ERASING THE EELAM VICTORY Part 20 C6
Posted on June 22nd, 2021

KAMALIKA PIERIS

Sri Lanka first contributed to a UN peacekeeping mission in 1960, by deploying six peacekeepers in the Democratic Republic of Congo (MONUC). During Eelam war III, the UNP government decided to weaken the strength of the army fighting in the north, by sending troops on peacekeeping missions abroad. UK’s General Rose had advised the government to send Sri Lanka troops for UN assignments abroad, when he was invited to study Sri Lanka’s armed forces in 2002. The armed service commanders had no say in the matter. 

In 2004, Sri Lanka sent troops to the UN peace keeping forces in Haiti. These troops were not recalled when Eelam War IV started. Although many expected Lt. Gen. Fonseka to suspend the Haiti mission, he sustained the deployment much to the surprise of the UN. The army maintained over a battalion of troops in Haiti throughout the campaign. They continued in Haiti till the UN project ended in 2015.

Sri Lanka is one of the longest serving nations in the UN mission in Haiti. Their contribution was considered exceptional, their discipline and conduct was admired.  The Sri Lanka force won the UN Haiti medal in 2012.

In 2004, Sri Lanka sent troops to the UN peace keeping forces in Haiti. These troops were not recalled when Eelam War IV started. They continued in Haiti till the UN project ended in 2015. Sri Lanka is one of the longest serving nations in the UN mission in Haiti. Their contribution was considered exceptional, their discipline and conduct was admired.  The Sri Lanka force won the UN Haiti medal in 2012.

 Over the years, Sri Lankan troops have served in Ethiopia, Burundi, Central African Republic, Congo, Cote d’Ivore, Haiti, Lebanon, Liberia, South Sudan, Timor and Western Sahara. It was one of the highest Troop Contributing Countries (TCC) to the United Nations Peacekeeping Operations. In 2012, over 100 army officers and over 1000 soldiers were abroad  and their remittances are a significant addition to the national revenue. The three services rotated their overseas contingents twice a year.

The troops in Haiti and Lebanon were admired by those working alongside them. The Lebanon team was honored with medals. In South Sudan they were asked to build and operate a hospital. It was considered one of the fastest, well planned projects of the time. The hospital had 66 Sri Lanka army staff, including Sri Lanka army doctors. Services include medical specialists, operating theatre, intensive care unit, emergency departments, and outpatient department.  In 2015 Sri Lanka sent an air force contingent to South Sudan, for VIP transportation, food and equipment distribution, and   medical evacuation.

The Sri Lanka contingents have been recognized for their commitment, competence, and ability in all UN assignments. They were assigned the toughest areas during their missions and were been lauded for their splendid performance.  Within a short space of time they were able to make a positive impact on UN peacekeeping efforts. A UN peacekeeping training school was established in Kukule Ganga. It is recognized by the UN, said the authorities in 2015.

But things started to change when the Yahapalana puppet government came to power in 2015.In 2018 the UN called for the immediate repatriation of Lt. Col. Amunupure, Commander of Sri Lanka’s Peacekeeping force in Mali, because of his human rights background. The decision was reached following a review of the human rights background of the Commander, UN said.

Sri Lanka has rejected the allegations. This mission has been in Mali for the last nine months. We find it odd that such intimation has been received many months into the mission. This is Lt. Col. Amunupure’s second mission to Mali for which he was granted approval following a stringent vetting process. The Commander has not committed any crimes to warrant such an action .We will comply with repatriation in keeping with protocols. However, the Commander has not committed any crimes and the army is prepared to appeal, Sri Lanka said.”

Then in 2019, UN Department of Peace Operations (DPO) announced it will no longer accept non-essential Sri Lankan troops in peacekeeping missions. The reason for this unusual move, said Human Rights Watch, is that Sri Lanka’s newly appointed army chief, Gen. Shavendra Silva, faces credible allegations of war crimes.

In 2012, while serving as Sri Lanka’s deputy ambassador to the UN, Silva was removed from the UN Special Advisory Group on Peacekeeping Operations due to the allegations against him. Silva has also been accused of rights violations during security operations in southern Sri Lanka against the Sinhalese nationalist Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) armed group in the late 1980s, explained HRW.

Sri Lanka President appointed Lt Gen Shavendra Silva, one of the leaders of the war against the LTTE, as the Army Commander   despite well-documented, credible allegations of his involvement in serious violations of international humanitarian and human rights law”. In light of this appointment, the UN Department of Peace Operations is therefore suspending future Sri Lankan army deployments except where suspension would expose U.N. operations to serious operational risk reported the media.

UN further stated that while Sri Lankan troops deployed with the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) will not be replaced at the end of their mission. However, Sri Lankan army personnel could still be used in UN contingents where their presence is considered critical.

Sri Lanka pounced on this. Sri Lanka troops would not be used in locations where it was easier to serve but would be retained in   high threat locations, where the troops would face danger. This smacked of political discrimination, said Sri Lanka, bluntly.

Sri Lanka expressed its views at two levels. Kshenuke Senewiratne, Sri Lanka’s Permanent Representative to the UN in New York spoke out at the Legal Committee (Sixth Committee) of the UN General Assembly. Foreign Secretary Ravinatha Aryasinha leading the Sri Lanka delegation to the 74th UN General Assembly Session, September 2019 met with the head of Department of Peace Operations at the UN Headquarters in New York to discuss the matter.

Sri Lanka had much to say on the matter. Sri Lanka loudly objected to the UN decision to link peacekeeping to an internal appointment made by Sri Lanka relating to   Shavendra Silva. UN was thereby challenging the Head of State of a member country.

Also, there were no factually substantiated or proven allegations of human rights violations against Shavendra Silva. The Government of Sri Lanka disputes the credibility of the reports that carry these allegations, said Sri Lanka. The International Truth and Justice Project (ITJP) publication of January 2019 was a re-formulation of previously published flawed material. None of these reports can be used to establish the culpability of Lt. Gen. Silva. Individual criminal responsibility can only be determined by a Court of Law.

Sri Lanka also pointed out that the appointment of Lt. Gen. Silva as the Army Commander has nothing to do with the suitability of   peace keeping troops.  These troops are jointly vetted by UN and Sri Lanka. It is unfair to penalize these troops.  Troop adjustment decisions must not be taken unilaterally and they must not be based on   issues which have nothing to do with peacekeeping. Sri Lanka  asked the UN DPO to review its decision.

Sri Lanka has also commented on the questionable procedures” followed by the UN in this matter. This unilateral decision taken by the DPO   is violating the provisions of the Memorandum of Understanding. Further, since every area of peace keeping was rule based,  this could become a dangerous precedent. It must be speedily arrested”.

The MoU with the UNDPO clearly states that modalities for termination can be decided only after consultations between the parties. In this case there had been no discussion with Sri Lanka.  Instead, UN took a unilateral decision and the decision was conveyed to Sri Lanka, during a courtesy call by the Permanent Representative of Sri Lanka on the UN under Secretary General. This is inappropriate.

The name of the country whose peacekeepers would replace those of the Sri Lankan troops, was learnt by Sri Lanka’s Ambassador in Lebanon from the ambassador of that country, at a diplomatic reception.  Sri Lanka  also complained  in October 2019, that   it is  extremely regrettable that the Secretariat to date has failed for over a month to formally reply the written communications sent by Sri Lanka .

The UN did not completely remove Sri Lanka from peacekeeping. in  November 2020 The 7th contingent of the Sri Lanka Army Medical Corps (SLAMC), left for United Nations Peace-Keeping Mission in South Sudan’s Level-2 Hospital (UNMISS). ).

in 2020 delivering a written statement at the UN Security Council high-level open debate on “Peace Operations and Human Rights”, Sri Lanka said it remains fully committed to UN Peacekeeping and upholding human rights, and in this context has taken a number of measures to ensure that all Sri Lankan Peacekeepers are suitably trained and fully equipped with theoretical knowledge and practical application of all necessary functions of peacekeeping, including the promotion and protection of human rights.

The statement added that towards this end, a comprehensive package of education and training on relevant subjects are included in the pre-deployment training courses and continuity is maintained during the deployment by way of in-mission training, conducted in consultation with UN authorities.

In addition, human rights has been included as part of the training of security forces and police in Sri Lanka. The Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka and the ICRC also conduct a number of training programmes for the Military and the Police on human rights and international humanitarian law.

At the Kotelawala Defence University, ,human rights is taught as an important component of the academic programme. The Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka and the ICRC also conduct a number of training programmes for the Military and the Police on human rights and international humanitarian law.

It is observed that Peace Operations are becoming progressively complex in nature. Sri Lanka has endorsed the Kigali Principles on the Protection of Civilians. Having engaged in a humanitarian struggle with a terrorist organization that used human shields, suicide bombers and child soldiers, Sri Lanka’s armed forces and Police have been sharing expertise in handling difficult and complex terrains of the humanitarian engagement field in difficult areas of the world. ( Continued)

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