by SANJA DE SILVA JAYATILLEKA
The Island has to be congratulated on its ‘scoop’ of a statement by Lord Naseby in response to the summary dismissal by the British High Commission in Colombo of his views on the infamous UNHRC Resolution 30/1 of 2015 and the increasingly untenable figure of 40,000 civilian casualties.
According to the statement “Lord Naseby makes it quite clear that he shall pursue every organisation and the persons involved to ensure that the Darusman Report figure on civilian casualties is publicly amended to reflect that the truth about an estimated 6,500 Tamil civilians who died at the end of the Sri Lanka conflict. Truth must and will win out however inconvenient that may be to the authorities.”
Bravo! We should be sincerely grateful to Lord Naseby for taking such a principled position on behalf of Sri Lanka. And sincerely grateful is exactly what President Sririsena was, when he wrote a letter to thank Lord Naseby for his efforts.
The President’s letter was dated 2nd November 2017. It was addressed to Lord Naseby. Four working days later, on the 8th of November, the Secretary to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs wrote a letter to the Sri Lankan High Commissioner in London, H.E. Mrs. Amari Wijewardene, requesting her to personally hand over the letter to Lord Naseby.
A photograph of this letter was reproduced in LankaCnews, revealing a curious instruction from the Secretary/Ministry of Foreign Affairs, that the contents of the President’s letter “are not shared with the media either in the UK or in Sri Lanka”. Why? It was a decent gesture on the part of the President to thank someone who had done Sri Lanka an enormous favour at considerable effort and continued to engage in clarifying matters to do with the serious allegation of war crimes against this country, its armed forces and the entire system. Wouldn’t it have been to the President’s benefit if the contents had been released to the media, both in the UK and Sri Lanka, and indeed worldwide?
There is another curious fact that is revealed by the photographic image of the letter written by Foreign Secretary Kariyawasam. When communications are received by an overseas mission, they are date-stamped by an official indicating the date of receipt. The date-stamp on that letter shows the 17th of November.That is 9 full days or 7 working days after it was written by the Head of State! It isn’t exactly illegal to use a carrier pigeon, but the diplomatic bag is usually sent by airplane.
By then, the State Minister for Foreign Affairs, Vasantha Senanayake had already tabled the President’s letter dated 2nd November in Parliament, as well as his own letter to Lord Naseby, thanking him for his efforts. He did this on the 14th of November, 4 days before the President’s letter reached our High Commission in London. Minister Vasantha Senanayake also indicated that Lord Naseby was aware of the President’s letter but hadn’t yet received it. Of course he hadn’t. It seems to have been somehow stuck in the Foreign Ministry, together with the Foreign Secretary’s covering note dated 8th November!
By the time the President’s letter reached London on the 17th of November, the Foreign Secretary’s curious instructions as to its confidentiality had become superfluous. Once tabled in Parliament on the 14th of November, the contents were effectively in the public domain.
It is not clear when exactly Lord Naseby received the President’s letter, but it would seem that he is in possession of it now. It is just as well that Lord Naseby is determined to do the work that is needed to defend Sri Lanka, since the performance by Sri Lanka’s officials in getting a letter by the Head of State delivered to a member of the House of Lords in the UK on such a serious a matter as massive war crime sallegations, hardly inspires confidence in their capacity to do the work themselves.
Lord Naseby says in his statement to The Island that he has sent the relevant documents to UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Al Hussein, and all nine Special Procedure Mandate Holders who have visited Sri Lanka. This is in the context in which none of Sri Lanka’s own reports, such as the LLRC report and the Paranagama Commission Report which challenge the allegations of war crimes, has been presented to the UN Human Rights Council by the Government of Sri Lanka.
The Island has been relentless in its pursuit of this story. Due to its efforts we now know that we are not the only ones bemused at the stand taken by Britain on this matter. Lord Naseby says “It is therefore disappointing that the British High Commission fails to acknowledge the importance of the despatches of its own former defence attaché and the insight that is provided by his communications with the British Government.”
More importantly, Lord Naseby confirms the most significant attribute of UNHRC Resolution 30/1 which Sri Lanka co-sponsored: that it was based on allegations of war crimes which relied upon the unsubstantiatedand ‘genocidal’figure of 40,000:
“While not expressly stated so in the resolution, those who have closely followed events in Sri Lanka after the end of the conflict would agree that the basis for the successive resolutions on Sri Lanka at the UN Human Rights Council stemmed from the allegations of war crimes and crimes against humanity (and in some quarters ‘genocide’) said to have been committed by the Sri Lankan armed forces and the LTTE. Especially, the Report of the UN Secretary General’s Panel of Experts on Accountability in Sri Lanka, commonly known as the ‘Darusman Report’, alleged that ‘a number of credible sources have estimated that there could have been as many as 40,000 civilian deaths’”.
Lord Naseby argues that Britain’s motives in encouraging UNHRC resolutions on Sri Lanka seeking to establish the truth, “whilst at the same time effectively prohibiting its own relevant information from being considered by the Human Rights Commission, may need to be called into question.”
It seems only fair that Sri Lanka’s own government’s motivations are questioned, in co-sponsoring the resolutions alleging war crimes, the reluctance to submit or the suppression of evidence which challenge those allegations, and tardiness in conveying messages of gratitude to those others who do that work for us.
Lord Naseby took “issue with those in authority be they the UK government or any other Government” for ignoring the “context behind the resolution”. He says Col. Anton Gash’s evidence corroborates “a large number of other sources that confirm a casualty figure of around 7,000-8,000 (of which about 20% were LTTE cadres who are said to have thrown away their uniforms resulting in Tamil civilian casualties of about 6,500).”
“Any other Government” obviously includes Sri Lanka’s, and we should take issue with it too. Our government had access to the “large number of other sources” even if they didn’t include Col. Anton Gash’s, when it co-signed the 2015 Resolution.
The Sri Lankan government has a duty of care towards its armed forces. This demands that the government defends them to the best of their ability from false allegations. It requires that they undertake line by line examination of any UN resolution alleging war crimes.
When a UNHRC resolution is proposed, the usual practice is to engage in negotiations. These negotiations take weeks, before the final draft is presented to the Council. The drafts go back and forth many times, where a single word or phrase can make a significant difference. Even when it is formally presented, further amendments can be proposed. Since the current government assumed office in 2015, it has not bothered with this most normal of procedures. Instead,its representatives co-signed a resolution which it is increasingly becoming obvious, was based on utterly dubious testimony.
Lord Naseby is not advocating that human rights violations are ignored. He advises the conducting of “credible investigations” and that “appropriate due processes of justice should follow”. This is also what the LLRC recommends. The emerging evidence from the British Foreign Office, and the studies already undertaken by the Legal Advisory Council to the Paranagama Commission leave little doubt that “credible” has to be negotiated back in to the UN resolutions on Sri Lanka. With Lord Naseby valiantly supportive of that cause, it would be in Sri Lanka’s interest to do so without further delay at the upcoming March 2018 session of the Human Rights Council.
In Parliament, Hon. Dinesh Gunawardene was in the process of canvassing multi-party support from those willing to sign a motion calling for the renegotiation of UNHRC resolution 30/1. It seems that the delay is due to the preoccupation with elections. The President should step in to support this effort, as he did Lord Naseby’s.