The Office of the United Nations Human Rights Commissioner Investigation on Sri Lanka(OISL) report has outlined the structure of the Sri Lankan armed forces with specific reference to the commanding officers involved in the final phase of the war that occurred in the Northern mainland known as the Wanni.
The OISL report names several senior officers and the military entities they commanded during the final phase of war during which it is alleged that several human rights violations, war crimes and crimes against humanity were committed.
Though no specific charges have not been included in the report it may be inferred that the naming of such commanding officers has been done with a view to “encourage” a detailed inquiry by an envisaged special tribunal into the roles played by these officers and the activities of military personnel under their command during the final phase of the conflict in which large numbers of unarmed civilians have reportedly perished.
Among the military top brass involved in the final phase of the war in the Wanni who have been named in the OISL report are former army commander Gen.Jagath Jayasuriya who served as Security Forces Headquarters commander in overall charge of the Wanni region in the last phase of the conflict. Others so named and the ranks they held during the war’s final phase include Major General Kamal Gunaratne, Brigadier Prasanna Silva, Major General Jagath Dias, Brigadier Shavendra Silva, Brigadier Nandana Udawatta , Brigadier Chagie Gallage, Brigadier Priyantha Napagoda, Colonel Athula Kodippily Brigadier Rohana Bandara , Brigadier Sathyapriya Liyanage , Colonel Nishantha Wanniarachchi and Colonel G.V. Ravipriya
Most of the senior military officers named in the OISL report were promoted after the war ended and hold a higher rank now. Some were given diplomatic postings abroad.
The OISL report has also suggested in another section that Sri Lanka should enact legislation to criminalize war crimes, crimes against humanity, genocide and enforced disappearances without statute of limitation and that it should also enact various modes of criminal liability, notably command or superior responsibility;
The OISL report has also recommended that the Sri Lankan Govt should Issue clear, public and unequivocal instructions to all branches of the military and security forces that torture, rape, sexual violence and other human rights violations are prohibited and that those responsible, both directly or as commander or superior, will be investigated and punished;
It has also suggested that the Govt should develop a fully-fledged vetting process respecting due process to remove from office military and security force personnel and any other public official where there are reasonable grounds to believe that they were involved in human rights violations;
The references to the Sri Lankan army structure in general and the commanding officers in the Wanni during the final phase of the war are excerpted from the OISL report and reproduced below –
Sri Lanka Army
The Army Commander is the most senior officer within the Army. The President, as Commander-in-Chief, appoints the Army Commander. General L.P.Balagalle was Army Commander from August 2000 to July 2004. He was replaced by General S.H.S. Kottegoda. General Sarath Fonseka was appointed as Army Commander on 6 December 2005. He was replaced by General Jagath Jayasuriya in July 2009.
The Director of Operations was the senior army officer in the Joint Operations HQ, with ‘hands-on’ responsibility for battlefield management. He worked under the supervision of the Army Commander, to monitor and coordinate the activity of the operational units who were actively engaged in the fighting.
Security Force HQ: a Corps level formation, commanded by a Major General having a defined geographical area of responsibility, and a number of different combat Divisions and supporting units under command. During the final phase of the armed conflict, the SFHQ-Vanni was headed by the thenMajor General Jagath Jayasuriya, who was an interlocutor for the United Nations and other international agencies, particularly regarding security.
Division: a combined arms manoeuvre formation capable of independent battlefield operations, numbering some 10 to 20,000 soldiers. Commanded by a two-star general, it has a number of different combat Brigades and supporting units under command, according to OISL’s information during the final phase of the armed conflict the following Division commanders were:
53rd Division : Major General Kamal Gunaratne
55th Division : Brigadier Prasanna Silva
57th Division : Major General Jagath Dias
58th Division : Brigadier Shavendra Silva
59th Division: Brigadier Nandana Udawatta and subsequently Brigadier Chagie Gallage
Brigade: a major tactical infantry formation, commanded by a one-star general (Brigadier), numbering some 3,500 to 6000 soldiers. It has a number of different combat battalions and other supporting units under command. In addition to the Brigades attached to the divisions was the Artillery Brigade. According to a 3 June 2009 Daily News article, the Artillery Brigade Commander during the final phase of the armed conflict was Brigadier Priyantha Napagoda. The Special Forces Brigade was headed by Colonel Athula Kodippily.
Battalion: a tactical infantry formation, commanded by a Lieutenant Colonel and numbering some 650 men. It consists of a number of combat companies and support companies, all of which are an integral part of that battalion.
Task Force: This was an ad-hoc grouping put together for a specific task requiring a separate formation command. It was hierarchically equivalent to a division, but had the size of a strong brigade . It comprised a mixture of existing units ‘borrowed’ from other formations and new units that were raised by new recruitment during the rapid expansion of the army.
According to maps compiled by the Defence Ministry, Task Forces 2, 3, 4 and 8 were particularly involved in the final weeks of the conflict. According to the Ministry of Defence website, the following were Commanders of Task Forces: Brigadier Rohana Bandara (Task Force 2); Brigadier Sathyapriya Liyanage (Task Force 3); Colonel Nishantha Wanniarachchi (Task Force 4); Colonel G.V. Ravipriya (Task Force 8).