By Shamindra Ferdinando
Having announced Sri Lanka’s decision to quit the Geneva process, Foreign Minister Dinesh Gunawardena early this year assured the high-level segment of the 43rd UNHRC session in Geneva of the country’s intention to adopt ‘home-grown solutions to contemporary challenges.’
This pledge was given on Feb 26, 2020, a couple of months after the 2019 presidential election. Reiterating Sri Lanka’s commitment to what he called sustainable ‘peace and reconciliation’ through an inclusive domestically designed and executed reconciliation and accountability process. Sri Lanka’s response includes a Commission of Inquiry headed by a justice of the Supreme Court.
Mahajana Eksath Peramuna (MEP) leader Gunawardena declared “since 2009, not a bullet has been fired in the name of separatism in Sri Lanka.” The Sri Lankan military brought the war to an end on the morning of May 19, 2009 on the banks of the Nanthikadal lagoon.
MEP is a constituent of the powerful coalition led by Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) that won a near 2/3 majority in parliament despite the numerous Western backed forces ranged against them, including a well-funded local civil society lobby ever ready to do their bidding. Minister Gunawardena alleged at the 43rd session that the co-sponsorship of Geneva resolution 30/1 (Oct, 2015), 34/1 (March, 2017) and 40/1 had violated Sri Lanka’s Constitution.
The next Geneva session is scheduled for Feb-March 2021. Sri Lanka will have to explain the progress made in respect of the reconciliation and accountability process, since Sri Lanka quit the Geneva process.
Those who had moved Geneva in consultation with the top UNP leadership are of the view Sri Lanka hadn’t done anything since March 2020 to meet assurance given in Geneva.
A top Western envoy, during a recent conversation with the writer questioned the Sri Lankan government’s failure to keep its promise. Sri Lanka owed an explanation as regards its conduct since its much touted pull-out from the Geneva process, the envoy emphasized. The diplomat shared concerns of those who had backed the Geneva process while making reference to two additional issues, namely the arrest of attorney-at-law Hejaaz Hizbullah in connection with 2019 Easter Sunday attacks and the controversial government decision to cremate all corona victims in spite of strong opposition from the Muslim community.
But we would like to humbly ask these Western powers, who are literally trying to play god with us, where are the credible investigations into nearly 1000 killings each year in US of mostly unarmed blacks and minority group members. Two years back London Guardian had a series of articles into such brazen killings, but even after that exposure the holy American ‘independent’ media hardly ever touched the issue, till they all suddenly woke up to Black Lives Matter cry after a few killings this year, obviously with Trump as their ultimate target. Everyone except those who refuses to see knows in all those incidents hardly led to any convictions of the perpetrators because of the rigged system of justice with often judges, jurors and executioners (cops) all have the common objective of terrorising the blacks into submission to white men.
We will not go into UNHRC‘s need to call for credible investigations into most obvious horrible crimes recorded by Wikileaks or the present persecution of those messengers of truth like Julian Assange, Edward Snowden, Chelsea Manning etc. etc. or how the canard of Weapons of Mass Destruction that launched a needless invasion of Iraq continues to bring death and misery to millions to this day. Do we need to mention what happened in Libya, Syria etc., etc.? UN you are a disgrace.
Core Group and Lord Naseby agree on Hizbullah
Interestingly, Lord Naseby who had strongly defended the war winning Sri Lankan armed forces at the expense of the overall Western strategy, too, has agreed with the Sri Lanka Core Group position on lawyer Hizbullah.
The following is the full text of the statement made by the UK’s International Ambassador for Human Rights, Rita French on behalf of Canada, Germany, North Macedonia, Montenegro and the UK: “We note the High Commissioner’s concerns on Sri Lanka in her update.
The Core Group pays tribute to the people of Sri Lanka and to all those involved in delivering safe and peaceful Parliamentary elections, despite the challenges of Covid-19.
Next March, the Council will consider an important report by the High Commissioner, on human rights, reconciliation and accountability in Sri Lanka. Specifically, it will consider the steps taken to implement resolution 30/1, through which, in 2015, the Council created a consensual framework to help Sri Lanka heal the wounds of its past and to address unresolved serious violations and abuses documented by the High Commissioner. This framework was renewed twice by this Council by consensus and with the explicit support of Sri Lanka.
The Government of Sri Lanka has been clear to this Council that it no longer supports resolution 30/1. The Core Group, once again, reiterates its profound disappointment at this development.
The Sri Lankan Government has also stated its continuing commitment to fostering reconciliation, justice and peaceful coexistence among Sri Lanka’s diverse communities. It has suggested that a new domestic process will take this agenda forward. While we appreciate this continued commitment, previous such processes have, regrettably, proved insufficient to tackle impunity and deliver real reconciliation. This Council will want to pay particular attention to how the new approach will differ from these previous attempts and put the victims of conflict at its heart. The future of the Independent Commissions including the Office for Missing Persons and Office for Reparations will be particularly important.
In the meantime we continue to hear concerns about an increasingly difficult operating environment for civil society and human rights groups in Sri Lanka. Instances of intimidation, harassment and surveillance continue, including threats to families of disappeared persons. Individuals are detained indefinitely without appearance before court, such as lawyer Hejaaz Hizbullah.
Sri Lanka’s dynamic and diverse civil society lies at the heart of its vibrant democracy. The Core Group expresses its strong solidarity with Sri Lanka’s civil society, and human rights defenders, and calls on the government to take all steps necessary to allow them to operate freely.”
The statement issued in Sept. 2020 reiterated the importance of Oct 2015 Resolution 30/1, through which Geneva created an agenda to deal with Sri Lanka. In terms of the Geneva agenda, the previous yahapalana administration made a costly bid to replace Sri Lanka’s Constitution though the operation couldn’t be brought to a successful conclusion. Those who now represented the SLPP in parliament today participated in that disruptive process. The man who spearheaded that process-UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe is no longer in parliament. The UNP that co-sponsored the Geneva Resolution has been reduced to just one National List MP in parliament. In the previous parliament the UNP had 106 members. The handling or mishandling of the post-war reconciliation process (read Geneva deal), too, contributed, in a big way, to the UNP’s deterioration.
Sri Lanka cannot be unaware in spite of its withdrawal from the Geneva process, the country is still very much part of the Geneva agenda. The Core Group has reminded Sri Lanka that the UNHRC would consider the UN human rights chief’s report pertaining to reconciliation and accountability in Sri Lanka, particularly the steps taken to implement resolution 30/1.
Now let me get back to Lord Naseby’s stand on Hizbullah revealed in a recent letter he wrote to Lord (Tariq) Ahmad of Wimbledon, Minister of State for South Asia and the Commonwealth. In the Nov 30, 2020 dated letter that had comprehensively dealt with the UK’s indefensible stand on post-war Sri Lanka, Lord Naseby stated the following: “The only substantial point in the Report that warrants real attention is the holding in custody of the Muslim Lawyer without being charged. I have raised this issue at the highest level in Sri Lanka pointing out it is unacceptable. I am told that evidence is being collected in relation to a possible association with the Easter Sunday bombing atrocity. I have made it clear he should either be charged or released.”
Lord Naseby took up the Hizbullah case, in his response to Lord Ahmad’s ministerial statement on Nov 20, 2020 in respect of what the UK called Human Rights Priority Countries for the period Jan -June 2020. Lord Naseby alleged that the policy statement “is dreadful, as it is riddled with factual inaccuracies and a total failure to reflect in any way the efforts of Sri Lanka to achieve reconciliation following the end of the terrorist conflict in May 2009. In fact the question arises as to why Sri Lanka is in the list of our human rights priority countries when there are countries with abysmal human rights records.”
Baffling continuous failure
Sri Lanka has a couple of weeks to finalize its forthcoming presentation in Geneva. With the debate on the 2021 budget over, the Foreign Ministry can undertake the project. However, the fact remains, the Joint Opposition (JO), predecessor to the SLPP, in spite of much rhetoric hadn’t worked on a strategy to reverse the Geneva trap. In an interview with the writer in Colombo in Sept 2019, Lord Naseby expressed serious disappointment over Sri Lanka’s failure to use his Oct 2017 disclosure in the House of Lords to effectively challenge the Geneva Resolution. Lord Naseby acknowledged he was quite surprised by Sri Lanka’s reaction as his revelation based on once classified wartime British diplomatic cables from Colombo disputed Geneva allegations directed at the war winning government.
Over three years after the House of Lords disclosure, British diplomatic cables remained unutilized. The incumbent government certainly owed the public an explanation why an opportunity to counter the Geneva project was never exploited. Sri Lanka for some strange reason never bothered at least to make a reference in Geneva to origins of terrorism in the country. In a way, Sri Lanka has facilitated the Geneva agenda by conveniently refraining from challenging the basis for the 2015 resolution based on STILL unsubstantiated allegations.
The primary allegation in PoE (Panel of Experts) report (March 2011) on Sri Lanka alleged at least 40,000 civilians perished on the Vanni east front. In terms of the UN dictates, the accusations made against Sri Lanka cannot be verified till 2031 due to a strange confidentially clause. Where in the world do you get a system of justice where one is precluded from facing one’s accusers for 30 years, let alone challenge their specific allegations? Meanwhile, Sri Lanka is regularly bashed by interested parties on the basis of unverified accusations. Wouldn’t it have been better if Sri Lanka made reference to this confidentiality clause that effectively prevented examination of allegations? Perhaps, Sri Lanka will take it up at least now, nearly a decade after the PoE report and five years after the country ended up in the Geneva agenda.
Having faulted the Sri Lanka Army, on three major counts, the PoE (Panel of Experts) accused Sri Lanka of massacring at least 40,000 civilians. Let me reproduce the paragraph, bearing no 137, verbatim: “In the limited surveys that have been carried out in the aftermath of the conflict, the percentage of people reporting dead relatives is high. A number of credible sources have estimated that there could have been as many as 40,000 civilian deaths. Two years after the end of the war, there is no reliable figure for civilian deaths, but multiple sources of information indicate that a range of up to 40,000 civilian deaths cannot be ruled out at this stage. Only a proper investigation can lead to the identification of all of the victims and to the formulation of an accurate figure for the total number of civilian deaths.”
The writer raised the issue with Farhan Aziz Haq, Deputy Spokesperson for UNSG António Guterres. Haq told the writer that the Geneva-based UNHRC could revisit resolution 30/1 titled ‘Promoting reconciliation, accountability and human rights in Sri Lanka’
Haq said that decisions regarding actions taken by the UNHRC were solely in the hands of the members of the Human Rights Council. The spokesperson added that it would be up to the member states of the Human Rights Council to decide whether to revisit Sri Lanka’s case. The UNHRC comprises 47 countries, divided into five zones.
The UN spokesperson said so when the writer asked him whether the UN could revisit Geneva Resolution in the wake of Lord Naseby’s revelation that the Vanni death toll was at most 7,000 to 8,000, and not 40,000 as cavalierly claimed by the PoE, in March 2011, and that Sri Lanka never targeted civilians purposely.
“Decisions about the actions taken by the Human Rights Council are solely in the hands of the members of the Human Rights Council. It would be up to the member states of the Human Rights Council to decide whether to revisit this case”, Haq said.
Sri Lanka accountability issue comes up in Geneva again while genocide accusations are repeated in the current parliament. In spite of the parliamentary group of one-time LTTE mouthpiece, the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) being reduced to ten members, newcomer C.W. Wigneswaran and Gajendrakumar Ponnambalam are on the offensive. The Sri Lankan military is under heavy fire in parliament whereas the government expressed concerns over the growing LTTE propaganda, particularly in Canada and the UK.
Especially, the recent developments in the UK proved the British have no option, but to tolerate Tamil Diaspora strategy due to relationship between political parties therein and the influence of voters of Sri Lankan origin.
Political interests supersede other concerns and obligations.
The previous Sirisena-Wickremesinghe government fully cooperated with Western powers as the Geneva Resolution was part of a high profile Western strategy meant to achieve several objectives, including introduction of a new Constitution to promote a federal agenda. The project was also aimed at obstructing growing China-Sri Lanka relations. The Geneva agenda should be properly countered. Sri Lanka cannot thwart the Geneva project by quitting the process. Instead, the government should seek re-examination of the original but STILL unverified allegations.
A web of lies
The Island learns that the Foreign Ministry is in the process of examining Geneva matter ahead of the next session. The following are the issues that needed attention: (1) Dismissal of war crimes accusations by war time US Defence Attache Lt. Col. Lawrence Smith in Colombo. The then US official did so in at the May-June 2011 first post-war defence seminar in Colombo, two months after the release of PoE report. The State Department disputed the official’s right to represent the US at the forum though it refrained from challenging the statement. (2) Examine the US statement along with Lord Naseby’s Oct 2017 disclosure based on the then British Defence advisor Lt. Colonel Anthony Gash’s cables to London during the war. Sri Lanka never did so. (3) Wikileaks revelations that dealt with the Sri Lanka war. A high profile Norwegian study on its role in the Sri Lanka conflict examined some cables. However, the Norwegian process never strengthened Sri Lanka’s defence. Instead Norway it merely sought to disown its culpability in the events leading to the annihilation of the LTTE. One of the most important Wikileaks revelations disputed Sri Lanka deliberately targeting civilians. The cable proved that our ground forces took heavy losses by taking the civilian factor into consideration. (4) Wide discrepancies in loss of civilian lives claimed by UN and various other interested parties. The UN estimated the figure at 40,000 (March 2011) whereas Amnesty International (Sept 2011) placed the number at 10,000 and a member of UK parliament (Sept 2011) estimated the death toll at 100,000. (5) Disgraceful attempt made by Geneva to exploit so called Mannar mass graves during yahapalana administration. The Foreign Ministry remained silent on Mannar graves while Western diplomats played politics only to be proved utterly wrong. Acting at the interest of those hell-bent on blaming Sri Lanka, Geneva faulted Sri Lanka before the conclusion of the investigation.
The then Northern Province Governor Wigneswaran rejected scientific findings of Beta Analytic Institute of Florida, USA, in respect of samples of skeletal remains sent from the Mannar mass grave site. Human Rights Commissioner Michelle Bachelet went to the extent of commenting on Mannar mass grave in her report that dealt with the period from Oct 2015 to January 2019. We come to wonder whether she was actually a victim of Gen. Pinochet or a mere manufactured victim.
Had the US lab issued a report to suit their strategy, would they have accepted fresh tests in case the government of Sri Lanka requested? The following is relevant section bearing No 23 from Bachelet’s report: “On May 29, 2018, human skeletal remains were discovered at a construction site in Mannar (Northern Province), Excavations conducted in support of the Office on Missing Persons, revealed a mass grave from which more than 300 skeletons were discovered. It was the second mass grave found in Mannar following the discovery of a site in 2014. Given that other mass graves might be expected to be found in the future, systematic access to grave sites by the Office as an observer is crucial for it to fully discharge its mandate, particularly with regard to the investigation and identification of remains, it is imperative that the proposed reforms on the law relating to inquests, and relevant protocols to operationalize the law be adopted. The capacity of the forensic sector must also be strengthened, including in areas of forensic anthropology, forensic archaeology and genetics, and its coordination with the Office of Missing Persons must be ensured.” (6) Wigneswaran, in his capacity as the then Northern Province Chief Minister in August 2016 accused the Army of killing over 100 LTTE cadres held in rehabilitation facilities. Wigneswaran claimed the detainees had been given poisonous injections resulting in deaths of 104 persons. The unprecedented accusation made by the retired Supreme Court judge had been timed to attract international attention. Wignewaran is on record as having said a US medical team visiting Jaffna at that time would examine the former rehabilitated LTTE cadres, who he alleged had fallen sick because they were injected with poisonous substances at government detention or rehabilitation centres.
Sri Lanka paid a very heavy price for its pathetic failure to counter a web of lies fashioned by interested parties, both local and foreign and well-funded by the West to coerce the country to adopt a new Constitution. The previous government played a key part of this strategy. Their strategy remained simple. A new Constitution meant to do away with Sri Lanka’s unitary status to address STILL unsubstantiated war crimes allegations. The previous government reached agreement with Geneva regarding a new Constitution as part of the overall deal that could have been executed successfully if not for the UNP causing a massive crisis by way of Feb 27, 2015 Treasury bond scam at the onset of the yahapalana administration.