Cloud over sections of the military: US

Friday, 23 August 2013 02:08 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

  • US Govt. calls for credible investigations into allegations against military personnel to clear their record
  • Senior Army officials rejected for US training because of “credible allegations” against them
  • US cites State Department Report, UN Panel of Experts findings and additional sources as basis for vetting Lankan troops
  • Under Leahy Vetting laws, eligibility criteria for US military training directly linked to accountability: Embassy official
  • Says ineligibility is not permanent, can be reversed if credible investigation clears implicated military personnel
  • Hopes Lanka will seek Pillay’s expertise to formulate credible investigative mechanism
  • Former Army Chief says Army’s 53, 57 Divisions facing issues; likely to resurface until problems are cleared
By Dharisha Bastians With accountability issues expected to rank high on the agenda when UN Human Rights Chief Navanetham Pillay arrives in the island, the United States yesterday renewed calls for a credible investigation into allegations against Sri Lankan military personnel during the last phase of the war, saying that failure to do so puts a cloud over the country’s armed forces. Criteria for eligibility in US training programs for the Sri Lankan military were “directly linked” to accountability, according to the US Embassy in Colombo. “There is a limit of work the US Government can do with a particular regiment if there are credible allegations of human rights violations against them and we can’t move forward until there is a credible investigation into the allegations,” a US Embassy official told Daily FT.  The US Government provides training to hundreds of Sri Lankan soldiers and many of its programs are tailored to institution building and increasing professional responsibility. The selection of military candidates is performed through a rigorous vetting process, under the 1998 US Leahy Laws, that specifically disqualify personnel against whom “credible information” exists regarding human rights violations. The US Government recently rejected two major generals of the Army for a training program in Auckland, New Zealand, citing “credible allegations” against the officers. The Army’s Adjutant General Major General Jagath Dias, who was recently appointed to head a military panel of inquiry into the Weliweriya violence, was one of the officers subject to rejection on this basis. Major General Sudantha Ranasinghe, recently appointed General Officer Commanding of the Army’s 53 Division, was also rejected. The Government has disagreed with the decision, saying there were no allegations against the two officers. “There is a cloud over certain divisions because of the allegations,” the official said, adding that ineligibility is in no way permanent and could be reversed with a genuine inquiry. “The important thing is the way forward and that path is clear – a credible investigation to clear the officials and units that may be implicated,” the Embassy official explained. These sentiments were echoed by the former Army Commander and current Chief of Defence Staff, General Jagath Jayasuriya, who told a media conference on Wednesday (21) that there were issues with the Army’s 53 and 57 Divisions. Gen. Jayasuriya said Major General Dias had been rejected for training previously as well. “The problem is with his division and until that is cleared, this problem for him will keep resurfacing,” the Chief of Defence Staff said. Gen. Jayasuriya added that when Maj. Gen. Ranasinghe was previously rejected for US training, he had summoned the US Defence Attache to his office during his tenure as Commander and the official had promised in his capacity that Ranasinghe would be cleared for the next program. “Maj. Gen. Ranasinghe was only appointed as Commander of 53 Division recently. He had no involvement in any of these allegations but unfortunately, there’s a problem with the whole division,” he explained. Gen. Jayasuriya admitted that in the case of Maj. Gen. Dias, a resolution of the issue would have to come from the top. US Embassy officials said it was hoped the Government of Sri Lanka would make use of High Commissioner Pillay’s visit to obtain her assistance to set up a credible investigative mechanism to inquire into alleged rights abuses by its troops. “Her mission is defined as a technical assistance mission. We hope that the Government will make use of her expertise to develop a credible process for investigation,” the official observed. Pillay’s visit was a “great opportunity” for Sri Lanka to accelerate the push for accountability, the US Embassy official claimed. The official explained that a “credible” investigation would be transparent and its results would have to be made public, but different countries have different mechanisms to address the issue of troop accountability. “There is an international standard that defines a credible investigation – so far, no cases have been taken up and there is no specific mechanism for this process here,” the official added. The Embassy vouches for the US Government’s vetting process for foreign troops and explained that the US cannot provide training to military personnel from Sri Lanka or anywhere in the world against whom there are “credible allegations” of rights abuses under US law. The vetting process for US sponsored military training is exhaustive and information regarding allegations against individual officers and units are based on the US State Department report, the UN Panel of Experts findings, multiple sourcing and research, the official said. “Hundreds of Lankan troops are cleared in the vetting process but a small percentage is rejected and then we ask the Defence authorities to then recommend different names,” the official explained. The Embassy official told Daily FT that the US Government has had a long and active relationship with the Sri Lankan military. “The US Government genuinely believes military can be more effective if it respects human rights. Accountability is a big part of that,” the Embassy official asserted.