The UN Department of Peace Operations has suspended Sri Lankan Army contingents serving peacekeeping operations in some countries in response to the appointment of Lieutenant General Shavendra Silva to the position of Commander of the Sri Lanka Army.
There were two versions of the UN position on the matter. On September 25, the UN Spokesman Farhan Haq said in New York that “In light of this appointment, the UN Department of Peace Operations is, therefore, suspending future Sri Lankan Army deployments except where the suspension would expose UN operations to serious operational risk.”
He said that the Sri Lankan Government had appointed Silva as the Army Commander “Despite well-documented, credible allegations of his involvement in serious violations of international humanitarian and human rights law”
Following this statement by the UN Spokesman, Foreign Secretary Ravinatha Aryasinha, who is presently leading the Sri Lanka delegation to the 74th UN General Assembly Session, met with Mr Jean-Pierre Lacroix, the Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations Department of Peace Operations (USG/UNDPO) on September 27 at the UN Headquarters in New York to discuss the issue.
Under-Secretary-General had stated that only 25% of the troops from Sri Lanka presently engaged in peacekeeping operations, couild be replaced when they complete their term in Lebanon.
USG Lacroix confirmed that there would be no further reduction of Sri Lanka Peacekeepers, according to a Foreign Ministry statement.
It must be recalled that the UN had also expressed concern, when Major General Shavendra Silva was appointed Chief of Staff of the Army in January this year, on the same grounds.
The irony is that Silva has served as Sri Lankan Ambassador and Deputy Permanent Representative to the United Nations Headquarters after the end of the war, during which the UN did not refuse to accept him.
During the meeting with the USG Lacroix Foreign Secretary Aryasinha had pointed out that there were no factually substantiated or proven allegations of human rights violations against Lieutenant General Silva. Despite the possibility of violations of Human Rights by all warring parties having taken place during any war, allegations not only against Silva but also against all three armed forces and the LTTE, for that matter, have not been proven factually. The reason is that no such trials over individual cases have been heard in any court or tribunal in Sri Lanka or outside.
It must be noted that Sri Lanka’s war-time Human Rights issues have been highly politicized and hence contentious. For instance, people’s claims over the civilian death toll in the final lap of the war range from 7,000 to 500,000 (Five hundred thousand), depending on the political affiliations and likings of each group.
The Government has claimed that the number is around 7,000 which was confirmed at a census conducted by the Government in 2011. Interestingly, nobody has contested that enumeration yet.
While the Resident Coordinator of the UN during the last days of the war had claimed that the number of deaths of civilians in the final war was little over 7,000, the Darusman Committee that was appointed by the former UN Secretary-General Ban ki-moon in 2010 put it as high as 40,000, provoking former Foreign Secretary Dr Palitha Kohona to question whether there were 40,000 graves in the small area where the final war was fought.
The Ilankai Thamil Arasu Katchi (ITAK), the main constituent party of the TNA during its convention in Batticaloa in 2012 said the number was around one hundred thousand (100,000) whereas the TNA in its manifesto for the last Northern Provincial Council in 2013 said that around 150,000 civilians had perished during the final war.
Meanwhile, the Tamil Nadu leaders, who have been using the Sri Lankan issue for their political ends, prefer sometimes the figure to be 500,000. Nobody seems to have realized that they are talking about human lives.
Another interesting point is that the Tamil leaders, who share the concern over Silva’s appointment, supported former Army Commander Sarath Fonseka, at the 2010 Presidential Election, despite Silva having served under Fonseka as a Division Commander during the final battle.
The West and the international organisations that speak of “Command Responsibility” over Human Rights violations were too not so agitated when fresh from the defeat of the LTTE, the former Army Commander contested that election.
That is not to say that we are suggesting that they should have so agitated. But, this is how things happen.