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.
Former OMP Chief now at BASL helm
By Shamindra Ferdinando
Editor of ‘Annidda’, Attorney-at-Law K.W. Janaranjana, in a piece in its Feb 21, 2021, edition that dealt with the election of Saliya Pieris, PC, as the President of the Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL), asserted that the government hadn’t made a special intervention in the contest.
The government hadn’t made political intervention, though a group of people, including the Secretary of the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP), and its National List MP, and Attorney-at-Law Sagara Kariyawasam, made a bid to secure the backing of the government for Saliya’s rival. Such attempts made at the provincial level, too, failed to produce the desired results.
Saliya Pieris, who succeeded Kalinga Indatissa, PC, polled 5,093 votes at the election conducted on Feb 24. His rival, Kuvera de Zoysa, PC secured 2,797 votes. The winner secured a staggering 2,386 vote majority – just 321 short of the number of votes polled by De Zoysa.
Janaranjana, a leading member of the civil society grouping Purawesi Balaya, who played a significant role in the yahapalana political campaign, claimed that some of the lawyers who represented top government figures, too, backed Saliya Pieris. Emphasizing that all of them worked for Saliya’s victory, Janaranjana dismissed assertions that the victory achieved by Saliya Pieris was a severe debacle suffered by the Rajapaksas.
Janaranjana attributed the President’s Counsel’s victory to his commitment to the rule of law, independence of the judiciary and human rights throughout his legal career.
A battle between SLPP and Opp.
In spite of the government refraining from taking a stand, as pointed out by Janaranjana, the contest received unprecedented attention, with the lawyer electorate turning it into a battle between the SLPP government and the Opposition. Saliya Pieris, in an exclusive interview with Janaranjana, also published on the Feb 21, 2021 edition of Anidda, three days before the election, flayed the rival group. Pieris emphasized the responsibility, on the part of the BASL, to take a principled stand on contentious issues, regardless of the consequences. Pieris explained his public role since the arrest of High Court Judge Mahanama Tillekaratne, in 1998. Essentially, Pieris flayed the BASL for its failure to take up issues, such as the alleged attack on the Mannar Court by supporters of the then Minister Rishad Bathiudeen, during Mahinda Rajapaksa’s presidential term. However, Bathiudeen, leader of the All Ceylon Makkal Congress (ACMC), now represents the Samagi Jana Balavegaya (SJB).
Pieris also referred to the impeachment of Chief Justice, Shirani Bandaranayake 43, also during the previous Rajapaksa administration. However, there hadn’t been any reference at all to the BASL receiving Rs 2.5 mn sponsorship, in 2016, from disgraced Perpetual Treasuries Limited (PTL) in support of a high profile event conducted at a leading hotel, with the participation of the then Chief Justice, Attorney General, Solicitor General, the President and the Prime Minister. The BASL never explained why funds were obtained from PTL, despite its perpetration of Treasury bond scams, in Feb 2015, and March 2016.
The BASL should be also be seriously concerned about Hejaaz Hizbullah, a prominent lawyer arrested on April 14, 2020 over his direct involvement with the 2019 Easter Sunday attacks. Hizbullah was recently produced in court on a directive issued by Attorney General Dappula de Livera. The lawyer’s arrest, too, caused a sharp division among BASL members and contributed to the overwheming victory achieved by Pieris.
When the writer asked a lawyer, who voted for the winner, why he did so, he explained his position, on the condition of anonymity. The lawyer said: “Voted at the DC polling booth in Colombo. I didn’t vote last time. Lawyers preferred an anti-establishment candidate since the independence of the bar is paramount. On the other hand, lawyers detested hitherto unseen level of inducements being offered to win votes, as well as fabricated false accusations. Anonymous accusations and despicable strategies resulted in further revulsion towards the losing candidate. Unprecedented number of members turned up to ensure a resounding mandate to the winning candidate.
Saliya Pieris responds
The writer sought views of the newly elected BASL President as regards several issues.
(Q) What would be your priorities?
(A) Securing the rights of lawyers in the profession; making a positive impact on issues pertaining to the rule of law, independence of the judiciary and protection of fundamental rights; supporting juniors in the profession and supporting the welfare of the membership.
(Q) You served as first Chairman, OMP (Office of Missing Persons), an apparatus set up in terms of the 2015 Geneva Resolution. GoSL in March 2020
quit the Geneva process. What can BASL do to address accountability issues, both during the conflict and the post war period?
(A) The role of the BASL is different from the OMP. As I have stated, upholding the rule of law, the independence of the judiciary will be a priority. All domestic institutions which address these issues must be independent so that the people who seek relief from them trust these institutions and have confidence in them.
(Q) You secured well over 2000 votes than your rival. How do you intend to win the confidence of those who voted against you?
(A) I have received support from lawyers, across the country and from every community and area. My support cut across all lines, be it party, race, religion or area. On the very day of the announcement of my election, I reached out to all those members who did not vote for me and will continue to.do so. At the same time, I am sure that the members who voted otherwise at the elections will work with me for the betterment of the bar.
(Q)What would you do to prevent deaths in police custody?
(A) Police torture and deaths in custody affect the rule of law and should be condemned. There must be zero tolerance. The Bar must carefully examine these issues and, if needed, lobby the government to ensure fair investigations and that the perpetrators are punished.
(Q) What is your stand on implementation of death penalty and presidential pardon?
(A) These have not been discussed at the Bar Council as yet. My personal view is that I am opposed to the implementation of the death penalty. On presidential pardons, I am of the view that the power of pardon must not be used unreasonably, and must be done by taking into account several factors including the nature of the crime and the views of the aggrieved party.
Let me remind the readers of nine previous BASL Presidents, before Saliya Pieris, who won the presidency: Desmond Fernando, PC (2005 – 2006), Nihal Jayamanne, PC (2006 – 2008), W. Dayaratne, PC (2008 – 2010), Shibly Aziz, PC (2010 – 2012), Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe, PC (2012 – 2013), Upul Jayasuriya, PC (2013 – 2015), Geoffrey Alagaratnam, PC (2015 – 2017), U. R. De Silva, PC (2017 – 2019) and Kalinga Indatissa, PC (2019 – 2021).
Of those 17,200 eligible to vote at the Feb. 24 election, approximately 8,000 voted, though usually only about 6,500 voted in previous years. In other words, nearly 47 per cent chose not to participate in the process.
Who betrayed the country?
Janaranjana discussed how the rival camp depicted Saliya Pieris as a person who betrayed the country by being involved in a treacherous international conspiracy to undermine the armed forces. According to Janaranjana, the rival camp exploited social media and other propaganda means to depict Saliya Pieris as a traitor whose election would lead to the division of the country, on ethnic lines. Janaranjana pointed out how the unprecedented victory achieved by Saliya Pieris proved the failure of the rival camp’s strategy.
Against the backdrop of unsubstantiated allegations, directed at Saliya Pieris, as regards his role as the Chairman of the OMP, it would be pertinent to examine the failure on the part of the BASL to genuinely address accountability issues related to Sri Lanka’s war against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). The OMP was one of the four mechanisms established in terms of the controversial resolution 30/1 ‘Promoting reconciliation, accountability and human rights in Sri Lanka.’ The four apparatuses are (i) A hybrid judicial mechanism with a Special Counsel to investigate allegations of violations and abuses of human rights and violations of international humanitarian law (ii) A Commission for truth, justice, reconciliation and non-recurrence (iii) An Office for Missing Persons and (iv) and Office for Reparations.
The previous UNP-SLFP administration established the first permanent official body, tasked with tracking down missing persons, in terms of Act No. 14 of 2016. This was done in line with one of the recommendations in the 2015 UNHRC Resolution co-sponsored by the Government of Sri Lanka. Due to political turmoil, the government was able to establish the OMP two years after the Act was passed. The OMP initiated ‘operations’ in May 2018 with members visiting Mannar to meet the families of those disappeared in that District.
The OMP’s mandate, according to Part II Section 10 of the Office on Missing Persons Act, No. 14 of 2016:
(a) To search for and trace missing persons and identify appropriate mechanisms for the same and to clarify the circumstances in which such persons went missing;
(b) To make recommendations to the relevant authorities towards addressing the incidence of missing persons;
(c) To protect the rights and interests of missing persons and their relatives as provided for in this Act.
(d) To identify avenues of redress to which missing persons and relatives of missing persons are entitled to, and to inform the missing person (if found alive) or relative of such missing person of same.
(e) To collate data related to missing persons obtained by processes presently being carried out, or which were previously carried out, by other institutions, organizations, Government Departments and Commissions of Inquiry and Special Presidential Commission of Inquiry and centralize all available data within the database established under this Act.
(f) To do all such other necessary things that may become necessary to achieve the objectives under the Act.
Saliya Pieris received the appointment as Chairman, OMP on May 1, 2018. The civil society activist quit the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka (HRCSL) to take the leadership of the OMP. The outfit comprised Saliya Pieris, PC, Ms. Jayatheepa Punniyamoorthy, Major General (Rtd.) Mohanti Antonette Peiris, Sriyani Nimalka Fernando, Mirak Raheem, Somasiri K. Liyanage and Kanapathipillai Venthan.
The now defunct Constitutional Council picked the OMP members. The then President Maithripala Sirisena finalized their appointments. It would be pertinent to mention that OMP member Mirak Raheem had been a member of the Consultation Task Force on Reconciliation Mechanisms (CTFRM), headed by Attorney-at-Law Manouri Muttetuwegama. The outfit called for full participation of foreign judges in the proposed inquiry.
OMP’s intervention helps Lanka
The then Joint Opposition campaigned both in and outside the OMP, alleging the outfit would pave the way for unprecedented international scrutiny of the war-winning armed forces. However, thanks to OMP’s intervention, Sri Lanka was able to disapprove the high profile accusations, pertaining to the Mannar mass graves. Whatever the accusations, the OMP helped Sri Lanka to counter an extremely serious allegation raised in the run-up to the March 2019 Geneva sessions by UN human rights Chief Michelle Bachelet.
Bachelet served as the Chilean President for nine years, beginning 2006. Bachelet had been in an indecent hurry to pressure Sri Lanka over accountability issues and she blindly blamed the Mannar mass graves on the Sri Lanka Army before a leading US lab, contacted by the OMP, tested the bones and found them to be several centuries old and belonged to the colonial period. Unfortunately, the then government never bothered to further examine the Mannar mass graves case as part of an overall investigation into unsubstantiated allegations. In fact, Sri Lanka never properly examined the campaign conducted by interested parties to undermine post-war Sri Lanka.
President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s government brought the war to a successful conclusion in May 2009. Wartime disappearances are certainly politically sensitive issues, exploited by political parties here, as well as various other interested parties.
The scientific findings of Beta Analytic Institute of Florida, USA, in respect of samples of skeletal remains, sent from the Mannar mass grave site, quite upset the Tamil National Alliance (TNA). TNA appointed then Northern Province Chief Minister C.V. Wigneswarn rejected the US findings. Michelle Bachelet went to the extent of commenting on the Mannar mass grave in her report that dealt with the period from Oct 2015 to January 2019.
The following is the relevant section bearing No 23 from Bachelet’s report: “On May 29, 2018, human skeletal remains were discovered at a construction site in Mannar (Northern Province), Excavations conducted in support of the Office on Missing Persons, revealed a mass grave from which more than 300 skeletons were discovered. It was the second mass grave found in Mannar following the discovery of a site in 2014. Given that other mass graves might be expected to be found in the future, systematic access to grave sites by the Office, as an observer, is crucial for it to fully discharge its mandate, particularly with regard to the investigation and identification of remains, it is imperative that the proposed reforms on the law relating to inquests, and relevant protocols to operationalize the law be adopted. The capacity of the forensic sector must also be strengthened, including in areas of forensic anthropology, forensic archaeology and genetics, and its coordination with the Office of Missing Persons must be ensured.”
Disappearance of Ekneligoda
However, Sri Lanka cannot ignore the issue as disappearances took place during successive governments. Disappearances took place during the conflict and also in the post-war period. The disappearance of media personality Prageeth Ekneligoda on the eve of the 2010 January presidential election, is a case in point. The failure on the part of Sri Lanka to address Ekneligoda disappearance increased international pressure on Sri Lanka. The government owed an explanation as regards the media personality’s disappearance over a decade ago. There cannot be any rationale in blanket denial of accusations. In fact, efforts to deceive the public, and the international community in respect of perhaps isolated cases such as the Ekneligoda disappearance had facilitated the high profile Western strategy meant to subvert Sri Lanka on unsubstantiated war crimes allegations.
With Saliya Pieris at the helm of the BASL, it can certainly play a significant role in Sri Lanka’s effort to ascertain the truth. The new BASL Chief, with valuable experience as a member of the HRCSL as well as the Chairman, OMP, can undertake a thorough examination of events/developments leading to the final confrontation between the Army and the LTTE on the banks of the Nanthikadal lagoon, in the Mullaitivu district, on the morning of May 19, 2009. The BASL had been largely silent on the Geneva issue though one of its high profile members, TNA lawmaker M.A. Sumanthiran, declared, in mid-2016, the acceptance of foreign judges in local war crimes investigation mechanisms. The declaration was made in Washington in the presence of the then Sri Lanka’s Ambassador there Prasad Kariyawasam. The Foreign Ministry remained conveniently silent on the issue. In August 2017, Kariyawasam received the appointment as the Foreign Secretary, whereas President Sirisena brought in Tilak Marapana, PC, and a one-time Attorney General as the Foreign Minister. Marapana, too, followed the UNP strategy. The UNP-led government turned a blind eye to the UK House of Lords disclosure on Oct 12, 2017 how the British government suppressed confidential dispatches from its Defence Advisor in Colombo Lt. Col. Anthony Gash (Jan-May 2009). The UK, now leading the Sri Lanka Core Group targeting the country in Geneva, in the absence of the US, continues to shamelessly suppress dispatches, pertaining to Sri Lanka, as the disclosure of such would jeopardize the Western campaign against the country.
Perhaps the appointment of Saliya Pieris couldn’t have taken place at a better time for the country. The respected lawyer received the BASL leadership, the day Foreign Minister Dinesh Gunawardena responded to Michelle Bachelet’s damning report. The writer is of the opinion that Minister Gunawardena, in his speech, should have requested Michelle Bachelet, as well as the 47-members of the UNHRC, to re-examine all available evidence, information and data. Minister Gunawardena should have formally requested the UK, a member of the UNHRC, to disclose all such dispatches sent by Gash to London. The UK released only a section of heavily censored dispatches, following the unprecedented intervention made by Conservative Party veteran Lord Naseby. Sri Lanka pathetically failed to exploit Gash dispatches in spite of Lord Naseby raising the issue, ahead of the Geneva sessions. Let me reproduce the relevant question raised by Lord Naseby and the response received.
Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon, the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, on Feb 16, 2021, told Parliament that the UK Government had not received any request from the Geneva Council for copies of dispatches written by the former defence attaché at the British High Commission in Sri Lanka Gash about events in Sri Lanka related to the civil war, and had not provided any.
Lord Ahmad was responding to Lord Naseby’s query raised on Feb 4, 2021, whether the UK government provided to UNHRC any (1) censored, and (2) uncensored, copies of dispatches from Lieutenant Colonel Gash, the former defence attaché of the British High Commission in Sri Lanka about events in that country between 1 January and 18 May 2009, relating to the civil war.
Unfortunately, Sri Lanka for some strange reason, refrained from raising the the US disclosure, in 2011, that battlefield executions didn’t take place, or confidential UN report that contradicted the main Geneva accusation the military massacred 40,000 civilians.
Perhaps, the BASL, under its new leadership, can examine the whole gamut of issues, with the focus on the UNSG’s Panel of Experts (PoE) report (March 31, 2011) that prevented examination of unsubstantiated war crimes allegations on the basis of which Sri Lanka co-sponsored the 2015 Geneva resolution. According to the PoE (paragraph 23, titled Confidentiality of the Panel’s records), the examination of unsubstantiated allegations wouldn’t be allowed till 2031 in terms of the UN directive. Even after the 20-year period of classification as confidential records, those unsubstantiated allegations wouldn’t be examined without a declassification review. Let us hope the BASL undertakes a thorough study on accountability issues. Pieris, is certainly the most qualified to lead the inquiry.
Two colliding and coexisting Asian giants
CHINA and INDIA – History, Culture, Cooperation and Competition Editors
– Paramita Mukherjee, Arnab K. Deb and Miao Pang
SAGE Publications India Pvt. Ltd. (www.sagepub.in)
Reviewed by Lynn Ockersz
This book is itself proof that India and China, two Asian political giants, could come together in peace and work constructively and cooperatively towards worthy ends. ‘China and India – History, Culture, Cooperation and Competition’, is a product of profound, combined political science scholarship between India and China, which could not have come into our hands at a more appropriate time.
The reason for the latter observation ought to be plain to see: after a months-long military stand-off on their disputed border in the Ladakh sector, in particular, which at times claimed lives, the giants have decided to withdraw their troops, giving negotiations a chance. In fact, constructive engagement rather confrontation has been the dominant feature in India-China relations over the past few decades, although negative quarters, including those among the international media, have chosen to see otherwise.
That said, it could not be denied that India-China relations have been badly ruptured at times by divisive questions and conflicting interests. Some of these differences have been grave enough to prompt the giants to resolve them on the battle field. For example, their border dispute drove these powers to resort to a full-blown war in 1962. Other issues remain to be resolved as well.
However, Siparna Basu in his paper in ‘China and India…’ titled, ‘Multiple Paths to Globalisation – The India-China Story’, commenting on the history of India-China ties, reveals how India’s first post-independence Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru reportedly declined an offer, backed by the US in the mid fifties, to allocate a UN Security Council seat to India, proposing that the offer should be made to China instead. Apparently, India considered this offer as a move against China. It is a measure of the cooperative spirit which existed between India and China at the time.
But the numerous papers in this book of combined scholarship, while being evidence of the unity of purpose the regional heavyweights could achieve, open revealing windows to also the achievements in numerous fields of the Indian and Chinese civilizations over the centuries.
The countries are revered civilizations that have fertilized the human spirit everywhere through their enduring and ennobling achievements and the papers in this book give us an ample description of these accomplishments, besides updating the reader accurately on the latest developments in India-China ties, in a multiplicity of areas, including inter-state politics.
A strong merit of ‘China and India..’ is the ample space it devotes to economic cooperation between India and China on the one hand and the numerous exercises in such cooperation featuring these key powers and their neighbouring states, on the other. That is, we are kept very much abreast of the latest developments relating to groupings, such as, BRICS, BIMSTEC, BCIM, SCO, to name just a few. This is as it should be because it is economics in the main that is driving international relations currently and not so much politics and military conflict, although the dominant tendency among major opinion moulders, such as the media, is to focus on ‘geopolitics’ to the detriment of economics.
In keeping with the overall spirit of the book, researchers continually focus on the huge potential for bilateral economic cooperation between India and China, besides drawing attention to the benefits of regional collaborative efforts in commerce, trade and investment. Just two papers that are of immense worth from this viewpoint are: ‘Driving Force and Constraints of BCIM Economic Corridor’ by Li Jingfeng and ‘Regional Inequality over the Post-globalization Era: A Study on India and China’ by Arindam Banik and Arnab K. Deb.
Accordingly, ‘China and India…’ gives us the actualities in India-China ties lying behind the smokescreen of sensational military developments between the countries. Besides, it’s a remarkable update on the potential for inter-country economic cooperation in the Indian Ocean region while focusing also on the major economic forces driving global and regional political change.
By Lynn Ockersz
With kingly poise he glides,
This milk-white wonder,
Whom we take for granted…..
The quickening Beira waters,
For him holding no terrors…
But study his every deft action,
And behold a stand-alone splendour,
Of the country’s ravaged eco-system,
Who is at peace with himself,
And is in no need,
To beg, steal or borrow,
Or cut deals that bring him dishonour.
Playing politics with science!
A drive of great memories
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