18 August, 2022


Will Britain Do The Right Thing By Sri Lanka?

By Sanja De Silva Jayatilleka

Sanja De Silva Jayatilleka

On Tuesday, 14th of November 2017, Hon Dinesh  Gunawardena  introduced a resolution in Parliament requesting that in view of Lord Naseby’s revelations in the House of Lords on the number of civilian deaths during the last stages of the war, “Sri Lanka should take action to pursue this matter with Britain’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office and with the Human Rights Commission[sic] to change their unjust position in regard to Sri Lanka…and that the Government should also report back to Parliament on this matter.”

State Minister of Foreign Affairs Mr. Vasantha Senanayake responding, informed the House that he had already written to Lord Naseby in his official capacity, thanking him for his efforts.  More importantly, he also said he suspects that should the Foreign and Commonwealth Office remove the redacted sections of the letters obtained by Lord Naseby, it would prove that “the Sri Lanka Army fought a much cleaner war than is often alleged in the international arena” and that “the sincerity of the armed forces will become undisputed”. 

The UK was one of the drivers of Resolution 30/1 on 1st October 2015. Were Britain’s representatives in Geneva aware at the time that UK was in possession of information that could radically alter the estimates of civilian deaths? 

Before that Resolution was taken up for discussion, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights presented the “Comprehensive report of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights on Sri Lanka on its investigation on Sri Lanka”.

Responding to the presentation of this report, the British representative at the UN Human Rights Council said: “Without facts, there can be no justice, no end to impunity… We therefore welcome the report’s conclusion and recommendations…seeking the truth, ensuring justice…are essential.”

Indeed. But not all the facts were at hand. When these sentiments were being expressed at the Human Rights Council by its representative, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) already knew that not all the facts had been considered. The facts that had been withheld were of critical importance to the conclusions of the investigation by the Office of the Human Rights High Commissioner, not least because of the principle of proportionality in war.

The British representative, making General Comments after the co-sponsored Resolution was adopted, said significantly:  And I wish to express my deep appreciation to the High Commissioner and his OISL team who produced such a professional and significant report which has formed the key basis for this resolution.”

Since Britain was a leading sponsor of Resolution 30/1, one has no reason to doubt this. It therefore has to be questioned as to why Britain did not proffer to the High Commissioner’s team of investigators, information that would be critical to their conclusions, and proceeded instead to sponsor a Resolution that they knew was based on a report that lacked the completeness of information that would perhaps have led them to a different conclusion.

The Human Rights High Commissioner’s report, under the section “Impact of hostilities on civilians and civilian objects”, starts its first paragraph with the sentence:

On the basis of the information in the possession of the investigation team, there is reasonable grounds to believe that many of the attacks reviewed in the present report did not comply with the principles on which the conduct of hostilities, notably the principle of distinction.

It further speaks of “large scale crimes” and “system crimes” which necessitate going beyond Sri Lanka’s existing legal system:

“Effective prosecution strategies for large-scale crimes, such as those described by the investigation team, focus on their systemic nature and their planners and organizers. The presumption behind such “system crimes” is that they are generally of such a scale that they require some degree of organization to perpetrate them. Even sophisticated legal systems like those in Sri Lanka – which may be well suited to deal with ordinary crimes – may lack the capacity to address system crimes and to bring effective remedy to their victims.”

It has now been convincingly revealed thanks to Lord Naseby, that the OISL report did not possess an adequate basis on which to come to those very damaging conclusions.

The High Commissioner’s comprehensive Report, which the British representative said “formed the key basis” for the Resolution, says under the same heading, “… the investigation was not conclusive on the proportionality assessment for each of the incidents in the present report…” This is an important principle in arriving at a conclusion of whether a state has committed genocide or crimes against humanity. These are the most serious crimes that a state can commit, and no state in the world would want to be falsely accused of it.

A solution based on a falsehood can never benefit humanity, as we all saw after the “WMD” intervention by the US-UK in Iraq. The tale of the “dodgy dossier” is now the stuff of International Relations history. It only led to breeding more, and more vicious, terrorism. Withholding information which could help arrive at the truth, damages any country’s credentials as a champion of human rights.

In his impressive address to Parliament on the matter, the State Minister of Foreign Affairs Vasantha Senanayake spoke of the long standing friendly relations with Britain and “the level of trust we have always enjoyed with the UK”. He hopes his letter to Lord Naseby will help to bring “real justice” for Sri Lanka while questioning why the British authorities had gone to such “extraordinary lengths” to deprive Lord Naseby of “pertinent information”. 

It is curious that if there exists any evidence that would assist in removing false allegations of a very serious sort against a friendly country that the FCO would refuse to provide that information. It is fairly clear that they have a moral obligation to comply with Lord Naseby’s request for further information. Lord Naseby revealed that it wasn’t easy to get hold of the dispatches from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and that he had to resort to the Right to Information Act to get them.

At the UPR in Geneva this week, Sri Lanka has accepted 177 of the 230 recommendations presented to it. The full report of the summary of proceedings after editorial adjustments, including the recommendations, will be made available on the 24th of November 2017. No attempt was made by Sri Lanka’s delegates to the UPR to bring the new evidence unearthed by Lord Naseby to the attention of the Human Rights Council, nor formally request the British government to release the information to the Council. Instead, they reiterated the Government’s firm commitment to implementing Resolution 30/1.

In the meantime, the second edition of Gordon Weiss’ book ‘The Cage’ is out with its back cover screaming in capital letters of “TENS OF THOUSANDS OF CIVILIANS KILLED”.

Sri Lankan citizens are not interested in a cover-up of past misdeeds. Nor however are they happy to be pawns in a wider game of international politics or electoral politics in Britain, and would do what they can to ensure that the truth about an important period of their country’s history will be established. Hon. Dinesh Gunawardena and State Minister Vasantha Senanayake showed that parliamentarians on both sides of the aisle are of the same view. Sri Lankans want to live in a decent society, enjoy human rights and have no desire to encourage impunity in their government or their military. But above all, they want justice based on truth, not false allegations.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Latest comments

  • 13

    British government will surely do the right thing and not according to what that stupid fellow Naseby wants. Tamils have links with British foreign ministry and they have been informed that the figure of 7000 as stated by one of their diplomats in Srilanka was on the information provided by the Srilanka government and not on any independent verification done by British embassy in Srilanka. Therefore they are not going to take that figure as correct until they are permitted to investigate the matter themselves without any interference from Srilanka government. If the Srilanka government is absolutely sure about the number of casualties, why are they not willing for an international panel to come to Srilanka and find out the truth, interviewing witnesses. Until such undertaking is granted by Srilanka government British government will accept the figure of 40,000 quoted by the UN appointed panel. So what ever Naseby after enjoying perks given to him by srilanka government is going to dance about, British government will ignore him. It is better for Srilanka government to face the problem without trying such things to cover up the murders.

    • 0

      Dr. Gnana,

      When the international panel visit Sri Lanka how the hell you guys going to provide evidences to prove 40,000 died. Tamils can fabricate numbers but they would like to see solid evidences. What happened to 40,000 dead bodies. Where are the skeletons. I hope you Tamils will not make artificial skeletons. You guys are quite capable of doing that kind of things.

  • 13


    First, Sri Lanka needs to learn to do the right thing by its own citizens – then these foreign interventions will not be an issue!

    Also, pundits representing the SL Govt should learn to work with integrity matching their education and bringing-up rather than work with the sole purpose of seeking opportunities to wine and dine, going as far as claiming Zero civilian deaths in global forums – thus cheating every one concerned.

  • 7

    Dear Author and all readers,
    The right thing for Sri Lanka is always the foremost agenda from all Countries at a time after a rouge regime is replaced with a good regime. But it is not up to Britain or any other Country or person to turn Sri Lanka around. Other than speaking positive and hoping to turn around with words and not by deeds, how will any help come?. Is there a victim who is happy for getting any justice from the Sri Lankan authorities? OR is there a process put in place giving any hope for the victims to expect some justice? Why do Sri Lankan top executives think they can always protect the criminals without allowing them to face justice? Is it possible for anyone to live with dignity and prosper without justice delivered when required? It may be a practice in Sri Lanka for an accused to go scot-free with influence or bribe. But here it may not be possible when hundreds of Countries are waiting for a good verdict for their prosperity. This time around Sri Lankan authorities must show responsibility as they are now more transparent than ever before. It is high time for Sri Lankan authorities to really give evidence in deed of their own undertaking to the international community in order to convince others. If convinced help will pour in without asking.

  • 7

    Having unceremoniously booted out messrs Boucher and Milliband, we suddenly find ourselves greeting the noble Lord Naseby with open arms as our saviour white knight in shining armour. How rich!

    Let us get things in perspective. The octogenarian noble Lord Naseby has adopted our Sri Lanka cause by virtue of a glorious couple of years spent as a marketing executive here. His best days are behind him as far as local UK politics go, and so, with nothing else to do, he feeds his nostalgia batting for us. Relying on his ‘findings’ is but clutching at straws.

    Others have made compelling charges, to which the GOSL and its proxies are fighting a rear guard action trying to wriggle out of.

    The GOSL has a long established, and unchallenged, track record of avoiding its responsibilities. Its murderous putting down of the JVP remained unchallenged. It was ‘local’ business’, the JVP licked its wounds and forgot its revolutionary ambitions. But defeating the LTTE has left evidence of the careless desperation that some of our soldiers indulged in.

    The longer we prevaricate and procrastinate, the harder it will be to clear our name. Then again our current clutch of politicians, with few exceptions, couldn’t give a damn for reputation.

    • 3

      Not ‘careless desperation that some of our soldiers indulged in’, it was part of a well-planned exercise to draw civilians into the so-called ‘safety zones’ and kill them deliberately, just as ‘Black July’ was well planned to transport the mobs in Government-owned buses armed with electoral lists to identify Tamil households.

  • 6

    Sri Lanka Massacred Tens of Thousands of Tamils While the World Looked Away
    Sri Lankan soldiers recorded these terrible crimes on their mobile phones and camcorders—https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/kwxz4m/death-of-a-tiger-0000710-v22n8

    • 0

      There was a RAW agent under every other tree in the Wanni and every other lamppost in Jaffna. You mean to say India too looked away? That would be the most serious indictment levelled against India.

  • 4

    Sanja contends ~ “……..SL waged a cleaner war than is often alleged……” or something to that effect.
    There is a May 2009 photograph of a twelve year old captive eating some tidbits in a bunker. The captors inform Colombo of the prized catch. Next photograph shows the boy lying dead – shot at close range.
    Was that a clean war. Even Lord Naseby will cringe.

    We, the silent majority of Lankans agree that the present GoSL is not living up to our expectations. You advise us that MR regime is better and you are bringing this Lord Naseby to back you. Do you really expect us to believe you?.

  • 3

    How much was Naseby paid? Should he be tried as a holocaust denier? Why hide behind a thupahee unwashed “Lord” of the stink land. If there are facts, why not present them before an independent tribunal and have it done with? This lady is no lawyer to talk of the proportionality principle and its application. These can be settled by a tribunal. Why the hesitation? the startegy is to dumb down the numbers as time passes. Be sure that the diaspora will not allow that to happen, however many Lords you produce.

  • 4

    In 1948, the British handed over the entire country to the Sinhalese with the second highest GNP per capita in Asia and where are we today?

    Before that British merged Jaffna Kingdom(N&E) with the rest.

    Would the British undo what they did then?

Leave A Comment

Comments should not exceed 200 words. Embedding external links and writing in capital letters are discouraged. Commenting is automatically disabled after 5 days and approval may take up to 24 hours. Please read our Comments Policy for further details. Your email address will not be published.