UK hindered war crimes investigation – Naseby tells Bachelet
By Shamindra Ferdinando
Leader of Sri Lanka Core Group, the UK, has suppressed official documents that could have helped the Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) to establish the truth pertaining to war crimes allegations, including the number of deaths on the Vanni east front in 2009, Lord Naseby has said in a letter addressed to Michelle Bachelet, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.
Lord Naseby has raised the issue in his capacity as the President of the All Party British-Sri Lanka Parliamentary Group. The Conservative politician was responding to the controversial ‘Report of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights on Sri Lanka’ that recommended punitive measures against Sri Lanka, ahead of the 46th sessions of the UNHRC due to commence today (22).
Foreign Minister Dinesh Gunawardena is scheduled to address Geneva on Tuesday (23).
Lord Naseby, in his Feb 13, 2021, dated letter to Bachelet, has dealt with how the UK, a current member of the UNHRC, in addition to being member of the Sri Lanka Core Group, withheld from the UN body vital wartime dispatches sent to London by the British High Commission in Colombo in 2009.
Other Core Group members are Canada, Germany, North Macedonia, Malawi and Montenegro. The shocking suppression of High Commission dispatches came to light on Feb 16, 2021 when Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon, the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, told Parliament that the UK Government had not received any request from the UN Human Rights Council for copies of dispatches written by the former defence attaché at the British High Commission in Sri Lanka, Lieutenant Colonel Gash about events in Sri Lanka related to the civil war, and had not provided any.
Lord Ahmad was responding to Lord Naseby’s query whether the UK government provided to UNHRC any (1) censored, and (2) uncensored, copies of dispatches from Lieutenant Colonel Gash, the former defence attaché of the British High Commission in Sri Lanka about events in that country between 1 January and 18 May 2009 relating to the civil war.
Lord Naseby has tabled the question on Feb 4, 2021.
Lord Naseby told The Island that he had to invoke the Freedom of Information Act 2000 to secure ‘Gash reports’ to secure documents though the UK held back some while even the released documents were censored. Gash reports disputed UN Panel of Experts (PoE) primary claim that the Vanni offensive claimed the lives of 40,000 civilians. Gash reports estimated the number of dead, both civilians and LTTE combatants at 7,000.
The UNHRC consists of 47 countries divided into five categories : African States( 13 seats),Asia-Pacific States( 13 seats), Latin American and Caribbean States( 8 seats), Western European and other States( 7 seats) and Eastern European States( 6 seats).
The following is the relevant section from Lord Naseby’s assessment of Bachelet’s report: “The UK government has the evidence of the UK Defence Attaché Lt. Col. Gash during his period of service in Sri Lanka. Following a Freedom of Information Request from me which took nearly 3 years, Col. Gash’s dispatches from the war front are now, in heavily redacted copies, in the public domain. There is ample evidence in these dispatches 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 dispatches 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.”
Lord Naseby’s Office told The Island that Lord Naseby prepared his own independent analysis of Bachelet’s report and sent it directly to the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights at the UNHRC in Geneva. In addition, as the UK was the lead member of the core group on UNHRC Resolution 30/1, 34/1 and 40/1 on Sri Lanka, copies had also been sent to Foreign Secretary, Dominic Raab MP and Lord Tariq Ahmad, Minister of State at the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office.
Lord Naseby’s Office said that the Lord had personally written to the UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, to give due consideration for the long-standing friendship between Sri Lanka and the UK, especially as both countries were founding members of the Commonwealth. Lord Naseby had mentioned that it was more important than ever, especially in the midst of a pandemic that the UK continued to engage positively with Sri Lanka at every level and to support and strengthen peace and reconciliation amongst all communities.
Lord Naseby disclosed Gash’s reports on Oct 12, 2017. Sources said that Sri Lanka, too, refrained from requesting the UK to submit Gash reports though a section of the media repeatedly underscored the importance of them.
The suppression of vital documents came to light in the wake of Sri Lanka Core Group declaring its intention to present a unilateral resolution to promote ‘reconciliation, accountability and human rights’ in Sri Lanka.
The following is the text of the statement issued by the British HC in Colombo over the weekend: “The Core Group pays tribute to the people of Sri Lanka and wishes to highlight our ongoing commitment to accountability, reconciliation, and inclusive peace in Sri Lanka.
We recognize and welcome the progress made by the Government of Sri Lanka in rebuilding infrastructure, demining, land return and resettling internally displaced persons. However, it is clear that more needs to be done to address the harmful legacies of war and build a sustainable peace in the country.
This month, the United Nations Human Rights Council will consider an important report recently published by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), on human rights, reconciliation and accountability in Sri Lanka.
It has been important for the Core Group to work collaboratively and constructively with the Government of Sri Lanka over the last five years. Consequently, we have engaged with the Government of Sri Lanka in preparation for the Council.
The Core Group restates the ongoing importance of addressing Sri Lanka in the Human Rights Council. Informed by the report, the Core Group intends to present a resolution to promote reconciliation, accountability and human rights in Sri Lanka.”