Tuesday, 26 November 2019

UK Labour takes up cudgels for minority rights in Lanka in the wake of Gotabaya triumph


President Gotabaya Rajapaksa shaking hands with Deputy High Commissioner Tom Burns on Monday. HC Hulton (Centre) and First Secretary Amy O’Brien look on.

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Mahajana Eksath Peramuna (MEP) leader Dinesh Gunawardena, MP, on Monday, Nov 25, assumed duties as the Foreign Minister. Gunawardena succeeded Tilak Marapana, PC (Aug 2017-Nov 2019). Addressing the media, with Foreign Secretary Ravinatha Aryasinghe by his side, Gunawardena assured that foreign agreements, including the Geneva resolution, would be revisited. The reference was to the resolution co-sponsored by Sri Lanka on Oct 01, 2015.

Ven. Elle Gunawansa, who addressed the gathering, emphasized the pivotal importance of restoring Sri Lanka’s pride. The Ven Thera explained as to why they were interested in the foreign ministry now.

The then Sri Lanka’s Permanent Representative, in Geneva, Ravinatha Aryasinghe signed it on behalf of the UNP-SLFP coalition, though he strongly opposed it. UNP heavyweight Mangala Samaraweera held the foreign portfolio at that time (January 2015-May 2017). UNPer Ravi Karunanayake, embroiled in treasury bond scams succeeded Samaraweera before being removed from the cabinet (May 2017-Aug 2017). Former Attorney General Marapana replaced Karunanayake. Marapana, too, conveniently refrained from taking tangible measures to counter the Geneva project for obvious reasons (Aug 2017 to Oct 2018). The yahapalana government wanted the project to continue at the expense of Sri Lanka. Following the Oct 2018 constitutional coup, President Sirisena handed over the ministry to Dr. Sarath Amunugama (Oct 2018-Dec 2018). The Geneva issue wasn’t addressed during the 52-day government. Marapana returned as the Foreign Minister in Dec 2018. Under heavy media pressure, at the March 2019 Geneva sessions, Marapana made reference to Lord Naseby’s Oct 2017 disclosure in the House of Lords in defence of Sri Lanka. Unfortunately, no follow up action was taken.

Ironically, Mangala Samaraweera functioned as the Foreign Minister at the time the Eelam War IV broke out, in August 2006. Rohitha Bogollagama served as the Foreign Minister during the war and was replaced by Prof. G.L. Peiris after the successful conclusion of the war. Samaraweera returned in January 2015 as the Foreign Minister to carry forward the Geneva trap.

The new Foreign Minister Gunawardena has been raising the Geneva issue, both in and outside parliament, throughout. In Nov 2017, Gunawardena, on behalf of the Joint Opposition, received an assurance from Marapana that Lord Naseby’s disclosure would be used at the appropriate forum, at the right time. The promise was not kept.

Over an hour after Gunawardena took over the foreign ministry, British High Commissioner Sarah Hulton, accompanied by her deputy Tom Burn, called on President Gotabaya Rajapaksa at the Presidential Secretariat. Human Rights Council member is a key player in the Geneva project. The UK leads the operation since the US quit the Geneva body, in June 2018. The UK has so far refused steadfastly to review the Geneva resolution, taking the Lord Naseby’s disclosure into consideration. Regardless of the party/coalition in power in London, the British position, in respect of Sri Lanka, is largely influenced by the substantial amount of UK voters of Sri Lankan Tamil origin.

Geneva will again take up the Lankan issue, in March 2020, after the dissolution of parliament, probably on March 01, 2020.

The recent launch of the Labour Party manifesto, for the UK general election, on Dec 12, 2019, highlighted the overall British policy towards Sri Lanka. Against the backdrop of the BBC demeaning President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, no sooner he was elected, Labour Party Leader Jeremy Corbyn declared the Labour Government would work towards protecting the rights of the Tamils and Muslims in Sri Lanka.

"We will work through the UN and the Commonwealth to insist on the protection of human rights for Sri Lanka’s minority Tamil and Muslim populations," Corbyn said.

"Human rights and international humanitarian law are fundamental pillars of a secure global system. These principles are under threat," he pointed out.

The Labour party promised that it would appoint human-rights advisers to work across the Foreign Office and government to prioritize a co-ordinated approach to human rights.

The Party added that it would advocate for human rights at every bilateral diplomatic meeting.

The treacherous previous government lacked the courage at least to raise Lord Naseby’s disclosure with the UK. The UNP gave into the despicable Western project in return for support to defeat the war-winning Rajapaksa government at the last presidential in January 2015.

MR’s bid thwarted

Having defeated President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s hotly disputed bid to secure a third term, in early January 2015, the UNP perpetrated the first treasury bond scam on Feb 27, 2015.

Rajapaksa called early presidential polls nearly two years ahead of schedule in spite of being strongly advised against the move by the General Secretary of the Communist Party, D.E.W. Gunasekera. Gunasekera, backed by leftist colleagues, Vasudeva Nanayakkara and Prof. Tissa Vitharana, warned of dire consequences in case the war-winning leader called presidential polls. They wouldn’t have anticipated a ‘raid’ on the Central Bank.

The fraudulent transaction involved now disgraced primary dealer Perpetual Treasuries Limited (PTL) run by Arjun Aloysius, flamboyant son-in-law of now fugitive Singaporean Governor of the Sri Lanka Central Bank, Arjuna Mahendran, a close associate of UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe.

The then President Maithripala Sirisena dissolved parliament at midnight on June 26, 2015 to save the UNP from the damning COPE (Committee on Public Enterprises) report that dealt with the first treasury bond scam. Ironically, D.E.W. Gunasekera headed the COPE inquiry.

Sirisena, in spite of being furious with the then Premier Ranil Wickremesinghe over him being compelled to accommodate Arjuna Mahendran, had no option but to save the UNP by dissolving parliament. Sirisena’s move prevented COPE Chairman Gunasekera from tabling the report in parliament. The treasury bond scam ruined President Sirisena’s 100-day project. Sirisena never recovered from the debilitating setback caused by the bond scam.

The UNP won the parliamentary election, in August 2015, though it couldn’t secure a simple majority. In spite of being the leader of the SLFP, as well as the head of the SLFP-led UPFA, President Sirisena sabotaged the UPFA campaign. His declaration that even in the event of on UPFA victory, Mahinda Rajapaksa wouldn’t, under any circumstance, be appointed the Prime Minister, severely discouraged UPFA supporters. The UNP-led UNF won 106 whereas the UPFA managed to obtain 95 seats.

Having helped the UNP to win the August 2015 election, Sirisena paved the way for the far bigger second treasury bond scam, on March 29, 2016.

In between the Feb 2015 and March 2016 treasury bond scams, the UNP-SLFP administration betrayed the country at the Geneva Human Rights Council (UNHRC) on Oct 01, 2015. The then Sri Lanka’s Permanent Representative in Geneva Ambassador Ravinatha Aryasinha at the behest of the government co-sponsored a resolution inimical to Sri Lanka. The then government made the career diplomat to do so just over a week after he rejected the resolution at an informal discussion in Geneva with those who sponsored it.

Although Sirisena repeatedly declared that the Geneva resolution posed no threat and during his tenure as the President measures were taken to neutralize it, the danger remains. Sirisena repeated the fallacious claim in his last address to the nation soon after the voting ended on Nov 16, 2019.

Geneva betrayal

Why did UNP-SLFP government co-sponsor a resolution detrimental to Sri Lanka? Can the UNP, SLFP justify their controversial decision that paved the way for foreign judges and other foreign experts in proposed domestic judicial mechanisms? Consultation Task Force on Reconciliation Mechanisms (CTFRM) formed in terms of Geneva directives, too, recommended foreign judges. The outfit comprised 11 civil society activists, including key members of the Centre for Policy Alternatives (CPA) and the then editor of Ravaya, attorney-at-law K. W. Janaranjana.

The issue here is certainly not the hybrid accountability mechanism, proposed on the basis of unsubstantiated war crimes accusations, but the failure on the part of Sri Lanka to disprove the lies it is based on. The war-winning Rajapaksa government (Nov 2005-January 2015) cannot absolve itself of negligence and extremely poor judgment in respect of the Geneva issue. The Rajapaksa Camp didn’t bother at least to examine as to why the four-party Tamil National Alliance (TNA) backed Maithripala Sirisena who contested the 2015 presidential poll on the New Democratic Front (NDF) ticket. The Sirisena-Wickremesinghe government (January 2015-Nov 2019), too, cannot absolve itself of the Geneva betrayal.

The previous government went as so far as to reiterate its promise on having foreign judges in domestic accountability mechanisms in June 2016. This was revealed by Jaffna lawmaker M.A. Sumanthiran in the presence of the then Sri Lanka Ambassador in Washington, Prasad Kariyawasam.

The UNP-SLFP administration didn’t clear its decision to co-sponsor the Geneva resolution with parliament. It was also not discussed in the cabinet. Lord Naseby, on Oct 12, 2017, disclosed hitherto confidential British diplomatic cables which could have successfully used to force a review of the original Geneva resolution. The UNP-SLFP government did nothing. When the writer raised the government failure with the then SLFP cabinet spokesman, Minister Dayasiri Jayasekera, at a post-cabinet press briefing at the Information Department, he reacted angrily. That was in Nov 2017. The UPFA quit the UNP-led government, in late Oct 2018. The 52-day government, too, did nothing. Having regained the government in Dec 2018, the UNP ensured the Naseby disclosure was not used at all though the then Foreign Minister Tilak Marapana, PC, made a reference to the British Lord when he addressed Geneva in March 2019.

The Geneva resolution was adopted on the basis of 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.

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 close proximity of civilians (d) forced recruitment of children (e) Forced labour and (f) killing of civilians through suicide attacks.

Having faulted the Army on three major counts, the UN commissioned Darusman report accused Sri Lanka of massacring at least 40,000 civilians. Let me reproduce the paragraph, bearing no 137, verbatim: "In the limited surveys that have been carried out in the aftermath of the conflict, the percentage of people reporting dead relatives is high. A number of credible sources have estimated that there could have been as many as 40,000 civilian deaths. Two years after the end of the war, there is no reliable figure for civilian deaths, but multiple sources of information indicate that a range of up to 40,000 civilian deaths cannot be ruled out at this stage. Only a proper investigation can lead to the identification of all of the victims and to the formulation of an accurate figure for the total number of civilian deaths."

Naseby’s disclosure disputed the UN report. Naseby showed as to how Sri Lanka can be saved from the concocted despicable UN project meant to divide the country on ethnic lines by replacing the existing Constitution. As long as the UN report remains unchallenged in Geneva and proved a false basis, the threat remains. Now, it is the responsibility of President, Commander-in-Chief and the Defence Minister Gotabaya Rajapaksa to ensure a thorough examination of all available reports, including Lord Naseby’s disclosure (based on partially declassified Lt. Col. Anthony Gash’s wartime dispatches from British HC in Colombo to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office).

British dispatches countered UN lies. (UK is a member of the Geneva body consisting of 47 countries divided into five zones)

Space for separatist agenda

Western powers, the TNA, the UNP and some sections of the civil society will continue to push separatist agenda until Sri Lanka disprove once and for all accusations of wrong doing. The coverage of 2019 presidential polls campaign and post-election reportage by some sections of the international media underscored the need to counter lies. President Gotabaya Rajapaksa was repeatedly depicted as the villain. The reportage on the new President and Army Commander Lt. Gen. Shavendra Silva can be compared. Earlier Australia denied Major General Chagie Gallage a visa also on the basis of lies propagated by the UN. The UN also sought to restrict overseas SLA deployments in the wake of Shavendra Silva’s appointment.

At SLPP candidate Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s inaugural media briefing, at Shangri-La on Oct 15, 2019, The Hindu correspondent in Colombo Meera Srinivasan and some of her colleagues certainly reminded Sri Lanka of the urgent need to present its case before the world. Sri Lanka cannot afford not to remind the world that Sri Lanka was a VICTIM of despicable Indian foreign policy in the 80s. No less person than the late Indian Foreign Secretary J.N. Dixit, in 2005, admitted that Indian intervention in Sri Lanka was more a domestic issue.

It would be pertinent to reproduce verbatim what Dixit said in his memoirs ‘ Makers of India’s Foreign Policy: Raja Ram, Mohun Roy to Yashwant Sinha’ as regards Indian intervention here during Indira Gandhi’s tenure as the Prime Minister of India: "The two foreign policy decisions on which she could be faulted are: her ambiguous response to the Russian intrusion into Afghanistan and her giving active support to Sri Lankan Tamil militants. Whatever the criticisms about these decisions, it cannot be denied that she took them on the basis of her assessments about India’s national interests. Her logic was that she could not openly alienate the former Soviet Union when India was so dependent on that country for defence supplies and technologies. Similarly, she couldn’t afford the emergence of Tamil separatism in India by refusing to support the aspirations of Sri Lankan Tamils. These aspirations were legitimate in the context of nearly 50 years of Sinhalese discrimination against Sri Lankan Tamils.

An Indian diplomat recently asked the writer as to why history has to be repeated. The writer pointed out there was no other option but to repeatedly present facts in response to Sri Lanka being humiliated over unsubstantiated war crimes accusations. Obviously India does not want to be reminded how it destroyed the neighbouring country. Otherwise, it would definitely put up a monument for nearly 1,500 Indian soldiers and officers killed here. Some of them were buried here as well??.

With the next Geneva sessions, scheduled for March 2020, the new administration would have to move fast with the Foreign Ministry taking the lead in reviewing all reports/evidence available.

Can Sri Lanka request Geneva to undertake a fresh review in respect of accusations against Sri Lanka in the wake of Lord Naseby’s disclosure?

Lord Naseby told the writer on more than one occasion that Sri Lanka should appeal not only to Geneva but individual members of the Geneva body, especially members of the Sri Lanka group responsible for the resolution. The UK heads this group, after the US, in June 2018, quit Geneva, alleging it was a ‘cesspool of political bias.’

The SLPP candidate could have done much better in the Tamil majority Northern Province, at the 2019 presidential, had tangible measures were taken to convince the electorate that the alleged war crimes didn’t take place. The failure on the part of the SLPP to address that allowed the UNP, for the third time running, to score heavily in the Northern and Eastern Provinces. Interested parties continued their protests while one-time LTTE mouthpiece, the Illankai Thamil Arasu Kadchi-led TNA demanded exclusive international mechanisms to probe accountability issues.

The caretaker cabinet, which was sworn in on Friday, Nov 23, with MEP leader Dinesh Gunawardena as the Foreign Minister, will have to address the accountability issue without further delay. Sri Lanka should be fully geared to present its case, in Geneva, in March, in addition to making representations to individual members of the UNHRC and the US. Geneva cannot ignore Sri Lanka’s request for a thorough review of the original accusations against the backdrop of revealed British dispatches.

The 17-member caretaker cabinet, chaired by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, and the National Security Council, should be thorough on the issue. If the caretaker government fails to utilise the given opportunity it would be nothing but treason. The Gotabaya Rajapaksa administration should move fast on this matter. In fact, addressing the Geneva issue would be as important as winning the parliamentary general election in April 2020. Having comfortably won the Feb 2018 Local Government polls and the Nov 2019 presidential, the SLPP should now undertake a comprehensive programme to address accountability issues ahead of the April 2020 parliamentary polls, followed by the Provincial Council polls. The vast majority of Tamil electorate is certainly unaware UN accusations have been challenged in the House of Lords on the basis of wartime British High Commission dispatches from Colombo. Although Lord Naseby made the dispatches available to the then President Maithripala Sirisena, his government squandered the opportunity to clear Sri Lanka’s name. Following the UK Minister of State for the Commonwealth, UN and South Asia Lord Ahmad’s visit to Colombo, in Oct, the writer asked the British High Commission whether Sri Lanka raised the Naseby disclosure. The British HC denied Sri Lanka government taking it up. Among those who met the British politician were the then President Sirisena and Foreign Minister Marapana. In spite of rhetoric, the former President turned a blind eye to what was going. President Counsel Marapana never pursued the matter.

A treacherous government

Sri Lanka never officially raised Lord Naseby’s disclosure with the UK. The High Commissioner of Sri Lanka in the UK Manisha Gunasekera, met Lord Ahmad, on Nov 7, in the run up to the presidential election. Although the Foreign Ministry declared they focused on issues of mutual interest in Sri Lanka-UK bilateral relations and followed up on Minister Ahmad’s visit to Sri Lanka in October, as to how Lord Naseby’s disclosure could be used was never discussed.

Lord Ahmad, in Feb 2019, revealed how the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe government, in Oct. 2018, and the UNP, in January 2019, reassured Sri Lanka’s commitment to those controversial punitive UNHRC Resolutions.

Foreign Minister Dinesh Gunawardene is one of the few sitting members of parliament who repeatedly pushed the previous administration to use the Lord Naseby’s disclosure for Sri Lanka’s defence. Gunawardene raised the issue, both in and outside parliament. Unfortunately, the parliament as an institution never bothered to examine the Naseby disclosure. The Parliamentary Oversight Committees on foreign relations and defence neglected their responsibilities. They never examined the issue in spite of the revelation being made in the House of Lords on Oct 12, 2017. For some strange reason absolutely no effort was made by the SLPP presidential candidate to educate the Tamil electorate. Instead, those promoting separatist agenda were allowed to propagate the lie that exclusive international mechanisms were required to address accountability issues. The demand was one of the proposals put forwarded by the ITAK-led five-party Tamil grouping in the run up to the Nov 16 presidential poll. Unless, the caretaker government swiftly and decisively act on Lord Naseby’s disclosure, coupled with all other available evidence, those who still believe in a separate state in a re-merged North and the East would exploit the forthcoming parliamentary and Provincial Council polls to consolidate their position. Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s triumph would be exploited by the TNA to increase its tally at the expense of national reconciliation. The TNA stands a chance to enhance its presence in parliament by depicting Gotabaya Rajapaksa as a threat to the community unless the caretaker governemnt educated the Tamil electorate. The TNA obtained 16 seats at the last parliamentary polls in August 2017. The outfit will certainly do much better in case the Gotabaya Rajapaksa administration didn’t address this issue immediately. The TNA is aware as to how the Lord Naseby’s initiative could undermine its campaign based on lies. The TNA conveniently remained silent on the Naseby’s disclosure.

 The Island submitted the following questions to TNA and Opposition Leader R. Sampanthan on Nov 27, 2017 and repeatedly reminded the Opposition Leader’s Office of the delay on its part to response. The following questions were never answered: (1) Have you (TNA) studied Lord Naseby’s statement made in the House of Lords on Oct 12, 2017 (2) What is TNA’s position on Naseby’s claims? (3) Did TNA leaders discuss Naseby’s claim among themselves? (4) Did TNA respond to MP Dinesh Gunawardena’s statements in parliament on Naseby’s disclosure? (5) And Did TNA take up this issue with UK High Commissioner James Dauris?