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What seemed the positive remarks of the United States Defence Attache at the recent seminar on Defeating Terrorism were promptly challenged in Groundviews, the electronic journal established a few years back with funding from Canadian and Australian aid agencies. At least, this was the proud boast on its website, until I drew attention to this, whereupon the claim was removed from the public domain.

Interestingly, the Australian Embassy responded to my query to say they had not funded Groundviews per se, even though they had provided some assistance to the Centre for Policy Alternatives, which may have used those funds for Groundviews.  Canada, represented at the time by Angela Bogdan whom even fellow envoys found embarrassingly critical of the Sri Lankan government, did not respond.

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The recent seminar on Countering Terrorism was a rich and enlightening experience. It helped me to understand further the deep sense of hurt that our military and political officials feel about the swarm of attacks they now have to face with regard to allegations of war crimes. I had known earlier from the statistics I collected from daily TamilNet reports that we had done our best to fight a clean and careful war. Until the end of 2008 we had succeeded, in the Eastern Province, and also during the whole operation to retake the Western part of the Wanni. Even then though, we had to face allegations that had no basis whatsoever in fact, as with the Human Rights Watch claim that we had engaged in indiscriminate attacks on civilians in the East.

The Report that accompanied this assertion, which hardly anyone read in full then, which has now been forgotten though the sensationalistic claim still reverberates, makes it clear that there had been only one incident in which civilians had died. That had been caused by mortar locating radar, with the LTTE having been proved to have been inside a refugee centre, bearing weapons and with bunkers having been prepared.

Human Rights Watch grants this but claims that there is no evidence that the LTTE used heavy weapons. Sadly, in their zeal to target the Sri Lankan government, they omitted to put on record the obvious demand, that the LTTE should not use refugee centres as places from which to fire. The stunning silence of the now hysterical international community seems to have encouraged the LTTE to use this tactic with impunity again and again.

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Jeff S. Spivac - Founder, Covert Sciences

The double standards that are patent in the report of Christof Heyns on the Channel 4 video almost defy belief. I have already pointed out how he falsified what his predecessor said about Siri Hewa, while himself using experts who had previously acted as advisers on this same issue, all from the same country which, at least if the public pronouncements of some of its leading diplomats are anything to go by, seems to have prejudged several issues.

These experts have finally admitted that the footage has been edited. This was not mentioned previously, whereas now it is trotted out as providing very simple explanations of what seemed inexplicable previously. Since Alston had previously claimed that, while there were ‘a small number of characteristics which the experts were not able to explain….Each of these characteristics can, however, be explained in a manner which is entirely consistent with the conclusion that the videotape appears to be authentic’.

Why then were these not explained previously? The answer seems to lie in the fact that, until it became too obvious for even this bunch of so-called experts to deny, the fact that the video was edited was suppressed.

Grant Fredricks - Avid Editing Solutions

But, in admitting that the video was edited, it is stressed that this was only ‘the type of rudimentary editing possible on a mobile phone’. There is no attempt however at explaining why, in the course of this editing, the order in which events are supposed to have occurred has been transposed. As Grant Fredericks puts it, ‘The first four segments were actually recorded in the following chronological order:

• Segment 3,

• Segment 2,

• Segment 1,

• Segment 4’.

The experts go out of their way to claim that the events in the video are authentic, which suggests that they have completely missed the point of the initial Sri Lankan government reaction. Mr Alston brought a video to our attention and we claimed that this video had been tampered with. This was initially denied, but now it has been granted that not only was the video edited, but that the events it depicts were transposed. None of this was admitted earlier, which surely suggests that there should be further investigation of those who supplied the video before it can be so conclusively asserted that a prima facie case has been established. Read the rest of this entry »

Philip Alston – Former United Nations Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions

Amongst the many absurdities in the Channel 4 saga is the complete impunity enjoyed by Channel 4. In August 2009 it showed a video which led to an immediate response from Philip Alston, the Earlier Christof Heyns. Alston’s initial letter, which was accompanied by a press release, was immediately responded to with a request that he investigate the video which Channel 4 had shown, since it was not clear whether he was asking the Sri Lankan government to investigate the video or the incident depicted on the video.

Alston typically dodged the question, and went into a long spiel about how my response was ‘equivalent to a police officer telling an alleged victim that no investigation will take place until the victim can definitely prove to the officer’s satisfaction that the alleged crime took place’. This was the sort of obfuscation Alston specializes in, because I cannot believe that a Professor could not tell the difference between asking someone who reports a crime for further details and asking an actual victim. Indeed Alston’s density or low cunning became more apparent when he subsequently claimed that the situation was similar to that in which ‘an individual was beaten up or raped and reported the matter to the police, but because of the trauma suffered was unable to identify when or where the alleged assault took place’.

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I have long had a soft spot for Mr Ban Ki-moon. I realize this might make me unpopular with Sri Lankans who see the UN as a monolith, but I believe that analysis of his statements over the years suggests that he does his best to uphold basic principles, both those of moral decency as well as those on which the UN was founded. He does sometimes succumb to pressure, but many people do that. We need to be more precise therefore about where that pressure comes from and how ruthlessly it is applied, instead of criticizing those whom it endeavours to crush.

With regard to Sri Lanka, one source of pressure was Louise Arbour, who had been High Commissioner for Human Rights previously, and had tried then to obtain for herself a proconsular role in this country. This was prevented, but she changed the very positive Adviser her office had had in Sri Lanka, and appointed an American who seems to be at the forefront of allegations regarding War Crimes, going by the account of one of those who seemed surprised at the vehemence with which such views were expressed during the meeting summoned by the American ambassador. Needless to say, to substantiate the point I have often made about how the eminently decent senior officials of the UN are undermined, Ms Veliko had not obtained the permission of the UN to attend the meeting. Nor had the American Ambassador had the courtesy to obtain the concurrence of the UN leadership for her invitation.

But this is typical of a body that believes it owes allegiance not to the UN, but to the predilections of its own leaders, who often follow a policy of trashing UN officials and UN procedures. The Indian Ambassador to Geneva had occasion to reprimand the current High Commissioner for Human Rights for attempting to undermine a decision of the Human Rights Council in 2009, and it is arguable that the pique of her office has contributed to current efforts to reverse that decision. And solidly in the forefront of this campaign was Louise Arbour, Navanetham’s predecessor, who has now taken over the mantle of Gareth Evans, another inveterate meddler with a Messianic vision of himself.

It is now forgotten that some of the pressure on Ban Ki-Moon to appoint the Darusman Panel came from Louise Arbour. She told ‘Turtle Bay’, which has been one of the principal persecutors, in May 2010 that the UN was ‘close to complicit’ in government atrocities. Naturally Mr Ban Ki-moon was then reported as having ‘responded angrily to suggestions that the U.N. shared responsibility for the violence.’ In defending his own position, he lost sight of the full enormity of the claim, and so the canard that there were ‘government atrocities’ went unchallenged. On the contrary, the cornered Mr Ban said ‘he would move forward with the establishment of a panel of advisors to counsel him on how to hold perpetrators accountable for crimes during the decisive final months of the decades-long war’.

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I have now had a chance to go through the report presented to the United Nations Human Rights Council by Mr Christoff Heyns who has taken over the mantle of Philip Alston.  He clearly sees himself as Alston Mark 2 for he actually says that ‘some further evidence was obtained and considered by the current me’ (doubtless as opposed to the ‘earlier me’, Philip Alston).

However, the Current Me’s effrontery is even more brilliant than that of his predecessor, beginning with his choice of experts to back up his case. First of all he appointed precisely those whom Alston had appointed, namely the trio of Spitz and Spivacak and Diaczuk, all Americans.

He notes that the Earlier Me had objected to the experts Sri Lanka had cited previously, on the grounds that they were all Sri Lankans and were in the army or ‘had previously acted as advisers to the Government.’ This is completely untrue, since Mr Siri Hewa is not Sri Lankan and had not previously advised the Government but simply wrote out of the blue when he noticed the absurdities of the Channel Video.

But, having blithely, like the Earlier Me, dismissed all Sri Lankans, Heyns then proceeded to hire, hey presto, precisely three Americans who had acted as advisers to that Earlier Me.

The Current Me then goes one better. He notes that the government had suggested that someone who was not part of the Earlier Me team would have been more persuasive, so he hires – none other than Mr Grant Fredericks, who had been commissioned by (none other than) the Times of London to investigate the video. The Earlier Me was well aware of this and indeed referred in his Technical Note to the article in the Times in which Fredericks had opined that the first video was authentic.

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Exodus of tamil civilians held captive by the LTTE - May 2009

One area in which there is an element of truth in the report of the Panel is its accusation that Government underestimated the figures of IDPs in the Vanni towards the end of the conflict. This is correct, and I myself was under the impression that the figure was less than it finally turned out to be.

What is wrong is the claim that the Government used these figures to ‘deny humanitarian assistance’. The fact is that, from the very beginning, there was uncertainty about the figures. At my very first meeting with UNHCR, when I was actually impressed with the commitment of Elizabeth Tan and her immediate boss, I asked why the UN still maintained a distinction between what were termed Old IDPs and new ones. I could understand this in the case of those in static situations, for instance the Muslims chased out of the North by the LTTE in 1990, who had mainly stayed put in Puttalam since then. But in the Vanni it was clear that the IDP population had to be treated as a whole, and we needed to make sure that everyone there was adequately fed.

What was also crystal clear was that it was in the interests of the LTTE to deprive them of food, not out of wickedness, but for propaganda purposes. This had become clear to me way back in 2007, when I took over as Head of the Peace Secretariat, and found in my consultations with people living in those areas, in particular the Chambers of Commerce in the North, that this ‘was perhaps the single most important topic, rivalled only by the issue of restrictions on fishing’.

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Soldiers caring for wounded civilians http://www.army.lk

The last extract from the Report of the Darusman Panel that I read referred to rape. The Panel begins its discussion of this factor by stating that ‘Rape and sexual violence against Tamil women during the final stages of the armed conflict and, in its aftermath, are greatly under-reported’.

Hillary Clinton - 67th United States Secretary of State

They go on to indicate that their Report is based on ‘indirect accounts’ and explains this by talking about many ‘photos and video footage, in particular the footage provided by Channel 4’.  If this is their principal evidence, one wonders about their standards, given the questions raised about the authenticity of what Channel 4 showed, the discrepancies in the dates Channel 4 put forward, the shifty segments (such as the shifting leg, which even Alston’s bunch of experts could not explain).

Anyone with a modicum of intelligence combined with objectivity would have thought about previous allegations with regard to sexual violence made against our forces. The most famous of these is the pronouncement by Hillary Clinton about our forces using rape as a weapon of war, for which Ambassador Butenis apologized. While I can see that we were correct to accept her apology graciously, it is astonishing that she herself did not see fit to examine and explain how Hillary Clinton was fooled into making that particular blunder.

Medical services for evacuated civillians http://www.army.lk

Then there was the famous case of I think fourteen women found with their throats cut near Menik Farm, reported with complete fraudulence by the ‘Guardian’, though not I hasten to add by its regular correspondent. The article was written by a callow young man named Gethin Chamberlain, who later confessed to me that he realized later the story was false. He claimed that he had written it up because he thought he had a reliable source, which I think he indicated in response to a question from me, though never directly admitting it, was a UN official. He told me that after that he had realized he should not trust that particular source, but surely a good journalist would have tried to find out why such an outrageous lie was thrust upon him.

Gethin Chamberlain - Guardian UK

I do not think Mr Chamberlain was quite as innocent as he pretended to be, for in his article he claimed that he had tried to contact the Ministry of Disaster Management and Human Rights, but they did not respond. The day this happened was a holiday, but since he had the number of my mobile phone, it is clear he did not even try to get hold of me. It was typical however that he wanted to both have his cake and eat it, which is why he tried to suggest that we were avoiding him, when in fact, with the usual pusillanimity of such creatures when dealing with us, he did not dare to even try to talk to us, given the enormity of the whopper he was perpetrating.

By then I had a pretty shrewd idea of what was going on, confirmed indeed by Jeremy Paige of the Sunday Times, whom I also met in Delhi around the same time. When I asked him why he was perpetrating lies, having denied that he had anything to do with the massive figures as to deaths that his colleagues were advancing, he claimed that he had UN authority for some of the things he wrote. When I pointed out that the UN had refuted these, he claimed that there were junior people in the UN who disagreed with the position of their superiors, and were therefore leaking information to journalists. Read the rest of this entry »

Perhaps the most startling revelation of bad faith in the report of the Panel appointed by the UN Secretary General is its repeated call for a reversal of the motion regarding Sri Lanka carried at the Human Rights Council in May 2009. At one point the Report criticizes the UN team in Colombo, in saying that ‘the public use of casualty figures would have strengthened the call for the protection of civilians while those events in the Vanni were unfolding’. The rationale for this claim follows immediately, when the Panelists declare that following the end of war, the Human Rights Council may have been ‘acting on incomplete information when it passed its May 2009 resolution on Sri Lanka’.

In short, the main agenda of the Panelists is to overturn that resolution, which rankled deeply with some countries accustomed to always having their own way in United Nations bodies. When a vast majority votes against them, they must have been wrong, so now the case has to be reopened with information provided when it cannot properly be checked.

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Rajiva Wijesinha

June 2011
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