PM assures security forces chiefs over Geneva resolution
- Champika, Ruwan pledge that Army will be protected
- Ranil concerned about attitude of pro-Rajapaksa official; issues to be sorted out on his return from Japan
- President says international community now supports Lanka, calls all-party conference to discuss reconciliation issues
- UN office in Colombo hits back at Wigneswaran; tells him to come through the central government
Placed on the table as they took their seats at the conference room of ‘Temple Trees’ was the English text of the US backed resolution on Sri Lanka together with a translated Sinhala text. Army officers of two-star rank or Majors General and above were there. So were the equivalent counterparts, Rear Admirals of the Sri Lanka Navy and Air Vice Marshals of the Sri Lanka Air Force. From the Police there were those above the rank of Deputy Inspectors General.
Even before the resolution was adopted without a vote at the 30th sessions of the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) on Thursday, the Government has initiated a dialogue to reach out to the armed forces and the Police. Those among their ranks are ones who will become the subject of investigations over alleged war crimes. The others are the remnants of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). Army officials say over 3,000 LTTE cadres are still at large and did not surrender and submit themselves to “a process of rehabilitation.”
Those who surrendered and were subject to “rehabilitation” were 12,383 guerrilla cadres. Of them, 12,105, according to the office of the Commissioner General for Rehabilitation, were rehabilitated. The number remaining, they said, was sixty. Some 26 cadres had deserted, 13 had died due to natural causes and 179 had been handed over to Police over on-going investigations, they said.
Unlike probes against troops and Police, where allegations against them were recorded from reported victims by the OISL, the charges of war crimes by Tiger guerrillas have only been documented mostly in general terms. An example is how they prevented civilians from leaving areas where they were cornered by security forces advance or expressly targeted them. Such instances may require further investigation like all others. A bigger question would be finding the alleged perpetrators.
Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe spoke to the senior officers of the armed forces and the Police for forty minutes and took their questions thereafter. He gave them an overview of the events that led to the investigation by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR). He said the copies of the resolution before them gave an idea and declared that a “domestic investigative process” would get under way. The Premier pointed out that the previous Government had not acted on the reports before it. Hence the pressure had now begun to mount on the present Government. He referred to the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) report and the recommendations therein.
Commission reports to be tabled
He said the report of the Special Presidential Commission of Inquiry into Complaints regarding Missing Persons (PCICMP) (headed by retired High Court Judge Maxwell Paranagama) would be tabled in Parliament soon. It was appointed by former President Mahinda Rajapaksa to probe complaints regarding missing persons, resident in the Northern and Eastern Provinces. It covers the period from June 10, 1990 to May 19, 2009. Premier Wickremesinghe said he had learnt that the report of this Commission had named some Army officers but he could not say who they were. Commenting on this commission, during the debate on the resolution on Wednesday in Geneva Human Rights Commissioner Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein said there were “widespread concerns raised about its credibility and effectiveness. We believe this Commission should be disbanded and its pending cases transferred to a credible and independent institution established in consultation with families of the disappeared.”
Also to be tabled in Parliament soon, the Premier said, would be the report of the Commission of Inquiry headed by Nissanka Udalagama, a former Supreme Court Judge. This Commission concluded probes into seven cases by 2009. This included inquiries into the assassination of former Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar, the killing of 17 aid workers of the French INGO Action Contre Le Faim in Mutur, the killing of five youths in Trincomalee and the disappearance of Rev. Fr. Nihal Jim Brown of Philip Neri’s Church at Allaipidi on August 28, 2006.
Associated with Premier Wickremesinghe were Megapolis and Western Development Minister Patali Champika Ranawaka, Acting Foreign Minister Harsha de Silva and Acting Defence Minister Ruwan Wijewardene. Earlier, ahead of his departure to attend the 70th sessions of the UN General Assembly, President Sirisena and Premier Wickremesinghe discussed with armed forces commanders and the Police Chief the contents of the OISL report. Upon his return to Colombo on Friday evening, Sirisena made a statement at a news conference but did not take any questions. He said the “domestic mechanism” the Government would establish to investigate alleged war crimes was in accordance with the Constitution. He would soon call an All Party Conference of registered political parties to seek their views. The views of religious leaders and intellectuals would also be sought, he said. The President declared that the Government was able to “turn international opinion” in its favour with the outcome of the January 8 presidential election. Sirisena had planned to address the nation on Friday night. However, he was not quite happy with the text of the speech that had been prepared for delivery. Hence, he decided he would make a statement at a news conference.
Champika, Ruwan vow to protect Army
An even more important meeting came when Minister Patali Champika Ranawaka addressed top Army officers who were involved in the “humanitarian” operation or the final stages of the May 2009 offensive to militarily defeat Tiger guerrillas. The officers raised questions whether they would face punishment in the event an investigation determined that they were at fault. Ranawaka who said that the meeting was informal urged those present to speak out frankly. He said that the Army was a national institution and it was the responsibility of the Government to protect it. The Army had engaged in anti-terrorist operations which was a legitimate exercise the world over. As made clear, the responsibility of finding out who was responsible for certain alleged acts had fallen on the Government. Thus, the idea was to identify only wrong doers who acted on illegal orders. There was no cause for worry since there would be no witch hunt. When one of the officers who attended Premier Wickremesinghe’s briefing said some of his remarks were inaudible to him since he sat a distance away, acting Foreign Minister Harsha de Silva gave the highlights of what had been said. Acting Defence Minister Ruwan Wijewardene declared that nowhere in the OISL report was it said that the Sri Lanka Army as a whole was responsible for committing alleged war crimes. He said it was the full responsibility of this Government to protect the Army and the good reputation it had maintained. Defence sources said senior officers would soon speak to groups of other ranks to explain issues.
The resolution on Sri Lanka came up for debate in Geneva on Wednesday and was adopted without a vote on Thursday. The six page-document was co-sponsored by 13 countries – Albania, Australia, Germany, Greece, Latvia, Montenegro, Poland, Romania, Sri Lanka, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, the United Kingdom and the United States. Most significant among the 23 preambular paragraphs is one which said: “Recognizing that the investigation into alleged serious violations and abuses of human rights and related crimes in Sri Lanka requested in Human Rights Resolution 25/1 was necessitated by the absence of a credible national process of accountability.”
This was complemented by one of the 20 operative paragraphs which form the crux of the resolution. It said: “Welcomes the Government’s recognition that accountability is essential to uphold the rule of law and build confidence in the people of all communities of Sri Lanka in the justice system, takes note with appreciation of the Government of Sri Lanka’s proposal to establish a Judicial Mechanism with Special Counsel to investigate allegations of violations and abuses of human rights and violations of international humanitarian law, as applicable; and affirms that a credible justice process should include independent judicial and prosecutorial institutions led by individuals known for integrity and impartiality; and further affirms in this regard the importance of participation in a Sri Lankan judicial mechanism, including the Special Counsel’s office, of Commonwealth and other foreign judges, defence lawyers, and authorized prosecutors and investigators.”
It has been agreed that the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights would present an oral update to the Council at its 32nd session (in June next year) and a comprehensive report at the 34th session in March 2017. These are over how the provisions of the resolution are being implemented.
Geneva envoy’s statement
Unlike his previous statement, Sri Lanka’s Permanent Representative at the UN in Geneva, Ravinatha Aryasinha, made two different speeches, one during Wednesday’s debate and another after the adoption of the resolution on Thursday. Both have been cleared earlier by the Foreign Ministry in Colombo and was supportive of the resolution. On Friday, however, the Foreign Ministry issued a news release. It said “The attention of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has been drawn to news reports and commentaries appearing over the past few days suggesting that the statement made by Sri Lanka’s Permanent Representative to the UN in Geneva Ambassador Ravinatha Aryasinha at the 1st informal meeting on the draft resolution on Sri Lanka held on 21 September in Geneva, and the subsequent moving of amendments to the draft resolution at the 2nd informal meeting on 22 September by the Sri Lanka delegation, was inconsistent with the position of the Government of Sri Lanka. The Ministry wishes to state categorically that both the interventions by Ambassador Aryasinha, and the moving of amendments to the draft resolution in Geneva, had the approval of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs……”
The Sunday Times is aware that Ambassador Aryasinha was not successful in issuing his own detailed statement to the Sunday Times. This was not made possible by the Foreign Ministry of Colombo. He then found himself lucky in persuading the Ministry to issue a “ghost” news release. It was not signed and it is not clear who in particular issued it. Nobody in the Ministry seems to have wanted to put his or her name to it. Nowhere in last week’s political commentary was it said that Aryasinha had or had not obtained the approval of the Foreign Ministry to make the remarks referred to. In fact the news release he issued directly from Geneva, a practice he had followed from past years, was quoted in the political commentary other than a news release issued by the Human Rights Watch. He has in fact now confirmed that he moved amendments to the resolution. As is very clear, there was little or no success.
Now, it makes matters worse when Aryasinha says he had the approval of the Foreign Ministry since it puts the Government of Sri Lanka’s credibility at stake in the eyes of the international community. On the one hand, his own Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera in his speech during the high level segment of UNHRC inaugural sessions provided all the answers to issues raised in the OISL report. He offered to set up different mechanisms to meet with the demands in the resolution. He also declared “trust me….. Don’t judge us by the broken promises, experiences and u-turns of the past….” Here is Sri Lanka’s envoy doing something different. If the claim is true, other than the Foreign Ministry, all others at the informal event had been made to believe here was another u-turn from Sri Lanka. The amendments meant they were not in agreement. That is now official. No matter whether the meeting was informal or otherwise. All those clauses in the resolution Aryasinha tried to change remained and Sri Lanka became a co-sponsor of the same resolution. The change in the tenor and language in the resolution was the result of efforts by Premier Wickremesinghe’s direct intervention as revealed last week.
These developments did not go unnoticed. A highly placed Government source said it was the subject of a top level discussion where Premier Wickremesinghe was present. The source declined to elaborate but said it came up after another issue was raised. The subject was an offer by the US Government of US$ 2.6 million (over Rs. 365 million) to “enhance the capabilities of Sri Lanka’s criminal justice authorities.” This offer was to have expired within days if it had not been utilised. The source said the Prime Minister, who made inquiries, had learnt why it was pigeon holed from officials in the Foreign Ministry. Firstly, they had pointed out that such a programme has not been approved by the Cabinet of Ministers. Secondly, it is alleged that it was not protocol for a Deputy Minister, who was only acting, to place his signature. An angry Prime Minister Wickremesinghe, the source said, directed that acting Foreign Minister Harsha de Silva to go ahead and place his signature. He wanted to ensure the agreement was in place before the deadline for the offer ended and Sri Lanka was not deprived of such assistance. The signing took place.
Later, a US Embassy statement quoted Ambassador Atul Keshap as saying: “The United States looks forward to sharing its experiences to help raise professionalism and transparency in Sri Lanka in a way consistent with international standards.
“As Secretary Kerry announced during his visit to Sri Lanka in May, these new programs will help reform the justice system and include training to improve individual skills, promoting policies to professionalize criminal justice institutions and practitioners, and ensuring better co-ordination between police and prosecutors.” In addition, the statement said: “separate programs will help build Sri Lanka’s capacity to handle complex crimes such as corruption, narcotics trafficking, financial and organized crimes.”
Premier Wickremesinghe, the high ranking Government source revealed, is deeply concerned that some officials in the Foreign Ministry, reportedly loyal to the previous Government, were not co-operating with the present administration. His office was earlier disappointed over a report given to him ahead of his official visit to India. The Premier then declared that he will not seek any help from the Foreign Ministry but ask the Ministry of Development Strategies and International Trade to assist him in his foreign visits. “Upon his return from the visit to Japan, he will have a discussion on the matter with Minister Samaraweera,” the source added. Wickremesinghe leaves today for Kyoto where he will address the Science and Technology Forum (STF). Thereafter, he will arrive in Tokyo to begin a three-day official visit which will include talks with his Japanese counterpart, Shinzo Abe.
“There is no gainsaying that Foreign Minister Samaraweera is doing an excellent job. He has been very successful in dealing with the international community and placing Sri Lanka’s case,” the source pointed out. Hence, any claim that moves to make effective changes in the Foreign Ministry to weed out those stalling or sabotaging progress is by no means a political clash or a battle of wits between the Premier and his Foreign Minister,” the source insisted. Among matters that are to come up for discussion, the source revealed, was the role of Ambassador Aryasinha. There have also been concerns at the highest levels of the Government over attempts by an official to have material over events in Geneva containing ‘unfounded’ accusations on the Government being published in a local language newspaper. “It was halted at the eleventh hour after we learnt of it,” said the same source.
Wednesday’s debate saw a variety of views being expressed by envoys of different countries. One of the countries that spoke out strongly in favour of Sri Lanka was Pakistan. Its envoy Zameer Akram said: “We believe that after the end of struggle against terrorism, the people of Sri Lanka deserve the support and assistance of international community to rebuild the country….. Those who have been critical of Sri Lanka’s efforts to overcome terrorism and separatism funded from abroad would do well to look at their own track record on the so-called war on terror.”
Indian envoy Dileep Sinha made a brief speech after the resolution was adopted. He avoided references to a probe into alleged war crimes but said his country hoped Tamil grievances would be addressed within a united Sri Lanka. He noted that any development in Sri Lanka had its impact on India.
TNA sharply divided
The event at Palais de Naciones in Geneva clearly showed that the opposition Tamil National Alliance (TNA) is sharply divided. Two of its parliamentarians and a Provincial Councillor used the good offices of UNHRC-recognised organisations to make speeches during the debate. M.K. Shivajilingam spoke as a representative of the League of Persons with Disabilities. “The Tamil people,” he said, “are disappointed that the OISL Report did not fully refer the issue to the ICC (International Criminal Court) or a full international mechanism.” Suresh Kandiah Premachandran who represented the Association des jeurnes pour P’Agriculture au Mali declared that “as long as military occupation and Sinhala settlements remain in the North and East, it is very difficult to work on genuine reconciliation and accountability.” Gajendrakumar Ponnambalam (Tamil National People’s Front) who represented the Alliance Creative Community Project said, “Criminal investigations must make sure that the current ‘distorted and corrupted’ Sri Lankan judicial structures be excluded till such time comprehensive reforms have been undertaken, or at the very least, … kept to a bare minimum in what should be UN controlled and run criminal justice system.”
Ananthi Sashitharan who spoke as a representative of the Association Mauritanienne pour La Promotion du droit declared that the Northern Provincial Council “has demanded an independent international investigation on all crimes including genocide. She claimed that “the unitary state system in the island denies Tamils nationhood, sovereignty and the right to self-determination. Without these being addressed, there can be no political solution, no justice, no security, and no reconciliation for the Tamil people.” However, there was embarrassment for her after the ‘overarching’ 261 page report of the Human Rights Commissioner, released with the OISL report, made some strong indictments on her late husband Elilan reported missing after the military arrested him. Here is one such reference: “One of the most serious incidents of forced recruitment reported during the last few months of the conflict was the alleged abduction of several hundred adults and children who had sought refuge at Valayarmadam church towards the end of March 2009 by LTTE cadres led by Elilan and Ilamparithy….”
Ananthi is a staunch supporter of Northern Province Chief Minister C.V. Wigneswaran. The NPC has adopted a string of resolutions including ones alleging “genocide” during the separatist war – an allegation that has not been established even during the OISL probe.
It was only weeks earlier that the UN Resident Co-ordinator in Sri Lanka snubbed Wigneswaran after he tried to establish direct links with the world body bypassing the Government, his own Tamil National Alliance (TNA) and the NPC ministers . That was by appointing a Special Advisor (he named his own nephew to the position), seeking a UN Joint Needs Assessment (JNA) team and millions of dollars from the Peacebuilding Programme. This was with the military defeat of Tiger guerrillas.
A Peacebuilding Support Office (PBSO) was established by the UN to assist and support the Peacebuilding Commission (PBC) with strategic advice and policy guidance, administer the Peacebuilding Fund (PBF) and to serve the Secretary-General in coordinating United Nations agencies in their peacebuilding efforts. Wigneswaran had named Nimalan Karthikeyan, who lives in Melbourne, Australia, to work with him and the NPC ministers. He was previously an employee of the Tamil Refugees Rehabilitation Organisation (TRRO) which was later banned.
Chief Minister Wigneswaran in a letter addressed to the UN Resident Co-ordinator in Sri Lanka Subinay Nandy dated August 15 said, “With regard to your reference to briefing TNA Representatives, as Chief Minister of Northern Province (CM-NP), I have stated the nature and type of approach UN Resident Co-ordinator’s Office should have adopted in his interactions with CM-NP and Northern Provincial Council bearing in mind UN values, good governance principles and protocols that need to be adhered to by UN without interference in the Government aspects of NPC.
“Needless to say that it should have been borne in mind that NPC came into being as a new governance structure within the framework of the Thirteenth Amendment after the absence of democratic governance for more than a quarter of a century. It should also have been borne in mind that since the dissolution of the North-East Provincial Council by the President in March 1990, the Northern Province was directly under the Governor’s rule mainly spearheaded by military commanders….”
“….. I wish to re-iterate that it is important that UN Sri Lanka adopts a conflict sensitive, lessons learned approach based on UN Values and Good Governance Principles with NPC to establish future co-operation to serve the needs and priorities of the post war communities in Northern Province. What happened at the closing stages of the war and the part played by the UN at that time is fresh in the minds of the people.”
Nandy replied in a letter to Wigneswaran dated August 28 that the “UN on numerous occasions advised you that there was no donor willing to fund a standalone advisory position for a pre-selected candidate without following standard competitive process for recruitment.” The Sunday Times learnt that a monthly fee of US$ 5,000 had been sought in addition to expenses. “….the excessive canvassing by the proposed Special Advisor made it even more untenable for the UN to consider such an appointment,” Nandy said.
Here are other significant points made in Nandy’s letter: “You are noting that “…. You urged my office to advocate with the Government of Sri Lanka to enable equal partnership of NPC in the JNA process….” perhaps aptly describes the misperception that you convey about the role of the UN. What you do not know in your response is that we advise you to directly communicate with the Central Government – like you did while pursuing central government approval for the proposed Special Advisor. I offered to arrange for you and your board of ministers a comprehensive briefing on the JNA (Joint Needs Assessment), including elaborating on the scope, purpose and key outcomes. Unfortunately you never responded to the request. This offer of the UN stands to-date.
“We therefore were surprised that after your meetings in New York in July, different media channels were presenting the draft concept note that we shared with you as something that was “leaked.” Given that the draft concept note was shared with stakeholders including yourself in addition to me making a public statement setting out the peacebuilding framework on 4 June, there was nothing to be leaked. This, in our view, does not meet the standards of transparency that is expected of any high office. The Peacebuilding Fund concept note setting out the initial thinking of the Government of Sri Lanka and the UN has been discussed extensively with Government stakeholders and civil society organisations.
“Henceforth, I strongly encourage you to convey all your concerns and comments to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, given that the ministry represents the Government of Sri Lanka to formally seek support from the Peacebuilding Fund. I would also like to clarify that there is no direct connection between the JNA and the Peacebuilding Programme as you allude to in your letter to other UN officials.” Nandy has told Chief Minister Wigneswaran that “the UN, in its operations, will continue to be guided by its core mandate in all its programmes and will not be subordinate to any specific political agenda.” He has also made clear that the “overall concept and framework of Peacebuilding Fund the UN will liaise with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which will co-ordinate inputs from different implementing agencies, including the Northern Provincial Administration.” He has added that Wigneswaran’s nominated representative should undertake “future interactions with the UN” with the Assistant Representative, Governance Empowerment and Social Inclusion Team at the UNDP.
Wigneswaran’s efforts to obtain funds directly from the UN for peace building and other efforts have now assumed a new dimension. This is with the passage of the US sponsored resolution at the Human Rights Council where matters related to development activity, reconciliation and reconstruction would fall on the Central Government. With the Northern Province Chief Minister showing signs of non-co-operation with either the Government or with his own party, the TNA, the issue will be a dilemma. That adds to the Government’s responsibilities in the wake of the UNHRC resolution.