By Shamindra Ferdinando
With an eye on the 46th session of the Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) later this month, the highly influential Global Tamil Forum (GTF), Centre for Human Rights and Global Justice, New York University, Sri Lanka Campaign for Peace and Justice and The Canadian Tamil Congress have brought in ‘big guns’ for a combined onslaught on Sri Lanka this week.
Among the participants, at a two-hour webinar, titled ‘Sri Lanka: Quest for Justice, Rule of Law and Democratic Rights’, scheduled for Friday, Feb. 12 (UK 1:30 pm; Europe/South Africa 3.30 pm; India/Sri Lanka 7:00 pm IST; Canada/US 8:30 am; Australia 12.30 am) are former UN Assistant Secretary General, Charles Petrie, former Special Rapporteur on the promotion of truth, justice, reparation and guarantee of non-recurrence, Pablo de Greiff and former US Ambassador-at-Large for Global Criminal Justice, Stephen J. Rapp.
The panelists includes Tamil National Alliance (TNA) lawmaker M.A. Sumanthiran, PC, former Commissioner of HRCSL Ambika Satkunanathan, Centre for Policy Alternatives (CPA) representative Attorney-at-Law Bhavani Fonseka, civil society activist. Shreen Saroor, and Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC) representative, Attorney-at-Law, Ameer Faaiz. Melissa Dring, of the Sri Lanka Campaign for Peace and Justice, is the moderator.
Their project has received a tremendous boost with the US returning to the Geneva body. The US quit UNHRC in June 2018.
The TNA, in late 2001, recognized the LTTE as the sole representative of the Tamil community. The LTTE held that privileged status in the eyes of the TNA, until Sri Lanka brought the war to a successful conclusion, in May 2009. The TNA is a direct beneficiary of the LTTE’s demise. Of course, Sumanthiran cannot be entirely held responsible for TNA’s actions as he joined the one-time LTTE mouthpiece, as a National List MP, in April 2010.
Why back Fonseka?
Sumanthiran entered Parliament a couple of months after the TNA wholeheartedly backed war-winning Army Commander Gen. Sarath Fonseka’s presidential candidature. Perhaps, Sumanthiran should explain on Feb 12, as to why the TNA, having accused the Army, Fonseka led with such efficiency, till the crushing of the formidable Tigers militarily, of genocide and then backed him to the hilt at the presidential poll that came soon afterwards. The TNA cannot conveniently ignore the fact that all Northern and Eastern electoral districts overwhelmingly voted for Fonseka though he lost the overall contest by a staggering 1.8 mn votes. Why did Tamils vote for Fonseka after accusing him, and his men, of genocide after they crushed the LTTE, which many pundits repeatedly claimed the Lankan security forces were incapable of achieving?
Participation of Petrie, Pablo de Greiff and Rapp, in Friday’s webinar, is of extreme importance. Petrie headed an ‘Internal Review Panel on UN actions in Sri Lanka’ that dealt with the final phase of the conflict, in his capacity as Special Rapporteur; De Greiff visited Sri Lanka on four occasions, between 2015 and 2019, and Rapp visited Colombo twice, in 2012 and 2014.
The Petrie report conveniently forgot how India formed half a dozen armed groups in the ‘80s to terrorize Sri Lanka, just to teach the then JRJ a lesson for being overtly pro-West and perhaps for derogatively comparing Mrs. Bandaranaike and her son, Anura with Mrs Gandhi and her son Sanjay. The Indian intervention was meant to pave the way for the deployment of her Army in the Northern and Eastern regions. The Indian project went awry. India ended up losing nearly 1,500 officers, and men, here, in less than three years. In addition, double that number received injuries. The military mission was aborted in March 1990. A year later, the LTTE assassinated Rajiv Gandhi, who, in his capacity as the Indian Prime Minister authorized the deployment of the Indian Army here. Can India ever absolve herself of the crime of causing massive chaos and destruction to this country as a result of her diabolical project here? The Petrie report also ignored how the LTTE scuttled the last bid to negotiate a settlement by quitting peace talks in April 2003. The LTTE’s abrupt move jeopardized the survival of UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe’s government and paved the way for its ouster in the following year.
Those who really value justice, rule of law, as well as democratic rights, should examine the Indian intervention here, too. Petrie and de Greiff should use the opportunity to explain the UN’s failure in the ‘80s to thwart the murderous Indian project. The UN played along in a devious plot to destabilise Sri Lanka, over the years. The UN’s response to the LTTE, during the Vanni offensive is no exception. The issue is whether the use of ‘human shields’, by the LTTE, could have been averted if the UN took tangible measures against the LTTE, especially in the wake of its detention of Tamil UN employees, accused of helping civilians to flee the Vanni west.
Did Petrie probe abductions of
Did Petrie inquire into the abductions after the revelation of secret UN powwow with the LTTE, led to the UN confirmation of the incident at daily UN media briefings, in New York, by the Secretary General’s Spokesperson Montas (The Island expose of UN employees abducted by LTTE: UN HQ admits Colombo Office kept it in the dark – The Island, April 28, 2007) Beginning April 20, 2007 (LTTE detains UN workers). The Island published several news items on the issue. The TNA, or those who issued media statements at the drop of a hat, remained conveniently silent. The TNA’s decision to remain quiet is understandable due to its close working relationship with the LTTE. Many an eyebrow was raised when the European Union election monitors openly accused the Tigers of helping the TNA to win 22 seats in the North and East, in 2004, by stuffing ballot boxes on its behalf. In the following year, the TNA, on behalf of the LTTE, ordered Northern Tamils to boycott the November presidential election. CPA’s Executive Director, Dr. Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu, is the only civil society leader to criticize the LTTE-TNA move.
The LTTE and the TNA set the stage for an all-out war. The LTTE commenced claymore attacks, in early Dec 2005. In January 2006, the LTTE blasted a Navy Fast Attack Craft (FAC) off Trincomalee; in late, April 2006 they made an abortive bid to assassinate Fonseka, and in early Oct 2006 an attempt was made on Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s life. The LTTE lost the Eastern Province, eight months later.
The TNA, as well as some sections of the international community remained strongly confident of the LTTE’s military superiority, until it was evicted from Kilinochchi. The LTTE lost Kilinochchi in early January, less than two weeks after Canada-based veteran political and defence analyst D.B.S. Jeyaraj asserted that the LTTE was on the verge of reversing territorial gains made by the Army. The rest is history.
None of those who are harping today about the loss of civilian life bothered to publicly appeal to the LTTE to let go of its human shields. The TNA certainly owed an explanation why it remained silent over the LTTE taking cover behind the civilian population. Against the backdrop of the UN mollycoddling the LTTE, Prabhakaran forced Tamil civilians to follow the retreating LTTE fighting cadre from the western part of the Vanni region across the Kandy-Jaffna A9 road towards the Mullaitivu coast.
Oslo’s missive to Basil
The then Norwegian Ambassador, Tore Hattrem, acknowledged the rapidly developing crisis in the eastern part of the Vanni region, in a letter to Presidential Advisor, Basil Rajapaksa, as the Army stepped-up operations. Hattrem’s missive to Rajapaksa revealed their serious concerns over Prabhakaran’s refusal to give up human shields. The Island, some time ago, published the hitherto unknown Norwegian note, headlined ‘Offer/Proposal to the LTTE’, and personally signed by Ambassador Hattrem. The Norwegian envoy was writing to Basil Rajapaksa on behalf of those countries trying to negotiate a ceasefire between the government and the LTTE, to facilitate the release of civilians, held hostage by the latter.
The following is the text of Ambassador Hattrem’s letter, dated Feb. 16, 2009, addressed to Basil Rajapaksa: “I refer to our telephone conversation today. The proposal to the LTTE on how to release the civilian population, now trapped in the LTTE controlled area, has been transmitted to the LTTE through several channels. So far, there has been, regrettably, no response from the LTTE and it doesn’t seem to be likely that the LTTE will agree with this in the near future.“
How many civilians perished during the Vanni offensive? The UN Secretary General’s Panel of Experts (PoE) report, released on March 31, 2011, having faulted the Army, on three major counts, alleged the massacre of at least 40,000 civilians. Let me reproduce the relevant paragraph, bearing no 137, verbatim: “In the limited surveys that have been carried out in the aftermath of the conflict, the percentage of people reporting dead relatives is high. A number of credible sources have estimated that there could have been as many as 40,000 civilian deaths. Two years after the end of the war, there is no reliable figure for civilian deaths, but multiple sources of information indicate that a range of up to 40,000 civilian deaths cannot be ruled out at this stage. Only a proper investigation can lead to the identification of all of the victims and to the formulation of an accurate figure for the total number of civilian deaths.”
The PoE arrived at the figure on the basis of information provided by persons whose identities would remain confidential till 2031 (20 years since the release of POE report in March 2011). The UN has strangely guaranteed confidentiality of ‘sources’ even after the lapse of the mandatory 20-year period. Perhaps, Petrie and Pablo de Greiff should explain how the UN pushed ahead with subsequent actions against Sri Lanka, based purely on still unverified accusations made by ghost accusers. In other words, Sri Lanka was convicted by the PoE report after a kangaroo court trial. How convenient?
Having failed to obtain the anticipated response to its public call for submissions, the PoE had no option but to extend the deadline to Dec 31, 2010. The PoE posted a notice in English on the UN website on Oct 27, 2010 calling for submissions on or before Dec 15, 2010. Sinhala and Tamil versions of the notice too, were subsequently posted. The PoE received 4,000 submissions from 2,300 persons. None of them were verified at any stage of the Geneva process, leading to yet bizarre Sri Lanka co-sponsoring of the Geneva Resolution on Oct 1, 2015 against itself.
When the writer raised the issue with the UN, as well as the then UNDP Resident Representative in Colombo, Subinay Nandy, whether the UN would do away with the confidentiality clause to facilitate the UNHRC probe, the Colombo mission issued the following statement after having consulted UN headquarters. The UN said: “The High Commissioner for Human Rights will now be making arrangements for a comprehensive investigation requested by the UNHRC and the issue of the confidentiality clause will need to be considered at a later stage,” (UN to revive 20-year confidentiality clause ‘at a later stage’- The Island April 7, 2014). The UN never did. Sri Lanka never exploited the matter.
The US, the British, as well as the EU, too, in spite of their push for an international war crimes probe, recently ruled out the possibility of them calling for a review of the confidentiality clause (EU, too, won’t call for review of 20-year UN confidentiality clause – The Island April 9, 2014).
Successive governments, and even those interested in defending the country, never really bothered to examine undisputed facts that were in Sri Lanka’s favour. The incumbent administration is no exception to this type of inexcusable lapses at great cost to the country.
PoE contradicts own claims
Interestingly, the PoE report contradicted its own claim of 40,000 killings. Unlike the unsubstantiated claim of 40,000 deaths, the paragraph bearing No 134 dealt with the issue on the basis of reliable sources acceptable to the UN.
It would be pertinent to reproduce the relevant section verbatim: “The United Nations Country Team is one source of information; in a document that was never released publicly, it estimated a total figure of 7,721 killed and 18,479 injured from August 2008 up to 13 May 2009, after which it became too difficult to count. In early February 2009, the United Nations started a process of compiling casualty figures, although efforts were hindered by lack of access. An internal ‘Crisis Operating Group’ was formed to collect reliable information regarding civilian casualties and other humanitarian concerns. In order to calculate a total casualty figure, the group took figures from RDHS as the baseline, using reports from national staff of the United Nations and NGOs, inside the Vanni, the ICRC, religious authorities and other sources to cross-check and verify the baseline. The methodology was quite conservative: if an incident could not be verified by these sources or could have been double counted, it was dismissed. Figures emanating from sources that could be perceived as biased, such as Tamil Net, were dismissed, as were Government sources outside the Vanni.”
Amnesty International (AI) in Sept. 2011, launched its own report, titled: ‘When will they get justice? Failures of Sri Lanka’s Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission.’ The report estimated the number of civilian deaths, due to military action, as over 10,000. AI based its assertion on eyewitness testimony and information from aid workers.
AI, too, guaranteed confidentiality of its ‘sources.’ Perhaps for want of close cooperation among those who had wanted to drag Sri Lanka before an international tribunal, they contradicted themselves in respect of the primary charge. Interestingly, none of those, except British Labour Party MP Siobhan McDonagh (Mitcham and Morden-Labour) propagating lies, regarding civilian deaths, dared to blatantly lie in Parliament about losses suffered by the LTTE. McDonagh estimated the number of LTTE cadres killed, in fighting, from January 1, 2009, to May 19, 2009, at 60,000. Successive governments didn’t even bother to raise the Labour MP’s lie with the UK though The Island pointed out the need to clarify matters. The absurd claim was made during the third week of Sept 2011, in Parliament. Sri Lanka never realized the need to inquire into the possibility of British parliamentarians’ relationship with the Tamil Diaspora. In fact, some politicians had benefited from their relationship. The GTF hired former MP for Enfield, North Joan Ryan, as its policy advisor. Of course, the GTF had the backing of all major political parties, with key politicians participating in its inauguration in the UK Parliament, in Feb 2010, in the wake of the LTTE’s demise.
Let us hope Friday’s webinar responds to Lord Naseby disclosure pertaining to loss of lives, based on confidential cables from British High Commission in Colombo (January-May 2009) and US Defence Advisor Lt. Col. Lawrence Smith’s declaration in June 2011 (two months after the release of the PoE report). Both contradicted the position taken by British and the US. Sri Lanka never made a genuine effort to build-up a proper defence in Geneva. Sri Lanka shirked high profile opportunities to exploit startling revelations made by Wikileaks. The British are yet to release all confidential cables that dealt with the Vanni offensive, though Lord Naseby managed to secure some, following legal intervention made by him. That took over two years as the UK tried to withhold information which could have helped the UNHRC to ascertain the truth and Sri Lanka being absolved of these totally exaggerated accusations by interested parties against her.
A cable from Geneva
A cable, dated July 15, 2009, signed by the then Geneva-based US Ambassador Clint Williamson cleared the Army of crimes against humanity during the Vanni offensive. The cable, addressed to the US State Department, had been based on a confidential conversation between Ambassador Williamson and the then ICRC head of operations for South Asia, Jacque de Maio, on July 9, 2009. Ambassador Williamson wrote: “The Army was determined not to let the LTTE escape from its shrinking territory, even though this meant the civilians being kept hostage by the LTTE were at an increasing risk. So, de Maio said, while one could safely say that there were ‘serious, widespread violations of international humanitarian law,’ by the Sri Lankan forces, it didn’t amount to genocide. He could cite examples of where the Army had stopped shelling when the ICRC informed them it was killing civilians. In fact, the Army actually could have won the military battle faster, with higher civilian casualties, yet they chose a slower approach which led to a greater number of Sri Lankan military deaths. He concluded, however, by asserting that the GoSL recognized its obligation to protect civilians, despite the approach leading to higher military casualties.”
The Army lost 2,400 personnel during the January-May 2009 period. The losses were the worst suffered by the Army during the Eelam War IV (Aug 2006-May 2009). Frontline fighting formations lost a further 70 personnel, who were categorized as missing in action, in 2009. Deaths due to reasons other than combat during the same period were placed at 334. Thousands were injured. The losses suffered on the Vanni east front, during the first five months of 2009, was over 100 per cent, when compared with battlefield losses in the previous year. For the whole of 2008, the Army lost 2,174 killed and 43 missing in action.
Army Chief General Shavendra Silva told the writer that the Sri Lankan military had the wherewithal to decimate the LTTE in a far shorter period, if not for the human shields. “We paid a heavy price for being mindful of the civilian presence among the LTTE cadres. Restricted use of long range weapons, as well as air support on the Vanni east front, caused quite a bit of problems.”
The US slapped a travel ban on General Silva, in Feb 2020, over his role as the GoC of the celebrated 58 Division (which started as Task Force 1). The US move is an affront to the war-winning armed forces, who achieved their arduous task against all odds and the political leadership that backed them to the hilt, irrespective of threats to try them, too, for war crimes. Unfortunately, even the utterly unsubstantiated action against Gen. Shavendra Silva hadn’t jolted the government, as well as those genuinely interested in defending the country, to re-examine the accountability issue.
Sri Lanka’s pathetic and continuing failure has allowed Western powers to use the LTTE rump and Tamil Diaspora in a high profile project to overwhelm the country.
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.
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