One-time Sri Lanka’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations at Geneva Tamara Kunanayakam says the country has no other option, but to oppose the Core Group’s Resolution by calling for a vote when it is tabled at the 46th session of the Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC).
The Core Group, led by the UK, includes Germany, Canada, North Macedonia, Montenegro and Malawi. Kunanayakam, who served in Geneva (2011-2013) emphasized: “If the Resolution is adopted with Sri Lanka accepting, either directly by co-sponsoring or indirectly by not calling for a vote, it will reinstate the notorious HRC Resolution 30/1. By doing so, Sri Lanka will validate its underlying logic that legitimizes the use of illegal unilateral coercive measures against sovereign states; undermine Sri Lanka’s own sovereignty and the UN Charter-based multilateral order, guarantor of that sovereignty; deprive our allies in the Global South of the opportunity to express their views on a precedent-setting resolution that threatens their own sovereignty; and, isolate Sri Lanka, making it more vulnerable than it already is to foreign intervention and aggression. And that will only benefit Washington’s global ambitions for a unilateral world order under US hegemony.”
The then UNP-led coalition co-sponsored the Resolution on Oct 1, 2015. The then Sri Lanka’s PR there Ravinatha Aryasinha was ordered by Colombo to accept the Resolution on Sri Lanka’s behalf after he initially raised objections to it.
Kunanayakam, who had been Sri Lanka’s top envoy in Havana (2009-2011) asserted: “In fact, under today’s conditions, such a resolution will be worse than the 2015 resolution which could easily be dismissed on the basis that the then Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera had acted without authorization and there had been widespread opposition within the country, especially from political parties. This time, it will be interpreted as there having been not only an international consensus, but a national consensus, with the added argument that the Government in place was elected with a near two-thirds majority.”
The foreign affairs analyst was responding to the writer’s query as to what should be Sri Lanka’s response? And how could the country avoid a vote on the Core Group’s resolution?
UK succeeds US
The UK took command of the Core Group in the wake of the US quitting the UNHRC alleging the Geneva body was a cesspool of political bias. Having succeeded the US, the UK, prodded on by an influential Tamil group of Sri Lanka origin, has mounted a despicable political project meant to humiliate post-war Sri Lanka. The failure on Sri Lanka’s part to counter Western propaganda facilitated their operation. The current administration is no exception. Sri Lanka pathetically failed to exploit disclosures made by Western ‘sources’ since the successful conclusion of the conflict in May 2009 to the chagrin of the oft repeated Western refrain that the Sri Lankan security forces were incapable of crushing the almost invincible military machine of the LTTE. Sri Lanka’s pitiable handling of the Geneva affair certainly made the British project easier.
Sri Lanka should be eternally grateful to Lord Naseby for exposing the British project. The Conservative Party member recently revealed how the British conveniently suppressed information which might have helped the UNHRC to establish the truth. The UK withheld information in spite of it being a member of the 47-nation UNHRC. The availability of such information was made known to the world on Oct 12, 2017 thanks to Lord Naseby.
A parliamentary query raised by Lord Naseby recently revealed the suppression of diplomatic cables from the UK High Commission in Colombo in 2009. If revealed, the cables could have disputed the very basis of the unsubstantiated war crimes allegations leading to Sri Lanka co-sponsoring the 2015 Geneva Resolution against itself.
Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon of the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office on Feb 16 answered Lord Naseby’s written parliamentary question, tabled on Feb 4.
Lord Naseby asked the government whether the UK supplied to the UN Human Rights Council any (1) censored, and (2) uncensored, copies of dispatches written by Lieutenant Colonel Anthony Gash, the former Defence Attaché of the British High Commission in Sri Lanka about events in that country between 1 January and 18 May 2009, relating to the civil war.
Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon said that the UK Government had not received any request from the UN Human Rights Council for copies of dispatches written by the former Defence Attaché at the British High Commission in Sri Lanka, Lieutenant Colonel Gash, about events in Sri Lanka related to the civil war, and had not provided any.
Appearing on ‘Face the Nation’ anchored by Shameer Rasooldeen on Feb 15, defence analyst and lecturer Nilanthan Niruthan explained the British duplicity in handling accountability issues. Responding to Rasooldeen, Niruthan didn’t mince his words when explained the rule of law meant that those responsible for crimes should be promptly and fairly prosecuted. Yet the UK government, while seeking to punish the Sri Lanka military, was pushing for a new law – the Overseas Operations Bill – that would make it nearly impossible to prosecute British soldiers for torture and other war crimes committed overseas, Niruthan said. The British actions showed contempt for the rule of law, violation of the UK’s international commitments to prosecute the worst crimes, and risks creating impunity for grave abuse, the programme was told.
The writer on Monday (22) sought a further clarification from Chennai, born Niruthan as regards the British position to the accountability issues. “The British position,” Niruthan, whose parents fled the Jaffna peninsula sometime after the 1983 anti-Tamil riots, said: “… is like a rat accusing a squirrel of being a pest. The UK has been found responsible for systematic war crimes by the ICC prosecutor but the court could not proceed because the UK refused to cooperate with any further investigations. Worse, the UK is now working on a law that will make its own soldiers immune to the very same international prosecutions they are trying to push against the Sri Lankan military. The fact that they are leading the charge against Sri Lanka is evidence of how hypocritical and corrupt the system is. There is a difference between justice and politics. The UK sponsoring the resolution makes it undeniable that all this is much more about politics than anything related to justice. I hope Sri Lankans of all communities are paying attention to these double standards.”
Niruthan contributes to ‘The Journal of Military Operations and Small Wars’ as well as Asia-Pacific magazine called ‘The Diplomat’. Questioning the response of some countries with vested interests to terrorism and post-conflict Sri Lanka, Niruthan referred to the assassination of his grandfather Rajasundaram Vaithalingam, of Vaddukottai, Jaffna by the TELO (Tamil Eelam Liberation Organization). At the time of Vaithalingam’s assassination in 1985, he had been the SLFP organizer for Jaffna.
Western powers turned a blind eye to Indian intervention causing mayhem here in the 80s. India sponsored terrorist groups, including the TELO, engaged in terrorist acts with impunity. They created an environment conducive for the deployment of the Indian Army here (July 1987-March 1990). India lost nearly 1,500 officers and men during the IPKF (Indian Peace Keeping Force) deployment. Nearly 3,000 others received injuries and the rest is history.
Today India represents the UNHRC. Foreign Secretary retired Admiral Prof. Jayanath Colombage on Feb 19 revealed to Hiru TV Sri Lanka’s request to Indian PM Narendra Modi’s backing at the UNHRC. India never bothered at least to apologize for causing massive death and destruction in Sri Lanka though New Delhi from time to time reminded Colombo of its obligations towards the Tamil community.
Indian role in bringing war to an end
Ironically, we have to acknowledge the support provided by India during the Eelam War IV (August 2006-May 2009) as it became patently unable to stomach Tiger insolence to its former patron, for turning its guns on the IPKF and especially after the assassination of its ex-Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi. It would be pertinent to underscore what one-time Indian High Commissioner J, N. Dixit stated in 2004. Dixit, in his memoirs, ‘Makers of India’s Foreign Policy,’ says that he preferred to call India’s interference in Sri Lanka during 1980-1990 period as ‘Indian involvement.’ Dixit asserted that the decision to give active support to Sri Lankan Tamil militants could be considered one of the two major foreign policy blunders made by the then Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. But Dixit strongly defended the Prime Minister’s action, while asserting Gandhi couldn’t have afforded the emergence of Tamil separatism in India by refusing to support the aspirations of Sri Lankan Tamils [Chapter 6:An Indo-centric Practitioner of Realpolitik-Makers of India’s Foreign Policy].
Dixit failed to explain how the Prime Minister hoped to achieve her twin objectives by recruiting, training, arming and deploying thousands of Sri Lankan Tamil youth. India also helped Sri Lankan terrorists establish contact with international terrorist groups.
Indian action caused irrevocable damage to Indo-Lanka relations. The Maldives, too, suffered due to Indian intervention in Sri Lanka. Dixit totally ignored the Maldivian factor, though Indian trained PLOTE (People’s Liberation Organization of Tamil Eelam) was responsible for a coup attempt in the Maldives in Nov. 1988. India had to send in troops to thwart sea borne Sri Lankan terrorists, who mounted the attack on Male. The UNHRC (previously Commission) or Western powers never showed any interest in the suffering of the northern public until the Sri Lankan military eradicated the LTTE.
However, the war could never have been brought to a successful conclusion without New Delhi’s backing. Sri Lanka also needs to understand the US-Japan-India-Australia axis to meet the growing Chinese challenge as it walks a diplomatic tightrope against the backdrop of Colombo’s continuing dependence on Beijing. The Western moves in Geneva, in a way, reflect their overall strategy to undermine China.
Since the end of the conflict in May 2009, the Western powers pushed hard for an accountability process that enabled them to bring Sri Lanka under their domination. They exploited a joint statement issued in the wake of UNSG Ban Ki moon’s visit to Colombo to initiate a direct intimidation process that kicked off with the accusation of killing 40,000 civilians on the Vanni east front by a virtual kangaroo court handpicked by the UNSG and called the Panel of Experts, whose findings neither could be questioned nor can the accusers be cross examined at least for two decades or more. (Report of the Secretary General’s Panel of Experts on Accountability in Sri Lanka released on March 31, 2011).
Gathering evidence the UN way
In the absence of a steady stream of complaints, the Centre for War Victims and Human Rights launched an online campaign to gather war crimes complaints. The petition was launched about a week before the expiry of the first deadline (Dec 15, 2010). The deadline was subsequently extended to Dec 31, 2010. The organizers posted a detailed communication from the Secretariat to PoE/PoE on a website named ‘Stop Sri Lanka State Terrorism’, obviously giving away the ultimate aim of the project. Interestingly, those who had complained cannot be examined in view of a confidentiality clause that prevented scrutiny of such for a period of 20 years (from March 2011 to March 2031). What is really surprising is that Sri Lanka never challenged the confidentiality clause. Sri Lanka owed an explanation why it continuously failed to take up contentious matters, such as the confidentiality clause or wartime US Defence Advisor Lt. Col. Lawrence Smith’s defence of the Sri Lankan military at the first post-war defence seminar conducted in 2011. Let me reproduce verbatim what the US official said. Smith was responding to Maj. Gen. (retd) Ashok Mehta (IPKF) who queried about the alleged battlefield executions. Query directed to the then Maj. Gen. Shavendra Silva, No 2 in New York was answered by the American.
This is what the American had to say: “Hello, may I say something to a couple of questions raised. I’ve been the Defense Ataché 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 to see, the offers to surrender that, I am aware of, seemed to come from the mouthpieces of the LTTE – Nadesan, 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 seem to all 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. “
The US State Department disassociated itself from Lt. Col. Smith’s statement. State Department’s Deputy Spokesman Mark C. Toner responded to questions raised on the basis of The Island report.
I have one on Sri Lanka. The senior Defense Attaché at the U.S. Mission in Sri Lanka went public in the newspapers (inaudible) that he questioned the credibility of surrender offers made by senior LTTE leaders who was the head of the (inaudible) last year. Does this reflect any change in the U.S. position on the war crime victims?
Right. You’re talking about remarks that were made at a conference in Colombo?
Well, just to clarify, the U.S. did decline invitations to participate in that conference as either a conference speaker or panelist. My understanding is that the Defence Attaché was there as an observer and a note taker. His comments reflected his personal opinions. There’s no change in the policy of the United States, and his remarks do not reflect any change in our policy.
So that was a personal opinion?
Personal opinion. The United States – and just to reiterate that policy – remains deeply concerned by the allegations in the panel of experts report, and we’re committed to seeing a credible accounting of and accountability for violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law. And we believe that the Sri Lankan Government must act quickly and credibly to address these allegations.
Who was the attaché?
I don’t have his name.
Is he still the attaché? (Laughter.) Was there any discussion —?
I believe he’s still there, but I’ll try to get an update.
Smith’s statement contradicted the very basis of the war crimes allegations. For a decade, Sri Lanka conveniently failed to exploit US statements whereas resolutions were moved in Geneva on the basis of unsubstantiated allegations. Resolutions were passed against Sri Lanka in 2012, 2013 and 2014 before the US backed change of the Rajapaksa administration that paved the way for the US to move the 2015 resolution. Sri Lanka never took any notice of the US State Department declaration that the US spent USD 585 mn to restore democracy in Myanmar, Nigeria and Sri Lanka. If just one third of that amount had been allocated for the Sri Lanka project in addition to funds made available by the USAID in 2015, who were the recipients? The Geneva project can never be really examined without studying the US political designs here. Backing of General Fonseka and Maithripala Sirisena at 2010 and 2015 presidential polls exposed the US strategy. Wikileaks proved that.
The writer had an opportunity to discuss the accountability issue on ‘Sirasa’ ‘Pathikada’ anchored by Asoka Dias. The programme aired live, hours before Foreign Minister Dinesh Gunawardena addressed the 46th sessions of the UNHRC, dealing with the failure on the part of successive governments to respond properly to the Western strategy. The squandering of a staggering USD 6.5 mn in 2014 for a harebrained project to prevent the US pushing Sri Lanka on the human rights front captured front-page attention of some print media a few days before the beginning of the Geneva sessions. The absence of overall strategy, too, was highlighted with scheduling of Pakistan PM Imran Khan’s visit to Colombo amidst Geneva sessions and ongoing controversy of cremation of Muslim victims of Covid-19. But, the cancellation of Khan’s address to Parliament on the alleged fears of him raising the Kashmir issue after making a grand announcement underscored the pathetic state of affairs.
American of Indian and Pakistani origin Imaad Zuberi, who had donated heavily to Democrats before former President Donald J. Trump’s election, pleaded guilty to charges related to a $900,000 donation to Trump’s inaugural committee, the US media reported last week. Having promised to save Sri Lanka for a sum of USD 8.5 mn, Zuberi received USD 6.5 mn in a deal negotiated through the Sri Lanka Embassy in Washington. In the following year, the US not only played a key role in the change of government in Colombo, it got the UNP-SLFP administration to co-sponsor a Resolution against Sri Lanka’s wartime political leadership and the military.
In 2019 New York Times quoted Zuberi as having said: “To open doors, I have to donate. It’s just a fact of life.”
The smooth operator had donated heavily to Democrats, including committees supporting President Barack Obama and then Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign, before abruptly switching allegiance to Republicans in the wake of Trump’s victory.
The Yahapalana government never made a genuine effort to probe the controversial deal with the American. Investigations revealed that the political agent who had received a 12-year jail term spent vast amounts of Sri Lankan taxpayers’ money to sustain his luxurious lifestyle. Those who had benefited at the expense of Sri Lanka perhaps will never be punished though the military is in the dock. US declaration of Army Chief Gen. Shavendra Silva a persona non grata in the US is a case in point. The same fate befell Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka and Maj. Gen. Chagie Gallage.
President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Premier Mahinda Rajapaksa in conversation in Parliament on Feb 11, 2021. It was President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s fourth visit to Parliament since the inauguration of the new session (pic courtesy PMD)
By Shamindra Ferdinando
National Freedom Front (NFF) leader, Wimal Weerawansa, MP, recently caused quite a political storm by calling for the inclusion of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa in Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) decision-making hierarchy. In spite of efforts to settle the issue, amicably, strong statements made by SLPP Chairman Prof. G.L. Peiris and its General Secretary Sagara Kariyawasam at the regular weekly media briefing at Waters’ Edge underscored the simmering problem (report on media briefing on page 1)
Weerawansa’s call triggered an extremely angry response from the ruling SLPP with its General Secretary Sagara Kariyawasam lambasting the former JVPer. Flanked by Kalutara District SLPP MP Sanjiva Edirimanne and SLPP Administrative Secretary Renuka Perera, Attorney-at-Law Kariyawasam dismissed Weerawansa’s call.
The briefing at the SLPP Nelum Mawatha Office, Battarmulla, revealed unprecedented deep resentment towards Weerawansa whose unexpected appeal took the SLPP by total surprise. Newcomers Kariyawasam, a National List MP and Edirimanne, who polled 105,973 preference votes in the Kalutara district at the last parliamentary election in August 2020, teamed up with Perera. The SLPP ‘blitz’ shook the political scene.
The SLPP primarily targeted Weerawansa on two issues, namely the NFF leader had no right whatsoever to call for removal of SLPP leader Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa and the NFF maintained clandestine links with two foreign intelligence agencies.
A section of the media thrived on the unexpected political controversy caused by Weerawansa. The former JVP Propaganda Secretary couldn’t have made that call without realizing the far reaching consequences. Those seeking to exploit the SLPP-NFF dispute tried to capitalise on the situation. The SLPP, too, contributed to that strategy. In its haste to attack Weerawansa over his interview with the Lankadeepa in its Feb 7, 2021 edition, the SLPP forgot the NFF leader wanted a specific political role for President Gotabaya Rajapaksa.
Does President Gotabaya Rajapaksa require a political role? Does he deserve such a role? Can President Rajapaksa be denied a leadership role in the SLFP, undoubtedly the most powerful political party today? Can Gotabaya Rajapaksa ‘operate’ outside the SLPP, thereby depriving him an opportunity to intervene in political matters?
The SLPP’s drastic response to Weerawansa’s timely suggestion underscored President Gotabaya Rajapaksa lacking much needed political clout. Over a year after the last presidential election in Nov 2019, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa remained a man without SLPP membership. In fact, the SLPP on its own should have considered how to accommodate President Gotabaya Rajapaksa. Had the SLPP acted wisely, Weerawansa wouldn’t have had to risk a preventable political crisis. The SLPP actually owed an explanation why it failed to consider a suitable position within the hierarchy. It would be pertinent to mention that Weerawansa secured two other interviews on Feb 7, the day the Lankadeepa published the controversial discussion. Mawbima, published by the Ceylon Newspapers Pvt Limited owned by SLPP National List MP Tiran Alles and Communist Party mouthpiece, ‘Aththa’ (Truth), a name borrowed from the former official Soviet CP newspaper Pravda.
The writer found the Aththa interview conducted by its Editor (name not given) quite critical of the incumbent Rajapaksa administration. In fact, Weerawansa therein asserted that there had been much better internal discussion within the SLFP-led coalition during the previous Rajapaksa presidency (Nov 2005-January 2015). There had been no reference to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa being given a political role whatsoever. The NFF leader who spearheaded a campaign within the SLPP against the hotly disputed government decision to hand over to India 49 per cent stake in the East Container Terminal (ECT) at the Colombo port, in Feb 3, 2021 sought to explain the common stand taken by some parties within the SLPP. Instead, Weerawansa created an enormous political issue that overwhelmed the ruling coalition.
Perhaps, someone should remind Weerawansa how he fired the first salvo against the previous Rajapaksa administration by seeking a consensus with the late Ven. Maduluwawe Sobitha. The meeting in the second week of July 2014 set in motion a spate of events leading to SLFP General Secretary Maihripala Sirisena switching allegiance to UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe.
Attack on influential clique
Responding to an Aththa query, Weerawansa explained the weaknesses in the SLPP. Alleging the absence of a regular discussion among constituents of the SLPP, Weerawansa said that though all contributed to the overwhelming victories at the 2019 and 2020 national elections, today a small clique sustained the power. When the actions of that clique caused trouble, the administration sought the help of all others to face the crisis. Declaring he had made his position clear on the extremely unhappy situation, Weerawansa alleged that the government suffered due to lack of internal discussions. Compared to the situation today, the previous Rajapaksa administration handled internal issues better. The views expressed at that time received some recognition. The absence of internal discussions had resulted in challenges to the incumbent administration.
Asked to comment on some SLPP constituents taking a common stand on the ECT issue leading to the SLPP targeting the NFF leader, Weerawansa said that representatives, including lawmakers met at his official residence on January 30, 2021, to take a common stand on the issue at hand. Altogether 10 political parties had participated in the discussion and, at the conclusion, they decided to continue with the grouping. “We decided to meet once a month to discuss developments. Discuss required changes. Discuss the government strategies,” Weerawansa said, revealing they reached a common understanding meant to bring both the government and the country under pressure. The Minister declared that at that time they met to discuss ECT exclusively, subsequently a decision was made to continue with the project. Weerawansa said that they would try to obstruct those trying to take President Gotabaya Rajapaksa on a wrong path.
Weerawansa, in his interview with Aththa, emphasised how the Western powers went even to the extent of exploring the imposition of economic sanctions on Sri Lanka against the backdrop of the 46th session of the Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) at a time the country was mired in a deepening crisis due to rising foreign debt. Weerawansa didn’t mince his words when he acknowledged daunting economic challenges and the failure on the part of the government to achieve the much-touted economic objectives. Weerawansa blamed the Covid-19 pandemic mainly for the economic downturn. The former JVP heavyweight warned of dire consequences if the country couldn’t raise over USD 4 bn annually to settle loans obtained by successive governments, particularly the previous yahapalana administration taking commercial loans at high interest rates. Weerawansa alleged the UNP-SLFP administration went for excessively costly loans in the wake of their humiliating defeat at the last Local Government elections on Feb 10, 2018.
In other words, Weerawansa acknowledged that there couldn’t be any justification in ‘boru shows’ at a time of the rapidly developing crisis that could overwhelm the national economy. It would be the responsibility of the SLPP to ensure political stability both in and outside Parliament. An internal crisis within the SLPP now can cause irreparable damage.
Time for politics
Wartime Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa entered active politics in the wake of the enactment of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution in 2015. The 19th Amendment deprived President Mahinda Rajapaksa of an opportunity to seek a third presidential term. One-time SLFP strongman and war-winning President Mahinda Rajapaksa failed in his hotly challenged bid to secure a third term in 2015. Having launched civil society groups Viyathmaga and Eliya at the onset of the yahapalana administration, Gotabaya Rajapaksa slowly but steadily pursued a political strategy that ultimately paved the way for him to secure the SLPP’s presidential nomination in August 2019. Yet, Gotabaya Rajapaksa didn’t publicly receive SLPP membership. Gotabaya Rajapaksa launched Viyathmaga in early 2016 to take his message to the masses. Viyathmaga was followed by Eliya that focused on countering moves to introduce a new Constitution at the expense of the country’s unitary status.
Viyathmaga emerged as an influential group within the SLPP parliamentary group with eight out of nine contestants gaining entry into Parliament at the August 2020 general election. The SLPP won 145 seats, including 17 National List slots. The Parliament comprises 196 elected and 29 appointed members.
Of the SLPP winners, retired Rear Admiral Sarath Weerasekera (328,092) and Dr. Nalaka Godahewa (325,479) polled the highest preferential votes in Colombo and Gampaha electoral districts, respectively. President Gotabaya Rajapaksa fielded the group on the SLPP ticket whereas former Central Bank Governor Ajith Nivard Cabraal and Dr. Seetha Arambepola were accommodated on the National List.
Of the successful Viyathmaga members, only Weerasekera has represented Parliament before having served the Navy for over three decades and retired as its Chief of Staff. Weerasekera represented Digamadulla electorate during Mahinda Rajapaksa’s second tenure (2010-2015) as the President.
Viyathmaga nominees Prof. Channa Jayasumana (Anuradhapura/133,980), Gunapala Ratnasekera (Kurunegala/141,991), Nalaka Kottegoda (Matale/71,404), Tilak Rajapaksha (Digamadulla/54,203), Dr. Upul Galappatti (Hambantota/63,369), and Udayana Kirindigoda (Mahanuwara/39,904) entered Parliament at the expense of those who represented the last Parliament on the UPFA ticket.
Viyathmaga nominated Businessman Anura Fernando who nursed Colombo (north) electorate failed to get elected, whereas Ali Sabri, PC, who also served Viyathmaga, was accommodated in Parliament through the SLPP National List and not as a member of Viyathmaga.
Can the SLPP continue to ignore the need to bring in President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, formally into the decision- making apparatus of the SLPP?
Mahinda Rajapaksa switched his allegiance from the SLFP to the SLPP less than two weeks after the constitutional coup staged by the then President Maithripala Sirisena in late Oct 2018. Mahinda Rajapaksa received membership on Nov 11, 2018 from SLPP Chairman Prof. G.L. Peiris in the presence of its General Secretary Sagara Kariyawasam. The well attended event took place at Premier Rajapaksa’s official residence at Wijerama Mawatha. Thirty other UPFA lawmakers received SLPP membership on that day.
MR takes SLPP membership
Mahinda Rajapaksa made the surprising move, close on the heels of the Supreme Court suspending President Sirisena’s decision to dissolve Parliament on the night of Nov 9, 2018, and called the general election on January 5, 2019. Sirisena had no other option after the then Joint Opposition and SLFP failed pathetically to prove a simple majority in Parliament. Violence caused by the Joint Opposition in Parliament didn’t serve any purpose other than to bring the entire parliamentary system to disrepute.
The Supreme Court issued its ruling on Nov 14, 2018. Among those who moved the Supreme Court were the UNP, TNA and the JVP. A jubilant UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe, while hailing the Court ruling, tweeted that the people have won their first victory. “Let’s go forward and re-establish the sovereignty of the people in our beloved country.”
If the SC ruling went against those who moved the Court, perhaps the political situation would have been much different today. The political situation would have been fashioned on the outcome of the January 5, 2019 general election. Perhaps, the UNP on its own could have secured the largest block of seats in Parliament and form a government with the support of a section of SLFP lawmakers with or without Sirisena. In the last Parliament the UNP had 106 elected under the ‘Elephant’ symbol. The January 5, 2019 general election would have thwarted a disastrous split in the UNP a year later that ultimately led to annihilation of the UNP at the August 2020 general election. The UNP managed to secure just one National List slot. It would be pertinent to examine whether the National Thowheed Jamaat (NTJ) resorted to the Easter Sunday carnage on April 21, 2019 if the general election was held on January 5, 2019 as envisaged by President Sirisena.
Top academic Rajan Hoole speculated in his immensely interesting and controversial ‘Sri Lanka’s Easter Tragedy: When the Deep State Gets Out Of Its Depth’ launched in the run-up to the 2019 Nov presidential election how the failure on the part of the NTJ to secure parliamentary representation at the 2015 general election may have led to the Easter Sunday attacks. If general election was held as President Sirisena wanted the NTJ would have had an opportunity to secure some of its people elected to Parliament via Muslim political parties. Had that happened, perhaps it wouldn’t have resorted to the Easter Sunday attacks, he reasoned.
Who knows spice merchant Mohamed Yusuf Ibrahim whose sons detonated explosives at the Shangri-La and the Cinnamon Grand hotels on April 21 would have found a place in the Parliament. The JVP never explained why Ibrahim was accommodated on its National List at the 2015 general election.
Ibrahim’s sons — identified as Ilham Ahmed Ibrahim and Imsath Ahmed Ibrahim —detonated their explosives at the Shangri-La and the Cinnamon Grand hotels, respectively.
Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s emergence as the SLPP presidential candidate should be examined against the backdrop of an extremely sensitive political environment following the Easter Sunday carnage. The UNP, the SLFP, JVP, TNA and all political parties represented in Parliament played politics with the issue. A naïve government allowed extremists to go on the rampage weeks after the Easter attacks. The failure to protect the Muslims is definitely as bad as allowing the NTJ to strike in spite of specific warnings received from India. The government never explained how extremists stormed Minuwangoda in the second week of May, 2019. The then Army Commander Lt. Gen. Mahesh Senanayake, having failed to prevent the Easter Sunday attacks and anti-Muslim violence, exploited the situation to seek a political career. The Army Commander, too, should have been held responsible for both failures as he also had at his disposal one of the country’s biggest intelligence operations run by the DMI. Senanayake who couldn’t even secure 50,000 votes at the last presidential election, contrary to much publicized promises, refrained from contesting the last parliamentary election. Perhaps he reslised that he had already been badly exposed.
19 A paves the way for GR
If not for the 19th Amendment, Gotabaya Rajapaksa wouldn’t have received SLPP nomination even though a significant section of the electorate appreciated the wartime Defence Secretary’s entry into politics at the highest level. Lawmakers Kumara Welgama, an SLFP heavyweight and Democratic Left Front (DLF) leader Vasudeva Nanayakkara opposed Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s entry. Welgama had the strength not only to take a public stand against Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s emergence as the SLPP candidate but switched his allegiance to the newly formed Samagi Jana Balavegaya (SJB) at the parliamentary election. Welgama entered Parliament from Kalutara.
In utterly appalling Sri Lankan politics, the country shouldn’t be surprised to see the bankrupt SJB and the JVP trying to exploit Weerawansa’s declaration. State Minister Ajith Nivard Cabrral recently reminded the real status of the SJB. Responding to SJB leader Sajith Premadasa’s query on the Katuwana branch of the Bank of Ceylon granting D.S. Gunasekera Company Rs 3.1 bn loan, a smiling former Central Bank Governor asked Premadasa where was he when the BOC subsequent to the then government’s intervention granted the Perpetual Treasuries Limited (PTL) a staggering Rs 10 bn in 10 minutes.
Premadasa formed the SJB after losing to Gotabaya Rajapaksa at the last presidential poll. A section of the civil society in a shameless bid, obviously on behalf of the UNP, moved the judiciary against Gotabaya Rajapaksa claiming he was not eligible to contest. A highly jittery SLPP fielded the then UPFA MP Chamal Rajapaksa as an independent candidate in case Gotabaya Rajapaksa suffered an unthinkable setback. The judiciary ruled in favour of Gotabaya Rajapaksa and the rest is history.
The government tackled the crisis caused by Weerawansa’s intervention. Tourism Minister Prasanna Ranatunga visited the ‘Made in Sri Lanka exhibition’ on Feb 12 on Minister Weerawansa’s invitation where he declared the issue has been settled while issuing a warning to smaller parties. On the following day, Premier Mahinda Rajapaksa visited the exhibition on Weerawansa’s invitation as the top leadership sought to settle the dispute. The SLPP initially hit back hard by calling a media briefing at Ape Gama on Feb 11 where Sanjiva Edirimanna, MP and several others strongly opposed the NFF’s intervention in what they called an internal matter. The government needs to examine contentious matters seriously. In addition to Weerawansa’s stand on the ECT and comment on the SLPP leadership, the former JVP firebrand clashed with the SLPP over the original 20th Amendment as well as an alleged attempt to influence NFF lawmakers. The clash between Weerawansa and SLPP National List MP Jayantha Ketagoda in Premier Rajapaksa’s presence in Parliament highlighted the torrid relationship between the two parties. Obviously all is not well within the ruling coalition. Those who exercised their franchise for the SLPP in 2019 and 2020 expect the ruling coalition to address internal issues, swiftly and decisively or be ready to face the consequences.
With an eye on the 46th session of the Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) later this month, the highly influential Global Tamil Forum (GTF), Centre for Human Rights and Global Justice, New York University, Sri Lanka Campaign for Peace and Justice and The Canadian Tamil Congress have brought in ‘big guns’ for a combined onslaught on Sri Lanka this week.
Among the participants, at a two-hour webinar, titled ‘Sri Lanka: Quest for Justice, Rule of Law and Democratic Rights’, scheduled for Friday, Feb. 12 (UK 1:30 pm; Europe/South Africa 3.30 pm; India/Sri Lanka 7:00 pm IST; Canada/US 8:30 am; Australia 12.30 am) are former UN Assistant Secretary General, Charles Petrie, former Special Rapporteur on the promotion of truth, justice, reparation and guarantee of non-recurrence, Pablo de Greiff and former US Ambassador-at-Large for Global Criminal Justice, Stephen J. Rapp.
The panelists includes Tamil National Alliance (TNA) lawmaker M.A. Sumanthiran, PC, former Commissioner of HRCSL Ambika Satkunanathan, Centre for Policy Alternatives (CPA) representative Attorney-at-Law Bhavani Fonseka, civil society activist. Shreen Saroor, and Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC) representative, Attorney-at-Law, Ameer Faaiz. Melissa Dring, of the Sri Lanka Campaign for Peace and Justice, is the moderator.
Their project has received a tremendous boost with the US returning to the Geneva body. The US quit UNHRC in June 2018.
The TNA, in late 2001, recognized the LTTE as the sole representative of the Tamil community. The LTTE held that privileged status in the eyes of the TNA, until Sri Lanka brought the war to a successful conclusion, in May 2009. The TNA is a direct beneficiary of the LTTE’s demise. Of course, Sumanthiran cannot be entirely held responsible for TNA’s actions as he joined the one-time LTTE mouthpiece, as a National List MP, in April 2010.
Why back Fonseka?
Sumanthiran entered Parliament a couple of months after the TNA wholeheartedly backed war-winning Army Commander Gen. Sarath Fonseka’s presidential candidature. Perhaps, Sumanthiran should explain on Feb 12, as to why the TNA, having accused the Army, Fonseka led with such efficiency, till the crushing of the formidable Tigers militarily, of genocide and then backed him to the hilt at the presidential poll that came soon afterwards. The TNA cannot conveniently ignore the fact that all Northern and Eastern electoral districts overwhelmingly voted for Fonseka though he lost the overall contest by a staggering 1.8 mn votes. Why did Tamils vote for Fonseka after accusing him, and his men, of genocide after they crushed the LTTE, which many pundits repeatedly claimed the Lankan security forces were incapable of achieving?
Participation of Petrie, Pablo de Greiff and Rapp, in Friday’s webinar, is of extreme importance. Petrie headed an ‘Internal Review Panel on UN actions in Sri Lanka’ that dealt with the final phase of the conflict, in his capacity as Special Rapporteur; De Greiff visited Sri Lanka on four occasions, between 2015 and 2019, and Rapp visited Colombo twice, in 2012 and 2014.
The Petrie report conveniently forgot how India formed half a dozen armed groups in the ‘80s to terrorize Sri Lanka, just to teach the then JRJ a lesson for being overtly pro-West and perhaps for derogatively comparing Mrs. Bandaranaike and her son, Anura with Mrs Gandhi and her son Sanjay. The Indian intervention was meant to pave the way for the deployment of her Army in the Northern and Eastern regions. The Indian project went awry. India ended up losing nearly 1,500 officers, and men, here, in less than three years. In addition, double that number received injuries. The military mission was aborted in March 1990. A year later, the LTTE assassinated Rajiv Gandhi, who, in his capacity as the Indian Prime Minister authorized the deployment of the Indian Army here. Can India ever absolve herself of the crime of causing massive chaos and destruction to this country as a result of her diabolical project here? The Petrie report also ignored how the LTTE scuttled the last bid to negotiate a settlement by quitting peace talks in April 2003. The LTTE’s abrupt move jeopardized the survival of UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe’s government and paved the way for its ouster in the following year.
Those who really value justice, rule of law, as well as democratic rights, should examine the Indian intervention here, too. Petrie and de Greiff should use the opportunity to explain the UN’s failure in the ‘80s to thwart the murderous Indian project. The UN played along in a devious plot to destabilise Sri Lanka, over the years. The UN’s response to the LTTE, during the Vanni offensive is no exception. The issue is whether the use of ‘human shields’, by the LTTE, could have been averted if the UN took tangible measures against the LTTE, especially in the wake of its detention of Tamil UN employees, accused of helping civilians to flee the Vanni west.
Did Petrie probe abductions of
Did Petrie inquire into the abductions after the revelation of secret UN powwow with the LTTE, led to the UN confirmation of the incident at daily UN media briefings, in New York, by the Secretary General’s Spokesperson Montas (The Island expose of UN employees abducted by LTTE: UN HQ admits Colombo Office kept it in the dark – The Island, April 28, 2007) Beginning April 20, 2007 (LTTE detains UN workers). The Island published several news items on the issue. The TNA, or those who issued media statements at the drop of a hat, remained conveniently silent. The TNA’s decision to remain quiet is understandable due to its close working relationship with the LTTE. Many an eyebrow was raised when the European Union election monitors openly accused the Tigers of helping the TNA to win 22 seats in the North and East, in 2004, by stuffing ballot boxes on its behalf. In the following year, the TNA, on behalf of the LTTE, ordered Northern Tamils to boycott the November presidential election. CPA’s Executive Director, Dr. Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu, is the only civil society leader to criticize the LTTE-TNA move.
The LTTE and the TNA set the stage for an all-out war. The LTTE commenced claymore attacks, in early Dec 2005. In January 2006, the LTTE blasted a Navy Fast Attack Craft (FAC) off Trincomalee; in late, April 2006 they made an abortive bid to assassinate Fonseka, and in early Oct 2006 an attempt was made on Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s life. The LTTE lost the Eastern Province, eight months later.
The TNA, as well as some sections of the international community remained strongly confident of the LTTE’s military superiority, until it was evicted from Kilinochchi. The LTTE lost Kilinochchi in early January, less than two weeks after Canada-based veteran political and defence analyst D.B.S. Jeyaraj asserted that the LTTE was on the verge of reversing territorial gains made by the Army. The rest is history.
None of those who are harping today about the loss of civilian life bothered to publicly appeal to the LTTE to let go of its human shields. The TNA certainly owed an explanation why it remained silent over the LTTE taking cover behind the civilian population. Against the backdrop of the UN mollycoddling the LTTE, Prabhakaran forced Tamil civilians to follow the retreating LTTE fighting cadre from the western part of the Vanni region across the Kandy-Jaffna A9 road towards the Mullaitivu coast.
Oslo’s missive to Basil
The then Norwegian Ambassador, Tore Hattrem, acknowledged the rapidly developing crisis in the eastern part of the Vanni region, in a letter to Presidential Advisor, Basil Rajapaksa, as the Army stepped-up operations. Hattrem’s missive to Rajapaksa revealed their serious concerns over Prabhakaran’s refusal to give up human shields. The Island, some time ago, published the hitherto unknown Norwegian note, headlined ‘Offer/Proposal to the LTTE’, and personally signed by Ambassador Hattrem. The Norwegian envoy was writing to Basil Rajapaksa on behalf of those countries trying to negotiate a ceasefire between the government and the LTTE, to facilitate the release of civilians, held hostage by the latter.
The following is the text of Ambassador Hattrem’s letter, dated Feb. 16, 2009, addressed to Basil Rajapaksa: “I refer to our telephone conversation today. The proposal to the LTTE on how 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 been, regrettably, no response from the LTTE and it doesn’t seem to be likely that the LTTE will agree with this in the near future.“
How many civilians perished during the Vanni offensive? The UN Secretary General’s Panel of Experts (PoE) report, released on March 31, 2011, having faulted the Army, on three major counts, alleged the massacre of at least 40,000 civilians. Let me reproduce the relevant 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.”
The PoE arrived at the figure on the basis of information provided by persons whose identities would remain confidential till 2031 (20 years since the release of POE report in March 2011). The UN has strangely guaranteed confidentiality of ‘sources’ even after the lapse of the mandatory 20-year period. Perhaps, Petrie and Pablo de Greiff should explain how the UN pushed ahead with subsequent actions against Sri Lanka, based purely on still unverified accusations made by ghost accusers. In other words, Sri Lanka was convicted by the PoE report after a kangaroo court trial. How convenient?
Having failed to obtain the anticipated response to its public call for submissions, the PoE had no option but to extend the deadline to Dec 31, 2010. The PoE posted a notice in English on the UN website on Oct 27, 2010 calling for submissions on or before Dec 15, 2010. Sinhala and Tamil versions of the notice too, were subsequently posted. The PoE received 4,000 submissions from 2,300 persons. None of them were verified at any stage of the Geneva process, leading to yet bizarre Sri Lanka co-sponsoring of the Geneva Resolution on Oct 1, 2015 against itself.
When the writer raised the issue with the UN, as well as the then UNDP Resident Representative in Colombo, Subinay Nandy, whether the UN would do away with the confidentiality clause to facilitate the UNHRC probe, the Colombo mission issued the following statement after having consulted UN headquarters. The UN said: “The High Commissioner for Human Rights will now be making arrangements for a comprehensive investigation requested by the UNHRC and the issue of the confidentiality clause will need to be considered at a later stage,” (UN to revive 20-year confidentiality clause ‘at a later stage’- The Island April 7, 2014). The UN never did. Sri Lanka never exploited the matter.
The US, the British, as well as the EU, too, in spite of their push for an international war crimes probe, recently ruled out the possibility of them calling for a review of the confidentiality clause (EU, too, won’t call for review of 20-year UN confidentiality clause – The Island April 9, 2014).
Successive governments, and even those interested in defending the country, never really bothered to examine undisputed facts that were in Sri Lanka’s favour. The incumbent administration is no exception to this type of inexcusable lapses at great cost to the country.
PoE contradicts own claims
Interestingly, the PoE report contradicted its own claim of 40,000 killings. Unlike the unsubstantiated claim of 40,000 deaths, the paragraph bearing No 134 dealt with the issue on the basis of reliable sources acceptable to the UN.
It would be pertinent to reproduce the relevant section verbatim: “The United Nations Country Team is one source of information; in a document that was never released publicly, it estimated a total figure of 7,721 killed and 18,479 injured from August 2008 up to 13 May 2009, after which it became too difficult to count. In early February 2009, the United Nations started a process of compiling casualty figures, although efforts were hindered by lack of access. An internal ‘Crisis Operating Group’ was formed to collect reliable information regarding civilian casualties and other humanitarian concerns. In order to calculate a total casualty figure, the group took figures from RDHS as the baseline, using reports from national staff of the United Nations and NGOs, inside the Vanni, the ICRC, religious authorities and other sources to cross-check and verify the baseline. The methodology was quite conservative: if an incident could not be verified by these sources or could have been double counted, it was dismissed. Figures emanating from sources that could be perceived as biased, such as Tamil Net, were dismissed, as were Government sources outside the Vanni.”
Amnesty International (AI) in Sept. 2011, launched its own report, titled: ‘When will they get justice? Failures of Sri Lanka’s Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission.’ The report estimated the number of civilian deaths, due to military action, as over 10,000. AI based its assertion on eyewitness testimony and information from aid workers.
AI, too, guaranteed confidentiality of its ‘sources.’ Perhaps for want of close cooperation among those who had wanted to drag Sri Lanka before an international tribunal, they contradicted themselves in respect of the primary charge. Interestingly, none of those, except British Labour Party MP Siobhan McDonagh (Mitcham and Morden-Labour) propagating lies, regarding civilian deaths, dared to blatantly lie in Parliament about losses suffered by the LTTE. McDonagh estimated the number of LTTE cadres killed, in fighting, from January 1, 2009, to May 19, 2009, at 60,000. Successive governments didn’t even bother to raise the Labour MP’s lie with the UK though The Island pointed out the need to clarify matters. The absurd claim was made during the third week of Sept 2011, in Parliament. Sri Lanka never realized the need to inquire into the possibility of British parliamentarians’ relationship with the Tamil Diaspora. In fact, some politicians had benefited from their relationship. The GTF hired former MP for Enfield, North Joan Ryan, as its policy advisor. Of course, the GTF had the backing of all major political parties, with key politicians participating in its inauguration in the UK Parliament, in Feb 2010, in the wake of the LTTE’s demise.
Let us hope Friday’s webinar responds to Lord Naseby disclosure pertaining to loss of lives, based on confidential cables from British High Commission in Colombo (January-May 2009) and US Defence Advisor Lt. Col. Lawrence Smith’s declaration in June 2011 (two months after the release of the PoE report). Both contradicted the position taken by British and the US. Sri Lanka never made a genuine effort to build-up a proper defence in Geneva. Sri Lanka shirked high profile opportunities to exploit startling revelations made by Wikileaks. The British are yet to release all confidential cables that dealt with the Vanni offensive, though Lord Naseby managed to secure some, following legal intervention made by him. That took over two years as the UK tried to withhold information which could have helped the UNHRC to ascertain the truth and Sri Lanka being absolved of these totally exaggerated accusations by interested parties against her.
A cable from Geneva
A cable, dated July 15, 2009, signed by the then Geneva-based US Ambassador Clint Williamson cleared the Army of crimes against humanity during the Vanni offensive. The cable, addressed to the US State Department, had been based on a confidential conversation between Ambassador Williamson and the then ICRC head of operations for South Asia, Jacque de Maio, on July 9, 2009. Ambassador Williamson wrote: “The Army was determined not to let the LTTE escape from its shrinking territory, even though this meant the civilians being kept hostage by the LTTE were at an increasing risk. So, de Maio said, while one could safely say that there were ‘serious, widespread violations of international humanitarian law,’ by the Sri Lankan forces, it didn’t amount to genocide. He could cite examples of where the Army had stopped shelling when the ICRC informed them it was killing civilians. In fact, the Army actually could have won the military battle faster, with higher civilian casualties, yet they chose a slower approach which led to a greater number of Sri Lankan military deaths. He concluded, however, by asserting that the GoSL recognized its obligation to protect civilians, despite the approach leading to higher military casualties.”
The Army lost 2,400 personnel during the January-May 2009 period. The losses were the worst suffered by the Army during the Eelam War IV (Aug 2006-May 2009). Frontline fighting formations lost a further 70 personnel, who were categorized as missing in action, in 2009. Deaths due to reasons other than combat during the same period were placed at 334. Thousands were injured. The losses suffered on the Vanni east front, during the first five months of 2009, was over 100 per cent, when compared with battlefield losses in the previous year. For the whole of 2008, the Army lost 2,174 killed and 43 missing in action.
Army Chief General Shavendra Silva told the writer that the Sri Lankan military had the wherewithal to decimate the LTTE in a far shorter period, if not for the human shields. “We paid a heavy price for being mindful of the civilian presence among the LTTE cadres. Restricted use of long range weapons, as well as air support on the Vanni east front, caused quite a bit of problems.”
The US slapped a travel ban on General Silva, in Feb 2020, over his role as the GoC of the celebrated 58 Division (which started as Task Force 1). The US move is an affront to the war-winning armed forces, who achieved their arduous task against all odds and the political leadership that backed them to the hilt, irrespective of threats to try them, too, for war crimes. Unfortunately, even the utterly unsubstantiated action against Gen. Shavendra Silva hadn’t jolted the government, as well as those genuinely interested in defending the country, to re-examine the accountability issue.
Sri Lanka’s pathetic and continuing failure has allowed Western powers to use the LTTE rump and Tamil Diaspora in a high profile project to overwhelm the country.