The UN Needlessly Bulls Eyes Sri Lanka: Unsubstantiated Accusations
Posted on June 8th, 2020

By Shivanthi Ranasinghe Courtesy Ceylon Today

At the recently concluded Ranawiru Day commemoration, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa vowed “not to allow anyone to exert undue pressure and harass our war heroes who have sacrificed so much for the country” to return to the status of peace and tranquility to the people and our country. 

He then expanded, “If any international body or organisation continuously targets our country and our war heroes, using baseless allegations, I will also not hesitate to withdraw Sri Lanka from such bodies or organisations”.

Continuous target 

Ironically, independent onlookers instantaneously assumed that he was referring to the UN. Since then, many subject experts have articulated their concerns. Many warn that while the President’s words are great for local consumption, leaving the UN is not an option for Sri Lanka. Instead, they advocate that Sri Lanka must stay on and continue to engage with the UN. 

The fact that almost all jumped to the conclusion that the President was referring to the UN exclusively and was not making a general statement should get the UN bigwigs to closely study the President’s statement. The statement that he will not hesitate to leave offending entity cannot be taken in isolation.

 Instead, it must be taken in conjunction with the conditions that he specified that must come true for him to leave such an entity. The two conditions for him to leave are, if “our country and our war heroes” continue to be “targeted using baseless allegations”. 

Thus, the stress should be on “continuously target” Sri Lanka and “baseless allegations,” rather than on just target Sri Lanka with accusations. The allegations must be both baseless and continuous beyond reason for such a drastic step to be activated. 

Concrete evidence a prerequisite 

Therefore, President Gotabaya’s loaded statement can also be correctly interpreted as; any entity has the space to raise questions about our Military Forces’ conduct as long as it is not baseless. The charge must be followed with tangible evidence. This means, if there is evidence on which one can conduct a credible investigation, it will be done so. 

Hence, it is not enough to simply level allegations such as thousands had disappeared and insinuate that all disappearances had been involuntarily enforced. Each person who is alleged to have disappeared must be accompanied with details such as a name, his NIC number or some form of identification (if he is a minor) and so on. Otherwise, an investigation simply cannot be conducted on the mere allegation that “thousands have disappeared”.

A la Deutsch – the German way

It is not only the paucity of information that has stalled Sri Lanka’s efforts of conducting thorough investigations. It is also the lack of cooperation from the accusers. A classic case would be the arrest by German authorities of a person involved in Sri Lanka’s then Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar’s assassination. 

He, identified as only “Navanithan G” in line with German privacy rules, had applied for asylum in Germany in 2012. The war ended in 2009. At the asylum interview, he had admitted to have been a member of the LTTE. 

Instead of handing him over instantly to Sri Lankan authorities for further investigations, the German authorities arrested him in January 2019 and in 2020 sentenced him to prison for six years and ten months. As Germany did not share their information with Sri Lanka, our authorities still do not know the identity of Navanithan. 

He may well be listed as missing in Sri Lanka. How did he arrive in Germany? Did he leave Sri Lanka alone, if not, where are the others who accompanied him? What was he doing in Germany for seven years before his arrest? 

Navanithan is not an isolated incident. Over the past 11 years such “disappeared” persons have surfaced from many places including Tamil Nadu, Europe and Australia. Yet, none of these countries agree to cooperate with Sri Lanka to locate those who had disappeared from the Island but now settled in their countries. 

By allowing those with a criminal past, still nurturing the LTTE ideology, capable of unleashing violence against fellow Tamils domiciled in these countries such as extortion without any form of rehabilitation carries a risk. 

Yet, clearly it is a risk these countries are willing to carry. In 2009, summoning the UNHRC for a special session Germany tried to pass a resolution against Sri Lanka citing war crimes. Yet, Germany is unwilling to corporate with the Sri Lankan authorities to conduct investigations into these allegations. 

Navanithan gets German crime record!

Sri Lanka, instead of prosecuting the LTTE cadres, sent former LTTE cadres into rehabilitation. This was designed with the help of international experts, including Harvard. The programme, ranged from six months to two years depending on how high the level of LTTE ideology was indoctrinated, the cadres were either sent back to school or trained in a vocational skill. 

Afterwards, much support was extended to them to reintegrate into society and rebuild their lives. They now live amongst citizens without any branding or blemish attached to them. 

Thus, it is not as if cooperating with the Sri Lankan authorities would result in former LTTE cadres been subjected to gross human rights violations. Hence, the reluctance of countries that accuse Sri Lanka of war crimes to cooperate is questionable. 

The irony is, had Navanithan surrendered to the Sri Lankan authorities, the chances are that by now he would have been able to firmly put his violent past behind him. As it turned out, 11 years after the war ended, he is being punished for a crime he committed 15 years ago. In 2026 he will leave the German prison with a permanent criminal record. 

Yahapalana Govt co-sponsored defeated UNHRC resolution 

The second condition President Gotabaya stipulated was that Sri Lanka must also have the space to clear its name. Once Sri Lanka conducts and concludes an investigation, the matter must be allowed to rest. This is something Sri Lanka has not been allowed to do. In 2009, the Germany initiated UNHRC resolution against Sri Lanka was defeated. In fact, a counter resolution commended Sri Lanka for resolutely eradicating terrorism from the Island. Yet, the resolutions kept coming. Each time, the accusations within became more aggressive. 

Had the Yahapalana Government not co-sponsored the 2015 resolution, this exercise would have continued. However, co-sponsoring the resolution did not stop this process either. For instance, the Office for Missing Persons that came about as a result of this resolution states that if a missing person is located, his status as missing cannot be changed without his explicit consent. The whole premise of bringing closure to his loved ones who do not know his fate is thus lost. Worse, Military officers accused for his disappearance can never clear their name or record. 

LLRC and Paranagama Commissions

Contrary to what many internationally think about the Sri Lanka Government trying to push war crime allegations under the carpet it is not true. After the war, Sri Lanka engaged in two mechanisms – the Lessons Learnt and the Reconciliation Commission and the Paranagama Commission. The LLRC was made up of some of the finest legal brains in Sri Lanka. Citizens of all walks of life were encouraged to share their experiences and opinions vis-a-vis the war and causes that led to the war. 

The Paranagama Commission, though a domestic mechanism, also included experts on warfare and International Humanitarian Laws as Sir Desmond Silva, Sir Rodney Nixon, Major General John Holmes, Sir Geoffrey Nice, Professors David Crane and Michael Newton. 

Both commissions found the Sri Lanka Military did not intentionally target civilians, nor commit war crimes. Yet, these findings did not stand a chance. 

Ban Ki-moon violates UN mandate

Before the LLRC was concluded, the then UNSG Ban Ki-moon initiated his own fact finding mission – the Panel of Experts who produced the controversial Darusman Report. Though he violated the UN mandate, he assured that it was for his own personal appraisal. 

Yet, the contents of this report was leaked and republished by other sources. Today, these contents despite its questionability are established as true and factual, when true facts are pushed out of sight. More damagingly, Ban Ki-moon undermined the domestic mechanism without due cause. 

President Gotabaya is not being unreasonable when he noted that allegations must be with evidence that can lead a solid investigation and the findings must be accepted. He demonstrated his sincerity during the recent allegation involving an employee from the Swiss Embassy. Even in his Ranawiru Day speech, he did not accuse or address any specific entity. 

However, all independent onlookers immediately linked this to the UN. This despite the Gotabaya Administration pledging at the recent UNHRC session to continue to work with the UNHRC. This means the onlookers are accusing the UN of needlessly targeting Sri Lanka with baseless accusations. This is a very serious charge and the UN must immediately conduct an internal investigation as to the reasons for this presumption.

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