According to media reports, President Sirisena met with British Peer Lord Naseby during his visit to the UK to attend the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM).
A long-standing friend of Sri Lanka with an involvement of over 50 years, he started the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Sri Lanka in 1975 and is currently its President.
Naseby managed to obtain 39 pages of confidential dispatches by Lt. Col. Anton Gash, Defense Attaché at the British High Commission in Colombo in 2009, during the final stages of the Vanni campaign. He received the documents, albeit in a highly censored state, after relentlessly pursuing the matter with the British Foreign & Commonwealth Office over a period of almost three years and the intervention of the British Information Commissioner.
Despite being highly redacted, the 39 pages shed light on several issues. Chiefly among them; estimate of 7,000 and 8,000 civilian death during the closing phase of the conflict with around a quarter of them being LTTE cadre in civilian clothing and the lack of evidence that GoSL / SL Army deliberately targeted civilian targets.
Naseby raised the issue in October 2017 during a debate he initiated in the House of Lords.
It was highlighted, contents in the censored dispatches contradicted opinions expressed in the Panel of Experts (PoE) report (Darusman Report) to the UN Secretary-General. It stated; “there is still no reliable figure for civilian deaths,” but then guessed at 40,000. The PoE was the basis for the contentious United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) Resolution 30/1. The Sirisena-Wickremesinghe administration, after relegating the local initiatives LLRC and Paranagama Commission Report to the dustbin, co-sponsored the UNHRC resolution.
During the debate, Naseby stated, “I have discovered an unpublished report from the United Nations country team, which stated that from August 2008 up to 13 May 2009, the number of civilians killed was 7,721. The war ended six days later, so it cannot possibly have got up to 40,000.” Some of his other remarks based on uncensored sections of the documents were; (i) It is not possible to distinguish civilians from LTTE cadres as few are in uniform (ii) from 16 February: IDPs being cared for in Trincomalee. Welfare appears to be overriding security considerations (iii) On 20 January they say, “no cluster munitions were used (iv) on 26 April, civilians killed Feb 1-April 26—6,432.
He further stated the need for the UK government to “recognize that this was a war against terrorism, so the rules of engagement are based on international humanitarian law, not the European Convention on Human Rights.” He also stated, “We in the UK should reflect on the sacrifices of thousands of young Sri Lankan soldiers who died to create peace in that country. Finally, I reflect that Sri Lanka came to our need in two world wars and had casualties, and it was one of just a handful of countries who supported the UK over the Falklands.”
Naseby urged “the West, and in particular, the US and UK must remove the threat of war crimes and foreign judges that overhangs and overshadows all Sri Lankans, especially their leaders. Now is the time to offer the hand of friendship and act to lead the international community to recognize what the truth really was.”
According to reliable sources, Naseby has forwarded a set of the documents to the UNHRC in Geneva urging that Resolution 30/1 be revisited in light of the new information available.
The spokesperson of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Colombo, in October 2017 dismissed Naseby’s revelations outright. She stated: “engaging in arguments and debates in the international domain over the number of civilians who may have died at a particular time in the country will not help resolve any issues, in a meaningful manner, locally, except a feel-good factor for a few individuals who may think that they have won a debate or scored points over someone or the other.”
President Sirisena, taking a different view, took the initiative of sending a letter of appreciation dated November 02, 2017 to Naseby. It states; “Your intervention, in particular, would assist Sri Lanka in its efforts towards truth-seeking and countering some of the propaganda leveled against this country.” Sirisena entrusted the Foreign Ministry to deliver the letter to Naseby. Due to the involvement of the Foreign Secretary himself, it was delivered to Naseby after 19 days, on November 21, 2017.
However, since that date, neither the Head of State nor his government has made any effort to make use of Naseby’s revelations and his efforts in the British House of Lords in seeking a review of the Geneva Resolution with UNHRC. During a recent media briefing, he responded to a query raised by The Island representative with a meaningless “Sri Lanka’s Permanent Representative in Geneva and the ministerial delegation that had represented the country had performed well.” He was referring to the Marapana-Amunugama-Musthapha triumvirate representing Sri Lanka at the recently concluded 37th session of the UNHRC in Geneva.
Minister Marapana’s statement in Geneva (nay, report on good behavior) referred to government efforts in Operationalizing Office of Missing Persons, Return of Private Land, RTI, Office for Reparations, Protection from Enforced Disappearances, Repealing of PTA and female representation in LGs and PCs among other matters.
The Sri Lankan delegation did not submit a request for the review of UNHRC 30/1.
Retired Navy Chief of Staff and former UPFA Deputy Minister Rear Admiral (Retd.) Sarath Weerasekera is on record stating GoSL “refused to at least refer to Lord Naseby’s disclosures and didn’t bother to counter lies propagated there.” Weerasekera represented civil society organizations at a series of meetings in Geneva on the sidelines of the UNHRC session.
Speaking at a media briefing upon his return from his visit to the salubrious climes of Geneva, Special Assignments Minister Dr. Sarath Amunugama, who accompanied the delegation as the President’s representative is on record stating ‘the government must boycott the next year’s regular session of the UNHRC in Geneva.’ Considering his performance in Geneva, it was a statement with no meaning and meant for the gallery.
According to local media reports, Naseby, during their recent meeting in London, had informed President Sirisena of Geneva-based UNHRC and European countries not being adequately briefed on the wartime situation.
British aristocrats, especially of Naseby’s vintage, are known for their stiff upper lip and extreme civility. They belong to a generation who would go the extra mile to give a sugar coating to a bitter pill.
When informing Sirisena, “UNHRC and Europe had not been properly informed,” did he mean; “What have you done during the last six months about the information I obtained with great difficulty and my initiative in the House of Lords?”
Whether reading between the lines is a competency Maithripala Yapa Sirisena has acquired is to be seen.