Colombo Telegraph

WikiLeaks: Sri Lanka Desire To Take Care Of Its Problems On Its Own – UNHCR To US

“Moreau reviewed the fairly positive experience two years ago when 200,000 people were displaced and then returned to the east. She said that the GSL had done a pretty good job in cleaning up the areas of conflict (including de-mining), putting local administration in place and getting some infrastructure and other recovery projects off the ground. This gave the GSL a good model to use, though Moreau expected that the challenges in the north would be even greater, and thus far the GSL’s approach had been less accommodating. There were also reports that mining was much more extensive and the administrative and infrastructure needs (including schools and hospitals) were much greater in the north.” the US Mission to UN informed Washington.

The Colombo Telegraph found the related leaked cable from the WikiLeaks database. The “Confidential” cable discuses what had happened on the ground during and since the conflict. The cable was signed by the US Ambassador to Geneva Clint Williamson on July 15, 2009.

After a meeting with Pascale Moreau, UNHCR,s Acting Director for Asia, the ambassador wrote; “Finally, she noted that it is not yet clear whether the international humanitarian agencies will be asked to play any role in the return of IDPs. She stressed that the GSL wanted to maintain complete control of the process, both for security reasons, but also out of a sense of pride and desire to take care of its problems on its own.”

Other related stories to this cable;

WikiLeaks: It’s Not Genocide, Army Could Have Won The Battle With Higher Civilian And Less Army Casualties – ICRC To US Mission To UN

WikiLeaks: LTTE Stored Weapons At Hospitals – ICRC To US Mission To UN

WikiLeaks: Govt. Restricted Blood Bags, ICRC Stopped Counting Dead Children Because No Blood Available – ICRC To US Mission To UN

WikiLeaks: Wrap Up ICRC Operations – Gota Sent A Straightforward Message – ICRC To US Mission To UN

WikiLeaks: US Had Limited Access To War Zone, Preparing War Crimes Report Is Extremely Difficult – US Ambassador 

WikiLeaks: Key Concerns In Screening Centers, Family Separation And Sexual Violence – UNHCR To US

WikiLeaks: Navi Pillay Faced Serious Opposition Within The UN To Her Call For International Investigation On Sri Lanka – Pillay’s Deputy To US

Read the cable below for further details;

C O N F I D E N T I A L GENEVA 000584 

SIPDIS 

E.O. 12958: DECL: 07/15/2029 
TAGS: CE MOPS PGOV PHUM PREF PREL
SUBJECT: SRI LANKA: S/WCI AMB. WILLIAMSON'S GENEVA MEETINGS 

Classified By: Peter F. Mulrean, RMA Counselor, Reasons 1.4 b and d. 

------- 
Summary 
------- 

¶1. (C) S/WCI Amb. Williamson met with representatives of 
ICRC, OHCHR and UNHCR July 9 to discuss the recent conflict 
in Sri Lanka in relation to a Congressional reporting 
requirement in recent supplemental funding legislation.   His 
interlocutors presented a complex picture of what had 
happened on the ground during and since the conflict.  ICRC 
stated that, while clear violations of International 
Humanitarian Law (IHL) had occurred, Sri Lankan forces had 
also made efforts to limit civilian casualties.  Likewise, 
LTTE,s mixing with civilians was to be condemned, but it 
remained difficult to define exactly when such mixing 
constitutes the use of human shields.  ICRC was damning of 
the GSL,s restrictions on humanitarian relief, which cost 
countless lives for no apparent reason.  The GSL has asked 
ICRC to wrap up its operations in Sri Lankan.  ICRC is 
accommodating by shutting some sub-offices, but hopes to stay 
on the ground, as it believes its conflict-related work is 
far from done.  OHCHR sees the Congressional call for 
reporting as positive high-level attention to credible 
accusations of breaches of humanitarian and human rights law. 
 It is calling for an international investigation of these 
accusations, but is facing resistance from other UN agencies 
that need the cooperation of the GSL to carry out activities 
on the ground.  UNHCR is focused on the current situation in 
the IDP camps, as well as the need to prepare for returns of 
IDPs.  Conditions in the camps are improving, but remain 
unacceptable.  UNHCR is concerned that the GSL could force 
IDPs to return home or to other locations.  Its experience 
two years ago with the GSL on the displacement and return of 
200,000 people in the east was relatively positive, though 
UNHCR believes the challenges of returning an even larger 
group to the north will be much greater.  End summary. 

------------------------------------- 
Overview of Congressional Requirement 
------------------------------------- 

¶2. (SBU) S/WCI Amb. Clint Williamson met July 9 in separate 
meetings with Jacque de Maio, ICRC Head of Operations for 
South Asia, Kwang-wha Kang, UN Deputy High Commissioner for 
Human Rights and Pascale Moreau, UNHCR Acting Director for 
Asia.  He was accompanied by S/WCI Shaun Coughlin, RMA 
Counselor and PSA Counselor.  In all the meetings, Amb. 
Williamson outlined the Congressional language attached to 
the recent supplemental funding legislation requiring the 
Secretary to report back within 45 days on reports of war 
crimes during the recent fighting in Sri Lanka, including to 
the extent possible, identification of perpetrators of such 
crimes.  Williamson noted that the USG had limited access to 
the conflict zone and therefore it will be extremely 
difficult to present conclusive evidence about exactly what 
happened during the conflict, let alone who was responsible. 
Therefore, the Department would have to rely in large part on 
reports from open sources, NGOs, and International 
Organizations that were on the ground or otherwise active on 
Sri Lanka during the fighting.  Looking at the two sides in 
the conflict (Sri Lankan military and the LTTE), Williamson 
said that the most obvious areas of focus would be the 
LTTE,s reported use of human shields and child labor, as 
well as alleged executions of civilians attempting to flee 
the conflict zone.  For the GSL, the focus would be on the 
potential disproportionate use of force and reports of 
disappearances of individuals during the screening of the 
population in the north. 

------------------------------------ 
ICRC - Violations of IHL, but in a Complex Environment 
------------------------------------ 

¶3. (C) Jacques de Maio, ICRC,s Head of Operations for South 
Asia, began by stating that, because of ICRC,s strict 
confidentiality rules, he would be unable to share any 
specific information regarding allegations of crimes by 
either side, nor would he be able to direct Williamson to 
sources.  That said, de Maio engaged in a lengthy discussion 
of the conflict and offered a nuanced view of the complex 
situation on the ground.  For example, he said that the Sri 
Lankan military was somewhat responsive to accusations of 
violations of International Humanitarian Law (IHL) and was 
open to adapting its actions to reduce casualties, but only 
to the extent that this would not undermine its overriding 
military objective - to destroy the LTTE.  The army was 
determined not to let the LTTE escape from its shrinking 
territory, even though this meant the civilians being kept 
hostage by the LTTE were at increasing risk.  So, de Maio 
said, while one could safely say that there were "serious, 
widespread violations of IHL," by the Sri Lankan forces, it 
did not amount  to genocide.  He could site  examples of 
where the army had stopped shelling when ICRC informed them 
it was killing civilians.  In fact, the army actually could 
have won the military battle faster with higher civilian 
casualties, yet chosen a slower approach which led to a 
greater number of Sri Lankan military deaths.  He concluded 
however, by asserting that the GSL failed to recognize its 
obligation to protect civilians despite the approach leading 
to higher military casualties.  From his standpoint, a 
soldier at war should be more likely to die than a civilian. 

¶4. (C) De Maio was more critical of the GSL,s restrictions 
on humanitarian access and relief during the conflict.  There 
was no good reason not to let certain types of materials, 
such as blood bags, be delivered to Vanni during the 
conflict, where ICRC was treating victims.  He had stopped 
counting the number of children who died because no blood was 
available, for example.  Regarding disappearances, he said 
that there has been a long tradition of arrests and 
disappearances in Sri Lanka by people in civilian clothing. 
While ICRC has knowledge about a certain number of cases, 
most appear to be people abducted/arrested by either Tamil 
auxiliary forces or local authorities, not under order from 
central authorities, but connected to local political 
circumstances.  On the other hand, there appears to have been 
no pattern of systematic disappearances during the GSL,s 
screening of the population that fled the fighting.  De Maio 
explained that ICRC has a fairly good network of people to 
whom family members report arrests/disappearances.  In the 
cases of those who seem to disappear during screening, most 
of them turn up within days, and were three to five times 
more likely to be found if they received a report within 
twenty-four hours of disappearance.  He believed that many 
incidents were driven by the GSL view that all civilians 
coming out of the Vanni were presumed guilty by the 
government.  ICRC has been visiting regularly 11,400 people 
arrested and interned in 10 camps as suspected LTTE fighters. 

¶5. (C) On the LTTE, de Maio said that it had tried to keep 
civilians in the middle of a permanent state of violence.  It 
saw the civilian population as a "protective asset" and kept 
its fighters embedded amongst them.  De Maio said that the 
LTTE commanders, objective was to keep the distinction 
between civilian and military assets blurred.  They would 
often respond positively when ICRC complained to the LTTE 
about stationing weapons at a hospital, for example.  The 
LTTE would move the assets away, but as they were constantly 
shifting these assets, they might just show up in another 
unacceptable place shortly thereafter.  De Maio said it would 
be hard to state that there was a systematic order to LTTE 
fighters to stick with civilians in order to draw fire. 
Civilians were indeed under "physical coercion not to go here 
or there," he said.  Thus, the dynamics of the conflict were 
that civilians were present all the time.  This makes it very 
difficult to determine though at what point such a situation 
becomes a case of "human shields." 

¶6. (C) Finally, de Maio said that ICRC had received a pretty 
straightforward message from DefMin Gotabaya Rajapaksa that 
it was time for ICRC to wrap up its operations in Sri Lanka. 
ICRC is a conflict organization according to Rajapaksa, and 
now that the conflict is over Sri Lanka sees ICRC as "a stain 
on the white page of the post-conflict period."  De Maio said 
others in the GSL have suggested that if ICRC leaves and then 
comes back as part of a post-conflict approach under a new 
memorandum of understanding, this might be acceptable.  De 
Maio stated that ICRC is trying to sound accommodating and 
will pull out of its three eastern sub-offices, where its 
work was mostly done.  ICRC does not want to close up shop 
completely, however, so it is telling the GSL it will scale 
back in the hope it will be allowed to stay, as it sees many 
elements of its core conflict mandate still at play, 
including war wounded, IDPs, family tracing and detainees. 
De Maio asked the USG to consider weighing in on ICRC,s 
behalf, letting the GSL know that how this plays out will be 
a factor in the US approach to a post-conflict Sri Lanka. 
Amb. Williamson promised to raise this with A/S Blake upon 
his return to Washington. 

-------------------------------------- 
OHCRC - Strong Support, but no Details 
-------------------------------------- 

¶7. (C) Kyung-wha Kang, UN Deputy High Commissioner for Human 
Rights strongly supported the Congressional request for 
reporting on Sri Lanka, seeing it as a sign of high-level 
attention to these issues.  She noted that High Commissioner 
Pillay has publicly called for an international investigation 
of what seem like credible accusations of violations of 
humanitarian and human rights law.  Within the UN system, 
Kang said that Pillay has faced serious opposition to this 
approach.  Other UN agencies see the need to get things done 
on the ground (e.g. humanitarian and recovery assistance) as 
the priority and fear that Pillay,s approach will make the 
GSL reticent to cooperate.  Kang lamented that the GSL has 
"an absolute deaf ear," on questions of human rights, 
particularly when it comes to any international dimension. 

¶8. (C) Kang said that the Office of the High Commissioner for 
Human Rights (OHCHR) would be unlikely to be able to help in 
sharing any information with Amb. Williamson.  There is one 
OHCHR rep in Colombo who is in a very difficult situation and 
is restricted in her maneuvering room.  Kang said that OHCHR 
is overwhelmed with information sent in from various interest 
groups, but their veracity was very hard to judge.  She 
thought that over time, ground-level testimony would emerge 
and would be the key to determining what had really happened. 
 Williamson asked that OHCRC share whatever information it 
could and Kang promised to look into what might be possible. 

----------------------------------- 
UNHCR - Focus on Relief and Returns 
----------------------------------- 

¶9. (C) Pascale Moreau, UNHCR,s Acting Director for Asia, 
stressed that UNHCR had no one on the ground in the areas of 
conflict and has not been allowed full access to interview 
IDPs, so it has no primary source information on what 
happened during the conflict.  Her discussion with Amb. 
Williamson focused more on the current status of IDP camps 
and the expectations for the return home or relocation of the 
civilians there.  On screening, Moreau said that UNHCR had 
recently gotten access to the Omanthai crossing point, where 
it was allowed to oversee the general process, but did not 
have direct access to the individuals.  Moreau stated that it 
was not easy to draw any conclusions, positive or negative, 
about Omanthai in terms of disappearances, but she stressed 
that this was somewhat academic in any case.  Most of the 
IDPs have already been screened at Kilinochi, where there is 
no international oversight, before moving on to Omanthai. 
Two key humanitarian concerns for both the screening centers 
and the IDP camps was the extensive problem of family 
separation, including large numbers of children, and reports 
of sexual and gender-based violence.  She suggested that Amb. 
Williamson speak with UNICEF, which has been looking into the 
plight of these children.  On violence against women, Moreau 
indicated that in part this stemmed from the high incidence 
of separated females or female-headed households among IDPs. 
 When asked why the GSL was not pursuing family reunification 
more vigorously, Moreau stated that it is not the GSL,s 
highest priority just after the conflict and that such an 
effort is logistically very difficult.  Two other key areas 
of concern are pushing the GSL to decongest camps and making 
an internal UNHCR decision on how best to balance providing 
for the living needs of IDPs in terms of housing and 
sanitation while simultaneously not enabling the GSL to 
create permanent camps. 

¶10. (C) Moreau reported that the GSL was removing suspected 
LTTE fighters from the IDP camps and interning them in 10 
different locations.  She noted that removing suspected 
fighters from camps is common and even welcome, as long as 
the authorities follow national law in providing those 
arrested with adequate protections, which in the case of Sri 
Lanka law is fairly robust.  Unfortunately, Moreau said that 
the law was not being respected.  9,400 individuals had been 
taken from IDP camps to 10 internment centers in Vanuviya, 
including at least one exclusively for children suspected of 
being child soldiers.  (Comment: These are the same 10 camps 
mentioned by ICRC.  The discrepancy in the number of IDPs 
comes from the approximately 2,000 detainees who were not 
taken from IDP camps.  End comment.) 

¶11. (C) As to the overall situation in the camps, Moreau said 
that conditions were improving, though still unacceptable. 
In Manik Farms, the military had been removed to the 
perimeter and some were replaced by local police, which was a 
positive step that still needed to be improved upon.  6,400 
IDPs have been released from camps and another 9,000 have 
been cleared, but shelter and assistance needs to be found 
for them, as they cannot yet go home.  Her biggest concerns 
on the horizon were information for the IDPs and the 
possibility of forced returns.  On information, she said the 
IDPs, greatest anguish comes from not knowing the fate of 
family and loved ones and not knowing what lies in their 
future.  The GSL needs to make a greater effort to treat the 
IDPs like participants in the process.  On forced returns, 
she said that there have been some cases that UNHCR has 
protested to the GSL, but for now there has been no 
systematic policy of forcing people to move.  Moreau 
concluded that, in the past, the Ministry of Human Rights 
Displacement had been a positive player in resisting forced 
returns. 

¶12. (C) Moreau reviewed the fairly positive experience two 
years ago when 200,000 people were displaced and then 
returned to the east.  She said that the GSL had done a 
pretty good job in cleaning up the areas of conflict 
(including de-mining), putting local administration in place 
and getting some infrastructure and other recovery projects 
off the ground.  This gave the GSL a good model to use, 
though Moreau expected that the challenges in the north would 
be even greater, and thus far the GSL,s approach had been 
less accommodating.  There were also reports that mining was 
much more extensive and the administrative and infrastructure 
needs (including schools and hospitals) were much greater in 
the north.  Finally, she noted that it is not yet clear 
whether the international humanitarian agencies will be asked 
to play any role in the return of IDPs.  She stressed that 
the GSL wanted to maintain complete control of the process, 
both for security reasons, but also out of a sense of pride 
and desire to take care of its problems on its own. 
¶13. (U) Ambassador Williamson has cleared this cable. 
GRIFFITHS

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