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British Tamils call on FCO to clarify vetting of Sri Lanka’s Defence Attaché

Several British Tamil organisations have written to the UK’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office calling for clarification over the vetting of Sri Lanka’s Defence Attaché Brigadier DBSN Bothota, who they said is a “senior military official involved in the end of the conflict during which a number of atrocious war crimes of the most heinous kind were committed”.

“Many reputable international agencies such as the Channel 4 news as well as some former members of the UN who were stationed in Vanni have commented about the direct involvement of the Sinhalese military generals in the genocidal war under the supervision and guidance of the then defence secretary and the current president Mr Gotabaya Rajapaksa,” said the letter sent last week.

Responding to a FCO letter that was sent to the organisations in September, the groups called for clarification on what the British government deemed a “credible allegation, indictment or a conviction” and questioned whether the government does “not recognise the concept of command and superior responsibility?”

The letter goes on to state,

“We write to clarify what the FCO’s vetting criteria and procedures are for:

(a) diplomatic appointments from Sri Lanka

(b) UK training of Sri Lankan security force officials

(c) UK engagement with on a diplomatic level with Sri Lankan officials and

(d) the granting of visas.”

"We understood the UK employed the same threshold as the UN Department of Peace Keeping Operations does for peacekeeping vetting,” it adds.

“The UN vetting (which the UK supports) is not only based on credible allegations against an individual of direct or command responsibility for alleged grave violations of human rights but also based on the likely risk that an individual might have been involved in those alleged gross violations of human rights given they were involved in frontline combat in 2008-9 in Sri Lanka. Brigadier Bothota clearly fits the latter category, and your letter does not dispute this.”

“In the past we and our human rights colleagues have never achieved any clarity about who in the FCO or wider government vets and screens Sri Lankan security officials, where they seek information from, what criteria they apply and if anyone has ever been screened out? We begin to wonder if this is because there simply is no policy or written guidelines.”   

“In the past Colombo based diplomats have said in meetings with NGOs that (a) they just know who is problematic and do not need policy guidelines (b) that military intelligence does the vetting of diplomats and employs the same criteria as the UN for peacekeeping and (c) that all military officers employed in frontline combat in 2009 were screened out (but not those involved in logistics support).”  

“We urge you to provide a clear policy statement on this issue and hope that it will also be communicated to your relevant staff.”

See the full text of the letter here.

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