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Scotland Yard investigates British mercenaries in Sri Lanka despite FCO resistance

The Metropolitan Police announced the opening of a full war crimes investigation into a British company that assisted the Sri Lankan military in committing crimes against Tamils, in a landmark move this week.

The unprecedented announcement marks the first time a fully-fledged investigation into British mercenaries has reportedly been launched by the Metropolitan Police’s war crimes team. 

“We can confirm that the Met’s war crimes team, part of its Counter Terrorism Command, received a referral in March concerning war crimes alleged to have been committed by British mercenaries in Sri Lanka during the 1980s,” said a spokesperson. “The war crimes team began a scoping exercise into the matter and has subsequently launched an investigation.”

“Few cases make it past the scoping stage,” reported the Sunday Times. “In 2016 the team assessed six cases but none was investigated.”

The move comes despite the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) resisting the publication of files relating to its diplomatic support for British mercenaries in Sri Lanka. The British government normally keeps classified files out of the public domain for 20 years. For this file, however, they have extended it to 60 years.

“They have sat on this evidence for years,” said journalist Phil Miller who wrote about the company, Keenie Meenie Services (KMS), in a book released earlier this year. “You have to ask yourself why the UK government wants to keep a file about Keenie Meenie hidden from the Tamil community until 2046.”

The Foreign Office said it is cooperating with the police inquiry and “takes very seriously allegations raised in relation to the activities of Keenie Meenie Services in Sri Lanka in the 1980s”.

“Our clients are appalled by the activities of these mercenaries and the tacit approval given to them by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office,” said Paul Heron, a solicitor at the Public Interest Law Centre. The Public Interest Law Centre has been representing the Tamil Information Centre in filing the complaint against KMS actions in Sri Lanka. “KMS was involved in covert activities across the planet, from Nicaragua to Sri Lanka," Heron added.

"We allege that helicopter gunships manned by KMS personnel were involved in attacks on Tamil civilians," said the PILC. "KMS also trained Sri Lankan paramilitaries and commandos, as well as giving operational advice at the highest level, during a period in which repeated atrocities were committed against Tamils."

"This police investigation is long overdue,” Miller told the Tamil Guardian earlier this year when the scoping exercise was first announced. “The revelations in my book are mostly based on UK diplomatic cables, which have been kept from the police and public for decades. This delay has meant several key figures in Keenie Meenie such as the chairman Jim Johnson and Sri Lanka country manager Brian Baty have passed away without being held accountable for their actions.”

“If the police probe does result in any prosecutions of senior KMS personnel, it will be a landmark moment for the UK’s private military industry," Miller told the Sunday Times. "British mercenaries are not used to this level of scrutiny about their actions in conflict zones overseas, where their exploits are often treated as swashbuckling rather than sinister or possibly even illegal.”

“Already one senior figure from KMS - Lt. Col. Brian Baty - died in February this year without facing justice. Transparency and quickness will be vital to reassure the public that accountability is properly pursued: justice delayed is definitely justice denied in this case and Tamil victims deserve better."

Speaking to the Tamil Guardian earlier this year Tamil Information Centre researcher Dr Rachel Seoighe noted how "already one senior figure from KMS - Lt. Col. Brian Baty - died in February this year without facing justice". Transparency and quickness will be vital to reassure the public that accountability is properly pursued: justice delayed is definitely justice denied in this case and Tamil victims deserve better," she added.

"Our focus is on the Tamil victims and their loved ones: those whose lives have been forever altered by the actions of British mercenaries and Sri Lankan soldiers," said Lorenzo Fiorito, legal adviser to Together Against Genocide (TAG). "This took place as the international community had full knowledge of war crimes, but remained silent."

TAG also formally submitted a complaint to the Metropolitan Police earlier this year, before the full investigation was announced.

"Bringing these individual war criminals to justice is only a prelude to the kind of justice that is needed to heal wounds and rebuild nations," added Fiorito. "It requires dedicated collaboration across the community to bring us forward in that direction."

Read more from the Sunday Times here and The Guardian here.

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