Lord Naseby, has been described by former British House of Commons Speaker Baroness Betty Boothroyd as; “I know from experience there is no British politician more knowledgeable, more trusted by the people of Sri Lanka….. has been careful not to side any political party or ethnic group”. Having graduated from the Commons to the Lords, [...]


Last stages of Lanka’s separatist war: If the defence attachés despatches were unverified, why the cuts?


Lord Naseby, has been described by former British House of Commons Speaker Baroness Betty Boothroyd as; “I know from experience there is no British politician more knowledgeable, more trusted by the people of Sri Lanka….. has been careful not to side any political party or ethnic group”.

Having graduated from the Commons to the Lords, the former MP for Northampton South, Lord Naseby is a lone voice on behalf of Sri Lanka in the British Parliaments while those MPs in the Commons with a substantial number of Sri Lankan-born voters supporting the banned LTTE regularly keep thrashing Sri Lanka.

Lord Naseby who was in Sri Lanka this week to launch his autobiography was invited to address the Press Club of the Sri Lanka Press Institute at the Colombo Hilton on Monday. Here, he shows the audience the documents he received from the UK Freedom of Information Office replete with redactions (censoring of texts) from the dispatches sent by the Defence Attache of the British High Commission during the 2009 military operations against the LTTE. He spoke on the subject of "Freedom of Information". Pic by Indika Handuwala

The British Government is giving the lead to a resolution at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva seeking accountability on allegations of human rights violations during the final push by the Sri Lankan armed forces to defeat the LTTE and end the scourge of terrorism in the country, and also on current questions relating to governance in its former colony.

On Monday, Lord Naseby addressed the PRESS CLUB of the Sri Lanka Press Institute at the Colombo Hilton. Following are excerpts of his address on the subject “Freedom of information”. He relates his ‘battle’ to obtain official information from the British Government on the reports filed by the Defence Attache’ of the British High Commission during that final assault against the LTTE where the casualty figures are hotly contested.

“You will know better than I do that some people are a little bit tenacious about seeking after information. They’ve got a big chip on their shoulder. Or they feel they have been hogged down by particularly or a just few set up with the government or the press whoever it might be. So vexatious things are not allowed.

If you are one of those sorts of people who never let go, you keep repeating it, you rephrase it but you keep going. Then tedious repetition is the word we use in parliament. So the case of this Act, tedious repetition of information is not accepted.

And this is always the difficult one, security of the country. Now that is a fairly unstructured, undefined area in my judgement. So that is that.

I am going to turn now and I have not warned anybody about this. So you have to take it from me…. not sure if the British Government will be leaping with joy at whatever I am about to say. That’s the whole point of meeting you ladies and gentlemen.

You recall that in relation to the period after the war, we had a report done under the aegis of the UN called the Darusman report. Fine, in theory, respected people in charge of it. Never came to Sri Lanka. Bit of a question mark there. Biggest question mark, we don’t know….. who provided the evidence.

We still don’t know who provided the evidence for the conclusions of that report. To my judgement, that is hopeless. That isn’t an objective, an assessment of a situation. For though, like to me, it could have been all the LTTE evidence. I don’t know. Could have been no evidence from the LTTE. I’ve no idea. And I think that’s a huge handicap. And you will know, those of you who take an interest in this, that there was a further report. The OISL report. They didn’t come here either. And that report is very much based on the work of Darusman. But again, we don’t really know who provided the evidence. So, that’s a problem.

And then, I decided that I would try a Freedom of Information request. I’ve never done it before, so I had to seek advice from the library about what the procedures were. I really didn’t know about the challenges that came with it. And remember, I am only a single member of the House of the Lords without a big office. At that time I had a student helping me, whereas he and I did all of the work. So we set about following the procedures.

Through the foreign office we submitted a request that the dispatches of one Col. Gash, who was our military attache, attached to your armed forces in the field, in the period 01 January through to 18 May 2009. I had met him, here, in the Hilton Hotel. Because I always make sure that when I come, I meet the High Commissioner – it’s my first call. I like to meet anybody that’s involved with the British Government. In this case it was quite obvious that he was the one man who knew what was happening in the war. So I booked a room here, in the Hilton Hotel and I changed the room five minutes after he came, or five minutes before he came, frankly because I didn’t know whether it would be bugged. I’ve been in the forces long enough to know you should move. Not tell people where you will be going. So we met, we got on well, he understood, he said to me: “I am surprised at the number of the people who would be taken as a human shield, coming out through the night, and the way they are being looked after by the government forces of Sri Lanka. I really am surprised,” he said, “The numbers and the way the whole thing is being treated.”

Well, so, I’ve known more about that for quite a long time. Yes, the warm feeling of understanding that the armed forces were doing a proper job. And I don’t know why it took me the best part of, well I suppose it must’ve been four to three or two years, I’m old, can you remember? – three years. And I thought; ‘I know, I’ll ask for freedom of information.’ So I applied to the foreign office, turned down. I didn’t look at the procedure and well you could appeal, I did it to the office in South East Asia. You can ask a higher authority to appeal there, turned down. Because of the timing, it takes at least two months. Then reapplied to the foreign office, turned down. Then there is a special section of the foreign office, where you can appeal to. So, turned down.

Then I discovered in the Act, that there is a commissioner you can separate from the government, under the Act who can listen to my appeal as a person seeking information. As to whether I felt I’ve been justly turned down or not. I explained to him why I was not satisfied. And that there were at least, roughly half a million Sri Lankans living in the UK, paying their taxes in the UK, who was very much a citizen of the UK as I am. And they had an absolute right to know what had happened on the ground. So the commissioner listened properly and shared; “I think you have a point, Lord Naseby. Leave it with me, it may take two to three months, leave it with me.” So I did leave it with him, he came back and just before Christmas with – Oh yes, I have brought with me this evening, these are the copies of Col. Gash’s dispatches.

These are in the public domain, I’ve given a copy obviously to your government. But I could show to you, I put it out in a table here, I pray none of you will nick it, I’m sure you won’t. But in here, I’ll find it quickly in a second, so basically there are 26 pages of the first part of it. There are another 11. Why are there another 11? Because I went and looked at the dates on these dispatches. It appeared he’d gone on holiday, at the end of April and the beginning of May (laughs). Well, he clearly hadn’t. But so the foreign office explained it was on a different system. Oh ok, a different system. And then eventually I got one further. So, you can look at these, there’s a typical one – they’re strokes called redactions. (Shows a page with redactions). Can you all see the black lines on the top?

So there’s a series of quite heavy redactions on the information that he saw. There’s another one. I’m going to lay them over here after I’ve spoken and you just come and have a look and flick through it. Because there’s nothing confidential here, these are in the public domain. And this is the one. This is phase two, remember? So, it’s only because I’ve gone through the dates, carefully, to see there was a “Oh, what’s going on here?” So this is 25th of April, so we’re three weeks away from the end (shows a fully redacted page) lots of words on that one. Lot of communication. Not to exaggerate, this one says; “From our HQ… More broadly…Core… I had supper with…” (laughs). So that’s very helpful. So, the news I’m giving you gentlemen, and it’s exclusive, you people here tonight, I’ve sat and reflected on this, I’m going to make a further appeal, for the removal of the redactions. I’m doing that because it seems to me, it’s time that it was done, with the age and the United Nations Human Rights Commission need to see it. Because I asked a question, had we sent – we the UK government – had we sent this to Geneva?

The answer I got back. They didn’t ask for it. Well you can imagine the answer I gave to that one.

But more importantly, I’ve now had a letter some weeks ago, more than… couple of months ago now telling me that there was a concern that Col. Gash had no independent witnesses to verify what he saw and reported. Well I pointed out to my ministers that I thought the whole idea of a military attaché was that he was an experienced man or woman in the armed forces and whose judgement we valued. But apparently, it’s got to be verified. I think that’s nonsense ladies and gentlemen.

So I must say well in the light of the decision you’ve now told me, that these dispatches are unverified, they therefore are not particularly good piece of evidence. So yes, treat it in such manner, then why don’t we remove all the redactions. It can’t influence anybody, can it? It’s not verified. It looks to me more verified than Darusman. So when I get back I am putting in a submission to remove the redactions on these dispatches. Probably won’t be very popular with the government. But of course at 85 you could get away with it”.

Share This Post


The best way to say that you found the home of your dreams is by finding it on Hitad.lk. We have listings for apartments for sale or rent in Sri Lanka, no matter what locale you're looking for! Whether you live in Colombo, Galle, Kandy, Matara, Jaffna and more - we've got them all!

Advertising Rates

Please contact the advertising office on 011 - 2479521 for the advertising rates.