The UK is willing to consider submitting uncensored wartime dispatches sent by its High Commission in Colombo to London to the proposed hybrid war crimes court.
Last week UN Special Rapporteur Ben Emmerson, QC, at the end of a five-day visit, declared that he had received an assurance from Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe regarding the setting up of an Office of Special Prosecutor to bring criminal charges against those responsible for serious atrocities committed on both sides.
Asked by The Island whether the UK would submit or consider submitting the relevant uncensored documents to proposed war crimes court set up in accordance with Geneva Resolution 30/1 to inquire into accountability issues here, a British High Commission spokesperson said: “The UK cannot comment on its approach to court proceedings that have yet to be established. Once such a court is established, we will decide on the release of documents in response to requests from the court, as appropriate.”
The Island raised the issue with the BHC in Colombo in the wake of Lord Naseby’s failed attempt to obtain Colombo based defence attache Lt. Colonel Anton Gash’s dispatches which dealt with the situation on the Vanni front during the period from January 1 to May 2009.
The war ended on May 19, 2009. Pointing out that some of those who had been strongly opposed to the implementation of Resolution 30/1 believed British documents would certainly facilitate efforts to ascertain the ground situation during Jan-May, 2009 period, The Island also queried whether the BHC would recommend giving proposed hybrid court access to British documents.
One-time Secretary General of the Secretariat for Coordinating the Peace Process (SCOPP) Prof. Rajiva Wijesinha, who is familiar with the Lord Naseby’s attempt told The Island that British authorities had released the military official’s dispatches with some sections blacked out after having initially sought to withhold them.
Lord Naseby has sought information from the British before Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Commission (UNHRC) adopted 30/1 to enable a hybrid war crimes court.
Prof. Wijesinha said that having strongly backed hybrid court to inquire into accountability issues the UK shouldn’t hesitate under any circumstances to assist efforts to establish the truth. Lt. Col. Gash’s assessment could shed light on the Vanni situation where the LTTE extensively used human shield to delay ground forces advance into its rapidly shrinking territory. Prof. Wijesinha pointed out that Lord Naseby had raised the possibility of a section of the dispatches relating to the situation in Sri Lanka being withheld by authorities.
Lord Naseby has complained that there had been only two disclosed dispatches in April and May in spite of those being key months towards the end of the war. Lord Naseby pointed out that there hadn’t been a dispatch soon after the conclusion of the war on the morning of May 19, 2009.
The Information Commissioner’s Office has confirmed Lord Naseby raising the possibility of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office depriving him of required information though it asserted such concerns were unfounded.
Wartime Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa told The Island that military dispatches from Colombo-based Western diplomatic missions, including the BHC, Indian High Commission, UN, UN agencies and ICRC could be really useful in verifying unsubstantiated allegations. Rajapaksa emphasised that it would be necessary to provide uncensored diplomatic documents without being selective in releasing them to the public domain.
“BHC military dispatches are of pivotal importance against the backdrop of Labour Party alleging in UK parliament in Sept 2015 40 civilians and 60,000 LTTE cadres lost their lives during January-May 2009.”
BHC has declined to answer a query by The Island regarding Labour Party MP Siobhain McDonagh’s claim some time back.
Rajapaksa said that British military dispatches could be compared with those of the Americans whose military attache Lt Col. Lawrence Smith in June two years after the conclusion of the war questioned the very basis of accusations in respect of the army not honouring an internationally backed agreement to accept surrendering LTTE cadres.