‘UK SOFT ON WAR CRIMES SUSPECTS’ – says Sri Lanka Campaign for Peace and Justice

Tamils marching on the London May Day demonstration last year demanding action against Sri Lankan war criminals
Tamils marching on the London May Day demonstration last year demanding action against Sri Lankan war criminals

THE UK has been accused of permitting an alleged war-criminal to escape prosecution.

Tamil Net has reported that questions have been raised over the failure of the British Foreign Office to investigate Prasanna De Silva, an ex-Sri Lanka army general alleged to be complicit in war-crimes.

The allegation was made as reports emerged that Silva’s return to Sri Lanka is imminent, sources in London said.

The European Centre for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR) assisted by the Society for Threatened Peoples Switzerland, and TRIAL, submitted to the British Foreign Office in January 2012 a 28-page dossier on the alleged involvement of De Silva in war crimes committed during the last months of the Sri Lankan civil war.

The dossier is widely believed to be the reason for De Silva’s war crimes predicament, according to political observers in the UK.

The Global Tamil Forum (GTF), an active diaspora group, last week sought to bring a judicial review against the UK’s foreign secretary over his refusal to declare the military attache persona non grata, alleging that De Silva was involved in systematic attacks on Tamil civilians between January and May 2009 when he was a senior commander in the Sri Lankan army.

Fred Carver, the campaign director of the Sri Lanka Campaign for Peace and Justice, said he could not believe that the British government had accepted Silva’s diplomatic accreditation in the first place.

Carver, added, ‘Any intern equipped with Google and a working mouse could have determined that there were credible allegations against Silva.

‘Now they know what they should have previously suspected and investigated, they should not hesitate to revoke it before it is too late.

‘If they do nothing then Silva’s unhindered return will be rightly interpreted as signifying that Britain is soft on war crimes suspects,’ the paper said.

Siobhain McDonagh, the Labour MP for Mitcham and Morden and vice-chair of the all-party parliamentary group for Tamils, described the FCO’s failure to act sooner on the dossier as ‘unfathomable, the paper said.

‘It does seem extraordinary for the FCO to take no action and just rely upon the Sri Lankan government to withdraw him,’ she said.

‘Given the evidence and that the government saw the dossier from the NGOs, why on earth did they take no action?’ added McDonagh.

In a Factual Supplement to the Report to Congress on Sri Lanka’s war on violations of International Humanitarian and Human Rights Law, the US Department of State has accused the 55th Division which was commanded by Prasanna de Silva as being responsible for shelling hospitals.

The US report said: ‘The UN Panel of Experts (PoE) report concludes that, “Virtually every hospital in Vanni, whether permanent or makeshift, was hit by artillery.”

‘The Panel found that the PTK (Puthukkudiyiruppu) Hospital was shelled every day from January 29 to February 4 most likely by the 55th Division of the SLA.

‘The Government of Sri Lanka claimed that no hospitals remained in Vanni, but the PoE report found that the UN and International Committee of the Red Cross continuously updated the government on the whereabouts of medical facilities and makeshift hospitals in the region.

‘The PoE report also mentions that testimony by government doctors from these hospitals may not be accurate because they initially claimed that government forces repeatedly fired on their facilities but later changed their stories to reflect the GSL’s position,’ the US report said.

Prasanna De Silva is the second high-level diplomat, after Jegath Dias, who will be leaving his post on the grounds of imminent prosecution based on alleged war-crimes and crimes against humanity.

In September 2011, Major General (retd.) Jegath Dias, deputy Counsel in Sri Lanka’s embassy in Germany, and commander of the Sri Lankan Army’s (SLA’s) 57th division during the last phase of the Sri Lanka war, was recalled by Colombo ‘in response to accusations he was involved in war crimes,’ according to Swiss media.

Shavendra Silva, another UN diplomat, was saved by ‘diplomatic immunity’ from prosecution in a New York court over alleged war-crimes.

Sri Lanka’s President Rajapakse is also being sued in the Federal Court in the District of Columbia, despite the intervention of the US State Department which ‘suggested’ immunity to Rajapakse.

l Australian Federal Police (AFP) have said that they will evaluate a document submitted by the Australasian Federation of Tamil Associations (AFTA) charging Palitha Kohona, an Australian citizen and currently Sri Lanka’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations, over alleged war-crimes.

The AFP said in a letter to AFTA that the referral was from the Minister for Justice, Jason Clare, as a result of correspondence by AFTA with Michele Rowland, MP.

Sydney Morning Herald reported in an investigative story in May 2011 that Dr Palitha Kohona, admitted to sending an SMS message through a European intermediary giving instructions to leaders of the Liberation Tigers to surrender.

In this ‘white flag’ incident, Sri Lanka Army (SLA) soldiers are alleged to have gunned down all the LTTE members who surrendered.

Following a submission to the International Criminal Court (ICC) for Kohona’s complicity in war-crimes, and the SMH story, AFTA submitted in September 2011, through Michelle Rowland, to the then Minister of Justice, a 32-page legal brief titled ‘To Investigate The Involvement of Dr. Palitha T H Kohona in a Joint Criminal Enterprise during the Last Phase of the War in Sri Lanka,’ where the document described Dr Kohona’s alleged complicity in the killing of unarmed LTTE surrendees.

‘Due to a reshuffle in the cabinet, the submission did not get the immediate attention of the previous Minister. AFTA then requested Michelle Rowland MP to resubmit our submission to the new Minister Hon Jason Clare and the new Minister took prompt action and informed us on March 7th 2012 that he had forwarded our submission to the AFP for their consideration,’ AFTA told TamilNet.

‘The (Australian) Government takes allegations of war crimes, crimes against humanity, and other human rights violations very seriously. The Commonwealth Criminal Code act 1995 contains a range of offences for war crimes and crimes against humanity. Each of these offences applies to conduct both within and outside of Australia and all carry severe penalties.

‘Investigation of allegations of these crimes is the responsibility of the Australian Federal Police. As such, I have forwarded Dr Rajakulendran’s submission to the AFP for their consideration,’ the letter from the Minister of Justice, Jason Clare, to Ms Rowland said.

The submission to the ICC on war crimes charges against Kohona is still pending.