By Dayan Jayatilleka –
While a credible domestic inquiry into specific allegations of war crimes and crimes against humanity as recommended by the LLRC and/or a structured dialogue mechanism with the TNA and the Northern Provincial Council for the full implementation of the 13th amendment would enable Sri Lanka to defeat, delay or dilute a resolution in Geneva in March this year, the absence of transparent and credible progress on these two tracks, and the Rajapaksa administration’s overall political behaviour in the post-war half decade, are not the reasons why Sri Lanka is being targeted. This is manifestly evident because the EU had a draft Resolution against Sri Lanka in Geneva in 2006—which was successfully challenged by Sri Lankan Mission in the latter half of 2007 resulting in its removal from the agenda. Much more significantly, the West concertedly targeted this country in the diplomatic arena in Feb-May 2009, before the end of the war. Indeed an effort was made to bring a resolution against Sri Lanka during the 10th UN HRC session of March 2009 which was successfully resisted by the Sri Lankan team.
The evidence of the campaign against Sri Lanka is a matter of transparent public record, in the British parliament, no less. It is contained in a public document prepared for and bearing the logo of the UK House of Commons Library, entitled ‘War and Peace in Sri Lanka, Research Paper 9/51’ dated June 5th 2009. It says that ‘This paper replaces Standard Note SN/IA/4326, War and Peace in Sri Lanka.’
The House of Commons Research Paper runs to 86 pages. It says “this information is provided to Members of Parliament in support of their parliamentary duties”. The three contributing authors bear the following names and descriptions: Jon Lunn, “political and diplomatic issues, international affairs and defence section”, Claire Taylor “Military issues, International affairs and defence section, and Ian Townsend “Development and humanitarian issues, economic policy and statistics Section”. Interestingly it is also stated that “authors are available to discuss the content of this briefing with Members [of Parliament] and their staff, but not with the general public”. (My emphasis-DJ)
The Table of Contents lists the chapter headings as: ‘1. Background 2. International Relations 3. The Sri Lankan Military: an Overview 4. Aid and development in Sri Lanka’ 5. Future Prospects. There are four appendices, the third of which, Appendix C, is the Text of the Genocide Convention (1951).
One sincerely hopes that the Sri Lankan High Commissioner in London in June 2009, the date of lodging of the Report in the House of Commons, sent the full text to those in authority in Colombo, with a political briefing note.
As the Report documents, the moves against Sri Lanka — which the authors regard with approval, of course—commenced in earnest in early February 2009 with a joint attempt by the US and the UK at very high levels to halt the military campaign which was set to liberate and reunify the country which had suffered three decades of warfare by the secessionist terrorist Tigers. The account gives the lie to the nonsensical argument that the USA was not driving the moves against Sri Lanka in Geneva in 2009, and that the USA came into the picture in 2012, and that this is why Sri Lanka was able to prevail in Geneva in 2009 but not in 2012-2013. In fact the document refers to the EU as having ‘also taken the position’ articulated by the US-UK, thus clearly indicating the drivers of the effort.
“International concern about the growing humanitarian crisis in the North grew significantly in February. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton joined with UK Foreign Secretary David Miliband on 4 February in calling , in the short term, for a temporary ceasefire (subsequently more generally referred to as a humanitarian pause)…and, in the longer term, for an end to all hostilities and a resumption of political negotiations to bring about a permanent settlement. This position was also taken by other key international stakeholders such as the EU, Norway and Japan”. (p. 20)
The dateline of the effort to stop the war, the identities of the key partners, and the real beginning of the deterioration of relations between Sri Lanka and the West, is re-stated in the Report as follows:
“…Having been viewed for many decades as a trusted international ally, relations between the UK and the Sri Lankan Governments have deteriorated considerably…The downward turn in relations really began when Foreign Secretary David Miliband joined with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on 4 February  in calling, at a moment when the sri Lankan Government believed itself to be on the verge of a military victory over the LTTE, for a temporary ceasefire…’ (p37)
The House of Commons Research Report tracks the steps that were taken to try to stop military operations.
“Efforts to get Sri Lanka onto the formal agenda of the UN Security Council were stymied by Russia and China, although a press statement was eventually issued”. (p21)
What is little known, but is confirmed by the House of Commons Report is that there was an effort made to move seriously against Sri Lanka in March 2009 in Geneva, so as to secure a UN mandate to stop the war, but that this effort to abort military operations was stopped in its tracks by the Sri Lankan team in Geneva.
“Efforts at the 10th session of the UN HRC in March 2009 to win agreement to hold a special session on Sri Lanka were unsuccessful despite support from some European countries.” (p43)
The next step was in late April 2009 when “the US State Department issued the following statement after a conference call between representatives of the Tokyo Co-Chairs on 25 April”, the concluding paragraph of which reads as follows:
“We further call on the Government of Sri Lanka and Tamil Tigers to end hostilities. We urge the Tamil Tigers lay down arms to a neutral third party. We further urge the Government of Sri Lanka to offer amnesty to most Tamil Tigers and to devise a clear resettlement plan and to open the way for a political dialogue”. (p 25)
This was just as the Sri Lankan armed forces were closing in on the fascist enemy to deal it a death blow. Thus the excesses committed by the Sri Lankan armed forces must also be understood in the context of an effort to outrun a serious Western effort to halt the fighting and reopen political dialogue with the Tigers!
As tracked by the UK House of Commons Research report, the moves on Sri Lanka reached a climax in the month extending from end-April to end-May 2009, with a sharp spike in the ten days May 18th to May 28th 2009. As the record shows these moves involved, or were driven, by the UK and the US.
“An EU diplomatic mission comprising UK Foreign Secretary David Miliband and his Swedish and French counterparts was mandated to visit Sri Lanka and did so on April 29th 2009…” (p27)
“On 12 May US and UK Governments issued a further joint statement on the situation in Sri Lanka: ‘…Secretary Clinton and Foreign Secretary Miliband call on all sides to end hostilities immediately…’ ” (p30)
On the next day, May 13th, the world’s heaviest political hitter added his voice once again to the call for a ceasefire, before the decapitation of the LTTE.
“On 13 May President Obama again called for a ceasefire on humanitarian grounds…” (p30)
Pressure was building up on and in Geneva also because the UN Secretary-General had issued a statement on May 11th to “explore all possibilities to bring the conflict to an end without further bloodshed” and the Security Council had issued a Press statement on Sri Lanka expressing concern over the use of heavy weapons, on the same day as President Obama’s statement, May 13th 2009. The UK House of Commons Research Report evaluates its significance as follows:
“…Russia and China…have blocked more concerted efforts by other members of the Security Council…However, the mounting humanitarian crisis in the north eventually led the Security Council to issue a press statement on Sri Lanka on 13 May…the issuing of the press statement was widely interpreted as a setback for the Sri Lankan Government and a signal that it could not rely on Russian or Chinese protection irrespective of its actions…” (p42)
Meanwhile the campaign was intensifying in Europe and its centre of gravity shifting to the UNHRC.
“On 18 May…the European Council issued a statement. Member states came out in favour of holding an independent investigation into allegations that both the Sri Lankan Government and the LTTE had committed war crimes.” (p27)
The House of Commons Report quotes a story in the Washington Post of May 21, 2009 in support of its observation that:
“Following UN and EU led calls for an independent inquiry into whether either party to the conflict in Sri Lanka has committed war crimes, the US administration expressed its support for the proposal through its ambassador in Colombo, Robert Blake.” (p 31)
That May 18, 2009 statement contained in point 3, the following sentences:
“The EU calls for the alleged violations of these laws to be investigated through an independent inquiry. Those accountable must be brought to justice.” (p27)
The Report reveals at least one important source of the Western pressure on Sri Lanka and records that 2009 was punctuated by debates in the British parliament on the war.
“Protests by the UK-based Tamil community began to have an increased impact on the British political scene during 2009. This contributed to a marked increase in the number of debates on Sri Lanka held in the House of Commons. The most recent debates took place on April 29 and 14 May . (p 38)
UK Foreign Secretary David Miliband, making a statement in the House of Commons on May 19, 2009, made a clear reference to the investigation of alleged war crimes, making a causative link between such an investigation and post-war reconciliation:
“I endorse the conclusions reached at the European Council on 18 May calling for alleged violations of international humanitarian and human rights law to be investigated through an independent inquiry and for those accountable to be brought to justice. This could play an important role in the post–conflict reconciliation process.” (p 40).
Thanks to Wikileaks we know that the US was no passive observer and had already begun to move. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton herself had sent cable to the US Permanent Mission in Geneva with instructions to support a special session on Sri Lanka, obtain votes in favour of a resolution which the US would help draft, and deny the Sri Lankan Govt a victory.
“Mission Geneva is requested to convey to the Czech Republic and other like-minded members of the HRC that the USG supports a special session on the human rights situation in Sri Lanka and related aspects of the humanitarian situation. Mission is further requested to provide assistance, as needed, to the Czech Republic in obtaining others signatures to support holding this session…Mission is also instructed to engage with HRC members to negotiate a resolution as an outcome of this special session, if held. Department believes that a special session that does not result in a resolution would be hailed as a victory by the Government of Sri Lanka. Instructions for line edits to the resolution will be provided by Department upon review of a draft” [Cable dated 4 May 2009 from Secretary of State United States).
The House of Commons Report says:
“The EU also threw its weight behind efforts to convene a special session of the UN Human Rights Council on Sri Lanka. At this session, which took place on 26-27 May, the EU was a strong supporter of failed efforts to mandate the Human Rights Council to conduct an independent investigation into alleged war crimes. The European Council expressed its disappointment in a press statement on 28 May.” (p28)
The EU Council press statement of May 28th 2009 said:
“The EU regrets that it was not possible for the Human Rights Council to agree on an acceptable outcome of the Special session addressing the serious human rights violations and the humanitarian crisis in Sri Lanka. The EU (together with a number of other countries) in line with the statements given by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navanethem Pillay, as well as by a group of UN Rapporteurs at the opening of the Special Session, made all efforts to achieve a constructive outcome calling on the Government of Sri Lanka ….to call for an independent investigation of human rights violations and to ensure adequate follow up during one of the coming sessions of the Human Rights Council. We regret that the proposals presented by the EU to amend the Sri Lankan draft resolution could neither be discussed nor considered by the Council as a ‘closure of debate’ rule was invoked by Cuba and supported by a majority of Council members.” (p 28)”
The House of Commons Report leaves no room for ambiguity about the sequence of events, the positions adopted by the global players and the outcome:
“On 18 May the EU called for an independent war crimes inquiry. The US has added its voice in support of these calls. However at a Special session of the Human Rights Council on Sri Lanka which took place on 26-27 May, Western attempts to include such a call in the final resolution were comfortably defeated by Sri Lanka and its allies.” (p23)
The British parliamentary Research Report makes clear that the outcome in Geneva in May 2009 had beaten back the ‘war crimes’ issue:
“…Japan has not come out in favour of the proposal that an independent investigation should be held into allegations that both the Sri Lankan Government and the LTTE committed war crimes. When the Sri Lankan Government and its allies succeeded in getting a resolution passed which made no mention of such an investigation at the Human Rights Council’s special session on Sri Lanka on 26-27 May, Japan abstained rather than opposing the resolution.” (p34)
The stakes in Geneva in May 2009 are made unambiguously clear in the Research report as follows:
“As the above statement (of Foreign Secretary Miliband) confirms, the UK Government has been a strong supporter of calls for an independent investigation into allegations that both the Sri Lankan Government and the LTTE committed war crimes. It supported the unsuccessful EU-led efforts to pass a resolution at the 26-27 May  Special session of the Human rights council on Sri Lanka that would have authorised the Council to establish such an investigation.” (p40)
The concluding reference to the UNHRC Geneva in the UK House of Commons Research Report enables us to comprehend the stakes involved in the battle in the Geneva arena almost five years ago, the time and space bought for Sri Lanka by its diplomatic success in the Human Rights Council.
“However attempts to secure such a session continued and a special session eventually took place on 26-27 May. The Sri Lankan Government marshalled support from China, Russia , India , Pakistan and other countries to prevent a critical resolution being passed. Despite the efforts of a range of Western governments, there was no call in the resolution that was eventually passed for an international war crimes investigation like the one it had mandated earlier in the year with regard to the conflict in Gaza. Nor was there a call for the Sri Lankan Government to give humanitarian aid organizations unimpeded access…” (p43)
Tragically, soon after this accomplishment, the Sri Lankan authorities themselves commenced self-destructively dismantling the achievement, rendering the country, the state and the armed forces vulnerable once again.