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The vivid descriptions by the Darusman panel and Gordon Weiss of the last month of the conflict are designed to present government as outrageously wicked. Any relief that was provided is attributed to foreigners. Thus the panel brazenly claims that ‘The ICRC’s ships were also the only means for delivering food’. This is nonsense. The ICRC used ships provided by the government, as is clear from the letter of the Commissioner General of Essential Services, one of the unsung heroes of the period. He wrote on May 4th to Paul Castella, the Head of the ICRC Delegation in Colombo –

As you are aware, we have taken action with your cooperation to transport essential food items to Puthumattalan since March up to 5th April 2009. The ICRC has accompanied two cargo vessels arranged by me, that is MV Bin Tan and MV City of Dublin…each carrying more than 1,000 MT of food items. In addition, Green Ocean also carried nearly 40 MT almost in 09 voyages. Further, another consignment of 1,300 MT of essential food items was loaded into MV Thirupathi, but it could not carry its mission since ICRC was not in favour of sailing the ship due to security reasons. However, we managed to send small consignments in Green Ocean on 27 and 30 April 2009 carrying 30 MT each…..

I wish to inform you that a vessel is stationed in Trincomalee anticipating your concurrence to saidl cargo to this area at any given time. You will understand that the ship could said only with your concurrence under ICRC flag. Under these circumstances, I shall be grateful for you to make arrangements to dispatch the essential food items in a bigger vessel which could carry more than 1,300 MT without any further delay. Until the arrangement is made, the Government will take action to deliver the maximum capacity of cargo which could carry under the passenger vessel Green Ocean.’

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After the diversion created by Radhika Coomaraswamy’s effort to distract attention from the actual ICES escapades, it may be useful to return to less purposive threats to our efforts to deal with terrorism. In this regard I should reiterate that I believe that the International Committee of the Red Cross is amongst the most innocuous of the agencies that engage with countries in difficult situations.

They are supposed to be apolitical, and generally they live up to this reputation. However they are sometimes dragooned into a political role, as when claims are made by some countries that assistance cannot be provided for rehabilitation unless there is a monitoring role prescribed for the ICRC.

In general this would not seem a problem. However, admirable though the ICRC generally is, at the beginning of 2009 they decided to engage in a political role in Sri Lanka, or what they themselves would term advocacy. They issued a series of bulletins, which sounded deeply critical of the Sri Lankan government and its armed forces, and naturally these were made use of by the Tigers and their sympathizers.

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Rajiva Wijesinha

November 2019
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