The International Centre for Prevention and Prosecution Genocide (ICPPG) has today expressed severe disappointment with the Buckingham Palace’s decision to invite Sri Lankan Sinhalese activist Vishaka Dhramadasa as the key note speaker at the International Women’s Day event at Buckingham Palace.
The organization, writing to the Queen, said, “the choice at this time of a Sinhalese mother of soldier who went missing 21 years ago to be so heavily promoted by the UK Government is controversial in the light of ongoing protests by thousands of Tamil mothers in NE Sri Lanka some of whose children disappeared in army custody more recently.”
“The 8 March event in the Palace was billed as both Women in Peace and Security and the Preventing Sexual Violence Initiative. Mrs. Dharmadasa has not worked on investigating or preventing sexual violence to our knowledge, but her organisation was strongly endorsed by Sri Lanka’s most controversial alleged war criminal, Shavendra Silva, in a speech to the UNGA in 2014,” the ICPPG said.
We publish below the letter in full:
Her Majesty the Queen
DECISION TO INVITE MRS. VISHAKA DHARMADASA TO BE THE SOLE KEY NOTE SPEAKER AT THE INTERNATIONAL WOMEN’S DAY EVENT AT BUCKINGHAM PALACE
We, the ICPPG, an International Non-Governmental Organisation and Independent Legal Body representing the victims of torture and sexual violence from Sri Lanka, write to question the decision to invite Mrs. Vishaka Dharmadasa to be the sole key note speaker at the International Women’s Day event at Buckingham Palace on 8th March with the Countess of Wessex and Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon*.
In no way do we wish to diminish the important work Mrs. Dharmadasa has done in the past on behalf of missing soldiers’ families in Sri Lanka and we are deeply respectful of her own personal tragedy – the disappearance of her son when he was fighting in the war in 1998. Everyone has suffered in this conflict, including soldiers’ families.
However, the choice at this time of a Sinhalese mother of soldier who went missing 21 years ago to be so heavily promoted by the UK Government is controversial in the light of ongoing protests by thousands of Tamil mothers in NE Sri Lanka some of whose children disappeared in army custody more recently. It is also controversial to pick someone from an army family as on Friday the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights released her latest report on Sri Lanka which found that torture and sexual violence by the police and army targeting Tamils continued throughout 2016-18**. The High Commissioner’s monitoring report is part of a Resolution for which the UK is the pen holder so it must take note of its findings.
Indeed, we understand Mrs. Dharmadasa’s eldest son is still in the army and was present at the frontline in 2009 receiving captured or surrendered Tamil fighters. Since he belongs to the Artillery Regiment there is also a chance his unit could have been involved in the indiscriminate shelling of civilian objects described in harrowing details in a succession of UN reports. This means he’d likely be barred from a UN peacekeeping job.
On one point of fact we also understand Mrs. Dharmadasa in her speech at the Palace claimed she had mediated the 2002 ceasefire in Sri Lanka – that was actually the Norwegian government.
The 8 March event in the Palace was billed as both Women in Peace and Security and the Preventing Sexual Violence Initiative***. Mrs. Dharmadasa has not worked on investigating or preventing sexual violence to our knowledge, but her organisation was strongly endorsed by Sri Lanka’s most controversial alleged war criminal, Shavendra Silva, in a speech to the UNGA in 2014****.
We understand Mrs Dharmadasa’s position has been that sexual violence by the military is just the work of a few rotten apples rather than “systematic crimes”. We refer you to the 2015 UN investigation report (also backed by the UK Government) which shows this approach is a subtle form of denial:
“All of the information gathered by OISL indicates that incidents of sexual violence were not isolated acts but part of a deliberate policy to inflict torture (to obtain information, intimidate, humiliate, inflict fear). The practices followed similar patterns, using similar tools over a wide range of detention locations, time periods, and security forces, reinforcing the conclusion that it was part of an institutional policy within the security forces.” (para 591 A/HRC/30/CRP.2)
While there of course should be a role for women like Mrs Dharmadasa, who in 2000 led a delegation of mothers of soldiers to see the LTTE to try and find out what had happened to their sons, it does seem very odd not at least to balance her with a Tamil woman who is currently struggling to learn the truth about her son or daughter.
This choice also raises concern that in November’s PSVI meeting in London there will be a repeat of the 2014 situation where Tamil activists and victims were completely written out of the agenda. There are literally thousands of Tamil asylum seekers in London, many of whom suffered sexual violence at the hands of state forces. We hope, given the size and importance of the Tamil community in the UK’s political life, these victims will be given prominence at the PSVI event, along with the Tamil mothers still bravely protesting in the northeast of the island. Indeed, we would welcome Mrs Dharmadasa’s participation so she could be sensitised as to what the Tamil community has been through.
Please contact me if you require further clarification/information.
Your Majesty’s humble
Miss Ambihai Seevaratnam BSc, MSc, FCCA, MBA
Director, Country Co-ordinator and an Executive Member of ICPPG
***https://mobile.twitter.com/FCOHumanRights – “”HRH the Countess of Wessex hosted an exclusive #InternationalWomensDay reception at Buckingham Palace today… announcing her commitment to championing the UK’s work on #WomenPeaceSecurity and #PSVI.” Read more here: (link: https://bit.ly/2EVUB8J) bit.ly/2EVUB8J”
****“A local NGO called the Parents of Servicemen Missing in Action and Association of War Affected Women educates soldiers, youth, and community leaders about international standards relating to war and promotes the economic and social development of women across conflict lines.” Statement by Ambassador Major General Shavendra Silva, Deputy Permanent Representative and Charge d’Affaires UN Security Council Open Debate “Women and peace and security” 25th April 2014, New York. http://www.innercitypress.com/srilanka1rapereporticp042514.pdf
1) Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon – Minister of State (Foreign and Commonwealth Office) House of Lords, SW1A 0PW
2) Preventing Sexual Violence InitiativeForeign and Commonwealth Office King Charles Street, London – SW1A 2AH
3) The Rt. Hon Jeremy Hunt MP – Secretary of State for Foreign & Commonwealth Affairs Foreign & Commonwealth Office
4) The Rt. Hon Mark Field, MP – Minister of State for Asia and the Pacific Foreign & Commonwealth Office