In a note sent to UN Human Rights High Commissioner, British Conservative Party politician Lord Naseby criticised her recent report on Sri Lanka.
The report, which called on member states for punitive action against Sri Lankans who fought against ruthless LTTE, he said “glosses over the full extent of the war” and “the tenor of the writing almost has overtones of martyrdom for the Tamil Tigers”. Lord Naseby is the Honorary President of the All Party Parliamentary British-Sri Lanka Group. Britain, a member of the Core Group on Sri Lanka, is leading another negative resolution against Sri Lanka to be taken up during the final days of the on going 46th Human Rights Council sessions.
The following is the full text of his note to Human Rights High Commissioner Michelle Bachelet.
I have just finished a careful read of this extraordinary document which glosses over the full extent of the war when a group of vindictive terrorists tried to create a Tamil quasi neo-socialist revolutionary state by first murdering all the moderate Tamil leaders, then murdering President Ranasighe Premadasa and Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, as well as countless Ministers, Parliamentarians, civil society leaders and finally using extreme violence to wage war against the security forces of the democratically elected Government of Sri Lanka. All in the name of ‘Eelam’. It accuses the Government of Sri Lanka and its armed forces of ‘heinous crimes’ unspecified from so called ‘credible evidence sources’ all undefined. The tenor of the writing almost has over tones of martyrdom for the Tamil Tigers. Indeed the language reflects that of the Panel of Experts (Darusman) and OISL reports both now discredited by real evidence rather than conjecture.
Certainly there is little in the Report to help move ‘reconciliation’ forward.
I have studied the history of Sri Lanka in depth since I started the All Party British Sri Lanka Parliamentary Group in 1975. For nearly 50 years I have had a unique insight into Sri Lanka both internally and externally.
I have written a book based on extensive research, properly referenced with sources. Indeed I have given two copies to the FCDO South Asia Department.
The title of the book is: ‘Sri Lanka – Paradise Lost- Paradise Regained’.
I suggest Chapters 12 to 19 have more relevant facts than anything produced to date by the UN.
The Key Issues that the UNHRC ignore are:
1. The law that operates in war is the law of armed conflict otherwise known as International Humanitarian Law. This was confirmed by Sir Desmond de Silva QC the former Chief Prosecutor of a UN- sponsored War Crimes Tribunal. He made the point that The European Convention on Human Rights is wholly inappropriate for application in combat and battlefield conditions.
2. There is now a volume of independently verified evidence that civilian casualties in the war January1- May18 2009 were 5000-7,000 and maybe less. Certainly not the 40,000+ banded about by the UN.
3. The most heinous War Crime was the recruitment of male & female child-soldiers by the LTTE (Tamil Tigers). UNICEF stated that between April 2001 and September 2004 no less than 4,259 were verified.
On July 31, 2005 they stated that 5081 under age children had been recruited. Furthermore, UNICEF estimated 60% of LTTE personnel killed in combat were children.
Despite what the UNHRC report implies on page 4 there were no child soldiers in the Security Forces of Sri Lanka.
One of the key Tamil Tiger personnel deeply involved in the recruitment, training and possibly deployment of the Child Soldiers is a British Citizen, Mrs Adele Balasingham residing in the UK.
There is absolutely no mention of her by the UN. One has to ask why the UK has not itself either asked the UN to investigate into this matter or made its own genuine attempt at investigating Mrs Balasingham, given Britain’s interest in seeking the truth and accountability for human rights violations. Evidence of Mrs Balasingham confessing her involvement in the LTTE’s activites and adorning suicide cyanide capsule chains on the necks of female child soldiers may be readily seen in the documentary ‘Inside Story: Suicide Killers’ broadcast on BBC 1 on October 23 1991 at 21:30 ( Producer: Stephen Lambert, Executive producer Paul Hamann)
(https:// vimeo.com/304944042). It is high time that the Crown Prosecution service considered this matter with seriousness and vigour.
4. The UK government has the evidence of the UK Defence attache Lt. Col.Gash during his period of service in Sri Lanka. Following a Freedom of Information Request from myself which took nearly 3 years, Col. Gash’s Despatches from the war front are now, in heavily redacted copies, in the public domain. There is ample evidence in these despatches that Sri Lanka’s government at the time and its armed forces did not have a policy to kill Tamil civilians indeed they went out of their way to rescue them with considerable success despite danger and losses to themselves.
Removal of the redactions might well make it even clearer. By not providing these despatches in un-redacted form, the British Government is hindering the process of establishing the truth of what really happened at the end of the Sri Lanka conflict.
5. Reference is made on page 8 para 27 to an incident of disappearances of 11 persons in 2008-9. I make no comment BUT contrast this with the cold blooded murder of 600 policemen in the Eastern Province who surrendered to the LTTE on 11 June 1990 evoking no comment from the UN.
6. Reference is made on Page 4 para 9 ‘Credible allegations of indiscriminate shelling by government forces including densely populated No fire Zones’. Surely the UN is well aware that the NO FIRE Zone was offered to the LTTE because of the hospitals BUT the LTTE refused and placed its artillery close to the Hospitals (itself a war crime) and fired on advancing Government forces who understandably returned fire to destroy the Tamil Tiger guns. Such action is covered by the rules of War. It is worth noting the comment made by the resident American Ambassador Robert Blake at this time (Paranagama report p60 p288): ‘The LTTE often deliberately put its heavy artillery in the midst of civilian encampments precisely to draw fire so that people would get killed in the hope that there would be an international outrage and there would be essentially demands on the Sri Lankan Government to stop fighting and (agree to) some form of negotiated settlement’.
7. In page 4 para 9 the statement is made; ‘Strict controls over humanitarian supplies by the Government… caused additional deaths and suffering’. The only reason there was a reduction in supplies was that the LTTE refused to allow safe passage. It is worth noting that despite the LTTE taking all they needed for their troops there were still adequate supplies in the warehouses run by the Government Agent (civil servant). The truth is the LTTE semi-starved the civilians who were in their Human Shield policy. There was nothing the Government could do to mitigate this and certainly they were not responsible. The Paranagama Commission report covered this issue in some detail (denial of Humanitarian Assistance p122-127 ).
8. The report on page 4 para 9 states that LTTE cadres and their dependents are believed to have been extra – judicially executed after handing themselves over to Sri Lankan armed forces. This appears to be a new claim and does not stand up to examination. Col. Gash in his Despatches records that following extensive aerial leaflets offering safe passage to any Tamil civilian or military; hundreds came over and were looked after. I am aware of the so-called alleged killings at the end of the conflict which the Paranagama Commission describes as the extra-judicial executions of 18 May 2009 that were dubbed ‘White Flag Killings’ in the Channel 4 programe. This is an isolated incident and I concur with the Commissioner’s statement; ‘Due to the seriousness of these allegations, the Commission has come to the conclusion that an independent judicial inquiry is necessary to establish the facts,determine responsibility and arrive at the truth’.
9. Again in Para 9 the statement is made ‘More than 250,000 people were detained for months in military-run closed camps for internally displaced persons’. These were set up as thousands of civilians escaped through the lines from the clutches of the LTTE, indeed not all were civilians as hidden in their midst were hundreds of LTTE fighters who threw away their uniforms and pretended to be civilians.
The camps were set up as these shell shocked and half starved poor people who had been forced from their homes as a human shield, suffered 5 months of hell and now had nowhere to go. The emotive word ‘closed’ is used by the UN conveniently omitting that from Day 1. the International Red Cross (ICRC) were present helping to look after these poor deeply distressed people. Of course the Human Rights brigade demanded entrance which was refused primarily because it was known there were mixed in with the genuine refugees LTTE cadres, in fact over 11,000 of them.
The ICRC did a brilliant job as they have done all over the world. It did not need other parties interfering. Nevertheless it was reassuring that a group of Tamil Nadu MP’s visited the camp and issued a statement thanking the Sri Lanka Government. My wife is a doctor and I visited Manik Farm too and were impressed with care of everyone with medical facilities and even schooling for the Children. The LTTE cadres were separated but looked after and many of them went for rehabilitation which most welcomed. The Government correctly granted total freedom to all the ‘Child soldiers’ who had survived. There is an implied criticism that the camps were run by the military. One has to observe that given the numbers involved and the possible need for protection, the military were the obvious choice.
10. Torture is highlighted in para13 page 5 with the phrase: ‘Torture by the security forces and paramilitary groups’. I have now approached the ICRC on my last three official visits about this claim of torture as they operate in depth and island wide. The response from three different heads has been the same’ no torture but some heavy handling’.
The report of the UN High commissioner for Human Rights fails to understand what has happened in the three Presidential periods from the end of the War up to the present day.
Phase 1. President Mahinda Rajapaksa
It was his leadership allied with his brother Gotabaya Rajapaksa that build up the armed forces to a level and competence where they could face the military might of the Tamil Tigers. Regretfully the West refused to sell modern armaments leaving Sri Lanka with no option but to seek help from China which was forthcoming. If the LTTE Tamil Tigers a terrorist group proscribed in over 30 countries had not been defeated then there would undoubtedly have been a rogue State of Eelam created.
In the immediate post period up to the 2015 Presidential election the whole of the Northern Province infrastructure was rebuilt or restored particularly: power, roads, railways and schools. There was a conscious effort to return to the private sector those facilities that had been run by the military. There was a new major housing programme for the over 250,000 displaced persons supported by several countries but not the UK.
Finally, and vitally a major de-mining operation was set up and still going on today although it is made doubly difficult because the Tamil Tigers left no plans of what ground had been mined.
By any yardstick all this post war restoration work was a huge achievement and rather quicker than the allies achieved after WW2.
Phase 2. 2015 – 2019:President Sirisena (SLFP) with Ranil Wickremesinghe (UNP) as PM.
Despite the fanfare of a 100 day action programme the new Prime Minister proved to be weak and indecisive. He set up Commissions for the new Office of Missing Persons and Office of reparations,however all the good solid work recommended by the Paranagama Commision was not implemented. There was talk about linking with Civil Societies but with no concrete plans, proposals or strategic purpose. The Country was seen to be drifting by its people. The decision to co-sponsor the UN HRC initiative taken by Mangala Samaraweera off his own bat without agreement from Cabinet or the Executive President. This meant that there was no real in-depth commitment by the country at large. It was clear to observers like myself that tension was rising between the President and the Prime Minister particularly as a General Election approached.
Phase 3. Presidential Election 2019.
This saw Gotabaya Rajapaksa swept into power. He is a strong leader with a plan to develop the talent and opportunities of all Sri Lankans. I said on the pen-ultimate page of my book ‘Sri Lanka Paradise Lost – Paradise Regained’
‘Time for the newly elected Executive President Gotabaya Rajapaksa to re-establish Sri Lanka as a dynamic creative economy with his proven powers of leadership
Time for him to sort out the difficult economic landscape
Time for him to be allowed to prove his engagement with all minorities’.
His actions so far have vindicated my faith. He has reorganised the Office of Missing Persons as well as the Office for Reparations which have sorted out provisions for death certificates particularly for widows of missing persons and making where appropriate compensation payments. New commissioners have also been appointed to the Office of National Unity and Reconciliation. If the West genuinely wanted to help then they could share names of missing persons, some of whom have just turned up alive and well somewhere in the world; Canada and UK are the two obvious countries to have a trial.
Criticism is made of the little progress to setting up the Truth and Reconciliation system. How the UNHRC expect much progress on any issue in the middle of a world pandemic is unbelievable .
He has made a strong public commitment to all minorities.
He has restored the security system which had been down graded by the previous government resulting in the terrorist Easter attack on Christian Churches despite India sending warnings. The UN makes criticism of ex military personnel doing civilian jobs and in certain cases taking over the function. I remind the UN that after the WW2. in the UK the experience and commitment of former Military personnel was put to good use by both Prime Minister Attlee and Churchill. Sri Lanka is in exactly the same situation post war.
The UNHRC would do well to recognise the relative success of Sri Lanka’s response to the pandemic where an immediate shut down was made and the whole programme run by combination of the Military, Medics and Scientists. The decision to ban burials was made on local scientific advice concerning the water table and thus affecting the safety of the water. At the time of decision there was no WHO advice.
The Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa has now announced in Parliament that burials will also be allowed in addition to cremations. Controversial scientific advice was also made and implemented in the UK. One might reflect that Sri Lanka’s death toll is under 400 for a population of 21m whereas the UK death toll is now well over 110,000 on a population of around 66m. Criticism is made that Sri Lanka’s Parliament should have been recalled, however Britain is hardly the gold standard as the UK Government for the first 6 months of ‘Lockdown’ acted on emergency powers with virtually no involvement of Parliament. The UN Human Rights High Commissioner should realise that the real prize for the people of Sri Lanka is the attainment of a sustainable peace. When the Archbishop of Canterbury was asked about his assessment of Sri Lanka at the end of his visit after the Easter Sunday attacks he responded
“To live in a post-conflict country requires courage. It requires vision, the recognition that reconciliation- the issue of reconciliation in a post- conflict country is one that takes generations. Even in Europe, where the last great war in Western Europe was in 1945. We have made one of the best examples of reconciliation anywhere in the world after one of the worst examples of war. But yet, there are still things that have to be dealt with. Reconciliation is a generational process”. WW2 lasted 6 years whereas the conflict with the LTTE lasted nearly three decades largely sustained by global Tamil diaspora communities from various countries including the UK where the LTTE was able to establish its international headquarters. The LTTE was militarily defeated in Sri Lanka in 2009, its many external supporters never largely faced any justice. The LTTE could never have challenged a democratic country if it had not been financed, resourced and supported by a highly sophisticated network of terrorism activists that raised huge funds, often using criminal means.
For many years the terrorist nature and threat that the LTTE posed was never recognised in the West and the proscription of the Tamil Tigers was only established in the UK in 2001. Whilst the UN Human Rights High Commissioner never mentions the Tamil diaspora as a stakeholder in the conflict, the Paranagama Commission report determined how justice solutions need to encompass those who actively aided and abetted LTTE atrocities committed in Sri Lanka (such as Adele Balasingham) but who funded them from abroad. I quote “The Commission is of the view that international criminal law is capable of supporting the concept of prosecuting those who fund terrorist organisations in the knowledge that such funds will be used for the commission of war crimes or crimes against humanity.” (Paranagama p.174 para686)
The UN Human rights Council needs to take some steps to address this issue with countries that have been known centers of LTTE fundraising. To avoid such investigation is to allow the perpetrators of crimes to feel that they are empowered to repeat their previous actions with impunity.
Today there are clear attempts being made to resurrect the LTTE from outside Sri Lanka, yet law enforcement in foreign countries seem reluctant or blind to this threat. Surely no one wants to allow funds to be raised to finance another war in Sri Lanka. I finish on a positive note from the world famous Legatum Institute. In their latest report published in late November 2020 they praise Sri Lanka for the real progress made over the last 10 years. I quote from page 62 of the report ‘Over the past decade, Sri Lanka has made significant progress in addressing the constraints to its development. This progress has resulted from concerted efforts to build the institutional capacity and quality of the healthcare and education sectors, increasing access for its citizens to these key enablers of prosperity, especially in rural areas. The results have been nothing short short of remarkable.’
The Report concludes by stating that Sri Lanka is the most improved nation over the past ten years. One hopes the UNHRC will recognise this achievement but I question if they are even aware of it.