By Shamindra Ferdinando
Former Deputy Minister and retired Rear Admiral Sarath Weerasekera yesterday said that a recent statement made by Lord Naseby in the House of Lords pertaining to the Vanni war death toll could be the basis for Sri Lanka’s defence at the Geneva based United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC).
Addressing the media on behalf of Eliya, an organization backed by wartime Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, Weerasekera said Conservative Lord Naseby’s declaration that the death toll couldn’t have been more than 8,000 and one fourth of them terrorists had contradicted the UN accusations of 40,000 civilian deaths.
The revelation was made at a debate on Sri Lanka on Oct 12.
The former navy Chief of Staff was flanked by Prof. Ven Medagoda Abhayatissa and The Island political columnist C.A. Chandraprema.
The then UNSG Ban Ki-moon’s three-member Panel of Experts (PoE) in its much quoted report issued in March 2011 placed the death toll at 40,000, Weerasekera said, adding the UN and UNHRC hadn’t so far disputed Lord Naseby’s assertion.
Pointing out that Lord Naseby’s statement based on military dispatches from Colombo during the Vanni offensive had completely wildly dampened the exaggerated allegations against the country, Weerasekera emphasized that the UNHRC should revisit the circumstances under which Sri Lanka was compelled to co-sponsor Geneva Resolution 30/1 in Oct 2015.
The former Digamadulla district MP said the ongoing constitution making process had been driven by the Geneva Resolution, hence regular visits by UN and EU delegations to examine progress and remind Sri Lanka of its obligations in terms of the Resolution 30/1.
Responding to a query by The Island, Weerasekera said that soon after Lord Naseby’s statement he sought a meeting with President Maithripala Sirisena to discuss ways and means of using the latest development to Sri Lanka’s advantage.
The former MP said that it would be the responsibility of the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe government to seek clarification from Geneva without further delay. Sri Lanka couldn’t remain silent when Lord Naseby on behalf of Sri Lanka had requested Theresa May’s government to convince the UN and UNHRC to revise the death toll.
Recalling the dismissal of Gaza war report in 2011 following its author and the US clearing Israel of alleged war crimes, Weerasekera urged the government to bring the latest developments to the notice of all 47 members of the UNHRC. Now that some sections of British military dispatches from Colombo had been released following Lord Naseby’s intervention, the government should request India, the US, UN, ICRC and other key foreign missions to make available their dispatches for examination, Weerasekera said.
Weerasekera said the country couldn’t be allowed to be divided on ethnic lines on the pretext of post-war national reconciliation. The naval veteran said President Maithripala Sirisena and the government hadn’t received mandates at presidential and parliamentary polls in 2015 to bring in a new Constitution. In fact, those pursuing an agenda severely inimical to Sri Lanka had conveniently forgotten close on the heels of triumph over the LTTE, the UNHRC recognized the previous administration’s achievement. “We were able to thwart Germany led Resolution and then secure endorsement of our own at Geneva before the US intervened leading to consecutive defeats followed by 30/1,” Weerasekerra said.
The former Deputy Minister faulted political parties for not exploiting the House of Lords development to Sri Lanka’s advantage during four day debate on the interim report of the Steering Committee spearheading the new constitution making process. Weerasekera refrained from commenting when The Island pointed out that former President Mahinda Rajapaksa, too, didn’t take advantage of the debate.
Weerasekera warned of dire consequences unless political parties sank their differences to adopt a common stand against unsubstantiated war crimes accusations. There couldn’t be a dispute over Sri Lanka’s policy towards the accountability issue, Weerasekera said, pointing out that Lord Naseby was on record as having said Sri Lanka never intentionally targeted the Tamil civilian population.