“Facts are stubborn things, but statistics are pliable.” ― Mark Twain
On 12 Oct. 2017, in the course of a debate on Sri Lanka in the House of Lords, Lord Naseby (a.k.a., Michael Morris) had urged the British government, inter alia, – To “ get the UN and the UNHRC in Geneva to accept a civilian casualty level of 7,000 to 8,000, not 40,000.” in the Sri Lankan ethnic war, and – To acknowledge “that no one in the Sri Lankan Government ever wanted to kill Tamil civilians.” ( Daily Mirror, 14 Oct. 2017 – “West must remove war crime threats on SL…..” )
40,000 Vs. 7,000:
While trashing the (Darusman Report) figures of 40,000 civilian casualties as “best-guess” based, Lord Naseby had fixed the war casualty level at 7,000 to 8,000. In support of his postulation, he had cited the figures extracted from different sources , viz: UN Country Team, UTHR(J), Sri Lanka Census Dept., US envoy Robert Blake and Maj. Gen. Holmes. Most of them do not include the casualties of the closing days of fierce and intense fighting.
The nationalists and ‘patriotic’ columnists in the mainstream media in Sri Lanka and commentators in Colombo Telegraph have gaily greeted Lord Naseby’s recent manoeuvres. They believe that the “Naseby revelations” would convince the UNHRC to revisit resolution 30/1 and that Sri Lanka could wriggle out of her Geneva commitments. ( The Island, 30 Nov. 2017 – “Naseby Revelations……”).
By the way, although the LTTE also stands accused of committing serious war Crimes, it is intriguing that the “patriots” have been throwing temper tantrums at the mention of the word Geneva.
In a state of ecstasy, the patriots tend to treat the Naseby revelations as a rare discovery. The Island (ibid.) has described the disclosure as “Naseby’s…bombshell statement in the House of Lords….”
Evidently, there is nothing to find a “bombshell” in his statement. In fact, Lord Naseby had already canvassed the same issue in a previous debate in the House of Lords in Jan. 2013:
“……On the numbers killed, four reports have come out recently. One was produced by the UN Country Team, which was never published. ………….. That indicated that 7,000 were killed. A satellite analysis by the Americans indicates that fewer than 2,000 were killed within the graves that can be found. The recent census by Tamil teachers, again, indicates that just over 7,000 were killed. There were not 40,000 killed.” (House of Lords Hansard, Volume 742, 8 Jan. 2013 – Sri Lanka debate).
The only element that sets apart Nasby’s recent grandstanding is that he had since accessed the British Defence Attache dispatches.
President Sirisena himself had, on 2 Nov. 2017, written to Naseby expressing appreciation for all his efforts on behalf of Sri Lanka. In particular, the President had thanked Naseby for keeping him “periodically briefed of his efforts…” ( The Island, 16 Nov.2017 –“Prez thanks Lord Naseby” )
Lord Naseby’s predilections and preferences bear examination: Naseby has a weakness for Sri Lankan hosts and hospitality. He has been “interested in Sri Lanka for 50 years”. He is the founder-President of the All-party Parliamentary Group on Sri Lanka (and there is a pro-Tamil rival grouping of British M.Ps, called “All-Party Parliamentary Group for Tamils”). He has visited Sri Lanka many times, including two “key visits” in Jan. 2009 and March-April 2013. (Hansard, Vol. 742 – ibid). He was awarded the “ Sri Lanka Rathna” national honour “for exceptional and outstanding service to the nation.” (Daily Mirror, 14 Oct.2017 – ibid). He has been keeping President Sirisena “periodically briefed of his efforts”
Apologist for Sri Lankan govt.:
Incidentally, Peter Osborne, the chief political commentator of Daily Telegraph (UK) had some unkind words for Lord Naseby in the context of Nasby’s snarky remarks about Channel4 portrayal of the savage war in Sri Lanka:
“…… Most troublingly he has become an apologist for the Sri Lankan government…… it is essential to adhere scrupulously to the facts when it comes to an event as grave and sensitive as the massacre of the Tamils in the final stages of the Sri Lankan civil war………Lord Naseby has given misleading testimony to the House of Lords, and his remarks have been picked up in Sri Lanka and are being used in defence of the regime.”
“The rules are clear. Those who make misleading statements to Parliament must correct the record at the first opportunity. Lord Naseby has misled parliament, and thus given comfort to perpetrators of state-sponsored terror. He must return to Parliament and withdraw his allegations.” ( Colombo Telegraph, 6 June 2014 – “Lord Naseby has misled the Lords over Sri Lanka…..” )
The Lord’s attitude and antics would reveal his bias and propensity. By way of illustration:
In his opening remarks in the House of Lords, Naseby has gone out of his way to appease the ultra-nationalists in Sri Lanka:
“…..(B)ut we need to understand the history behind the current situation. In the 11th century AD Tamil Cholas invaded Sri Lanka and took over the north and north-east. Understandably, the Sinhalese were left with the remainder…...” ( Daily Mirror, 14 Oct.2017 – ibid)
Thus, Lord Naseby had digressed from the issue and proceeded to denigrate the Tamils as the progeny of alien invaders – not natives of the island – not the original inhabitants of the North-East habitats, but illegitimate occupants. Lord Naseby’s histrionics can in no way detract from our distinct heritage and the shared history with the Sinhala people. Proceedings in the House disclose that many members did not buy Naseby’s biased version and had politely disagreed with him. In the face of dissenting voices, Naseby appeared pathetic, stumbling and bumbling during intervention.
(Let me revisit the scenario):
Lord Collins of Highbury (Labour)
“…But there still is a heavy military presence in the northern part of the country, which is a serious challenge to transitional justice. The largely Sinhalese and Buddhist army engages in everyday commercial activity,…. It runs shops, restaurants and hotels, leaving local businesses unable to compete. It is common practice for the army to occupy, cultivate and harvest farmlands and sell produce back to the local community. If that continues, it is bound to increase discontent among Tamil communities……..”.
Lord Naseby (Intervening )
“As I said, I went there in February and I saw the shops being closed. I was told that there was no trading activity anymore and I checked with the traders who confirmed that. The noble Lord is right that trading was happening extensively, but it now seems to have ceased—or at any rate at least 95% ceased.” (Daily Mirror, 14 Oct. 2017 – ibid )
Lord Naseby had trivialized the serious issues of abductions and disappearances in Sri Lanka and treated them dismissively:
“ A great issue has been made of abductions. I have looked at the figures. In 2011, there were 239, with 226 now traced; in 2012, there were 225, with 207 now traced…” (Hansard, Vol. 742 – ibid )
It is not clear as to who fudged these figures for Lord Naseby. Al Jazeera reports emanating around this time said:
“Despite government claims of peace, torture and abductions continue to be used to stifle ethnic and political dissent…. Travelling to the north of Sri Lanka, we meet civilians whose loved ones are still missing after surrendering alive at the end of the war.” ( Al Jazeera, 27 Dec 2013- “Scars of Sri Lanka” )
Also, reports concerning the aborted Debate on the “Enforced Disappearances” Bill fly in the face of Naseby’s assertions: “Debate on the disappearances bill stopped by prez” (The Island, 17 Sept. 2017)
War without witnesses:
The savage war was universally known as the “War Without Witnesses.” Peter Westmore of Newsweekly, Australia, writing on the “Mass carnage of Tamils in war without witnesses ” said: “A civil war of merciless atrocity, in which tens of thousands of Tamils have been killed recently by the Sri Lankan army, came to an end last month….” (Newsweekly, June 13, 2009.)
Months before embarking on its “no-holds-barred” bloodbath campaign in 2009, Colombo had given the marching orders to all potential witnesses who could otherwise have borne testimony to the calculated carnage. “Get Out” orders targeted the whole gamut of UN agencies, Aid agencies, INGOs, NGOs, local and global media etc. Thus, the UN agencies got ready to leave Vanni in late 2008:
“Nearly 70 UN workers are to pull out from LTTE-held Kilinochchi”
“United Nations say that it is withdrawing from LTTE held territory in northern Sri Lanka. The UN statement issued from Colombo on Tuesday came after the Sri Lankan government ordered the withdrawal of all foreign and local aid workers From LTTE-held Vanni.” (BBC News, 09 Sept. 2008)
In support of his claim on casualties (i.e., 7,000 – 8,000), Lord Naseby had cited, inter alia, the UTHR(J) Report as his source material. He cannot make selective use of a piece of documentary evidence. It is relevant to see what the UTHR(J) says about the casualties.
*To be continued…..