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Midweek Review

Celebrating independence under a cloud

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Geneva sessions: Lawmakers’ role in Western strategy

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Sri Lanka celebrates her 73rd Independence Day tomorrow (4) under a cloud, with a section of the international community pushing for intervention over unsubstantiated war crimes allegations. The grouping has the support of three political parties, represented in Parliament, as well as some civil society organizations. Among the signatories to a petition, dated January 15, 2021 that sought the Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council’s intervention was the Bishop of Trincomalee. The Catholic Bishop’s Conference owed an explanation whether the decision-making body approved the Trincomalee Bishop’s move.

Strangely none of the political parties, represented in Parliament, publicly opposed the Tamil parties stand. Their failure strengthened the moves against the country.

Amnesty International and the Human Rights Watch backed the petition. They urged the UNHRC, at its Feb-March 2021 session, to implement the punitive recommendations of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, in respect of Sri Lanka.

Last year, the US-based Human Rights Watch was nailed in style by a female anchor of the German national TV Deutsche Welle (DW) when she questioned the head of HRW, Kenneth Roth about them having taken money from a billionaire Saudi contractor not to report on a certain subject. Of course he claimed it was a mistake and the money had been returned. Leading Western media organisations, other than DW, refrained from raising the issue.

And HRW is also quite notorious for regularly raking up, internationally, the arrest here of a Lankan Muslim lawyer in connection with the Easter Sunday carnage even after the matter was placed before the highest court in the country.

US State Department spokesman, Ned Price declared recently the US was carefully reviewing Bachelet’s report (or report drafted by Washington for her) that targeted President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s administration in addition to seeking action against war crimes, allegedly committed during the war. The report basically endorsed the Tamil parties’ stand.

Sri Lanka brought the war to a successful conclusion in May 2009. In the absence of a cohesive plan to defend the country on the diplomatic front, treachery and lack of political will, the Western powers moved the UNHRC against Sri Lanka.

The Sirisena-Wickremesinghe government cooperated with the Western powers. Although Sirisena repeatedly denied backing the co-sponsorship of the Geneva Resolution 30/1 in Oct 2015, he remained very much committed to it during his presidential term. SLFP leader Sirisena is now an MP, elected on the SLPP ticket. He represents Polonnaruwa. Sirisena will probably be in the first row along with President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and other dignitaries at the Independence Day celebrations in Colombo.

Sri Lanka allowed the Geneva situation to deteriorate over the years by turning a blind eye to developments, both here and abroad. Parliament never ever examined the accountability issues. Sri Lanka’s co-sponsorship of the Geneva Resolution was never properly taken up in Parliament. All political parties, including the SLPP, now in power, play politics with the war crimes issue.

 

Sirisena’s stand

In mid-Nov 2017, the then President and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, Sirisena, explained his position, pertaining to post-war accountability issues, and alleged that attempts were being made by his opponents to exploit the situation, at the expense of political stability.

Sirisena made his position clear when he addressed the Army top brass at the auditorium of the Army Hospital, Narahenpita, as his Finance Minister Mangala Samaraweera delivered the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe administration’s third budget. Sirisena’s decision to skip the budget speech highlighted the crisis with the UNP-led coalition against the backdrop of the massive Treasury bond scams, perpetrated in Feb 2015 and March 2016.

Among the audience were the then Adjutant General Maj. Gen. Shavendra Silva (now Commander of the Army and Chief of Defence Staff) and Director General, Infantry, Maj. Gen. Chagie Gallage (retired), both of the Gajaba Regiment.

In his address, Sirisena referred to some Western powers refusing to issue visas to both retired and serving officers on the basis of unsubstantiated allegations. Sirisena emphasized the pivotal importance of rectifying the situation. The Commander-in-Chief called for tangible measures to change the Western governments’ decision. Sirisena, however, did absolutely nothing during the rest of his term, after uttering those lofty objectives.

Unfortunately, the situation remains the same, in spite of the change of government in Nov 2019. The recently released UNHRC’s report revealed the failure on the part of Sri Lanka to address any of the issues raised therein.

 

Fonseka’s predicament

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

Field Marshal Fonseka, in September, 2017, alleged that he had been denied a visa to attend the UNGA because of unresolved war crime allegations against the Army. Sri Lanka’s most successful Army Commander 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.

In the heat of political cockfights, having caused irreparable damage by accusing his own Army of battlefield executions during the final phase of the assault in May 2009, Field Marshal Fonseka has repeatedly underscored the pivotal importance of a comprehensive investigation into accountability issues to clear Sri Lanka’s name.

Some senior officers, including those, who had never been in actual combat or directly involved in military operations, had been denied visas.

There is no need to remind the current Sri Lankan leadership that imposition of travel restrictions is based on the outcome of UN accusations. 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. Among those affected is General Shavendra Silva. The US issued restrictions on the first GOC of the celebrated fighting formation, the 58 Division in Feb 2020.

 

Gallage’s dilemma

In the wake of the recent damning Bachelet’s report, the writer sought retired Maj. Gen. Gallage’s opinion on the war crimes issue and his own dilemma. Gallage said that no one in authority bothered even to inquire from him when he was denied the Australian visa. The denial of visa was nothing but an affront to the war-winning Army, the one-time strategist said, condemning the failure on the part of Sri Lanka to set the record straight. Gallage said that he had been only to the Middle East since 2015. 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, to highlight Sri Lanka’s pathetic failure on the ‘Geneva front.’

Australia deprived Gallage of an opportunity to visit his brother, an Australian citizen, after the change of government, in January 2015. Australia found fault with the Gajaba veteran for being in command of the 59 Division, from May 7, 2009, to July 20, 2009. The Australian High Commission in Colombo 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 refuse Gallage a 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 UNP still defends its decision to co-sponsor the Resolution.

Geneva released the OISL report on Sept. 16, 2015. Sri Lanka co-sponsored the 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. He conveniently turned a blind eye to the project. The SLPP, in spite of SLFP treachery, had no qualms in accommodating the much weaker party in a coalition at the last parliamentary election for political expediency. The SLFP parliamentary group comprises 13 elected on the SLPP ticket and one on the SLFP ticket.

Australia also cited the UN PoE report on accountability issues released on March 31, 2011. The PoE accused Sri Lanka of massacring over 40,000 civilians and depriving the Vanni population of their basic needs. Canberra also cited a statement attributed to the then 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 (Australia’s) decision. On the basis of Maj. Gen. Silva’s statement, it alleged that Maj. Gen. Gallage had been aware of artillery strikes on the third no fire zone. Can there be any justification in the Australian assessment? There hadn’t been specific allegations against Gallage before.

Contrary to the Australian assessment, the deployment of Israeli built UAVs was meant to direct accurate attacks on the enemy. Australia has accused Gallage of planning, implementing and supporting war crimes and crimes against humanity. Australia also held him responsible, as a 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 (now retired), 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, is nothing but 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 of UN measures directed at Sri Lanka.

 

A confused US stand

In spite of referring to the visa matter, the Office of the President, and the Foreign and Defence Ministries never bothered to take up the issue with Western powers. Those who had been in power ignored the threat. They never bothered to exploit Lord Naseby’s disclosure of the bogus 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), underscored the need to revisit the Sri Lanka issue. Unfortunately, Sri Lanka is yet to use Lord Naseby’s revelation though both the previous and current administrations made reference to the UK revelations.

The Army headquarters, too, failed in its responsibility. The then Army Chief Lt. Gen. Mahesh Senanayake never pushed the government to take tangible measures. Having pathetically failed to counter the lies, propagated by interested parties, since Gen Fonseka’s abrupt removal by the previous Rajapaksa administration, Army headquarters did nothing to rectify the failures. Instead, Senanayake took advantage of the humiliating failure to thwart the Easter Sunday attacks by claiming police never shared vital intelligence with the DMI despite Military Intelligence running one of the biggest contingents of spooks of its own and politically motivated violence directed at the Muslims weeks after the Easter carnage, to contest 2019 presidential election. Senanayake ended up in fourth place with less than 50,000 votes.

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 then four-party Tamil National Alliance (TNA) led by R. Sampanthan, now an ordinary member of Parliament. There cannot be any dispute over the US role in that poll in the wake of Wikileaks revelation, pertaining to secret discussions between a Colombo-based US diplomat and Sampanthan. Sampanthan gave into US pressure though he had initially resisted the proposal. Sampanthan must have been deeply embarrassed to publicly urge Tamils to vote for Fonseka, after having accused, out of thin air, his Army of killing thousands of civilians, raping Tamil women and disappearances. The Tamil electorate obliged. Fonseka was able to secure the predominantly 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 Gotabaya (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 denied visas to Majors General Prasanna Silva, wartime GoC, 55 Division and Jaffna Security Forces Commander Mahinda Hathurusinghe. The then 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 visas. 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 Gotabaya 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 the high profile international campaign meant to portray the Army as a criminal organization.

 

Sooka’s letter

A letter of protest, written by PoE member Yasmin Sooka (South African Tamil), to US multinational Coca Cola, for sponsoring the Gajaba Super-Cross 2017, organized by Shavendra Silva, in his capacity as the Colonel Commandant of the celebrated Regiment, should have jolted the Army and the government to take remedial measures. They did nothing. 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 the 58 Division criminal organizations on the basis of UN reports. She played a major part in one such report prepared by the so-called Panel of Experts, obviously cherry picked by the shameless world body. The Foreign Ministry and the Defence Ministry for some strange reason, turned a blind eye to Sooka’s attack.

Sri Lanka never took up the unfair decision to deny visas to senior military officers on the basis of the unsubstantiated OISL report and other accusations. Those who had accused the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe government of betraying the armed forces should also accept responsibility for their pathetic failure to counter blatant lies. They owe an explanation to the nation.

President Sirisena’s Nov 9, 2017 address at the Army Hospital 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”

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 the attention of the UN pushing hard at Sri Lanka to implement Geneva Resolution 30/1.

Sri Lanka, at least now, needs to take a clear stand in Geneva. The government should re-examine Sri Lanka’s strategy or absence of strategy so far and explore the possibility of initiating a dialogue with Geneva in respect of concerns raised by Lord Naseby and other sources, such as Wikileaks cables.

What really surprised the writer is Sisisena’s failure to take any concrete action on the basis of Lord Naseby’s disclosure during his tenure. Sri Lanka is yet to take appropriate measures to set the record straight in Geneva. Let us hope the powers that be examine the progress made/absence of progress since the change of government in Nov 2019.

 

 

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Midweek Review

Former OMP Chief now at BASL helm

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By Shamindra Ferdinando

Editor of ‘Annidda’, Attorney-at-Law K.W. Janaranjana, in a piece in its Feb 21, 2021, edition that dealt with the election of Saliya Pieris, PC, as the President of the Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL), asserted that the government hadn’t made a special intervention in the contest.

The government hadn’t made political intervention, though a group of people, including the Secretary of the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP), and its National List MP, and Attorney-at-Law Sagara Kariyawasam, made a bid to secure the backing of the government for Saliya’s rival. Such attempts made at the provincial level, too, failed to produce the desired results.

Saliya Pieris, who succeeded Kalinga Indatissa, PC, polled 5,093 votes at the election conducted on Feb 24. His rival, Kuvera de Zoysa, PC secured 2,797 votes. The winner secured a staggering 2,386 vote majority – just 321 short of the number of votes polled by De Zoysa.

Janaranjana, a leading member of the civil society grouping Purawesi Balaya, who played a significant role in the yahapalana political campaign, claimed that some of the lawyers who represented top government figures, too, backed Saliya Pieris. Emphasizing that all of them worked for Saliya’s victory, Janaranjana dismissed assertions that the victory achieved by Saliya Pieris was a severe debacle suffered by the Rajapaksas.

Janaranjana attributed the President’s Counsel’s victory to his commitment to the rule of law, independence of the judiciary and human rights throughout his legal career.

 

A battle between SLPP and Opp.

 In spite of the government refraining from taking a stand, as pointed out by Janaranjana, the contest received unprecedented attention, with the lawyer electorate turning it into a battle between the SLPP government and the Opposition. Saliya Pieris, in an exclusive interview with Janaranjana, also published on the Feb 21, 2021 edition of Anidda, three days before the election, flayed the rival group. Pieris emphasized the responsibility, on the part of the BASL, to take a principled stand on contentious issues, regardless of the consequences. Pieris explained his public role since the arrest of High Court Judge Mahanama Tillekaratne, in 1998. Essentially, Pieris flayed the BASL for its failure to take up issues, such as the alleged attack on the Mannar Court by supporters of the then Minister Rishad Bathiudeen, during Mahinda Rajapaksa’s presidential term. However, Bathiudeen, leader of the All Ceylon Makkal Congress (ACMC), now represents the Samagi Jana Balavegaya (SJB).

Pieris also referred to the impeachment of Chief Justice, Shirani Bandaranayake 43, also during the previous Rajapaksa administration. However, there hadn’t been any reference at all to the BASL receiving Rs 2.5 mn sponsorship, in 2016, from disgraced Perpetual Treasuries Limited (PTL) in support of a high profile event conducted at a leading hotel, with the participation of the then Chief Justice, Attorney General, Solicitor General, the President and the Prime Minister. The BASL never explained why funds were obtained from PTL, despite its perpetration of Treasury bond scams, in Feb 2015, and March 2016.

The BASL should be also be seriously concerned about Hejaaz Hizbullah, a prominent lawyer arrested on April 14, 2020 over his direct involvement with the 2019 Easter Sunday attacks. Hizbullah was recently produced in court on a directive issued by Attorney General Dappula de Livera. The lawyer’s arrest, too, caused a sharp division among BASL members and contributed to the overwheming victory achieved by Pieris.

When the writer asked a lawyer, who voted for the winner, why he did so, he explained his position, on the condition of anonymity. The lawyer said: “Voted at the DC polling booth in Colombo. I didn’t vote last time. Lawyers preferred an anti-establishment candidate since the independence of the bar is paramount. On the other hand, lawyers detested hitherto unseen level of inducements being offered to win votes, as well as fabricated false accusations. Anonymous accusations and despicable strategies resulted in further revulsion towards the losing candidate. Unprecedented number of members turned up to ensure a resounding mandate to the winning candidate.

 

Saliya Pieris responds

 The writer sought views of the newly elected BASL President as regards several issues.

(Q) What would be your priorities?

(A) Securing the rights of lawyers in the profession; making a positive impact on issues pertaining to the rule of law, independence of the judiciary and protection of fundamental rights; supporting juniors in the profession and supporting the welfare of the membership.

(Q) You served as first Chairman, OMP (Office of Missing Persons), an apparatus set up in terms of the 2015 Geneva Resolution. GoSL in March 2020

quit the Geneva process. What can BASL do to address accountability issues, both during the conflict and the post war period?

(A) The role of the BASL is different from the OMP. As I have stated, upholding the rule of law, the independence of the judiciary will be a priority. All domestic institutions which address these issues must be independent so that the people who seek relief from them trust these institutions and have confidence in them.

(Q) You secured well over 2000 votes than your rival. How do you intend to win the confidence of those who voted against you?

(A) I have received support from lawyers, across the country and from every community and area. My support cut across all lines, be it party, race, religion or area. On the very day of the announcement of my election, I reached out to all those members who did not vote for me and will continue to.do so. At the same time, I am sure that the members who voted otherwise at the elections will work with me for the betterment of the bar.

(Q)What would you do to prevent deaths in police custody?

(A) Police torture and deaths in custody affect the rule of law and should be condemned. There must be zero tolerance. The Bar must carefully examine these issues and, if needed, lobby the government to ensure fair investigations and that the perpetrators are punished.

(Q) What is your stand on implementation of death penalty and presidential pardon?

(A) These have not been discussed at the Bar Council as yet. My personal view is that I am opposed to the implementation of the death penalty. On presidential pardons, I am of the view that the power of pardon must not be used unreasonably, and must be done by taking into account several factors including the nature of the crime and the views of the aggrieved party. 

Let me remind the readers of nine previous BASL Presidents, before Saliya Pieris, who won the presidency: Desmond Fernando, PC (2005 – 2006), Nihal Jayamanne, PC (2006 – 2008), W. Dayaratne, PC (2008 – 2010), Shibly Aziz, PC (2010 – 2012), Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe, PC (2012 – 2013), Upul Jayasuriya, PC (2013 – 2015), Geoffrey Alagaratnam, PC (2015 – 2017), U. R. De Silva, PC (2017 – 2019) and Kalinga Indatissa, PC (2019 – 2021).

Of those 17,200 eligible to vote at the Feb. 24 election, approximately 8,000 voted, though usually only about 6,500 voted in previous years. In other words, nearly 47 per cent chose not to participate in the process.

 

Who betrayed the country?

 Janaranjana discussed how the rival camp depicted Saliya Pieris as a person who betrayed the country by being involved in a treacherous international conspiracy to undermine the armed forces. According to Janaranjana, the rival camp exploited social media and other propaganda means to depict Saliya Pieris as a traitor whose election would lead to the division of the country, on ethnic lines. Janaranjana pointed out how the unprecedented victory achieved by Saliya Pieris proved the failure of the rival camp’s strategy.

Against the backdrop of unsubstantiated allegations, directed at Saliya Pieris, as regards his role as the Chairman of the OMP, it would be pertinent to examine the failure on the part of the BASL to genuinely address accountability issues related to Sri Lanka’s war against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). The OMP was one of the four mechanisms established in terms of the controversial resolution 30/1 ‘Promoting reconciliation, accountability and human rights in Sri Lanka.’ The four apparatuses are (i) A hybrid judicial mechanism with a Special Counsel to investigate allegations of violations and abuses of human rights and violations of international humanitarian law (ii) A Commission for truth, justice, reconciliation and non-recurrence (iii) An Office for Missing Persons and (iv) and Office for Reparations.

The previous UNP-SLFP administration established the first permanent official body, tasked with tracking down missing persons, in terms of Act No. 14 of 2016. This was done in line with one of the recommendations in the 2015 UNHRC Resolution co-sponsored by the Government of Sri Lanka. Due to political turmoil, the government was able to establish the OMP two years after the Act was passed. The OMP initiated ‘operations’ in May 2018 with members visiting Mannar to meet the families of those disappeared in that District.

The OMP’s mandate, according to Part II Section 10 of the Office on Missing Persons Act, No. 14 of 2016:

(a) To search for and trace missing persons and identify appropriate mechanisms for the same and to clarify the circumstances in which such persons went missing;

(b) To make recommendations to the relevant authorities towards addressing the incidence of missing persons;

(c) To protect the rights and interests of missing persons and their relatives as provided for in this Act.

(d) To identify avenues of redress to which missing persons and relatives of missing persons are entitled to, and to inform the missing person (if found alive) or relative of such missing person of same.

(e) To collate data related to missing persons obtained by processes presently being carried out, or which were previously carried out, by other institutions, organizations, Government Departments and Commissions of Inquiry and Special Presidential Commission of Inquiry and centralize all available data within the database established under this Act.

(f) To do all such other necessary things that may become necessary to achieve the objectives under the Act.

Saliya Pieris received the appointment as Chairman, OMP on May 1, 2018. The civil society activist quit the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka (HRCSL) to take the leadership of the OMP. The outfit comprised Saliya Pieris, PC, Ms. Jayatheepa Punniyamoorthy, Major General (Rtd.) Mohanti Antonette Peiris, Sriyani Nimalka Fernando, Mirak Raheem, Somasiri K. Liyanage and Kanapathipillai Venthan.

The now defunct Constitutional Council picked the OMP members. The then President Maithripala Sirisena finalized their appointments. It would be pertinent to mention that OMP member Mirak Raheem had been a member of the Consultation Task Force on Reconciliation Mechanisms (CTFRM), headed by Attorney-at-Law Manouri Muttetuwegama. The outfit called for full participation of foreign judges in the proposed inquiry.

 

OMP’s intervention helps Lanka

The then Joint Opposition campaigned both in and outside the OMP, alleging the outfit would pave the way for unprecedented international scrutiny of the war-winning armed forces. However, thanks to OMP’s intervention, Sri Lanka was able to disapprove the high profile accusations, pertaining to the Mannar mass graves. Whatever the accusations, the OMP helped Sri Lanka to counter an extremely serious allegation raised in the run-up to the March 2019 Geneva sessions by UN human rights Chief Michelle Bachelet.

Bachelet served as the Chilean President for nine years, beginning 2006. Bachelet had been in an indecent hurry to pressure Sri Lanka over accountability issues and she blindly blamed the Mannar mass graves on the Sri Lanka Army before a leading US lab, contacted by the OMP, tested the bones and found them to be several centuries old and belonged to the colonial period. Unfortunately, the then government never bothered to further examine the Mannar mass graves case as part of an overall investigation into unsubstantiated allegations. In fact, Sri Lanka never properly examined the campaign conducted by interested parties to undermine post-war Sri Lanka.

President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s government brought the war to a successful conclusion in May 2009. Wartime disappearances are certainly politically sensitive issues, exploited by political parties here, as well as various other interested parties.

The scientific findings of Beta Analytic Institute of Florida, USA, in respect of samples of skeletal remains, sent from the Mannar mass grave site, quite upset the Tamil National Alliance (TNA). TNA appointed then Northern Province Chief Minister C.V. Wigneswarn rejected the US findings. Michelle Bachelet went to the extent of commenting on the Mannar mass grave in her report that dealt with the period from Oct 2015 to January 2019.

The following is the relevant section bearing No 23 from Bachelet’s report: “On May 29, 2018, human skeletal remains were discovered at a construction site in Mannar (Northern Province), Excavations conducted in support of the Office on Missing Persons, revealed a mass grave from which more than 300 skeletons were discovered. It was the second mass grave found in Mannar following the discovery of a site in 2014. Given that other mass graves might be expected to be found in the future, systematic access to grave sites by the Office, as an observer, is crucial for it to fully discharge its mandate, particularly with regard to the investigation and identification of remains, it is imperative that the proposed reforms on the law relating to inquests, and relevant protocols to operationalize the law be adopted. The capacity of the forensic sector must also be strengthened, including in areas of forensic anthropology, forensic archaeology and genetics, and its coordination with the Office of Missing Persons must be ensured.”

 

Disappearance of Ekneligoda

However, Sri Lanka cannot ignore the issue as disappearances took place during successive governments. Disappearances took place during the conflict and also in the post-war period. The disappearance of media personality Prageeth Ekneligoda on the eve of the 2010 January presidential election, is a case in point. The failure on the part of Sri Lanka to address Ekneligoda disappearance increased international pressure on Sri Lanka. The government owed an explanation as regards the media personality’s disappearance over a decade ago. There cannot be any rationale in blanket denial of accusations. In fact, efforts to deceive the public, and the international community in respect of perhaps isolated cases such as the Ekneligoda disappearance had facilitated the high profile Western strategy meant to subvert Sri Lanka on unsubstantiated war crimes allegations.

With Saliya Pieris at the helm of the BASL, it can certainly play a significant role in Sri Lanka’s effort to ascertain the truth. The new BASL Chief, with valuable experience as a member of the HRCSL as well as the Chairman, OMP, can undertake a thorough examination of events/developments leading to the final confrontation between the Army and the LTTE on the banks of the Nanthikadal lagoon, in the Mullaitivu district, on the morning of May 19, 2009. The BASL had been largely silent on the Geneva issue though one of its high profile members, TNA lawmaker M.A. Sumanthiran, declared, in mid-2016, the acceptance of foreign judges in local war crimes investigation mechanisms. The declaration was made in Washington in the presence of the then Sri Lanka’s Ambassador there Prasad Kariyawasam. The Foreign Ministry remained conveniently silent on the issue. In August 2017, Kariyawasam received the appointment as the Foreign Secretary, whereas President Sirisena brought in Tilak Marapana, PC, and a one-time Attorney General as the Foreign Minister. Marapana, too, followed the UNP strategy. The UNP-led government turned a blind eye to the UK House of Lords disclosure on Oct 12, 2017 how the British government suppressed confidential dispatches from its Defence Advisor in Colombo Lt. Col. Anthony Gash (Jan-May 2009). The UK, now leading the Sri Lanka Core Group targeting the country in Geneva, in the absence of the US, continues to shamelessly suppress dispatches, pertaining to Sri Lanka, as the disclosure of such would jeopardize the Western campaign against the country.

Perhaps the appointment of Saliya Pieris couldn’t have taken place at a better time for the country. The respected lawyer received the BASL leadership, the day Foreign Minister Dinesh Gunawardena responded to Michelle Bachelet’s damning report. The writer is of the opinion that Minister Gunawardena, in his speech, should have requested Michelle Bachelet, as well as the 47-members of the UNHRC, to re-examine all available evidence, information and data. Minister Gunawardena should have formally requested the UK, a member of the UNHRC, to disclose all such dispatches sent by Gash to London. The UK released only a section of heavily censored dispatches, following the unprecedented intervention made by Conservative Party veteran Lord Naseby. Sri Lanka pathetically failed to exploit Gash dispatches in spite of Lord Naseby raising the issue, ahead of the Geneva sessions. Let me reproduce the relevant question raised by Lord Naseby and the response received.

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon, the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, on Feb 16, 2021, told Parliament that the UK Government had not received any request from the Geneva Council for copies of dispatches written by the former defence attaché at the British High Commission in Sri Lanka Gash about events in Sri Lanka related to the civil war, and had not provided any.

Lord Ahmad was responding to Lord Naseby’s query raised on Feb 4, 2021, whether the UK government provided to UNHRC any (1) censored, and (2) uncensored, copies of dispatches from Lieutenant Colonel Gash, the former defence attaché of the British High Commission in Sri Lanka about events in that country between 1 January and 18 May 2009, relating to the civil war.

Unfortunately, Sri Lanka for some strange reason, refrained from raising the the US disclosure, in 2011, that battlefield executions didn’t take place, or confidential UN report that contradicted the main Geneva accusation the military massacred 40,000 civilians.

Perhaps, the BASL, under its new leadership, can examine the whole gamut of issues, with the focus on the UNSG’s Panel of Experts (PoE) report (March 31, 2011) that prevented examination of unsubstantiated war crimes allegations on the basis of which Sri Lanka co-sponsored the 2015 Geneva resolution. According to the PoE (paragraph 23, titled Confidentiality of the Panel’s records), the examination of unsubstantiated allegations wouldn’t be allowed till 2031 in terms of the UN directive. Even after the 20-year period of classification as confidential records, those unsubstantiated allegations wouldn’t be examined without a declassification review. Let us hope the BASL undertakes a thorough study on accountability issues. Pieris, is certainly the most qualified to lead the inquiry.

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Midweek Review

Two colliding and coexisting Asian giants

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Book Review

Title:

CHINA and INDIA – History, Culture, Cooperation and Competition Editors

– Paramita Mukherjee, Arnab K. Deb and Miao Pang
Publisher –

SAGE Publications India Pvt. Ltd. (www.sagepub.in)

Reviewed by Lynn Ockersz

This book is itself proof that India and China, two Asian political giants, could come together in peace and work constructively and cooperatively towards worthy ends. ‘China and India – History, Culture, Cooperation and Competition’, is a product of profound, combined political science scholarship between India and China, which could not have come into our hands at a more appropriate time.

The reason for the latter observation ought to be plain to see: after a months-long military stand-off on their disputed border in the Ladakh sector, in particular, which at times claimed lives, the giants have decided to withdraw their troops, giving negotiations a chance. In fact, constructive engagement rather confrontation has been the dominant feature in India-China relations over the past few decades, although negative quarters, including those among the international media, have chosen to see otherwise.

That said, it could not be denied that India-China relations have been badly ruptured at times by divisive questions and conflicting interests. Some of these differences have been grave enough to prompt the giants to resolve them on the battle field. For example, their border dispute drove these powers to resort to a full-blown war in 1962. Other issues remain to be resolved as well.

However, Siparna Basu in his paper in ‘China and India…’ titled, ‘Multiple Paths to Globalisation – The India-China Story’, commenting on the history of India-China ties, reveals how India’s first post-independence Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru reportedly declined an offer, backed by the US in the mid fifties, to allocate a UN Security Council seat to India, proposing that the offer should be made to China instead. Apparently, India considered this offer as a move against China. It is a measure of the cooperative spirit which existed between India and China at the time.

But the numerous papers in this book of combined scholarship, while being evidence of the unity of purpose the regional heavyweights could achieve, open revealing windows to also the achievements in numerous fields of the Indian and Chinese civilizations over the centuries.

The countries are revered civilizations that have fertilized the human spirit everywhere through their enduring and ennobling achievements and the papers in this book give us an ample description of these accomplishments, besides updating the reader accurately on the latest developments in India-China ties, in a multiplicity of areas, including inter-state politics.

A strong merit of ‘China and India..’ is the ample space it devotes to economic cooperation between India and China on the one hand and the numerous exercises in such cooperation featuring these key powers and their neighbouring states, on the other. That is, we are kept very much abreast of the latest developments relating to groupings, such as, BRICS, BIMSTEC, BCIM, SCO, to name just a few. This is as it should be because it is economics in the main that is driving international relations currently and not so much politics and military conflict, although the dominant tendency among major opinion moulders, such as the media, is to focus on ‘geopolitics’ to the detriment of economics.

In keeping with the overall spirit of the book, researchers continually focus on the huge potential for bilateral economic cooperation between India and China, besides drawing attention to the benefits of regional collaborative efforts in commerce, trade and investment. Just two papers that are of immense worth from this viewpoint are: ‘Driving Force and Constraints of BCIM Economic Corridor’ by Li Jingfeng and ‘Regional Inequality over the Post-globalization Era: A Study on India and China’ by Arindam Banik and Arnab K. Deb.

Accordingly, ‘China and India…’ gives us the actualities in India-China ties lying behind the smokescreen of sensational military developments between the countries. Besides, it’s a remarkable update on the potential for inter-country economic cooperation in the Indian Ocean region while focusing also on the major economic forces driving global and regional political change.

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Midweek Review

Stand-alone Splendour

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By Lynn Ockersz

With kingly poise he glides,

This milk-white wonder,

Whom we take for granted…..

The quickening Beira waters,

For him holding no terrors…

But study his every deft action,

And behold a stand-alone splendour,

Of the country’s ravaged eco-system,

Who is at peace with himself,

And is in no need,

To beg, steal or borrow,

Or cut deals that bring him dishonour.

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