By Brian Senewiratne –
High Commissioner for Human Rights
Promoting reconciliation, accountability and human rights in Sri Lanka
Dear High Commissioner Bachelet
I am writing to express my outrage of the document released at the 40th Session of the UN HCHR
25 February – 22 March 2019.
I am an Australian, originally from Sri Lanka, ethnically a Sinhalese from the majority community and not from the brutalised Tamil community. I have campaigned for the past 70 years for the right of the Tamil people to live with equality, dignity and without discrimination in the country of their birth, Sri Lanka.
I am, like you, a doctor of medicine. I am not a politician but sadly I come from a family that has produced two Prime Ministers and a President, all of whom have wrecked Sri Lanka.
I have published numerous articles, some of which have been collected in a book “The struggle for Justice of the Tamil people of Sri Lanka” which will be sent to you when it is published. I have already published a book “Sri Lanka: Sexual Violence of Tamils by the Armed Forces”. The 1st Edition was published in April 2015, and the 2nd Edition in April 2017. The book has doubled in size and is now 265 pages. It indicates the rate at which sexual violence is progressing. The Foreword was written by a Senator in the Australian parliament. It was handed over to Justice Navanethem Pillay, one of the finest UN Human Rights Commissioners your organisation will ever have. She wrote to me thanking me for writing the book and thanking me for sending her a copy.
In March 2009, Canadians for Genocide Education – an umbrella organization comprising some 48 multiracial and multi-religious organizations selected me to receive the prestigious ‘Educators Award’. I accepted the Award and spoke on “Peace with Justice in Sri Lanka. Genocide of Sri Lankan Tamils. Its causes and solution”.
In April 2018, I was awarded the Nelson Mandela Memorial Award presented to a person from any country who is deemed to be promoting peace and reconciliation and for fearlessly advocating on behalf of War Victims, Refugees, Stateless persons, Victims of Torture, prisoners of conscience, ethnic and national minorities and de-territorialised population in any country or State across the globe. I was only the second person in the world to receive this Award, the first being Yasmin Sooka the Executive Director of the Foundation for Human Rights, South Africa.
I am writing all this to get the point across to you that where Sri Lanka is concerned, I know what I am talking about.
106 Tamil Diaspora Groups
On 1 March 2019, in an unprecedented show of solidarity, 106 Tamil diaspora groups around the world, jointly urged the UNHRC: 1) Not to give any more additional time to Sri Lanka stating that giving an extension of time will permanently deny justice for the Tamils. 2) To refer Sri Lanka to the International Criminal Court (ICC) or to specifically create an internationally credible tribunal for Sri Lanka and 3) To appoint a UN Special Rapporteur to Sri Lanka to monitor and report to the Council every six months about the plight of the war affected and other international human rights and humanitarian issues.
Not one of these was done. 106 Tamil diaspora groups consist of more than a million people.
Tamil areas in Sri Lanka come to a standstill
On 17 March 2019, tens of thousands of Tamils held a massive protest rally in the northern city of Jaffna, Sri Lanka, against attempts to give any extension time to Sri Lanka by the UN Human Rights Council for War Crimes and Crimes Against Humanity including sexual assaults and rape committed by the Sri Lankan Security Forces.
They also urged the UN HRC to refer Sri Lanka to the International Criminal Court and appoint a Special Rapporteur for the war affected.
The Tamil areas came to a standstill. Schools, shops, offices and markets shut down in solidarity with the rally. Busses and other public transportation vehicles did not operate. Very few private vehicles were seen on the roads.
High Commissioner, it is a matter of serious concern if tens of thousands of ordinary civilians protest. They are the people on the ground that have to put up with the dreadful situation in the Tamil North and East which I will set out below.
I have two Submissions. One of them is an extensive 31-page document which was obviously written by you. The other is a 2-page scrap of paper that says nothing. I gather that it was this useless document put together by the “Core Group” on Sri Lanka that was finally released as the UN HRC document on Sri Lanka.
I was going to deal with your document in detail but since it is not going anywhere, I thought it was an exercise in futility. I will therefore deal with just a few points – if only for your information.
You have gone into everything in detail except the things that matter. You do not mention that the Tamil North and East are not under the Sri Lankan government but under the military/police. This of crucial importance – far more important than anything you have dealt with.
You have not commented on the massive Military – much larger than the military in France or the UK. Is this not important?
You have not even mentioned the mass relocation by the Government of Sinhalese from the South into the Tamil North and East – “Sinhalisation’ of the Tamil areas to use a new word. If this goes on at the current rate, there the entire North and East will be full of Sinhalese and there will be no Tamil ‘homeland’. The agenda of the Sinhalese government is to make multiethnic, multicultural, multireligious, multilingual Sri Lanka into a Sinhala-Buddhist nation. What then happens to the Tamils who are not Sinhalese or Buddhists? Is that acceptable?
You state that “No developments were reported in 2018 with regard to the case filed in 201 by several human rights groups in Brazil and Columbia, under universal jurisdiction principles against retired Army General Jagath Jayasuriya”. What you do not say is what you propose to do about this. Let it die a natural death?
In paragraph 57 you express concern at the appointment if Major General Shavendra Silva as the Chief of Staff of the Sri Lanka Army. You go on to state that he was the commanding officer of the 58th Army Division during the last stages of the war, and allegations were documented against troops under his command with violations of international humanitarian law and international human rights law, including by the Panel of Experts on Accountability in Sri Lanka appointed by the Secretary-General in its report and the OHCHR on Sri Lanka. What you fail to point out is that this man was a Major General under the Army Commander, who in turn was under the so-called ‘Defence Secretary’, Gotabaya Rajapaksa, the former President’s brother. There is overwhelming evidence that Gotabaya Rajapaksa gave orders directly to those in the Armed Forces, some of which were to execute those who had who had surrendered – the “White Flag” murder. To execute those who have surrendered and are Hors de Combat is a serious war crime.
I need hardly draw your attention to “Command Responsibility”- the Yamashita standard – which is a legal doctrine of hierarchical accountability for war crimes. The Japanese General Tomoyuki Yamashita was prosecuted in 1945 for atrocities committed by troops under his command in the Philippines during World War 11. He was charged in a military court in the Philippines with “unlawfully disregarding and failing to discharge his duty as a commander to control the acts of members of his command by permitting them to commit war crimes”. The court found Yamashita guilty and sentenced him to death. He appealed the sentence to General MacArthur, who refused to alter it. He then appealed to the Supreme Court of the Philippines and the Supreme Court of the United States, both of which declined to review the verdict An appeal for clemency was made to U.S. President Harry S. Truman, who declined to intervene. Yamashita was sent back to the Philippines where he was executed by hanging.
Just for the record, on 23 December 1948, Yamashita’s chief of staff in the Philippines, Akira Mutō, was executed after having been found guilty of war crimes by the International Military Tribunal for the Far East.
High Commissioner Bachelet, there are several ‘Yamashitas’ in Sri Lanka, some in military uniform and others not in military uniform. They must all be charged. My concern is that one of them might be the next President of Sri Lanka.
I refer again to paragraph 51 of your document. “Some segments of civil society have continued to call for international investigations and for the Security Council to refer the situation in Sri Lanka to the International Criminal Court (ICC) for international prosecutions and adjudication of those most responsible for these crimes”. High Commissioner, this is not something that civil society can do. It is something that you must do. You must be realistic. Do you seriously believe that if any member of civil society which I am part of asks the Security Council to refer Sri Lanka to the ICC it will be taken seriously? If you do, you are not in the real world.
You go on: “The High Commissioner once again encourages Member States to prosecute Sri Lankans suspected of crimes against humanity, war crimes and other gross violations of human rights……” Could you name just one Member State likely to do this? You must know that China, a supporter of Sri Lanka for geopolitical reasons is a member of the Security Council and will veto anything that adversely affects Sri Lanka. That is the reality of the Security Council and the UN and probably the UN HRC.
In your detailed account, you go into every problem in Sri Lanka except the problems of the most disadvantaged and discriminated group – the Plantation (Indian) Tamils. It was when they were disenfranchised and decitizenised in 1948 that I got involved in all this. I was only a 16 year old student when I lodged a protest in my school and two weeks later delivered my first public address. It is too long ago for me to remember what I said. All I remember is the title of my talk: “A bad start for Democracy” and that some 2,000 people rose to their feet when I stopped.
I have been in touch with these unfortunate people and find that little has changed in the past 70 years. They are still slave labourers who live and work in impossible conditions. They have no human rights. Just to mention their plight might make a difference.
I can go on but this document is getting too long.
Now for the second document, the two pages on nonsense put together by the Core Group on Sri Lanka. It is so absurd that there is nothing I can comment on. It says nothing – absolutely nothing, except to give Sri Lanka another 2-year extension to do what it has done all these past 10 years.
It is worrying that one country in this Core Group was the UK. It was colonial Britain that did some of the dreadful things that has resulted in the current mess. There is an entire Chapter on this in my next book which I have referred to and which I will send you when it is published.
It is worrying and sad to see that Canada was another country in the Core Group. Canada is a decent country which is why so many Tamil asylum seekers from Sri Lanka have gone there. I would have expected Canada to stand up for the victims in the Tamil North and East of Sri Lanka which Canada has not done.
*To be continued…