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Asian Tribune is published by E-LANKA MEDIA(PVT)Ltd. Vol. 20 No. 110

The Problem GR & Gen Shavendra Poses to the Good Governance Camp

By Shivanthi Ranasinghe

Gotabaya Rajapaksa coming out as the Sri Lanka Podujana Peruma Presidential candidate is bad enough for those who are doggedly in the Good Governance camp. On top of this news to have Lieutenant General Shavendra Silva promoted as the new Commander of the Sri Lanka Army has certainly twisted has certainly twisted this camp’s knickers into double knots. this camp’s knickers into double knots.

The US ambassador and the UNHRC High Commissioner had made their “tsk, tsk” over this promotion loud and clear. In fact, ambassadors from 28 western countries have protested over this appointment. Their protests are augmented by a cacophony of 64 NGOs aligned with Good Governance.

The diplomatic envoys’ protest and the pressure they exerted on the Sri Lanka Government to withdraw the appointment is a matter of grave concern. On one hand, they have violated Article 41 paragraph 1 of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, which states in unequivocal terms: "Without prejudice to their privileges and immunities, it is the duty of all persons enjoying such privileges and immunities to respect the laws and regulations of the receiving state. They also have a duty not to interfere in the internal affairs of that state." Thus, this violation in itself is serious.

On the other hand, this is the first time anywhere in the world for a large group in the diplomatic community to violate their mandate. The appointing of a commander to the army of that country is essentially an internal decision of that country. Therefore, it is crucial to understand the reasons for this protest in its entirety, taking hardcore facts into consideration than the oft repeated emotional narrative.

Their contention against Lieutenant General Silva’s appointment is also tied to their disdain over Gotabaya Rajapaksa emerging as a presidential candidate. They are both being accused of war crimes and human rights violations such as murder, disappearances and torture. UNHRC High Commissioner Michelle Bachelet has highlighted both Lieutenant General Silva and 58 Division commanded by him had come under a very dark cloud over their alleged conduct during the final phase of the war against the LTTE terrorism.

Therefore, appointing him to this position, accuses Bachelet, is an indictment of the callous disregard to the promotion of justice, responsibility and reconciliation as articulated in the Geneva Resolution 30/1. This not only undermines the reconciliation efforts but also the restructuring of the military, she noted. The veiled threat as to how such a decision can affect the UN Peacekeeping Force was heard loud and clear.

Allegations of HR Violations and War Crimes Blurring the Peace Regained

For over thirty years, Sri Lanka struggled to defend against LTTE terrorism. Though the LTTE was purportedly fighting for a Tamil cause, throughout their existence, all communities were deeply affected. The Tamils caught in the areas dominated by the LTTE were especially hard hit. Kidnapping, forcible child conscription, extortion, kangaroo courts, dehumanization are some of the few hardships the ordinary Tamil civilians experienced regularly during this period of violence.

Since regaining peace, normalcy had returned to the entire Island. As the ones who were most affected by terrorism, it is the Tamils in the Northern and Eastern provinces who are also reaping the benefits of peace the most.

Yet, until the Easter Sunday Massacres the focus was not on the peace regained. Instead, because of a relentless drive from the West, the political and military leadership that paved the way to peace stand accused of human rights violations and war crimes. These accusations are leveled against the LTTE as well. However, the tone of that accusation is markedly different.

When the accusation is leveled as “LTTE is also responsible”, that “also” implies “guilty, but not quite as much”. Thus the implicit meaning from this “also” is that though the LTTE had committed human rights violations, it is somewhat excusable violations.

The LTTE is also carefully sidelined from any responsibility on the baseless argument that the LTTE hierarchy did not survive the war. This is a factually incorrect assertion for the entire hierarchy did not get decimated during the final battle. Adele Balasingham played a pivotal role in evolving the LTTE from a gang of thugs to a brutal terrorist organization. Her memoirs recount the manner in which the youth, often in their teens, were selected and physiologically damaged to become suicide bombers.

Rudrakumaran is now the “numero uno” of the TGTE (Transnational Government of Tamil Eelam). According to the Canadian based veteran journalist DBS Jeyaraj, Rudrakumaran was, “the International legal adviser of the LTTE and had participated in the Govt-LTTE peace talks as a resource person of the LTTE delegation.”

They are both living openly and freely in the West. Besides Rudrakumaran, people like Suren Surendran are keeping the LTTE ideology alive in the West, without so much of a whimper of protest from any of the human rights organizations or at least a slap on the wrist by the host government. These are the very countries that deliberately stamped out everything that could be associated with nazism because that was the only way forward to rise up from that terrible, fascist ideology.

The West maybe trying to portray itself as human right champions by tolerating the LTTE fascist ideology. However, all they have come across is as being hypocritical.

It is not only the top hierarchy that survived. Earlier this year (2019), it was reported that an assassin connected directly to Mr Lakshman Kadirgamar’s killing was found in Germany. This is not the first time those who are linked to grave crimes in Sri Lanka have emerged from the West and India.

Despite this evidence of those responsible for absolutely horrific crimes living freely and openly in the West, the full glare of the accusation had always been fixated on the Sri Lankan political and military leadership. As a result, Sri Lanka cannot even take an independent decision such as appointing an experienced officer as the commander of the Sri Lanka Army without having to face the full condemnation of the West.

Each time, the OISL Report is pulled out and waved across our faces, as if in an attempt to browbeat our conscience. Therefore, it is important to understand the origin, contents and the consequences of this OISL Report that only targets the Sri Lankan political and military leadership who were instrumental in paving peace to the country.

PoE to OISL to Geneva Resolution 30/1

By 2011, various human rights organizations and activists have taken the bludgeon of war crimes against the then Sri Lankan Government. Though they were all working towards a common cause to prove that the Sri Lankan Government committed war crimes, none could agree as to the number of civilians killed. According to the channel 4 documentary, around 40,000 civilians perished. However, according to Amnesty International it is 10,000.

The then UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon then appointed a group of three, who came to be known as the Panel of Experts (PoE). As these three were not attached to the UN, Ban Ki-moon’s explanation was that it was as a personal brief for him. However the contents of the PoE’s report, which was released on March 2011 as the Darusman’s Report became public within months.

As this Report was not compiled by the UN, it cannot be accepted by the UN. Despite this report not been sanctioned by any recognized body, its contents were blindly picked up and repeated by other publications. Therefore, the allegations against Sri Lanka grew its credence by the continuous repetition and not from the weight of proof. The OISL Report, which was commissioned by the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) too committed the same cardinal error.

The OHCHR was to investigate the alleged serious violations and abuses of human rights and related crimes in Sri Lanka from 2002 to 2011. Though the investigations commenced in 2014, it was ready for submission in time for the September Human Rights Council session in 2015. It was based on this OISL Report that the Geneva Resolution 30/1 came into existence.

A number of issues pertaining to the OISL Report challenges its very integrity. These issues warrants a detailed discussion in a separate article altogether. For this discussion, it is sufficient to note that the main problem with this Report is that its content does not reflect authenticity.

As an initial step, the OISL investigating team carried out a desk review of the existing material. However, it is apparent that this team was trying to support the already prevailing conclusion that the civilian death toll during the final months of the battles were excessive. Material that did NOT support this conclusion were studiously ignored.

A case in point is the UN Report itself that is to date classified as confidential. This Report compiled by the UN Office in Colombo places the death toll from August 2008 to May 2009 at 7,721. Ignoring this finding from their own organization, the OISL Report repeats from the Darusman’s Report that 40,000 civilians perished during the final period of the war. However, upto date the PoE had been unable to explain how they arrived at this figure.

Furthermore, a panel of seven experts with international repute on warfare and war crimes also came to the definite conclusion that the Sri Lankan military did not commit any war crimes. This panel, that included Sir Jeffrey Nice and Sir Desmond Silva, after examine all evidence including witness testimonies found that the Sri Lankan military absorbed a greater number of casualties in order to safeguard the civilians. The LTTE on the other hand was found to have committed grave war crimes, including attempting to blur distinction and using civilians as a human shield.

In 2017, Lord Naseby too proved that this figure of 40,000 is a myth. He used the dispatches sent by the British Defence Attache who was in Sri Lanka during the final stages of the war to the Home Office. According to these dispatches, the British Government was informed that the death toll is less than 8,000 and a quarter of that number were terrorists in civilian attire.

Yet, despite clear evidence that the Sri Lankan military did not commit any war crimes or excesses, these agents including the UNHRC are sticking to the narrative produced by the Darusman’s Report. It was based on the contents of Darusman’s Report that was repeated in the OISL Report that the Geneva Resolution 30/1 came into being. In effect the OISL Report became a production that allowed the contents of the otherwise inadmissible Darusman’s Report into the deliberations of the 2015 US led Resolution against Sri Lanka.

Consequences of the Geneva Resolution 30/1

The Easter Sunday Massacres was the direct result of the Geneva Resolution 30/1. As such all those who pushed through, sponsored and co-sponsored this Resolution must be held directly accountable for this tragedy. Very briefly, the two-fold objective of this Resolution is to introduce a new constitution and dismantle the strength of the military.

The Good Governance camp was unable to bring forth the new constitution that would have divided the country into nine semi-autonomous enclaves and a virtually powerless central government. However, they did manage to engineer certain structural changes to the existing constitution that has created immense instability within the government. It was this instability and the resulting disharmony between the highest powers that prevented either from taking any action to prevent the 21/4 tragedy.

The Resolution also broke the confidence of our security establishment. Over various allegations of isolated incidents, entire intelligence teams, high ranking officers from the military and the police had been manhandled and detained in remand custody for months. Yet, without concrete evidence even to file a court case against them, these officers and men had suffered needlessly at the hands of the law.

As amply demonstrated by the recent arrest of the naval crew who apprehended a dinghy with four suspicious characters, it is indeed at the peril of one’s fundamental rights that the security establishment must now engage in its duty. The Geneva Resolution 30/1 is responsible for this atmosphere that has elevated the rights of the terrorists and extremists above National Security.

Human Rights in Sri Lanka

Human Rights is a highly politicized subject in Sri Lanka. As mentioned above, the human rights violations committed by the LTTE only received a sideways glance. The human rights violations that has increased with the rise of the underworld during these past four years do not even get that sidelong glance that the LTTE did. The focus had always been on the allegations against the Sri Lanka security establishment.

However, though the West is very vociferous regarding their concerns about Sri Lanka’s poor human rights track record, they do not really believe in their own accusations. If they did, they could have never backed then General Sarath Fonseka as the 2010 presidential candidate.

Countries like Australia had been working with the Sri Lankan Government for a very long time to discourage illegal immigrants coming into their countries. However it is not easy to gain legal entry into Australia as well. Currently the Australian Government is embroiled in a controversy over their attempts to deport a Tamil family - even though their two children are Australia-born. Therefore Australia certainly do not believe that there is systematic or State sponsored violence against anyone in Sri Lanka.

The reality is that Human Rights is being used as a bludgeon by vested interest groups to keep the Sri Lankan Government and its forces at bay from ensuring national security of the country. Thereby it is easier to create confusion in the country as racial and/or religious extremism threatens everyday life. This confusion in turn allows external forces to meddle in affairs that are strictly ours.

The emergence of Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Lieutenant General Shavendra Silva will end the unbridled free spree that these vested interest groups had been enjoying for the past four years. Hence, the howl of protests.

- Asian Tribune -

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