Lord Naseby seeks full disclosure of Sri Lanka war dispatches


Lord Naseby believes that the British Government is continuing to deliberately withhold information about the conduct of Sri Lanka’s armed forces during the final phase of the offensive to defeat the LTTE in 2009. On Wednesday October 30th, the distinguished Conservative peer tabled a question to UK’s Foreign & Commonwealth Office in the House of Lords seeking full disclosure of British diplomatic dispatches from Colombo hitherto withheld from the public as confidential documents.

"To ask Her Majesty’s Government, further to the Freedom of Information request made by Lord Naseby on 6 November 2014 and the resolution adopted by the UN Human Rights Council on 1 October 2015 promoting reconciliation, accountability and human rights in Sri Lanka, whether they will now publish the full information contained within the dispatches written by Lieutenant Colonel Anton Gash to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office during the period January to May 2009; and if so, when."

The British politician’s office issued the following statement; "Lord Naseby believes that Britain’s own Military Attaché Lt. Col. Gash, who was stationed in Sri Lanka during the final stages of the conflict, had unparalleled access to the war-time events and that his full reports need to be placed in the public domain. Lord Naseby began his long and determined battles with British authorities to release these dispatches under a Freedom of Information request in 2014. Following an appeal to UK’s Information Commissioner, the FCO eventually agreed in May 2017 to publish 39 pages of heavily redacted reports, commonly referred to as the Gash Dispatches. Whilst even the censored information does provide adequate evidence that Sri Lanka’s armed forces behaved entirely appropriately, Naseby believes that a full disclosure would provide greater confirmation that Sri Lanka’s security forces observed the laws of armed conflict, namely proportionality, distinction and military necessity.

"Sri Lanka’s critics continue to make unsubstantiated and exaggerated estimates of the number of casualties during the final stages of the battles in Mullivaikkal, especially by Yasmin Sooka, who contributed to the Darusman Report and now issues statements from the International Truth & Justice Project for Sri Lanka, a South African NGO. The Darusman Report, whose authors never even visited Sri Lanka, claimed that there could be as many as 40,000 civilian deaths in the last phases of the Eelam War in 2009, but this figure has been disputed by authoritative sources both inside and outside Sri Lanka. The Gash Dispatches are consistent with the estimate for casualties being less than 6,000, which considering that there were about 300,000 civilians trapped by the LTTE, shows that the Sri Lankan forces did not kill civilians indiscriminately.

Naseby says that if the UK has already provided the Gash Dispatches in their unredacted form to the UN Human Rights Commission, then the same respect should be paid to Sri Lanka as a sovereign independent state, and that the same full reports of the British Military Attaché should now be offered to the Sri Lankan Government as well. As there will soon be a new Sri Lankan president, Naseby suggests that whoever wins the presidential election, should be given the full Gash Dispatches, which may then be tabled before Sri Lanka’s parliament. With the UK being a co-sponsor of UNHCR Resolution 30/1, Naseby is of the opinion that the British Government should be doing its utmost to provide an independent perspective to establish the truth of what happened during the conflict, particularly in light of the distortions being propagated by sections of the LTTE supporters in the Tamil diaspora. Naseby is critical of the UK for not countering the obvious misinformation about allegations of war crimes by the Sri Lankan army as it causes considerable anger in Sri Lanka and undermines the efforts towards reconciliation. Sri Lankans also question the impartiality of the UN, which has also not made significant efforts to deal with the war crimes and human rights violations committed by the LTTE, much of whose activities were funded and supported by a global network of Tamil diaspora groups in overseas countries, including from Canada, Australia, UK, USA and various nations in Europe and Asia.

"Lord Naseby visited Sri Lanka in September at the invitation of the Organisation of Professional Associations and met with key political leaders including the President, The Speaker, the Foreign Minister, the Leader of the Opposition and the Minister for Megapolis & Western Development. Naseby also discussed the progress of the Office of Missing Persons with its Chairman, Saliya Pieris PC. The British peer thinks that the OMP’s work is pivotal to build confidence amongst communities yet he has been disappointed by its slow progress due to a lack of adequate resources.

"Lord Naseby has just written to UK’s Foreign Office Minister of State for South Asia, Lord Tariq Ahmad who has himself just visited Sri Lanka for the first time. Naseby has suggested the FCO should be consistent in promoting reconciliation especially when handling engagement with British Sri Lankan interest groups. Naseby has recommended to Lord Ahmad that to foster reconciliation, the FCO should have inclusive rather than separate meetings with all sections of the Sri Lankan diaspora communities in UK. In the past, the FCO has hosted segregated meetings where the Tamil groups have been deliberately separated from the other Sri Lanka-interest groups, which Naseby believes undermines reconciliation efforts. Naseby is also critical of the UK for not applying its own Terrorism legislation to deal with LTTE supporters. The LTTE remains a proscribed terrorist organisation, yet elements of the Tamil diaspora continue to promote the Tamil Tigers’ dead supremo, Prabhakaran, by chanting his name and brandishing the Tamil Tiger flag and other regalia in public demonstrations. Such activities are prohibited by UK’s Terrorism Act, however Britain’s law enforcement officials, including the Crown Prosecution Service, have thus far not taken any steps to prosecute alleged LTTE offenders. Britain has a long tradition of allowing political demonstrations, however this does not permit the promotion of proscribed terrorist organisations, yet British law enforcement authorities have turned a blind eye to Tamil Tiger supporters over many years. Naseby believes that by not acting to stop these extremists, LTTE activists are effectively being given state impunity against prosecution, which also acts against the spirit of UNHRC Resolution 30/1, of upholding accountability, reconciliation and non-recurrence of human rights violations concerning Sri Lanka.

"Whilst Brexit continues to be the major topic of political discussion in Britain, Lord Naseby has used even this period to encourage the UK to strengthen its trade and economic relations with Sri Lanka and recently spoke in a House of Lords debate where he mentioned the opportunity for investing in an island that has excellent commercial connections and where Asian markets of 3.5 billion people are within easy reach. He also drew attention to the emerging infrastructure initiatives being proposed in Sri Lanka, including the Port City Colombo project. Last week, Lord Naseby also discussed the latest progress around Jaffna when he met with the Governor of the Northern Province, Dr Suren Raghavan who was on a brief visit to UK. The British peer was encouraged to hear that people in the Northern Province are experiencing a peace dividend with sustained economic development including the opening of Jaffna International Airport, a large rainwater harvesting project that will provide drinking and cooking water and the establishment of the Northern Cooperative Development Bank. Raghavan had recently visited Ottawa and Toronto and mentioned that Canadian Tamils are showing signs of having greater confidence in Sri Lanka and may now be making significant investments in their homeland. Naseby agreed with Raghavan that this is a significant time since the ending of the Eelam conflict and hoped that the Tamil diaspora all over the world, especially in UK, will also start to show greater trust in the path that Sri Lanka has been taking since 2009, by also making substantial inward investments."

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