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UNHRC process needs open minded approach

26 August 2015 04:30 pm - 1     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}


On February 16 this year, at the request of the top United Nations rights official, the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council agreed to temporarily hold off its consideration of a long-awaited report into alleged rights violations during the conflict in Sri Lanka for six months, until September 2015.

Explaining his “difficult decision,” Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, said in a media release issued by his Office that “there are strong arguments for deferring the report’s consideration a bit longer, given the changing context in Sri Lanka, and the possibility that important new information may emerge which will strengthen the report.”

These remarks indicated that the UN Commissioner was waiting for the Sri Lankan Government to release the long-awaited Paranagama Commission Report, officially known as the Presidential Commission to Investigate into Complaints Regarding Missing Persons that was established in 2013,   which was a follow-up to the initial LLRC report that was released in 2012.

The release of the Paranagama Report has now come into sharp focus, because both the UN and the world at large have been stuck with the conclusions of the Darusman Report (officially known as the Report of the Secretary-General’s Panel of Experts on Accountability in Sri Lanka) released in 2011, namely, that up to 40,000 civilians have been killed by the army in the final phase of the conflict.

This still to be verified figure on the Darusman Report has been further exaggerated to 140,000 victims by the various Tamil diaspora-funded advocacy groups pushing for a separate Tamil nation state in northern Sri Lanka, in a deliberate attempt to label the Sri Lankan Military as a “genocidal army”.  

In the wake of a global civil society outcry on possible genocide in Sri Lanka, the 47-member UN Human Rights Council adopted a resolution in March 2014, which requested the Office of the High Commissioner (OHCR) to undertake a comprehensive investigation into alleged serious violations and abuses of human rights and related crimes by both parties in Sri Lanka during the last phase of the armed conflict.   An expert panel was set up by the UN in late June 2014 and OHCHR was to present a comprehensive report on its findings by March 2015.
In response to this, the Sri Lankan Government on July 15, 2014 issued a second mandate to the Paranagama Commission, that obligated the Commission to inquire into the facts and circumstances that resulted in the principal loss of civilian life in the final stages of the conflict in Sri Lanka and to issue a report on or before August 15, 2015.  

After all, the unverified death toll figure of 40,000 or more has led reasonable people all round the world, to conclude that the Sri Lankan army acted in a way that failed to observe the laws and customs of war.  The term “a genocidal army” stems from here.   Of course, if this huge figure, advanced by Darusman turns out to be untrue, one of the principal allegations against the Sri Lankan army, ‘genocidal army”  fades away.

 Another aspect of the Paranagama mandate,  the issue of child soldiers,  is equally essential to conclude whether war crimes were committed by the LTTE. It is well established that the LTTE used Tamil children as cannon fodder and the Darusman Commission may have relied on information that counted dead child soldiers not as LTTE combatants,  but as civilians.  

Therefore, to come to the conclusion of how many civilians were killed, the UN must satisfy, as to who was a civilian in those circumstances. The UN needs to carefully consider the role of the Tamil civilians in this conflict.  If a civilian joins the LTTE, and becomes part of the LTTE war machine, then he or she has to be properly classed as a combatant.    The issue is further compounded by the fact that some of the Tamil civilians were forcibly conscripted while others volunteered freely to take up arms and they were engaged in combat in civilian clothes.  According to reports, many of these civilians who were in the front line as LTTE combatants were killed.   

To get any definitive answer on the question of the exact civilian death toll, it is important to determine the extent to which the civilians went voluntarily with the LTTE or by force?   At the moment the world has only got the Darusman conclusions.   It is important to know what conclusions the Paranagama Commission has come to, as they have been specifically asked to answer this question.   Thus, to determine whether there is any truth in the allegations made in the UN Darusman report, the immediate release of the Paranagama Commission’s conclusions on the second mandate is vital.   

 Considering that it received its legal advice from some of the foremost international practitioners who have helped to shape international law in the course of their duties, the contents of this report are hugely important not just for Sri Lanka, but the international community as a whole, who have got to view the conduct of the Sri Lankan army and decide on the extent of guilt in order to impose punishment that is appropriate to the crime, if indeed one has been committed. 

The fact that the former Rajapaksa regime rejected the Darsuman Report and did not cooperate with the UN during the inquiry,  forced the Darusman panel to rely exclusively on unverified information that was provided to them by the Tamil diaspora-funded NGO groups.  The former Government failed to make any credible response to the complaints made in Geneva at the inception, and then finally, at the behest of the Chairman of the Paranagama Commission, who needed assistance with regard to international humanitarian law, international human rights law and customary international law, an advisory council of international legal and military experts came to be appointed on July 15, 2014.

This engagement of independent international experts to advise the Paranagama Commission was welcomed by the international community as for the first time the Sri Lankan Government bowed to international pressure to appoint an impartial and independent set of advisers with experience in dealing with war crimes investigations and prosecutions.

 Sir Desmond De Silva Q.C. and Professor David Crane, were both chief prosecutors of an international criminal tribunal.   They were both picked personally by the Secretary General of the United Nations to discharge those roles.   In those roles, they were both appointed at a level of an Under Secretary General of the United Nations.  

Sir Geoffrey Nice Q.C. was the lead prosecutor in the case against Milosivic, the former President of Yugoslavia.  In fact, all three of them, have each prosecuted a head of state.  Sir Desmond prosecuted the former Liberian President Charles Taylor, and had him arrested  and prosecuted for war crimes, for which he is now serving 50 years in prison.  Professor David Crane, who was Sir Desmond’s predecessor of the UN-sponsored court, drew up the indictment against Charles Taylor.    Due to the animosity towards the Rajapaksa regime, the appointment of these experts with impeccable international reputations, who are independent professionals, have been wrongfully and unjustly maligned, because of politically motivated attempts to undermine this report and prevent it from being submitted to the UN.    In a petition that was recently sent to the President, signed by a partisan civil society group, called upon the President to rescind Sir Desmond’s appointment and to disband the advisory council to the Paranagama Commission.  

A study of that petition would reveal that when the petitioners lobbied to rescind Sir Desmond’s appointment, it was based upon the allegation that his conduct in his role as an adviser to the Sri Lankan Government was being examined by the Bar Standards Board in England.    The petition concealed the name of the complainant.   Research done by this writer, has revealed that the complainant was none other than the Sri Lanka Campaign for Peace and Justice, set up in the aftermath of the LTTE defeat in May 2009.   The stated objectives of some of its advisers is a separate state.  Most intriguingly, it turns out, that on the advisory panel of this campaigning NGO, sits Ms. Yasmin Sooka!   She was on the Darusman panel that made these grave findings against the Sri Lankan army.    She too would have a clear interest in seeking to preserve the Darusman conclusions from being challenged. 

 It appears that Yasmin Sooka, who is leading the campaign against Sir Desmond, is afraid that the release of the Paranagama Report would seriously hurt the Darusman “genocide” narrative which helps to justify the call for establishing a separate Tamil state in the North.  Therefore, it is manifestly obvious, that sinister attempts are afoot to keep the unverified Darusman conclusions in place and undisturbed.   It is astonishing that an independent UN panellist is a member of a campaigning NGO.   In 2013, Yasmin Sooka and M.A. Sumanthiran both appeared at a meeting organized in the House of Commons in London by the Global Tamil Forum, where she spoke and was welcomed as “comrade Sooka”.   

Is all of this purely coincidental?   Or part of an elaborate scheme to discredit the advisory panel of the Paranagama report in advance and preserve the Darusmann narrative that helps to justify a separation between the communities?  We Sri Lankans want closure on this issue by arriving at the truth.   Vested interests should not be allowed to prevent the truth from coming out.   

Clearly, we expect the Paranagama Report that has received inputs from international experts to call a spade a spade, and hold the Government and the LTTE accountable impartially, and state the facts and debunk fiction, so that the international community and us Sri Lankans can come to the correct conclusions about the last phase of the conflict.   We owe the truth to ourselves, for it would be a historic injustice to our country,  if the truth was suppressed and we were misled by exaggerations and untruths  that creates a permanent rift  in our society instigated by a few vested groups.  The international community has a moral duty to give our community a chance to discover the truth and the time and space to reflect on that, and help us in our reconciliation. 

The writer currently heads the National Ocean Affairs Committee (NOAC) that is responsible for Sri Lanka’s Continental Shelf Margin Claim before the United Nations in New York, and was previously the COO of the apex policy making body,  National Council for Economic Development (NCED) from 2004 to 2005 during the tenure of President Chandrika Kumaratunga.
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  • Siri Munasinghe Thursday, 27 August 2015 08:31 AM

    Has Paranagama report been published. Where can One read it ?.It must be put on line.We can get the names of those killed etc.

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