Criteria for US sponsored military training is directly linked to accountability the US Government has said, urging President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s Government to pursue a mechanism to investigate allegations of gross human rights violations by its soldiers in a credible way, according to a Colombo based newspaper report.
The renewed call for credible investigations follows a decision by the US Government to reject two senior military officers for a training programme in New Zealand on the basis of accountability concerns against the two Majors General. Major General Jagath Dias who was recently put in charge of the military board of inquiry into the Weliweriya violence that claimed three lives when the army was sent in to disperse a demonstration and Major General Sudantha Ranasinghe who was recently appointed Commanding Officer of the 53 Division were rejected for training by a US foreign troop vetting system.
Quoting a US Embassy official in Colombo the Daily FT said the Washington believed there was a cloud over certain sections of the Sri Lankan security forces because of “credible allegations” against them.
“There is a limit of work the US Government can do with a particular regiment if there are credible allegations of human rights violations against them and we can’t move forward until there is a credible investigation into the allegations,” the newspaper quoted a US Embassy official as saying.
The selection of military candidates is performed through a rigorous vetting process, under the 1998 US Leahy Laws, that specifically disqualify personnel against whom “credible information” exists regarding human rights violations, the Daily FT reported.
The newspaper quotes the Embassy official as saying that there was a cloud over certain military divisions due to the allegations. The ineligibility for US facilitated training was no way permanent and could be reversed with a genuine inquiry, the newspaper reports the official said.
“The important thing is the way forward and that path is clear – a credible investigation to clear the officials and units that may be implicated,” the Embassy official explained.
The sentiments had been echoed by the former Army Commander and current Chief of Defence Staff, General Jagath Jayasuriya, who told a media conference on Wednesday (21) that there were issues with the army’s 53 and 57 Divisions, the newspaper report said.
Chief of Defence Staff General Jagath Jayasuriya who addressed a media conference yesterday said that Ranasinghe had initially been cleared for a US training after he was rejected on a previous occasion. “It is not clear why he was rejected again,” Gen. Jayasuriya said adding that in the case of Dias, he had been refused a training at the National Defence College as well because of his involvement in the 57 Division. “I think until that issue is cleared, that problem for him will keep resurfacing,” the former Army Commander admitted. “With regard to Maj. Gen. Dias a decision has to come from the top,” Jayasuriya added.
Gen. Jayasuriya said that in the case of Maj. Gen. Ranasinghe, he had raised the issue with the US Defence Attache during his tenure as Commander. “There is a problem with his Division – the 53 Division. But he was appointed to head that division very recently, not during the war, but in the case of certain divisions the whole unit is affected” he explained. He admitted that both the 53 and 57 Divisions of the Army appeared to be on a blacklist because of the allegations of rights abuses.
The Daily FT report quoted US Embassy officials as saying they hoped the government of Sri Lanka would make use of High Commissioner Navi Pillay’s visit to obtain her assistance to set up a credible investigative mechanism to inquire into alleged rights abuses by its troops.
The US believes a credible investigation would need to be transparent and its results made public, the report said.
According to Daily FT, the US Embassy vouches for the US Government vetting process for foreign troops and explains that the US cannot provide training to military personnel from Sri Lanka or anywhere in the world against whom there are “credible allegations” of rights abuses, under US law.
The vetting process for US sponsored military training is exhaustive and information regarding allegations against individual officers and units are based on the US State Department report, the UN Panel of Experts findings, multiple sourcing and research, the newspaper quotes the US official as saying. the official said.
Maj. Gen. Dias who served as Sri Lanka’s deputy ambassador to Germany, accredited to Switzerland and the Vatican was hastily recalled to Colombo in 2011 after the Swiss Attorney General nearly opened a criminal investigation following a complaint filed by two Swiss human rights advocacy groups.
“The federal judicial authority considers that “the existing suspicions against him are enough to justify the opening of a criminal investigation” in the event that Mr Dias comes back to Switzerland,” the Swiss Federal Attorney General said in 2011. The complaint did not proceed to investigation stage on the grounds that Maj Gen. Dias was no longer present in Swiss territory.
Maj. Gen. Jagath Dias who commanded the 57th Division of the Sri Lankan Army, which is accused of intensive shelling of civilians, hospitals and religious sites, the Swiss criminal complaint against him said, calling him a war criminal. Having served under Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa in Matale during the JVP insurrection, Dias is a defence establishment favourite.