by Rathindra Kuruwita
A 159-second telephone conversation took place between former President Maithripala Sirisena and former Director of the State Intelligence Service (SIS) SDIG Nilantha Jayawardena from 7.59 a.m. on April 21, 2019, prior to the Easter Sunday bombings, the Presidential Commission of Inquiry (PCoI) investigating the Easter Sunday attacks was informed on Saturday.
It was also revealed that another telephone conversation on April 20, 2019 at 6.16 pm had also taken place between the two. Earlier it was revealed that around 20 telephone conversations had taken place between Sirisena and Jayawardena from April 4 to 21, 2019.
April 04, 2019 was the day when Jayawardena received a warning of a possible terror attack from a foreign counterpart.
The details of the calls were revealed when the former President was cross-examined by President’s Counsel Shamil Perera, appearing for the Archbishop of Colombo, Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith.
Perera asked the witness whether he had been in constant contact with Jayawardena over the phone. In response Sirisena said that he would not agree that there had been frequent telephone conversations between him and Jayawardena.
Perera then showed the former president a list of calls that had been place between Jayewardena and the former President from January 01 to March 31, 2019. The list contained over 200 calls. Sirisena, after referring to the document, said he did not remember such a large number of conversations with the former SIS Director.
“I do not even use a mobile phone. So, this document should be examined further,” Sirisena said.
When asked if the document contained details of calls from six telephone numbers at the former President’s official residence on Paget Road, Sirisena answered in the affirmative.
The document showed that a total of 221 telephone calls had taken place between Sirisena and Jayawardena from January to April 2019. Sirisena said he probably had not received all those phone calls.
“These are records of calls to and from my official residence or to the Presidential Secretariat. But I don’t think I answered all these calls. I would not have answered these calls if I had been at Cabinet meetings and other events and I was attending such meetings,” Sirisena said.
“Do you, as a practice, consult the former SIS Director on your security and the threats you had to face?” the counsel asked. Sirisena said that there were occasions when such consultations were made.
Perera then asked Sirisena whether Jayewardena had given him a call around 6.16pm on 20 April. Sirisena said he had been receiving treatment in a Singaporean hospital at that time and not even his personal security officers had access to him on that day.
Perera then said that the telephone records clearly stated that Sirisena had called the former SIS Director around 7.59am on 21 April, 2019 before the Easter Sunday attacks. Sirisena had earlier said that he first contacted Jayewardena only after the bombings.
The President’s Counsel told the Commission that despite Sirisena’s statement the phone records showed that Sirisena had made a large number of telephone calls on April 21 morning.
“I don’t know what is mentioned in this report but I was in hospital on the morning of April 21. It was not possible for me to make phone calls while undergoing treatment. I came back to the hotel and then heard about the attacks.”
Perera also said about seven telephone calls had been exchanged between Sirisena and the SIS Director after the bombings. The counsel said that a 133- second telephone call had taken place between Sirisena and Jayawardena on 21 April at 8.58 am, a 184-second telephone call at 9.13 a.m., and a 688-second telephone call at 1.10 p.m.
Perera also asked Sirisena how he had made these calls if he was feeling extremely sick.
“I was still weak but this was a serious development. I made a series of calls and advised all including the Prime Minister, the Inspector General of Police and the Tri- forces Commanders, to take necessary action,” Sirisena said.
Perera also asked how Sirisena had returned to Sri Lanka on the same night if his medical condition had been so serious. In response, the former President said that the relevant medical reports could be submitted to the Commission.
Perera also questioned Sirisena on a statement made by the former Director of the SIS, before the Commission, that between 10,000 and 15,000 people knew about the foreign report that the State Intelligence Service (SIS) had received on April 04, 2019 about a possible terrorist attack. Jayawardena said that by April 09, former IGP Pujith Jayasundara had informed the STF and the STF had about 5,000 personnel. The officers that provide security to VIPs too were informed. There were about 800 such officers.
The police in the Western Province too had been informed and there were about 8,000 such personnel, he said. Jayawardena said he had conveyed information about the possible attack to a number of senior officials, including former Defence Secretary, Hemasiri Fernando and CNI Sisira Mendis. Jayasundara had also forwarded the report to SDIG of Western Province, Nandana Munasinghe, SDIG crimes and STF M.R. Latif, DIG special protection range Priyalal Dassanayake and Director of the Terrorism Investigation Division, Waruna Jayasundara.
Sirisena said that although it might be true, his Chief Security Officer, DIG Rohan Silva had been unaware of it.
President’s Counsel: You were the President and Minister of Defence, none of the 15, 000 security personnel and other senior officials told you about the attack?”
Witness- “No one informed me.”
When Sirisena took over as President and Defence Minister he had been entrusted with the responsibility for protecting the people of the country by providing them security. However the attack showed that he had clearly failed in his duties, Counsel Perera said.
“I do not accept that. Terrorist attacks took place when other Presidents were running the country. No one asked this question from them,” Sirisena said.
Perera then asked Sirisena if he accepted that he had endangered the Catholic people by neglecting his responsibilities and that he had been trying to evade responsibility by blaming others.
Earlier former IGP Pujith Jayasundara told the PCoI that President Maithripala Sirisena on April, 24, 2019, had told him that if he took the blame for the Easter Sunday bombings, Jayasundara would be given a pension and an ambassador’s post to a country of his choice.
“I am deeply shocked about what happened but I am not finding any scapegoats,” Sirisena said, adding that he not believe that the report of the Parliamentary Select Committee which investigated the bombings on Easter Sunday was independent or accurate. “When I was asked to appear before the PSC, I did not go and instead, I informed them to come to the Presidential Secretariat and asked them to meet me if necessary. They came and recorded a statement from me. Former Army Commander, Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka a member of the PSC harbours animosity towards me. The same can be said about some other members of the PSC. I, therefore, did not accept the proceedings of that PSC,” Sirisena added.
Govt. MP Wijeyadasa strikes discordant note on Port City Bill
… alleges bid to turn Port City into Chinese territory
Over 12 petitioners move SC against proposed law
By Shamindra Ferdinando
SLPP lawmaker Dr. Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe PC, yesterday (15) alleged that the proposed Bill, titled ‘Colombo Port City Economic Commission,’ would transform the reclaimed land, adjacent to the Galle Face Green into a Chinese territory.
Addressing the media at the Abhayarama temple, under the auspices of Ven Muruththettuwe Ananda Thera, the former President of the Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL), Rajapakshe, warned of dire consequences if the government went ahead with what he termed the despicable project.
Sixteen parties had filed action against the Bill. Ven. Muruththettuwe Ananda thera was among the petitioners.
The ruling party had placed the Bill on the Order Paper on April 8, just 15 calendar days after the publication of the Bill in the Gazette. In terms of the Constitution a citizen intending to challenge the constitutionality of a Bill had to do so within one week from the Bill being placed in the Order Paper of Parliament, Dr. Rajapakse said.
Among those who moved the SC were the General-Secretary of the UNP and the Chairman of the UNP. The Attorney-General has been named a respondent in the petition. The BASL, too, moved SC against the Attorney General. Three civil society activists, Oshala Herath, Dr. Ajantha Perera and Jeran Jegatheesan also filed action.
Lawmaker Rajapakse explained how the proposed Bill, if enacted, could allow independent status to USD 1.4 bn Colombo Port City. Former Justice Minister alleged that the Colombo Port City project was far worse than the selling of the strategic Hambantota port to the Chinese by the previous administration.
The Colombo District MP said the Parliament wouldn’t have financial control over the Colombo Port City Project whereas its independent status would legally empower those managing the project to finalise agreements with external parties
Referring to the previous administration, the former UNPer alleged that China had bribed members of Parliament. MP Rajapakse questioned the rationale behind China providing computers to all members of Parliament and officials as well as jaunts to China.
Rajapakse said that Sri Lanka shouldn’t give in to Chinese strategies aimed at bringing Sri Lanka under its control. The former minister explained the threat posed by the growing Chinese presence including the Colombo Port City, a terminal in the Colombo harbour and at the Hambantota port.
Sooka pushing UK for punitive action against Army Commander
An outfit, led by Yasmin Sooka, a member of the UNSG Panel of Experts’ (PoE), has urged the UK to take punitive measures against the Commander of the Army, General Shavendra Silva, who is also the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS).
The Army headquarters told The Island that the matter had been brought to the notice of the relevant authorities. It said that it was all part of the ongoing well-funded campaign against the Sri Lankan military.
Issuing a statement from Johannesburg, the International Truth and Justice Project (ITJP) said it had compiled a 50-page dossier which it has submitted to the Sanctions Department of the UK’s Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office on General Shavendra Silva. The Submission argues why Silva, who is Sri Lanka’s current Army Commander, should be designated under the United Kingdom’s Global Human Rights (GHR) Sanctions Regime established on 6 July 2020.
“We have an extensive archive of evidence on the final phase of the civil war in Sri Lanka, meticulously collected by international prosecutors and lawyers. The testimony of victims and witnesses – many now in the UK – was vital in informing this Submission, and making the linkages to Shavendra Silva and those under his command,” said the organisation’s executive director, Yasmin Sooka.
The ITJP Submission details Shavendra Silva’s role in the perpetration of alleged gross human rights violations including of the right to life when he was 58 Division Commander during the final phase of the civil war in 2009 in the north of Sri Lanka. It draws on searing eyewitness testimony from Tamils who survived the government shelling and bombing of hospitals and food queues in the so called No Fire Zones, many of whom now reside in the UK as refugees. The Submission also looks at Silva’s alleged involvement in torture and sexual violence, including rape, which is a priority area of the UK Government’s foreign policy.
“The US State Department designated Shavendra Silva in 2020 for his alleged role in the violations at the end of the war but the remit of the UK sanctions regime works is broader and includes his role in the shelling of hospitals and other protected civilian sites during the military offensive. This is important in terms of recognising the full extent of the violations, as well as supporting the US action,” commented Ms. Sooka. “UK designation would be another significant step forward in terms of accountability and would be in line with the recent UN Human Rights Council Resolution passed in Geneva for which Britain was the penholder,” she added.
Political will in applying the UK’s new sanctions regime to Sri Lanka was apparent in a recent parliamentary debate which saw 11 British parliamentarians ask why the UK government had not applied sanctions against Sri Lankan military figures, including Shavendra Silva, who was named six times in this context.”
‘UNHRC missive exposes UK duplicity in grave accountability matters’
By Shamindra Ferdinando
Wartime Foreign Minister Rohitha Bogollagama says that the leader of Sri Lanka Core Group at the Geneva–based United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) the United Kingdom’s policy of double standards has been challenged by no less a person than UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet.
Bogollagama said that the Bachelet warning couldn’t have been issued at a better time as the UK stepped up pressure on Sri Lanka over accountability issues. The former FM was responding to Bachelet’s declaration on April 12 that the proposed new Overseas Operations (Service Personnel and Veterans) Bill, in its current form, would undermine key human rights obligations that the UK has committed itself to respect.
The UK is a member of the UNHRC. Bogollagama pointed out that Bachelet had called for amendments to the proposed Bill to ensure that it didn’t protect British personnel deployed overseas for acts of torture and other serious international crimes.
The Bill is now reaching its final stages in the legislative process, and will shortly be debated again by the House of Lords, the UK’s upper chamber, where amendments may still be made.
In the run-up to the Geneva vote on a resolution spearheaded by the UK on March 23, SLPP Chairman and former External Affairs Minister Prof G.L. Peiris questioned the rationale in British actions. Prof Peiris asked how the UK sought protection for its armed forces deployed outside their territory whereas it sought punitive measures against Sri Lanka for fighting terrorism in its own land.
Bogollagama said that British double standards should be examined taking into consideration the UK’s current membership in the UNHRC as well its role as the leader of Sri Lanka Core Group. The Core Group members include Germany and Canada.
Bogollagama who served as the Foreign Minister during the fourth phase of the war (2007-2010) alleged that the UK adopted an extremely hostile position primarily because of domestic political reasons. Wikileaks disclosed the true extent of Tamil Diaspora influence on the British political establishment, Bogollagama said. So much so, the UK allowed the Global Tamil Forum (GTF) to announce its formation in the House of Commons in early 2010, the former Minister said. Would the UK accept Geneva advice as regards the proposed Bill, Bogollagama asked, those who voted for the resolution moved against Sri Lanka and abstained to realise that the UK’s stand in respect of Colombo was political.
The UK succeeded the US as Sri Lanka Core Chair in 2018 after the latter quit the Geneva body in a huff calling it a cesspool of political bias.
The purpose of the controversial British Bill is stated as being “to provide greater certainty for Service personnel and veterans in relation to claims and potential prosecution for historical events that occurred in the complex environment of armed conflict overseas.” British Forces played significant roles in the invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan. The Bill seeks to achieve this, in particular, by introducing new preconditions for the prosecution of alleged offences covered by the Bill.
“As currently drafted, the Bill would make it substantially less likely that UK service members on overseas operations would be held accountable for serious human rights violations amounting to international crimes,” the UNHRC statement dated April 12 quoted Bachelet as having said.
It stated that in its present form, the proposed legislation raises substantial questions about the UK’s future compliance with its international obligations, particularly under the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT), as well as the 1949 Geneva Conventions. These include obligations to prevent, investigate and prosecute acts such as torture and unlawful killing, and make no distinction as to when the offences were committed.
Responding to another query, Bogollagama said that Bachelet’s statement exposed the British hypocrisy. While demanding accountability on the part of Sri Lankan military on the basis of unsubstantiated war crimes accusations, the British deprived Geneva of wartime dispatches (January-May 2009) from its High Commission in Colombo in a bid to facilitate the campaign against Sri Lanka, former minister Bogollagama said.
The British exposed their hostile intentions when London turned down Sri Lanka’s request to hand over those dispatches to Geneva, the ex-lawmaker said, urging the government to continuously highlight the need for examination of all available evidence by the proposed new Geneva inquiry unit appointed at a cost of USD 2.8 mn.
Bachelet’s request to the UK was interesting, Bogollagama said. The former minister was referring to Bachelet’s appeal: “I urge UK legislators in both Houses of Parliament, and the Government, to take these concerns fully into account when reviewing the Bill, and to ensure that the law of the United Kingdom remains entirely unambiguous with regard to accountability for international crimes perpetrated by individuals, no matter when, where or by whom they are committed.”
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