By Shamindra Ferdinando
Publicly declining to testify before the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) that has been tasked by the then President Mahinda Rajapaksa to inquire into war crimes allegations, London headquartered Amnesty International (AI) joined the International Crisis Group (ICG) and the Human Rights Watch (HRW) to flay Sri Lanka.
The LLRC commenced sittings in Aug 2010.
In a joint statement issued on Oct 14, 2010, the three organizations called for a genuine, credible effort to pursue political reconciliation and accountability in Sri Lanka. Declaring that the LLRC had failed to meet what they called minimum international standards for commissions of inquiry, they said: “There is little to be gained by appearing before such a fundamentally flawed commission.”
“Accountability for war crimes in Sri Lanka demands an independent international investigation.”
The Rajapaksa administration brought the war to a successful conclusion in May 2009.
In the wake the change of the Rajapaksa administration in January 2015, those who had been demanding an international investigation reached a consensus with the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe government for inclusion of foreign judges in a local judicial mechanism. Their consensus paved the way for Geneva Resolution 30/1 on Oct 1, 2015.
Against the backdrop of the AI Chief Salil Shetty calling for credible fresh investigation to examine major allegations directed at Sri Lanka, it would be pertinent to discuss the group’s intervention in Sri Lanka years before Shetty assumed leadership of the organization, in Dec 2009.
‘Sri Lanka, play by the rules’
AI launched a high profile campaign, using the slogan ‘Sri Lanka, play by the rules’ in March-April 2007, targeting Sri Lanka. The project got underway at the onset of Vanni offensive west of the Kandy-Jaffna A9 road. By then, the combined forces had been successful in seizing the upper hand in the Eastern theatre of operations. ‘Sri Lanka, play by the rules’ campaign coincided with the 2007 ICC Cricket World Cup, the 9th edition of the tournament that took place in the West Indies from March 13 to April 28, 2007.
The AI campaign was meant to pressure Sri Lanka to accept an international body to monitor abuses.
The campaign covered the Caribbean, Europe and South Asia, excluding Sri Lanka. AI planned to persuade celebrities, and members of the public, to sign foam cricket balls bearing the words: “Sri Lanka, play by the rules.”
Explaining their choice of theme, Amnesty’s then deputy Asia Pacific director, Tim Parritt, said: “Just as all cricket teams need an independent umpire to make objective decisions, so too does Sri Lanka need independent human rights monitors to ensure that the government, Tamil Tigers and other armed groups respect the rules and protect civilians caught up in the conflict.”
“Currently all parties to the conflict in Sri Lanka are breaking international law by killing civilians, destroying homes and schools, or forcibly disappearing people,” he said in a statement.
“The situation has got far worse over the last year, and we decided it was time to take action.”
A blatant lie
Having rejected the LLRC, AI in Sept. 2011, launched its own report, titled: ‘When will they get justice? Failures of Sri Lanka’s Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission.’ The report estimated the number of civilian deaths, due to military action, over 10,000. The AI based its assertion on eyewitness testimony and information from aid workers. AI, too, guaranteed confidentially of its ‘sources.’ Perhaps for want of close cooperation among those who had wanted to drag Sri Lanka before an international tribunal, they contradicted themselves in respect of the primary charge. Interestingly, none of those, except British Labour Party MP Siobhan McDonagh (Mitcham and Morden-Labour) propagating lies, regarding civilian deaths dared to speculate about losses suffered by the LTTE. McDonagh estimated the number of LTTE cadres killed, in fighting, during January 1, 2009 to May 19, 2009, at 60,000. The previous government didn’t even bother to raise the Labour MP’s lie with the UK though The Island pointed out the need to clarify matters. The absurd claim was made during the third week of Sept 2011, in parliament. The previous government never realized the requirement to inquire into the possibility of British parliamentarians’ relationship with Tamil Diaspora. In fact, some politicians had benefited from their relationship. Influential Global Tamil Forum (GTF), during the previous administration, had hired former MP for Enfield, North Joan Ryan, as its policy advisor. Of course, the GTF had the backing of all major political parties with key politicians participating in its inauguration in the UK parliament, in Feb 2010, in the wake of the LTTE’s demise.
London headquartered AI is certainly aware of the propaganda project directed at Sri Lanka though it obviously failed to coordinate with others engaged in the operation. Had there been some basic engagement, among them, they wouldn’t have such discrepancy in numbers, pertaining to the civilians killed, due to military action. MP McDonagh should at least try to get her estimates right. Had she bothered to contact the UK or Europe-based LTTE rump, she would realize that 60,000 men and women hadn’t sacrificed their lives for the group since its inception.
The writer raised MP McDonagh’s lie with AI researcher Jeannine Guthrie at the conclusion of the press conference, given by the organization, at the Sri Lanka Press Institute (SLPI), at Kirula Road, Colombo 6, on April 5, 2017. Guthrie declared that they knew how McDonagh’s estimate came about. In response to queries raised by The Island, AI admitted that a credible investigation was required to ascertain the number of people killed as well as enforced disappearances. AI called the briefing, after having met Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera. Shetty was flanked by Biraj Patnaik (Regional Director, South Asia) and campaigner Yolanda Foster. The AI delegation included David Griffiths, Chief of Staff, Office of the Secretary General, Jeannine Guthrie, researcher, Grant Bayldon, Section Director, AI, New Zealand and Omar Waraich, media manager, South Asia and South East Asia.
Sri Lanka should be grateful to AI for inadvertently telling the truth. AI’s call for hybrid judicial mechanism to probe war crimes allegations on the basis of the Geneva Resolutions of Oct 2015 and March 2017 is ridiculous against the backdrop of Shetty’s admission that the basis for Oct 2015 resolution is wonky.
Former AI senior in LTTE
The LTTE and Tamil Diaspora had the clout to hire not only members of British parliament but former members of AI. It would be pertinent to mention that GTF policy advisor Joan had been once the Chairperson of Labour Friends of Israel (LFI) an influential group within the British parliament. The GTF hadn’t found fault with her for backing Israel, Sri Lanka’s key weapons supplier since the 80s. In fact, Sri Lanka couldn’t have brought the LTTE to its knees if not for the steady availability of Israeli ground attack aircraft Kfirs, Fast Attack Craft (FACs), Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), anti-missile defence mechanism for Mi 24 helicopter gunships and a range of other equipment.
The LTTE hired Professor Francis Boyle who had served on the board of directors of AI (1988 to 1992) to represent the group at a high level meeting with the EU in Geneva in Oct 2005. The EU had been one of the co-chairs of the Norwegian-led Sri Lanka peace process. The inclusion of one time AI heavyweight, in an LTTE delegation, revealed the group power in spite of it being a proscribed organization in many countries, including the UK and EU as well. Francis Boyle, professor of international law at the University of Illinois, and a leading practitioner and advocate of international law, had represented the LTTE under controversial circumstances. The Geneva meeting took place on Oct 24, 2005, against the backdrop of an EU decision not to invite LTTE delegations. The EU slapped travel ban on the LTTE on Sept 26, 2005. But this did not bar V. Rudrakumaran, a New York based attorney-at-law and a member of the LTTE negotiating team at the Norwegian-managed peace talks during Ranil Wickremesinghe’s tenure as the Premier meeting the EU on behalf of the LTTE.
Boyle had thrown his weight behind the LTTE in spite of him knowing atrocities committed by the LTTE. Boyle had been a member of the AI board of directors at the time the LTTE assassinated one-time Indian Prime Minister and Congress leader Rajiv Gandhi. The academic had no qualms in representing a group that threatened resumption of war in Sri Lanka unless the EU lifted the ban imposed on LTTE cadres visiting EU member states in the wake of Sri Lankan Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar’s assassination on the night of Aug 12, 2005. The Jaffna University Students’ Union issued the dire warning on behalf of the LTTE. Boyle represented the LTTE in Geneva where the group threatened to resume military operations. The LTTE also demanded that Norway speak on behalf of the LTTE to the EU or face the consequences (LTTE front warns: Lift EU ban or face war, The Island, Oct 10, 2005). Perhaps, Shetty should examine Boyle’s relationship with the LTTE if he is really keen to understand the LTTE’s strategy. The writer is certain that Boyle hadn’t been the LTTE’s only contact. With Boyle’s backing the LTTE demanded the EU recognition for Prabhakaran’s leadership and the influential grouping support to achieve its objectives. The LTTE organized large scale protests on Oct 24, 2005 in Brussels and Oslo in support of its demands. (LTTE wants EU recognition of its national leadership; plans protest in Brussels, The Island, Oct 13, 2005).
The bottom line is that the LTTE wanted western powers to ignore Kadirgamar’s assassination. Regardless of the EU travel ban, the EU met LTTE representatives in Geneva. In addition to Rudrakumaran and Boyle, the LTTE delegation included TNA MP Gajendran Selvarajah and Norway and Denmark based representatives (Travel ban no bar for LTTE, EU meet in Brussels with strapline Ex-Amnesty International heavyweight in delegation, The Island Oct 28, 2005).
A deeper investigation is required to establish the LTTE’s relationship with Western governments. Thanks to Wikileaks, the world knows how the UK had facilitated a meeting between LTTE representative British passport holder of Sri Lankan origin Anton Balasingham and the then Norwegian Foreign Minister Jan Petersen and his deputy Vidar Helgesen in London regarding Kadirgamar’s assassination. The meeting took place on Aug 17, 2005, less than a week after an LTTE sniper shot and killed Kadirgamar through his chest during Norway supervised Ceasefire Agreement (CFA).
AI had never been bothered by even such a high profile assassination during the CFA. Would London have allowed a meeting between any other proscribed terrorist group and a foreign government to discuss a political assassination?
Let me reproduce a US diplomatic cable which dealt with Norway–LTTE talks in the wake of Kadirgamar’s assassination. The letter sent by the Norwegian Foreign Minister to Prabhakaran is of crucial importance. The following is the full text:
Dear Mr Prabhakaran,
As I am sure you realise, the peace process is in a critical situation. The killings and counter killings over the last few months have been watched with mounting concern by Norway and the international community. Along with the continued recruitment of children to the LTTE, this has created distrust about the LTTE’s intentions as regards the peace process. The assassination of Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar has exacerbated the situation. It is not up to Norway to draw conclusions about the criminal investigations now underway in Colombo, or on any other judicial matter in relation to the killings. However public perception both in Colombo and internationally is that the LTTE is responsible. This public perception is a political reality. The LTTE needs to respond to this situation in a way that demonstrates continued commitment to the peace process.
I see it as my obligation to make clear to you the political choice now facing the LTTE. If the LTTE does not take a positive step forward at this critical juncture, the international reaction could be severe.
Against this backdrop I would ask you urgently to consider the following steps:
1. To accept the Norwegian Government’s invitation to participate in a review of the implementation of the ceasefire agreement in order to find practical ways of ensuring full compliance by both parties.
2. To establish direct communications between the LTTE and the Sri Lankan Army in the East, in order to improve security.
3. To accept without delay the Sri Lanka monitoring mission proposal for transportation of LTTE cadres.
4. To collaborate in a practical way with Govt. initiatives to speed up reconstruction in the North and East. The LTTE’s continued commitment to the P-TOMs agreement is vital in this regard.
5. To take effective steps to halt killings and to cease the recruitment of underage combatants.
I trust that you appreciate the gravity of the present situation and will take steps to demonstrate to the international community that the LTTE is committed to the peace process.
AI project during CFA
In the wake Norway arranged CFA in Feb 2002; the LTTE launched a project to legitimise its control over areas held by the group. The then premier Wickremesinghe government hadn’t been aware what was going on in the Northern and Eastern Provinces. The LTTE and its supporters among the international community moved swiftly and decisively to help the group consolidate its power in the region.
The LTTE secured the support of AI to spearhead the project.
Interestingly, both AI and the UN under Secretary on children in conflict areas scheduled visits in the wake of the CFA.
Olara Otunu, who had been here in May 1998 to explore ways and means of compelling the LTTE to end the use of children as cannon fodder met the then Foreign Minister Tyronne Fernando in New York (Olara Otunu to visit Wanni again––The Island June 20, 2002). AI ignored reports from UNICEF and the ICRC, which dealt with a major child recruitment drive under the nose of the Norwegian-led Scandinavian truce monitoring mission. (More flee training camps as LTTE assures UNICEF it will not recruit children–The Island June 21, 2002).
On the invitation of the LTTE, a delegation of AI representatives arrived in Colombo in June 2002 for a two-week long visit. The government welcomed the AI delegation, which was led by Derek Evans, one-time Deputy Secretary General of AI. Evans was accompanied by Ingrid Massage, researcher on Sri Lanka at AI’s International Secretariat in London. Although AI had been in touch with the LTTE, the June 2002 visit was its first to an area under the outfit’s control in Sri Lanka.
Addressing the media in Colombo, at the conclusion of their visit here, Evans said that AI was ready to help the LTTE to refine its police force and judiciary. AI was of the view that it could go ahead with the plan. Evans declared in Colombo that AI had the expertise and resources to help the LTTE (LTTE seeks Amnesty help to tighten control–The Island).
The AI delegation went on to explain how its members had been given access to LTTE ‘police stations’ as well as detention centres in the Vanni. Much to the surprise of journalists covering its media briefing in Colombo, AI revealed that members of the delegation made some suggestions to help improve conditions at LTTE ‘police stations’ and detention centres. AI revealed that the LTTE was planning to establish more ‘police stations’ in areas under its control, though it already had 15 ‘police stations’ at the time of the AI visit.
The LTTE and AI also discussed training for ‘Thamileelam Police’, handling of prisoners and streamlining of the ‘Thamileelam judiciary.’
Obviously, the LTTE had high hopes of legitimising its terror through an international mechanism. AI asserted that the LTTE needed to prepare to take over police functions as it could be soon in charge of law and order operations under the proposed interim administration, for the then temporarily merged North-Eastern Province.
AI stressed the need to do away with what it called the draconian Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA), to facilitate the peace process. Shetty’s delegation demanded the abolition of the PTA at the end of AI’s recent visit to Colombo.
The then President Kumaratunga had told AI in no uncertain terms that the LTTE had taken advantage of its visit to legitimise its reign of terror. The President said that AI’s presence in Vanni would only legitimise illegal detention facilities run by the group. The President criticised AI for visiting LTTE prisons, while suggesting that the visitors wouldn’t have been shown underground detention facilities. While Kadirgamar endorsed CBK’s assertion, AI bluntly told them that it had been invited by the government.
Had the LTTE remained committed to the Norwegian initiative, it could have had the opportunity to advance its strategy. However, it quit the negotiating process in April 2003 and set the stage for an all-out war three years later. The rest is history. Now, the AI is facilitating separatist objectives though the LTTE no longer commanded powerful fighting cadre in Sri Lanka.
The move to provide overseas training for ‘Thamileelam police’ should have been viewed against the backdrop of the AI plan to streamline both ‘Thamileelam police’ and its ‘judiciary. In fact, there hadn’t been a similar project in any part of the world. AI attempted to compare its project in the Vanni with its assignment in Afghanistan to train the police there. AI didn’t see a difference between the situation in Afghanistan and the areas under LTTE control.
(To be continued on April 19)