Senator Christine Milne -Your speech in the Senate on Feb 12, 2014 re HR in Sri Lanka
Posted on February 25th, 2014

Mahinda GunasekeraToronto, Canada

February 24, 2014

Senator Christine Milne
Leader of the Green Party
Canberra, Australia

Dear Senator Christine Milne,
Your speech on accountability for violation of Human Rights and International Humanitarian law on February 12, 2014 in Sri Lanka

I am in receipt of the annexed letter sent by one James Stewart on your behalf in response to mine of February 21, 2014 which is given below.

I regret to note that despite your being aware of atrocities committed by other parties in the 33 year conflict including the serious incidences of war crimes and violations of international human rights laws perpetrated by the Indian Peace Keeping Forces during their operations in Sri Lanka from 1987 to 1990 earlier  mentioned by me, and the horrendous record of atrocities of the LTTE from 1975 to  May 2009, you insist on focusing attention on the last few months of the military operation ended on May 19th, 2009.  That process would be skewed and unfair by the vast number of people who were killed or maimed by the actions of the IPKF and their protege the Tamil Tigers whom they trained, armed and funded on Indian soil before directing them to engage in terrorist acts to destabilize Sri Lanka.  Your logic of confining the investigations and inquiries to the last few months ended May 2009 ignoring the prior 32 plus years is difficult to comprehend especially when you claim to champion human rights of the people of Sri Lanka.

Reference has been made in your letter to a report published on February 1, 2014 by the Public Interest Advocacy Centre titled “Island of Impunity” which I glanced through briefly and noted several incorrect statements, especially, that relating to alleged shelling of Food Convoy 11 around January 21-24,2009.  The actual position relating to this incident which was subsequently inquired into by Sri Lanka’s Ministry of Disaster Management but not given due coverage by the UN or the media, is as follows:

“It appears that the UN spokesperson is basing his calculations on one single incident that had taken place in January 2009 when Food Convoy Number 11 made its way to the Vanni accompanied by two UN security officers (one retired Bangladeshi military officer and a Canadian Tamil) who had traveled without notifying the UN Resident Representative, Neil Buhne, and had camped out in Mullativu where they got some some Tamil civilians to dig a bunker for them to stay during the night.  Their presence in Mullativu was subsequently brought to the attention of the Sri Lankan Army which had to immediately suspend hostile actions in the region to ensure the safety of the UN personnelThey claimed they had gone there to try and negotiate the release of the UN’s local staff who were Tamil residents of the Vanni who obtained employment in the UN Agencies with the permission of the LTTE. The LTTE merely played games but would not release a single local employee.  As they camped out in this place which they assumed was one of the declared safe zones, they had the terrible experience of being bombarded with artillery shelling through the night. In the morning they discovered that 23 of the civilians who came to pass the night where the UN officers camped including children (or child) had been killed by the shelling.  They immediately assumed that the shelling came from the Sri Lankan Army, and this information was relayed to Gordon Weiss and ended up in the hands of the UNSG’s panel and the rights groups. These UN security officers managed to safely extricate themselves and reach Colombo.  Later, when the Sri Lankan authorities came to hear of it, they summoned the UN Chief Security Officer, Chris du Toit (who had earlier trained Joseph Savimbi’s terror group in Angola at the behest of the white South African Aparthied regime) and his deputy the Bangladeshi officer, and questioned them as to how they concluded that the artillery shelling came from the Army (see Rajiva Wijesinha’s blog) when the Army had suspended operations due to their presence.  They had then admitted that they could not figure out from which direction the shelling had come, but had identified some shell as having come from the LTTE.  This single incident resulting in 23 deaths was also extrapolated by Gordon Weiss into the estimated number of artillery duels to arrive at his unverified number of 7,000 civilian deaths, whereas the party responsible for the 23 civilian deaths was the LTTE. Even after the UN security officers admitted their erroneous assumptions to Sri Lanka’s Ministry of Disaster Management, the wrong information relayed to Gordon Weiss gets planted in UNSG’s POE report and reports prepared by HRW, AI, ICG, etc., and is later quoted as fact by Frances Harrison to the Canadian House of Commons Sub-Committee.

I also note that Gordon Weiss was one of the five experts of the PIAC Report, and I wish to state here that his evidence has been somewhat shaky and partial towards the Tamil Tigers whom he possibly considered to be the underdog and sympathized with.  My observations of Gordon Weiss as submitted to Canada’s House of Commons Sub-Committee on International Human Rights is given below:

“The UN spokesperson in Colombo, one Gordon Weiss claimed at the end of April 2009 that the number of civilians killed was in the range of 7,000. His boss, Sir John Holmes, Under Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs rejected the number saying that the UN did not have a presence on the ground and could therefore not be in a position to ascertain accurate figures that could be verified.  Much later, after leaving the UN, Gordon Weiss published a book called the ‘Cage’ aimed at marketing it to the one million strong Tamil expatriates and with an eye to personal profit, where he went on to state that the final  number would run into tens of thousands of civilian deaths, padding it up to the figure of at least 40,000 killed.  Later, at a book launch in Canberra, when he was challenged about the number of casualties, he rolled back the figure to about 10,000 and claimed that the higher number shown was a printer’s error. When he was questioned by me at a panel discussion in Toronto about the accuracy of his guesstimate of civilian deaths, quoting his own words spoken at a book fair in Ireland where he said that his methodology to estimate the civilian deaths could be described as ‘scientific/unscientific’, he had no response to offer.  He has been described as an unreliable witness.

There are many references to the UN Secretary General’s so called Panel of Experts being referred to as the UN Panel of Experts which it is not.  The appointment of the Panel was solely made by the UNSG for his own guidance, and not one authorized by the General Assembly, Security Council or the UNHRC.  Two of those so called experts had publicly declared their views on Sri Lanka clearly bringing into question their impartiality. The Panel stated in their report that none of the allegations had been proven, and that it did not meet the high standards required of a UN report. They heard only from one side to the conflict which naturally was a prejudiced source. Furthermore, they went on to lock away the data presented to them for a period of twenty years. Strangely, this unofficial report meant only for the Secretary General’s purposes is leaked, and Navi Pillay the questionable High Commissioner for Human Rights places this unofficial document lacking the sanction of the UN in the agenda of the UNHRC.

The above are only brief comments relating to the PIAC report.  I would like to add that the Tamil civilians of the Vanni who were forced to move with the retreating LTTE forces were encouraged by the Bishops of the Catholic Church serving in the north of the island knowing full well that they would be exploited for their labour in the digging of ditches, building combat related defensive earthen walls, conscripted to replace fallen cadres and ultimately to serve as a human shield for the Tamil Tigers.  Although the Sri Lanka government unilaterally declared two 48 hour ceasefires in February and April 2009 to enable the civilians to move into government controlled areas for their safety, the LTTE prevented anyone from leaving by shooting those who attempted to flee from their control.  Two separate offers from the government calling on the LTTE to surrender too were ignored as the LTTE preferred to fight to the end hoping for a rescue by the major powers and asylum in a foreign land to resume hostilities once more. I did not hear any strong condemnation of the actions of the LTTE in herding the civilians into high risk areas, nor their placing of heavy weapons in the vicinity of civilian areas and hospitals to fire on the advancing army to attract retaliatory fire that could harm the civilians whom they took with them by the international community who are today attempting to browbeat Sri Lanka.  The civilians too had been trained in the use of arms and referred to as the LTTE’s “Makkal Padai” or people’s army, which brought into question their status of being genuine civilians or combatants.

Sri Lanka’s Army (SLA) had to not only fight the ruthless forces of the terrorist LTTE, but also ensure minimum harm to the displaced civilians that were being used as a human shield.  The  SLA abandone the use of heavy weapons around the third week of April 2009 and conducted an infantry action to defeat the LTTE who used their heavy weapons continuously to inflict heavy damage to the security forces causing the death of almost 60% of the total loss of 6,000 men in the 33 month military operation, which is more than the 3,423 lost by the US and her coalition forces combined in their 13 year war in Afghanistan.  The SLA not only succeeded in defeating the terrorist forces of the LTTE and bring an end to the three decade long conflict, but rescue 295,873 Tamils IDPs held hostage to form a human shield for the LTTE and also restore the Right to Life of Sri Lanka’s 21 million citizens from all of her constituent communities.

As stated earlier, Sri Lanka has the capacity to inquire into the alleged war crimes and violation of human rights if any in the case of an armed conflict that took place within her sovereign territory over which she alone has jurisdiction, just as much as Australia and other sovereign countries would investigate any wrongdoing within their respective countries.  All we ask of you is to allow Sri Lanka the time and space to deal with her internal matters based on her own Lessons Learnt amd Reconciliation Commission, and not disrupt the prevailing peace and ongoing reconciliation.
Yours sincerely,

Mahinda Gunasekera
Toronto, Canada

On 2/23/2014 10:45 PM, Milne, Christine (Senator) wrote:

Dear Mahinda,

Thank you for your email. I am replying on behalf of Senator Milne.

The purpose of Christine’s recent speech was to bring before Parliament the independent report Island of Impunity (which can be accessed here) the content of which provides further evidence of war crimes which supports Christine’s continued call for an independent investigation. You are quite right that many war crimes have no doubt been carried out prior to the close of the war and, no doubt, those crimes should also be investigated. However, as a starting point, the Greens hope that the allegations mentioned in the report should be investigated. Despite the weighty evidence, even this minor request has met with stiff resistance from many governments, least of all the Sri Lankan Government. Thankfully the US will now table a report with the UN to investigate these war crimes.

Christine is quite aware of crimes committed by other parties, such as the LTTE, and made mention of them in her speech: “It is alleged that in the final years of the conflict war crimes and crimes against humanity were committed by both government forces and the LTTE.” And “The report compiles a range of evidence that illustrates that an international investigation into war crimes and crimes against humanity is warranted. The available evidence suggests strongly that war crimes and crimes against humanity were committed. Although the evidence suggests that members of both the Sri Lankan security forces and the LTTE were responsible for serious violations of international law, including international human rights law, overwhelmingly the evidence gathered suggests the vast majority of crimes were committed by the Sri Lankan security forces.” You can read her full speech by following this link.

One of the reasons Christine focused on the role of the current Rajapaksa Government is because she is concerned that there is ongoing oppression of ethnic minorities and human rights activists in Sri Lanka even after the war has ended. It appears that many of these activities are sponsored by the Government. Therefore it is not surprising that Christine has focused on the offences of the Rajapaksa Government.

At the start of her speech Christine spoke of her love of Sri Lanka. It is because of the fact that Christine loves Sri Lanka that she wants to see these allegations investigated, and justice found for the victims, so that Sri Lanka can leave behind its violent past and look forward to a prosperous future. Christine is aware that the only way ethnic divisions in the country can be settled is through mutual respect and reconciliation. Continuing to instigate and oppress minorities in Sri Lanka will not lead to a happy future.

I hope that this email addresses some of your concerns.

Kind regards,

James Stewart
Office of Senator Christine Milne
Leader of the Australian Greens
GPO Box 896 Hobart TAS 7001 | Ph: 03 6224 8899 | Fax: 03 6224 7599

www.christinemilne.org.au | http://greens.org.au

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