Tuesday, 20 September 2016

Focus on wartime ICRC presence in Vanni

SPECIAL REPORT : Part 140

 

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By Shamindra Ferdinando

Wartime head of the Secretariat for Coordinating the Peace Process (SCOPP), Prof. Rajiva Wijesinha emphasized the pivotal importance of establishing the number of wounded civilians during the Vanni offensive. The outspoken academic called for an accurate estimate of the actual number of civilians wounded on the Vanni east front and the number evacuated with the intervention of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). Prof. Wijesinha was responding to Eelam War IV: More on the Indian presence at Pulmoddai, The Island, September 14, 2016.

Sri Lanka established SCOPP in February, 2002, in accordance with an agreement with the Norwegian government to facilitate the peace process. Top career diplomat, Bernard Goonetilleke, initially headed it (2002-2004). Goonetilleke was followed by one-time top UN official, Jayantha Dhanapala (2004 -2005), Dr Palitha Kohona (2006-2007), and lastly Prof. Rajiva Wijesinha (2007-2009). The then President Mahinda Rajapaksa terminated SCOPP within weeks of the successful conclusion of the war, in May, 2009.

The previous government’s failure to conduct a thorough examination of available information, in support of Sri Lanka’s defence, in the face of mounting allegations, is inexcusable. Surprisingly, those still loyal to former President Rajapaksa seem still comfortable in simply denying accusations, than debunking the contentious allegations against the country point by point.

ICRC in risky operation

As the only NGO allowed by the then government to engage in the risky operation to evacuate the wounded, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) can shed light on the actual situation at Puthumathalan. International representatives of the ICRC had access to Puthumathalan, until May 9, 2009. Both local and ICRC staff experienced severe difficulties in keeping the high profile operation on track. A few Tamil civilians employed by the ICRC received injuries during the civilian rescue operation. Some succumbed to their wounds. The possibility of the Sri Lankan Army (SLA) being responsible for some of the injuries and deaths, caused during the Vanni offensive cannot be ruled out. But, contrary to allegations, there hadn’t been a deliberate and systematic campaign to target Tamil civilians or NGOs and INGOs, including the ICRC.

New Delhi on ICRC project

Let me reproduce the relevant section of an Indian government press report released several months after the conclusion of the war:

"Apart from providing medical assistance to IDPs (internally displaced persons) ferried by the ICRC, on-board the vessel MV Green Ocean, the Indian medical team also rendered medical assistance to hundreds of residents of Pulmoddai. Some of them were referral cases from the local hospital doctors. After the ICRC — assisted ship evacuation stopped, the medical team shifted its focus to providing medical assistance to the IDPs, housed in three camps at Pulmoddai. Over the period, the team during its stay at Pulmoddai received a total of 21 ships and treated nearly 7,000 IDPs. The hospital continued operation for over two months at this location (Pulmoddai)".

The Indian statement is clear that its Pulmoddai based medical team had received war wounded civilians, on 21 occasions, during the two-month period (March-May, 2009).

ICRC can help probe

The ICRC can easily provide the exact number of war wounded civilians, evacuated during this period. In fact, the ICRC, Colombo, I’m sure, is in a position to furnish a breakdown of evacuations of both wounded as well as helpers, carried out on 21 occasions. As the Indian government has admitted that its medical team received that many war wounded civilians, our friendly neighbour should also be able to provide a detailed breakdown of admissions to makeshift medical facilities before being transferred to state-run hospitals. The Eastern Naval Command, too, should have a detailed account of the evacuation of the war-wounded and helpers. Due to the Navy, the ICRC and India having detailed accounts of evacuations, carried out between Feb 10, 2009, and May 9, 2009, the proposed war crimes court can establish the number of wounded moved out of the war zone.

The ICRC made an abortive bid to evacuate more wounded on May 15. The ship assigned for the task had no option but to turn back due to heavy fighting. The Army brought Vanni east operations to an end, on the morning of May 19, 2009. Analysis of evacuations, carried out by the ICRC, will help the government, and the international community, to ascertain the number of war wounded civilians who couldn’t be evacuated between May 15, 2009 and May 18, 2009. Some of them would have certainly succumbed to their injuries before the Army commenced removing the wounded, both combatants and civilians.

UN on ICRC evacuations

Report of the Secretary General’s Panel of Experts (PoE) on Accountability in Sri Lanka, obviously on the basis of information received from the ICRC, declared, on March 31, 2011, that the LTTE prevented evacuation of wounded cadres by the ICRC. The PoE said: "In all, ICRC evacuated 14,000 wounded persons, and their relatives, from the second and third No Fire Zones and delivered around 2,350 MT of food to Mullivaikkal. THOSE EVACUATED WERE ALL CIVILIANS, AS THE LTTE DID NOT PERMIT ITS CADRE TO LEAVE THE CONFLICT AREA FOR TREATMENT (emphasis mine)."

By denying permission for wounded cadres to leave, the LTTE ensured that their family members couldn’t leave the Vanni east battle zone. It would be pertinent to keep in mind that of, 14,000 evacuated, 7,000 were war-wounded and 7,000 helpers. If not for ICRC’s intervention, the vast majority of them would have succumbed to injuries suffered during fighting. Thanks to wartime Navy Chief, the then Vice Admiral Wasantha Karannagoda’s intervention, the writer had an opportunity to observe ICRC ship engaged in the evacuation of the wounded on April 28, 2009, and then visit the Indian medical facility at Pulmoddai.

The ICRC has also played a significant role in the formulation of a confidential UN report during the Vanni offensive. Although, the UN has publicly acknowledged the existence of the report, it is not yet in public domain, though PoE acknowledged the report dealt with the situation in the Vanni during August, 2008, to May 13, 2009. The report placed the number of persons killed, and wounded, during this period at 7,721 and 18,479 respectively. The ICRC furnished information to the UN report. Interestingly, the report refrained from differentiating the dead combatants and civilians. Those who had wanted to know the truth should request the UN to make the report available to the proposed war crimes court. The report can help establish deaths caused on both Vanni west and east due to continuous fighting. There cannot be a better detailed account than the UN report as it was based on information provided by NGOs, ICRC, as well as numerous other sources trapped in the war zone.

A serious effort should be made to verify whether some of those who had been categorized as wounded, by the UN, were evacuated by the ICRC between Feb 10 and May 9, 2009.

The ICRC launched sea evacuations after fighting forced the closure of all entry and exit points by road, to the Vanni east, in late January 2009.

ICRC enters Sri Lanka conflict

The ICRC arrived in Sri Lanka, in late 1989, on the invitation of the then President Ranasinghe Premadasa to address issues concerning the second JVP-inspired insurgency. The ICRC set up project here as Premadasa was having a honeymoon with the LTTE (May 1989 to June 1990). When the LTTE resumed Eelam War II, in June 1990, the ICRC swiftly moved to the conflict zone. Since then, the ICRC played a significant role in bringing in relief to war affected communities and also facilitate contacts between successive governments and the LTTE. The armed forces, as well as the LTTE, appreciated ICRC interventions though the military strongly resented the actions of some international NGOs. In fact, some INGOs helped to prolong the war, much to the detriment of Tamil-speaking people held hostage there as a human shield, as well as the LTTE fighting cadre.

Even amidst fiercest fighting in the northern theatre, the ICRC, even at the risk of their lives, helped transfer bodies of security forces personnel and LTTE killed in combat. The ICRC intervention paved the way for families to receive bodies of their loved ones. The LTTE leadership’s cooperation in that regard made the ICRC operation a reality.

ICRC relationship with the media

One-time ICRC Information Officer, Harsha Gunewardene, helped the media to provide accurate information pertaining to ICRC operations here. Gunawardene, in early Sept. 2000, explained the circumstances under which bodies had been transferred across the northern frontlines. The writer dealt with the issue in a story headlined ICRC transfers 2,112 bodies of combatants in 5 years, The Island, Sept. 9, 2000). The following is the text of the story: "With the Wednesday’s transfer of the remains of 36 bodies of LTTE cadres killed in action early this week at Colombuthurai, Jaffna, the total number of Tiger bodies returned to the LTTE, through the ICRC, rose to 753. Those bodies had been transferred to the LTTE since 1995, ICRC Information Officer Harsha Gunewardene said. The official said 180 bodies had been transferred in 1995, 68 in 1996, 149 in 97, 132 in 98, 142 in 99 and 82 [including the bodies transferred this week] this year.

Fighting resumed in April, 1995, after the LTTE broke off a 100-day truce with the PA government and sank two gunboats at Trincomalee. The LTTE has returned bodies of 1359 security forces personnel through the ICRC during the same period, Gunawardene said. Although only 24 bodies had been returned in 1995 and 96, a staggering 1077 bodies were sent in body bags in the next two years. However, in 1999, only 55 bodies were handed over by the LTTE. Gunewardene said that 203 bodies of security forces personnel had been sent back so far this year (2000). A total of 2,112 bodies of combatants had been transferred by delegates of the ICRC in the North-East region particularly in the Wanni, Gunewardene said.

ICRC had transferred bodies of combatants to and from government held areas, even before 1995. Sri Lanka Red Cross [SLRC] has also been involved in the transfer of bodies.

"The bodies are transferred and handed over to their respective military commands for further identification and then handed over to families," Gunewardene said, adding that the ICRC will continue to play, what he called, the organization’s traditional role as a "neutral intermediary" in conflict areas by responding to the requests of all parties to hand over bodies of combatants or civilians.

However, there had been many cases where the warring parties had failed to agree on conditions necessary to effect the transfers, The Island learns. Hundreds of bodies had been cremated on battle fields as a result of their failure to accept conditions required to carry out the safe transfer of bodies."

Spearheading role

The ICRC worked closely with both the military and the LTTE until the very end of the conflict. In addition to transferring bodies of combatants across frontlines, the ICRC regularly checked on those who had been captured by warring parties, thereby brought immense relief to them as well as their families. Those who had been accusing Sri Lanka of conducting a war without witnesses should be told to get in touch with ICRC Colombo. There had been no doubt whatsoever that men, women and children had been killed due to military action not only during Eelam War IV, but the entire conflict. The Indian Army, during its deployment here (July 1987 to March 1990), too, caused civilians deaths. There had been excesses on the part of both Sri Lankan and Indian forces. But, both Sri Lanka and India never adopted a deliberate policy meant to harm civilians.

The wartime government allowed ICRC, Colombo, to operate in the Vanni east even after all other foreign NGOs were asked to vacate, in Sept. 2008. Having served the people of the Vanni west, the ICRC shifted to Vanni east as the LTTE gradually retreated across the Kandy-Jaffna A9 and positioned itself at LTTE stronghold Puthukudirippu. The ICRC vacated Puthukudirippu in January, 2009 and moved to Puthumathalan. The mission had powerful communication equipment, direct access to the LTTE as well, as the displaced and certainly facilitated UN efforts to gather information regarding the dead and the wounded.

PoE on ICRC mission

Accountability issues cannot be investigated without the proposed war crimes court knowing the ICRC’s role. The proposed hybrid court, as envisaged in the Geneva Resolution adopted on Oct 1, 2015, should listen to the ICRC. If the ICRC is unable to publicly discuss issues at hand, the court should obtain a private presentation. Anyone wanting to establish the truth, the plight of the Vanni community, and verify alleged atrocities, committed by the military, cannot under any circumstances ignore the ICRC’s version. Let me reproduce verbatim what UN PoE comprising Marzuki Darusman, Steven Ratner and Yasmin Soooka, said about the ICRC role, in early 2009: "The ICRC continued to play a leading role in alleviating the plight of the civilian population in the Vanni, by evacuating wounded civilians from the coastal strip by ship, starting on 10 February. 2009. In total, 16 ICRC ships came to the conflict zone in the final months. The international ICRC staff that had remained in Puthumathalan, left on the first ship, but they returned and stayed onshore for a few hours each time the ships came back. The government didn’t allow United Nations staff on the ships."

The PoE explained measures taken by the LTTE to ensure that only wounded civilians, accompanied by their relatives, could take advantage of the ICRC operation.

The previous government quite rightly believed the UN, Colombo, being biased towards the LTTE. The UN continued to shield the LTTE until the very end, hence the decision not to involve the UN in the ICRC operation. The UN, Colombo, went to the extent of conducting secret negotiations with the LTTE, in early, 2007, in the wake of UN Tamil employees helping some people to seek refuge in the government held area.

Proposed war crimes inquiry will certainly expose the UN, Colombo. Will Sri Lanka take up the challenging task of defending itself or succumb to Western pressure? The previous government can never absolve itself of not properly handling Sri Lanka’s defence, thereby facilitating the despicable project of those who couldn’t stomach armed forces victory over the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) backed LTTE.

Critical failure

A joint effort, made by the UN and the ICRC, in early, 1998 to persuade the LTTE to stop forcible conscription of child soldiers, failed. The LTTE persisted with the despicable practice until the very end on the Vanni east front. Both UN and ICRC failed to take tangible measures to force the LTTE to do away with the practice. In fact, the LTTE stepped-up child recruitment in the wake of failed high profile UN-ICRC project in, May, 1998, during Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga’s tenure as the President. None of those who had been demanding accountability, on the part of Sri Lanka, for alleged atrocities committed on the battlefront dared to urge the LTTE to stop deploying children. The four-party Tamil National Alliance (TNA) went to the extent of participating in passing out parades of children, tuned terrorists, during the Norwegian arranged Ceasefire Agreement (2002-2004 period).

Tuesday, 13 September 2016

Eelam War IV More on Indian presence at Pulmoddai

SPECIAL REPORT : Part 139

 

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By  Shamindra Ferdinando

A seminar, titled ‘The Geneva resolution and federalism as it is today’ organized by Sri Lankan Global Forum (SLGF), at Sri Lanka Foundation, on Sept. 5, 2016, received the attention of Groundviews, the first citizen journalism website in Sri Lanka. In an article, titled Policy vs Politics: Global Sri Lankan Forum’s telling myopia, website Groundviews, dealt with views expressed by former UN staffer in Colombo, Mohan Samaranayake, President’s Counsel Manohara de Silva, eminent attorney-at-law Gomin Dayasri, and the writer, Shamindra Ferdinando.

At the onset Groundviews quite rightly pointed out that the Sri Lanka Foundation, where the seminar had been held, was largely empty. However, Groundviews had felt the need to analyze the event, as well as provide online links to full speeches, thereby giving wide access to them.

Having dealt with the four speeches, separately, Groundviews asserted:... a common thread could be seen among all the speakers – many of them echoed sentiments, spoken by former President Mahinda Rajapaksa. It was all there – the dismissal of critics as "LTTE stooges", the pointing fingers at evil foreign powers, the casual dismissal of allegations of human rights violations – just as earlier on, Rajapaksa said there had been "zero civilian casualties", before having to backtrack, resulting in the admission made by the Paranagama Commission.

Omissions

The following is the section which dealt with the writer’s presentation: Senior Journalist at The Island, Shamindra Ferdinando, said that there were "missed opportunities" that the Government had failed to capitalize on in Geneva. In the first instance, he mentioned that the allegations made, in the Geneva resolution, could not be verified until 2031, and even then, has to be UN approved. Drawing mostly from his own work, Ferdinando pointed out the case of a former US defence attaché, Lieutenant Colonel Lawrence Smith, who had defended the Sri Lankan government, at a seminar, hosted by the Army, in 2011. He was, subsequently, recalled, and the US embassy said the remarks he made were his personal opinion. The revelations of Wikileaks could also have been used in Geneva, he added. Once again, the final bloody weeks of the war were glossed over. There was no withholding of medical supplies, the military acted humanely to save civilian lives, and foreign relief workers were able to go ashore in Pudumathalan, and were only barred from the second week of May, in 2009, – a week before the war ended.

In the first instance, the Indian medical aid team, cited by Ferdinando, flew in only on March 9, 2009, and flew out in six months. This hospital consisted of, initially, just 50 beds, according to the Indian High Commission, and later on, was upgraded to 115. More than 40,000 people sought treatment at this facility alone – not counting referrals from local hospitals. This was not mentioned at all by Ferdinando – he seemed to blithely assume that this single facility was enough to treat the thousands of injured who were caught in the crossfire in the last stages of the war. The ICRC’s own reports show that its workers were injured, while trying to evacuate citizens. "The violence is preventing the International Committee, of the Red Cross (ICRC), from operating in the region," said Jacques de Maio, ICRC head of operations for South Asia, in Geneva, in a press release, in January, 2009. This was also not dealt with by Ferdinando. He continued on to allege that the figure of 65,000 missing people, given by the Government was false, as many had fled overseas. As evidence of this, he cited three cases of people who had surfaced overseas – which presumably refuted the figure in entirety. No mention at all was made of the submissions made by families of the disappeared to a Consultation Task Force, on reconciliation, recently, in the lead up to the creation of the Office of Missing Persons.

Groundviews declared the event, rather than being a balanced discussion on the positives of the unitary system of governance was a rehash of rhetoric already spoken about in the context of the Geneva resolution, and much of it in support of former President Rajapaksa.

Need for FCID probe

The writer’s presentation can be accessed at (http://www.island.lk/index.php?page_cat=article-details&page=article-details&code_title=151582) to examine whether an attempt was made to defend war-winning former President Mahinda Rajapaksa, or his administration, or echoed Rajapaksa’s sentiments. In fact, the writer entirely dealt with the previous government’s pathetic failure to use credible statements, and evidence, to counter unsubstantiated allegations. The writer suggested that those who had hired costly US PR firms, at taxpayers expense, to engage in futile exercise, should be hauled up before the Financial Crimes Investigation Division (FCID).

Indians treat 7,000 war wounded

Groundviews should organize a seminar with the participation of persons with different opinion on Sri Lanka’s war against the LTTE, issues of accountability, and the requirement to retain the unitary status of Sri Lanka’s Constitution.

In spite of Groundviews assertion that the final bloody weeks of the war were glossed over, the entire presentation dealt with the previous government’s failure, though, at the onset, reference was made to outgoing UNSG Ban Ki-moon’s diabolical comparison of Sri Lanka’s Vanni offensive with cases of genocide in Rwanda and Bosnia, in 1994 and 1995, respectively.

Groundviews further alleged that the writer had not adequately discussed the role played by the Indian medical team, deployed at Pulmoddai, north of Trincomalee. Groundviews referred to more than 40,000 persons receiving treatment at the Indian facility and its deployment, at Pulmoddai, in early March, 2009. The writer dealt with the Indian medical team’s deployment, at Pulmoddai, where it treated nearly 7,000 wounded men, women and children before being moved to other hospitals. Groundviews obviously mixed up those who had received medical treatment at Pulmoddai (from the second week of March, 2009, to late May, 2009), with patients treated by the Indian medical team at Menik farm, Vavuniya (late May 2009 to Aug. 31 2009). No less a person than the then Indian High Commissioner, Alok Prasad, told the writer, at an event at Taj Samudra, to appreciate the services of the Indian team, and how the mission took care of nearly 7,000 war-wounded, during two months before being moved to Menik farm. All of them had been ferried from the Vanni east battle zones, under the auspices of the ICRC. Interestingly, the Indian High Commission statement, used by Groudviews, to underscore its point, placed the number of persons who had received treatment at Pulmoddai at nearly 7,000 and also the fact their evacuation from the Vanni east war zone. Addressing the gathering, the then Health Minister, Nimal Siripala de Silva, explained the circumstances under which the Indian deployment took place at Pulmoddai, immediately after India offered medical assistance. Appreciating the services rendered by the Indian team, Minister de Silva emphasized that there hadn’t any written agreement in respect of the deployment at Pulmoddai and subsequently at Menik farm. In his address, HC Prasad said that India offered medical assistance as a true friend not due to shortcoming on the part of the Sri Lanka government (India: Any country would have found IDP influx difficult to handle-The Island, September 10, 2009).

It would be pertinent to mention that in accordance with an understanding, among the government, the ICRC and the LTTE, every wounded person, who had been evacuated from the Vanni east war zone, was accompanied by a helper (relative), thereby nearly 7000 civilians could leave the area.

ICRC role

During March-May 2009, the ICRC-led operation brought nearly 7,000 war wounded, and nearly 7,000 helpers, on 21 occasions, in ships. The writer was among a group of journalists taken to Indian medical facility, on the evening of April 28, 2009, following a visit to Mullaitivu seas where the Navy maintained a significant presence to thwart possible LTTE attempt to escape. From Israeli built Fast Attack Craft (FAC) the journalists had a glimpse of the ICRC-chartered vessel Green Ocean, which was in the process of receiving the war wounded and helpers. The wartime Commanding Officer of the 4th FAC Squadron, Captain Noel Kalubowila, as well as Captain D.K.P. Dassanayake, were positioned there, temporarily, to oversee small boat operations, which accompanied the media team. The navy vowed not to allow the LTTE leadership to flee (Sea escape not a reality-The Island, April 30, 2009).

India offered to position the medical team in the wake of the closure of overland routes to the Vanni east region, in late January, 2009. Even after the Army liberated Kilinochchi, in the first week of January, 2009, the LTTE desperately sought to halt troops advancing on multiple fronts. The LTTE effort was meant to gain sufficient time for the international community to arrange a ceasefire, thereby retain territory under its control. Having realized the LTTE strategy, the government sought the ICRC’s assistance to launch special operation to move supplies to the Vanni east war zone. The then ICRC Country Director had been among top foreign and local officials who met on February 17, 2009 to discuss arrangements. The then Senior Presidential Advisor, Basil Rajapaksa, had chaired the meeting, and the Government Agent, Trincomalee, issued instructions to take appropriate action.

Fighting block overland routes

Had, at least, the overland route to and from the Vanni east remained open, there wouldn’t have been any need to evacuate the wounded by sea and to position a foreign medical team to receive them, as well as send supplies by sea. During the period, from February 19, 2009, to May 8, 2009, ships unloaded 3,150 mt of essential items. The World Food Programme (WFP) made a significant contribution to this humanitarian project. Those who had been shedding crocodile tears, for the Vanni population, now turned a blind eye to what was happening at that time. They remained silent while the LTTE used civilians as a human shield to protect its leadership. The four-party Tamil National Alliance (TNA) spearheaded efforts, both here and abroad to halt the ground offensive. The LTTE went to the extent of blocking overland transfer of the war wounded, as well as the movement of UN workers.

The Report of the Secretary General’s Panel of Experts on Accountability, in Sri Lanka, released on March 31, 2011, dealt with the evacuations carried out by the ICRC. The relevant section (paragraph 108): "The ICRC’s ships were also the only means for delivering food, but the supplies, they were allowed to bring by the government, were inadequate. As the conditions in the No Fire Zones became more desperate, on 17 March, a large crowd of internally displaced persons surrounded an international ICRC member who came ashore, begging him to save their lives by taking them out of the Vanni. The LTTE forcibly dispersed the crowd. The final ICRC ship came to the Vanni, on 9 May, 2009. On 15 May, 2009, a ship approached, but had to turn back due to the intensity of the fighting. In all, ICRC evacuated 14,000 wounded persons, and their relatives, from the second and the third no fire zones, and delivered around 2,350 mt of food to Mullivaikkal. Those evacuated were all civilians, as the LTTE did not permit its cadre to leave the conflict area for treatment."

Temporary facility

There was no basis for Groundviews assertion that the writer felt that the Indian medical team was sufficient to treat war wounded civilians. The temporary medical facility, managed by Indians, swiftly transferred the wounded to government hospitals, depending on their condition.

The vast majority of those arriving at Pulmoddai were moved to government hospitals within hours. Those who were now concerned about the well being of Tamil speaking people never bothered to, at least, visit government hospitals where the war wounded were treated. The TNA, or the Diaspora, refrained from urging the LTTE to give up human shields.

Apropos Groundviews accusation that the writer hadn’t dealt with the difficulties experienced by the ICRC, in the Vanni, as pointed out by Jacques de Maio, ICRC head of operations for South Asia, the writer really appreciated the services rendered by the ICRC, since 1989. Having arrived in Sri Lanka, during the tail end of the second JVP inspired insurgency, the ICRC moved to the Northern and Eastern Province soon after the LTTE launched Eelam War II in June 1990. It would be pertinent to mention that India never invited the ICRC to set up offices in the Northern and Eastern Provinces during the deployment of the Indian Army (late July 1987, to late March, 1990) neither did the international community seek any supervisory role.

The writer would soon discuss the ICRC role in Sri Lanka in a separate article. The ICRC deserves the praise of all Sri Lankans for making a significant contribution, in overall efforts, to provide relief to the war affected, as well as the Sri Lankan military, and the LTTE. The ICRC did much more than those who had been propagating lies and influencing public opinion at the behest of various foreign sponsors over the years. The writer deeply regret had he unintentionally failed to mention difficulties experienced by the ICRC and sacrifices made by its personnel during his Sept 5, 2016, speech at Sri Lanka Foundation.

65,000 disappearances

Let me reiterate that there is absolutely no basis for the recent government assertion that various state commissions had received over 65,000 complaints in respect of missing persons, since 1994. The claim was made in a statement issued by the Foreign Ministry on June 7, 2016. Wouldn’t it be fair to name these commissions, and estimates, regarding the disappearances made by them without further delay. All available information and reports, of the above mentioned commissions, should be made available to the proposed Office on Missing Persons (OMP) as well as the public. As the Foreign Ministry statement had been made subsequent to having cabinet approval, the government should now give the public a breakdown in respect of complaints pertaining to disappearances that took place during the tenure of Presidents JRJ, Ranasinghe Premadasa, D.B. Wijetunga, CBK and Mahinda Rajapaksa. The writer strongly believes that proper investigation, into disappearances, can never be conducted without the participation and support of the international community. Those who had been opposing the establishment of OMP do not realize the ground situation. A thorough inquiry is required against the backdrop of varying estimates with the Maxwell Paranagama Commission receiving over 19,000 complaints. The complaints dealt with cases reported since 1983.

According to ICRC mission, in Colombo, its offices, since 1990, had received over 16,000 tracing requests, including approximately 5,200 from families of missing military and police personnel. In addition to presidential commissions and the ICRC report, the Norway-led Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission (SLMM), too, recorded many cases of abductions/disappearances during the implementation of the Ceasefire Agreement (CFA).

Groundviews also asserted that three examples of people who had surfaced abroad were meant to deny complaints in respect of disappearances entirely. Nothing can be further from the truth. These examples highlighted the pivotal importance of launching a thorough inquiry with the participation of the international community.

Yasmin Zooka’s revelations

In fact, Sri Lanka OMP should seek the assistance of Yasmin Zooka, South African member of the Panel of Experts (PoE), to inquire into disappearances. Those who had been objecting to international participation in the proposed inquiry are really denying the armed forces an opportunity to counter unsubstantiated allegations. Zooka, in a special report titled Forgotten: Sri Lanka’s exiled victims, claimed that she was in touch with those who had fought for the LTTE and were now living overseas. Launched in June, 2016, the International Truth and Justice Project, revealed that former LTTE cadres, the majority of whom left Sri Lanka after the conclusion of the war in May 2009, were interviewed in the UK, Switzerland, France and Norway whereas those in Germany declined. Having demanded to know the truth Zooka, the writer is certain will not hesitate to fully cooperate with the OMP. However, the proposed OMP should be set up in accordance with the Constitution.

Disappearances during Indian

deployment

Every effort should be made to estimate the number of disappearances caused by the Indian Army during its deployment here, due to fighting among various Indian sponsored terrorist groups in the 80s, members of the PLOTE (People’s Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam) who went missing in the wake of its raid on Male in early Nov. 1988, the Sri Lankan military and the Police and the LTTE, the sole representative of Tamil speaking people. The recognition was given by the TNA in the run-up to the Eelam War IV. The same grouping urged Tamil speaking people to vote for the then Gen. Sarath Fonseka, war-winning Army Chief at the January 2010 presidential poll. Had the TNA really believed the Army caused such widespread death, destruction and disappearances, the party should explain its decision to back Fonseka, without whose leadership the war could never have been won. Peruse Wikileaks, you’ll come across a confidential diplomatic cable which will shed light on the TNA’s decision.

Members of the Joint Opposition should examine Wikileaks, at least now.

Wednesday, 7 September 2016

Missed Opportunities

War crimes


SPECIAL REPORT : Part 138

 

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By Shamindra Ferdinando

In the wake of UNSG Ban Ki-moon reiterating his commitment to Geneva-led accountability process, we should re-examine Sri Lanka’s response to war crime allegations.

Let me first, mention specific allegations directed at the previous government after the war ended in May 2009. Sri Lanka paid a very heavy price for failing on the Geneva front.

Main allegations

(A) The Government of Sri Lanka (GoSL) ordered UN/INGOs to vacate Kilinochchi, in September, 2008, to conduct a war without witnesses.

(B)Vanni population denied medicine, food and other basic needs.

(C) Coordinated mortar/artillery/MBRL attacks on civilian population.

Channel 4 News alleged the then Secretary Defence and the then Army

Commander executed the operation.

(D) Massacre over 40,000 civilians.

(E) Rape of combatants/civilians. Subsequently, the military was

accused of abusing men.

(F) The use of cluster bombs

Primary evidence

Geneva was moved on the basis of about 4,000 submissions received by the three-member Darusman Panel. About 2,300 persons furnished information to the panel. But the UN directed that these accusations cannot be verified until 2031. Even then, verification has to be approved by the UN.

Critical failure

The Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) lacked the mandate to address specific allegations. The GoSL ignored the need to conduct a thorough inquiry into the conflict, particularly human rights violations.

President Sirisena’s opinion

Addressing the media, at the Janadhipathy Mandiraya, on April 27, 2016, President Maithripala Sirisena claimed that his predecessor, Mahinda Rajapaksa, had no option but to call for early presidential polls because he couldn’t face the Geneva allegations. President Sirisena and the UNP repeated the allegation. They also claimed impending economic crisis, too, influenced the decision. President Sirisena repeated these claims last week.

Glaring omissions

The GoSL ignored two critical events (A) In June, 2011 (over two years after the war) the then Colombo - based US Defence Attache, Lt. Colonel Lawrence Smith, defended GoSL at a seminar organized by the Army. The seminar dealt with ‘Defeating Terrorism: The Sri Lanka Experience.’ In response to a question, regarding the alleged move by some LTTE cadres to surrender during the last few days of the war, the US official denied that possibility, thereby effectively contradicting those propagating the massacre of surrendering persons. The Island exclusive, on the US official’s reaction, was ignored by the GoSL.

This is what Lt. Col. Lawrence Smith had to say.: "Hello, may I say something to a couple of questions raised. I’ve been the Defense Attache here, at the US Embassy, since June, 2008. Regarding the various versions of events, that came out in the final hours and days of the conflict-from what I was privileged to hear and to see - the offers to surrender, that I am aware of, seemed to come from the mouthpieces of the LTTE, Nadesan, KP, people who weren’t and never had really demonstrated any control over the leadership or the combat power of the LTTE.

So their offers were a bit suspect anyway, and they tended to vary in content, hour by hour, day by day. I think we need to examine the credibility of those offers before we leap to conclusions that such offers were, in fact, real.

And I think the same is true for the version of events. It’s not so uncommon in combat operations, in the fog of war, as we all get our reports second, third and fourth hand from various commanders at various levels, that the stories don’t seem to all quite match up. But, I can say that the version presented here so far in this is what I heard as I was here during that time. And, I think I better leave it at that before I get into trouble."

The GoSL refrained from referring to the US statement. The GoSL, for some strange reason, ignored the INCREDIBLE statement made over two years after the LTTE’s defeat. As the senior Colombo-based US military official, he would have certainly had access to all relevant information.

The US State Department asserted that the US military official hadn’t been at the Defence Seminar on an official capacity. The GoSL remained silent. Don’t forget the State Department NEVER contradicted the statement. Instead it disputed the military official’s right to make that statement.

The GoSL should seek the former US Defence attache’s evidence before the proposed war crimes court, expected to be established next year.

(B) The GoSL never bothered to take advantage of leaked US diplomatic cables (Wikileaks) in spite of them being crucial for its defense. One leaked cable dealt with a discussion Geneva-based US Ambassador Clint Williamson had with ICRC Head for Operations for South Asia Jacques de Maio. The US envoy declared on July 15, 2009, that the Army actually could have won the battle faster with higher civilian casualties, yet chosen a slower approach which led to a greater number of Sri Lankan military deaths.

The Army lost nearly 2,500 officers and men during January-May 19, 2009. Thousands suffered injuries. The GoSL never bothered to examine leaked US diplomatic cables until it was too late. The Paranagama Commission, in its Second Mandate perused Wiki leaks. The Paranagama Commission pointed out that Wiki Leaks were admissible in court, in accordance with a ruling given in the UK. Both ICRC and US officials should be able to explain the ground situation before the proposed war crimes court. They may opt to give evidence in camera.

Other developments,

advantageous to GoSL

Deployment of Indian medical team at Pulmoddai, north of Trincomalee, to receive the wounded, transferred from Puthumathalan under ICRC supervision. The Indian team remained there until the conclusion of the war. The Indian team received several thousand wounded civilians during February-May, 2009 via sea. The government commenced transferring war wounded by sea soon after fighting blocked overland routes to and from Vanni east. Both ICRC and India can furnish details regarding evacuations by the sea. Don’t forget the vessels deployed to evacuate the wounded transported several thousands of essential supplies to Puthumathalan. Foreign relief workers were also allowed to go ashore.

Allegations, in respect of the Vanni population being denied medicine, food and other basic needs, should be probed against the backdrop of supplies made available to Puthumathalan, until the second week of May, 2009. The war ended in the following week. India and ICRC, too, should be requested to explain their roles in the operation.

Contradictory claims in respect of 40,000 civilians killed

The GoSL never sought an explanation from Geneva in respect f the number of civilians perished during the eelam war IV. Those who had been strongly opposed to foreign intervention, too, failed to take it up.

* British Labour Party MP Siobhan McDonagh (Mitcham and Morden-Labour) told the House of Commons, in September, 2011, that 60,000 LTTE cadres and 40,000 Tamils perished during January-May 2009. She made the only specific reference to the number of LTTE cadres killed during a certain period. The MP ignored my emails seeking a clarification regarding her sources. The British HC in Colombo declined to comment on the MP’s claim.

*Special Amnesty International report titled ‘When will they get justice: Failures of Sri Lanka’s Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission’, also released in September, 2011, estimated the number of civilian deaths at 10,000.

* A confidential UN report placed the number of dead, and the wounded, including LTTE combatants, at 7,721 and 18,479, respectively. The report dealt with the situation in the Vanni, from August, 2008, to May 13, 2009. The War ended a week after the UN stopped collecting data due to the intensity of fighting. The vast majority of the wounded civilians were evacuated by the ICRC. The Indian medical team, tasked with receiving them, should be able to explain specific measures taken by India to assist the wounded. The UN is yet to release the report though it was made available to Darusman. Will it be placed before the proposed judicial inquiry? It would be pertinent to mention that the UN report had been based on information provided by those who were trapped in the war zone and even today further verification can be made as the identities of those who had provided information are known to the UN. Darusman refused to accept the report as it contradicted his own claim. GoSL should seek the presence of the Amnesty International, UK MP as well as the wartime UN head, before the judicial inquiry. Sri Lanka never bothered to conduct a comprehensive inquiry taking into consideration all relevant information.

US Defence Advisor confirms Norwegian assessment (Pic of Hattrem’s letter) Wartime Norwegian Ambassador, in Colombo, Tore Hattrem, on February 16, 2009, asserted that the LTTE was unlikely to release civilians held on the Vanni east front. The following is the text of the Norwegian’s missive addressed to the then presidential advisor, Basil Rajapaksa: "I refer to our telephone conversation today. The proposal to the LTTE on how to release the civilian population, now trapped in the LTTE controlled area, has been transmitted to the LTTE, through several channels. So far there has regrettably been no response from the LTTE and it does not seem to be likely that the LTTE will agree to this in the near future."

The US Defence attache, in June 2011 (over two years after the war) confirmed there had never been an agreement or an understanding regarding organized surrender between the GoSL and the LTTE through the intervention of the UN or Western governments. GoSL never sought to use available information on the Geneva front. UN role in LTTE human shields

The UN remained silent and engaged in secret negotiations with the LTTE even after the group detained Tamil UN workers for helping people to leave the Vanni west, in early, 2007. Co-Chairs to Sri Lanka Peace Process knew what was happening. They, too, remained silent. The UN mission in Colombo kept UN headquarters in the dark. The UN Colombo never contradicted exclusive The Island reports in this regard. Other print and electronic media ignored the issue. However, UN New York confirmed The Island reports. Had the UN, Western powers, the TNA and foreign-funded civil society organizations, intervened on behalf of the Vanni population, in early 2007, they wouldn’t have ended up as human shields on the Vanni east front.

Response to UN accusation that Vanni population

denied food and medicine

The minutes of Consultative Committee on Humanitarian Assistance (CCHA) meetings can prove the UN and Western governments never complained about food and medicine shortage. Then President Rajapaksa set up CCHA in Oct 2006 to ensure essential supplies to the Northern Province. I have the entire set of CCHA documents. CCHA included the UN, the US, the UK and all key international NGOs operating in Sri Lanka at that time.

India’s accountability

GoSL never referred to the origins of terrorism at Geneva. In January, 2004, one-time Indian High Commissioner in Colombo, J.N. Dixit, faulted former Indian PM Indira Gandhi for intervening in Sri Lanka. The GoSL never exploited Dixit’s statement. GoSL refrained from at least referring to India’s role during Geneva sessions. Now, the issue is whether reference can be made of India’s role in the proposed war crimes court set up under the Geneva Resolution. Office for Missing Persons

The ICRC, Foreign Ministry and  Paranagama Commission have furnished vastly different numbers with regard to missing persons. The UN, too, discusses the issue. They ignore the issue of thousands of Sri Lankans living overseas though being listed missing. A comprehensive investigation will expose those hiding overseas. Let me highlight three cases (A) Front line Socialist Party leader Kumar Gunaratnam received an Australian passport, bearing the name Noel Mudalige (B) The Army was accused of killing wartime Vanni Tech Director Thayapararajah in Sept. 2009. Thayapararajah was arrested along with wife and children in Tamil Nadu in May, 2014 (C) ex-LTTE cadre Anthonythasan, declared missing since early 90s, appeared in an award-winning French movie Dheepan last year. The media quoted the ex-Tiger as having said: "I came to France because at the time I was able to only find a fake French passport and not a fake British or Canadian passport."

Having failed to obtain sufficient number of complaints, Darusman panel or the Panel of Experts (PoE), issued 25 sample letters online to attract so called victims.

The following is the first sample:

To: Mr. Marzuki Darusman, Chairman

To: Mr. Steven Ratner, Panel Member

To: Ms. Yasmin Sooka, Panel Member

Re: Through U.N. investigation Sri Lanka’s war criminals must be

brought to books.

Tamils in Sri Lanka have gone through several rounds of communal violence, tacitly supported by successive Sinhalese-led governments and its armed forces, since Independence. Since 1956, Tamil minority rights and Tamils were used as political pawn in Sri Lankan polity to hold on to power. The minority Tamils were systematically and routinely subjected to all kind of atrocities, including ‘war crimes’, ‘crimes against humanity’ and ‘genocide’ in order for the Sinhala political parties to woo the Sinhala masses in the name of majority hegemony.

Meanwhile, in another development, Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, the Defence Secretary, of the Sri Lankan government, has threatened to execute Sarath Fonseka, the army commander, who delivered victory over the Tamil Tigers, if he continues to suggest that top officials may have ordered war crimes during the final hours of the Tamil war. During an interview with BBC’s Stephen Sackur, Sri Lanka’s defence secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa said General Fonseka was a liar and a traitor. A US-based activist group, claimed, that it has obtained a 100-page long sworn affidavit from a senior commander of the Sri Lanka Army (SLA) who has fled Sri Lanka, seeking asylum for himself and his family. SLA Commander’s affidavit contains incriminating information in several areas.

But more than that, there is substantial body of credible evidence pointing to the commission of war crimes by government forces, including attacks on humanitarian operations, attacks on hospitals and deliberate shelling of civilians enticed by the government to seek protection in the safety of "No Fire Zones." I appeal to the panel of expert to ask the U.N. in no uncertain term that Sri Lanka should be investigated for ‘war crimes’, ‘crimes against humanity’ and ‘genocide’. Yours truly, Your Name, Contact Postal Address with the Residing country.

Another failure

The GoSL never examined or referred to the infamous Goldstone case. Judge Richard Goldstone, who accused both Israel and Hamas of war crimes in his report on the 2008-09 conflict, revealed in a newspaper article that subsequent internal Israeli inquiries had made him revise his opinion. "If I had known then what I know now, the Goldstone Report would have been a different document," he said. UNHRC accepted Goldstone’s stand though other members of panel strongly stood by the report.

Critical Omission

Having met UNSG Ban Ki-moon, in Jaffna, last Friday, TNA MP M.A, Sumanthiran declared that they had received an assurance from Ban that the Geneva Resolution would be implemented. Before attorney-at-law Sumanthiran threw his weight behind the TNA, the outfit worked closely with the LTTE. Strangely, GoSL never sought an explanation from the TNA.

The GoSL never bothered to probe TNA’s relationship with the LTTE. Can war crimes investigation take place without inquiring into the TNA’s wartime conduct? Due to GoSL’s failure, today, TNA plays a significant role in pursing war crimes, investigation.

The TNA deals directly with the US and Geneva in

spite of its sordid past

In early Nov. 2005, TNA on behalf of the LTTE, ordered Tamil speaking people to boycott the presidential polls. Those who had been accusing the then Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa of bribing the LTTE to help defeat UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe, at the Nov 2005 presidential polls, never asked Sampanthan why he prevented Tamils from exercising their franchise. The TNA action should be studied against the backdrop of Sampanthan declaring the LTTE as the sole representative of the Tamil speaking people in the run-up to the April, 2004 general election. The EU Election Observation Mission, in its final report, alleged that the TNA won the Northern and Eastern electoral districts with the help of the LTTE. The TNA never challenged the EU report. Strangely, the Elections Commissioner never sought an explanation from the TNA. The GoSL should have raised the TNA-LTTE partnership in Geneva. Jaffna District TNA MP Sumanthiran, in June this year, declared, in Washington, an understanding among GoSL, US and TNA regarding foreign judges in the proposed war crimes court.

As pressure mounted on the Geneva front, the GoSL hired expensive US PR firms to defend Sri Lanka. Between May-Sept, 2014, GoSL paid a staggering $ 6.5 mn to these groups. But the total amount paid to foreign PR firms is much more. Actually the FCID should conduct a thorough investigation into payments made to US PR firms as well as similar payments made in India and the UK. Those opposed to UN intervention should now pressure the government to take up all available information to defend Sri Lanka’s image. It would be of pertinent to mention that none of the above mentioned facts had been formally taken up with the UN or the countries involved in the Geneva project.

Sunday, 4 September 2016

A belated UNSG visit to Jaffna

SPECIAL REPORT : Part 137


 


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by Shamindra Ferdinando

Outgoing 72-year-old United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon will fly to Palaly air base in the Jaffna peninsula on Friday (Sept. 2, 2016).

The former South Korean foreign minister’s visit to Jaffna takes place over two decades after the liberation of the Jaffna peninsula.

The UNSG and Mrs Ban Soon-taek are scheduled to arrive at the Bandaranaike International Airport (BIA) today (Aug. 31, 2016) in the evening. Their visit coincides with the two-day ‘Colombo Defence Seminar’ meant to discuss ‘Soft Power and its Influence on Global Issues’ at the BMICH, which ends on Sept. 2, and the seventh edition of annual joint exercise, codenamed ‘Cormorant Strike’, gets underway. The exercise will continue till Sept. 25, 2016.

Sri Lanka would never have had the opportunity to receive a UNSG twice, in eight years, if not for her triumph over terrorism, in May, 2009. Similarly, there wouldn’t have been a possibility to inaugurate Defence Seminar/Colombo Defence Seminar or launch Cormorant Strike in case Western powers managed to save the LTTE, facing defeat on the Vanni east front, in early, 2009.

The UN never recognized the liberation of the Jaffna peninsula as key to Sri Lanka’s ultimate triumph over terrorism. The military brought the peninsula under government control, in early 1996, during Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga’s presidency (Aug.1994-Nov.2005). The Army cleared Vadamarachchi in early 1996 after liberating Jaffna town in December, 1995. Western powers ignored Sri Lanka’s achievement as the LTTE vowed to regain Jaffna.

The liberation of the Jaffna peninsula was certainly twice-president Mrs. Kumaratunga’s biggest achievement though she suffered a spate of devastating battlefield defeats, subsequently in the Vanni. Having defeated the Army in the Vanni, the LTTE overran strategic Elephant Pass base, in April, 2000. The Army faced defeat in the peninsula. Although, a series of ground operations stabilized the northern theatre of operations, the Army again lost the initiative, in April, 2001 when an ambitious Agnikeela offensive went awry.

Mrs. Kumaratunga, in her capacity as the Chairperson of Office for National Unity and Reconciliation (ONUR), visited Jaffna on Aug. 11 and 12, 2016. The Island dealt with her visit in an article, titled ‘A secret Norwegian missive to ‘Dear Mr Prabhakaran in the wake of Kadirgamar assassination’, on Aug. 17, 2016 edition. Contrary to the aircraft taking Mrs Kumaratunga, having to return to Katunayake air base, a few minutes after taking off, as reported, the former President had to take a smaller Y 12 in the wake of an AN 32 developing an engine problem. The eight-member delegation had to get off the AN 32 and await the SLAF making arrangements to fly the group in a 16-seater aircraft.

In spite of liberating Jaffna peninsula, the armed forces faced a massive conventional military threat for many years. During late 1999/2000 the LTTE almost succeeded in routing the Army in the Jaffna peninsula. The UN turned a blind eye to Sri Lanka’s predicament. The Army thwarted the LTTE bid with the induction of a range of new weapons, including multi barrel rocket launchers.

UNSG is scheduled to meet Northern Province Governor, Reginald Cooray, Leader of the Opposition, R. Sampanthan, and members of the four-party Tamil National Alliance (TNA). The UN chief will also visit a group of resettled Tamil speaking people in Jaffna. The UNSG visit here, ahead of his participation at the G 20 summit in Beijing, reflected their keen interest in pursuing accountability issues and also underscore support for the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe administration. The UNSG will meet Premier Wickremesinghe and President Sirisena separately before flying to Palaly, Jaffna.

Having been elected on Oct 13, 2006 to be Kofi Annan’s successor, Ban Ki-moon took office on January 1, 2007. Ban Ki-moon visited Sri Lanka in May, 2009, immediately after the military eradicated Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).

It would be pertinent to examine the UN’s interest in Sri Lanka during Ban Ki-moon’s tenure. Sri Lanka brought the war to a successful conclusion during Ban Ki-moon’s first five-year term.

The then President strongly resisted an attempt made by Western powers and the UN to throw a lifeline to sinking Tigers. Having failed to halt the offensive, on the Vanni east front, the UNSG visited Sri Lanka to pave the way for an accountability process severely inimical to Sri Lanka.

During his last visit, the UNSG visited the displaced, in Vavuniya, and flew over the Vanni east battlefields. At the end of the UNSG’s visit, the two parties issued a joint statement. The following is the last paragraph of that statement: "Sri Lanka reiterated its strongest commitment to the promotion and protection of human rights in keeping with international human rights standards and Sri Lanka’s international obligations. The Secretary General underlined the importance of an accountability process for addressing violations of international humanitarian and human rights law. The Government will take measures to address those grievances."

The then Opposition, on numerous occasion, justified the UN process. The Opposition spokesperson repeatedly stressed that the UN action was in line with the statement attributed to the UNSG in the joint statement.

Interestingly, the UN had never raised the issue of accountability during the conflict caused by Indian military intervention. The UN allowed India a free hand. The global body turned a blind eye, even after Indian trained Sri Lankan terrorists made an abortive bid to assassinate the then Maldivian President, Maumoon Abdul Gayoom in early Nov. 1988. New Delhi earned the praise and respect of Western powers, including UN Security Council members, the US and the UK for swift intervention in Male. India called its air borne intervention to save the Maldivian President ‘Operation Cactus.’ India conveniently forgot her accountability. India never acknowledged that the Maldives was attacked by persons trained by her personnel. Sri Lankans received training both in India and Sri Lanka. The Indian Army had been responsible for security in Sri Lanka’s Northern and Eastern Provinces comprising eight districts at the time two trawler loads of terrorists left Mannar to capture power in the Maldives. The UN never bothered to discuss accountability with India.

Successive Sri Lankan governments, including the war-winning Rajapaksa administration, lacked the courage to take up the contentious issue of accountability. Western powers allowed Indian destabilization project to cause mass scale destruction in Sri Lanka. India shamelessly manipulated Sri Lanka until the LTTE assassinated Congress I leader Rajiv Gandhi, in May, 1991. India had to change her Sri Lanka strategy, consequent to the Gandhi assassination, though Tamil Nadu still continued to play politics with the issue.

Today, the originally Indian trained People’s Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (PLOTE), responsible for the abortive bid to assassinate Gayoom, is represented in the TNA - run Northern Provincial Council (NPC). Now, that UNSG Ban Ki-moon is scheduled to meet TNA representatives, in Jaffna, perhaps, it would be pertinent to mention that Dharmalingham Siddarthan who represented the PLOTE in TNA in NPC is likely to be among the delegation. Siddarthan had been with the PLOTE even at the time India trained the group. Siddarthan will be able to shed light on vile Indian operations here at that time, including the assassination of at least two elected members of parliament in 80s. Siddarthan in an exclusive interview with the writer explained the circumstances under which Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) ordered the assassination of his father V. Dharmalingam and M. Alalasundaram (both Jaffna District members) on Sept 2/3, 1985.

The UN never felt a requirement to rescue Sri Lanka from murderous Indian project. Having ignored Sri Lanka’s plight for three decades, UNSG Ban Ki-moon is here today to underline his organization’s commitment to the Geneva Resolution. The South Korean’s successor will ensure UN intervention here to ensure Sri Lanka addressed accountability issues. In accordance with the Geneva Resolution, Sri Lanka will face hybrid judicial investigation in the coming months.

The recent passage of the Office on Missing Persons (Establishment, Administration and Discharge of Functions) Bill is among the mechanisms meant to address grievances of Tamil speaking people. Regardless of the controversy surrounding the passage of the controversial Bill, the US and the UK appreciated the Yahapalana government’s efforts to appease the TNA.

The UN’s failure, at least to refer to India’s culpability, should be examined against the backdrop of former Liberian President Charles Taylor being convicted of war crimes. The UN-backed Special Court for Sierra Leone (SCSL), in Sept. 2013, convicted Taylor. The Liberian is serving his 50-year sentence in a British prison.

The Hague-based court found Taylor guilty of 11 counts of war crimes, crimes against humanity, and other serious violations of international humanitarian law, including murder, forced labour and slavery, recruiting child soldiers and rape.

The SCSL declared that Taylor had been criminally responsible for "aiding and abetting" the Revolutionary United Front and other factions carrying out atrocities in Sierra Leone, between 1996 and 2002.

The visiting UN chief fully threw his weight behind the action against Taylor. Alas, the UN Chief adopted a different strategy in respect of Sri Lanka, obviously at the behest of Western powers. Had the previous government kept a healthy distance from the People’s Republic of China, the Rajapaksas wouldn’t have earned the wrath of the world’s solitary power. Had Sri Lanka been in the Western camp, the US strategy here would have been surely different. In fact, US Navy Secretary would have been to Trincomalee years ago. The US-Sri Lanka relationship suffered a setback, perhaps in late 2008, and over the next few months, deteriorated to such an extent the superpower wanted the Rajapaksas out.

For some reason, the Rajapaksas, and those around them, never realized that UN policy in respect of Sri Lanka couldn’t be contrary to the US position. They had been so foolish to believe that the US could be manipulated through expensive US PR firms. Perhaps, they knew such a course of action wouldn’t ever be successful but still went ahead with it for personal benefit. A staggering $ 6.5 mn had been paid to these firms, between May and, September 2014, alone.

The former President Rajapaksa’s government had been so close to the US at the height of the war, the latter finalised Acquisition and Cross-Servicing Agreement (ACSA) in March, 2007, for a period of 10 years. The agreement facilitated transfer and exchange of logistics supplies, support and re-fuelling services.

The pact, signed by the then Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, and the US Ambassador in Colombo Robert Blake, outlined the framework for increased interoperability.

The U.S. embassy said the Acquisition and Cross-Servicing Agreement (ACSA) would allow the U.S. and Sri Lanka to transfer and exchange logistics supplies, support, and re-fuelling services during peacekeeping missions, humanitarian operations and joint exercises.

The US failed to finalise the agreement during the UNP-led UNF administration, between 2002 and 2004. Washington has signed ACSA agreements with about 90 other countries.

Let me remind you New Delhi’s actions at the UNHRC during the 1987 sessions when New Delhi moved a resolution, targeting Sri Lanka. It would be pertinent to examine the then Indian effort with last year’s Resolution 30/1 co-sponsored by the government of Sri Lanka. The late H.W. Jayewardene had led Sri Lanka’s delegation to Geneva when India foisted a resolution using Argentina as a cat’s paw. The head of Sri Lanka mission, in Geneva, had been Ambassador Jayantha Dhanapala. Top career diplomat Bernard Gunatilleke, too, had been on the team. Sri Lanka delegation succeeded in preventing the resolution being put to vote until the last day of the CHR (Commission of Human Rights), last session and last hour. Eventually Sri Lanka prevailed and got the amendments she wanted and allowed the resolution to be adopted without a vote. Sri Lanka had not been foolish enough to co-sponsor that resolution. An expert asserted: "That was more than three decades ago. I wonder what the provocation was to co-sponsor the resolution this time around."

Alleging that the UN system was being exploited by powerful countries to achieve their narrow ends, the expert asserted: "The sad truth is when decisions are taken at political level, they should be backed by facts and figures. When institutions are ignored and decisions are taken on a whim, we end up voluntarily entering the dog house and complaining of fleas!"