Tuesday, 30 June 2015

General election 2015: The Diaspora factor, foreign policy issues




by Shamindra Ferdinando

President Maithripala Sirisena has set the stage for an early general election, ahead of the next session of the Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC), in early September.

The UNHRC holds three regular sessions a year, for a total of ten weeks. The sessions take place in March (four weeks), June (three weeks) and September (three weeks). However, in case, one third of the 47-member nations requested for a special session to address accountability issues, there is provision for that.

Nominations will be accepted from the 6th of July to the 15th of July for parliamentary election scheduled for August 17. New parliament will meet on September 1.

Former President Mahinda Rajapaksa will declare his future plans today (July 1). Rajapaksa will make a public statement at Medamulana, Weeraketiya, at 10 am. Whether he decides to go it alone, as the prime ministerial candidate of a coalition comprising a significant section of the SLFP, (Wimal Weerawansa, Dinesh Gunawardena, Vasudeva Nanayakkara and Udaya Gammanpila) or be part of President Maithripala Sirisena’s SLFP, it will make a huge impact on the political scene.

A split in the SLFP will cause turmoil in Maithripala Sirisena’s camp, thus enabling the UNP to make headway at the onset of the campaign. However, an understanding between President Maithripala Sirisena, and his predecessor, will cause a debilitating setback to the UNP. But, such an understanding may seriously upset those who had backed the incumbent president, at the January 8 election.

Having defeated the then President Mahinda Rajapaksa, at the January 8, 2015, presidential election, one-time SLFP General Secretary, Maithripala Sirisena, invited UNP leader, Ranil Wickremesinghe, MP, to form a new government.

Subsequently, the President accommodated a group of SLFP members of parliament, in premier Wickremesinghe’s cabinet, to pave the way for an unprecedented UNP-SLFP partnership. The MS-RW project was meant to protect the minority government until Maithripala Sirisena could call for an early poll. The President dissolved parliament at midnight last Friday (June 26).

The new government swiftly changed Sri Lanka’s response to accountability issues, as well as post-war national reconciliation process, in accordance with its overall strategy.

Western powers, as well as India, appreciated the change of government, as well as Sri Lanka’s new policies.

The US went to the extent of rewarding the new administration with a visit by US Secretary of State, John Kerry. He was accompanied by Nisha Biswal, Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs. In Colombo, Kerry declared the inauguration of a new relationship. Before Kerry’s arrival, the US invited a top Sri Lankan naval delegation to their Nimitz class super carrier, Carl Vinson, in the high seas off Sri Lanka. The US also resumed joint training exercises, involving the US SEALs and the SLN, after a lapse of several years.

A new government will be in place before the presentation of the much-touted UN war crimes investigation report to the UNHRC, divided into five regional groups. The report, prepared by a team, headed by UK national Ms Sandra Beidas, formerly of the UK headquartered Amnesty International, was originally meant to be tabled in Geneva, last March, though being delayed at the request of the Maithripala Sirisena-Wickremesinghe government. The UNHRC wouldn’t have deferred the report under any circumstances if not for the change of government. The UNHRC ignored the plea by a group of influential Diaspora groups to go ahead with the scheduled release of the Beidas report, The Diaspora held the view that though they welcomed the emergence of a new coalition, the report should be tabled, as planned. The Diaspora also strongly objected to the new government being given an opportunity to address accountability issues, through a domestic mechanism, which met international standards. In spite of objections, UN rights chief, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, during the June sessions, reiterated his support for a domestic mechanism.

Hussein declared: "The new Government, in Sri Lanka, has passed a constitutional amendment which, if implemented appropriately, brings renewed hope for democracy and the rule of law. OHCHR will remain very engaged in discussions with the Sri Lankan authorities on the need for transparent and inclusive processes to develop credible mechanisms for accountability and reconciliation, ahead of my report to the September session. I encourage the Government to consult broadly with all political parties, civil society and, above all, victims and their families, to ensure full national support and ownership of these processes."

Former President Rajapaksa’s swift re-emergence, as a powerful political force, within weeks after his defeat, surprised his rivals here. Even the former President wouldn’t have anticipated such a gradual increase in support among SLFPers, leading to a rousing welcome, as displayed at the last bring-back-Mahinda rally, held in Matara. Obviously, high profile attempts, both here and abroad, to portray him as a dictator, had failed with the war-winning president retaining immense pubic support. But, it would be a grave mistake, on his part, as well as those wanting him back, in active politics, to disregard accusations directed at his administration, and him, personally.

Although the former President quite rightly refused to call off the military offensive, until Prabhakaran was brought to his knees, much to the chagrin of Western powers, the then president bungled in handling the post-war reconciliation process. Rajapaksa, and those who had been tasked with post-war national reconciliation efforts, never adopted an effective strategy to counter the propaganda, pertaining to the massacre of over 40,000 Tamils, during the final phase of the assault. Western powers reacted angrily to Rajapaksa’s refusal to give up the military option. They can never get over the humiliation experienced by then then British Foreign Secretary, David Miliband and his French counterpart, Bernard Kouchner, during last ditch attempts to save Prabhakaran and the top leadership of the LTTE.

The former UK government’s position, in Geneva, in late February, 2012, reflected the Western policy towards Rajapaksa.

The then UK’s Foreign Office Minister, responsible for the human rights portfolio, Jeremy Browne, MP, emphasized the responsibility, on the part of the global community, to intervene in Sri Lanka, unless the government addressed accountability issues. The Liberal Democrat member, Browne, called for UN intervention to support a change in Sri Lanka.

Browne said: "We, as UN member states, must take seriously our human rights obligations and, where states fail, the institutions of the UN should act and support change. Such actions are what make the Council an effective human rights body, able to scrutinize states’ compliance with their obligations and offer technical assistance" (UK for UN intervention to ‘support change’ in Sri Lanka with strap line UNHRC chief pushes for new mechanism to tackle uncooperative government – The Island Feb 28, 2012).

The British statement, in Geneva, made expensive propaganda campaigns, undertaken by various Diaspora groups, against Sri Lanka, irrelevant. The UK-based Global Tamil Forum (GTF), as well as several other organizations, including the British Tamil Forum (BTF) and the LTTE rump, in Canada, had been campaigning for tougher action. Unfortunately, the then government ignored the British threat. In fact, the British wouldn’t have taken up such a strong position without consulting the US, which moved the March, 2012, resolution, as well as the EU. The UK was among 40 countries which co-sponsored the US resolution, titled Promoting Accountability and Reconciliation in Sri Lanka. Twenty four countries backed the resolution (Austria, Belgium, Benin, Cameron, Chile, Costa Rica, Czech Republic, Guatemala, Hungry, India, Italy, Libya, Mauritius, Mexico, Nigeria, Norway, Peru, Poland, Moldova, Romania, Spain, Switzerland, US and Uruguay). Fifteen countries voted against (Bangladesh, China, Congo, Cuba, Ecuador, Indonesia, Kuwait, the Maldives, Mauritania, the Philippines, Qatar, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Thailand and Uganda) while eight countries abstained (Angola, Botswana, Burkina Faso, Dhijibothi, Jordan, Kyrgyzstan).

Western powers obviously loath Rajapaksa’s return to active politics, either through the SLFP, or a coalition, comprising of those who had been spearheading the bring-back-Mahinda campaign. The close relationship between the previous administration, and China, irked India though Sri Lanka repeatedly assured it wouldn’t do anything inimical to India’s interests. Thanks to Wiki Leaks, we know the previous Indian government seeking US intelligence on Chinese presence/activity here. Indian request to the US, regarding the Chinese-funded Hambantota port, is a case in point. Interestingly, India destabilized Sri Lanka in the 80s as it felt threatened by the then JRJ government’s close relationship with the US and its allies, Pakistan and Israel. That infamous decision was taken by the then Indian Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi, in the backdrop of the cold war era politics. It would be pertinent to mention that New Delhi had been, at that time, the Soviet Union’s closest friend in the region and the principal receiver of Soviet weapons. Three decades later, India and the US have entered into an unprecedented partnership, with the latter building up a powerful coalition to meet the Chinese challenge. The recent modification of US-Japan defence pact, to allow the deployment of Japanese forces, in support of the US, reflected the Western strategy to counter growing Chinese power.

Similarly, India’s strong objections to China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) as well as some finding fault with Chinese investments here, should be examined in the backdrop of developments taking place in the region. When compared to CPEC, estimated to worth $ 46 billion, China’s largest investment here, the Colombo Port City Project is relatively smaller, though it caused concern in some quarters.

Having suffered the ignominy of defeat at the January election, Rajapaksa, in an exclusive interview with The Hindu, alleged India’s premier intelligence agency, the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), conspired with the US and British intelligence services, to paved the way for Maithripala Sirisena’s victory. Rajapaksa declared that he didn’t believe Indian government was responsible for the clandestine operation undertaken by the RAW. If Rajapaksa’s accusation is true, he cannot absolve the Indian government and Prime Minister Narendra Modi of their responsibility.

The Maithripala Sirisena-Wickremesinghe administration earned the praise of Western powers by entering into a dialogue with the Tamil Diaspora, particularly the UK-based Global Tamil Forum (GTF). Recently, Deputy Foreign Minister, Ajith P. Perera, revealed, during a live political debate, on a private television channel, a government delegation, led by President Maithripala Sirisena, meeting the GTF President, Rev Father S.J. Emmanuel, and its spokesperson, Suren Surendiran, in London. The Deputy Minister declared he was also present at the discussion. The President was in London to meet Prime Minister David Cameron. Since the London meeting, Foreign Minister, Mangala Samaraweera, had made substantial headway in new administration’s efforts to accommodate the Diaspora. The government is of the opinion that the GTF is the key to its efforts, though some organizations such as the TGTE (Transnational Government of Tamil Eelam), remained hostile towards Sri Lanka. The previous government, in spite of having obtained the services of South Africa, to explore ways and means of reaching consensus, with an influential section of the Diaspora, last year, banned the LTTE, and 15 other organizations, functioning on foreign soil as foreign terrorist organizations by Gazette Extraordinary 1856/41 of March 21, 2014. In addition, a further 424 individuals, with suspected LTTE links, living in 19 countries, including Sri Lanka, were also listed. The Gazette proclamation, listing designated persons, groups and entities, was done in accordance with sub-paragraph (2) of paragraph (4) of the United Nations Regulations No. 1 of 2012 that was published in the Gazette Extraordinary No. 1758/19 of May 15, 2012.

The South African initiative was meant to pave the way for a consensus among the government of Sri Lanka, the GTF and the four-party Tamil National Alliance. The Maithripala Sirisena-Wickremesinghe administration is continuing the project. The recent talks in London is proof of that.

The designated Competent Authority, for establishing and maintaining the list, with respect to natural persons, legal persons, groups and entities, was Gotabhaya Rajapaksa who had been the then Secretary, Defence and Urban Development Ministry. The order, designating persons and entities, in line with the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1373, had been signed by Prof. G.L. Peiris who was then the Minister of External Affairs. The UN Security Council Resolution 1373 came into operation on September 28, 2001, in the wake of the attack on the New York World Trade Centre, on September 11, 2001.

Now, the Maithripala Sirisena-Wickremesinghe administration wants to do away with the prohibition. Foreign Minister Samaraweera has publicly declared their intention, while the issue was discussed with talks the GTF. For its part, the GTF has requested the UK to take up this issue with Sri Lanka. Minister Samaraweera, quite rightly asserts that the continuing ban is an impediment to rapprochement with the Diaspora.

However, doing away with the ban is likely to be sensitive in the run up to the next parliamentary election, with the coalition, which had been previously in power, strongly opposing the move. Some of those who had backed Maithripala Sirisena, at the presidential election, are against the move with the JHU vowing to thwart it. Foreign Minister Samaraweera recently lambasted whom he called extremists hell-bent on sabotaging reconciliation efforts. Samaraweera tore into TGTE’s V. Rudrakumaran and JHU spokesperson, Nishantha Warnasinghe, for obstructing government efforts.

Tuesday, 23 June 2015

Relevance of Wiki Leaks and UN’s 20-year confidentiality clause




by Shamindra Ferdinando

After having consulted, either the Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Commission (UNHRC), or UN headquarters, in New York, or both, the UN mission, in Colombo, in April, last year, said that the issue of confidentiality of sources/eyewitnesses needed to be considered at a later stage.

The Colombo mission was responding to a query by The Island whether the UN would review UNSG Ban ki moon’s Panel of Experts (PoE) recommendation, pertaining to confidentiality of sources/eyewitnesses for a 20-year period, with effect from the date of the release of the report. The recommendation was made in PoE’s report, released on March 31, 2011.

The Island raised the issue with Subinay Nandy, UN Resident Coordinator and UNDP Resident Representative, in Colombo, in the wake of 22 countries voting for this US-led resolution, meant to empower the High Commissioner for Human Rights to conduct an external inquiry into accountability issues, between Feb, 2002, to May, 2009. The resolution was passed in March, 2014.

The following response was received from the UN mission in Colombo after several reminders: "The High Commissioner for Human Rights will now be making arrangements for a comprehensive investigation, requested by the United Nations Human Rights Council, and these are issues which will need to be considered at a later stage. In any case, the protection of witnesses and their consent to sharing their identities remain the overriding considerations when dealing with these matters," (UN to review 20-year confidentiality clause ‘at a later stage’ with strap line War crimes probe targeting Sri Lanka, The Island, April 7, 2014.

With the UNHRC now scheduled to receive the external investigation report, at the next Geneva session, in September, the UN can not further delay taking a decision on this matter. The September report, too, is most likely to reiterate the UN policy that identities of sources/eyewitnesses can not be revealed. The Maithripala Sirisena-Wickremesinghe administration should examine all avenues to verify accusations made by various persons. Accusations, regarding the new government continuing to hold political prisoners, as well as existence of secret detention camps, prompted Premier Wickremesinghe, Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera, as well as Justice Minister, Wijeyedasa Rajapakshe, PC, to strongly counter them. But they shouldn’t forget that no less a person than US Secretary of State, John Kerry, repeated the lie in Colombo recently. To make matters worse, a section of the state media, too, referred to those who had been convicted on terrorism charges and suspected terrorists as political prisoners. The new government should formulate a cohesive strategy to respond to war crimes accusations. Anyone found guilty of specific atrocities must be dealt with accordingly. There cannot be a dispute over that. But the Sri Lankan military, or the previous political leadership, shouldn’t be humiliated on the basis of unsubstantiated allegations.

War crimes allegation, directed at Sri Lanka, in the UK parliament, is evidence of the manipulative power of those working overtime against the country.

The UK parliament, taking up the issue of human rights violations, in the Indian sub-continent, is a case in point. The British parliament, in September, 2011, debated human rights violations committed by India and Sri Lanka, much to the discomfort of the previous Indian government. India strongly disputed the UK stand, whereas Sri Lanka remained silent. The GoSL mission didn’t even bother to raise the issue with the British, though the UK parliament was told of the Sri Lankan military killing 100,000 – LTTE combatants (60,000) and civilians (40,000) during January-May 2009. The British obviously couldn’t stomach Sri Lanka restoring peace.

Asked whether the US would request the UN/PoE to review their stand on the confidentiality clause, the US embassy in Colombo responded: "The United States urges the Government of Sri Lanka to cooperate with the Office of the High Commissioner and accept technical assistance from the United Nations, as well as help from the international community. Specifics regarding the investigation should be addressed to the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights."

The British High Commission responded: "The detail of the investigation will be determined by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights."

UK-based Suren Surendiran, told The Island: "Until proper practicing and functioning democracy returns to Sri Lanka, and proper governance of government is in place, with independent institutions, like the state police, judiciary, etc., and, above all, some kind of international protection mechanism for witnesses is in place in Sri Lanka and abroad, there will be no reason for GTF to call for breaking confidentiality of witnesses who have already given evidence."

The Island carried US, UK and GTF statements in its April 7, 2014, edition.

The European Union, too, asserted that there was no reason to review UN confidentiality clause, pertaining to Sri Lanka (EU, too, won’t call for review of 20-year UN confidentiality clause, The Island, April 9, 2014).

Now that Navi Pillay’s successor, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, in his inaugural statement to latest Geneva session, on June 15, 2015, has advised the Maithripala Sirisena-Wickremesinghe administration to consult those who had suffered during the conflict, as well as their families, as regards accountability issues and post-war national reconciliation, the UN should help the new Sri Lankan government to get in touch with those who endured the most under the previous government. Among those who had suffered most, undoubtedly, were men and women making submissions to the UN PoE between, Dec 27, 2010 and Dec 31, 2010. The PoE received over 4,000 submissions from over 2,300 persons whose identities still remained confidential

Responding to Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, Foreign Ministry. Mahishini Colonne, told a news conference, in Colombo, that talks, at the highest levels, were on to commence the domestic inquiry into war crimes accusations.

Would the UN now review its stand on the confidentiality clause, as promised in April last year? The writer raised the issue with President Maithripala Sirisena, on May 20, during a meeting between the president and the print and electronic media. The President assured that the proposed probe would be carried out in conformity with international, as well as domestic standards. The president was responding to a query by The Island whether he would join Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe in requesting the UN to facilitate the new probe by lifting the ban information received by the PoE.

The Maithripala Sirisena-Wickremesinghe administration should take up the issue with the UN in the wake the UN, rights chief calling for consultations between Sri Lankan investigators and victims, as well as their families. President Maithripala Sirisena had a special responsibility in defending the country due to him being the General Secretary of the SLFP responsible for Sri Lanka’s triumph over the LTTE, during the eelam war IV (Aug 2006 to May 2009).

Now that the Rajapaksas had been removed from power, there couldn’t be any reason for Western powers, as well as India, to deprive the Maithripala Sirisena-Wickremesinghe administration of an opportunity to inquire into accountability issues. As the UN rights chief has emphasized recently, the proposed domestic mechanism, set up in line with international standards, should have access to evidence received by the PoE, as well as the Ms Sandra Beidas’ investigation team, set up in accordance with the US sponsored resolution, endorsed in Geneva, in March, last year. Perhaps, the most important, as well as, comprehensive evidence available to the UN, as regards the ground situation in the Vanni region, during August, 2008, to May 13, 2009, had been so far denied to Sri Lanka. For some strange reason, those who had been responsible for Sri Lanka’s defence never really pursued the matter. Sri Lanka should request the UN to share the secret UN dossier prepared on the basis of information provided by Tamil speaking civilians, clergy, ICRC, and Tamil government servants, based in the Vanni. The PoE has acknowledged that the UN report estimated 7,721 persons killed and 18,479 wounded during Aug, 2008, to May 13, 2009. The UN report disputed the much touted accusations of over 40,000 massacred during the final phase of the offensive on the Vanni east front.

Would the new government request the UN to share the secret dossier with those in charge of the proposed domestic inquiry? It would be pertinent to mention that the UN had given the PoE access to the dossier though it is yet to be shared with Sri Lanka.

Interestingly, the UN dossier tallied with Enumeration of Vital Events (EVE) conducted by the previous government, during the months of June and July, 2011. The government ordered the EVE in the wake of persistent allegations regarding deaths of over 40,000 civilians due to military action. The EVE placed the number of persons, both civilians and LTTE killed, during January 1, to May 31, 2009, at 7,896 whereas the UN dossier placed the figure at 7,721, during August, 2008, to May 13, 2009. Perhaps the new government should seriously consider carrying out a fresh EVE under the supervision of the civil society organizations. Let the UN, too, participate in the process. Perhaps, the Diaspora can also supervise the process to ensure transparency.

The Diaspora, too, shouldn’t hesitate to fully cooperate with the government. In April, last year, the GTF spokesperson, Suren Surendiran, flatly refused to share information with what he called dictatorial Rajapaksa administration. Surendiran insisted that they wouldn’t cooperate unless Sri Lanka transformed itself to a democracy. The GTF called for change of government/system to pave the way for them to work with Sri Lanka. At that time, no one believed the then President would call for early presidential election. However, as the main impediment for the Diaspora extending cooperation to Sri Lanka had been removed, the GTF and other like minded groups should share information with the government. The government should request Diaspora organizations to share information available with them. Those who had provided information to PoE and Ms Beidas’ investigators (their report will be presented to the Sept. Geneva sessions) should be able to brief the proposed domestic investigation. There can not be any plausible reason for them to take cover behind the UN confidentiality clause any longer.

Missing Persons Commission Chairman, retired Justice Maxwell Paranagama, asserted that their investigations had been seriously hampered due to foreign governments refusal to cooperate with Sri Lanka to establish the whereabouts of those who had been categorized as missing. Paranagama said: "We are keen to establish true identities of those who had sought political asylum overseas and perhaps already taken new identities. During the previous administration, I on behalf of the Commission, wrote to several countries, through the External Affairs Ministry, seeking information on those who had reached their shores through legal or illegal means. Unfortunately, they declined to cooperate, citing domestic laws."

Paranagama said that a sizable number of Sri Lankan Tamils, including some of those who had fought for the LTTE, had escaped during eelam war IV (Aug 2006-May 2009) and after the conclusion of the conflict.

The retired judge welcomed the UN rights chief’s call for Sri Lanka to consult the victims and their families. Perhaps those governments, which had accommodated refugees of Sri Lankan origin, over the past several years, would take notice of the UN rights chief’s statement.

Responding to a query, Paranagama said that after having received a complaint from a woman, regarding the disappearance of her husband, during the conflict, the Commission immediately initiated inquiries. Investigations led the Commission to the missing man, living at a refugee camp in India, Paranagama said, adding that he was brought to Sri Lanka.

Paranagama insisted that Sri Lanka needed maximum possible international cooperation to establish the whereabouts of the missing.

Paranagama acknowledged that the UN prohibited the release of the identities of victims and their families who had complained to PoE as regards war crimes/ accountability issues, until March, 2031, in accordance with UN confidentiality clause.

The government should invite both the ICRC and the UNICEF to establish the whereabouts of those categorized as missing. The government should consider carrying out fresh investigations with the support of the ICRC and UNICEF to verify accusations. The previous government involved the UNICEF in a special project conducted by the Vavuniya Government Agent and the Probation and Childcare Commissioner (Northern Province). The joint effort was meant to reunite families, displaced during the conflict. The UNICEF report placed the number of missing persons at 2,564, including 676 children. Of those categorized as children, 64 per cent were named as LTTE child soldiers.

The LTTE forcibly conscripted children even at the last phase of fighting. Those shedding crocodile tears for Tamils today never condemn the LTTE or at least issued a statement urging Prabhakaran not to deploy children. They chose to remain silent as long as they felt the LTTE could some how achieved its objectives. Prabhakaran made a desperate bid to thwart the army on the Vanni east front until the international community intervened on his behalf.

Although the previous government executed the combined security forces offensive superbly, it failed badly on the diplomatic front. For want of a post-war cohesive strategy, those who couldn’t stomach Sri Lanka’s triumph, over terrorism, moved several resolutions in Geneva, culminating with the one last year that paved the way for an external investigation.

Sri Lanka should closely examine the entire set of Wiki Leaks cables pertaining to Sri Lanka. The previous government never made an attempt to study Wiki Leaks cables, thereby missing an excellent opportunity to establish the circumstances under which the LTTE finally collapsed on the banks of the Nanthikadal lagoon. Those who had been spearheading Sri Lanka’s defence, on the human rights front, didn’t at least bother to take up relevant Wiki Leaks in spite of Norway publicly acknowledging the importance and relevance of secret US diplomatic cables. Wiki Leaks hadn’t been taken into consideration by UNSG Ban ki moon’s PoE and whether Ms Sandra Beidas team examined them can be known in September when the report is tabled in Geneva. The Norwegian government, in September, 2011, revealed that an investigation undertaken by experts on behalf of the government examined several Wiki Leaks documents pertaining to Sri Lanka and they were proved useful. Norway regretted that as the report titled, Pawns of Peace: Evaluation of Norwegian peace efforts in Sri Lanka (From 1997 to 2009), being published, new Wiki Leaks material for assessing Norwegian peace efforts in Sri Lanka was released. Norway hadn’t been able to evaluate them.

The proposed Sri Lankan domestic inquiry, in accordance with international standards, should take Wiki Leaks into consideration. If Norwegian use of Wiki Leaks was acceptable to those pursuing war crimes probe targeting Sri Lanka, the Maithripala Sirisena-Wickremesinghe administration cannot be faulted for using them.

Perhaps, the new government should consider inviting war-time US Defence Advisor in Colombo, Lt. Colonel Lawrence Smith, to appear before those tasked with conducting fresh war crimes inquiry. Smith publicly defended the Sri Lankan military, in June, 2011, over two years after the conclusion of the war. Would a US officer come to Sri Lanka’s rescue if he had the slightest doubt regarding the intentional massacre of civilians, including those surrendering LTTE cadres and their families. In fact, Wiki Leaks as well as the Norwegian note, in Sri Lanka’s possession, can prove Lt. Col. Smith right.

Tuesday, 16 June 2015

Unraveling the mystery of ‘missing’ Tamils




by Shamindra Ferdinando

The Maithripara Sirisena-Wickremesinghe administration faces the daunting task of unraveling the mystery of missing Tamils, in accordance with Sri Lanka’s overall strategy to disapprove accountability issue, pertaining to war-time disappearances, as well as cases after the conclusion of the conflict, in May 2009.

Of course, the focus is on those who had disappeared during the eelam war IV (August 2006-May 2009) and the post-war period.

In spite of Western powers, changing their hostile attitude towards the Government of Sri Lanka (GoSL), since war-winning president Mahinda Rajapaksa’s defeat, at the January 8, 2015, presidential election, the new administration must take tangible measures to address the contentious issue. A thorough inquiry to identify those who had been living overseas, after having left the country clandestinely, is of pivotal importance.

Successive governments ignored the need to address the issue of ‘missing Tamils’. Don’t forget there are missing Sinhalese, too. The disappearance of media personality, Prageeth Ekneligoda, is a case in point. Since the conclusion of the conflict, in May, 2009, the matter is now an accountability issue. It would be pertinent to examine a high profile ‘disappearance’, reported years ago, to highlight the difficulty in tracking down those who had disappeared, under mysterious circumstances, sometimes in service of the LTTE.

Let me discuss the case of the LTTE suicide cadre, who blew up one-time Indian Prime Minister and Congress Leader, Rajiv Gandhi, on the night of May 21, 1991, in Sriperumbudur, South India. The LTTE and the assassin’s family, went to extraordinary length to suppress the assassn’s identity. Although investigations carried out by Sri Lankan and Indian police identified the assassin as Thenmozhi Rajaratnam, alias Dhanu, the LTTE never acknowledged the that fact. D.R. Kaarthikeyan, who spearheaded the investigation into Gandhi assassination, as well as Radhavinod Raju, who played an important role in that probe, asserted the assassin could be Ms Rajaratnam, though they were not sure. But all available evidence pointed to the family of Rajaratnam contributing a suicide cadre for an operation that changed the destinies of both India and Sri Lanka.

The writer recently queried Selvarasa Pathmanathan, alias ‘KP’, whether he could shed light on the identity of the Gandhi assassin. A guarded Pathmanathan insisted that he wasn’t aware of the assassin’s identity and those involved in the operation. Pathmanathan asserted that it was unfair to direct that question to him. Pathmanathan has categorically denied his role in the Gandhi assassination in an interview titled ‘Transformation of a Top Tiger Leader – 1 with Canada-based D.B.S. Jeyaraj.

Some of those who had then voluntarily joined the LTTE, as well as other Tamil groups, died overseas during operations. The People’s Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (PLOTE) lost several personnel during an abortive sea-borne raid in the Maldives (meant to dispose of the then President) and due to subsequent Indian navy action while they were fleeing that country in a commandeered merchant vessel. The Maldives adventure took place in early Nov., 1988.

The Special Investigation Unit (SIU), of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), during the inquiry, recovered a set of photographs and video cassettes that had been smuggled in from Jaffna to Tamil Nadu, in Oct. 1990. The Indians recognized Gandhi’s assassin, known as Dhanu, among female LTTE cadres in one of the video cassettes. She had been leading a column of cadres, to the tune of martial tunes. Meticulous investigations led to Dhanu being identified as a daughter of Rajaratnam, a close associate of the top LTTE leadership. After having inspired Tamil separatism, Rajaratnam had passed away in Chennai, in 1975, long years before Indian intervention in Sri Lanka. However, Rajaratnam had been among eight persons, including poet, Kasi Ananthan, honored by the LTTE, soon after the Gandhi assassination. Many believed the LTTE honored Rajaratnam posthumously for being Dhanu’s father - a macabre ritual in deed. LTTE Central Committee member, Kasi Ananthan, had met Gandhi on behalf of the group, in March, 1991, a few weeks before his assassination. Interestingly, at the time of the pow-vow between Gandhi and Kasi Ananthan, the LTTE had decided to eliminate Gandhi. The March 5, 1991, meeting, at the Gandhi residence, in New Delhi, underscored the devious ways of the LTTE. Perhaps the meeting was especially meant to give Gandhi a false sense of security. (Assassinated Sri Lanka Foreign Minister, Lakshman Kadirgamar, too, is widely believed to have had received an assurance from the LTTE as regards his personal security). Dhanu had arrived in Tamil Nadu, early May, 1991. Dhanu was accompanied by another assassin known as Subha. Subha was to carry out the suicide attack in case Dhanu couldn’t, for some unforeseen reason. Having attended a meeting at Nandanan, Chennai, on May 7, 1991, chaired by one-time Indian prime minister V.P. Singh, the duo got close to the VIP with the latter accepting a garland from Dhanu’s hands. It was a ‘dry run’ for Gandhi’s assassination.

Indian investigators believed that Dhanu was in fact Rajaratnam’s third daughter by a second marriage. However, Rajaratnam’s family insisted that Rajaratnam’s third daughter, Kalaivani, alias Captain Akino, died in a confrontation with the Sri Lankan Army, at Weli Oya, on September 8, 1991.Rajaratnam had three daughters from his second marriage. While his eldest daughter, Vasugi, married and lived in Canada, at that time, the second daughter, Anuja, and the third, Kalaivani, fought for the LTTE. LTTE battlefield records placed Kalaivani as one of the seven female cadres, died in action, on September 8, 1991. According to the LTTE, the Rajaratnams lived at Kaithadi, Nunavil, Chavakachcheri. If Kalavani hadn’t been the suicide cadre, and died in battle, with the SLA, in Weli Oya, who assassinated Gandhi?

Indian and Sri Lankan investigators never made an attempt to established the true identity of Subha, who later committed suicide in an LTTE hideout, in Bangalore, during an Indian operation to capture her.

A three-month police hunt to apprehend LTTE terrorists, involved in the Gandhi assassination, ended when seven persons, including the main chief suspect (one-eyed Jack Pakischanran, alias Sivaraja Master, alias Raghuvaran, alias Sivarasan, alias Raghu Anna, and Subha, committed suicide as the police closed in on their hideout in the southern city of Bangalore. Sivarasan shot himself in the head. Others consumed cyanide.

Sivarasan, nicknamed One-Eyed Jack after he had lost an eye in an earlier bomb explosion, in Sri Lanka, was identified by the police as the key figure in the conspiracy to assassinate Gandhi.

The seven terrorists had been tracked to their hideout, but they were able to hold off the police in a three-hour gunfight in which five policemen were wounded. Interestingly, the Indian media identified Sivarasan, who was 32 years old, as Raja Arumainayagam, and he was a government employee, in Sri Lanka’s eastern province.

Investigators first came to know of Silvarsan’s role in the killing of Gandhi when an Indian photographer, sympathetic to the macabre eelam cause (Haribabu), Silvarsan had hired to photograph the assassination, was himself killed in the blast. The camera, with 10 pictures, was seized by the police. It included a photo taken moments before the explosion that showed Sivarasan, with a notebook in hand, and three women, including the assassin, awaiting Gandhi.

The suicide deaths in Bangalore occurred on Gandhi’s 47th birthday.

The Gandhi assassination probe revealed that the mastermind of the killer squad had been among those who received military training in India. Sri Lankan security authorities, too, firmly believed that Sivarasan had undergone weapons training in India and freely operated there. They also pointed out that Selvarasa had been responsible for multiple killings, in India, before he undertook the project to assassinate Gandhi. The Rajiv Gandhi Assassination: The Investigation, authored by D.R. Kaarthikeyan, and Radhavinod Raju, quoted one Suthenthiraraja, whom they identified as a classmate of Sivarasan’s younger brother, Ravichandran, as having said that the LTTE mastermind’s actual name was Pakiachandran, son of Chandrasekharam Pillai, of Veerabhadra, Koiladdy, Udippidy, Jaffna. According to Suthenthiraraja, Pakiachandran had been an employee of the Ceylon Electricity Board, Batticaloa. He had joined the Tamil Eelam Liberation Organization (TELO) but later switched his allegiance to the LTTE and lost his left eye during a confrontation with the Sri Lankan Army, in May 1987. two months before the signing of the Indo-Lanka Peace Accord, on July 29, 1987.

The authors, who had been directly involved in the Gandhi assassination probe referred to reports of Sivarasan being one of those wounded LTTE cadres who had been flown by the Indian Air Force to Tamil Nadu for treatment, consequent to the Indo-Lanka accord of July, 1987. Having admitted that Sivarasan had been treated at the Aravind Eye Hospital, Madurai, the authors claimed they couldn’t find any records to prove Sivarasan being there during August, 1987.

As I have mentioned previously, Sivarasan receiving Indian training and the subsequent Gandhi assassination should be examined in the context of India’s admission that it intervened in Sri Lankan.

J.N. Dixit, who had been India’s High Commissioner, in Colombo, at the height of the Indian military intervention, in his memoirs, ‘Makers of India’s Foreign Policy: Raja Ram Mohun Roy to Yashwant Sinha’, revealed that Sri Lanka had been plunged into a destructive war, in accordance with India’s foreign policy. Causing a terrorist war, very much similar to the one launched by one-time Liberian President, Charles Taylor, targeting Sierra Leonne, had been nothing but a foreign policy counter measure meant to meet the US challenge. Sri Lanka had been a major preoccupation of India’s foreign policy, during Indira Gandhi’s last two years of life, according to Dixit, who examined the Indian action in terms of New Delhi security concerns caused by Sri Lanka’s relationship with the US, Pakistan and Israel. Indira Gandhi’s policy approach is a glaring example of a misguided notion causing massive death and destruction. India’s policy had a devastating impact on Sri Lanka, and the Maldives escaped mayhem, thanks to a planned terrorist attack going wrong.

Let me quote Dixit verbatim: "It would be relevant to analyze India’s motivations and actions vis-a-vis Sri Lanka in the large perspective of the international and regional strategic environment obtaining between 1980 and 1984. President Reagan was in power in the US and the Soviet Union was going through post Brezhnev uncertainties, preceding Mikhail Gorbachev’s arrival on the scene...."

The Gandhi assassination probe also established beyond any doubt Sivarasan carrying out the massacre of the Eelam People’s Revolutionary Liberation Front (EPRLF) leadership during third week of June, 1990, in Chennai.

Had Sivarasan received injuries, during a May, 1987, confrontation with the army, where did the confrontation take place? Suthenthiraraja, obviously cooperated with Indian investigators and went to the extent of revealing his involvement in the massacre of the EPRLF leadership. In fact, Suthenthiraraja, who had been first brought to Tamil Nadu by the Indian military, in February, 1990, subsequently worked for the LTTE. Recruited by Sivarasan, he provided specific intelligence that led to LTTE hit squad storming the EPRLF office. The killer squad used guns and grenades to massacre 14 EPRLF personnel, including the then EPRLF Finance Minister, Kirubhakaran, Jaffna MP Yoga Shankari and leader Padmanabha. Suthenthiraraja had been also directly involved in the Gandhi assassination, though he obviously escaped the law by cooperating with India.

In hindsight, Sivarasan would never have thought Indian investigators picking up Chinon camera, used by Haribabu to capture the suicide blast, directed at Gandhi, or the photographer taking a picture of him (Sivarasan). Obviously, Haribabu absolutely had no idea about the direction of the blast. Had he been briefed by Sivarasan, he would have positioned himself at a safer distance. Had the blast obliterated the camera, investigators would have found it extremely difficult to prove the LTTE’s direct involvement in the Gandhi assassination. In fact, the photographs, taken by Haribabu, led to the investigators to the hit squad. If not for those pictures, Sivarasan, Subha, as well as other LTTE members, involved in the Gandhi assassination, would have had an opportunity to leave Tamil Nadu by boat, at their pleasure. It would be pertinent to mention that the LTTE hadn’t been the only suspect organization which could have carried out the world’s first suicide blast, directed at a political leader. If not for Haribabu’s photographs, Indian investigators would have spent time inquiring into the possibility of Sikh or some other terrorist organization carrying out the attack. But the publication of the suicide cadre Dhanu’s picture moments before the blast on the front-page of The Hindu on May 24, 1991, caused panic among the hit squad, comprising of Sri Lankans and Indians. There had never been a case of people of any nationality conspiring with external elements to mount a suicide attack on one of their own political leaders. The Gandhi assassination was the first such diabolical act. If not for the timely The Hindu revelation, those who had been involved in the conspiracy could have escaped. Among the escapees would have been Indian trained Sivarasan, who could have died in action, in Sri Lanka, or survived the war, to receive political asylum in some European or Scandinavian country or reached Australia through the risky sea route, before tightening of Australian laws to thwart human smugglers.

A thorough international investigation is required to identify those who had obtained foreign nationalities after having committed atrocities in Sri Lanka and India. Those who had fought for the LTTE committed heinous crimes for the advancement of the murderous eelam cause, though today they are taking shelter behind new identities.

Sri Lanka should request India, and influential Diaspora organizations, to support its efforts to locate those who had been categorized as missing. It wouldn’t be a task handled alone by Sri Lanka and those demand accountability on the part of the previous GoSL should assist the Maithripala Sirisena-Wickremesinghe administration to establish the truth.