he offered to appear before the UNHRC at his own expense to back his claim though Geneva turned a Nelsonian eye to his effort. The outspoken lawmaker said that he was hugely disappointed by UNHRC reaction.
The Island: How do you view the British stand on Sri Lanka, regardless of the disclosure of the Gash reports and their willingness to follow accusations, attributed to nameless people, whereas British DA’s reports were disregarded? Did UK political parties follow such a policy for domestic political reasons? (David Miliband’s exposure by Wiki Leaks pertaining to UK politics and war against the LTTE, in 2009 is a case in point).
Lord Naseby: The UK-led statement ascertains that genuine progress has been made. The assertion that the progress was slow is accurate.
Lord Naseby strongly criticized Sri Lanka’s failure to make available sufficient funds for OMP (Office of Missing Persons) for conducting its operations. The British politician said that he was deeply disappointed by the absence of required funds that deprived the OMP of the wherewithal to engage in investigations. Lord Naseby called for urgent remedial measures. He emphasized the pivotal role the OMP could play in clearing accusations directed at the country. Lord Naseby explained as to how Sri Lanka missed an opportunity to use OMP to its advantage for want of a cohesive strategy. Lord Naseby underscored the OMP’s failure to act on the Paranagama report as well as the ICRC findings due to different reasons. Lord Naseby expressed shock and disappointment at the way the government handled the key aspect in the accountability process.
Responding to a query, on the planned book launch, Lord Naseby said: "Paradise lost, paradise regained is a quote from Milton. The undertone here. Why I choose a quote from Milton. Milton, one of our greatest poets. He fought on the parliamentary side in our civil war in 1645." Lord Naseby explained the reasons that prompted him to choose that particular quote. Lord Naseby also discussed plans for the book launch, during the next Galle Literally festival in 2020 while acknowledging possible change of plans due to reasons beyond his control. Unicorn Publishing Group is the publisher.
Asked whether Geneva would be discussed in his memoirs, Lord Naseby said that he began with his arrival at the Ratmalana airport, way back in April 1963, and right up to a year ago though certain changes had to be made following the Easter Sunday carnage. Lord Naseby said the book comprised 19 Chapters and took over two years to complete. Lord Naseby reminiscences him receiving overseas flying training in US aircraft.
The Island: Did you launch the book project after the Gash episode?
Lord Naseby: I think that was probably the catalyst.
Responding to The Island query on his role as a young RAF/NATO pilot, an obviously delighted Lord Naseby recalled as to how he, after leaving school, in July 1955, joined the RAF in terms of the then mandatory two-year military service, against the backdrop of the US-Soviet cold war. Lord Naseby reminiscence how he sought to join the RAF after having undergone flying training, thanks to a visit to his father who was then serving the Punjab government. Lord Naseby talked lovingly of his time with his father, based in Lahore, at that time, during holidays, before returning to the UK to join the military.
Asked how he felt about the coverage received from the international media to his revelation, Lord Naseby admitted that it was insufficient though he asserted he could have achieved more if necessary staff were available to him.
The Island pointed out those sections of the international media, too, pursued their own agenda at Lord Naseby’s expense, thereby undermined Sri Lanka’s defence.
Sri Lanka can never repay Lord Naseby, whose intervention, on our behalf, exposed the extravagant and corrupt lot in the parliament. Thanks to Lord Naseby, the public is aware of the true nature of the Geneva project, based on false casualty figures and now its lost credibility.
At the conclusion of the interview, the writer asked Lord Naseby whether he believed the Geneva/accountability issue could be a major factor to decide the outcome of the Nov 16, 2019 presidential poll. A thoughtful Lord Naseby said it wouldn’t be an issue.