by Shamindra Ferdinando
Wartime Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa yesterday said that the very basis of the controversial Geneva Resolution 30/1 had been strongly disputed by Michael Morris, Baron Naseby, PC, during a debate on Sri Lanka in the British parliament Thursday last week.
Sri Lanka co-sponsored Resolution 30/1 in Oct 2015, in spite of the Foreign Ministry rejecting the same the month before.
In accordance with that co-sponsored declaration, Sri Lanka had accepted foreign judges as well as other experts in the proposed war crimes courts, Rajapaksa said, adding that Baron Naseby’s statement was timely and couldn’t have been made at a better time as an attempt was being made to introduce a new Constitution to address accountability issues.
The former Defence Secretary has intervened in the wake of the media drawing heavy fire over recent coverage of joint statement issued by Asgiriya and Malwatte Chapters objecting to the constitution making process.
War veteran Rajapaksa said that Baron Naseby, having challenged the much touted unsubstantiated allegations pertaining to the killing of 40,000 civilians during the last phase of the offensive on the Vanni east front, had urged Theresa May’s government to accept a much lower casualty figure of 7,000 to 8,000.The former Defence Secretary said so when The Island asked him whether he was aware of the request made by Baron Naseby, who launched the all-party parliamentary group on Sri Lanka eight years before outbreak of war in 1983.
Sri Lanka brought the war to a successful conclusion in May 2009.
Rajapaksa said the international community couldn’t ignore Baron Naseby’s request to the May government to convince the UN as well as the Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) to accept casualty figure of 7,000 to 8,000.
Rajapaksa said that Baron Naseby’s request should be examined against the backdrop of the UK being a member of the UNHRC with a membership of 47 countries. The UK represents Western Europe and Other States, a grouping that pushed strongly for war crimes probe against Sri Lanka.
The former Defence Secretary said the British government’s response to Baron Naseby’s call really surprised him. Instead of reiterating the government’s commitment to the main allegation that had been widely quoted by many, the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon-Conservative Party) had said that though there were discrepancy in the number of civilians killed, ‘ a number of civilians died in the final stages of the war and there were still serious allegations of human rights abuses against both the Sri Lankan military and the Tamil Tigers’.
The minister had refrained from responding to Baron Naseby suggestion that the rules of engagement in respect of Sri Lanka’s war against terrorism were based on international humanitarian law not on the basis of the European Convention on Human Rights, Rajapaksa pointed out.
Rajapaksa regretted the fact that the government nor political parties represented in parliament hadn’t so far reacted to the Baron Naseby’s statement in spite of it being extremely useful in Geneva. Those who had been demanding transparent investigations on behalf of the civil society as well as foreign human rights groups, too, had so far remained silent, he said.
The former Defence Secretary emphasized that as accusations regarding 40,000 civilian deaths claimed by UN Panel of Experts (POE) in its March 2011 report remained the primary charge, there was no harm in reviewing available data. Baron Naseby has underscored the need to compare wartime dispatches from the British High Commission in Colombo, ground survey undertaken by the UN mission in Colombo and a survey conducted by the previous government over claims of 40,000 civilian deaths. Rajapaksa said that perhaps the most important document of all was the UN ground survey that dealt with the situation in the Vanni from Aug 2008 to May 13, 2009.
Rajapaksa pointed out that on the basis of the Geneva Resolution, UN Human Rights Commissioner Zeid bin Ra’ad Zeid al-Hussein had recommended a new Constitution for Sri Lanka subject to a referendum. The former Defence Secretary said that those who had accepted Geneva Resolution 30/1 under pressure couldn’t remain silent in the wake of Baron Naseby’s call.
Responding to another query, Rajapaksa said the parliament here had allocated three days (Oct 30, 31 and Nov 1) to debate constitutional reforms, whereas the entire process leading to that situation was now debatable due to dispute over the main allegation.
Rajapaksa said that Baron Naseby had quite rightly reminded the British folly in allowing British national of Sri Lankan origin Anton Balasingham to inspire Tamil terrorism. Rajapaksa recalled how Balasingham had received British citizenship for having worked for the British High Commission in Colombo.
The former Defence Secretary appreciated the British Lord for going on record how the Tamil Diaspora and a section of the Tamil media as well as ‘Killing Fields’ produced by UK outfit Channel 4 had influenced the British government in the wake of the LTTE’s battlefield defeat.