The All-Party Parliamentary Group for Tamils of the House of Commons, UK has requested the government to designate former President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga, Samagi Jana Balavegaya MP Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka, Army Commander Lt. Gen. Shavendra Silva et al in terms of the Global Human Rights Sanctions Regulation 2020.
The group consists of Elliot Colburn MP (Chair), Bob Blackman MP (Vice Chair), Feryal Clark MP(Vice Chair), Robert Halfon MP (Vice Chair), Kate Osamor MP (Vice Chair), Sam Tarry MP (Vice Chair) and John McDonnell MP.
The following is the text of the letter sent by the group to Dominic Raab MP Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs: “We welcome the introduction of the Global Human Rights Sanctions Regulations 2020 which reiterates the United Kingdom’s commitment to the rule of law. This new sanctions regime comes at a time when the world is seeking renewed leadership on human rights and justice and we believe that targeted sanctions have the power to promote and protect human rights in many countries that have been areas of priority for the UK.
“We are writing to you to kindly request you to consider applying the new regime in respect of Sri Lanka, in line with the UK’s longstanding commitment to accountability and reconciliation on the post-war island. Sri Lanka in many ways is a parallel situation to Myanmar where an ethnonationalist military dictates political direction and as evident in Myanmar, international accountability measures are the only way to advance transitional justice and prevent further atrocities.
“We feel that sanctions against certain individuals accused of atrocity crimes in Sri Lanka could, therefore, play a role similar to those that have been issued by the UK against two high-ranking military generals in Myanmar. In particular, we recommend the designation of two key military members who stand accused by the UN and rights organisations of heinous atrocity crimes that violate the right to life: Lieutenant General Shavendra Silva (Head of the Army) and Staff Sergeant Sunil Ratnayake.
“Sri Lanka emerged from a brutal 30-year armed conflict between the Sri Lankan government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) which culminated in genocidal attacks killing an estimated 70,000 Tamil civilians in 2009. The war was characterised by horrific atrocity crimes which were documented in a report by the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights’ Investigation on Sri Lanka (‘OISL’).
(ii) The OISL was the culmination of a series of UN Human Rights Council resolutions which the United Kingdom played a key role in co-sponsoring and supporting.
Following the OISL report, Sri Lanka alongside countries including the UK, co-sponsored UN Human Rights Council Resolution 30/1 in 2015 in which they pledged to undertake a meaningful transitional justice process, including setting up a hybrid court with international judges, security sector reform and a political settlement that would address the root causes of the ethnic conflict on the island.
(iii) However, despite co-sponsoring the resolution, Sri Lanka’s then government failed to make sufficient progress on the central issue of accountability, quickly reneging on international justice commitments and instead pledging to protect the military. (iv) In recognition of this, as early as 2017, the former UN Human Rights Chief, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein called on member states to explore avenues to exercise universal jurisdiction to bring perpetrators of atrocity crimes in Sri Lanka to account.
(v) In November 2019, Sri Lanka elected the former Secretary of Defence and alleged war criminal, Gotabaya Rajapaksa, as their President. During Rajapaksa’s tenure as Secretary of Defence, both during and after the armed conflict, he is alleged to have overseen the abduction, torture and disappearance of several primarily Tamil journalists and human rights defenders.
(vi) The new government under Rajapaksa announced in February of this year that they would no longer be supporting UN Resolution 30/1, turning their backs on the international community and firmly rejecting any prospects of justice for victim communities.
(vii) Instead of pursuing a path towards sustainable peace, over the past few months Sri Lanka has descended rapidly back into an ethnocratic authoritarian state with targeting of human rights defenders, increasing militarisation of traditional Tamil homelands and the promotion of individuals accused of serious human rights violations.
(viii) These concerning developments were all recognised already by the UK in the statement of the core group of supporters to Resolution 30/1 at the 44th Session of the UN Human Rights Council in June.
(ix) These developments significantly increase the risk of a recurrence of atrocity crimes, particularly against Tamil communities, and also Muslim communities who have increasingly come under attack over the past decade.
“It is evident that without accountability for atrocity crimes, Sri Lanka will continue to be trapped in recurrent cycles of ethnonationalist violence. As a core supporter of transitional justice efforts in Sri Lanka, the United Kingdom has a unique responsibility to send a strong message to Sri Lanka, that atrocity crimes will not go unpunished and thereby prevent future atrocity crimes from occurring.
“As a first step to doing this, we would urge you to designate former President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga, Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka, Lieutenant General Shavendra Silva and Staff Sergeant Sunil Ratnayake under the new Global Human Rights Sanctions Regime for their role in perpetrating atrocity crimes that violate the right to life.
Kumaratunga served as president of Sri Lanka and Commander-in-Chief of the military forces from 1994 to 2005. A period marked by human rights abuses and mass bombings, including the bombing of Navaly Church that resulted in 140 civilian deaths and Nagarkovil School that resulted in 71 civilian deaths including 25 school children. Despite the atrocity crimes she committed whilst in power, Kumaratunga regularly visits the United Kingdom. For many torture victims of her regime who sought asylum and currently reside in the United Kingdom, her visits instil fear and acts as reminder of the impunity Sri Lankan war criminals enjoy at home and abroad.
“Fonseka was the commander of the Sri Lankan Army from 2005 until the end of the armed conflict in May 2009. Sri Lankan forces under his command have been implicated in numerous instances of unlawful shelling of civilians and hospitals, rape and other sexual violence, and the summary execution of prisoners.
“Silva was head of the 58th Division of the Sri Lankan army during the last phase of the war, which is named in the OISL report as having committed the most egregious crimes. Instead of holding Silva accountable, the Sri Lankan government promoted Silva to Head of the Army in August 2019, demonstrating their unwillingness to hold those accused of even the most heinous atrocity crimes accountable.
(x) In February 2020, the United States Secretary of State designated Silva under the Department of State, Foreign Operations and Related Programmes Appropriations Act, banning him and his family from entering the country “due to credible information of his involvement, through command responsibility, in gross violations of human rights, namely extrajudicial killings, by the 58th Division of the Sri Lanka Army during the final phase of Sri Lanka’s Civil War in 2009.”
(xi) The Foreign Office’s 2019 Human Rights and Democracy report also highlights Silva’s appointment as an area of concern, stating “this appointment called into question Sri Lanka’s commitments made to the HRC on justice and accountability. In response to the appointment, the UN Department of Peace Operations announced in September that it would suspend future deployments of Sri Lankan peacekeepers, except where suspension would expose UN operations to serious operational risk.”
(xii) Until earlier this year, Ratnayake was a rare example of accountability for atrocity crimes committed by the Sri Lankan forces. The soldier was convicted of murdering eight unarmed Tamil civilians including three children after a 13-year trial in 2000. The conviction was upheld and confirmed by the Supreme Court of Sri Lanka in April 2019 and was a rare moment of accountability for atrocity crimes perpetrated during the war. However, in March 2020, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa issued a presidential pardon to Ratnayake, absolving him of all charges, reinforcing the government’s rejection of any attempt to hold the military accountable for human rights violations.
(xiii) The UK as part of the core group of states co-sponsoring Resolution 30/1 has already criticised the pardon of Ratnayake.
(xiv) Kumaratunga, Fonseka, Silva and Ratnayake are only four of a long list of individuals from the Sri Lankan military against whom there is credible evidence of grave human rights violations, including violating the right to life and the right to be free from torture, but their designation will have the symbolic effect of sending a strong message to the Sri Lankan government that the UK will not let go of the need for accountability for war crimes and thereby contribute towards preventing further atrocity crimes. Accordingly, we ask respectfully that you consider our request to designate Kumaratunga, Fonseka, Silva and Ratnayake under the Global Human Rights Sanctions Regulation 2020.
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AG not bound by its recommendations, yet to receive report
PCoI on Easter Sunday attacks:
By Shamindra Ferdinando
Attorney General Dappula de Livera, PC is not bound by recommendations made by the Presidential Commission of Inquiry (P CoI) into the 2019 Easter Sunday carnage, or presidential directives in that regard, according to authoritative sources.
They said that the AG couldn’t under any circumstances initiate legal proceedings until he had received the full PCoI report.
President Gotabaya Rajapaksa received the PCoI report on Feb 1. The President’s Office delivered a set of PCoI reports to Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena on Feb 23, a day after the report was presented to the cabinet of ministers. The Island raised the matter with relevant authorities in the wake of a section of the media reporting the PCoI recommending punitive measures against former President Maithripala Sirisena, Defence Secretary Hemasiri Fernando, IGP Pujitha Jayasundera, Chief of State Intelligence Senior DIG Nilantha Jayawardena, Chief of National Intelligence retired DIG Sisira Mendis and All Ceylon Makkal Congress (ACMC) leader and Samagi Jana Balavegaya MP Rishad Bathiudeen et al over the Easter Sunday carnage.
Sources pointed out that due to the inordinate delay in sharing the PCoI report with the AG, the department hadn’t been able to take preliminary measures required to initiate the proceedings. Sources said that a team of officers would take at least six weeks or more to examine the report before tangible measures could be taken.
With the AG scheduled to retire on May 24, 2021, even if the AG Department received the P CoI it would be quite a tough task to initiate proceedings ahead of retirement, sources said. However, in terms of the 20th Amendment to the Constitution enacted in last October, both the AG and the IGP could receive extensions beyond 60 at the President’s discretion.
Dappula de Livera received an Acting appointment as the AG a week after the Easter Sunday carnage whereas his predecessor Jayantha Jayasuriya, PC, was elevated to Chief Justice.
Responding to another query, sources said that the Attorney General two weeks ago requested Secretary to the President for a copy of the P CoI. However, the AG was yet to receive one, sources said. In spite of the AG not receiving a P CoI copy, the AG had instructed the IGP to obtain a copy of the report when he requested the police to complete investigations into the Easter Sunday carnage. The AG issued specific instructions after having examined police files pertaining to the investigations.
The IGP, too, hadn’t received a copy so far though some sections of the report were in the public domain.
Agriculture Minister Mahindananda Aluthgamage displayed at a live political programme on Derana a copy of the P CoI report he received at the cabinet meeting earlier in the day.
Sources said that the Attorney General’s Department couldn’t decide on a course of action in respect of the Easter carnage on the basis of a section of the report. In terms of the Commission of Inquiry Act (Section 24), the AG enjoyed significant powers/authority in respect of investigations; sources said adding that the Department urgently required both the P CoI report and police investigations report. The Attorney General’s Department has raised the delay in receiving a P CoI report amidst the Catholic Church attacking the government over the same issue.
Sources said that ministerial committee appointed to study the P CoI report couldn’t decide on how to proceed with the recommendations and the matter was entirely in the hands of the AG. Sources pointed out that the delay on the part of the government to release the report had received the attention of sections of the international media, including the New York Times. Public Security Minister retired Rear Admiral Sarath Weerasekera having met Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith at the Bishop’s House on Dec 8, 2020 said that the AG would get a copy of the P CoI report once the President received it. Minister Weerasekera said that the CID had handed over the relevant files after having completed investigations into eight blasts. Referring to the Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC) report on the Easter Sunday carnage, the former Navy Chief of Staff said that all such documents would have to be brought to one place and considered before initiating legal proceedings. Acknowledging that there could be delays, lawmaker Weerasekera said that on the instructions of the Attorney General a 12-member team of lawyers was working on the case. The minister vowed to expose the mastermind behind the Easter Sunday attacks. Investigations continued while some of those wanted were overseas, the minister said.
The minister acknowledged that the Attorney General couldn’t proceed without the P CoI report. Minister Weerasekera reiterated that once the President received the P CoI report, it would be sent to the Attorney General. The minister said that there were documents two to three feet high that needed scrutiny. The minister assured comprehensive investigation. The minister said that investigations pertaining to eight blasts had been completed and the reports handed over to the AG. However, the Attorney General had found shortcomings in those investigations.
JVP picks holes in PCoI report
By Saman Indrajith
The Presidential Commission of Inquiry on the Easter Sunday bombings had failed to identify the mastermind of , the JVP said yesterday.
Addressing the media at the party headquarters in Pelawatte, JVP Propaganda Secretary MP Vijitha Herath said that the PCoI report had levelled accusations against former President Maithripala Sirisena, former IGP and head of intelligence for their dereliction of duty, shirking of responsibilities and not taking action to prevent the attacks and negligence. There were reference to the causes of the terror attacks and actions to be taken to avoid such attacks and the influence of extremist organisations. “However, there is no mention of the mastermind of the attacks, the handlers of the attackers and those whose interests the carnage served. It is also not mentioned whether there has been any foreign or local organisation behind those attacks. As per the PCoI report the attack took place as a result of culmination of extremism.
“According to the PCoI the extremist activities were a result of the prevailing political situation then. The entire nation was waiting to see who was responsible and who masterminded those attacks. The PCoI has failed to identify the true culprits responsible for the terror attacks. The report says that the leader of the suicide cadres killed himself in the attacks and it was a puzzle. That means those who are actually responsible for the attacks are still at large. The report does not provide exact details of the sources of the attacks. The PCoI had sittings for one year and five months. It summoned various persons and got their statements but it has failed to shed any light on the terror attacks. Everybody knows that the top leaders of the government and heads of security and intelligence establishments failed in their duties. Ranil Wickremesinghe was the second in command and he too is bound by the responsibility but the PCoI report fails to identify him as one of the persons against whom legal action should be instituted. The PCoI has treated Wickremesinghe and former President Maithripala Sirisena differently. We are not telling that this report is a total failure but we cannot accept this as a complete report. The PCoI handed over its report to the President on Feb 1. After 23 days it was sent to Parliament. Now, a copy of the report is there in the parliamentary library for the perusal of MPs.”
Herath said that the PCoI did not have powers to take punitive action. “It only has powers to name those responsible and recommend action to be taken against those named.
TNA MP faults govt. for delay in answering questions, gets under Johnston’s skin
By Saman Indrajith
It did not matter whether the MPs were wearing pressed clothes or had travelled long distances when their questions were answered, Chief Government Whip Johnston Fernando told Parliament yesterday.
The Minister said so in response to a complaint by Batticaloa District TNA MP Shanikyan Rasamanikkam, who expressed his dismay for government taking time to answer a question raised by him.
MP Rasamanikkam has raised a question whether the Minister of Health is aware that the Dikkodai ospital, located in the Batticaloa district is not used for public purposes and the patients who visit the hospital for receiving services, face inconveniences, owing to that. On behalf of the Minister of Health, the Chief Government Whip and Minister asked for additional two weeks time.
MP Rasamanikkam: I come to parliament from Batticaloa, which is 422 km away. To attend Parliament we take great care including pressing our clothes. After taking so much trouble to come there braving the pandemic threat we do not get answers. There is a Health Minister and Acting Health Minister and neither of them is here. I saw Minister Dr Sudarshini Fernandopulle in the House this morning. She too has gone out. I travel more than 800 km. We could attend to many other problems. It is because the government does not give answers we are conducting protest marches, but when we do so we are hauled up before courts.
Chief Government Whip Minister Johnston Fernando: Every MP comes here wearing pressed clothes. But that has nothing to do with questions and answers here. I have been requested by the subject minister to ask for two weeks’ time. The MPs have a right to ask questions and in the same way the ministers have the right to ask for time. On the other hand, whether you cover 400 km to reach parliament does not matter. The majority of MPs travel 200 to 250 kilometers to come to Parliament. It is for that purpose they contest elections and get elected. Once elected the distance is not an issue you have to come to Parliament. The government has answered all your questions. This is the first time the Minister has asked for additional time. It is unfair for you to level charges. A more responsible conduct is expected of you as an upcoming political leader.