In a rare acknowledgement of failure in its screening process, the United Nations has stopped a Sri Lankan military commander from going for a peacekeeping mission in the middle east.
Up until several rights watchdogs and Tamil organisations wrote to the head of UN peacekeeping urging to stop Lieutenant Colonel Rathnappuli Wasantha Kumara Hewage, he was scheduled for deployment to Lebanon on 18 February 2018.
Detailing the commander’s wartime record in a period when extensive violations of international humanitarian law and human rights law perpetrated by the Sri Lankan security forces, the letter condemned the UN for failing to screen Lieutenant Colonel Hewage.
On Monday, the UN confirmed that the officer’s deployment to lead the 12th Force Protection Company (FPC) for the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) has been put on hold “pending a review of the matter”.
“A decision regarding deployment of this officer will be made once the review is complete,” said spokesman for the UN Secretary General Farhan Haq in New York, responding to a question by investigative journalist Matthew Russell Lee.
The UN had gone back to the Sri Lanka government for a background check on Wasantha Hewage.
“We are in communication with the Permanent Mission of Sri Lanka regarding the officer’s background and Sri Lanka is cooperating fully with our inquiries. The United Nations takes reports of potential human rights violations very seriously. As a matter of policy, we are committed to ensuring that all personnel serving with the UN meet the highest standards of efficiency, competence and integrity, including respect for and commitment to human rights.”
Sri Lanka’s own human rights commission had been responsible for screening potential peacekeepers.
Bloody military attack
The letter to UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) protesting the deployment of Lt. Col. Hewage highlights that he was present as a major in the Puthkudyiruppu frontline after taking over duties “as the Commanding Officer of the 14th Battalion on 20th February, 2009”.
This was after his active participation in the bloody military assault on Kilinochchi as the Acting Commander of 4 Sinha Regiment, which functioned under the 57 Division led by Major General Jagath Dias.
Acknowledging receipt of the protest letter, UN Spokesman Stephane Dujarric last week told Matthew Russell Lee in New York that DPKO was considering “available information from within and outside of the UN system” in reviewing the background of personnel to be deployed.
“Member States that provide UN personnel to peacekeeping operations also have the responsibility to certify that the personnel they nominate have not been involved, by act or omission, in violations of international humanitarian or human rights law or have been repatriated on disciplinary grounds from any UN operation,” he added.
Sri Lanka military says that two batches of the Lebanon-bound Sri Lanka Army’s 12th Force Protection Company (FPC) for UNIFIL left the island this weekend.
The final group from the contingent of 150 Army personnel is to leave on 6 March.