By Rajeewa Jayaweera –
President Maithripala Sirisena, known for changing his mind on crucial issues has done it again. His delegation comprising of former Ministers and UPFA Parliamentarians Sarath Amunugama and Mahinda Samarasinghe together with Dr. Suren Raghavan, Governor of Northern Province to attend the 40th session of the UN Human Rights Commission (UNHRC) in Geneva announced last week has now been scrapped.
Their purported mission was to seek the possibility of withdrawing from the Geneva Resolution.
This week a new delegation has been named, now led by Foreign Minister Tilak Marapana and includes Dr. Amunugama, Dr. Raghavan, Foreign Secretary Ravinatha Aryasinha and Deputy Solicitor General Nerin Pulle. Ambassador ALA Azeez, Sri Lanka’s Permanent Representative to the UN office in Geneva and his Deputy will join the team.
Since there will be no change to the Wickremesinghe government’s stance of co-sponsoring the resolution of the core group spearheaded by the UK, the purported mission of this delegation can be none other than to reiterate the government’s stance already announced by Ambassador Azeez. Amunugama’s presence will only provide presidential confirmation to the earlier endorsement by the Ambassador.
The Wickremesinghe government had previously not planned to field a team from Colombo for the 40th session.
The latest development of a unified delegation smacks of a devious political deal. It is quite well possible, a unified delegation led by the UNP Foreign Minister Marapana with Amunugama as a face-saving window dressing may have been agreed in return for the unanimous passage of the President’s cost head in the budget debate currently in progress.
It is understood, the Foreign Minister’s speech would be approved by both the President and Prime Minister. One is at a loss to understand how President Sirisena who just last week was speaking of the possibility of withdrawing from the resolution will approve a draft of a speech agreeing to co-sponsor the resolution this week. UPFA Parliamentarian Mahinda Samarasinghe grandiosely announced, “You can’t do this by sidelining the President.” He seems to have missed the point. The President has been sidelined from the beginning in September 2015 when then Foreign Minister co-sponsored UNHRC Resolution 30/1.
Two other unrelated developments are yet relevant to the issue.
The much-anticipated results from carbon testing six samples of skeletal remains of 325 bodies including those of 29 children unearthed in a mass grave in Mannar finally arrived last week. The report from Beta Analytical Institute of Florida, to the utter disappointment of some members of the Tamil community, has revealed that the skeletal remains date to a period between 1499 and 1719 AD.
Unable to bear this disappointment, the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) voiced their opinion through District MP for Mullaitivu Nirmalanathan Sivamohan by suggesting a second opinion be obtained. Sivamohan lamented, “A lot of people went missing in Mannar during the war. We need to expand the excavations at the mass grave site. We must do further tests to identify the victims. The TNA insists that the excavations and testing should go on.”
What is mind-boggling is that whereas the TNA has a problem with the carbon testing report from a reputed laboratory based on six skeletal remains, it has no reservations in accepting the figure of 40,000 civilian deaths reported by a group of so-called experts who did not even visit this country and no skeletons to show. Not a single Tamil politician has called for a second opinion on the 40,000 civilian deaths referred in the Geneva Resolution despite the availability of documents. Multiple sources such as National Census Dept. reports filed by UN office in Sri Lanka and confidential dispatches by former British Defense Attaché Lt. Col. Anton Gash, revealed in the House of Lords by British Peer Lord Naseby all estimate deaths during the closing stages of the conflict between 7,000 and 8,000. Around 25% had been LTTE combatants who had discarded their uniforms and adorned civilian clothes.
Secondly, when Naseby disclosed the contents of the heavily redacted 39 pages of confidential dispatches, Foreign Minister Marapana’s spokesperson in the ministry in response to a query raised by The Island had this today. “Engaging in arguments and debates in the international domain over the number of civilians who may have died at a particular time in the country will not help resolve any issues, in a meaningful manner, locally, except a feel-good factor for a few individuals who may think that they have won a debate or scored points over someone or the other.”
A few days later, pressed for a statement in parliament by MPs Dinesh Gunawardena and Bandula Gunawardane over the revelations made by Lord Naseby in the House of Lords, Marapana stated, “We are not saying that we would not use Lord Naseby’s statement. We will certainly use it at the proper time and appropriate forums. There may be a time when the UNHRC asks us to conduct investigations into the war crime allegations. We will use this statement when such a time comes. Otherwise, our opponents will find counter arguments for this valuable statement. We must use it as an Ace”.
Whilst Tamil politicians demand a second opinion on six skeletal remains established to be between 400 and 700 years old, is it not time for the Sri Lankan state to seek a second opinion on the charge of 40,000 civilian deaths yet to be substantiated with a couple of hundred skeletal remains, leave along mountains of them?
What is preventing the Sri Lankan state from demanding that the UK, the chief sponsor of the resolution produce Col. Gash’s reports in an unredacted state for scrutiny?
As Marapana himself said, he has the ‘Ace.’ He will be in the right place in Geneva. The chance to play the ‘Ace’ is now or never.
Or will he play the Joker and return?