Recent developments in Burma have been cautiously welcomed by western diplomats, while NGO’s accuse the Burmese government of war crimes. Burma has seen a shift in policy since the first elections in 20 years and the release of opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi in November last year. Talks between the Nobel Peace laureate and the government are thought to be behind positive steps taken by the government to address concerns of the Burmese population.
British Defence Secretary Liam Fox (l) has long been a supporter of Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa, especially after accusations of mass killings by the latter's regime. Dr Fox is at the centre of a political storm in Britain over his working relationship with a close friend, Mr. Adam Werritty (pictured at the back (circled) on a visit to Sri Lanka in July) .
Sri Lanka’s trade, currency and debt quandary The International Monetary Fund suspended its programme of supplying Colombo with credit in exchange for reform on Monday after Sri Lanka refused to follow advice and abandon a policy of actively intervening in foreign exchange markets to support the value of the Rupee. Earlier this month Brian Aitken, the IMF’s head of mission in Colombo, warned that Sri Lanka’s policy of selling dollars to maintain the value of the rupee “does not seem to be in line with the fundamentals in the economy”’ and that the policy was rapidly depleting foreign currency reserves. He pointed out that Colombo’s “non-borrowed reserves.. have steadily declined, reflecting foreign exchange sales by the central bank.”
The White House has released a document outlining US policy at the United Nations. The Obama Administration hails the current “era of engagement” as successful in advancing US foreign policy objectives. The US claims “concrete results” at the UN are due to US leadership, including the stiffest sanctions against Iran and North Korea, the mandate to intervene in Libya, the independence of South Sudan and initial progress in “improving the flawed UN Human Rights Council”.
In a debate held Thursday in the British House of Commons, several British MPs once again called for a full international investigation into war crimes in Sri Lanka, stating that Britain must take the lead in pushing for accountability. MPs from across the political spectrum united in expressing concern at the Sri Lankan government’s conduct since the end of the war. Robert Halfon, MP for Harlow, stated, “We must be clear about the fact that Sri Lanka is a rogue nation. It has carried out genocide against the Tamil people, and we must do all that we can to stop the persecution of the Tamils once and for all.” He further elaborated that, “We must make a distinction between murder and genocide— genocide is scientific, organised killing ”. Watch the full debate on the BBC below. Siobhain Mcdonagh, MP for Mitcham and Morden also said, “ Britain must take a brave and principled lead —just as we did in Kosovo and, with France, in Libya—and do all that it can to ensure that a full independent international investigation of war crimes takes place. Those of us who believe in justice want the people responsible to be held to account, just as all of us would agree about Colonel Gaddafi, Radovan Karadzic and Charles Taylor. We cannot allow the international community to slip back to the cosy days of 2009, when the UN disgracefully ignored calls for a war crimes investigation, or when the Secretary-General spoke of Sri Lanka’s ‘tremendous efforts’.” Read the Hansard transcripts here . Requested by MPs Lee Scott and Steve Baker, the debate tackled the issue of “Human Rights in the Indian Subcontinent”, looking in particular at human rights abuses in Kashmir and Sri Lanka. Concluding the debate, Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs Alistair Burt said, “The allegations of war crimes and other human rights violations committed by both sides in the military conflict are of great concern to us. The UK has consistently made its position clear: Sri Lanka needs to address accountability through an independent, thorough and credible process that meets international standards and allows the people of Sri Lanka to move towards reconciliation and lasting peace and security.” Excerpts from the debate have been reproduced below.
Leaked US embassy cables reveal how then Ambassador Robert Blake warned Sri Lanka that mass civilian civilian deaths would ensue, if its military stormed the government-declared safe zone. A March 2009 cable , detailing a meeting with Sri Lankan Foreign Minister Bogollagama, said: “Ambassador recalled continuing reports he has heard that the military intends to take the safe zone by force and told the Foreign Minister if the government did so thousands, perhaps tens of thousands, could be killed. “ If such casualties occurred the government would be accused of war crimes and its actions would diminish Congressional and public support for future US assistance to Sri Lanka.” Sri Lanka warned Blake, now US Assistant Secretary of State for South Asia, went on to urge Sri Lanka to think “very very carefully” on the next steps to be taken after the military surrounded the government-declared safe zone. Thereafter, Sri Lanka launched a massive air, sea and ground offensive, escalating the bombardment of civilians. The following month, in another meeting with Bogollagama, Blake said that, “comparisons are already being made to what transpired in Rwanda where the international community did not do enough to prevent a catastrophe. ” Blake added that if they pursued the military option then Sri Lanka could expect “escalating international criticisms.” “The Ambassador said such actions could include suspension of aid to Sri Lanka, closer scrutiny of IMF lending, possible war crimes investigations, and perhaps other actions. ”
Leaked US embassy cables, created towards the end of 2009, provide an intriguing insight into Tamil National Alliance (TNA) leader R. Sampanthan's thoughts on then upcoming presidential elections. According to a leaked cable dated December 2009, Sampanthan, convinced, despite the widespread Sinhala triumphalism that the Tamil vote still had considerable value, informed US officials that " the best scenario for the Tamil community would be to extract concessions from the presidential candidates ". Moreover, he hoped that the international and domestic communities could "hold the candidates to their promises after the election." The two main candidates were the Sinhala chauvunists, Mahinda Rajapaksa, the incumbent of the SLFP, and the former Army chief, Sarath Fonseka, backed by the other two main Sinhala parties, the UNP and JVP. Seven months after the mass-killings of 40,000 Tamil civilians supervised by the Rajapakse-Fonseko duo, Sampanthan is quoted as asserting he was "looking for the manner in which each candidate would make promises to the Tamil community " before deciding which candidate to endorse. Gestures Sampanthan considered desirable from the two included a "public declaration" or at a minimum "campaign promises". According to the cable, "Sampanthan divulged that many within the Tamil community had asked him to run as an independent candidate, but he assessed that it made no sense for him to win "a couple of hundred thousand votes and lose."
File photo: An international ceasefire monitor of the Sri Lankan Monitoring Mission (SLMM) examines two bodies dumped by the roadside in then government controlled Vavuniya town on 13 Oct 2006. Apart from thousands of such extra-judicial killings by Sri Lanka's military, tens of thousands more people have vanished after being taken into custody. Click photo for details. Photo TamilNet.
Amnesty International has released a new report criticising Sri Lanka's Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission as "flawed at every level". The report went on to urge the UN to establish a full international independent investigation into war crimes. Sam Zarifi, Amnesty's Asia Pacific Director said, " The Sri Lankan government has, for almost two years, used the LLRC as its trump card in lobbying against an independent international investigation. "Officials described it as a credible accountability mechanism, able to deliver justice and promote reconciliation. In reality it's flawed at every level: in mandate, composition and practice. " In a 69-page report , the human rights group has said, " Amnesty International urges the international community not to be deceived that the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission -- the latest in a long line of failed domestic mechanisms in Sri Lanka -- will deliver justice, truth and reparations to the tens of thousands of victims of war crimes, crimes against humanity and other crimes committed during the conflict by both sides, particularly during its last bloody few months," Entitled “When Will They Get Justice?” the report called on the UN to establish a credible international, independent investigation into war crimes, calling it “crucial” to “protest the global principle of accountability”. " All U.N. member states should fulfill their shared responsibility to investigate and prosecute persons suspected of responsibility for war crimes and crimes against humanity in Sri Lanka by exercising universal jurisdiction. " Yolanda Foster of Amnesty International said , “ We’re publishing this report now as a wake up call to UN member states that they must act on the … credible evidence of very serious crimes that happened at the end of the war and (the UN) recommended an independent international investigation ”. A previous UN panel report also called for an independent international investigation to take place on Sri Lanka's war crimes. Amnesty's report comes amid increasing pressure on Sri Lanka, as the UN Human Rights Council is expected take up the issue in three-week meeting in Geneva starting Monday.
Puthukurippu hospital was shelled repeatedly by Sri Lankan forces in the final months of the war. The red crosses are clearly marked on the roofs and were visible to circling Sri Lankan drones guiding the shelling. Circles mark some of the shell impacts. Image from March 6, 2009.