A statue of Jesus amidst debris at St Sebastian’s Church, Katuwapitiya, Negombo following the Easter Sunday bombing
By Shamindra Ferdinando
Brigadier Chula Kodituwakku, on April 26, 2019, attributed the Easter Sunday carnage to four specific reasons, namely (1) battlefield setbacks suffered by ISIS (2) ISIS directing Zahran Hashim’s outfit to carry out the high profile attacks (3) massacre of Muslim worshippers in New Zealand, in 2019, and (4) domestic reasons.
Kodituwakku, in his capacity as the Director of Directorate of Military Intelligence (DMI), addressed editors of national newspapers, and journalists, as well as representatives of television stations, on the invitation of the then Army Commander Lt. Gen. Mahesh Senanayake.
Seated at the head table, were the then President Maithripala Sirisena, flanked by Lt. Gen. Senanayake, and the then Northern Province Governor Dr. Suren Raghavan, and the venue, the Janadhipathy Mandiraya. (Senanayake retired in the third week of Aug 2019.
The retired Army Chief exploited the crisis caused by the Easter carnage to launch a short-lived political career. His effort ended disastrously. Having failed to obtain at least 50,000 votes at Nov 16, 2019 presidential election, Senanayake left the country, subsequently, for employment overseas. Dr. Raghavan secured a slot on the SLPP National List.
Neither Brig. Koditiwakku, nor any other person, at the head table, responded, though the media sought a clarification as regards what these domestic reasons were. The writer was among those present at the meeting summoned by President Sirisena, his (President) first encounter with the media, following the Easter Sunday attacks. Much to the surprise of those who had been there President Sirisena, who had been in Singapore at the time of the attack, claimed that he got to know about the incident, through social media. Reference was made to a friend who showed the relevant post to him (Politicos’ links to terrorist grouping: Prez promises no holds barred probe with strapline ‘Terror mastermind influenced by India-based ISIS’ April 27, 2019 The Island) (Close on the heels of Shavendra Silva being appointed the Commander of the Army, Kodituwakku was replaced.)
But when Sirisena recently appeared before the Presidential Commission of Inquiry (P CoI), in his capacity as the former President and Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces, he claimed, on the day of the Easter attacks, he was hospitalized and, therefore, didn’t have access even to his Chief Security Officer. Obviously, P CoI hadn’t sought an explanation from the former President as regards the contradictory answers as it was probably not aware of the President’s initial claim of a friend alerting him. Let us also hope that he won’t be given kid-glove treatment, like the way then PM Ranil Wickremesinghe was treated when being questioned before the Treasury Bond Commission, despite him having been in the thick of it.
In addition to the on-going P CoI, there were two other investigations, (1) a three-member committee, headed by Supreme Court Judge, Vijith Kumara Malalagoda, and (2) eight-member Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC), led by the then Deputy Speaker, Ananda Kumarasiri. In addition to them, PSC member, Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka, submitted a report, of his own, on the Easter attacks. However, concluded inquiries, as well as the ongoing PCoI and CID investigations, hadn’t really probed domestic reasons that may have contributed to the Easter attacks. Although Brig. Kodiruwakku included domestic reasons among four specific causes; there hadn’t been any genuine discussion/attempt to examine what these could be.
‘Deep State’ faulted
Dr. Rajan Hoole’s thought provoking ‘Sri Lanka’s Easter Tragedy: When the Deep State gets out of its Depth,’ discussed the circumstances leading to the Easter carnage – the worst single terror attack carried out, in Sri Lanka, against undefended targets. The author is the more even-handed brother of Prof. Ratnajeevan Hoole, member of the Election Commission who caused quite a number of controversies, in the run up to the Presidential election. Ratnajeevan Hoole had always responded swiftly to whatever issues raised by the media, regardless of the accusation made and the origins of it.
The writer recently had an opportunity to peruse the Sinhala translation of Dr. Rajan Hoole’s ‘Sri Lanka’s Easter Tragedy: When the Deep State gets out of its Depth,’ launched several weeks before the last presidential election, in Nov 2019. Translated by Mahinda Hatthaka (Movement for Defense of Democratic Rights), the Sinhala translation is an immensely readable tome that the writer believes shed light on the complex web of secrets/situations/relationships that led to the Easter carnage. Dr. Hoole, who authored ‘The Arrogance of Power: Myths, decadence and murder,’ in January 2001, quite clearly blamed the State elements for the attack. A founder member of the daring and pioneering University Teachers for Human Rights (UTHR) Jaffna, that stood up to the once mighty LTTE, albeit clandestinely, Dr. Hoole is explicit in his accusation that those who backed SLPP candidate Gotabaya Rajapaksa created an environment to deprive the Muslims of an opportunity to vote at the Nov 2019 presidential election. The author asserted that attempt failed while making reference to the plantation Tamils being disenfranchised in 1949, consequent to the 1948 Citizenship Act.
Interestingly, the author conveniently desisted from recalling how the LTTE-TNA combine denied the Northern community the opportunity to vote at the Nov 2005 presidential election. The calculated move definitely cost UNP candidate Ranil Wickremesinghe the election. Wickremesinghe lost by 186,000 votes.
Kumaran Pathmanathan, aka ‘KP,’ in an exclusive interview with the writer, in August 2010, asserted that the LTTE felt comfortable in having Mahinda Rajapaksa as the President as he could be dealt with much more easily than Wickremesinghe. The Rajapaksas proved Velupillai Prabhakaran wrong, four years after that decisive election. At the time of the interview, ‘KP’ was in the custody of the DMI.
Let me get back to Dr. Hoole’s work. In Chapter 4, the academic briefly discussed the possibility of the failure on the part of the now proscribed National Thowheed Jamaat (NTJ) to secure representation in parliament at the August 2015 general election. Had the NTJ succeeded in securing a foothold in parliament, the Easter Sunday carnage might not have happened, Dr. Hoole speculated, asserting that the NTJ adopted an aggressive strategy, in the wake of the electoral failure. Dr. Hoole based his quite controversial assessment on an electoral agreement, involving the NTJ, M.L.A.M. Hizbullah of the UPFA (United People’s Freedom Alliance) and Abdul Rahuman and Shibly Farook (both members of SLMC-Sri Lanka Muslim Congress, a constituent of the UNP-led coalition).
On similar lines, many have earlier pointed out that if not for old JRJ’s greed and incessant political intrigue to retain absolute power, whether it be through a by-election, or even in the highly rigged referendum to postpone the general election, in the early 80s, and had the UNP instead allowed room for greater pluralism, in parliament, by allowing the likes of the JVP to enter the August assembly, in a more level playing field, there wouldn’t have been a second southern blood bath, in the late 80s.
Dr. Hoole, without hesitation, whatsoever, likened the attempt made by Kattankudy-born Zahran Hashim to have some of his nominees, in parliament, to that of Prabhakaran’s successful arrangement with R. Sampanthan of the TNA. In terms of the agreement, the TNA acknowledged the LTTE as the sole representative of the Tamils, two years after the high-profile assassination of TULF lawmaker, Neelan Thiruchelvam, in 1999.
The UNP secured 106 seats, whereas the UPFA managed 95, at the August 2015 general election. A section of the SLFP-led UPFA backed the UNP to form the government in terms of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution that facilitated the despicable political project.
President Sirisena, who is also the leader of the SLFP, had no qualms in accommodating defeated M.L.A.M. Hizbullah on the UPFA National List. Hizbullah was among over half a dozen defeated UPFA candidates, accommodated on the National List. National List MP Hizbullah functioned as the Batticaloa political lord until he resigned in January 2019 to pave the way for President Sirisena loyalist, Shantha Bandara, to enter parliament. Hizbullah was rewarded with the appointment as the Eastern Province Governor. At the time of the Easter attacks, Hizbullah served as the Eastern Province Governor and Chairman of the Batticaloa Campus (Pvt) Limited. In a report presented to the Parliament Sectoral Sub-Committee on Higher Education and Human Resources, the scandalous politician identified himself as Dr. M.L.A.M. Hizbullah. In spite of failing to get elected, did Hizbullah serve the interests of Zahran Hashim?
Nexus between political parties
Dr. Hoole dealt with complexities experienced by both Tamil and Muslim political parties represented in parliament, due to them having to deal with the LTTE and the NTJ, respectively. The author, in no uncertain terms, censured TNA leader R. Sampanthan for shielding the LTTE, accused of killing civilians trying to flee the area dominated by the group. The author, while acknowledging the inexcusable use of civilians as human shields, lambasted Sampanthan for misleading the media.
The particular media briefing, attended by journalists representing international media organizations, where Sampanthan alleged the government lied regarding the LTTE killing those trying to seek refuge in the government-held area, according to the author, took place on Feb 17, 2009. The military brought the war to a successful conclusion on the morning of May 19, 2009.
Dr. Hoole also referred to an alleged SLFP attempt to exploit the JVP, in the run-up to the Dec 19, 1988 presidential election and the Feb 15, 1989 general election. One cannot dispute Dr. Hoole’s contention that the SLFP remained silent on the JVP killings, while condemning extrajudicial operations carried out by security forces to justify claim the SLFP sought political power with the help of the JVP.
The author examined the gradual rise of the LTTE and the registration of the NTJ, in 2015, as well as basic differences between Tamil terrorism and the operation undertaken by Zahran Hashim, meant to be the Supreme Leader of the Sri Lankan Muslim community. How he expected to achieve such a feat by leading nearly simultaneous coordinated suicide attacks is still a mystery. Perhaps that mystery can be solved if Pulasthini Rajendran, alias Sarah, the wife of Achchi Mohammdu Mohammadu Hasthun, the suicide bomber who blew himself up at St. Sebastian’s Church, at Katuwapitiya, close to Negombo town, could be found. She most likely fled to India, by sea, in September 2019. In spite of claims Sarah is alive, the government is yet to establish the truth. The claim by some that she was the RAW mole in the Zahran’s terror camp might be the reason why she found ready refuge in India after being part of such a vicious carnage here.
Dr. Hoole ascertained that unlike Zahran Hashim, Prabhakaran’s violent career hadn’t been so meticulously planned, but the latter’s project lasted for more than three decades. However, the main thrust of ‘Sri Lanka’s Easter Tragedy: When the Deep State gets out of its Depth’ is to blame the heinous crime on what the author described as ‘Deep State’ comprising influential sections of political parties, civil administration and the military. The readiness of ‘Deep State’ to undertake operations at the expense of the rules of the land, regardless of political consequences, is certainly a frightening prospect. Perhaps, the P CoI should request Dr. Rajan Hoole to help in the examination of the Easter Sunday attacks.
Although, there hadn’t been a single NTJ-linked incident, following the Easter attacks, it would be of pivotal importance to verify Dr. Rajan Hoole’s assertions. Did Zahran Hashim decide to mark NTJ’s emergence with a suicide bombing campaign, in the wake of his abortive bid to get three parliamentary seats? Perhaps, Dr. Rajan Hoole is wrong. But, can P CoI disregard an opportunity to establish the truth.
There was reference to Pol Pot’s Cambodia in relation to the weakening of the judiciary, communal violence and annihilation of JVP-inspired insurgencies et al.
Did JRJ plan riots before Thinnaveli killings?
Dr. Rajan Hoole, in his latest work, repeated accusation levelled in ‘The Arrogance of Power: Myths, decadence and murder,’ that the July 1983 violence had been pre-planned and was unleashed immediately after the LTTE attack on an army patrol at Thinnaveli, Jaffna, on July 23, 1983. The first executive President had been accused of directing the power of the State and the UNP trade union setup (Jathika Sevaka Sangamaya) against the Tamil community. Reference was made to JRJ seeking US and Israeli assistance to establish a security apparatus.
Amusingly, Dr. Hoole asserted that Indian intervention took place in the wake of JRJ inviting/seeking US and Israeli security cooperation following the anti-Tamil riots, where the President deceitfully blamed the JVP.
Nothing can be further from the truth than the assertion that the Indian intervention took place in 1987. India forced President JRJ to accept deployment of the Indian Army, in the Northern and Eastern Provinces, in July 1987, several years after New Delhi created an environment conducive for military occupation in the guise of restoring peace. In fact, the Thinnaveli ambush couldn’t have taken place, if not for India or some other party providing the expertise and the technology to half a dozen terrorist groups, including the LTTE, over a period of time.
Indian strategists obviously triggered violence by providing the LTTE the required expertise to take it to the next level. The LTTE proved its capacity and capability to exploit Indian training when Prabhakaran took on the Indian Army, in Oct 1987. By the time New Delhi was forced to call off its Sri Lanka mission, at the behest of Premadasa, 1,300 Indian officers, and men, were killed, and over 2,500 wounded. Indian trainers can be really happy about their success in training foreign terrorists. Perhaps, the Indian misadventure can be blamed on ‘Deep State’ in India.
Sri Lanka should be grateful to the late one-time India’s High Commissioner in Colombo, J.N. Dixit, for setting the record straight in his memoirs, ‘Makers of India’s Foreign Policy’, published in 2004.
Dixit asserted that the decision to give active support to Sri Lankan Tamil militants could be considered one of the two major foreign policy blunders made by the then Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. But he strongly defended the Prime Minister’s action, while asserting Gandhi couldn’t have afforded the emergence of Tamil separatism, in India, by refusing to support the aspirations of Sri Lankan Tamils [Chapter 6:An Indocentric Practitioner of Realpolitik-Makers of India’s Foreign Policy].
However, Dixit failed to explain how the Prime Minister hoped to achieve her twin objectives by recruiting, training, arming and deploying thousands of Sri Lankan Tamil youth against an elected government. India cannot absolve itself of the responsibility for helping Sri Lankan terrorists establish contact with international terrorist groups. The Indian action caused irrevocable damage to Indo-Lanka relations. The Maldives, too, suffered due to Indian intervention in Sri Lanka. Dixit totally ignored the Maldivian factor, though India was responsible for the coup attempt in the Maldives by way of providing training to those who mounted a sea-borne raid, in early Nov 1988. The raiders belonged to Indian-trained PLOTE, now represented in parliament.
Three years later, a Sea borne LTTE team executed a top secret plan that led to the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi, who ordered the deployment of the Indian Army in Sri Lanka.
Muslim extremism-military links
Dr. Hoole’s allegations, pertaining to the role played by Muslim youth in Sri Lanka’s war against the LTTE, too, should be examined against the backdrop of allegations that renegade LTTE Commander, Karuna Amman, provided them weapons training. Can claims that Muslim youth, and those ex-LTTE cadres loyal to Karuna, fought in high-risk battles/took part in risky operations, during 2004-2007 period, be substantiated? No less a person than the wartime Army Commander, the then Lt. Gen. Sarath Fonseka, while acknowledging the support received from the breakaway LTTE faction, however, denied any high-profile role being played by them in crushing the LTTE militarily. In the absence of proper official account of the involvement of Tamil groups, as well as the LTTE breakaway faction, in ‘operations’ against the LTTE, the public can be easily deceived. Ex-members of Tamil groups ‘worked’ for the military in various capacities. That cannot be denied. There is no harm in acknowledging their contribution, though such open admission might not be acceptable to some.
The P CoI can inquire into Dr. Hoole’s findings as part of its overall efforts to unravel the mystery. Can there be any rational explanation for lawmaker M.A. Sumanthiran to publicly justifying the Easter Sunday massacre, in spite of at least 70 of those perished being totally innocent Tamils. So, any price is not too high for political expediency?
Dr. Hoole made no reference to Sumanthiran’s declaration though he commented on various developments and the situation. The author indicated that he didn’t desire to respond to The Island queries as regards Sumanthiran’s shocking statement at an event organized by the Sinhala weekly Annidda to celebrate its first anniversary at the BMICH. The President’s Counsel, and then TNA mouthpiece, alleged that the Easter Sunday carnage was a result of Sri Lanka’s failure to ensure certain basic values. The TNA heavyweight warned of dire consequences, unless Sri Lanka addressed the grievances of the minorities.
Sumanthiran said that no conversation took place today without reference to the Easter Sunday attacks. The lawmaker said that the public was asking what was going to happen because the country was stunned by what happened on that day. Sumanthiran said: All of us were so complacent we lived in a fool’s paradise imagining that the country was in peace in the absence of violence. As there had been no fighting for 10 years, people assumed the country had attained peace. “
Such an attack would have happened some day because the country had not laid the foundation for peaceful co-existence in this country, the TNA heavyweight said. “What we saw was a false edifice. And we were quite happy to carry on with that. Three decades of violent conflict that emanated from the North and East kept us on our toes and those days we actually saw the need to address those issues in a very deep and meaningful way”.
Sumanthiran alleged that once the war was brought to a conclusion, in May 2009, those responsible assumed there was no requirement to address those issues. They continued to pay lip service, the lawmaker alleged, adding: “Whenever issues were raised, they say they must resolve those issues. But deep down, they didn’t feel those issues had to be addressed.”
Referring to the Easter Sunday carnage, Sumanthiran said it was most unfortunate that something like that had to happen for the country to reflect and realize that it necessarily had to go back to certain basic values by which all could live together as a country. Sumanthiran warned: “Unless we agree on those basic values we are doomed.”
Declaring that there wouldn’t be any future for the country unless consensus could be reached on what those basic values were, Sumanthiran called equality a key value.
The Easter Sunday carnage remains a mystery, though pathetic failure on the part of law enforcement and military, as well as the political leadership, to thwart the NTJ operation, has been established beyond doubt.
leaves out Gash dispatches, Swiss embassy abduction drama and India’s accountability
by Shamindra Ferdinando
Veteran journalist Tim Sebastian interviewed Foreign Secretary, retired Admiral Prof. Jayanath Colombage, in the immediate aftermath of the Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) adopting accountability resolution in respect of Sri Lanka.
Twenty-two countries voted for the resolution, 11 against, whereas 14 abstained. The vote on Sri Lanka took place on March 23. Among those who abstained was India whose intervention here in the 80s caused a war that was brought to a successful conclusion in May 2009. But Sebastian was only interested in accountability on Sri Lanka’s part. He wasn’t concerned about Adele, who played a significant role in building a female fighting cadre for the LTTE, either.
“In the last few days, the UN Human Rights Council passed a landmark resolution highlighting your government’s failure to ensure accountability for human rights violations and mandating UN investigators to collect and preserve data that can be used in the future judicial proceedings. They did that Mr. Secretary because your abject failure to do it yourself and because of the worsening human rights climate in your country. Aren’t you ashamed of that?”
It was internationally acclaimed Sebastian’s opening question to Foreign Secretary Colombage in ‘CONFLICTZONE’ interview titled: Is Sri Lanka on the brink.
Admiral Colombage responded: “Well, Tim let me say the World War ended 78 years later… earlier and we still see the residual effects on the environment on the physical things and the Good Friday agreement was in 1998 and there are 116 walls which is called peace walls. Still…”
Sebastian interrupted Colombage. “We are not talking about Northern Ireland; Mr. Secretary We are talking about Sri Lanka and your failure to ensure accountability for human rights violations… which you have denied in other interviews.”
One-time Navy Commander, and the Additional Secretary to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa on Foreign Relations, Prof. Colombage received appointment as the Secretary to the Foreign Ministry following the last general election.
Admiral Colombage, who had served the SLN for 36 years, was its 18th Commander. He received the command in 2012, three years after the end of the war. Following his retirement, Colombage served as the Director of the Centre for India-Sri Lanka Initiatives and Law of the Sea Centre at the Pathfinder Foundation. At the time of his appointment, as Foreign Secretary, Colombage was the Additional Secretary to the President on Foreign Relations and the Director General of the Institute of National Security Studies Sri Lanka (INSSSL).
Relying on a backbencher’s speech
Let me examine the latest Geneva resolution against the backdrop of the ‘CONFLICTZONE’ interview and the Daily Mirror interview, titled ‘Govt. committed two mistakes’, with one-time Permanent Secretary to the Justice Ministry Dr. Nihal Jayawickrama published on March 27, 2021.
Responding to a query, Dr. Jayawickrama asserted: The mistake that the government appears to have made was to think that it was all about “40,000 deaths”, and to rely on a backbencher’s speech made in the House of Lords. It was never about that. Another mistake that the government appears to have made was to convince itself that the Resolution was initiated by “Diaspora Tamils” when it was not.”
Tamil Diaspora, based in the UK, Australia, and Canada, vigorously circulated the article in the wake of accusations the government compelled the newspaper to ‘kill’ it. The paper denied the accusations. The Global Tamil Forum (GTF) spokesperson Suren Surendiran tweeted: “Remarkably honest replies from Dr. Jayawickrama to some pertinent questions from the “Daily Mirror” Surendiran posted the entire text alleging government-imposed censorship.
Dr. Jayawickrama referred to Lord Naseby as a backbencher whereas Sebastian never referred to the Conservative Party politician’s disclosure in the House of Lords on Oct 12, 2017 or Admiral Colombage cared at least to mention it. If the government relied on Lord Naseby’s revelations, as Dr. Jayawickrama asserted, the former could have exploited the disclosure. The incumbent government conveniently refrained from taking advantage of Lord Naseby’s ‘work’ much to the dismay of the former Royal Air Force pilot who exposed the British duplicity.
A fresh Geneva initiative
Sebastian’s reference to fresh authorisation for UN investigators to collect and preserve data that can be used in the future judicial proceedings should have prompted Admiral Colombage to remind British television journalist and novelist how the UK government suppressed wartime dispatches from its High Commission in Colombo (January-May 2009). The proposed inquiry is scheduled to take place over a period of 12 months, commencing Sept 2021. In fact, during the entire interview, Sebastian conveniently never referred to how the UK suppressed dispatches from Colombo. Lord Naseby obtained some sections of the dispatches after nearly a three-year struggle. He had to seek the intervention of the UK Information Commission to lay his hands on those dispatches.
Leader of Sri Lanka Core Group in addition to being UNHRC member, the UK still refuses to release dispatches despite Geneva authorising a new Inquiry Team, led by a Senior Legal Advisor, to collect all available evidence pertaining to the war and post-war events. Those desperate to prevent the full disclosure of British dispatches from Colombo, obviously advantageous to Sri Lanka, call it a political statement. It was certainly not. Former Chief Justice Sarath Nanda Silva, in an interview with ‘Get Real’ anchor Johnney Mahieash, and subsequent queries from the writer, asked why the UK wanted to suppress dispatches from its own man in wartime Colombo Lt. Col. Anthony Gash who served as the British Defense Attaché throughout the Vanni war. The former CJ was of the view that Geneva should seek access not only to the UK dispatches but from other major countries, particularly the US, India, Germany and Canada. He pointed out that the wartime US Defense Advisor Lt. Col. Lawrence Smith contradicted war crimes accusations in 2011, six years before Lord Naseby revealed the existence of British wartime dispatches.
NPC and GTF back thorough inquiry
The Island sought National Peace Council (NPC) Executive Director Dr. Jehan Perera’s views on the following query: “Geneva set up a new inquiry mechanism at a cost of USD 2.8 mn to gather and examine evidence and information pertaining to the whole gamut of war crimes allegations and current developments. What is your stand on SLPP Chairman Prof. G.L. Peiris public call to the UK to submit Gash reports against the backdrop of the Samagi Jana Balavegaya MP Dr. Harsha de Silva, who once led the government delegation to the UPR (Universal Periodic Review) of Sri Lanka’s human rights record at Geneva backing the government call? Dr. de Silva’s all available info should be made available to the new Geneva inquiry team.”
Dr. Perera responded: “All evidence should be placed before the UN investigation unit and this includes the dispatches of Lt Col Anthony Gash as revealed by Lord Naseby. The UN unit needs to seek that information itself to get a rounded perspective on the problem.
“On the other hand, if the government formally makes a request for the Gash reports it will be accepting the legitimacy of the UN unit which is not its current position. Instead I would wish that the government resolves the issues laid out in the various UN reports through internal mechanisms that have the support of the political parties, including the minorities, within the country.
“It is only if the country is internally united that we can go on the path of development that the government intends and respond successfully to international pressures. Otherwise it looks like our country is locked in a vicious cycle.”
Dr. Perera represented the country at the Geneva sessions during the yahapalana administration.
The writer posed the same question to GTF’s Surendiran, who, too, backed examination of all evidence and information available. Surendiran said: “Of course all available evidence should be made available to the investigative team that will collect and analyse this evidence. No one should hinder that process of collection of evidence, be it the UK Government or the Government of Sri Lanka. In that regard, Sri Lanka if it has nothing to fear about should allow the investigators free access so that the collection process can be comprehensive and complete.”
In fact, Wikileaks revelations pertaining to Sri Lanka, too, should be examined along with submissions received by the UNSG’s Panel of Experts’ (PoE/Darusman Report) that paved the way for the 2015 co-sponsorship of an accountability resolution. Would the new Geneva re-visit previously collected information, particularly by the PoE, covered by UN a 20-year confidentiality clause (2011-2031)?
UK bending backwards to protect
relations with Lanka
The FCO (Foreign and Commonwealth Office), in its objections filed with the Information Commission, following Lord Naseby’s bid to gain dispatches from Colombo, stated; “Lt. Col. Gash was the FCO’s defense attaché at the British Commission in Colombo during the closing stages of Sri Lanka’s civil war. Many of his dispatches contain information provided directly to him by his contacts in the Sri Lankan government, the Sri Lankan Army or other military sources. His reports indicate, he had access to reports on troop movements, Sri Lankan military strategic thinking, the movements of the LTTE and assessments of casualty figures. The effective conduct of international relations depends upon the free, frank and confidential exchange of information such as this. If the UK does not respect these confidences, then its ability to protect and promote UK interests through international relations will be hampered which will not be in the public interest.
Subsequently, the FCO asserted that it was of the view that releasing the information redacted on the basis of section 27(l) (a) would be likely to prejudice the UK’s relationship with Sri Lanka and would negatively impact on the information that they would be willing to exchange with the UK in the future. It further stated, the disclosure of the withheld information, in this case, was not in the public interest as it would be likely to damage the bilateral relationship between the UK and Sri Lanka. This would have the effect of reducing the UK government’s ability to protect and promote UK interests through its relations with Sri Lanka.”
The Information Commissioner, on June 26, 2016, dismissed Naseby’s appeal for full disclosure of the Gash dispatches.
So, according to the FCO, disclosure of Gash dispatches would harm the UK’s relations with Sri Lanka. In the absence of proper examination of British role in promoting terrorism in Sri Lanka, successive UK governments allowed the LTTE a free hand. Wikileaks exposure of a secret meeting between the Norwegians (handling disastrous peace process) and LTTE theoretician Anton Balasingham in the immediate aftermath of Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar’s assassination in August 2005 underscored the privileged status enjoyed by the LTTE. Balasingham, one-time British High Commission employee who received British citizenship for services rendered to Her Majesty’s government lived freely there until his death due to natural causes in Dec 2006.
Over the years, the UK provided the wherewithal required by the LTTE to wage war in Sri Lanka. The British. contribution grew over the years in the wake of former Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination in May 1991. It must be noted that the UK only removed the LTTE International Secretariat, established in London for many years, only after it assassinated Rajiv Gandhi for the obvious reason that its presence there was becoming too embarrassing even to the British. In fact when a visiting journalist from The Island, accompanied by a group of media persons from several countries, raised the issue of the LTTE having a big presence in the British capital during a visit to BBC Headquarters at Bush House in Central London around the time of the Rajiv assassination that year, he was given the lame excuse that the Tigers had not violated any UK laws. Despite the much-publicised British proscription of the LTTE, the latter operated a major fund-raising project that funded their war until the very end.
Perhaps, Foreign Secretary Colombage, during the interview with Sebastian, should have referred to the Wikileaks revelation of the then British Foreign Secretary David Miliband and his French counterpart Bernard Kouchner making a desperate bid to halt the military offensive on the Vanni east front. Towards the end of the ‘CONFLICTZONE’ interview, Sebastian queried about Inspector Nishantha Silva fleeing the country in the immediate aftermath of the 2019 presidential election.
Focus on Shani, Nishantha
Referring to the arresting of SSP Shani Abeysekera, Director, Criminal Investigation Division (CID) who inquired into several key human rights cases, Sebastian said: “…and another Nishantha Silva from the same Division had to leave Sri Lanka because of threats immediately after the last presidential election and you tell me that is the way a democracy which you claimed to have pursues justice does not look like it? Does it? Questioning how Nishantha Silva left the country suddenly, Prof. Colombage alleged it was all part of a conspiracy while strongly denying Sebastian’s accusation the officer was threatened. “All these things were planned. They were probably given lots of money to do these things…” Sebastian insisted: “You do not know that Mr. Secretary…”
It would have been better if Prof. Colombage pointed out that the Swiss Embassy involvement in the Nishantha Silva affair against the backdrop of one of its employees Garnier Francis (former Siriyalatha Perera) falsely accusing government agents of abducting her outside the mission and sexually abusing her. Sebastian conveniently refrained from referring to Garnier who had been Silva’s contact at the Swiss mission. The Swiss went to the extent of trying to evacuate Garnier and her family in a special air ambulance after their project meant to smear President Gotabaya Rajapaksa went awry. President Gotabaya Rajapaksa opposed the move to evacuate them. If not Garnier, too, would have ended up in Switzerland and a key campaign issue against Sri Lanka.
At one-point Sebastian chided Prof. Colombage whether he was proud of living in a country where child killers get presidential pardon? Sebastian was referring to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa releasing a soldier convicted of killing several persons, including children in the Jaffna peninsula. Colombage responded well, pointing out how post-war, Sri Lanka rehabilitated 12,000 terrorists, including children. Colombage posed a pertinent question whether presidential pardon is available only in Sri Lanka. Sebastian insisted he focused on Sri Lanka and not the rest of the world. Perhaps, Prof. Colombage should have reminded Sebastian how funds made available by those living in the UK prolonged the war in Sri Lanka. None of those shedding crocodile tears today bothered to protest when the LTTE used children as cannon fodder. The fact that children were used in suicide attacks, too, cannot be forgotten. Didn’t Rajiv Gandhi perish in a suicide attack carried out by a female Tiger cadre? A proper inquiry is required to ascertain and identify those members of Sri Lankan terrorist groups living in the UK and the rest of the world. The proposed new Geneva probe can facilitate Sri Lanka’s efforts to track down those living overseas, under assumed names, while they continued to be categorized as war disappeared.
Sebastian also raised the issue of disappearances and missing. In fact, former Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe explained the cases of missing and disappearances during the yahapalana administration. Wickremesinghe pointed out how the so-called disappeared either died in combat or were now living overseas.
Prof. Colombage responded: “…most of the human rights defenders are receiving money from the West. We know their bank accounts. We know how much they have received.” The Foreign Secretary alleged they were not bona fide human rights defenders. Sebastian hit back: “You just smeared the whole lot of them in one sentence…”
Now that Prof. Colombage has quite rightly raised funding received by NGOs/civil society groups, let there be a public disclosure of the funding secured over the years. A Norwegian examination of its involvement in Sri Lanka released in 2011 revealed substantial funding made available to various civil society groups. The Norwegian report revealed how generous Oslo had been to those who facilitated its Sri Lanka project. As Geneva stepped up pressure on the country, the government should approach the issues at hand sensibly. Geneva should be priority No 1. The government cannot forget that no less than Commander of the Army Gen. Shavendra Silva, earlier the General Officer Commanding (GoC) of the celebrated 58 Division/formerly Task Force I was blacklisted by the US. Sebastian warned Prof. Colombage of dire threats posed by targeted sanctions imposed by individual countries. Member states might start applying targeted sanctions, asset freezers and travel bans against your state officials and others…. Are you ready for that?
Prof. Colombage responded: “If individual countries have a separate agenda not necessarily human rights but using human rights as a weapon there is very little we can do. Let us wait and see.” However, the former Navy Commander missed a golden opportunity to ask Sebastian what he thought of the Tamil community overwhelmingly voting for war-winning Army Chief the then General Sarath Fonseka at the 2010 presidential poll. Fonseka won all predominately Tamil speaking electoral districts in the northern and eastern districts, including Jaffna. In fact, bogus human rights campaign should have ended the day, Tamils declared their support to tough talking Fonseka, who survived a suicide attack in April 2006 to finish off the LTTE. If the LTTE succeeded in eliminating Fonseka and the then Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa in 2006, terrorism would have triumphed. But fortunately for Sri Lanka both survived two separate LTTE suicide attacks targeting them in Colombo itself. That is the undeniable truth.
Convincing storytelling with engaging dialogue and three-dimensional characters
‘10.34’ By Aditha Dissanayake, a Vijitha Yapa Publication
Reviewed by Nandasiri (Nandi) Jasentuliyana
Former Deputy Director-General, United Nations.
’10:34′ is a dramatic love story of a poetic and tender quality written with a deep respect for both the beauty and the danger to our blue planet seen from space as a vulnerable blob in the vast universe.
It is a contemporary romance that follows a woman, a committed environmentalist, as she navigates her life among men with differing feelings of the imperative of conservation stewardship.
This book is Gratiaen Award winner Aditha Dissanayake’s fourth novel, by far the best. This book is enjoyable to read due to the simplicity of the prose style and vividness of imagination. Though simple but thoughtful, the story is fun enough, and the unexpected twists and turns keep the reader engaged.
It is the story of two people finding love in unusual circumstances, albeit differently than either of them intended.
Aditha narrates a 24-year-old schoolteacher’s unexpected detour of accompanying her banker fiancé and migrating to New Zealand. The deviation begins when Kumi alights the morning Udarata Menike to visit her hometown in the fictional village of Maliyadda on the banks of the Kothmale Oya. She goes there directed by her Uncle in London to make the final arrangements to sell her grandfather’s ancestral property. Kumi finds the dilapidated property a piece of heaven on earth. Lush greenery with a creek flowing through the property has become the perfect home for all that nature creates. An ideal home for her as well she realises. She could hardly tear herself off from the allure of the place to return to Colombo, which she must, to see her fiancé off. He was going ahead to settle affairs in the new country they were moving to before Kumi arrives.
During her vacation to her ancestral village, abandoning her plans to stay at the bed and breakfast place where she had an eventful night with an unexpected visitor, she moves into the abandoned house that had once belonged to her grandparents. Kumi also struck a friendship with Vino Coomaraswamy, an editor of a publishing house in Lancaster, on holiday in Maliyadda, searching for his roots.
On return to Colombo, she finds her favourite mango tree, that shaded her room and to its rustling sounds which she fell asleep in the night, had been a victim of the insensitive confidant who failed to understand that perhaps her first love is nature. Incensed by the developments that followed and tugged by the spell cast over her by the sanctuary in Maliyadda, she makes an unintended quick return to the place she had felt at peace.
There, she finds comfort in her friends Vino and a Professor turned recluse whom she had met on her previous visit. The Professor was intruding on the property to record the often-ignored weeds and lesser-known plants in the mid-country for his next book.
Abandoning her plans to move to New Zealand with her urbanized banker boyfriend, she decides to make home the abandoned house that had once belonged to her grandparents. But in addition to preventing her Uncle from selling the land, Kumi must also prove to the Professor that she has no wish to harm the plants that he so loves.
Easily the best part of the book is how, as the story unravels, it becomes clear that Kumi and the Professor progress towards saving not only nature but themselves from their toxic relationships and past mistakes.
An essential aspect of the book is the author’s tender, discerning look at nature that is ever-present and is the thread that runs through the novel.
Aditha makes her characters very vibrant and three-dimensional and true to life. The main characters are compelling and enigmatic. Kumi is beautifully drawn – warm, bold, outspoken, intelligent, and kind to all living beings, whether human or part of nature, the type of character that carries an endearing story. Vividly portrayed, the men around her – Nadush, bright and bold as an up-and-coming banker, Kavan, intelligent and warm as a professor, and Vinoo, intelligent and outspoken as an editor would be.
The characters in this book are remarkable. The author shows a deep understanding of their roles and places them cleverly to keep the story moving. There are also secondary characters introduced for a few cameos. Even some of those who barely appear have a chance to shine, which tell us a lot about the storytelling.
The book is sprinkled with enjoyable dialogue, which is hard to write – and extremely hard to write well. Two people merely talking are not always engaging on the page, no matter how scintillating the dialogue. Novel writers are not screenwriters whose story is brought to life by an entourage of directors, actors, sound engineers, cinematographers. A novelist must describe the setting and provide all five senses for the reader. Readers will not know what things look like unless you show them.
Aditha’s text reads like a screenplay. The conversation between Kumi and the Tuk Tuk driver is such that a reader can hear it as if spoken aloud; the words do not lie inert on the page. When discourse flows, it’s easy to read and understand; it’s funny, revealing, poignant, and devastating all in one single sentence. The story is interspersed with engaging dialogue, and that’s part of what makes it effective. The dialogue is so catchy, so snappy, so utterly say-able, that the story could easily be made into a movie…
This is a wonderfully written novel with a captivating story that touches your heart, an engaging plot with so many twists, and endearing characters who were believable. The book affirms the depth of humanity’s relationship with nature and adds particular urgency to the cause of protecting the environment that nourishes all living beings. It is a delightful book.
‘Human Rights’ And Ecological Crisis In Sri Lanka
‘The origin of the contemporary ecological and social crisis can be traced to the colonial period and the incorporation of the country into the global capitalist economy.’
By Prof. Asoka Bandarage
The recent UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) resolution A/HRC/46/L.1/Rev.1 of March 16 has brought extensive charges against Sri Lanka over alleged human rights violations, but is arguably seriously flawed. Opportunistic and strategic use of human rights by the western powers to maintain hegemony continually ignore violations of the rights of nature and humanity rooted in the destructive model of economic development the same powers introduced to the world.
Ancient Sri Lanka was known for its Buddhist eco-centric approach to life. The origin of the contemporary ecological and social crisis can be traced to the colonial period and the incorporation of the country into the global capitalist economy.
Vast tracts of forest were cut to establish mono-cultural coffee, tea and rubber plantations and local people lost rights to ancestral lands and resources. Deforestation destroyed water resources that irrigated the rivers leaving village tanks dry. Multi-crop subsistence agriculture was undermined, leaving people to become dependent on imported food supplies.
Sri Lanka’s forest cover declined from 84% in 1881 to 70% in 1900 and to around 50% in 1948, when the British left. Deforestation and plantation development laid the basis for land erosion and loss of animal habitats and biodiversity.
The origin of the current human- elephant conflict is attributed to deforestation starting in the British era, along with the widespread colonial practice of killing animals for sport and trade. The revered elephant was declared a pest and a reward of a few shillings was given for the head of an elephant.
With the introduction of the Open Economy in 1977, Sri Lanka became subjected to neo-liberal policies such as privatization and structural adjustment, largely as conditions to loans from the World Bank and the IMF. The massive Mahawaeli River Development Program of this period provided access to land for the poor and a significant increase in the country’s food production and power resources. However, the construction of dams and irrigation networks, roads, and similar infrastructure also radically altered soil and water systems including degradation of watershed conditions and loss of wildlife habitat and populations.
A related agricultural reform began in the 1960s (the “Green Revolution”), with a campaign to promote the use of agrochemicals and transgenic crop varieties, resulting in the loss of original indigenous seed varieties. The Mahaweli program and irrigation have supplied the water for most of the rice cultivation in the North Central Province. This area is also – likely not coincidentally – the site of the nation’s highest incidence of chronic kidney disease among poor farming communities.
The rich industrialized countries in the Global North are responsible for nearly 80% of historical global carbon emissions. Yet poor countries in the global South, such as Sri Lanka – whose carbon footprint is negligible – are the greatest victims of climate disasters. The current and looming impact of climate change on Sri Lanka is massive:
Annual mean air temperature has significantly increased by between 1961- 1990 increasing 0.016 °C per year;
Annual average rainfall over Sri Lanka has decreased by about seven percent between the 1931-1960 period and the 1961 to 1990 period;
Forecasting the rise in sea level, Sri Lanka is faced with a predicted devastating coastal erosion rate of 0.30-0.35 meter a year, with adverse impact on nearly 55 percent of the shoreline.
The 2004 tsunami drastically highlighted the vulnerability of the low-lying plains in the coastal zone to any future rise in sea level. Northern and eastern coastal areas claimed as traditional ‘Tamil homelands’, are vulnerable to submersion as they are flatter than other coastal areas. This has serious implications for both population displacement and renewed political conflict, concerns totally absent in UNHCR Resolutions that focus on identity politics and calls for political devolution.
In 2015, the Internal Displacement Monitoring Center (IDMC), an international aid NGO, identified Sri Lanka ‘as the country with the highest relative risk of being displaced by disaster in South Asia. For every million inhabitants, 15,000 are at risk of being displaced every year in Sri Lanka’.
In 2017 alone, the country experienced seven disaster events, mainly floods and landslides, and ‘135,000 new displacements due to disaster. Sri Lanka is also at risk from slow-onset impacts like soil degradation, saltwater intrusion, water scarcity, and crop failure’.
Sri Lanka was ranked second among countries most affected by extreme weather events in the Global Climate Risk Index 2019 and sixth in 2020.
Deforestation is considered the greatest environmental threat facing Sri Lanka today. Sri Lanka ranked fourth among countries with worst deforestation of primary forests in the world in the 2000-2005 period. Forest cover, which had declined to about 50% at the end of British rule, has further declined to 44% in 1956 and 16.5 % in 2019.
A highly controversial current case is the housing development supposedly constructed for internally displaced persons (IDPs) on Willpattu National Wildlife Park. The housing will remain despite a recent court judgement that declared it illegal. The ‘polluter pays’ principle was upheld, but this only requires that the offender reforests other lands ‘in any area equivalent to the reserve forest area used for re-settlement of IDPs’. Even this court decision is under appeal by the 7th respondent, former Minister of Industry and Commerce, Rishard Badiuddin. Moreover, as ecologists point out, mere tree planting elsewhere will not lead to recovery of the intricate forest eco-systems that were destroyed.
Another major controversy involves the Sinharaja Rainforest covering an area of 18,900 acres. It is home to over 50% of the country’s endemic species and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Deforestation is now taking place in the Sinharaja area for the construction of a road for an isolated village bordering the Forest Reserve and for the suspected building of hotels, shops and other encroachments.
A National Plan based on surveys and clear demarcation of boundaries of Forest Reserves, Wildlife Sanctuaries and Conservation Areas and enforcement is urgently needed to avoid conflict and encroachment over remaining forests.
A recent announcement was made by the Government Minister of Irrigation, Chamal Rajapaksa, regarding proposals to construct two irrigation tanks inside the Sinharaja, each spanning an area of five acres, with Chinese involvement. A 30-kilometer water tunnel to transport fresh water to areas in the South (including possibly Chinese controlled Hambantota port) is also reported. This announcement has raised alarm over environmental impact and likely loss of the UNESCO World Heritage status.
Mining, Dumping and Export-led Growth
There are, unfortunately, many other environmental controversies, the most destructive of which involve export-led growth and foreign companies.
In 2017, 263 waste containers carrying biomedical, plastic and other waste from the UK was brought for illegal dumping in Sri Lanka. Such toxic dumping by rich Northern countries in the poor countries of the South is sadly a common practice. After a legal victory by environmentalists, the containers are being sent back to the UK.
A proposed new project in the Eastern Province is the Eastern Minerals Project of Capital Metal, a company from the UK which plans to mine the ‘highest-grade’ mineral sands containing ilmenite, rutile, zircon and garnet. While it promises to be a highly profitable venture, environmentalists fear massive and irreversible damage to the vulnerable eastern coastline.
Yet another controversial mining project is proposed by Titanium Sands, an Australian company,that wants to mine titanium on the island of Mannar off the northern coast of Sri Lanka. Mannar is a bird paradise and local environmentalists blame the Australian company of ‘illegal conduct’ and plans to dramatically transform the ecosystem and limit land use by the local community.
Just as the world is at the cusp of a new era of technological and corporate authoritarianism, Sri Lanka, with its strategic location in the Indian Ocean, is also at a decisive historical juncture. The island is facing new forms of external intervention and competition primarily involving the expansionist and national security efforts of China, USA and India. These three countries are also the biggest carbon polluters, pursuing unbridled economic growth despite the impending global climate catastrophe.
Sri Lanka is centrally placed in the maritime route of China’s Belt Road Initiative. China is now in control of the Hambantota port, the Colombo Port City, a terminal of the Colombo port and a hybrid renewable energy project on three islands off the Jaffna peninsula, just 50 km from the Tamil Nadu coast.
The Quadrilateral Alliance of the USA, India, Australia and Japan is challenging this Chinese expansion, and is, in turn, in control of key strategic positions and natural resources.
India, for example, is in control of the British colonial era Oil Tank Farm in the seaport town of Trincomalee. It is reported that the development of the west terminal of the Colombo port will also be given to the company of Indian billionaire Adani.
The US Millennium Challenge Corporation’s proposed Compact with Sri Lanka was turned down by Sri Lanka due to local protests over resource exploitation, land grab and an effort to splinter Sri Lanka into two separate entities under the control of the United States. However, there is suspicion that some of the main objectives of the MCC to digitalize land registers and privatize land to make them available for development by transnational corporations maybe be continuing in other ways.
The US signed an Acquisitions and Cross Services Agreement (ACSA) with Sri Lanka in 2017 making the island a ‘logistics hub’ allowing US military vessels open-ended access to Sri Lanka’s seaports and airports. The ACSA is part of the ‘grand strategy of a united military front between the US and India in the Indo-Pacific’.
A Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) between the USA and Sri Lanka, which could turn Sri Lanka into a US military base, has been proposed but not yet signed due to local protest.
Neo-Colonialism and Eco-Social Implications
While the implications of Neo-Colonialism for Sri Lanka’s sovereignty, unity and territorial integrity have been much discussed in recent media, the ecological and social implications remain relatively unexplored. Some of these include:
Conflicts between Chinese interests and farming families around the Hambantota port over Chinese offers to buy ancestral properties of locals.
Protests and legal action by environmentalists over Chinese Port City, especially coastal sand excavation and dumping of chemical waste.
Control of the west terminal of the Colombo harbor by India’s controversial Adani Group, which has a history of environmental and financial violations in Australia and India.
Effects of militarization of the island under the ACSA and possible SOFA agreements and military confrontation between the Quadrilateral Alliance and China in the Indian Ocean.
Future Survival with the Wisdom of the Past
Sustainable agriculture has a long history on the island, as in any long-lasting indigenous culture, and it needs to be brought back to the fore. Local self-sufficiency and agro-ecology are the only solutions to future food scarcity and surviving the vicissitudes of the global economy.
Both Sri Lanka and the world have enough natural resources to support people if resources are shared equitably and sustainably used. It is the apocalyptic destruction of the unregulated greed of neoliberalism that must end.
For this to happen, policies of corporate regulation must be put in place at both the national and global levels. These policies also need to incorporate a broader definition of human rights that includes the rights of nature and people’s rights to natural resources and livelihoods. 250 major civil society organizations from around the world have signed a declaration calling for an end to ‘corporate control and cooptation’ of the United Nations including the U.N. Convention on Climate Change. Indeed, the moral authority of the United Nations and its partisan approach to human rights need serious questioning.
There is an urgent concurrent need for environmental education that transcends political party and ethno-religious divisions and unites people both with each other and with a survivable environment. Environmentalism is also humanism that looks to the future, and the rights and survival of future generations.
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