Letter to Amb. Power

by S. Kanesathasan, February 15, 2016

This short submission highlights some unprecedented aspects of the Sri Lankan experience and makes a plea for a strong personal and early initiative by President Obama and Secretary Kerry to finally end the pernicious practice of Sri Lankan governments, including the current one, of unmet commitments made at its highest levels, and to ensure the full, credible and timely implementation of the recent US sponsored UNHRC resolution by Sri Lanka, with Sri Lanka as a co-sponsor.

SRI LANKA — AN APPEAL TO PRESIDENT OBAMA

Dear Ambassador Samantha Power,

I am a US citizen of Sri Lankan Tamil origin who has had the good fortune to have lived in the US for nearly 60 years, and to have worked for many years in senior positions in a Washington based UN Specialized Agency.

I want to thank you for your recent visit to Sri Lanka when you, almost alone among visiting US officials, met with and expressed concern and compassion for the horrendous plight of victims and their families, and for following up by repeating your concern during the recent Security Council meeting on “disappearances.”

I also wish to thank you for your consensus statement on January 19 at the Security Council expressing the Council’s urgent concern about protecting civilians in conflict and to bring the perpetrators to justice. In that statement you had said “when something shocks the conscience of someone” to bring it to the attention of the Council.

As a US citizen who has had deep concerns for several years about the tragic, and still ongoing , events without accountability in Sri Lanka which have been documented by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, including during his visit just days ago to Sri Lanka, I am taking the liberty of addressing this appeal to you, and through you to President Obama, not only to ensure truth and justice for victims and their families, but also to help redeem the credibility of the US commitment to human rights and the rule of law, as well as President Obama’s legacy in Sri Lanka.

This short submission highlights some unprecedented aspects of the Sri Lankan experience and makes a plea for a strong personal and early initiative by President Obama and Secretary Kerry to finally end the pernicious practice of Sri Lankan governments, including the current one, of unmet commitments made at its highest levels, and to ensure the full, credible and timely implementation of the recent US sponsored UNHRC resolution by Sri Lanka, with Sri Lanka as a co-sponsor.

Sri Lanka – An Unprecedented and Ongoing Tragedy

1. Foremost has been the often overlooked fact that the most heinous and targeted crimes were committed by the Sri Lankan Government with impunity against civilians who had surrendered when the war ended and the LTTE had been annihilated, and after President Obama had personally called on both sides to protect the trapped civilians. In other words, the US President himself became a “victim,” but no one has been held to account to date. The post war crimes also violated the Sri Lankan President’s war end commitments to the UN Secretary General on accountability, human rights and reconciliation.

2. The UN OISL report has documented comprehensively the alleged crimes during the war’s last phase and aftermath including the systematic and widespread use of extremely brutal torture and sexual abuse, forced disappearances and unlawful killings.

3.The UN report also concluded that the victims were targeted “because of their Tamil ethnicity and because they had come out of LTTE controlled territory,” which has been almost completely overlooked, in stark contrast with other cases with ethnic and religious divisions. In fact, this feature has continued to be a dominant feature throughout the post war period, especially in the militarized North East, as part of Government’s openly declared policy that Sri Lanka belongs only to Sinhala Buddhists, supported by highly centralized state — a policy which is fundamentally shared by the current Sri Lankan Government and the nearly all Sinhala military.

4. In the process, the Sri Lankan Government, including the current Government also failed to implement its commitment to the Secretary General, endorsed by the UNHRC, to fully implement Amendment Thirteen of the Sri Lanka constitution on devolution. Instead they, including the current government, have aggressively sought to terminate Amendment Thirteen.

5. In this context it is important to recall the virtual US commitment to Tamils (and Muslims) of June 2006 when it decided to support Rajapaksa in the war against LTTE.

Then US Assistant Secretary Boucher said in Colombo — “Although we reject the methods that the Tamil Tigers have used, there are legitimate issues that are raised by the Tamil community and they have a very legitimate desire, as anybody would, to be able to control their own lives, to rule their own destinies and to govern themselves in their homeland, in the areas they’ve traditionally inhabited.”

6. Finally, as you are aware, despite its very promising start, the same pattern of broken commitments, false denials and violent reprisals to silence victims and witnesses has continued with the current Sri Lankan Government, in the context of its commitments given personally to Secretary Kerry, UN Under- Secretary General Feltman and the UN High Commissioner soon after assuming office in January 2015, and most importantly under the consensus UNHRC resolution which the Government has co- sponsored.

7. During his just completed visit to Sri Lanka, the UN High Commissioner has noted several critical issues with implementation of the UNHRC resolution, and urged the Government to live up to its commitments, identifying several which could be taken quickly.

An Appeal

In this background, I would humbly appeal to you, and through you to President Obama, to seriously consider the following actions.

1. President Obama and Secretary Kerry personally call for the full, credible and front loaded implementation of the consensus UNHRC resolution and extend full support for close and continuous monitoring by the UN High Commissioner.

2. In accordance with your consensus statement to the Security Council, the US bring the Sri Lankan situation, including the UN report and implementation of the consensus UNHRC resolution, for attention and action by the UN Security Council.

Such Security Council engagement is needed also to end the unprecedented and indefensible anomaly that Sri Lanka has never been on the Council’s agenda, and signal to the Sri Lankan Government that the resolve of the US and international community in support of implementation of the UNHRC resolution

3. The US play an active role in developing a “devolution of political authority” as called for in the UNHRC resolution, and take fully into account the US promise to Tamils (and Muslims) in June 2006, referred to above.

I am copying this submission to Ambassador Michelle Sison.

With thanks and warm regards

Sincerely

Sarava Kanesathasan

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