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UK bid to hide Gash reports challenged in House of Lords

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… UNHRC avoids query whether new probe unit can seek those dispatches from Colombo

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Following the UK’s refusal to accede to Sri Lanka’s recent request for disclosing British wartime defence attaché Lt. Col. Gash’s dispatches from Colombo, Conservative member Lord Naseby has sought an explanation as regards the procedures followed by the Defence attachés in gathering and submitting information to Her Majesty’s Government.

Authoritative Sri Lankan government sources told The Island that the UK in spite of being a member of the Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) had taken extraordinary steps to keep Gash dispatches under wraps.

Sources appreciated Lord Naseby’s efforts to unravel the truth in the face of a new high-profile inquiry initiated by the UNHRC.

In response to Sri Lanka’s request made in early March, the UK faulted Gash for not obtaining independent confirmation of reports he had sent to the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) during the final phase of the Vanni offensive, only after Sri Lanka sought their release!

Sri Lankan government sources pointed out that the UK never questioned the legitimacy of its defence attaché during the conflict till over a decade after the end of the war.

The following are the questions tabled by Lord Naseby at House of Lords recently: (i) To ask Her Majesty’s Government what criteria they used to assess the credibility of evidence reports they have received which related to the situation in Sri Lanka during the civil war in that country between 1 January and 18 May 2009; and whether it has ever been their practice to accept reports from unnamed sources (ii) To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether the information contained in dispatches written by UK defence attachés must be independently verified before submission; if so, whether it is standard practice to ensure that such attachés are briefed to that effect; and if so, what record, if any, they hold of Lieutenant Colonel Gash, being so briefed (iii) To ask Her Majesty’s Government what sources they used to inform their assessment of the situation in Sri Lanka during the civil war in that country between 1 January and 18 May 2009 and finally (iv) To ask Her Majesty’s Government, further to the dispatches written by 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, whether they consider all reports by UK military attachés and diplomats to be evidence based-assessments.

At the recently concluded 46th session of the UNHRC, the UK in its capacity as Sri Lanka Co-Chair led the offensive for the setting up of special unit at a cost of USD 2.8 mn to probe Sri Lanka accountability issues.

Sri Lanka requested the UK to handover Gash dispatches to the UNHRC in the wake of the proposal to set up a special unit to ‘collect, consolidate, analyze and preserve information and evidence’ in respect of Sri Lanka. The unit is also meant for the development of required strategies to deal with the country in case of gross violations of human rights or serious violations of international humanitarian law.

Meanwhile, The Island on April 06, 2021, having obtained prior sanction submitted the following question in respect of the ‘Oral statement of programme budget implications arising from draft resolution A/HRC/46/L.1/Rev.1 of the Human Rights Council,’: (i) Is there provision for the proposed unit set up to gather evidence, information et al to ask for British HC dispatches from Colombo (January-May 2009) or diplomatic cables from any other UN member state? (ii) What remedial measures Geneva can resort to in case governments decline to cooperate?”

In spite of repeated reminders Geneva didn’t respond to The Island query.

The month-long Geneva sessions ended on March 23, with the 47-member council adopting a fresh accountability resolution with 22 countries voting for, 11 against and 14 abstaining.

 “We strongly believe those dispatches from Gash can facilitate Geneva investigations. However, the British, despite repeatedly assuring us of longstanding friendship denied credible information in their possession,” a government source familiar with accountability matters, said.

After Gash’s departure from Colombo, the UK discontinued having a resident Defence Advisor here. Instead, New Delhi-based Defence Advisor looked after matters pertaining to Sri Lanka for nearly a decade. However, in January 2019, the UK re-appointed Colonel David Ashman as their resident Defence Advisor in Colombo.

Sources pointed out that despite Lord Naseby’s disclosure of a section of the Gash reports in Oct 2017, Sri Lanka refrained from requesting examination of the dispatches till March 2021.

Gash countered the primary UN allegation (Panel of Experts’ report issued in March 2011 that the Sri Lankan military massacred 40,000 civilians. Gash estimated the number of deaths at 7,000 to 8,000, including LTTE combatants. His assessment largely tallied with a confidential UN survey (Aug 2008-May 13, 2009) that placed the number of dead at 7,721.

Sources said that the UK had taken contradictory positions as regards Gash dispatches at the hearings at the UK Information Commission following Lord Naseby’s initial bid compel disclosure and when Sri Lanka recently requested for the full disclosure of relevant dispatches. The UK owed an explanation whether those dispatches weren’t made available to POE and the Report of the OHCHR Investigation on Sri Lanka (OISL) also on the grounds they weren’t credible.

 

 



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Information Dept. media release: EC Chief asks public not to be misled

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by Priyan de Silva

Chairman of the Election Commission of Sri Lanka, Nimal Punchihewa, asked to comment on a special news release, purportedly issued by the Director General of the Department of Government Information, on Sunday (29), told  The Island  that preparations for the 09 March local government elections were going ahead, as planned, and that the media statement at issue was misleading.

The media statement says: “The gazette notice with signatures of the Chairman and other members of the Election Commission required for the commencement of the Local Government election process has not been sent to the Government Press for printing.”

Punchihewa requested the public not to be misled by any misinformation being spread in an attempt to create doubts in their minds.He also  reiterated that the EC would not be deterred by any acts of intimidation.

Three of the EC members have been threatened with death by an unidentified caller to resign from their posts. They are S. B. Divaratne, M. M. Mohamed and K. P. P. Pathirana. The Opposition has accused the government of trying to sabotage the LG polls.

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Cardinal urges Catholics to fight for justice

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 By Norman Palihawadane

Today’s Church does not need ‘sacristy Catholics’ but a laity who fight for justice, says Colombo Archbishop Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith.

Addressing a gathering at a ceremony to mark the 40th Anniversary of the Deva Dharma Nikethanaya, at Archbishop’s House auditorium, at Borella, last week, the Cardinal said that turning every layperson into a mature Christian, fit for leadership, should be the foremost duty of the Catholic Church. “Once the Catholic Church functioned as a Bishop-priest centered church and did only what the Bishop of the priest would say. We have to change the outlook of the Church. Today, we no longer need such sacristy Catholics. We need a laity who are ready to get down to the streets and fight for justice and do what is right for society,” the Cardinal said.

“The Church needs Christians who will commit themselves for Christ and follow his example. We do not need spoon-fed babies,” he said.

He said that the Bishops and Priests should not be afraid of handing over the responsibilities to the laity. “We should share our responsibilities with joy. The Church cannot continue otherwise. Understanding this situation, Pope Francis wants to change the priest-centres position that has become a theoretical doctrine in the church and to study how the church should change in a way that suits the present world.”

Apostolic Nuncio to Sri Lanka Rev Dr Brian Udaigwe and President of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference President Rt Rev Dr Harold Anthony Perera also addressed the gathering.

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Protests against 13A used to arouse communal feelings – SJB

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Protests against the implementation of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution are being used to arouse communal feelings among people ahead of an election, says the main Opposition SJB.

Addressing the media on Saturday, at the Opposition Leader’s Office in Colombo, Chief Opposition Whip, SJB Kandy District MP Lakshman Kiriella, said:

“This country has witnessed many instances in the past. This time, too, the same old slogan of the country being divided is heard again.

“The 13th Amendment is part of the Constitution. All parties have contested elections under the 13th Amendment. The UNP, SLFP, SLPP and JVP have contested provincial council elections. It shows that they have accepted the 13th Amendment. Those in such parties now opposing the 13th Amendment must first explain how they oppose it directly while accepting the same indirectly by sending their members to the provincial councils set up under the 13th Amendment,” Kiriella said.

“The claim of the country being divided by the 13th amendment is made to arouse the communal feelings.

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