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The Paranagama and the Geneva Reports: Attempts to Mislead the Public – Pt 1 contd.,

  • Question 10:

The Government has alleged that the Paranagama Report agrees with the Channel 4 video allegations.   Is that true?

  • Answer

Not at all.  It is a deliberate misreading of the Paranagama Report.   At paragraph 428, the Paranagama Report states explicitly “ the authenticity of the video footage is not an issue that the Commission can resolve…”.

If, of course, the authenticity of the video is proved, that would establish a prima facia case.   The Paranagama Commission goes on to advocate that there should be a proper judicial inquiry.

Indeed the very same was suggested by the LLRC report, which called for an independent investigation.      Thus to say that the Paranagama Commission has validated the genuineness of the Channel 4 footage is false.  Because if it had, what would be the necessity to call for an inquiry to ascertain the authenticity of the footage?   Indeed the Paranagama Commission criticizes Channel 4 in paragraph 432 (page 105) for failing to supply the original film footage.  Why would the Paranagama Commission do this, if it had accepted the film footage as authentic?

 

  • Question 11

What is the link between the OISL report and the Darusman Report with respect to the gravity of the allegations made against Sri Lanka?

  • Answer

The answer to this question is to be found in paragraph 22 (page 8) of the OISL report which reads as follows:    “ Another key source of information was the United Nation’s Secretary General’s panel of experts headed by Mazuki Darusmann with experts Yasmin Sooka and Steven Ratner.”

Thus, it is quite clear, that the OISL report is firmly grounded in the grave allegations made by the Darusman Report.   Therefore it raises the question as to why the Paranagama Commission 2nd Mandate Report which dealt with most of the allegations in the Darusman Report was not tabled in Geneva by the Government.

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I have refrained thus far from getting involved in the debate over the Geneva Resolution for a number of reasons. One is a commitment to finalize a few books, and in particular an account of what Sri Lanka did right, in winning the war, and then did wrong in losing the peace.

Secondly, I had long felt that the last government was destroying the country by its ostrich approach to the allegations made against us. As I told Al Jazeera on the day I expressed publicly my support for the Maithripala Sirisena candidacy, when hardly any one else who was part of the previous government took the plunge, I felt that a continuation of the Rajapaksa Presidency would lead to disaster. I was glad someone who had stood foursquare behind the President during the war years was the challenger, because while I hoped he would correct the faults that had arisen after the war, I assumed he would stand by the achievement of the first Rajapaksa Presidency in eradicating terrorism from Sri Lanka.

I was deeply disappointed that the new government did not embark on the reforms it had promised, and also disappointed that it did not move swiftly towards transparency on the question of accountability. I proposed at my first Parliamentary Group meeting that we should publish the Udalagama Commission Report, because I believed its findings would make clear that our judiciary was perfectly capable of conducting a credible inquiry. I had also long argued that justice needed to be done for the boys killed in Trincomalee, and had repeated urged the President to ensure that indictments were made.

The Prime Minister said he would look into the matter, but it was not even minuted – as opposed to mechanisms to find vehicles and provide jobs for supporters – and after I left the group it was forgotten. The same seems to have happened to the Paranagama Report, to which, belatedly, the Rajapaksa government had added value through the advice of international lawyers who were aware, unlike the Foreign Ministry, of the danger of the charges made against us.

Just as, alone of Parliamentarians, I had two years ago signed a petition about the killings at Weliveriya, I signed this year a petition asking the President to ensure that justice was done to our forces by publicizing the Report. While I had no doubt that, like the LLRC, it would demand accountability with regard to events as to which there was prima facie evidence of abuse, it would make it clear that the worst charges against us were incorrect.

Sadly my detailed defence of the errors in the Darusman Report was completely ignored by decision makers in the last government, except for the one person who understood the importance of our image. When nothing was done and we subscribed to a resolution that detracts from the very principles on which the UN had been established, I feared that the same lack of intelligence was now affecting our decision makers and those advising them. The consequences to the country will be equally disastrous. But to go on telling decision makers they are being silly did not help in the last few years, and I did not think one should continue beating one’s head against yet another brick wall.

However what seems to be subterfuge in Parliament makes me wonder whether I am wrong to assume just incompetence, and whether I should worry about an agenda that will strip this country of all self respect. After all, eight years ago, I recall those now in authority trying to stop our defeat of terrorism by invoking foreign assistance.

I have therefore engaged in some study of the issues through experts on the subject, and would like to bring the following facts into the public domain, through a simple question and answer exercise –

  • Question 1:

Do you accept the statements made by the Government in relation to the 1st and 2nd mandate reports issued by the Presidential Commission to Investigate Missing Persons, otherwise known as the Paranagama Commission?

  • Answer :

No, because the statements made are misleading, and in large measure lacking in truth.  They strike at the very heart of good governance, especially when Parliament and the country as a whole are seeking to discover the truth.

It is essential that the Government briefs Parliament correctly about the various allegations made against the Government of Sri Lanka and our Armed Forces by two key UN reports known as the “Darusman Report” and the “ OISL Report”.  The Government also has the duty to inform the nation about what it has committed to implement in terms of a judicial mechanism in the co-sponsored UN resolution.   The fact that these important reports were not translated into our National languages Sinhala and Tamil, and also there was no effort made to make them available widely, through both the release of an electronic soft copy version of it and printed versions, appears to be a deliberate strategy to keep the public in the dark.

The Government failed during the Parliamentary debate to truthfully point out the positive aspects of the recommendations contained in the 2nd mandate report of the Paranagama Commission and how the conclusions of the international experts consulted by the Paranagama Commission have exonerated the armed forces of Sri Lanka from the suggestion of “genocide” that maligned our country after the release of the Darusman Report.   The Paranagama Report also refutes the crimes against humanity charges against Sri Lanka.

  • Question 2:

Is it true or false that the Paranagama Commission recommended a hybrid court similar to the Gambian Model to be implemented in Sri Lanka as suggested by the Government?

  • Answer:

It is false.    The Paranagama Commission’s Second Mandate report that was tabled in Parliament proposed ONLY a pure domestic mechanism and not a hybrid court.  Under Chapter 8 of the Report, paragraph number 625 and 626, it explicitly explains this mechanism.

In order to deal with an accountability mechanism suitable to Sri Lanka, it was incumbent upon the Commission to embark upon a review of measures taken in other countries before proposing a specific mechanism for Sri Lanka.

In paragraph 624, the Paranagama Commission lists out several different options available to the Government to consider, providing a review of all the mechanisms.   In paragraph 625, the Paranagama Commission sets out the proposed mechanism under the sub-heading “Proposed Mechanism”.   The Mechanism that the Paranagama Commission had recommended here is wholly domestic and coupled with a TRC that makes it a unique mechanism for Sri Lanka.

Thus the reference to the Gambian example being advocated by the Paranagama Commission is  misleading,   especially when a clear mechanism, purely of a domestic kind, without foreign judicial intervention of any kind had been proposed by the Paranagama Commission.

In Paragraph 616 of the Report, The Commission says “In the event Sri Lanka was to set up a purely domestic tribunal without the participation of any foreign judges, it is the view of the Commission, that there should be international technical assistance and observers”. International technical assistance does not equal foreign judges sitting in judgement over Sri Lankan citizens.

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The last couple of weeks have seen very positive measures by government with regard to accountability. While the decision to go ahead with Provincial Councils in the North was a clear mark of government’s adherents to commitments it had made, even more significant was the indictment of those who are suspected of responsibility for the killing of students in Trincomalee way back in 2006.

This was followed last week by indictments in connection with the killing of a British national in Tangalle in 2011. And soon afterwards the President ordered the establishment of a Commission to look into disappearances that had taken place during the conflict.

Unfortunately the general perception about these is that government had given in to pressures, and in particular that it feels obliged to cater to international sensibilities in the context of our hosting of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting. Even more unfortunately, many actions taken by government give the impression that it does not really want to do what is right, but has to be forced into action.

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I continue surprised, though I should not be, given our infinite capacity for self delusion, at the virulence of attacks on India with regard to the several crises we brought upon ourselves. It is claimed that India was gratuitously nasty in supporting terrorists, and that it acted outrageously in 1987 in imposing the Indo-Lankan Accord upon us.

I think India was wrong both in supporting terrorists and in the final form the settlement of 1987 took, but in both instances there was nothing gratuitous about what was done, given our own conduct. It is claimed that India cannot claim to be a friend because she supported terrorism, but that is to ignore that countries will naturally act in their own defence, and we as it were started the problem by abandoning our traditional friendship with India and pursuing Western gods.

The appendix to the Indo-Lankan Accord says it all, in noting the decisions we had made which seemed to threaten India, the shenanigans with regard to the Trincomalee oil tanks, the agreement to allow the Voice of America a virtual self-governing enclave at a time when such entities were a significant part of Cold War armoury, and indeed what seemed efforts to flog Trincomalee to the Americans. This last is particularly ironic since I suspect the Americans – though their capacity to insure themselves against all eventualities, real and imagined, is infinite – did not really want the place since the British had flogged Diego Garcia to them and obligingly got rid of its inhabitants.

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I referred some weeks back to the games being played by various individuals and institutions in Colombo with regard to the Friedrich Naumann Stiftung, the political foundation of the German Free Democratic Party. This is a member of Liberal International, though its Liberalism is generally more concerned with free market economics, and does not have the same commitment to social equity as say the British Liberal Party. Still, there are enough people in the FDP, and also in the FNS, who understand our commitment in Sri Lanka to a more Gladstonian version of Liberalism, though sadly they have been in comparative short supply in dealings with South Asia.

I suppose this is understandable in that South Asia tended, at the time the FNS established itself here, to be committed to social equity from a more socialist standpoint, and it was free markets that needed nurturing. However this led to at least some personnel neglecting other aspects of Liberalism, as with the official who said he saw nothing wrong with Ranil Wickremesinghe’s assertion that democracy could be delayed, as in South Korea and other East Asian countries, until development had reached a satisfactory level.

This mindset has contributed to a generally hostile attitude to the Liberal Party of Sri Lanka, though there have been honourable exceptions, including the Regional Director who encouraged my conducting workshops on Liberalism in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Sadly he was soon sent away from Delhi, though he has since contributed immeasurably to Liberalism in South East Asia, where the command model of an open economy held sway, and it was necessary for Liberal parties to argue for the restoration of democracy and social equity.

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I was finally spurred, by the enormous effort made by a few expatriates to take a careful look at the casualty figures for the conflict, to try myself to put together some figures systematically. Long ago I had made some estimates, based on the details I had got from Tamilnet as well as on figures from the ICRC of the sick who had been taken to hospitals in government controlled areas. But though government has now accepted what I said, at the time I was even criticized for my candour by those who should have known much better.

I should note that I was not entirely on my own, for the army, understanding better than most what was at stake, helped me with visits to the sites where the fighting had taken place, and in particular to the hospitals which were largely undamaged, contrary to the propaganda put out about them. But when the books I produced were ignored, I thought it better to concentrate on reconciliation with regard to the future.

Recently though I have been heartened by two envoys who have done well in dealing with the media telling me that I had been their initial inspiration. And when Michael Roberts and the Marga Institute produced ‘The Numbers Game’, and the remarkably sharp journalist Kath Noble assessed this positively, I thought I should make yet another effort.

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The present controversies over the 13th Amendment and also the commitment of the government to conduct Provincial Council elections are fraught with controversies that I find ironic. I am aware that I am accused of all sorts of misdemeanours, if not quite crimes, for my continuing support for the President even while I continue to point out what seem areas in which reforms are urgently needed, and where some measures taken by government do not help either reconciliation or the coherent and equitable development this country needs.

But I am certainly consistent, and this should be the more obviously recognizable – though sadly no one looks at facts and engages in discussion based on evidence – in comparison with the astonishing inconsistencies of many others. Recently for instance I was struck with the vehemence with which some international locators were talking about the need for Provincial Council elections in the North, given that this was very far from their agenda when the LTTE was in control there.

I remember way back in 2003 being glad that G L Pieris had announced that elections would be held in the North, and then being quite critical of him when these were cancelled. In fairness to the poor man however I was told by Austin Fernando that he had wanted to go ahead with elections and it was the Prime Minister who had stopped him. I assumed this was because the LTTE had decreed they did not want elections and Ranil Wickremesinghe thought he had no alternative except to indulge them. Austin did not confirm this, but I gathered from his response that I was not wrong.

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Having looked critically at the negative impact on the Sri Lankan government of pressures that seem both unfair, and tangential to the progress on pluralism that the country needs, I must nevertheless admit that the government is not doing enough to counter those pressures. While the main focus of reform must be the pursuit of pluralism and equitable prosperity, it is also desirable I feel to point out what more could be done to dismiss the absurd charges against us.

We should not after all feel that all those who launch what seem hypocritical and unfair attacks on our conduct of the war are engaging in cynical bullying, either to win votes or to bring us into line with their own agendas. We must recognize that there are those who genuinely think we were guilty of excesses and, while many of those who attack us will not listen to reason or evidence, a few might.

It is for this reason that government should make much more of the extraordinary efforts made by a few expatriates to look carefully at all available evidence in order to arrive at a reasonable assessment of the number of civilian casualties during the war. I felt tremendous relief when I saw their report, now presented twice at the Marga Institute, with thoughtful and convincing introductions by Godfrey Gunatilleke and Michael Roberts. Before that I had felt I was working in a vacuum, since no one else seemed inclined to challenge through facts and figures the outrageous claims of the Darusman Report.

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At the recent discussion held at the Marga Institute on accountability and reconciliation, I was confronted with an accusation I found interesting, and not entirely groundless. One of the brighter individuals earlier involved in advocacy NGO work suggested that my explanations for some responses of government were similar to what was claimed in mitigation by those who refused to criticize the LTTE when it was intransigent in discussion and continued to engage in terrorist activity.

I think there are differences, not least because I have drawn attention to governmental lapses in various areas, while also arguing that, while one should understand why government hesitates to move forward on issues that would contribute to reconciliation, one should nevertheless point out the need to move. As a distinguished Indian diplomat put it when talking about his government’s support for terrorist groups in the eighties, one can understand why this was forthcoming, but that does not justify it. That is why I will continue to point out the need for government to develop better mechanisms of consultation of the people in the North, as well as sensitivity to their concerns.

But it is true that I can understand why government feels so diffident, and that is why I believe it is necessary for those who are contributing to the insecurity government feels to also mend their ways. The apologists for the LTTE would point out how Tamils had suffered in the past not only because of majoritarian political decisions but also because of waves of violence that government had unleashed, or at least not actively discouraged. Their argument was that one had to indulge the LTTE because of the distrust they felt.

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The International Centre for Ethnic Studies invited me recently to a seminar which was essentially on the post-conflict situation, though it had a more philosophical title, as is required to attract funding. I was pleased to attend, since I think one should engage with such organizations. Though I felt that for many years ICES had an essentially destructive agenda as far as this country was concerned, that seems to have changed with the appointment of a new Executive Director, who is certainly critical of government, but with I think no partisan agenda but only a commitment to ethnic pluralism as well as fundamental human rights.

This is Mario Gomes, whom I first knew as a protégé of Richard de Zoysa. I was reminded of this (rather sentimentally, a sure sign of advancing age) at the opening session, which I only managed to get to late since I was driving down from Vavuniya. However I managed to hear almost the whole presentation by Qadri Ismail, who was his usual iconoclastic self, demanding a stop to generalizations about identity. I would describe this as a quintessentially liberal position except that he would probably find the term anathema (I think he still sees himself as a socialist, though I can think of no one less likely to fit into any form of collective).

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Rajiva Wijesinha

December 2017
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