Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa yesterday challenged the UN to furnish evidence relating to the main war crimes allegation that 40,000 persons allegedly disappeared during the final phase of the war in early 2009. He emphasized that none of those propagating war crimes allegations, including the UN, had so far revealed the basis of their accusations.
In a brief interview with The Sunday Island, Rajapaksa said the government intended to take up the issue with United Nations Human Rights Commissioner (UNHRC) Navanethem Pillay scheduled to visit Sri Lanka later this month. The UN should without further delay divulge data to justify the ‘Report of the Secretary General’s Panel of Experts on Accountability in Sri Lanka’, the Defence Secretary said.
The Defence Secretary asked whether any country accused of disappearances in such a scale would accept the Panel of Experts’ recommendation that its ‘sources’ would remain classified for 20 years since the release of the report on March 31, 2011.
According to the report, the three panelists, Marzuki Darusman (Indonesia), Steven R. Ratner (US) and Yasmin Sooka (South Africa) had received over 4,000 submissions from 2,300 persons in response to a notice posted on the UN website on Oct 27, 2010.
The Defence Secretary said that the refusal to name sources on the basis of confidentiality of the Panel of Experts’ records meant such a report/evidence couldn’t be acceptable in any court of law or special investigative mechanism. He pointed out that disclosure of credible sources would strengthen ongoing efforts to haul Sri Lanka before an international war crimes inquiry. Hence the UN shouldn’t hesitate to do away with confidentiality clause.
Rajapaksa said that a comprehensive survey conducted by the government in the Northern region at the conclusion of the conflict placed the number of dead and missing during the final phase at 7,400 and 2,600, respectively. The 7,400 dead included those who died fighting for the LTTE, he said.
Responding to a query, the outspoken official said of the 2,600 missing, 1,600 had been with the LTTE, whereas only 438 disappeared in areas under military control. The Defence Secretary insisted that there had been only in 28 cases in which security forces were directly blamed for the disappearances.
The death toll figure as reported by the government is consistent with an early UN estimate. Rajapaksa made the point that Tamils carried out the Northern survey hence there couldn’t be any allegations that it was manipulated by the government.
Asked whether the survey carried out by the Department of Census and Statistics could be substantiated, the Secretary said that every case could be verified. He said: “The UN can furnish data to disapprove our findings. It can lift the embargo on oral and written submissions received by the Panel of Experts to coincide with Ms Pillay’s visit. There cannot be a better time to humiliate Sri Lanka.”
He pointed out that the Amnesty International in a special report titled ‘When will they get justice? Failures of Sri Lanka’s Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission’ published in 2011 estimated the number of civilians killed at 10,000.
The Defence Secretary said that a debate on human rights in the Indian subcontinent in September last year in the House of Commons highlighted the irresponsibility of those making war crimes accusations.
Long standing LTTE supporter Siobhain McDonagh (Mitcham and Morden) (Labour) told the House of Commons on Sept. 15 that Sri Lanka’s war, in its last five months alone, had claimed the lives of 100,000 people, 40,000 of them civilians.
Rajapaksa said that a section of the international community was engaged in a numbers game targeting Sri Lanka. In fact, the UN mission in Colombo had been fully aware what was going on in the Vanni region, he said.
Those running the UN mission here at that time went to the extent of conducting secret negotiations with the LTTE when Tamil UN workers were detained at the behest of Prabhakaran for helping Tamil civilians to escape the fighting.
“This was in early 2007. The UN can easily examine those who played ball with the LTTE at that time. The detention of UN workers by the LTTE was raised in New York,” he pointed out.
The UN never revealed who authorized secret contact with the LTTE to secure the release of workers, the Defence Secretary said, claiming that the war would have ended years ago if the UN ensured the LTTE adhered with an agreement not to recruit children.
The Defence Secretary recalled the finalization of the tripartite agreement among the GoSL, UN and the LTTE way back in 1998 with the then UN Special Envoy Olara Otunu playing a major role. The global community should examine UN operations here during the conflict to ensure that such grave errors wouldn’t be repeated elsewhere, he said.
By Shamindra Ferdinando