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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 727

US Senators Leahy and Casey renew call for international probe on Sri Lanka's alleged war crimes

Daya Gamage - Asian Tribune Foreign Affairs Note
Washington, D.C. 31 January (Asiantribune.com):

One year into the military offensive against separatist/terrorist Tamil Tiger movement, Democratic Senator and chairman of the Senate judiciary committee Patrick Leahy told the Congress that Sri Lanka was engaged in war crimes.

Mr. Leahy as chairman of the judiciary committee and also the chairman of the sub-committee on State, Foreign Operations and Related Programs of the Senate Judiciary Committee took a hard line view of Sri Lanka when the joint State Department and the USAID International Affairs Budget came before the Senate in early 2008.

The jurisdiction of the Senate Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations and Related Programs extends to all functions of the State Department and the USAID which are tied to human rights, good governance, rule of law, independent judiciary and democratic freedoms of recipient countries of American assistance. The Subcommittee is chaired by the sixth most senior member of the Senate Patrick Leahy who is also the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Anti-Terrorism Assistance, Foreign Military Financing Program, International Military Education and Training (IMET) Program, Millennium Challenge Corporation, Economic Support Fund and Development Assistance, among a very long list of subjects, are some of the principal functions of the Senate Subcommittee. And, it has the authority to override and/or change the language of the State/USAID Appropriation Bill before ratification.

As in 2008, Senator Leahy's extended authority remains same.

Democratic Senator Bob Casey is equally powerful as Mr. Leahy. Senator Casey is the Chairman of the Near Eastern and South and Central Asian Affairs Subcommittee of the Foreign Relations Committee, and he has gone on record when the current American Ambassador in Sri Lanka came before the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee for her confirmation hearing as saying "In Sri Lanka the Sinhalese won the war."

Both these senators teamed up early this week calling for an independent, international investigation into potential war crimes committed by the Sri Lankan government and the LTTE during the civil war in Sri Lanka.

Of course, both of them are well aware that one actor, the non-state actor LTTE, and its leaders, do not exist anymore and only the state actor, Sri Lanka exists.

“Sri Lankans have legitimate concerns about war crimes committed during the civil war that are not being addressed by the government, and an independent, international investigation is needed to get answers,” the letter of the two senators to the secretary of state said.

Patrick Leahy

It was Patrick Leahy, in 2008 as the Chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations and Related Programs, who vetoed the State Department US $100 million grant under the Millennium Challenge Fund for Sri Lanka highlighting the human rights situation.

And Mr. Leahy, on the Senate floor on 18 September 2006 declared: “Politically motivated killings, the recruitment of child soldiers, indiscriminate raids on civilians, targeting of international aid workers, and torture in police custody are only some of the human rights abuses that have been recently committed as reported by Amnesty International and Human rights Watch…… Road, air and sea links to the Tamil population in the north have been cut, and food, water and fuel shortages are severe.”

The person who influenced to create Senator Patrick Leahy's mind-set on Sri Lankan issues was none other than his chief of staff Tim Reiser. It is not an unusual discovery that Mr. Reiser has been heavily influenced by the Tamil Tiger lobby in the U.S. He maintains a close rapport with five pro-LTTE organizations in the United States which are (1) Tamil Sangham (2) Tamils Against Genocide (3) Tamils For Justice (4) Tamils for Peace headed by Dr. Elias Jeyarajah, and (5) PERL. Ms. Tasa Manoranjan, the daughter of once head of the US Justice Department-proscribed Tamil Foundation in Maryland, is now a principal officer in the Peace for Equality and Relief in Lanka (PERL), an organization among others that met Robert Blake, Richard Boucher and others in the State Department several times to lobby against Sri Lanka.

Senator Bob Casey

The United States Senate Foreign Relations Committee's acting chairman President Obama's Democratic Party colleague Bob Casey believes that - in the final outcome of the battle in Sri Lanka between the government and the Tamil Tigers - the Sinhalese won. As a result of that victory the Sinhalese have the power; and the Sinhalese appointed their own commission; and "the human nature", according to Mr. Casey is "will they ever be able to implement (LLRC) recommendations?"

If that is the conclusion, the acting chairman of the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee Mr. Casey posed the question at the Senate floor on June 6 last year "should there be an international investigation?"

That was part of the dialogue emerged on the Senate floor on June 6, 2012 when Michele J. Sisson, president Obama's ambassador-designate to Sri Lanka, faced the confirmation hearing before the Foreign Relations Committee. Here is the transcript.

(Begin Transcript)

Casey: I want to ask you about the so called LLRC and Sri Lanka. This is a two-part question. One is: Sri Lanka in relation to the LLRC, the implementation of the result or pointedly the position of accountability and the individuals' actions at the end of the civil war. Two: why hasn't or will the United States and other countries in the international community insist upon independent investigation?

Sisson: The LLRC recommendations were of course front and center of the top of our agenda when Sri Lanka foreign minister met with Secretary Clinton here in Washington. We asked the GSL to provide regular and public updated on the implementation of the government's own commission, particularly with regard to de-militarization of the north, setting a date for the provincial council elections in the north, focus on human rights protection including increased base for the civil society to operate freely and increase focus on media freedom.
I agree, we do need to see in the more specific terms, benchmarks met on the recommendations of the 'action plan' set out by the LLRC.

Casey: As a result of that meeting was there any - were we enlightened by - any indication that there is a program, momentum, results, deadlines because we got - its being six months - and the concern here is obviously it is the human nature when you have that kind of conflict - in the winner in this case - the Sinhalese side of the debate - they win, they have power, and their commission that was set up - question is will they ever be able to implement recommendations or should there be an international investigation?

Sisson: Not just the United States but many international partners of course voted in March in Geneva in the UN Human Rights Commission on US-sponsored resolution on reconciliation and accountability - has been an international call for progress on for reconciliation and accountability - and one cannot have true and genuine reconciliation without accountability.

There are credible, serious allegations that crimes committed by both sides in violation of the international humanitarian law (IHL) and international human rights law (IHRL).

So we look for a near-term progress, benchmarks to be met particularly on setting a date for the provincial council elections in the north and de-militarization in the north.

I will absolutely commit to you (meaning the Senate Foreign relations Committee) that human rights issue, the civil society and the media to do their job will be on top of my agenda and I do believe that we can have a constructive dialogue to keep human rights protection, rule of law at the forefront. (End Transcript)
With this background information Asian Tribune produces here the complete text of the letter jointly sent by Senators Leahy and Casey to Secretary of State Clinton. The issues raised by the two senators will now be within the purview of the new secretary of state John Kerry who takes over America's top diplomatic post on Friday.

Begin Text

We are writing to urge you to call for an independent, international investigation into allegations of war crimes committed by the Government of Sri Lanka and the LTTE during the civil war in Sri Lanka. We also support a resolution at the upcoming UN Human Rights Council meeting which condemns the Government of Sri Lanka for not abiding by its commitments to seek accountability and reconciliation. During the years following the end of the war, the Sri Lankan people have waited for the government to address these concerns, yet no tangible or substantial progress has been made. Achieving a sustainable peace in Sri Lanka will require continued and sustained leadership by the United States and others in the international community committed to genuine accountability.

Sri Lanka has repeatedly rejected any international inquiry into what it believes are domestic issues, and for the last year, the United States has supported the Government of Sri Lanka’s Lessons Learned and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) process. Notably, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch refused to participate in the LLRC proceedings and called for an unbiased international inquiry. Their concerns were borne out in the LLRC’s report, which exonerated the Sri Lankan Armed Forces from any human rights violations while accusing the Tamil fighters of committing mass atrocities. The report addressed a wide spectrum of issues, including: the demilitarization of civilian functions in the North; the creation of mechanisms to address cases of the missing and detained; and land reform, especially for persons displaced by the conflict. The LLRC and its recommendations, while certainly imperfect, are the Government of Sri Lanka’s own proposed roadmap to peace. Over a year has now passed since the issuance of the report, and the Government has failed to do the difficult and necessary work of implementation.

Last year, the State Department played a key leadership role in the passage of United Nations Human Rights Council Resolution 19/2, “Promoting reconciliation and accountability in Sri Lanka.”This resolution called for the Government of Sri Lanka to implement the LLRC’s constructive recommendations, while noting that the LLRC report failed to adequately address serious allegations of violations of international law. Yet despite the UNHRC resolution, the Government of Sri Lanka has done nothing to address the accountability concerns of the Council or, more importantly, of the Sri Lankan people. In July, the Government released a “National Action Plan to Implement the Recommendations of the LLRC,” but this plan only established committees to “consider” the LLRC recommendations, without mandating or taking any specific action.

The Sri Lankan people deserve better. In fact, as the Government of Sri Lanka fails to implement LLRC recommendations, the outlook for human and political rights in Sri Lanka appears to be getting worse. Although the LLRC report criticized the heavy militarization in the North and called for demilitarization of civilian functions, the Government of Sri Lanka has taken no tangible steps towards this goal. Continued military presence on private lands in the North is preventing the resettlement of internally displaced persons who desire a return to peaceful life. Additionally, security forces reportedly attacked Jaffna University students during a non-violent demonstration and submitted four students to involuntary rehabilitation. Such repression violates Sri Lankans’ right to peaceful expression.

We are particularly concerned about the recent impeachment of Sri Lanka’s Supreme Court Chief Justice, Shirani Bandaranayake. Ms. Bandaranayake pursued judicial independence by issuing court rulings that fell afoul of Colombo’s political elite. As your Department noted in a recent statement, this move by President Rajapaksa and his supporters in Parliament threatens the rule of law and the separation of powers, which are the cornerstones of a healthy democracy.

The Government of Sri Lanka has also continued to harass, intimidate, and even imprison journalists and activists that bravely express dissenting views or report on sensitive topics. As a recent Human Rights Watch report states, “The government’s campaign of harassment and intimidation of the media, plus the failure to investigate seriously abuses against journalists, has led to widespread self-censorship and caused many journalists to flee the country.” A truly free press is a prerequisite for holding the Government of Sri Lanka accountable for the implementation of the LLRC. We are concerned that the Government of Sri Lanka will continue to repress dissent unless the international community takes action.

In our November 2011 letter to you, we called for an independent investigation if the Government of Sri Lanka “failed to take credible steps to investigate and hold perpetrators accountable for the array of allegations documented in the UN Panel of Experts report.” We urge the State Department to pursue a resolution at the upcoming UNHRC session that would highlight the Sri Lankan government’s failure to implement the LLRC recommendations and decide to stand up an independent international commission of inquiry.

Accountability is a necessary precursor to reconciliation and a stable democracy in Sri Lanka. It is clear to us that the LLRC process is mired in bias and delays, and only an independent, international investigation will achieve real accountability. Thank you for your attention to this matter and for your timely response.

Sincerely,

Robert P. Casey, Jr.
United States Senator

Patrick Leahy
United States Senator ( End Text)

- Asian Tribune -

US Senators Leahy and Casey renew call for international probe on Sri Lanka's alleged war crimes
US Senators Leahy and Casey renew call for international probe on Sri Lanka's alleged war crimes
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