Tuesday, 14 November 2017

Prez rattled by denial of visas to Army

War crimes



By Shamindra Ferdinando

President and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, Maithripala Sirisena, has explained his position pertaining to post-war accountability issues and alleged attempts made by his opponents to exploit the situation at the expense of political stability.

It would be pertinent to mention that the President addressed the Army top brass at the auditorium of the Army Hospital, Narahenpita, last Thursday afternoon, as his Finance Minister Mangala Samaraweera delivered the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe administration’s third budget.

President Sirisena’s absence in parliament during the presentation of the budget raised many an eyebrow as he was present on previous presentations by the then Finance Minister Ravi Karunanayake.

Among the audience were Adjutant General Maj. Gen. Shavendra Silva and Director General, Infantry, Maj. Gen. Chagi Gallage, both of the Gajaba Regiment, now under fire by South African Yasmin Sooka, a member of the then UNSG Ban K-moon’s Panel of Experts (PoE) which dealt with alleged accountability issues here.

In his address, President Sirisena referred to some Western powers refusing to issue visas to both retired and serving officers on the basis of unsubstantiated allegations. President Sirisena emphasized the pivotal importance of rectifying the situation. The Commander-in-Chief called for tangible measures to change Western governments’ decision.

President Sirisena’s message was transmitted live to Security Forces Headquarters, Divisions and other formations where approximately 30,000 officers and men received it.

Fonseka’s dilemma

Obviously, President Sirisena was reacting to recent reports pertaining to Western powers refusing to issue visas to both retired and serving officers. Although President Sirisena refrained from mentioning names, war-winning Army Chief, the then Gen. Sarath Fonseka, is among those who had been affected.

Field Marshal Fonseka, in September, alleged that he had been denied a visa to attend the UNGA 2017 because of unresolved war crime allegations against the Army. Sri Lanka’s most successful Army Commander, who is now Minister of Regional Development, said he was due to travel to New York but he was the only one in the Sri Lankan delegation not issued a visa by the US. Fonseka said he could not accompany President Sirisena to the UNGA.

Field Marshal Fonseka has repeatedly underscored the pivotal importance of a comprehensive investigation into accountability issues to clear Sri Lanka’s name.

Although President Sirisena has never referred to the contentious issue, many senior officers, in some instances those, who had never been in actual combat or directly involved in military operations, were denied visas.

Defence Secretary Kapila Waidyaratne, who had previously been the Senior Additional Solicitor General in the Attorney General’s Department and was with President Sirisena on the podium at the auditorium of the Army Hospital, Narahenpita, can explain to the President the circumstances under which Western powers acted against the military. Waidyaratne and Foreign Minister Tilak Marapana, PC, who had been one-time Attorney General, I’m sure, can advise the government on ways and means of addressing accountability issues raised by Western powers.

There is no need to remind the current Sri Lankan leadership that imposition of travel restrictions is based on the outcome of UN investigation run by Sandra Beidas, formerly of Amnesty International. As long as Sri Lanka is unable to disprove UN accusations, travel restrictions will remain on those who had risked their lives for the country.

Gallage’s predicament

There cannot be a better example than that of Maj. Gen. Gallage, a key strategist who had earned the admiration of officers and men over the years.

Australia callously deprived Gallage of an opportunity to visit his brother, an Australian citizen, after the change of government, in January 2015.

Australia found fault with Gallage for being in command of the 59 Division, from May 7, 2009, to July 20, 2009.

The Australian High Commission asserted that a visa couldn’t be issued as the Division, under his command, had certainly committed war crimes, and crimes against humanity.

The Australian Department of Immigration and Border Protection has extensively cited the Report of the OHCHR (Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights) on Sri Lanka (OISL) to turn down Gallege’s visa. On the basis of the OISL report, Geneva adopted Resolution 30/1 to pave the way for foreign judges in a domestic judicial mechanism, though the government still tries to defend its decision to co-sponsor the Resolution. Geneva released OISL report on Sept. 16, 2015. Sri Lanka co-sponsored Geneva Resolution 30/1 on Oct. 1, 2015 in spite of Sri Lanka’s Permanent Representative in Geneva, Ambassador Ravinatha Aryasinha, rejecting the draft resolution. The government dismissed Ambassador Aryasinha’s concerns. President Sirisena never intervened in the UNP’s strategy.

Australia also cited the PoE report on accountability issues released on March 31, 2011. POE accused Sri Lanka of massacring over 40,000 civilians and depriving the Vanni population of their basic needs.

Australia also cited a statement attributed to General Officer Commanding (GOC) 58 Division Maj. Gen. Shavendra Silva that unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) real time footage had been made available to ground commanders marking targets, to justify its decision. On the basis of Maj. Gen. Silva’s statement, Australia has alleged that Maj. Gen. Gallage had been aware of artillery strikes on third no fire zone.

Can there be any justification in the Australian assessment?

There have never been specific allegations against Maj. Gen. Gallage before.

Contrary to the Australian assessment, the deployment of Israeli built UAVs was meant to direct attacks on the enemy. Colombo-based foreign military attaches were invited to Air Force headquarters to observe real time video footage provided at crucial stages of the Vanni offensive.

Australia has accused Maj. Gen. Gallage of planning, implementing and supporting war crimes and crimes against humanity. Australia also held him responsible, as the serving officer, for failing to prevent troops, under his command, from committing war crimes.

The Australian report, while identifying Gallage as ‘potential controversial visit’, alleged that the SLA committed atrocities, even after the conclusion of the war.

Gallage has been screened by Australian authorities following him seeking a visa for a month long visit.

The Australian stand on this visa matter meant that it believed the Sri Lankan army carried out systematic attacks against Tamil civilians.

Australia has identified the 59 Division, credited with wresting control of the LTTE Mullaitivu bastion, in late January 2009, as one of the formations responsible for war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Formed in Jan, 2008, the 59 Division, deployed on the eastern flank, aka the Weli Oya front, fought under then Brig. Nandana Udawatte’s command, for one year, to cross the Anandakulam and Nagacholai forest reserves, which served as natural defences for the LTTE Mullaitivu stronghold.

Over the years, the US and some other countries have denied visas to senior commanders, on the basis of unsubstantiated accusations. In the case of Maj. Gen. Sudantha Ranasinghe, the US refused to accommodate him on a programme as he commanded the elite 53 Division in peacetime. The 53 Division killed LTTE leader Prabhakaran.

The situation, faced by the Army, can certainly be described as a crisis. The bottom line is that any officer, attached to those formations, involved in operations, either in peace or wartime, can be denied a visa on the basis of unsubstantiated UN allegations. Western restrictions, now in place, can affect those who had served the 57 Division, Task Force I /58 Div, 59 Div, 53 Div, 55 Div as well as other Task Forces deployed on the Vanni front. The same unreasonable rule can be applied on those taking over command of the Divisions or Brigades or Battalions attached to them as part UN measures directed at Sri Lanka

Confused US position

Now that President Sirisena has referred to the visa matter, it would be the responsibility of the Foreign and Defence Ministries to make representations to Western powers, without further delay. The government can begin its effort by taking up the issue with US and Australia in the wake of Lord Naseby disputing the Vanni death toll on the basis of wartime military dispatches from the British Embassy in Colombo. The Shocking revelation that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) had desperately tried to withhold information, sought by Lord Naseby, on the basis of the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (FOIA), underscores the need to revisit the Sri Lanka issue.

Let us hope Army headquarters ensures that the relevant ministries take tangible measures. Having pathetically failed to counter the lies, propagated by interested parties, since Gen Fonseka’s abrupt removal, Army headquarters should take advantage of this opportunity.

The US refusal to issue a visa to Field Marshal Fonseka should be examined against the backdrop of three critically important factors: (a) The US backed Fonseka’s candidature at the 2010 January presidential poll. The US formed a political alliance, that included the four-party Tamil National Alliance (TNA) led by R. Sampanthan, current Leader of the Opposition. There cannot be any dispute over the US role in that poll in the wake of Wiki Leaks revelation, pertaining to secret discussions between the Colombo-based US diplomat and Sampanthan. Sampanthan gave into US pressure though he had initially resisted the proposal. The Tamil leader must have been deeply embarrassed to publicly urge Tamils to vote for Fonseka, after having accused his Army of killing thousands of civilians, raping Tamil women and disappearances. The Tamil electorate obliged. Fonseka was able to secure the predominately Tamil administrative districts, including Jaffna, though he suffered a heavy defeat at the presidential poll. (b) The US picked Fonseka as the common presidential candidate in spite of the then US Ambassador Patricia Butenis calling him a war criminal along with the Rajapaksa brothers, Mahinda, Basil and Gotabhaya. (c) Colombo-based US Defence Attache Lt Col. Lawrence Smith’s declaration in June 2011 (over two years after the conclusion of the war) that there had never been an agreement between the Army and the LTTE regarding an organized surrender on the Vanni east front. The US official disputed widespread claims of battlefield executions in spite of an arranged surrender of LTTE cadre to the advancing Army.

The US also deprived Majors General Prasanna Silva, wartime GoC, 55 Division and Jaffna Security Forces Commander Mahinda Hathurusinghe of an opportunity to join programmes. Maj. Gen. Shavendra Silva was denied entry into US War College though he functioned as Sri Lanka’s Deputy Permanent Representative in New York.

GoC, 57 Division Maj Gen Jagath Dias, and Military Secretary Sudantha Ranasinghe, too, were denied the chance to participate in US programmes. Ranasinghe’s application was turned down in spite of him receiving command of the 53 Division after the end of the conflict. The then Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa personally brought the situation to the notice of the US Embassy though he couldn’t achieve the desired policy change.

In late, 2010, the Tamil Diaspora activists made a failed bid to secure a warrant, in the UK, to detain Gallage who was at that time the head of President Rajapaksa’s security. Although, they couldn’t move the British judiciary against the officer, the move underscored the need to address high profile international campaign meant to portray the Army as a criminal organization.

A recent letter, written by PoE member Sooka, to US multinational Coca Cola, for sponsoring the Gajaba Super-Cross 2017, organized by Maj. Gen. Silva, in his capacity as the Colonel Commandant of the celebrated Regiment, must jolt the Army and the government to take remedial measures. Having called the most successful GoC, a notorious war criminal, the NGO guru demanded explanation from Coca Cola why it financed a project undertaken by Silva. Sooka called both the Gajaba Regiment as well as 58 Division criminal organizations on the basis of UN reports. The Foreign Ministry, for some strange reason, turned a blind eye to Sooka’s attack. The same ministry recently issued a lengthy statement in response to adverse reportage of the controversial visit undertaken by Pablo de Greiff, UN Special Rapporteur, on the promotion of truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-recurrence.

At the conclusion of his two-week long visit, Colombian de Greiff went to the extent of even humiliating President Sirisena.

UN ridicules Lanka’s stand

Greiff, in an obvious reference to often repeated President Sirisena’s remark, expressed concern over the use of rhetoric such as ‘war heroes will never be brought to trial.’

The UN official said that the promise regarding ‘war heroes’ is a legally unenforceable political statement, and therefore couldn’t offer any real security.

The official said: "In order to make it effective it would ultimately require a violation of the principle of the separation of powers, the independence of the judiciary, amongst others. Moreover, needless to say, it offers absolutely no warranty internationally. As the recent case presented in Brazil against a former member of the Armed Forces demonstrates, accountability will be sought either here or abroad. In my opinion, this is an additional reason for the country, with the full support of the Armed Forces – who stand a lot to gain from this process – to establish a robust and credible comprehensive transitional justice policy."

The Colombian declared that those who had perpetrated human rights violations or laws pertaining to conflict/war didn’t deserve to be called heroes.

Sri Lanka cannot ignore the UN challenge. Sri Lanka shouldn’t allow the UN to continue its despicable operation.

So far, the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe administration hasn’t taken up the unfair decision to deny visas to senior military officers on the basis of the unsubstantiated OISL report. It covered the period from 21 February 2002 to 15 November 2011.

In June 2014, the then High Commissioner Navi Pillai appointed three Martti Ahtisaari, former President of Finland, Ms. Silvia Cartwright, former High Court judge of New Zealand, and Ms. Asma Jahangir, former President of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, to play a supportive and advisory role, as well as independent verification throughout the investigation. Obviously, they were expected to simply endorse the project. They did that.

The previous government declined to make representations to the OISL probe, headed by Beidas, though it had the wherewithal to counter the lies propagated by interested parties.

Those who now accuse the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe government of betraying the armed forces should also accept responsibility for their pathetic failure to counter lies. They owed an explanation to the nation.

Interestingly, President Sirisena’s Nov 9 address to the Army caused some concern among his advisors handling the media. They issued two separate media releases on Nov 10, with the second one leaving out some critically important sections pertaining to the Geneva intervention. The Island also compared the statements issued by the President’s Media Division with the one posted on the Army website. The Army website report headlined "No War Hero would be Subjected to Appear before Any Foreign Tribunals" - President Assures Meeting Army Personnel dealt with the issues at hand.

Basically, the first statement that had been issued by the President’s Media Division tallied with the Army headquarters post in respect of the Geneva issue. The second statement issued by the President’s Media Division conveniently left out sections that may attract attention of the UN pushing hard at Sri Lanka to implement Geneva Resolution 30/1.

Sri Lanka needs to take a clear stand on Geneva Resolution. The government should reexamine Aryasinha’s statement and explore the possibility of initiating a dialogue with Geneva in respect of concerns raised by Lord Naseby.

What really surprised the writer is the absence of any reference to Naseby’s defence of the Sri Lanka Army and the political leadership in the House of Lords in President Sirisena’s historic address to the Army top brass. There had never been an instance a President having the opportunity to address a representative gathering of more than 350 Commanding Officers (COs), Adjutants and Regimental Sergeant Majors (RSMs) of the Army.

Tuesday, 7 November 2017

UN rewards Darusman with Myanmar mission amidst new controversy over his report on Lanka



April 5, 2012: Lord Naseby, PC, Baron of Sandy and Chairman of the All Party Parliamentary Group in UK meets wartime Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa at the Temple Trees
Lord Naseby has challenged the UN Panel of Experts (PoE) findings pertaining to Sri Lanka’s war against terrorism soon after the head of that panel, former Indonesian Attorney General Marzuki Darusman, received another key appointment. In late July, 2017, Darusman received appointment as head of a fact-finding mission on Myanmar where violence caused thousands to flee. Darusman’s team includes Radhika Coomaraswamy and Australian Christopher Dominic Sidoti.

Their mission has received a mandate set out by the Human Rights Council in its resolution 34/22, adopted on 24 March 2017, to "establish facts and circumstances of the alleged recent human rights violations by the military and security forces, and abuses, in Myanmar, in particular in the Rakhine State".

The outcome of their investigation is not too difficult to comprehend.

By Shamindra Ferdinando

A brief but powerful WION exclusive with Lord Naseby (Michael Wolfgang Laurence Morris) couldn’t have been telecast at a better time for Sri Lanka. 

The WION report dealt with Lord Naseby’s significant statement in the House of Lords, on Oct 12, 2017, made in respect of the Geneva Resolution 30/1, co-sponsored by Sri Lanka. Lord Naseby challenged the Report of the Secretary General’s Panel of Experts (PoE) on Accountability in Sri Lanka, the foundation for the Geneva Resolution.

The PoE comprised former Indonesian Attorney General Marzuki Darusman, South African civil society activist Yasmin Sooka and US attorney-at-law Stevan Ratner.

Responding to Mandy Clark, of Uttar Pradesh headquartered WION, Lord Naseby declared that one-fourth of the 7,000 Tamils killed, in military operations on the Vanni front, were members of the LTTE. The veteran Conservative politician based his claim on US and British wartime diplomatic dispatches from Colombo. Lord Naseby named the then US Ambassador Robert O. Blake and UK Defence Attaché Lt. Col. Anton Gash as the authors of those reports.

Blake and Gash hadn’t so far challenged Lord Naseby’s claims. In fact, the PoE should respond to Lord Naseby’s challenge as it cannot remain silent in the face of such a serious allegation.

Lord Naseby didn’t mince his words when he explained how the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) repeatedly denied his requests, since 2014, to secure the entire set of dispatches from Lt. Col. Gash.

The former CBS News war correspondent and the winner of the Richard R. Snell Award for investigative journalism, Mandy had covered the war in Afghanistan and was among those who entered Libya at the onset of the US caused conflict in Libya.

Having had dealt with the accountability issues, Lord Naseby criticized the UK for accommodating LTTE cadres and turning a blind eye to Tamil Diaspora still promoting the group, nine years after the conclusion of the war. Lord Naseby explained how the LTTE had eliminated the rival Tamil leadership to clear its leader Velupillai Prabhakaran’s path.

Against the backdrop of Sri Lanka’s pathetic failure to decisively and swiftly act on Lord Naseby’s Oct 12, 2017 statement, WION’s Special Report, titled ‘UN fudged Lanka casualties: Lord Naseby found 7,000, not 40,000 correct estimate of civilian casualties’, certainly embarrassed those hell-bent on forcing Sri Lanka to admit mass scale massacre during the final phase of the offensive on the Vanni east front.

In his Oct 12, 2017 statement, in the House of Lords, during debate on Sri Lanka, Lord Naseby urged the Theresa May government to request Geneva to lower casualty figure from 40,000 to 7,000 taking into consideration Sri Lanka never willfully targeted civilians.

A glaring omission, perhaps the only shortcoming in the Emmy-nominated Clark’s exclusive, was her failure to mention how New Delhi, in the early 80s, had caused terrorism here for geo-political reasons. Clark couldn’t have refrained from referring to New Delhi’s role, especially after Lord Naseby recalled the LTTE assassination of former Indian PM Rajiv Gandhi, in May 1991.

No less a person than the late Indian Foreign Secretary J.N. Dixit, who had been New Delhi’s top envoy in Colombo at the time of the Indian Army deployment here, in July 1987, acknowledged in his memoirs ‘Makers of India’s Foreign Policy’, released in 2004, that India was responsible for causing terrorism here. Obviously, India’s decision to subvert Sri Lanka had been part of her overall security and political strategy in the wake of the growing threat posed by the US-Pakistan and Israel alliance. Although China hadn’t been aligned with the alliance, Dixit asserted that China worked closely with Pakistan to undermine India in response to Indians’ backing for the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. India made the destabilization of Sri Lanka an integral part of a security project to safeguard Indian national interests.

UN responds to Lord Naseby

 Lord Nasebys bombshell really undermined the despicable UN strategy here. The House of Lords statement obviously placed UN Special Rapporteur (on the promotion of truth, justice, reparation and guarantees) Pablo de Greiff in a difficult position. Greiff, having concluded his two-week long visit to Sri Lanka, called a media briefing at the UN compound, in Colombo, on Oct 23, 2017, where the Colombian warned Sri Lanka of dire consequences unless Colombo fulfill its obligations to the international community.

The visit was Greiff’s second since the change of government, in January 2015.

However, the Colombian had no option but to refer to the situation that had been caused by Lord Naseby. Obviously, UN Colombo had been embarrassed. The Colombo briefing took place before Clark’s interview with Lord Naseby.

"As I write this statement, the debate continues in the newspapers concerning the number of victims, at the end of the conflict, whether it was 40,000 or ‘merely’ 8,000. While the final number may be impossible to determine, with absolute precision, there is of course a lot that has been learned in the last 30 years about forensics and other methods offering reliability that political opinions cannot," the Colombian told the Colombo media. The Island, however, didn’t receive an invitation from UN Colombo, though the writer was invited for a press conference given by Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and Counter Terrorism, Ben Emmerson, in July this year.

Unfortunately, those who had been invited by UN Colombo didn’t raise Lord Naseby’s statement with Greiff even after he made reference to the debate in respect of the number of victims.

Wartime Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, in an exclusive interview, headlined ‘War Crimes: GR highlights confusion over civilian death toll’ (The Island, Oct 21, 2017), with the writer, discussed the implications of Lord Naseby’s statement. The writer dealt with the government’s lukewarm response to Lord Naseby’s statement, in a front-page lead story, headlined ‘Govt yet to capitalize on Lord Naseby’s call to UK parliament’ (The Island, Oct 26, 2017). The writer also obtained Lord Naseby’s comment in respect of a meeting he had with Foreign and Commonwealth Office Minister Mark Field, following his statement (FCO to study Naseby’s proposals-The Island, Oct 26, 2017)

Had The Island received an invitation, the writer would have certainly asked Greiff whether any Sri Lankan government representative had sought an explanation in respect of Lord Naseby’s statement. The House of Lords revelation should be examined against the backdrop of those who had the opportunity, to take it up with the UN official, failing to do so. In addition to President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, the UN Special Rapporteur is on record as having said that he had very productive discussions with other high level government officials, including the Minister of Foreign Affairs Minister Marapana; the Minister of Finance and Media Mangala Samaraweera; the Minister of Law and Order and Southern Development Sagala Ratnayake; the Minister of National Co-existence, Dialogue and Official Languages Mano Ganesan; the Minister of Prison Reforms, Rehabilitation, Resettlement and Hindu Religious Affairs D.M. Swaminathan; the Minister of Justice Thalatha Atukorale; the Minister of Education Akila Viraj Kariyawasam; the Secretary to the President Austin Fernando; the Secretary of Defense Kapila Waidyaratne; Speaker of Parliament Karu Jayasuriya; the Sectoral Oversight Committees on Legal Affairs and Media, and on Reconciliation and North and East Reconstruction; the Chief Justice; the Attorney General; the Chief of Defense Staff, the Commander of the Army; the Commander of the Air Force and the Commander of the Navy; the Chief of National Intelligence; the Inspector General of Police; the Chairperson of the Victim and Witness Protection Authority; the Secretary-General of the Secretariat for Coordinating Reconciliation Mechanisms; the Director-General of the Office for National Unity and Reconciliation; the Human Rights Commission, the National Police Commission, members of religious communities, political parties, and representatives of the diplomatic community, academics, civil society organizations, victims groups and many others who have shared their insights. At the local level, the UN official had the opportunity to exchange views with the Governors of the Northern Province and the Eastern Province.

Strangely, The Island didn’t receive a response from Army headquarters as to what action they intended taking in respect of Lord Naseby’s statement. Unfortunately, the Army as an institution hadn’t sought to explore ways and means of using the only favourable statement made, on Sri Lanka’s behalf, in a key foreign parliament, to clear its name.

Repudiation of Gaza war report

 Lord Naseby’s call to Geneva to revisit the Panel of Experts allegation, pertaining to the death toll, should be examined with the US reaction to South African justice Richard Goldstone contradicting his own report on Israeli invasion of Gaza (2008-2009) keeping in mind.

In July 2011 the US Senate voted unanimously in favour of calling the UN to revoke the Gaza war report, prepared by a four-member UN Panel, headed by Goldstone. The Obama administration made its move in the wake of Goldstone retracting the report’s findings.

The US went to the extent of calling on the Human Rights Council to repair the damage caused to the Jewish State.

The US, while stepping up pressure on Sri Lanka, to adhere with the Panel of Experts report, had sought to nullify Goldstone’s report.

Goldstone on Sept 15, 2009 declared both Israeli Defence Forces and Palestinian militants committed serious war crimes and breaches of humanitarian law, which may amount to crimes against humanity.

"We came to the conclusion, on the basis of the facts we found, that there was strong evidence to establish that numerous serious violations of international law, both humanitarian law and human rights law, were committed by Israel during the military operations in Gaza," international wire services quoted Goldstone as saying.

The US Senate vote was initiated by Senator Kirsten Gillibrand and Senator James Risch. While the decision has no legal binding, it is significant as the US is the UN’s largest contributor.

The US said that contrary to the report’s findings, Israel did not embrace a deliberate policy of hurting civilians in Gaza. It is also noted that Judge Goldstone himself admitted that the number of civilian casualties in Gaza was smaller than claimed in the report and recognized that Israel, like any other sovereign state, has the right to defend itself and its civilians.

In the wake of Goldstone’s move, followed by the US reaction, Geneva conveniently dropped the matter, quietly, though other members of the Goldstone panel firmly stood by the report.

An opportunity for Sri Lanka

 Sri Lanka should now request Geneva to review unsubstantiated allegations directed against Sri Lanka by the Panel of Experts. On the basis of scurrilous claims, the UN triggered an investigation under the direction of Sandra Beidas, formerly of the Amnesty International. That led to Geneva Resolution 30/1 on Oct 2015, though Sri Lanka’s Permanent Representative there, Ambassador Ravinatha Aryasinha, strongly objected to it, just over a week before.

The Panel of Experts, having had placed the number of civilian deaths at 40,000 on the basis of information provided by what the panel called credible sources, ruled they couldn’t be verified under any circumstances, until 2031.

Whatever the declarations made by the Panel of Experts, Geneva, as well as Theresa May’s government, cannot turn a blind eye to Lord Naseby’s statement. Having defended Sri Lanka, Lord Naseby should expect the UK-based Channel 4 that pushed for an international war crimes probe against Sri Lanka to pounce on him. Channel 4 cannot ignore Lord Naseby’s bid to clear Sri Lanka of unsubstantiated allegations, especially after Mandy Clark’s exclusive. In fact none of those who had contributed to the Geneva exercise, as well as the project to defeat President Mahinda Rajapaksa at two presidential polls in 2010 and 2015 too cannot remain silent.

 Lord Naseby has challenged the VERY BASIS of political grouping formed by the US in the run up to the 2010 presidential poll. The US brought in the four-party Tamil National Alliance (TNA) led by the Illankai Thamil Arasu Kadchi (ITAK) into the UNP-led political grouping. The TNA threw its weight behind wartime Army Chief Gen. Sarath Fonseka on the basis that President Rajapaksa gave political leadership to the war that annihilated the LTTE and caused massive loss of civilian life. They implemented, basically the same anti-Rajapaksa strategy at the 2015 presidential poll.

The Sirisena-Wickremesinghe government’s reluctance to act on Lord Naseby’s statement is obvious. When the writer raised the issue with co-cabinet spokesman and Sports Minister Dayasiri Jayasekera, the Minister acknowledged that it hadn’t been discussed at the cabinet. Can there be anything as important as defeating trumped-up war crimes charges. In fact, the Foreign Ministry should have had brought the matter to the notice of the cabinet immediately after Sri Lanka High Commission in London alerted Colombo as to the House of Lords statement.

Unenthusiastic Foreign Ministry’s response

 Did Sri Lanka High Commission bring Lord Naseby’s statement to the Foreign Ministry’s attention? For want of Foreign Ministry response to Lord Naseby’s very important statement, even a week after it was made, the writer, on Oct 20, 2017, sought an explanation from the Foreign Ministry. The Foreign Ministry response really disappointed a vast majority of people, who expected the government to counter lies that had been propagated by various interested parties. Instead of taking advantage of Lord Naseby’s statement, issued on behalf of Sri Lanka, the Foreign Ministry declared: "The Government of Sri Lanka remains committed to the national processes, aimed at realizing the vision of a reconciled, stable, peaceful and prosperous nation. Engaging in arguments and debates in the international domain over the number of civilians who may have died at a particular time in the country will not help resolve any issues, in a meaningful manner, locally, except a feel good factor for a few individuals who may think that they have won a debate or scored points over someone or the other."

The Foreign Ministry, obviously, decided to ignore the fact that such debates in the international domain over a period of time led to Geneva Resolution 30/1. Those responsible for counter malicious propaganda directed against Sri Lanka had been exposed. Those in power remained silent as it is obviously detrimental for them to admit, in any way, Geneva forced Sri Lanka to accept massacre of over 40,000 Tamils during the last phase of the offensive. The failure on the part of the UK, Geneva as well as civil society groups to thwart Lord Naseby’s offensive must have shocked those who really believed in the UN claims.

Civil society responsibility

 Those who had been engaged in costly exercises to promote post-war national reconciliation should realize the main obstacle to amity between the Sinhalese and the Tamils is the unsubstantiated allegation that the military massacred over 40,000 on the Vanni east front.

Sri Lanka brought the war to a successful conclusion in May 2009.

Civil society groups that had contributed to an expensive campaign meant to defeat Rajapaksa received substantial benefits. Now, their main allegation has been challenged on the basis of information that had been furnished during the war by UK and US diplomatic missions in Colombo. Civil society groups, such as the National Peace Council, perhaps the largest recipient of Norway undoing over the years, should request Indian, Japanese and other missions to furnish diplomatic cables pertaining to Sri Lanka casualties to Geneva. Their primary objective should be to establish the truth. The UN can release its own confidential report that placed the number of dead, between 2008 August to May 13, 2009, to be compared with dispatches from diplomatic missions.

On the basis of unproved allegations, Geneva has recommended change of Sri Lanka’s Constitution. Parliament last week debated recommendations made by PM Wickremesinghe-led Steering Committee in respect of constitutional reforms. Members of the government as well as the Joint Opposition refrained from commenting on Lord Naseby’s statement. Perhaps, some cannot comprehend the very basis for Western intervention in constitutional making process is unproved war crimes allegations that paved the way for Geneva Resolution 30/1. But, on the other hand, those, who had been spearheading the constitutional making process and aware of fraudulent means employed to ensure foreign intervention for regime change, are in a dilemma.

Unfortunately, those loyal to former President Rajapakse seemed a thoroughly disorganized lot not capable of exploiting the situation to Sri Lanka’s advantage.

Tuesday, 31 October 2017

Lanka lacked strategy to counter lies propagated by Western powers



Western powers and India humiliated Sri Lanka at the Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) after the successful conclusion of the war in May 2009 before the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe in October 2015 co-sponsored a resolution inimical to the country. Sri Lanka co-sponsored the resolution soon after Sri Lanka’s Permanent Representative there Ambassador Ravinatha Aryasinha strongly opposed the move.

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Sri Lanka lacked a strategy to counter lies, propagated by Western powers, bent on undermining the war effort.

Successive governments, particularly the war-winning Rajapaksa administration, had been overwhelmed by high profile relentless propaganda projects.

For want of a cohesive plan, interested parties pursued anti-Sri Lanka propaganda offensive with impunity. Political and military leaderships pathetically failed to meet the challenging task. They never realized their folly until the UN Panel of Experts (POE) accused the military of massacring 40,000 civilians during the final phase of the offensive on the Vanni east front. On the basis of unsubstantiated allegations, the Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) adopted a resolution, in Oct 2015.

Against the backdrop of the House of Lords being told, on Oct 12, 2017, that the death toll, on the Vanni east front, couldn’t have been more than 8,000, let me examine a despicable plot, in March 2007, to discourage the government from pursuing a military solution. Foreign Ministry initially reacted as if Lord Naseby’s statement is irrelevant. But, subsequently, clarified its position with the following statement: "With regard to Lord Naseby’s statement, the Government fully recognizes its contribution to the Transitional Justice/ Reconciliation process in Sri Lanka."

The writer believes what Lord Naseby really meant was that those who demanded accountability, on Sri Lanka’s part, on the basis of unsubstantiated accusations, to review their case. Unfortunately, those in power, as well as in the Joint Opposition, seemed to be uninterested in adopting a common strategy to clear Sri Lanka’s name.

Wartime Secretary General of the Government Secretariat for Coordinating the Peace Process (SCOPP) Prof. Rajiva Wijesinha recently told the writer that Lord Naseby had brought the situation to notice of the Office of President Maithripala Sirisena as well as his predecessor, Mahinda Rajapaksa, though they never acted on information received from the UK. Prof. Wijesinha, who had been concurrently the Secretary to the Ministry of Disaster Management and Human Rights emphasized that the failure on the part of the current government as well as the Joint Opposition to use Lord Naseby’s statement to defend the country couldn’t be justified under any circumstances. Prof. Wijesinha asserted that with the very basis of the Resolution 30/1 being challenged in the House of Lords, it would be the responsibility of the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe administration to request Geneva to revisit the case. SLFP factions certainly owed the country an explanation as to severe shortcomings in Sri Lanka’s defence. Prof. Wijesinha, during the war and after constantly engaged those who had targeted Sri Lanka, but the then government lacked a cohesive strategy.

Monitors deceive public

The Scandinavian Truce Monitoring Mission aka Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission (SLMM) issued a controversial statement to coincide with the fifth anniversary of the Ceasefire Agreement (CFA), signed on Feb 21, 2002. The Norway-led mission, comprising five countries, declared that nearly 4,000 people had been killed since the change of government, in Nov 2005, whereas 130 persons perished during the remaining period, covered by the CFA (Feb 2002-Nov 2005).

The SLMM, headed by a retired army officer, holding the rank of Major General, was tasked with supervising the CFA. Subsequently, a separate SLMM group was established to rule on incidents involving the Navy and Sea Tigers.

Mahinda Rajapaksa won the Nov 2005 presidential poll, thanks to the LTTE and its ally, the Tamil National Alliance (TNA), depriving UNP candidate Ranil Wickremesinghe of the northern vote. Having had helped Rajapaksa secure the presidency, the LTTE resumed claymore attacks in the first week of Dec 2005. The LTTE launched an all out war in Aug, 2006, with simultaneous large scale attacks on the Jaffna front line, as well as the Eastern Province.

However, by Feb, 2007, the combined forces were making progress in the Eastern Province, though the LTTE retained substantial military strength. The SLMM statement simply underscored the futility of the war.

The Rajapaksa administration never bothered to seek an explanation from the SLMM. The media, including The Island, carried the SLMM statement meant to step up pressure on the then government. The SLMM declared that it had arrived at a death toll of 4,000 on the basis of daily reports from truce monitors, based in the northern and eastern districts where every case, related to the conflict had been recorded. The SLMM conveniently refrained from differentiating the number of civilian deaths.

By not making any reference to combatants, the truce monitoring mission implied the dead were civilians.

The SLMM consisted of international monitors, from five Nordic countries, namely Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, and Sweden, supported by local staff.

(The mission was terminated on January 16, 2008, following the abrogation of the CFA by Sri Lanka, and the organization ceased to exist by the end of 2008, following an administrative termination in the Nordic countries).

As the writer felt that there couldn’t be any basis for the SLMM’s claim, a clarification was sought from its headquarters in Colombo, in early March 2007. After a series of telephone calls, the mission admitted that the dead included combatants and civilians. However, the mission refused to provide a breakdown of the number of persons killed during the 15-month period. The Oslo-led mission claimed that the revelation of such information wouldn’t be favorable to its role in Sri Lanka. However, the mission placed the number of civilian deaths at 1,500 (Deaths due to the conflict: SLMM backs down on breakdown with strapline Changes figure to 1,500 from 4,000 - ‘The Island’ March 12, 2007).

The SLMM statement was meant to draw attention to the fact that there was a sharp escalation of violence since November 5, 2005, following the election of Mahinda Rajapaksa as the fifth executive president of Sri Lanka.

Subsequent inquiries revealed that the truce monitors simply exaggerated deaths among combatants just to get away from a tight spot.

The monitoring mission also refused to divulge its sources.

Both the local and international media gave wide coverage to the monitoring mission’s claim. But they never rectified the misconception. The SLMM, too, conveniently refrained from correcting its original statement for obvious reasons.

The government never sought a clarification from the monitoring mission, or the Norwegian peace facilitators. The government’s failure would have even surprised the truce monitors as well as the co chairs to the Sri Lankan peace process, namely the US, EU, Norway and Japan.

However, army headquarters, in response to a query by ‘The Island’, insisted that there had been only 694 civilian deaths during the November 2005 –March 2007 period. Army headquarters rejected truce monitors’ claim of 1500 civilian deaths during this period. But the Secretariat for Coordinating the Peace Process (SCOPP) accepted the controversial figures in spite of the Army contradicting the figures quoted by the mission. The military acknowledged that the government’s failure to challenge the truce monitors over the false report was damaging, especially in the backdrop of growing international scrutiny of human rights.

The SCOPP declined to comment on the truce monitors’ report. In fact, the SCOPP accepted the statement issued by the monitoring mission.

The Army, too, would have remained silent if The Island didn’t challenge the Nordic mission.

The government never felt the need to challenge the SLMM.

The government’s response to PoE’s claim of 40,000 civilian deaths, during the final phase of the offensive on the Vanni east front, was very much similar to that of the truce monitors’ bogus claims - first, 4,000 civilians perished during November 2005 to March 2007 and the second 1500 civilians and 3,500 combatants died during the same period.

Interestingly, other print and electronic media never bothered to take up this issue. Those who had reported the original SLMM statement ignored the issue even after the disclosure of its agenda.

Who authorized that statement? Did the then head of the SLMM mission consult the Norwegian Ambassador in Colombo before issuing the statement? Had there been at least an attempt of the then government’s part to establish the motive for issuing exaggerated figures.

The SLMM spokesperson repeatedly declined to discuss where these 4,000 killings took place and why there was absolutely no reference to such large scale violence in previous statements issued by the monitoring mission. The spokesperson also refused to estimate the death toll due to direct military action, or crossfire, between the armed forces and the LTTE.

The then government squandered an excellent opportunity to expose the Nordic mission. In fact, the previous government never felt the requirement to systematically counter lies, propagated by the international community, or a section of the media, that had faith in the LTTE’s military prowess. It is nothing but strange that the Joint Opposition members of parliament, loyal to former President Mahinda Rajapaksa, were still reluctant to examine the previous administration’s failure on the media front. They haven’t still realized that the previous government’s failure paved the way for Western powers and India to facilitate the regime change operation, in 2015 January. Almost a similar project went awry in 2010 January when war-winning Army Chief Gen. Sarath Fonseka suffered a humiliating defeat at the hands of the then Commander-in-Chief Mahinda Rajapaksa.

Govt’s shocking failures

Army headquarters and the Defence Ministry rejected the SLMM statement, though they couldn’t convince the government to take it up with the mission, publicly. They placed the number of civilian deaths at 694, from Nov 2005 up to Feb 2007, whereas the SLMM initially placed the death toll at nearly 4,000, then reversed it to 1,500 when The Island sought district wise breakdown of deaths. Surprisingly, an obvious attempt to influence the public opinion, as well as that of the international community, was never raised in parliament. The government never referred to the SLMM attempt throughout the war, or post-war, as unsubstantiated war crimes accusations were hurled at the armed forces.

It would be pertinent to mention that the international community had been guided by SLMM reports, hence it was the responsibility of the then government to be on alert (Military contradicts SLMM report on civilian killings-The Island, March 23, 2007).

Sri Lanka’s failure to challenge these lies allowed various interested parties to pursue this highly detrimental propaganda campaign until it was too late. Would you believe the previous government (2007-2015) and the present Sirisena-Wickremesinghe government hadn’t raised the discrepancy in the vastly different figures, quoted by various interested parties, at Geneva, where the country repeatedly suffered humiliating defeats. Those responsible for Sri Lanka’s defence, in Geneva, lacked foresight to underscore the circumstances under which the LTTE resumed Eelam War IV in Aug 2006. Both the External Affairs Ministry and President Rajapaksa’s Human Rights envoy, Mahinda Samarasinghe could have had certainly handled the Geneva challenge better. Unfortunately, for want of an efficient strategy, Sri Lanka never gathered relevant information, hence lacked the wherewithal to justify the military response/military solution.

Shameless attempt by the SLMM to hoodwink the public here should be examined against the backdrop of its statement on the resumption of war. In fact, the SLMM contradicted the LTTE accusations that the Army had triggered the Aug 2006 Muhamalai battle that convinced the Rajapaksa administration there was no point in negotiations. The Muhamalai battle strongly pushed the government to go for a military solution.

SLMM blames LTTE for Jaffna battle

The SLMM strongly disputed the LTTE claim that it launched on attack on the Muhamalai front line in response to artillery fire directed by the Army. The monitoring mission said: "...considering the preparation level of the operations its seems to have been a well prepared LTTE initiative."

Former Swedish head of the SLMM, retired Maj. Gen. Ulf Henricsson, said so in a special report that dealt with the situation in the peninsula in the immediate aftermath of the LTTE offensive launched on Aug 11. The Swede said that the armed forces halted the LTTE advance on the following day. The SLMM statement countered NGOs, the TNA and other interested parties’ attempts to blame the government. Sri Lanka never exploited that statement (SLMM blames LTTE for Jaffna battle-The Island, Sept 8, 2006).

The TNA remained silent. Having declared LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran as the sole representative of the Tamils, in late 2001, the grouping refrained from commenting on the resumption of war. The TNA lacked courage at least to publicly request the LTTE in April 2003 not to quit the negotiating table. The LTTE move was meant to destabilize the then UNP government, struggling to maintain the CFA amidst violations almost on a daily basis. In Nov, 2005 the TNA ordered the Tamils, at the behest of the LTTE, to boycott the presidential polls. Having ensured Rajapaksa’s victory, the LTTE resumed operations in Dec 2005 and in Aug 2006 launched all out war.

In Aug, 2005 the LTTE, assassinated Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar, at his Bullers Lane residence.

Having done extremely well in the northern and eastern electoral districts, at the April 2004 general election thanks to the LTTE backing, the TNA remained silent on Kadirgamar’s assassination. In the immediate aftermath of the Kadirgamar assassination, the international community demanded that Sri Lanka remained in the Norway-led peace process in spite of the grave provocation. Those who had been demanding accountability on Sri Lanka’s part for alleged battlefield atrocities never bothered at least to directly blame the LTTE for the Kadirgamar assassination.

The JVP that had wept buckets for Kadirgamar, in Jan 2010 and Jan, 2015 joined political groups, that included the TNA, to try and help General Fonseka win. The first project undertaken, with US advice, failed though the same grouping, succeeded five years later. On both occasions, they used one-time Rajapaksa loyalists.

Interestingly, another Rajapaksa loyalist, Mangala Samaraweera, had been the Foreign Minister at the onset of Eelam War IV. Samaraweera, while reiterating Sri Lanka’s commitment to the Oslo-led peace process, on Sept 8, 2006, warned the LTTE of dire consequences unless the group returned to the negotiating table. The warning was issued at a meeting with Colombo-based diplomatic corps in the wake of the Army overrunning the LTTE front line, at Muhamalai, and liberating Sampur. Samaraweera said: "I must note here that while the government would like to show the LTTE that any military aggression on their part would entail military costs to them, the government remains committed to the ceasefire agreement and is vigorously continuing with the constitutional reforms process. Samaraweera reiterated Rajapaksa’s readiness that he would consider any proposal for a comprehensive and verifiable cessation of hostilities that could bring an end to violence (Forces seize Tigers’ Jaffna front line with strap line...any military aggression on their part would entail military costs to them-Foreign Minister, The Island, Sept 11, 2006)

Today, hardly anyone would remember Samaraweera’s role as the wartime Foreign Minister or President Rajapaksa bringing in UNPer Rohitha Bogollagama as Samaraweera’s successor in late January 2007. The Foreign Ministry should examine its overall role during the war and post-war period to ascertain its failures, at least belatedly. The post-war performance of the ministry certainly contributed to Sri Lanka’s failure with the decision taken at the behest of President Rajapaksa to secure the services of US PR firms to improve Sri Lanka’s image there being the most foolish project.

Tuesday, 24 October 2017

Implications of UK's refusal to release evidence



By Shamindra Ferdinando

The British parliament was told, on Oct 12, 2017 that Velupillai Prabhakaran killed Jaffna Mayor Alfred Duraiappah in 1973. The statement was made by Michael Morris, Baron Naseby PC, during a debate on Sri Lanka. Having declared that he launched the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Sri Lanka, way back in 1975, the politician urged Theresa May's government to review its policy as regards post-war accountability process in relation to the Geneva Resolution 30/1 adopted on Oct 1, 2015.

Very few foreign politicians could have declared that they had known Sri Lanka for over 50 years. Baron Naseby said that he was the current President of the All-Party Parliamentary Group and knew Sri Lanka for over 50 years.

But, having perused Baron Naseby's statement, the writer is of the opinion that for want of a clear strategy on Sri Lanka's part, the world didn't really know the origins of terrorism here. What his statement proved was that Baron Naseby lacked understanding of the situation here. Let me reproduce verbatim Baron Naseby's comment on Duraiappah's assassination: "In 1973 Prabhakaran killed the Mayor of Jaffna, along with six soldiers, whose bodies were brought to Colombo. There was a resentful response from the Sinhalese youth, very sadly it was three days before a curfew was brought in, and well over 1,000 Tamils were killed. From then on it has been a situation of Eelam, the independent state, on one side versus the unitary state of Sri Lanka on the other."

Would you be able to swiftly recognize Baron Naseby's mistake? Those who had shared the report on the debate, initiated by Baron Naseby on the internet, obviously didn't recognize the glaring but inadvertent blunder that had distorted the picture. The British politician has, obviously, due to lack of understanding and knowledge of the situation here, considered the assassination of Duraiappah, in July 1975, and the killing of 13 soldiers at Thinnaveli, Jaffna, in July 1983, as one incident.

Duraiappah was gunned down on July 27, 1975 when he arrived by car at the Ponnalai Varadaraja Perumal Temple with two companions, as was his custom on Friday evenings.

Mixing up of Duraiappah's assassination, in 1975, with the wiping out of an army patrol, eight years later, highlights Sri Lanka's pathetic failure to brief the international community.

The LTTE killed two soldiers, outside a hardware store, in Jaffna in Oct 1981. They were the first SLA personnel to die in the hands of the LTTE.

At the time Prabhakaran shot dead Duraiappah, the victim didn't have even a police bodyguard, let alone soldiers.

Baron Naseby has, inadvertently, stated that anti-Tamil riots, that claimed 1,000 lives, had taken place in 1973, whereas they occurred in July 1983.

Invasions on Sri Lanka

Baron Naseby referred to the Chola invasion of Sri Lanka and the subsequent Portuguese, Dutch and British colonisation of the country, though absolutely no reference was made to Indian intervention in the 80s. No less a person than the late Indian National Security Advisor (May 2004-Jan 2005) in his memoirs, Makers of India’s Foreign Policy: Raja Ram Mohun to Yashwant Sinha had admitted that India militarily intervened in Sri Lanka to thwart US-Israel-Pakistan using the country to New Delhi's disadvantage. The shocking admission made by Jyotindra Nath Dixit, who had been New Delhi's High Commissioner in Colombo during the deployment of the Indian Army (July 1987-March 1990) should be studied keeping in mind the then Cold War environment, with India solidly backing the Soviet Union. Dixit, boldly blamed the then PM Indira Gandhi for Sri Lanka destabilization project started by Delhi in the early 80s to teach a lesson to overtly pro-Western Lankan President J.R. Jayewardene, on top of tacit support for Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in Dec 1979. Dixit called those Gandhi decisions the only foreign policy blunders made during her tenure as the PM (1966-1984). She was assassinated on October 31, 1984 by her Sikh bodyguards for ordering the storming of their holiest site, Golden Temple in Amritsar in June of that year.

For want of a cohesive strategy, Sri Lanka hadn't been able to counter the massive propaganda project meant to pave the way for a new Constitution in the guise of addressing accountability issues. If Sri Lanka hadn’t been able to properly brief its friends, there is absolutely no point in blaming those wanting to achieve their despicable objectives through constitutional means, after having failed to overwhelm the Sri Lankan military. Baron Naseby's statement has proved beyond doubt that successive governments lacked strategy to brief both friend and foe and rectify glaring mistakes.

The military brought the war to a successful conclusion on May 19, 2009, not on May 18, 2009, as stated by Baron Naseby.

But, Baron Naseby, quite rightly, explained the urgent need to reexamine the primary allegation directed at the Sri Lankan military as regards the number of civilians killed. Baron Naseby did it much better than any Sri Lankan politician, or Foreign Ministry has done so far. Having pointed out the absurdity and unfairness in the allegation that 40,000 civilians had perished in the offensive, Baron Naseby said: "...the UK must now get the UN and the UNHCR in Geneva to accept a civilian casualty level of 7,000 to 8,000, not 40,000. On top of that, the UK must recognize that this was a war against terrorism, so the rules of engagement are based on international humanitarian law, not the European Convention on Human Rights."

Having relentlessly pursued Sri Lanka during the Rajapaksa administration and forced the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe government to co-sponsor Geneva Resolution 30/1 in spite of it being inimical to Sri Lanka, the UK will not, under any circumstances, accept a lower casualty figure.

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon of the Conservative Party, in his response, on behalf of the government, indicated, in no uncertain terms that the May administration wouldn't seek reappraisal of casualty figures. "My noble friends Lord Naseby and Lord Sheikh talked about the numbers killed. While the differential may remain, what is undisputed is that a number of civilians died in the final stages of the war and there are still serious allegations of human rights abuses against both the Sri Lankan military and the Tamil Tigers."

Lord Ahmad's response revealed that they really didn't know how many civilians died on the Vanni east front. The British response also disclosed that they didn't have faith in the much touted UN Panel of Experts on Accountability in Sri Lanka whose report released on March 31, 2011, placed the number of civilians killed at 40,000. Had the British accepted the UN report, Lord Ahmad, wouldn't have hesitated to directly quote from it. Instead, Lord Ahmad side-stepped Baron Naseby's challenge. Interestingly, the State Minister conveniently refrained from using specific information provided by Colombo-based wartime British Defence Attache Lieutenant Colonel Anton Gash to the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office during January 1-May 19, 2009 period. Had the State Minister placed the confidential information that had been provided by Gash, the lies propagated against Sri Lanka would have been exposed.

Discipline and success of the Sri Lankan Army

Baron Naseby quoted Gash as having told him, in January 2009, that he was amazed at the controlled discipline and success of the Sri Lankan Army (SLA) and in particular the care that it was taking to encourage civilians to escape and how well they were looked after, and that certainly there was no policy to kill civilians. Baron Naseby said that there could not be a better military man than Gash to express such an opinion. The politician described Gash as knowledgeable, independent and would be authoritative about what happened on the Vanni front.

The writer had the opportunity to meet Baron Naseby twice during the Rajapaksa administration. Once, the British politician visited The Island editorial to meet Editor-in-Chief Prabath Sahabandu and the writer for journalistic perspective of the conflict.

Obviously, the British had been concerned about the reports sent by Gash as they certainly exposed the absurdity of accusations made against the SLA. The British had shamelessly suppressed those reports while stepping up pressure on Sri Lanka to address accountability issues on the basis of mass killings committed on the Vanni east front. Thanks to Baron Naseby's effort to secure reports sent in by Gash, during the Vanni offensive, the entire world got to know how the British desperately tried to hold in vital information that would have cleared the SLA. Unfortunately, the SLA failed to gather the required information and evidence, in a systematic way, to counter lies. Since the conclusion of the war, in May 2009, the SLA had done precious nothing to defend itself much to the disappointment of families of those courageous officers and men who died in the battle against terrorism. (In June, 2011, the SLA, during Lt. Gen. Jagath Jayasuriya's command, simply ignored a statement made by the then US Defence Attache, Lt. Colonel Lawrence Smith in support of Sri Lanka. The statement made in response to a question posed by retired Indian Army Major General Ashok Mehta to Maj. Gen. Shavendra Silva regarding battlefield executions in May 2009 could have been the basis of SLA's defence. But, the SLA didn't even bother to examine it. The Island's exclusive report by the writer on the US Defence Attache's statement was not challenged by the US embassy. But, the US State Department declared that Lt. Colonel Smith wasn't there in any official capacity. Whatever, his status at the first defence seminar, organized by the SLA, the officer was there, defended the SLA, though those in authority lacked the strength to exploit the opportunity for Sri Lanka's advantage.)

Gash's reports

Baron Naseby explained in parliament how the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office had dismissed his 2014 request for Gash's reports pertaining to the period January 1 to May 19, 2009, in accordance with the freedom of information law. Thereafter, Baron Naseby's appeals to higher officials, too, had been rejected, prompting the intrepid politician to seek the intervention of the Information Commissioner. The Information Commissioner's intervention resulted in the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office making available 26 pages of heavily redacted dispatches from Gash. Had Gash condemned the SLA, those reports would have been extensively used by the British and the British media outfits such as Channel 4 years ago. Had the British not done so, the May government would have used them during debate on Sri Lanka in response to Baron Naseby.

The Baron explained to British parliament how he had received an additional 12 pages, all redacted, from the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office when he pointed out insufficient number of Gash reports.

Baron Naseby explained how he gave up his struggle for Sri Lanka when judges of the First-tier Tribunal upheld the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office assertion that had they revealed confidential information they wouldn't receive such information in the future. It would be better to reproduce verbatim what Baron Naseby told parliament: "...Still concerned about the lack of dispatches in the past few days, I made a final appeal to the First-tier Tribunal, assisted my very good friend Amal Abeywardene. We had the sympathy of the judges for the cause, but they accepted the Foreign Office view that if confidential information was given out, nobody in future would give us any more. So I now have the princely sum of 39 pages of heavily redacted dispatches—nevertheless, if you dig deeply, as in life, you find some real gems. For example, on 28 January:

"It is not possible to distinguish civilians from LTTE cadres as few are in uniform".

Then, from 16 February: "IDPs being cared for in Trincomalee. Welfare appears to be overriding security considerations".

Then on 20 January they say, "no cluster munitions were used", and on 26 April, "civilians killed Feb 1-April 26—6432".

Obviously, the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office stance cannot be acceptable as the person making available information in this case Lt. Colonel Gash was a British government employee. The British position could have been acceptable if those dispatches were sent by a mole within the Sri Lankan establishment. Those who had perused Wiki Leaks now know how our honourable members of parliament provided information to US diplomats in Colombo regarding a range of matters.

Situation on the Vanni east front.

The reports submitted by Gash and Smith should be compared to ascertain the situation on the Vanni east front. The British and the American defence attaches would have shared information as well as 'sources' within the then administration, including the military as well as the LTTE. A thorough examination of despatches from US, British, Indian, Japanese, ICRC and UN missions will establish how the SLA behaved on the Vanni east front.

In fact, the UN Panel of Experts, headed by one-time Indonesian Attorney General Marzuki Darusman, admitted the existence of UN report that placed the number of dead at 7,721 and 18,479 injured from Aug 2008 to May 13, 2009. For some strange reason, Sri Lanka never officially requested the UN to release that report or requested the Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) to examine it.

The UN report that dealt with 10 months should be compared with the UN Panel of Experts report which placed the number of civilians killed during the last phase (reference to Jan-May 2009 period) at 40,000.

Office of Missing Persons (OMP)

Can there be anything as unfair as demanding Sri Lanka to establish Office of Missing Persons (OMP) and introduce new law against enforced disappearances to ascertain the truth while refusing to share information vital to achieve the same purpose. The British should be ashamed, especially because British national Anton Balasingham influenced the murderous LTTE for over three decades. UK-based Balasingham played a significant role in overall LTTE strategy hence there cannot be any dispute regarding his culpability for political assassinations—from TULF leader Papilla Thingamajig in 1989, Raj iv Gandhi in May 1991 and Lakshman Kadirgamar in Aug 2005.

Both Gash and Smith would have had to send many dispatches as the SLA rapidly encircled the LTTE after having inflicted the single biggest battlefield defeat on Prabhakaran in early April 2009. The LTTE had no chance of reaching an understanding with the government following the Anandapuram battle that resulted in irrevocable damages. Among the dead were top commanders, including Pathuman, once the proud commander of LTTE formations deployed on the northern front.

Baron Naseby has exposed the British efforts to suppress the truth.

Interestingly, during the Oct 12, 2017 debate there hadn't been any reference to a previous debate in the House of Commons on 'human rights in the Indian sub-continent.'

Long standing LTTE supporter Siobhain McDonagh (Mitcham and Morden) (Labour) told the House of Commons on Sept. 15, 2011 that Sri Lanka’s war, in its last five months alone, had claimed the lives of 100,000 people, 40,000 of them civilians.

The MP never explained how she had come to such a conclusion and her claim should be now re-examined against the backdrop of Minister of State Foreign and Commonwealth side-stepping Baron Naseby's challenge. McDonagh never responded to The Island queries regarding her controversial statement while the British High Commission in Colombo declined to confirm whether the MP had sought information from the diplomatic mission. The British High Commission adopted a similar stance when the writer asked whether the politician sought information from the mission.

Sri Lanka never conducted a proper investigation into various allegations/claims made in respect of Sri Lanka's war. Had the government done that Sri Lanka could have exposed the big lie propagated by various interested parties.

Number of civilians killed during war

UK-based Amnesty International, in its bulletin headlined ‘WHEN WILL THEY GET JUSTICE?,’ estimated the number of civilians killed at 10,000 on the basis of information provided by eye-witnesses and aid workers. The September 2011 report however didn’t make any reference to the number of combatants killed during Eelam war IV or the final five months.

If Amnesty International had based its report on eyewitnesses and aid workers, it would be interesting to know who briefed British MP McDonagh regarding the ground situation.

MP McDonagh thanked the previous British government for terminating the GSP plus trade facility given to Sri Lanka, opposing Sri Lanka receiving IMF stand-by facility amounting to $ 2.6 billion and thwarting a move to host the Commonwealth Summit in Colombo

The MP said: "Britain must take a brave and principled lead—just as we did in Kosovo and, with France, in Libya—and do all that it can to ensure that a full independent international investigation of war crimes takes place. Those of us who believe in justice want the people responsible to be held to account, just as all of us would agree about Colonel Gaddafi, Radovan Karadzic and Charles Taylor. Sri Lanka still wants to host the Commonwealth Summit in 2013. We should be clearly saying "No, not until there is a fully independent, UN-led international inquiry. I hope that if one thing comes out of today’s debate, it will be that commitment."

That statement was clearly meant to prevent Sri Lanka hosting the useless Commonwealth Summit 2013. Had she succeeded, millions of taxpayers money could have been saved. Those who had been working with Tamil Diaspora pursued anti-Sri Lanka campaign at different levels. They had succeeded primarily due to Sri Lanka's failure. Let there be a fresh call to the international community to re-examine allegations in the wake of debate on Sri Lanka in the UK parliament.