Posted on June 19th, 2021


One way of erasing the Eelam victory is by declaring that the officers, who led the military campaigns, had committed war crimes.  Critics observed that army officers who led front line fighting formations in the Eelam war were relentlessly pursued on the basis of unsubstantiated war crime allegations, not proved in a court of law.  

On 19 May 2009, the Sri Lankan military effectively concluded its 26-year operation against the LTTE. The 58 Division of the Sri Lankan Army led by Brig. Shavendra Silva, 59 Division led by Brig. Prasanna de Silva and the 53 Division commanded by Gen. Kamal Gunaratne, after having boxed in the remaining LTTE cadres into a small area of territory near Nandikadal lagoon. The battle for the last patch of LTTE held territory was led by Brig. Shavendra Silva, one of the Gajaba Regiment veterans handpicked by Lt. Gen. Fonseka for the Vanni offensive.

Shavendra Silva commanded the celebrated formation that killed the most number of terrorists, recovered the most number of weapons and brought the large parts of western and eastern Vanni under government control, said  Major General Chagi Gallege.

Shavendra Silva refused to join the peacekeeping mission to Haiti, despite the financial benefit that would result, as he thought he should remain on the battlefield at the height of operations.    The offer of Haiti was   probably   made to remove this capable officer from the war campaign.

The 58 Division was Sri Lanka’s most successful fighting Division. It was not only the best, but the youngest Division which fought alongside eight other formations on the Vanni front paving the way to the final battle.

The 58 Division, formerly known as the Task Force I, played a significant role in eradicating the LTTE’s conventional fighting capability in the Vanni region. It fought its way from Mannar to Vellamullivaikkal -a distance of 201 kms. No other fighting formation had even come close to challenging the 58 Division’s record, though the battlefield success was due to the combined efforts of the armed forces, said Shamindra Ferdinando.

The 58 Division’s biggest achievement was the unprecedented operation at Anandapuram, where it killed over 600 LTTE cadres, including the most experienced LTTE commanders. The operation conducted together with 53 Division, helped hasten the collapse of the LTTE.

Shavendra Silva who led the 58 division became the main target of those prosecuting war crimes. Shavendra Silva was targeted as a ‘war criminal’ by the International Truth and Justice Project, Sri Lanka (ITJP) administered by the Foundation for Human Rights, South Africa, under the direction of Yasmin Sooka.

In 2017, Yasmin Sooka in her capacity as the Executive Director, ITJP wrote to Coca Cola Company critiquing it for sponsoring Gajaba Supercross 2017 held at Saliyapura, Anuradhapura in August that year. The Gajaba Regiment was responsible for war crimes and human rights violations over the past several decades and Shavendra Silva was its Commander. Sooka wanted to know why Coca Cola financed an event organized by this notorious war criminal.  

In 2019, ITJP released a defamatory 137-page dossier on Shavendra Silva, (Shavendra Silva chief of army staff, Sri Lanka .Dossier29 January 2019) containing data cobbled together from media reports. It is not a document that will be taken seriously in a court of law.

ITJP however is very proud of the document. This Dossier presents the most detailed body of evidence against any Sri Lankan military figure to date, said ITJP. It amalgamates photographs, contemporaneous SMS and witness testimony, including from insiders, with linkage evidence in the annexures, such as official Army releases which were deleted offline after the War to hide the truth, as well as relying on the findings of past UN investigative reports. It also presents a legal analysis of the evidence gathered, knowing that a more detailed examination would be needed to frame criminal charges.

             There is a tremendous amount of evidence in this dossier, meticulously collected by my team over many years, said Sooka. This dossier is just a fraction of the information we hold. Many successful cases at international tribunals and the International Criminal Court had less to work with. There is now no excuse for this man to remain as number two in the Sri Lanka Army: he must be suspended immediately and a criminal investigation instituted, she said.

ITJP said Shavendra Silva was arguably the most important frontline ground Commander in the 2008-9 War in Sri Lanka, in which war crimes were committed. There are reasonable grounds to believe that Major General Shavendra Silva committed war crimes either directly by ordering them or by failing to prevent his troops from committing them.

Given the evidence set out in this report and the findings by the OISL, Major General Shavendra Silva can and should face charges of war crimes of rape, torture and outrages upon personal dignity, as well as torture as a separate crime, committed by troops under his effective command and control. There are reasonable grounds to believe that he knew or had reasons to know about these crimes and even then failed to prevent the crimes from occurring and punish those responsible, said ITJP.

Silva commanded a large number of troops throughout the offensive in the north of the island he was instrumental in the attacks on all the strategic towns and villages in 2009. He was also personally present at the white flag surrender at the end of the War, when hundreds of Tamils disappeared in Army custody and others, including women and children, were subjected to summary execution, continued ITJP.

Shavendra Silva’s troops fought in almost every major battle during this phase – in Mannar, Pooneryn, Kilinochchi, Paranthan39, Tharmapuram, Vishwamadu, Thevipuram, Puthukkudiyiruppu (PTK), Iranapalai, Ananthapuram, Pokkanai, Putumattalan, Valayanmadam and finally Mullivaikkal. The UN report from 2015 also confirms the 58 Division’s presence in these locations.

Shavendra Silva’s troops were instrumental in the attacks on all the strategic towns and villages in 2009. He was also personally present at the surrenders at the end of the War, at which point hundreds of Tamils disappeared in Army custody and others, including women and children, were subjected to summary execution. 

The ITJP report also said the following:

  • Silva has never been held accountable for his role in crushing the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna uprising” in the late eighties.
  • An insider witness reported that Silva was the officer who ordered attacks on Kilinochchi while there was still an international presence in the town. These attacks resulted in civilian casualties and extensive damage to the hospital and the UN compound
  • Based on the evidence set out in this report, the Sri Lanka Army was responsible for shelling the Kilinochchi Hospital and the UN base in town knowing that civilians were inside, which resulted in civilian casualties and damage to the UN buildings and the hospital.
  • The evidence in this report confirms that troops under the effective command of Major General Silva were involved in the military operations in Pokkanai
  • The MOD Situation Reports provide further corroboration that the 58 Division was directly involved in the military operation in PTK – a small town in the Vanni, spearheaded by Gajaba Regiment veteran Brig. Shavendra Silva.”
  • The OISL found reasonable grounds to believe the 58 Division was among units that repeatedly shelled Putumattalan Hospital
  • Similarly, as corroborated by the Sri Lanka Army MOD Situation Reports, in late April 2009 the 58 Division was involved in the military operation in Valayanmadam. The evidence gathered indicates that shelling, tanks and cluster munitions coming from the Sri Lanka Army side were used in the attack against Valayanmadam, including at the church
  • There are reasonable grounds to believe that Shavendra Silva’s troops were involved in attacks against the hospital and the church in Valayanmadam which resulted in the civilian casualties and damage to the church and the hospital.
  • The presence of the 58 Division in Mullivaikkal and surroundings, where daily intense bombardment by Sri Lanka Army artillery, the air force and navy was reported, has been further corroborated by MOD Situation Reports
  • Several LTTE members were shot dead in the ‘White Flag Case’ where they surrendered to his Division. Eye witnesses placed Silva on site and claim he even shook hands with the LTTE political wing leaders who surrendered on 18 May 2009, only to be summarily executed shortly thereafter.
  • The evidence demonstrates that troops under the effective control of Shavendra were present at the Wadduvakkal Bridge, where according to the available evidence, hundreds of surrendering LTTE military and political leaders and their families were subjected to summary execution and arbitrary detention, as well as enforced disappearance.
  • Shavendra Silva is quoted as having said: Our aim was not to gain ground but to have more kills.

In light of the above, there are reasonable grounds to believe that the 58 Division under the effective military command of Major General Shavendra Silva violated international humanitarian law by failing to distinguish between civilians and LTTE fighters as well as between civilian objects and military objectives said the Dossier.

The Dossier concludes by suggesting Sri Lanka should a) immediately suspend Shavendra Silva from service pending investigation. b) The Attorney General of Sri Lanka should immediately institute an investigation of the allegations of grave crimes made against Shavendra Silva with a view to prosecuting him.  c) UN Member States should either impose a travel/visa ban on Shavendra Silva or move to arrest him under universal jurisdiction if he enters their territory. He should not under any circumstances  be granted immunity  d). The United Nations should cease all peacekeeping deployment from Sri Lanka so long as its Army is overseen Shavendra Silva, who is one of the world’s worst alleged war criminals

Instead, Shavendra Silva was appointed as Sri Lanka’s Deputy Permanent Representative to UN, 2010-2015. Though the attempts at preventing Silva’s appointment to the UN failed, a consolation of some sorts was achieved when Silva was debarred from participating in meetings of the Special Advisory Group related to UN peace keeping missions of which he was a member representing the Asian group of countries said Global Tamil Forum.

The chairperson of the Group, Louise Frechette, a former UN Deputy Secretary General, informed Silva that his participation in the Group was ‘inappropriate’ and advised him to keep away from all ‘deliberations’ of the panel. A law suit was filed against Silva by the relatives of Tamil victims in the District Court of the Southern District of New York.

Silva returned to Sri Lanka at the end of his  term in the UN  and In January 2019 Silva was promoted to Chief of Staff of the Sri Lankan Army. In August 2019 he was appointed Commander of the Sri Lanka army.  The appointment was made because he was the senior most serving military officer and there are no proven allegations of human rights violations against him, the government explained. The appointment was one made by the Head of State and the government will not tolerate criticism, Sri Lanka said. Any criticism is unwarranted and unacceptable” .

But there was a chorus of disapproval from   several directions. There was opposition from   UN Secretary-General Antonio Gueterres, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.  Michelle Bachelet   the European Union (EU), UN human rights experts including Bernard Duhaime, and Tae-Ung Baik  of the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances, and High Commission of Canada in Sri Lanka. They all said that Shavendra Silva should not have been given this appointment, given the allegations of grave human rights and humanitarian law violations against him.

Global Tamil Forum (GTF) urged UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC to take action in respect of wartime General Officer Commanding 58 Division Maj. Gen. Shavendra Silva receiving appointment as the Chief Staff of the Army.

Among all the Sri Lankan military officers implicated in war crimes, Silva is perhaps the most well-known. In many ways, he symbolized war crimes and committed by the Sri Lankan armed forces during the last stages of the war, said the GTF. The Tamil National Alliance also protested.

The International Truth and Justice Project (ITJP) has described Major General Shavendra Silva’s appointment to the post of Army Chief as a move which immensely” damages the country.The ITJP Executive Director Sooka also noted that the appointment could affect US assistance to Sri Lanka, since the Leahy Laws in the US, prohibits it to provide military assistance to foreign security units which violate human rights with impunity”.

Major General Silva of course is not alone in being promoted post-War –there is a pattern of rewarding, honoring and promoting alleged perpetrators, deploying them in prestigious UN jobs, as diplomats and in the former conflict areas to administer the very people they defeated. This is a text book case of impunity, ITJP said.

The United States Embassy in Colombo said The United States is deeply concerned by the appointment of Lt. General Shavendra Silva as Army Commander. The allegations of gross human rights violations against him, documented by the United Nations and other organizations, are serious and credible. This appointment undermines Sri Lanka’s international reputation

 US Ambassador to Sri Lanka, said It is only an articulation of our concerns” and should not be seen as interference in the affairs of another country or an attempt to dictate who should be appointed to key positions. “The allegations of gross human rights violations against Lt.Gen. Silva, documented by the United Nations and other organizations are serious and credible,” she noted.

In 2020, the USA showed its disapproval by prohibiting Silva and his family from entering USA. The New York Times noted that this  travel restriction  was the first significant international penalty to be imposed on a Sri Lankan official over atrocities committed during Eelam War IV. Human Rights Watch welcomed the travel restriction and urged the European Union and Britain to consider similar sanctions against Silva and others accused of wartime violations.

Government of Sri Lanka, for once, did not take this lying down. Foreign   Ministry asked USA to review its decision to impose travel restrictions on Shavendra and his immediate family. Sri Lanka ambassador to US said imposing a travel ban on Lt. Gen. Shavendra Silva based on allegations is regrettable and contrary to the principles of natural justice ” Even members of his family who have not been accused of any wrongdoing, have been subjected to a collective punishment reminiscent of the practice in medieval Europe.” .

Just as much as the U.S. is proud of the men and women of their armed forces, Sri Lanka is no different. We also have war heroes.  Sri Lanka’s proud security forces completed the task assigned to them by a democratically elected administration.

 “Lt. Gen. Silva was one of the senior military officials who contributed significantly to liberate Sri Lanka from terrorism over a decade ago, and it is disappointing that a foreign government should question the prerogative of a democratically elected President to call upon persons of proven expertise to hold key positions on national security related matters the Ministry said. Government of Sri Lanka  said it will  remain strongly engaged on this issue with the United States to have it review its decision.

In 2021 the International Truth and Justice Project (ITJP) said it had compiled a 50-page dossier on General Shavendra Silva, which it has submitted to the Sanctions Department of the UK’s Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office. The Submission argues why Silva, who is Sri Lanka’s current Army Commander, should be designated under the United Kingdom’s Global Human Rights (GHR) Sanctions Regime established on 6 July 2020. . The Submission also looks at Silva’s alleged involvement in torture and sexual violence, including rape.

 We have an extensive archive of evidence on the final phase of the civil war in Sri Lanka, meticulously collected by international prosecutors and lawyers. The testimony of victims and witnesses – many now in the UK – was vital in informing this Submission, and making the linkages to Shavendra Silva and those under his command,” said Yasmin Sooka.

UK designation would be another significant step forward. 11 British parliamentarians had wanted to know, in Parliament, why the UK government had not applied sanctions against Sri Lankan military figures, including Shavendra Silva, who was named six times in this context.

Shavendra Silva denied all allegations of human rights violations. Everyone  knows the truth about these allegations. I will not personally respond to them. The Foreign Ministry will  do so, he said.

Government of Sri Lanka said, Sri Lanka has consistently refuted the credibility of the false and unsubstantiated allegations leveled against Lieutenant General Shavendra Silva, the present Commander of Sri Lanka Army and Actg. Chief of Defence Staff (CDS).

Sri Lanka considers that the continued arbitrary accusations made against Lt. Gen. Silva in OHCHR Reports and elsewhere, are unacceptable and a violation of the principles of natural justice. We also stress that there are no proven allegations against individuals on war crimes or crimes against humanity in the OISL report or in any subsequent official document. It is an injustice to deprive any serving or retired officer of the Sri Lankan security forces of their due rights. ( Continued)

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