by Journalists for Democracy in Sri Lanka & International Truth & Justice Project, February 7, 2018
Johannesburg: The UK, the UN and the international community have an
obligation to step up their screening and vetting of Sri Lankan public
and security officals for alleged involvement in atrocities during and
after the civil war. This should include all military engagement and
“We believe a number of military officers who were active in the final
phase of the Sri Lankan war are still posted as diplomats abroad,”
said the ITJP executive director, Yasmin Sooka, “It’s time the vetting
requirement of UN HRC Resolution 30/1 is enforced by the international
community, even if Sri Lanka itself flouts it, despite being a cosponsor
of the resolution. Surely this is the very least we owe
victims even if criminal accountability is a distant prospect”.
On 4 February, Brigadier Fernando Priyanka, the defence attache in the
Sri Lankan High Commission in London, was filmed thrice making
slitting throat gestures at Tamil protestors.
Given his war record in
command of frontline combat troops around Mullaitivu for the 59
Division, Brigadier Fernando’s threats of violence are particularly
disturburing. More so factoring in the ongoing surveillance of Tamil
events abroad and the continued use by the security forces of
photographs of these events during interrogations that involve very
brutal torture and sexual violence.
Initially the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Sri Lanka announced the
suspension of the defence attache for what it called “offensive
behaviour” pending an investigation.
Today the media says the Sri
Lankan President reversed that decision, reinstating the Brigadier in
his diplomatic position in London.
“What we see in Sri Lanka is a perpetual state of denial,” said
Bashana Abeywardena of Journalists for Democracy in Sri Lanka (JDS),
“Impunity is a conscious policy of the state and this latest decision
is just another manifestaton of the disregard for victims of the
conflict who are still waiting for criminal accountability”.
Sri Lanka’s investigation into Brigadier Fernando’s actions in London
is to involve the Army but media reports say the Army Commander,
Mahesh Senanayake, has been praising Brigadier Fernando for his war
record. This yet again raises the question of the army’s lack of
independence and impartiality as a body to investigate its own
personnel. To date the Sri Lankan Army has been unable to show it can
investigate any human rights violation credibly, including serious
allegations of sexual exploitation by its UN peacekeepers and videos
showing extrajudicial executions by soldiers of naked bound Tamil
prisoners obtained by JDS.
“The UK should never have accepted the credentials of a man like
Brigadier Fernando,” said Ms. Sooka. “A brief examination of his past
would have revealed he had frontline combat experience in the final
war and therefore should have been vetted, based on criteria used by
OHCHR for Sri Lankan peacekeepers. The ITJP and Journalists for
Demcoracy in Sri Lanka produced a brief on Brigadier Fernando’s war
record – research that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office should have
done before accepting his credentials”.
The Sri Lankan army commander says Brigadier Fernando was a commander
of a unit of the 59 Division, who “saved” Tamil civilians during the
recapture of Mullaitivu. The notion that civilians were ‘saved’ is a
travesty given the 2015 UN investigation detailed repeated attacks on
the Mullaitivu Hospital in August, October, December 2008 and January
2009. The UN said multi barrelled rocket launchers were fired at the
hospital from Sri Lankan army positions south of the town – from where
the 59 Division was advancing.
This is not the first time a defence attache has been posted in the UK
who was involved in the final war in Sri Lanka. Major Genreal
Prasanna Silva, who is named in the UN investigation for his role as
the commander of the 55 Division, was also accredited as Sri Lankan
defence attache post war.
In August 2017, using the provisions of universal jurisdiction, the
ITJP filed four law suits in Brazil, Peru, Chile and Colombia against
Sri Lanka’s Ambassador in Latin America, General Jagath Jayasuriya,
accusing him of command responsibility for war crimes.
“The Government of Sri Lanka has failed to take action against General
Jayasuriya despite his superior officer, Field Marshall Fonseka, who
is now a cabinet minister, corroborating some of the allegations we
levelled against him and saying he’d be willing to testify in a
court”, said Ms. Sooka. “Sri Lanka is a text book case of impunity and
this latest incident in London is just another symptom of that