By Shamindra Ferdinando
One-time Sri Lanka’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations at Geneva Tamara Kunanayakam says the country has no other option, but to oppose the Core Group’s Resolution by calling for a vote when it is tabled at the 46th session of the Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC).
The Core Group, led by the UK, includes Germany, Canada, North Macedonia, Montenegro and Malawi. Kunanayakam, who served in Geneva (2011-2013) emphasized: “If the Resolution is adopted with Sri Lanka accepting, either directly by co-sponsoring or indirectly by not calling for a vote, it will reinstate the notorious HRC Resolution 30/1. By doing so, Sri Lanka will validate its underlying logic that legitimizes the use of illegal unilateral coercive measures against sovereign states; undermine Sri Lanka’s own sovereignty and the UN Charter-based multilateral order, guarantor of that sovereignty; deprive our allies in the Global South of the opportunity to express their views on a precedent-setting resolution that threatens their own sovereignty; and, isolate Sri Lanka, making it more vulnerable than it already is to foreign intervention and aggression. And that will only benefit Washington’s global ambitions for a unilateral world order under US hegemony.”
The then UNP-led coalition co-sponsored the Resolution on Oct 1, 2015. The then Sri Lanka’s PR there Ravinatha Aryasinha was ordered by Colombo to accept the Resolution on Sri Lanka’s behalf after he initially raised objections to it.
Kunanayakam, who had been Sri Lanka’s top envoy in Havana (2009-2011) asserted: “In fact, under today’s conditions, such a resolution will be worse than the 2015 resolution which could easily be dismissed on the basis that the then Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera had acted without authorization and there had been widespread opposition within the country, especially from political parties. This time, it will be interpreted as there having been not only an international consensus, but a national consensus, with the added argument that the Government in place was elected with a near two-thirds majority.”
The foreign affairs analyst was responding to the writer’s query as to what should be Sri Lanka’s response? And how could the country avoid a vote on the Core Group’s resolution?
UK succeeds US
The UK took command of the Core Group in the wake of the US quitting the UNHRC alleging the Geneva body was a cesspool of political bias. Having succeeded the US, the UK, prodded on by an influential Tamil group of Sri Lanka origin, has mounted a despicable political project meant to humiliate post-war Sri Lanka. The failure on Sri Lanka’s part to counter Western propaganda facilitated their operation. The current administration is no exception. Sri Lanka pathetically failed to exploit disclosures made by Western ‘sources’ since the successful conclusion of the conflict in May 2009 to the chagrin of the oft repeated Western refrain that the Sri Lankan security forces were incapable of crushing the almost invincible military machine of the LTTE. Sri Lanka’s pitiable handling of the Geneva affair certainly made the British project easier.
Sri Lanka should be eternally grateful to Lord Naseby for exposing the British project. The Conservative Party member recently revealed how the British conveniently suppressed information which might have helped the UNHRC to establish the truth. The UK withheld information in spite of it being a member of the 47-nation UNHRC. The availability of such information was made known to the world on Oct 12, 2017 thanks to Lord Naseby.
A parliamentary query raised by Lord Naseby recently revealed the suppression of diplomatic cables from the UK High Commission in Colombo in 2009. If revealed, the cables could have disputed the very basis of the unsubstantiated war crimes allegations leading to Sri Lanka co-sponsoring the 2015 Geneva Resolution against itself.
Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon of the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office on Feb 16 answered Lord Naseby’s written parliamentary question, tabled on Feb 4.
Lord Naseby asked the government whether the UK supplied to the UN Human Rights Council any (1) censored, and (2) uncensored, copies of dispatches written by Lieutenant Colonel Anthony 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.
Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon said that the UK Government had not received any request from the UN Human Rights Council for copies of dispatches written by the former Defence Attaché at the British High Commission in Sri Lanka, Lieutenant Colonel Gash, about events in Sri Lanka related to the civil war, and had not provided any.
Appearing on ‘Face the Nation’ anchored by Shameer Rasooldeen on Feb 15, defence analyst and lecturer Nilanthan Niruthan explained the British duplicity in handling accountability issues. Responding to Rasooldeen, Niruthan didn’t mince his words when explained the rule of law meant that those responsible for crimes should be promptly and fairly prosecuted. Yet the UK government, while seeking to punish the Sri Lanka military, was pushing for a new law – the Overseas Operations Bill – that would make it nearly impossible to prosecute British soldiers for torture and other war crimes committed overseas, Niruthan said. The British actions showed contempt for the rule of law, violation of the UK’s international commitments to prosecute the worst crimes, and risks creating impunity for grave abuse, the programme was told.
The writer on Monday (22) sought a further clarification from Chennai, born Niruthan as regards the British position to the accountability issues. “The British position,” Niruthan, whose parents fled the Jaffna peninsula sometime after the 1983 anti-Tamil riots, said: “… is like a rat accusing a squirrel of being a pest. The UK has been found responsible for systematic war crimes by the ICC prosecutor but the court could not proceed because the UK refused to cooperate with any further investigations. Worse, the UK is now working on a law that will make its own soldiers immune to the very same international prosecutions they are trying to push against the Sri Lankan military. The fact that they are leading the charge against Sri Lanka is evidence of how hypocritical and corrupt the system is. There is a difference between justice and politics. The UK sponsoring the resolution makes it undeniable that all this is much more about politics than anything related to justice. I hope Sri Lankans of all communities are paying attention to these double standards.”
Niruthan contributes to ‘The Journal of Military Operations and Small Wars’ as well as Asia-Pacific magazine called ‘The Diplomat’. Questioning the response of some countries with vested interests to terrorism and post-conflict Sri Lanka, Niruthan referred to the assassination of his grandfather Rajasundaram Vaithalingam, of Vaddukottai, Jaffna by the TELO (Tamil Eelam Liberation Organization). At the time of Vaithalingam’s assassination in 1985, he had been the SLFP organizer for Jaffna.
Western powers turned a blind eye to Indian intervention causing mayhem here in the 80s. India sponsored terrorist groups, including the TELO, engaged in terrorist acts with impunity. They created an environment conducive for the deployment of the Indian Army here (July 1987-March 1990). India lost nearly 1,500 officers and men during the IPKF (Indian Peace Keeping Force) deployment. Nearly 3,000 others received injuries and the rest is history.
Today India represents the UNHRC. Foreign Secretary retired Admiral Prof. Jayanath Colombage on Feb 19 revealed to Hiru TV Sri Lanka’s request to Indian PM Narendra Modi’s backing at the UNHRC. India never bothered at least to apologize for causing massive death and destruction in Sri Lanka though New Delhi from time to time reminded Colombo of its obligations towards the Tamil community.
Indian role in bringing war to an end
Ironically, we have to acknowledge the support provided by India during the Eelam War IV (August 2006-May 2009) as it became patently unable to stomach Tiger insolence to its former patron, for turning its guns on the IPKF and especially after the assassination of its ex-Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi. It would be pertinent to underscore what one-time Indian High Commissioner J, N. Dixit stated in 2004. Dixit, in his memoirs, ‘Makers of India’s Foreign Policy,’ says that he preferred to call India’s interference in Sri Lanka during 1980-1990 period as ‘Indian involvement.’ 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 Dixit 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 Indo-centric Practitioner of Realpolitik-Makers of India’s Foreign Policy].
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. India also helped Sri Lankan terrorists establish contact with international terrorist groups.
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 Indian trained PLOTE (People’s Liberation Organization of Tamil Eelam) was responsible for a coup attempt in the Maldives in Nov. 1988. India had to send in troops to thwart sea borne Sri Lankan terrorists, who mounted the attack on Male. The UNHRC (previously Commission) or Western powers never showed any interest in the suffering of the northern public until the Sri Lankan military eradicated the LTTE.
However, the war could never have been brought to a successful conclusion without New Delhi’s backing. Sri Lanka also needs to understand the US-Japan-India-Australia axis to meet the growing Chinese challenge as it walks a diplomatic tightrope against the backdrop of Colombo’s continuing dependence on Beijing. The Western moves in Geneva, in a way, reflect their overall strategy to undermine China.
Since the end of the conflict in May 2009, the Western powers pushed hard for an accountability process that enabled them to bring Sri Lanka under their domination. They exploited a joint statement issued in the wake of UNSG Ban Ki moon’s visit to Colombo to initiate a direct intimidation process that kicked off with the accusation of killing 40,000 civilians on the Vanni east front by a virtual kangaroo court handpicked by the UNSG and called the Panel of Experts, whose findings neither could be questioned nor can the accusers be cross examined at least for two decades or more. (Report of the Secretary General’s Panel of Experts on Accountability in Sri Lanka released on March 31, 2011).
Gathering evidence the UN way
In the absence of a steady stream of complaints, the Centre for War Victims and Human Rights launched an online campaign to gather war crimes complaints. The petition was launched about a week before the expiry of the first deadline (Dec 15, 2010). The deadline was subsequently extended to Dec 31, 2010. The organizers posted a detailed communication from the Secretariat to PoE/PoE on a website named ‘Stop Sri Lanka State Terrorism’, obviously giving away the ultimate aim of the project. Interestingly, those who had complained cannot be examined in view of a confidentiality clause that prevented scrutiny of such for a period of 20 years (from March 2011 to March 2031). What is really surprising is that Sri Lanka never challenged the confidentiality clause. Sri Lanka owed an explanation why it continuously failed to take up contentious matters, such as the confidentiality clause or wartime US Defence Advisor Lt. Col. Lawrence Smith’s defence of the Sri Lankan military at the first post-war defence seminar conducted in 2011. Let me reproduce verbatim what the US official said. Smith was responding to Maj. Gen. (retd) Ashok Mehta (IPKF) who queried about the alleged battlefield executions. Query directed to the then Maj. Gen. Shavendra Silva, No 2 in New York was answered by the American.
This is what the American had to say: “Hello, may I say something to a couple of questions raised. I’ve been the Defense Ataché here, at the US Embassy, since June 2008. Regarding the various versions of events that came out in the final hours and days of the conflict – from what I was privileged to hear and to see, the offers to surrender that, I am aware of, seemed to come from the mouthpieces of the LTTE – Nadesan, KP – people who weren’t and never had really demonstrated any control over the leadership or the combat power of the LTTE.
“So their offers were a bit suspect anyway, and they tended to vary in content, hour by hour, day by day. I think we need to examine the credibility of those offers before we leap to conclusions that such offers were in fact real.
“And I think the same is true for the version of events. It’s not so uncommon in combat operations, in the fog of war, as we all get our reports second, third and fourth hand from various commanders, at various levels, that the stories don’t seem to all quite match up.
“But, I can say that the version presented here so far in this is what I heard as I was here during that time. And I think I better leave it at that before I get into trouble. “
The US State Department disassociated itself from Lt. Col. Smith’s statement. State Department’s Deputy Spokesman Mark C. Toner responded to questions raised on the basis of The Island report.
I have one on Sri Lanka. The senior Defense Attaché at the U.S. Mission in Sri Lanka went public in the newspapers (inaudible) that he questioned the credibility of surrender offers made by senior LTTE leaders who was the head of the (inaudible) last year. Does this reflect any change in the U.S. position on the war crime victims?
Right. You’re talking about remarks that were made at a conference in Colombo?
Well, just to clarify, the U.S. did decline invitations to participate in that conference as either a conference speaker or panelist. My understanding is that the Defence Attaché was there as an observer and a note taker. His comments reflected his personal opinions. There’s no change in the policy of the United States, and his remarks do not reflect any change in our policy.
So that was a personal opinion?
Personal opinion. The United States – and just to reiterate that policy – remains deeply concerned by the allegations in the panel of experts report, and we’re committed to seeing a credible accounting of and accountability for violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law. And we believe that the Sri Lankan Government must act quickly and credibly to address these allegations.
Who was the attaché?
I don’t have his name.
Is he still the attaché? (Laughter.) Was there any discussion —?
I believe he’s still there, but I’ll try to get an update.
Smith’s statement contradicted the very basis of the war crimes allegations. For a decade, Sri Lanka conveniently failed to exploit US statements whereas resolutions were moved in Geneva on the basis of unsubstantiated allegations. Resolutions were passed against Sri Lanka in 2012, 2013 and 2014 before the US backed change of the Rajapaksa administration that paved the way for the US to move the 2015 resolution. Sri Lanka never took any notice of the US State Department declaration that the US spent USD 585 mn to restore democracy in Myanmar, Nigeria and Sri Lanka. If just one third of that amount had been allocated for the Sri Lanka project in addition to funds made available by the USAID in 2015, who were the recipients? The Geneva project can never be really examined without studying the US political designs here. Backing of General Fonseka and Maithripala Sirisena at 2010 and 2015 presidential polls exposed the US strategy. Wikileaks proved that.
The writer had an opportunity to discuss the accountability issue on ‘Sirasa’ ‘Pathikada’ anchored by Asoka Dias. The programme aired live, hours before Foreign Minister Dinesh Gunawardena addressed the 46th sessions of the UNHRC, dealing with the failure on the part of successive governments to respond properly to the Western strategy. The squandering of a staggering USD 6.5 mn in 2014 for a harebrained project to prevent the US pushing Sri Lanka on the human rights front captured front-page attention of some print media a few days before the beginning of the Geneva sessions. The absence of overall strategy, too, was highlighted with scheduling of Pakistan PM Imran Khan’s visit to Colombo amidst Geneva sessions and ongoing controversy of cremation of Muslim victims of Covid-19. But, the cancellation of Khan’s address to Parliament on the alleged fears of him raising the Kashmir issue after making a grand announcement underscored the pathetic state of affairs.
American of Indian and Pakistani origin Imaad Zuberi, who had donated heavily to Democrats before former President Donald J. Trump’s election, pleaded guilty to charges related to a $900,000 donation to Trump’s inaugural committee, the US media reported last week. Having promised to save Sri Lanka for a sum of USD 8.5 mn, Zuberi received USD 6.5 mn in a deal negotiated through the Sri Lanka Embassy in Washington. In the following year, the US not only played a key role in the change of government in Colombo, it got the UNP-SLFP administration to co-sponsor a Resolution against Sri Lanka’s wartime political leadership and the military.
In 2019 New York Times quoted Zuberi as having said: “To open doors, I have to donate. It’s just a fact of life.”
The smooth operator had donated heavily to Democrats, including committees supporting President Barack Obama and then Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign, before abruptly switching allegiance to Republicans in the wake of Trump’s victory.
The Yahapalana government never made a genuine effort to probe the controversial deal with the American. Investigations revealed that the political agent who had received a 12-year jail term spent vast amounts of Sri Lankan taxpayers’ money to sustain his luxurious lifestyle. Those who had benefited at the expense of Sri Lanka perhaps will never be punished though the military is in the dock. US declaration of Army Chief Gen. Shavendra Silva a persona non grata in the US is a case in point. The same fate befell Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka and Maj. Gen. Chagie Gallage.
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.
GL: Colombo Port City Bill received AG’s sanction
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