Hitherto unknown ‘war crimes witnesses’ likely to testify before proposed court – Attorney-at-law

article_imageRajapaksa-Ki-moon agreement reached in May 2009 was the basis for subsequent Geneva actions

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Attorney-at-law J. C. Weliamuna says some of those who complained regarding accountability issues here to UNSG Ban Ki-moon’s Panel of Experts (PoE) on the condition of anonymity are likely to give evidence before the proposed domestic mechanism with foreign participation.

The PoE comprised Marzuki Darusman (Indonesia), Steven Ratner (US) and Yasmin Sooka (South Africa). The report was released on March 31, 2011.

Stressing the importance of setting up a court acceptable to all, Weliamuna said on Monday that confidentiality of witnesses had to be protected at that time to ensure their security. They could now come forward due to change of situation following the January ‘revolution’.

Weliamuna was responding to a query by The Island at an Information Department briefing whether the Maithripala Sirisena-Wickremesinghe government would request the UN to do away with a confidentiality clause it has insisted to prevent verification of allegations contained in the PoE report until March, 2031.

Weliamuna was flanked by Deputy Foreign Minister Dr. Harsha de Silva and Rupavahini Chairman Ravi Jayawardana.

fonseka_mahinda_gotabhayaThe Information Department organised the briefing in collaboration with the Rupavahini Corporation to explain the situation in the immediate aftermath of the latest Geneva resolution on Sri Lanka.

Giving a strange example, Weliamuna said that the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), too, imposed restrictions on the release of classified information pertaining to operations undertaken by the organisation.

Deputy Foreign Minister de Silva said the country had been able to avoid punitive international sanctions thanks to the change of government. The Sirisena-Wickremesinghe government had made decisive policy decisions to change the previous system and strengthen relations with the western countries, the Deputy Minister said.

Dr. de Silva dismissed as false the assertion that the new administration had been forced to co-sponsor the Geneva resolution. The government had co-sponsored the resolution as it felt confident of taking the responsibility for the project. The Colombo District MP said that the Geneva resolution wasn’t meant to divide the country on ethnic lines contrary to claims made by some extremist elements.

The Deputy Minister claimed that except extremists among the Sinhalese and Tamils, the vast majority of the people had thrown their weight behind the Geneva initiative. The MP claimed that the majority of the SLFPers, too, were with the government.

Asked whether the then External Affairs Minister Prof. G.L. Peiris, too, had been included in the so-called group of extremists hell-bent on disrupting the Geneva process, the Deputy Minister alleged that Prof. Peiris was making contradictory statements.

Weliamuna stressed that once the Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) adopted a resolution it would automatically become international law. He asserted that the recently moved Geneva resolution on Sri Lanka was in line with international law and there was no space for protests. The former head of the Transparency International (Sri Lanka Chapter) said that even after the conclusion of the Vanni offensive in May 2009, the previous government had resorted to violence.

Weliamuna cited the disappearance of cartoonist Prageeth Ekneligoda on the eve of January 26, 2010 presidential polls as a case in point. The previous government had blatantly suppressed the media as atrocities continued unabated, he said, adding that a grenade attack on his residence was never investigated.

Instead of addressing wartime accountability issues the previous government had caused further mayhem, Weliamuna said, recollecting the circumstances under which the then government successfully moved in Geneva in the immediate aftermath of the then President Mahinda Rajapaksa and UNSG Ban Ki-moon agreeing on joint action to address accountability issues.

The Rajapaksa-Ki-moon agreement reached in May 2009 was the basis for subsequent Geneva actions, Weliamuna claimed.