Lord Naseby responds to British High Commission, Colombo; sends wartime dispatches to UN
Posted on December 11th, 2017

Lord Naseby has expressed disappointment over the British High Commission, in Colombo, callously dismissing wartime dispatches from its own Defence Attache, Colonel Anton Gash.

Apropos a response from the British High Commission in Colombo to a query raised by the The Island, in its Dec 5, 2017 issue, headlined ‘Naseby’s call doesn’t reflect UK’s stand – HC’, Lord Naseby told The Island he had forwarded a full set of papers consisting of the Hansard transcript of the debate he had initiated in the House of Lords on October 12, the entire copies of the heavily redacted pages of Col Gash’s dispatches, his interpretation of the un-redacted parts and the substantial corroborative evidence from many other sources to the Secretary General of the United Nations, António Guterres; the Human Rights team at the UNHRC in Geneva, namely the High Commissioner, Prince Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein and the nine UN Special Procedures mandate holders, each of whom have visited Sri Lanka in their official capacity.


The following is the full text of Lord Naseby’s statement received by The Island:

“The resolution 30/1 entitled ‘Promoting reconciliation, accountability and human rights in Sri Lanka’ emphasized the need for truth-seeking, among others, as an important element in the overall quest to promote reconciliation, accountability and human rights in Sri Lanka. The UK government was one of the initiators and a co-sponsor of the resolution. The despatches by Col Anton Gash, the former defence attaché of the British High Commission, constitutes an important element in the process of truth-seeking and should be of interest to all those who genuinely seek a clear picture of what happened during the final stages of the conflict in Sri Lanka. It is therefore disappointing that the British High Commission fails to acknowledge the importance of the despatches of its own former defence attaché and the insight that is provided by his communications with the British Government.

“While not expressly stated so in the resolution, those who have closely followed events in Sri Lanka after the end of the conflict would agree that the basis for the successive resolutions on Sri Lanka at the UN Human Rights Council stemmed from the allegations of war crimes and crimes against humanity (and in some quarters ‘genocide’) said to have been committed by the Sri Lankan armed forces and the LTTE. Especially, the Report of the UN Secretary General’s Panel of Experts on Accountability in Sri Lanka, commonly known as the ‘Darusman Report’, alleged that ‘a number of credible sources have estimated that there could have been as many as 40,000 civilian deaths’ (para 137), mostly as a result of indiscriminate shelling by the Sri Lankan military. Therefore, the number of civilians killed forms a very important element in truth-seeking especially when the difference is over 30,000.

“While Lord Naseby does not take issue with those advocating reconciliation and accountability in Sri Lanka including the need to investigate any allegations of human rights violations, Lord Naseby does take issue with those in authority be they the UK government or any other Government as well as the UN and particularly the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and the Human Rights Council in Geneva if they appear to be ignoring the above context behind the resolution as well as circumvent the significance of the insight provided by Col. Anton Gash which corroborate a large number of other sources that confirm a casualty figure of around 7,000-8,000 (of which about 20% were LTTE cadres who are said to have thrown away their uniforms resulting in Tamil civilian casualties of about 6,500).

“Lord Naseby is concerned that the principles of natural justice are possibly being disregarded as the Gash Despatches reveal that British authorities knew that the estimates propagated by the Darusman Report were based on flawed information. The FCO had this information at their disposal to disprove some of the Darusman Report’s contentions, especially to counter that the estimated casualty figures could not have been as high as 40,000. Almost every western media report to this day, continues to quote this high estimate of 40,000 for war casualties, without questioning its reliability, whilst failing to mention the numerous other independent assessments, from sources who were present on the ground in Sri Lanka during 2009, that consistently point to an estimated death toll in the region of 7,000 – 8,000. In its search for the truth, it would seem morally improper that UK should have allowed the Darusman Report to have been used without contention and facilitated subsequent resolutions on Sri Lanka to have been formulated using estimates that starkly contradicted Britain’s own evidence. After not disclosing its own military attaché’s evidence to the Human Rights Commission, the FCO then took the unhelpful step of attempting to suppress this information when Lord Naseby sought a Freedom of Information request. Britain’s motives in playing a prominent role in seeking and encouraging UNHRC Resolutions on Sri Lanka since 2009 that sought to establish the truth regarding allegations of Human Rights violations, whilst at the same time effectively prohibiting its own relevant information from being considered by the Human Rights Commission, may need to be called into question. Lord Naseby fought for the full disclosure of the Gash Despatches, yet this was not finally granted as the Information Commission Tribunal sided with the FCO, which insisted on heavy redactions being maintained. Nevertheless the redacted Gash Despatches do provide an invaluable insight.

“Lord Naseby acknowledges that the death of any civilians is deeply regrettable however, it is noted that this was an armed conflict between a democratically elected government and a terrorist outfit, the Tamil Tigers, who were proscribed by leading nations including most of those supporting the resolution. It is inevitable that armed conflicts create casualties, made worse in this case by 300,000 Tamil civilians being herded into a war zone against their will by the Tamil Tigers. In effect, this was a mass hostage situation and the Sri Lankan armed forces took action to release the Tamil civilians. Despite this evidence, the casualties remained remarkably low. Moreover, there is nothing from the UK’s own defence specialist, who was allowed access to the theatres of the conflict in 2009, which indicates that Sri Lanka’s security forces were directed by their government to break the principles of conducting operations in a way that was beyond the bounds of military necessity, nor that Sri Lanka’s armed forces did not take due diligence to avoid civilian casualties by conducting their operations with regard for distinction and proportionality. The British government should acknowledge the evidence of their own military attaché whilst continuing to wholeheartedly support the UN Resolution in collaboration with Sri Lanka to secure a long term sustainable peace for all communities on the island.

“Therefore, Lord Naseby wishes to reiterate that the context is vital to any possible war crime prosecution that may arise and 40,000 or more civilian deaths could be tantamount to genocide and/or crimes against humanity if proven that it was part of government policy to do so. However, a casualty figure of 6,500 is a totally different scale beyond the scope of such atrocities, while acknowledging that there may have been certain individual incidents that may perhaps constitute to be a violation of the Geneva Conventions.

“It should be noted that at no stage has Lord Naseby attempted to claim that the Gash Despatches show that the civilian casualties were “trivial” or that these matters should not be investigated. On the contrary, in common with most observers and other nations who supported the resolution, Lord Naseby urges Sri Lanka’s authorities to honour their commitments to the UN Human Rights Council by conducting credible investigations and where there are incidents that their security forces may have committed alleged violations, then the appropriate due processes of justice should follow.

“It is against this background that Lord Naseby last week forwarded a full set of papers consisting of: the Hansard transcript of the debate he initiated in the House of Lords on October 12th, the entire copies of the heavily redacted pages of Col Gash’s despatches, in itself only available after nearly 3 years of persistent challenging of the UK Foreign & Commonwealth Office, his interpretation of the un-redacted parts and the substantial corroborative evidence from many other sources. These were all sent to the Secretary General of the United Nations, António Guterres; the Human Rights team at the UNHRC in Geneva, namely the High Commissioner, Prince Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein and the nine UN Special Procedures mandate holders, each of whom have visited Sri Lanka in their official capacity. They all received a personal letter from Lord Naseby outlining the key issue of the hugely misleading figure in the Darusman Report of 40,000 Tamil civilians killed whereas the truth is about 6,500 and seeking their support for a correction.

“Lord Naseby makes it quite clear that he shall pursue every organisation and the persons involved to ensure that the Darusman Report figure on civilian casualties is publicly amended to reflect that the truth about an estimated 6,500 Tamil civilians who died at the end of the Sri Lanka conflict. Truth must and will win out however inconvenient that may be to the authorities. A guiding light for Lord Naseby in all this has been a quote attributed to be by Mahatma Gandhi: “First They Ignore You, Then They Laugh at You, Then They Attack You, Then You Win.”

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