Despite widespread criticism of the appointment of Shavendra Silva to second-in-command of the Sri Lankan army earlier this year, the war crimes-accused general was promoted to army commander by the Sri Lankan president on Monday.
Formerly the head of of Sri Lanka’s notorious 58 Division, an army unit that committed grave violations of international law during a military offensive that killed tens of thousands of Tamils, Silva has been named in several United Nations reports for his role in overseeing abusive military operations.
“I am deeply troubled by the appointment of Lieutenant-General Shavendra Silva as Commander of the Sri Lankan Army, despite the serious allegations of gross violations of international human rights and humanitarian law against him and his troops during the war,” UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet said in a statement, adding that the promotion “severely compromises Sri Lanka’s commitment to promote justice and accountability in the context of Human Rights Council resolution 30/1”.
The promotion “undermines reconciliation efforts, particularly in the eyes of victims and survivors who suffered greatly in the war. It also sets back security sector reform, and is likely to impact on Sri Lanka’s ability to continue contributing to UN peacekeeping efforts,” Bachelet, who had previously raised concerns about Silva’s continued promotions in the army, further said.
The United States also expressed ‘deep concern’ at the appointment, stating that “the allegations of gross human rights violations against [Silva], documented by the United Nations and other organizations, are serious and credible. This appointment undermines Sri Lanka’s international reputation and its commitments to promote justice and accountability, especially at a time when the need for reconciliation and social unity is paramount.”
Silva’s appointment marked “the end of any reconciliation process”, the International Truth and Justice Project (ITJP) said. In January this year ITJP had released a 137-page dossier which the organisation claimed held “more than enough evidence” to charge Silva with war crimes and crimes against humanity.
“Instead he has now been promoted to the most powerful job in the army just months before important elections,” ITJP said today.