By Rajeewa Jayaweera –
President Sirisena met with British Peer Lord Naseby during his recent visit to attend CHOGM in the UK.
In October 2017, Naseby, after appealing to the British Information Commissioner, obtain 39 pages of highly redacted confidential dispatches from the British High Commission in Colombo during the last stages of the Vanni campaign. During a debate in the House of Lords, he urged the UK government to revisit the UNHRC Resolution 30/1. Despite redactions, dispatches estimated 7,000 to 8,000 civilian deaths during the closing phase of the conflict with around a quarter of them being LTTE cadre in civilian clothing. One such document contained, “certainly there was no policy to kill civilians by Sri Lankan army.”
On the other hand, the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) Resolution 30/1 is based on the UN Secretary General’s Panel of Experts (PoE) report, also known as Darusman Report. It states; “Two years after the end of the war, there is still no reliable figure for civilian deaths, but multiple sources of the information indicating that a range of up to 40,000civilian deaths cannot be ruled out at this stage. Only a proper investigation can lead to the identification of all the victims and the formulation of an accurate figure for the total number of civilian deaths.” (PoE Report p 41, sub-para 137). It accused government forces of “(i) killing of civilians through widespread shelling (ii) Shelling of hospitals and humanitarian objects” (Executive Summary p iii para 5) deliberately targeting civilians.
Even six months after Naseby’s revelations, the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe administration has not requested a review of the Geneva Resolution.
During their recent meeting, Naseby had made some very sensible and relevant suggestions to Sirisena on how to deal with the contentious resolution.
He had suggested; (i) With the Office of Missing Persons (OMP) now activated, it could proceed with the task of resolving the issue of thousands of persons reported missing or dead during the conflict. (ii) Replace the wartime Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) with an act more appropriate for peacetime. (iii) The need for a Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) as recommended by UNHRC. (iv) The government should release monthly, or quarterly bulletins with details of occupied land returned to owners in the Northern and Eastern provinces.
The first suggestion is of enormous importance to Sri Lanka and requires assiduous handling. The OMP office must necessarily embark on the task of preparing a comprehensive list of missing persons. With such a list, assistance need be sought from US, UK, other EU countries, Canada, Australia, and India to reconcile with names of all those granted asylum by said countries.
The PoE, between October 27, and December 31, 2010, received 4,000 submissions from more than 2,300 senders (PoE Report page 5, sub-para 17). The report does not contain the information if those submitting information were only from members of Tamil community or included those from the Sinhalese community, mostly JVP members who fled the country. A list of missing persons mutually agreed by Sri Lanka and asylum granting nations to Tamils and Sinhalese is vital due to the possibility of those listed as missing or killed in Sri Lankan living under assumed names in foreign countries. The workload of OMP would reduce substantially in the event missing/dead persons are found to be alive.
Three examples of such cases which surfaced during the last decade are;
The film titled ‘Dheepan’ awarded the Palme d’Or, Festival in Cannes in 2015 is a true story. Dheepan was about an LTTE terrorist (referred to as freedom fighter, refugee and immigrant in publicity material and reviews). It begins with Dheepan, in LTTE uniform, at the funeral pier of a fellow terrorist at the tail end of the conflict. After the funeral, he destroys his uniform, obtains civilian clothing and decides to flee, taking with him two total strangers – a young woman Yalini in her early twenties and a little girl Illayaal, nine years old using false documents. The ‘family’ travels from Northern Sri Lanka to South India and finally to Paris. The group eventually obtains asylum as a ‘family’ based on false documentation and declarations. The film ends with Dheepan and Yalini entering wedlock and having a child, with Illlayaal as a family member, all moving to the UK. The French and British governments need be requested to provide the real names of Dheepan, Yalini and Illayaal and details of where they lived before fleeing Sri Lanka, to ascertain if they are reported dead or missing.
According to a report filed by veteran journalist DSB Jeyaraj, a Tamil engineer named KathiraveluThayapararajahhad functioned as Director of the LTTE operated Vanni Tech. He was a known LTTE activist but not a combatant and disappeared in September 2009. A commonly believed theory was, members of armed forces had abducted, tortured and murdered Kathiravelu. The University Teachers for Human Rights (Jaffna), the Australian Government Refugee Review Tribunal, Tamilnet and the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights among others blamed Sri Lankan authorities for Kathiravelu’sdisappearance. A Human Rights organization took up the issue with Robert Blake, the then US Asst. Secretary for South East Affairs and one-time US Ambassador to Sri Lanka from September 2006 till May 2009 who had agreed to investigate the matter through the US Embassy in Colombo. On May 06, 2014, Kathiraveluwas arrested by the Tamil Nadu Police in Dhanushkodi together with nine others including five children attempting to enter India without valid travel documents.
One-time hardcore JVP activist Premakumar Gunaratnam, having fled Sri Lanka after breaking out from Bogambara Prison in 1988 had been granted asylum in Australia. He returned to Sri Lanka in September 2011 and was involved in local politics as a member of Frontline Socialist Party, a breakaway faction of the JVP. Having ‘disappeared’ sometime in early April 2012, he ‘surrendered’ to Police a few days later claiming to have been ‘dumped’ by his ‘abductors.’ The then Australian High Commissioner in Colombo Robyn Mudie turned up with Australian passport N1016123, claimed Gunaratnam was an Australian citizen named Noel Mudalige and demanded his release. He was deported on April 10.
These are, but three examples of a dead or missing LTTE combatant and two LTTE and JVP activists found to be living in overseas countries.
Nearly nine years have passed since LTTE was defeated and there have been no signs of a resurgence of terrorism. PTA was a requirement during the civil war, and there is merit in the suggestion to replace the Act with one more suitable for peacetime. Its replacement must not be viewed as a requirement to satisfy the international community but a necessity for the citizens of this country.
Different types of Truth & Reconciliation Commissions have been set up in several countries, tasked with discovering and revealing past wrongdoing by governments and non-state actors in the hope of resolving conflicts left over from the past. Some have contributed to healing wounds from the past. The Lessons Learnt & Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) was unfortunately not adequately funded and many of its recommendations not implemented. Therefore, a fresh initiative would be essential to move forward with the reconciliation process.
Sufficient time has passed for the state to make up its mind on land required in the North and East for national security purposes. Indefinite occupation of private property does not in any way contribute to reconciliation. In fact, it is a key irritant and adds to the notion; the government is not sincere in its efforts in addressing the national question. Some land has been returned since January 2015 but not given adequate publicity. Therefore, it is time for a decision on what can be released, and compensation paid for what cannot be returned. Meanwhile, the publication of periodic figures, perhaps quarterly, of land returned to rightful owners should be seriously considered.
“Only a proper investigation can lead to the identification of all the victims and the formulation of an accurate figure for the total number of civilian deaths” stated in the one-sided PoE Report makes little or no sense.
In preparing the report, they have not considered some very relevant information/documents; (i) confidential cables from US embassy in Colombo to State Department in Washington released by Wikileaks. (ii) contents of a classified cable from the then US Ambassador to Geneva, Clint Williamson after his confidential conversation with then ICRC Head of Operations Jacque de Mio on July 09, 2009, clearing SL Army of crimes against humanity, released through Wikileaks. (iii) views expressed by British Lawyer and one-time UN Chief War Crimes Prosecutor in Sierra Leon Sir Desmond de Silva and British military expert Major General Holmes. (iv) reports from the then UN country team in Sri Lanka and former UN media spokesman Gordon Weiss (v) dispatches by former British Defense Attaché in Colombo, Lieutenant Colonel Anton Gash. (vi) Causality estimates of other credible organizations, i.e., 6,710 (US State Department), nearly 7,000 (International Crisis Group), 7,721 (UN Country Team) and 10,000 (Amnesty International).
In ignoring such crucial information, PoE members have displayed extreme bias and prejudice.
The Geneva Resolution ignored the Paranagama Commission Report which called for a domestic judicial investigation, backed by international technical assistance, under foreign observers.
US and UK were key promoters of the Geneva Resolution. By not insisting PoE members take all available material including confidential dispatches from their respective representatives on location in Sri Lanka in their deliberations indicates ulterior motives other than professed humanitarian considerations. It also projects a lack of faith in their representatives.
The OMP has it work cut out. The Paranagama Commission received 21,000 complaints (Executive Summary p xviii para 16) related to so-called disappearances and extrajudicial killings. This readymade list of missing and dead persons could be handed over to US, UK, other EU countries, Canada, Australia, and India for reconciliation with details of those granted asylum. States declining to cooperate could be reported to UNHRC for hindering the implementation of item 4 in UNHRC Resolution 30/1.
The OMP is an independent commission not subject to government direction. That said, there is no law against the commission requesting the assistance of government agencies in carrying out their mandate.
Most importantly, what is required is the political will on the part of the Sirisena-Wickramasinghe administration and for its leaders to provide the political leadership necessary to address the issue at hand.
Furthermore, Sri Lanka must do what it takes to establish the truth about the mythical 40,000 deaths during the Vanni campaign, so critical in meeting the challenges of the Geneva Resolution.
Will President Sirisena heed Naseby’s advise?