- 10 major fundamental errors the UNHRC Report failed to take into consideration, according to Lord Naseby
Ranjiv Goonawardena of International Consultants and also an aficionado on Sri Lanka had a meeting with the Rt. Hon. Lord Naseby on 10 March at a virtual meeting. During the meeting Nasby outlined substantial errors of a report from the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights on Sri Lanka.
The revelation by Naseby, President of the All-Party British- Sri Lanka Parliamentary Group in the UK, gave a detailed insight into the report.
Naseby clearly expressed his concern pertaining to the report also wrote to the UN High Commissioner – Michelle Bachelet Jeria, expressing his concerns and still have not got a reply, the following are his remarks and findings:
“I have just finished a careful read of this extraordinary document, which glosses over the full extent of the war; when a group of vindictive terrorists tried to create a Tamil quasi neo-socialist revolutionary state by first murdering all the moderate Tamil leaders, then murdering President Premadasa and Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, ironic to say the least, after all, Indira Gandhi, his mother, was the main sponsor of the LTTE Tigers and provided training camps in South India at the beginning.
“Also assassinated were countless ministers, parliamentarians, civil society leaders and finally using extreme violence to wage war against the armed forces of the democratically elected Government of Sri Lanka. This was all done in the name of Eelam.
“UNHRC accuses the Government of Sri Lanka and its armed forces of heinous crimes unspecified from so-called ‘credible evidence sources all undefined. The tenor of the writing almost has overtones of martyrdom for the Tamil Tigers. Indeed, the language reflects that of the Panel of Experts (Darussman) and OISL reports both now discredited by real evidence rather than conjecture. Certainly, there is little in the Report to help move ‘reconciliation’ forward.”
Naseby went on to say: “I have studied the history of Sri Lanka in-depth since I started the All-Party British Sri Lanka Parliamentary Group in 1975. For nearly 50 years I have had a unique insight into Sri Lanka both internally and externally.”
It was divulged by Naseby that he has written a book based on extensive research, properly referenced with sources: “Indeed, I have given two copies to the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, South Asia Department. The title of the book is: ‘Sri Lanka – Paradise Lost – Paradise Regained’.”
Lord Naseby further went on to state his suggestion: “I suggest Chapters 12 to 19, these have more relevant facts than anything produced to date by the UNHRC.”
10 key issues the UNHRC has failed to take into consideration
1. The law that operates in war is the law of armed conflict otherwise known as International Humanitarian Law. This was confirmed by Sir Desmond de Silva QC, the former Chief Prosecutor of an UN-sponsored War Crimes Tribunal. He made the point that The European Convention on Human Rights is wholly inappropriate for application in combat and battlefield conditions.
2. There is now a volume of independently verified evidence that civilian casualties in the war 1 January to 18 May 2009 were 5,000-7,000 and maybe less. Certainly not the 40,000+ banded about by the UN.
3. The most heinous war crime was the recruitment of male and female child soldiers by the LTTE (Tamil Tigers). UNICEF stated that between April 2001 and September 2004 no less than 4,259 were verified. On 31 July 2005, they stated that 5,081 underage children had been recruited. Furthermore, UNICEF estimated 60% of LTTE personnel killed in combat were children. Despite what the UNHRC report implies on page 4, there were no child soldiers in the armed forces of Sri Lanka. One of the key Tamil Tiger personnel deeply involved in the recruitment, training and possibly deployment of the child soldiers is a British citizen, Adele Balasingham, residing in the UK. There is absolutely no mention of her by the UN. One has to ask why the UK has not itself either asked the UN to investigate into this matter or made its own genuine attempt at investigating Adele Balasingham, given Britain’s interest in seeking the truth and accountability for human rights violations. Evidence of Balasingham confessing her involvement in the LTTE’s activities and adorning suicide cyanide capsule chains on the necks of female child soldiers may be readily seen in the documentary ‘Inside Story: Suicide Killers’ broadcast on BBC 1 on 23 October 1991 at 21:30 (Producer: Stephen Lambert, Executive producer Paul Hamann – see https:// vimeo.com/304944042). It is high time that the Crown Prosecution Service considered this matter with seriousness and vigour.
4. The UK Government has the evidence of the UK Defence attaché Lt. Colonel Gash during his period of service in Sri Lanka. Following a Freedom of Information Request from Lord Naseby which took nearly three years Colonel Gash’s despatches from the war front are now, in heavily redacted copies, in the public domain. There is ample evidence in these despatches that Sri Lanka’s Government at the time and its armed forces did not have a policy to kill Tamil civilians, indeed they went out of their way to rescue them with considerable success despite danger and losses to themselves. Removal of the redactions might well make it even clearer. By not providing these despatches in un-redacted form to UNHRC, the British Government is hindering the process of establishing the truth of what really happened at the end of the Sri Lanka conflict.
5. Reference is made on page 8 para 27 to an incident of disappearances of 11 persons in 2008-’09. I make no comment but contrast this with the cold-blooded murder of 600 policemen in the Eastern Province who surrendered to the LTTE on 11 June 1990 evoking no comment from the UN.
6. Reference is made on Page 4 para 9 – Credible allegations of indiscriminate shelling by Government forces including densely populated ‘No Fire Zones’. Surely the UN is well aware that the No Fire Zone was offered to the LTTE because of the hospitals but the LTTE refused and placed its artillery close to the hospitals (itself a war crime) and fired on advancing Government forces who understandably returned fire to destroy the Tamil Tiger guns. Such action is covered by the rules of war. It is worth noting the comment made by the resident American Ambassador Robert Blake at this time (Paranagama report p60 p288): ‘The LTTE often deliberately put its heavy artillery in the midst of civilian encampments precisely to draw fire so that people would get killed in the hope that there would be an international outrage and there would be essentially demands on the Sri Lankan Government to stop fighting and (agree to) some form of negotiated settlement’.
7. On page 4 para 9 the statement is made – ‘Strict controls over humanitarian supplies by the Government caused additional deaths and suffering’. The only reason there was a reduction in supplies was that the LTTE refused to allow safe passage. It is worth noting that despite the LTTE taking all they needed for their troops there were still adequate supplies in the warehouses run by the Government Agents (civil servants). The truth is the LTTE semi-starved the civilians who were in their ‘human shield’ policy. There was nothing the Government could do to mitigate this and certainly they were not responsible. The Paranagama Commission report covered this issue in some detail (denial of Humanitarian Assistance p122-127).
8. The report on page 4 para 9 states that LTTE cadres and their dependents are believed to have been extra-judicially executed after handing themselves over to Sri Lankan armed forces. This appears to be a new claim and does not stand up to examination. Colonel Gash in his despatches records that following extensive aerial leaflets offering safe passage to any Tamil civilian or military; hundreds came over and were looked after. I am aware of the so-called alleged killings at the end of the conflict which the Paranagama Commission describes as the extra-judicial executions of 18 May 2009 that were dubbed ‘White Flag Killings ‘in the Channel 4 programme. This is an isolated incident and I concur with the Commissioners’ statement: Due to the seriousness of these allegations, the Commission has come to the conclusion that an independent judicial inquiry is necessary to establish the facts, determine responsibility and arrive at the truth.
9. Again in Para 9 the statement is made – ‘More than 250,000 people were detained for months in military-run closed camps for internally displaced persons’. These were set up as thousands of civilians escaped through the lines from the clutches of the LTTE; indeed, not all were civilians as hidden in their midst were hundreds of LTTE fighters who threw away their uniforms and pretended to be civilians. The camps were set up as these shell shocked and half-starved poor people who had been forced from their homes as a human shield, suffered five months of hell and now had nowhere to go. The emotive word ‘closed’ is used by the UN conveniently omitting that from Day 1. The International Red Cross (ICRC) were present helping to look after these poor, deeply distressed people. Of course, the human rights brigade demanded entrance which was refused primarily because it was known there were mixed in with the genuine refugees LTTE cadres, in fact over 11,000 of them. The ICRC did a brilliant job as they have done all over the world. It did not need other parties interfering. Nevertheless, it was reassuring that a group of Tamil Nadu MPs visited the camp and issued a statement thanking the Sri Lanka Government.
Lord Naseby’s wife, a doctor, jointly visited Manik Farm too and they were impressed with the care of everyone with medical facilities and even schooling for the children. The LTTE cadres were separated but looked after and many of them went for rehabilitation which most welcomed. The Government correctly granted total freedom to all the ‘child soldiers’ who had survived. There is an implied criticism that the camps were run by the military. One has to observe that given the numbers involved and the possible need for protection, the military was the obvious choice.
10. Torture is highlighted in para13 page5 with the phrase: ’Torture by the security forces and paramilitary groups’. Lord Naseby stated: “I have now approached the ICRC on my last three official visits about this claim of torture as they operate in-depth and islandwide. The response from three different heads have been the same: ‘no torture but some heavy handling.’”
The report of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights fails to understand what has happened in the three presidential periods from the end of the war up to the present day.
Phase 1 – President Mahinda Rajapaksa
It was his leadership allied with his brother Gotabaya Rajapaksa that build up the armed forces to a level and competence where they could face the military might of the Tamil Tigers. Regretfully the West refused to sell modern armaments, leaving Sri Lanka with no option but to seek help from China, which was forthcoming.
If the LTTE Tamil Tigers, a terrorist group proscribed in over 30 countries, had not been defeated then there would undoubtedly have been a rogue State of Eelam created. The real goal of the LTTE was to capture the north and the east of Sri Lanka, then use Sri Lanka as a springboard to start the second insurgency phrase, guerrilla warfare campaign in South India as there are 67 million Tamils in Southern India.
That would have eventually led to the breakup of India for the third time in 73 years of its independence. India would have jeopardised the ability to become an emerging superpower if that prevailed. China would be the only power in Asia if that occurred. As China considers itself as an emerging global superpower in economy, military, technology, diplomacy and soft power influence.
In the immediate post-period up to the 2015 Presidential Election, the whole of the Northern Province infrastructure was destroyed during the conflict by LTTE and needed to be rebuilt or restored, particularly power, roads, railways and schools.
There was a conscious effort to return to the private sector those facilities that had been run by the military. There was a new major housing programme for the over 250,000 displaced persons supported by several countries but not the UK.
Finally and vitally, a major de-mining operation was set up and is still going on today although it is made doubly difficult because the Tamil Tigers left no plans of what ground had been mined. By any yardstick, all this post-war restoration work was a huge achievement and rather quicker than the allies achieved after World War 2.
Phase 2 (20150-2019): President Sirisena (SLFP) with Ranil Wickremesinghe (UNP) as PM
Despite the fanfare of a 100-day action programme the new Prime Minister proved to be weak and indecisive. He set up Commissions for the new Office of Missing Persons and Office of Reparations, however all the good solid work recommended by the Paranagama Commission was not implemented. There was talk about linking with civil societies but with no concrete plans, proposals or strategic purpose. The country was seen to be drifting by its people.
The decision to co-sponsor the UNHRC initiative was taken by Mangala Samaraweera off his own bat without agreement from Cabinet or the Executive President. This meant that there was no real in-depth commitment by the country at large. It was clear to observers like Naseby that tension was rising between the President and the Prime Minister, particularly as a General Election approached.
Phase 3 – Presidential Election of 2019
This saw President Gotabaya Rajapaksa swept into power. He is a strong leader with a plan to develop the talent and opportunities of all Sri Lankans. Naseby said on the penultimate page of the book ‘Sri Lanka – Paradise Lost – Paradise Regained’: “Time for the newly-elected Executive President Gotabaya Rajapaksa to re-establish Sri Lanka as a dynamic creative economy with his proven powers of leadership. Time for him to sort out the difficult economic landscape Time for him to be allowed to prove his engagement with all minorities.
“His actions so far have vindicated my faith. He has reorganised the Office of Missing Persons as well as the Office for Reparations which have sorted out provisions for death certificates particularly for widows of missing persons and making where appropriate compensation payments. New commissioners have also been appointed to the Office of National Unity and Reconciliation. If the West genuinely wanted to help then they could share names of missing persons, some of whom have just turned up alive and well somewhere in the world; Canada and UK are the two obvious countries to have a trial.
“Criticism is made of little progress to setting up the truth and reconciliation system. How the UNHRC expect much progress on any issue in the middle of a world pandemic is unbelievable. He has made a strong public commitment to all minorities
“He has restored the security system which had been downgraded by the previous Government, resulting in the terrorist Easter attacks on Christian churches despite India sending warnings.
“The UN makes a criticism of ex-military personnel doing civilian jobs and in certain cases taking over the function. I remind the UN that after World War 2 in the UK the experience and commitment of former military personnel were put to good use by both Prime Minister Attlee and Churchill. Sri Lanka is in exactly the same situation post-war. To date, it has become highly desirable in the United Kingdom for most of the major companies to have special programs to attract ex-military officers to do civilian jobs; for instance, Colin Bell is CEO of HSBC Bank Plc and HSBC Europe had a distinguished career in the UK Army before joining HSBC. Records indicate, in the House of Commons in the United Kingdom, there have been over 50 ex-military officers working as MPs. In the House of Lords, it’s over 42 members of the Lords who have served in the armed forces but nobody says UK Parliament has been militarised.
“The UNHRC would do well to recognise the relative success of Sri Lanka’s response to the pandemic where an immediate shutdown was made and the whole programme run by a combination of the military, medics and scientists. The decision to ban burials was made on local scientific advice concerning the water table and thus affecting the safety of the water. At the time of the decision, there was no WHO advice. Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa has now announced in Parliament that burials will also be allowed in addition to cremations. Controversial scientific advice was also made and implemented in the UK. One might reflect that Sri Lanka’s death toll is under 400 for a population of 21.8 million whereas the UK death toll is now well over 110,000 on a population of around 55.98 million.
“Criticism is made that Sri Lanka’s Parliament should have been recalled however Britain is hardly the gold standard as the UK Government for the first 6 months of ‘Lockdown’ acted on emergency powers with virtually no involvement of Parliament.
“The UN Human Rights High Commissioner should realise that the real prize for the people of Sri Lanka is the attainment of sustainable peace. When the Archbishop of Canterbury was asked about his assessment of Sri Lanka at the end of his visit after the Easter Sunday attacks, he responded, ‘To live in a post-conflict country requires courage. It requires vision, the recognition that reconciliation- the issue of reconciliation in a post-conflict country is one that takes generations.’
“Even in Europe, where the last great war in Western Europe was in 1945, we have made one of the best examples of reconciliation anywhere in the world after one of the worst examples of war. But yet, there are still things that have to be dealt with. Reconciliation is a generational process. World War 2 lasted six years whereas the conflict with the LTTE lasted nearly three decades largely sustained by global Tamil diaspora communities from various countries including the UK where the LTTE was able to establish its international headquarters. The LTTE was militarily defeated in Sri Lanka in 2009, its many external supporters never largely faced any justice. The LTTE could never have challenged a democratic country if it had not been financed, resourced and supported by a highly sophisticated network of terrorism activists that raised huge funds, often using criminal means.
“For many years the terrorist nature and threat that the LTTE posed was never recognised in the West and the proscription of the Tamil Tigers was only established in the UK in 2001. Whilst the UN Human Rights High Commissioner never mentions the Tamil diaspora as a stakeholder in the conflict, the Paranagama Commission report determined how justice solutions need to encompass those who actively aided and abetted LTTE atrocities committed in Sri Lanka (such as Adele Balasingham) but who funded them from abroad. I quote, ‘The Commission is of the view that international criminal law is capable of supporting the concept of prosecuting those who fund terrorist organisations in the knowledge that such funds will be used for the commission of war crimes or crimes against humanity.’ (Paranagama p.174 para686)
“The UN Human rights Council needs to take some steps to address this issue with countries that have been known centres of LTTE fundraising. To avoid such an investigation is to allow the perpetrators of crimes to feel that they are empowered to repeat their previous actions with impunity. Today there are clear attempts being made to resurrect the LTTE from outside Sri Lanka, yet law enforcement in foreign countries seem reluctant or blind to this threat. Surely no one wants to allow funds to be raised to finance another war in Sri Lanka.”
Lord Naseby went on to emphasise: “What a real travesty of injustice to Sri Lanka. The United Kingdom Government sponsored the UNHRC motion and at no time did they contemplate upon providing any of the classified information to the UNHRC, may that be redacted or unredacted format. Neither did the UNHRC request for the evidence to be presented, which is highly suspicious especially when innocent people might be indicted incorrectly for things that they have never done and their reputations are called into disrepute. Sri Lanka being vilified and ostracised by the international community. The UK as Chair of the Core Group is tasked to lead and act on the UNHRC Report. It would be evident that they have not carried out the duty of care and not provided appropriate classified information to the UNHRC.”
Concluding remarks of Lord Naseby stated: “I finish on a positive note from the world-famous Legatum Institute. In their latest report published in late November 2020, they praise Sri Lanka for the real progress made over the last 10 years: ‘Over the past decade, Sri Lanka has made significant progress in addressing the constraints to its development. This progress has resulted from concerted efforts to build the institutional capacity and quality of the healthcare and education sectors, increasing access for its citizens to these key enablers of prosperity, especially in rural areas. The results have been nothing short of remarkable’ (page 62). The report concludes by stating that Sri Lanka is the most improved nation over the last 10 years. One hopes the UNHRC will recognise this achievement but I question if they are even aware of it.”