… recalls US Defence Advisor in Colombo contradicting battlefield executions

… recalls US Defence Advisor in Colombo contradicting battlefield executions

By Shamindra Ferdinando

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s Office yesterday (15) strongly denied a claim by former US Ambassador for War Crimes and Global Criminal Justice Stephen Rapp (2009-2015) that wartime Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa had admitted to killing LTTE leaders following their surrender to the Army in 2009. Rapp claimed Rajapaksa had told him so when he met the latter in Colombo.

There was absolutely no basis for Rapp’s claim, the President’s Office said when The Island sought President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s response to the former Ambassador’s accusation. The President’s Office questioned the former US official’s motive to make such a statement seven years after leaving office.

The allegation was made on Friday (12) at an online panel discussion organised by a group of organizations targeting Sri Lanka led by the Global Tamil Forum (GTF) on Justice and rule of law in the run-up to the 46th sessions of the Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council. Rapp recalled a conversation with the then Defence Secretary and now President Gotabaya Rajapaksa regarding LTTE leaders who surrendered to the army. Rapp said the government “hated the LTTE”.

“I remember raising this issue with defence secretary Gotabaya, now President Rajapaksa when I was there,” Rapp said at the webinar.

“I remember the defence secretary saying, “Oh, trials, trials, you know they go on so long and people get off”. And then he said, “I killed them, I killed them, I killed them,” Rapp recalled.

Stephen J. Rapp is a Senior Fellow at the US Holocaust Memorial Museum’s Centre for Prevention of Genocide and at Oxford University’s Centre for Ethics, Law & Armed Conflict.  He also serves as Chair of the Commission for International Justice and Accountability (CIJA).

The former US Ambassador was responding to a question regarding Sri Lanka’s suspicions about the failure on the part of the UN to inquire into atrocities committed by the LTTE as well as others, including the Indian Army. Rapp noted that one way to have made the Tigers accountable for violations would have been to arrest leaders and put them on trial. Rapp added: “Of course, recalling, that many of the individuals (in the LTTE) that could have been charged were in fact, according to credible evidence, killed after surrender. The numbers are around 360 that were given out”.

The President’s Office while pointing out Rapp visited Sri Lanka in 2012 and 2015, emphasized that the dramatic present accusation was meant for the Geneva sessions. Obviously, Rapp’s claim was nothing but an overall part of the campaign to discredit Sri Lanka, the President’s Office said, drawing the former Ambassador’s attention to a wartime US defence attaché Lt. Col. Lawrence Smith declaration in 2011 in Colombo that battlefield executions didn’t take place.

The President’s Office said that the Office of War Crimes and Global Criminal Justice owed an explanation whether Rapp during his tenure as the head of that Office reported such a conversation with the then Sri Lankan Defence Secretary or whether Rapp shared information with UNHRC in the run-up to 2015 Geneva sessions. Rapp should peruse Lt. Col’s Smith’s response to retired IPKF Maj. Gen. Ashok Metha’s query, the President’s Office said. Pointing out one-time LTTE mouthpiece TNA was represented at the webinar by its Jaffna District MP M.A. Sumanthiran, PC, the President’s Office questioned how the US and the TNA backed the then General Sarath Fonseka’s candidature at the presidential election less than a year from the conclusion of the war after having accused him and his army of genocide.

The President’s Office said that Sri Lanka rehabilitated over 12,000 LTTE cadres. Hundreds of LTTE cadres now live abroad under assumed names and were holders of various foreign passports, the President’s Office said adding that leaked US diplomatic cables revealed the Army could have finished off the LTTE with less casualties of its own but suffered losses due to ground commanders taking the civilian factor into consideration.

The President’s Office said that human right campaigning is a lucrative industry where plenty of funds are disbursed among those groups and individuals following the Western agenda. The former Ambassador Rapp’s claim reminded Sri Lanka of the US-British campaign on WMDs leading to the invasion of Iraq. Rapp’s claim in a way could be compared with former Northern Province Chief Minister C.V. Wigneswaran’s August 2016 high profile claim the Army poisoned 104 surrendered LTTE cadres. 

Ex-UN Assistant General Secretary won’t comment on ‘confidentiality clause’ preventing verification of war crimes allegations

By Shamindra Ferdinando

former UN Assistant Secretary-General and the author of the report of the Secretary-General’s Internal Review Panel on UN action in Sri Lanka’ Charles Petrie has declined to explain why the UN deliberately thwarted verification of unsubstantiated allegations against Sri Lanka by way of a controversial confidentiality clause. 

The Island raised the issue at a webinar titled ‘Sri Lanka: Quest for Justice, Rule of Law and Democratic Rights’ co-hosted by the Global Tamil Forum (GTF), Centre for Human Rights and Global Justice – New York University, Sri Lanka Campaign for Peace and Justice and the Canadian Tamil Congress (CTC). The webinar was part of a campaign against Sri Lanka undertaken by interested parties ahead of the 46th sessions of the Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) scheduled to commence on Feb 22. The sessions will continue till March 23.

Asked whether the panelists could explain why a UN confidentiality clause prevented verification of war crimes allegations till 2031 and why a UN report prepared with the support of ICRC and Vanni based NGOs in 2008-2009 hadn’t been considered, former British diplomat Petrie said: “Just…the confidentiality issue… I’m not very…I would not be able to address.

Having declined to respond to the query, Petrie said that he would like to follow up on what former US Ambassador-at-Large for Global Criminal Justice A said in response to The Island query. Rapp who first responded to the query posed to the panellists through moderator Melissa Dring of Sri Lanka Campaign for Peace and Justice conveniently refrained from at least referring to the UN confidentiality clause or UN report that placed the number of persons killed at 7,721 (August 2008-May 13, 2009)

Petrie said that there were a lot of documents pertaining to war crimes accusations, including those of the UN. Petrie, a one-time investment banker alleged that the then Sri Lankan government exploited an incident involving a UN convoy to set up a No Fire Zone in the Vanni east region.

The group of panellists included Pablo de Greiff, a former UN Special Rapporteur, M.A. Sumanthiran, PC, MP, attorney-at-lawBhavani Fonseka of the Center for Policy Alternatives (PTA), Ameer Faaiz, Director of International Affairs of the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress, Ambika Satkunanathan, a former Commissioner of the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka and Shreen Saroor, a civil society activist.

Melissa Dring interpreted The Island query as a denial of war crimes accusations, a strategy similar to that of the government of Sri Lanka.

According to the Panel of Experts’( Kangaroo court in any reasonable person’s rule book as Sri Lanka is prevented from, leave alone cross-examining the accusers, but even to see their faces) Report released on March 31, 2011, even after the mandatory 20-year prohibition (2011-2031) on the releasing of material received of assurance of absolute confidentiality, relevant information couldn’t be released without declassification review.

The following is the full text of the question forwarded to Dring: The alleged killing of 40,000 civilians (PoE report/137 paragraph/March 2011) remains the primary accusation against GoSL. The AI placed the number of deaths at 10,000 (a few months after the PoE report), In between the PoE report and the AI report, the UK Parliament was told 60,000 LTTE cadres and 40,000 civilians perished in the final phase of the assault ( Siobhain McDonagh, MP). In addition to those reports and various other claims, a UN study (Aug 2008-May 2009/POE/paragraph 134) estimated the number killed at 7,721 and wounded at 18,479. Can you please explain why the UN failed to verify various reports/claims particularly against the backdrop of Lord Naseby’s disclosure in Oct 2017 (Lord Naseby’s claim was based on British HC diplomatic cables)

The following question addressed to Pablo de Greiff was not answered at all: You addressed issues relating to the monitoring of international action and accountability. Can you, please explain the status/outcome of the UN fact-finding mission on the Gaza conflict (Goldstone report) against the backdrop of the head of the mission contradicting his own report?

UK based Amal Abeywardena asked the panel about Sri Lanka not having confidence in the UN inquiring into LTTE atrocities and how could the international community probe violations on all sides, including those committed during JVP uprisings as well as the IPKF period and investigating the role of the supporters of the LTTE who supplied material resources to the Tigers when Human Rights violations were committed. Rapp who responded to the query conveniently side-stepped the accountability issues pertaining to the deployment of the Indian Army in Sri Lanka (1987-1990). A full recording of the live webinar can be found in this link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0muPVjyF7E8

President’s Office denies ex-US Ambassador’s claim ‘Killing of LTTE leaders who surrendered’

Backbencher contradicting PM worse than Wimal’s statement – Rahman

… seeks explanation from SLPP

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Samagi Jana Balavegaya (SJB) MP Mujibur Rahman yesterday (17) said that the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) owed an explanation of how a newcomer to Parliament, Kokila Gunawardena, contradicted Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa’s declaration that burial of Covid-19 victims would be allowed.

Colombo District MP Rahman said that they were quite perplexed how Gampaha District backbencher interpreted Premier Rajapaksa’s response to lawmaker S.M. Marikkar in Parliament on Feb. 10.

Pointing out that Premier Rajapaksa gave an assurance as to the leader of the government in Parliament, lawmaker Rahman emphasized that MP Gunawardena’s action was far worse than National Freedom Front (NFF) leader Wimal Weerawansa’s call to pave the way for President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s entry into SLPP.

MP Rahman said the SLPP having interpreted Weerawanwa suggestion that he wanted to bring in President Gotabaya Rajapaksa at the expense of SLPP leader Mahinda Rajapaksa flayed him on several occasions but was strangely silent at the humiliation caused by an MP overruling the PM.

Referring to SLPP General Secretary Sagara Kariyawasam’s much-publicized demand to Weerawansa that he apologize to the nation for making a move against the Premier, MP Rahman challenged the ruling party to set the record straight. Lawmaker Rahman pointed out that twice President Mahinda Rajapaksa never retracted his statement as regards doing away with mandatory cremation of Covid-19 victims.

MP Rahman said that though lawmaker Gunawardena sought to misinterpret the Premier’s statement, Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan, in a tweet from Islamabad, soon after the announcement made in the Sri Lanka Parliament, appreciated Sri Lanka ending, the controversial policy of mandatory cremations.

SJB MP Rahman asked whether lawmaker Gunawardena had been directed by someone to contradict the PM’s statement. The MP said that they weren’t aware of any previous instance of any MP on Mahinda Rajapaksa’s side disputing a statement issued by him in or outside Parliament.

MP Rahman pointed out that Premier Rajapaksa responded to MP Marikkar amidst an intervention made by the Speaker. The MP asked whether the government was ready to face the consequences of ignoring concerns raised by several governments, in addition to the UN, over discriminatory policy. MP Rahman noted that UN Resident Coordinator in Colombo Hanaa Singer in a letter dated Nov 12, 2020, especially requested for an immediate end to mandatory cremations.

Meanwhile, SJB MP Faizal Cassim (SLMC nominee) has told the party high command a group of SLMC lawmakers voted for the 20th Amendment to the Constitution on an assurance received from the SLPP the mandatory cremation policy would be done away with. Cassim said so in the presence of SLMC leader Rauff Hakeem at a meeting at the party headquarters a couple of days ago.

Except for Hakeem, all his members voted for the 20th Amendment. All Ceylon Makkal Congress member, too, backed the 20th Amendment in addition to SJB National List MP Diana Gamage. The SLMC parliamentary group consists of five members elected on the SJB ticket.

Contrary to assurances that action would be taken against those who voted with the government, the SLMC has requested them to make a public apology. The SLMC indicated that the party did not envisage disciplinary measures against the dissident group.

Colombo District SJM MP S.M. Marikkar early this week flayed the SLMC dissident group for trying to deceive the public by claiming they did so on an assurance received from the government. The former UNPer said that claim was unacceptable under any circumstances. Marikkar said that helping the government to enact the 20th Amendment couldn’t be justified. The group of Opposition lawmakers who voted with the government included members of the SLMC, ACMC and the SJB.

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Writer and Journalist living in Canada since 1987. Tamil activist.

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