New York Times – Sri Lanka’s Intransigence – A Factual Response

Dr. Palitha KohonaWed, 2014-09-03 20:47 — editor

It is unfortunate that the NY Times has published article entitled “Sri Lanka’s Intransigence “on August 23rd., by its editorial board and it was alleged that the content of the article misleading and unsubstantiated.

New York Times that published which published the article appeared on its ‘opinion page,’ on last Saturday has so far not come forward to publish the factual response to the article by Dr Palitha Kohona, Sri Lanka’s Ambassador and Permanent Representative to the United Nations in New York.

Asian Tribune is of the opinion that it would be only fair to publish the response to preserve New York Time’s impartiality, transparency but more importantly, accurate commentary.

As for reason not known to Asian Tribune, New York Times failed to publish the factual response to the article… of, by Dr Palitha Kohona, Sri Lanka’s Ambassador and Permanent Representative to the United Nations in New York , therefore, Asian Tribune has decided to publish the response to the to the particular article on Sri Lanka.

Given below the full text of the factual response by Dr Palitha Kohona, Sri Lanka’s Ambassador and Permanent Representative to the United Nations in New York to the New York Times article entitled “Sri Lanka’s Intransigence ,“ that was published on August 23rd.:

The suggestion made that Sri Lanka cannot or will not initiate and manage a successful domestic inquiry ignores the facts.

The Government of Sri Lanka (GoSL) established the Lessons Learned and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) in August 2010 in order to begin such a process. This was within one year of the end of the conflict and four years before the misguided NYT editorial. The work of the LLRC was completed in a rapid, rigorous 14 month period and presented to Parliament in December 2011. This should be recognized as an extraordinarily major milestone in an immediate post-conflict setting given the lack of timely procedures in so many similar scenarios elsewhere in the world. The findings of the LLRC were concrete and implementable as demonstrated by the 285 recommendations and observations submitted to the GoSL. The Parliament voted to implement 144 of these immediately.

Within 5 months a National Plan of Action was mapped out and adopted to ensure implementation. The main foci were meeting standards of international humanitarian law, human rights protections, return of land and/or resettlement, restitution/compensatory relief and ongoing reconciliation. In addition, an Inter-ministerial Task Force oversees the work of relevant agencies and their key performance indicators. By June 2014, 45 of these were successfully met, 89 have progressed substantially and 10 have the necessary initial steps completed.

The Presidential Commission to Investigate Complaints Regarding Missing Persons will be have its fourth Public Sitting in late August, 2014. Previous Public Sittings were conducted in January, February and March of this year. During this time 18,590 complaints have been processed from all parts of the country, including approximately 5,000 from relatives of missing security personnel. 462 complaints have been identified as requiring further investigation by an independent team. The Commission has collaborated with the ICRC and UNDP and employs the principals established by those and other groups in matters relating to missing persons following conflict situations. Moreover this effort has been further strengthened by the appointment of 5 internationally renowned experts who continue to advise. They are Sir Desmond de Silva, Sir Geoffrey Nice, Professor David Crane, Mr. .Avdhash Kaushal and Mr. Ahmer B. Soofi. In addition, courts of inquiry established by the army and the navy are continuing their work. The normal police work also will continue.

The figure mentioned in the editorial alleging disproportionate civilian casualties raises a number of issues. The UN has never officially reported that an estimated 40,000 Tamils died during the final weeks of the conflict. An internal UN document speculating that 7,000+ persons died, was disowned by USG Sir
John Holmes as not verified by facts on the ground. The UN Secretary General’s Panel of Experts on the Accountability in Sri Lanka (2011) claimed “a number of credible sources have estimated that there could have been as many as 40,000 civilian deaths”. This report does not mention what these sources were, how their “credibility” was assessed or the data gathered. The advisory panel is clear in stating, “only proper investigation could formulate an accurate figure”. A comprehensive 2011 census conducted by the GoSL in the Northern region placed the number of dead and missing during the final phase at 7,400 dead and missing. The 7,400 includes the LTTE combatants killed in combat. Of 2,600 missing, 1,600 had been with the LTTE. This compares with the 438 allegedly disappeared in areas under military control. UNICEF estimated that 5,700 children were recruited by the LTTE and only 594 had surrendered at the end of the conflict. The current investigations being undertaken by the Presidential Commission on Complaints regarding Missing Persons will further shed light on these figures.

It is absurd to suggest “hundreds of thousands of people were interned in camps under military guard after the war ended in 2009”, or that people suspected of being linked with the LTTE were tortured and thousands simply “disappeared”. The GoSL launched one of the largest civilian rescue operations in history. These civilians had been held against their will, used as human shields by the LTTE, despite pleas issued by the UN Secretary General, US Secretary of State, the UK Foreign Secretary and many other horrified international leaders. By May 2009 nearly 300,000 civilians were successfully rescued from LTTE captivity. One of the greatest challenges the GoSL faced in the aftermath of the conflict was the resettlement of these internally displaced persons (IDPs). Prior to embarking on this process the GoSL had to ensure that these areas would be mine free, a logistical, humanitarian and security nightmare that has followed many insurgences. During this transition period these IDPs were provided full care, including humane housing, fair civil government, access to healthcare and education. The resettlement process was voluntary and rapid, involving the informed choice of IDP’s through facilitated site visits and resettlement resource education. Construction and livelihood assistance persist to ensure peaceful resumption of civil society following 26 years of LTTE violence. The GoSL continues with the construction of 78,000 new homes in the North and the East with the encouragement and assistance of donor partners, most notably India.

Remarkable progress has been made with regard to rehabilitation and reintegration of ex-combatants, in stark contrast to the actions of western governments following the wholesale disbandment of the Iraqi Army in 2003.The GoSL has undertaken the task of rehabilitating approximately 12,000 former LTTE combatants, most of whom have completed training programs and returned to be productive members of the community. All 594 former LTTE child-soldiers, 364 males and 230 females, have been successfully rehabilitated and reintegrated into society by May 2010. Under the “Catch Up to Education Scheme”, of special programs and tuition assistance, those who lost years of schooling were offered the opportunity to complete their formal education and those eligible were encouraged to sit for their G.C.E O and A Level examinations. Out of 169, almost 30%, qualified for university whilst a further 322 ex-child combatants received appropriate vocational training to facilitate gainful employment. Elderly persons with LTTE affiliations were released immediately without being subject to lengthy procedures or reintegration trainings. All of the reintegration programs were implemented with the assistance of UNICEF, IOM and NGO partners.

Civil administration has been reinstated while infrastructure and economic development have flourished in former conflict areas. Moreover, a five-year Action Plan for the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights has been adopted by the GoSL to strengthen domestic development mechanisms. The success of this in the economy of the Northern Province is indicated by the 25.9% expansion seen in 2012.

To return to the sweeping accusations of the editorial, the allegation that “people were tortured and thousands simply disappeared” is gratuitous and inflammatory. No evidence exists to substantiate these false claims. On the question of the protection for victims and witnesses, the GoSL has been working towards a comprehensive bill to provide assistance and protection to all parties. It will be presented in its current iteration to Parliament shortly.

The law is intended to make necessary changes in the criminal justice system to address any lingering issues going forward with a view to introducing the balance between the rights of the accused, victims and witnesses, this law fulfills another of the recommendations of the LLRC.

The reference to the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) and the suggestion that “Sri Lanka’s Prevention of Terrorism is being used to detain people without trial” is spurious. Sri Lanka is joined by the majority of governments sitting at the UN in its comprehensive laws to prevent terrorism and justly so. Any country that has been confronted by ruthless terrorism must give a high priority to national security, the safety of its people, including mechanisms to curtail the activities of violent extremists. The PTA in Sri Lanka, which has its origins in British law, cannot be arbitrarily applied. It may only be invoked upon the presentation of credible facts and arbitrary indefinite detention is illegal. The GoSL applies the provisions of the PTA with the utmost caution. When compared with the more draconian Homeland Security Act 2002 in the USA and Prevention of Terrorism Act 2005 in the UK (currently being amended), Sri Lanka is a model of restraint and justice.

Sri Lanka is one of the oldest democracies in Asia and Sri Lanka’s democratic traditions are strong. Post-independence political history demonstrate that Sri Lanka had upheld its democratic values in the face of a brutal insurgency. Merely four years after the brutal civil war, elections in the Northern Province of Sri Lanka were held in 2013 consolidating civic and political rights leading to the appointment of C. Vigneswaren of the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) as the Chief Minister of the Northern Province. The elections resulted in 30 out of 38 seats being won by the TNA which is predominantly Tamil; a lucid demonstration of the expeditious process of resettlement undertaken by Sri Lanka. It is with regret that we note that the New York Times editorial has patently ignored these positive developments and chosen to rely on unsubstantiated allegations and conjectural claims which have been propagated by parties that continue to support the LTTE.

Since 2009 the country has experienced peace and prosperity after almost three decades of conflict. Sri Lanka has consistently engaged with the United Nations system. The GoSL participated fully in the Human Rights Council in 2012 under its second cycle of the Universal Periodic Report (UPR) Process. Recently it has had visits from four Special Mandate Holders and the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay. Despite the politicized commentary by Commissioner Pillay, Sri Lanka will maintain its engagement with that office.

However Sri Lanka is electing not to cooperate with the investigation mandated by Resolution 25/1 of March 2014 due to the intrusive and selective nature of 25/1 which is in clear contravention of the principles and spirit guiding the Human Rights Council. The High Commissioner has gone beyond her mandate in making statements supporting the investigation. Her comments do not give due regard to the ongoing mechanisms of reconciliation, through the National Action Plan, based upon the recommendations of the LLRC. Sri Lanka is firmly of the view that country specific resolutions of this nature, intent on singling out countries for “naming and shaming”, in this instance disproportionally targeting Sri Lanka, are unwarranted and not in the spirit of the objectives of the Council. The beneficiaries of such a suspect resolution are none other than the divisive forces who seek to destabilize the hard won peace. This resolution damages Sri Lanka’s reconciliation efforts and does injustice to the government and people of our country. It is unnecessarily and uniquely backward in scope given the lack of any humanitarian emergency in the country today. Regardless of the attempt to discredit our efforts to attain peace, Sri Lanka will continue with the reconciliation process.

The NYT editorial, using unsubstantiated claims and conjecture, have created an unearned and distorted impression of our country. It has chosen to ignore the hard won peace and socio-economic as well as infrastructure developments that have been achieved since the end of the conflict and disregards the terrorism of the LTTE which ravaged a country and horrified the world for more than three decades.

What Sri Lanka needs today is not gratuitous and misguided external interventions, rather help with continuing its carefully crafted reconstruction and reconciliation process.

– Asian Tribune –


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This entry was posted on October 2, 2014 by in Uncategorized.
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