‘Will UK’s new PM deliver justice for Tamils?’
Tamil Guardian asks:
The UK policy, regarding mainly Sri Lankan Tamils held in Diego Garcia, is likely to remain unchanged. Some of those who reached Diego Garcia, home for the strategic US military base, over a year ago, have already been sent back “voluntarily” to Sri Lanka. They returned in the wake of the UK warning that they would be settled in a third country, like Rwanda in Africa, unless they voluntarily agreed to go back. Elevation of Rishi Sunak, to the premiership, may not influence the controversial British policy as regards Diego Garcia (Chagos Islands) either. The UK, a member of the Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council, has blatantly ignored a ruling of the International Court of Justice at the Hague, on February 25, 2019, to hand over Chagos Islands to its rightful owner, Mauritius
By Shamindra Ferdinando
New UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s father, Yashvir Sunak, and mother, Usha Sunak, are Africans of Indian origin who migrated to the UK in the 60s. Rishi was born in Southampton, Hampshire, on May 12, 1980.
Sunak succeeded Liz Truss after having lost his first bid to secure the leadership, in September this year.
The appointment of Sunak, a Hindu of Panjabi lineage, as the UK’s Premier, at a time of a severe economic crisis, has attracted international media attention, particularly that of India. However, the fact that Rishi’s parents were east Africans, Kenya (Yashvir) and Tanzania (Usha) seemed to have been largely ignored, with a section of the Indian media claiming him as their own.
Sunak’s appointment, that was made amidst Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights, prompted India’s largest Hindi-language newspaper, Dainik Bhaskar to go jingoistic. “Another Diwali gift to the country. The Indian origin Rishi to rule the whites.”
“Indian son rises over the empire. History comes full circle in Britain,” an NDTV telecast declared. “From Age of Empire to Rishi Raj as Sunak moves into No 10,” boasted The Times of India.
The BBC, in a report headlined ‘Rishi Sunak: A quick guide to the UK’s new Prime Minister,’ pointed out that the Conservative Party MP, for just seven years, had secured a US green card that granted him the right to live there while he served as the UK’s Finance Minister aka Chancellor, in February, 2020. In spite of entering government, Sunak remained a green card holder, though he was obliged to make the U.S. their permanent home.
Rishi Sunak had to defend his wife, Akshata Murthy, daughter of Indian billionaire, Narayana Murthy ,in the wake of shocking disclosure that she didn’t pay UK taxes on massive earnings overseas, though not illegal. Later, the lady agreed to pay British taxes. The issue at hand should be examined against the backdrop of the UK media assertions that the couple’s wealth amounted to as much as 730 mn Sterling Pounds. Against the backdrop of Sunak’s recent vow (a couple of months before his elevation to the top position), to pursue Sri Lanka on accountability issues, should be of grave concern to this country, though it could be mere election rhetoric. It would be pertinent to examine Sri Lanka’s triumph over the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), in May 2009, the origins of terrorism here and post-war accountability issues.
Pro-Eelamists seem quite serious about holding the UK Premier to his promise. The Tamil Guardian, in a report titled ‘Rishi Sunak – Will Britain’s new Prime Minister deliver justice for Tamils?’ dated October 24, 2022, quoted the Conservative politician as having assured an online audience of Tamil Conservatives in August that he backs their struggle.
This assurance was given in the run-up to the 51st session of the Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) where the UK, in its capacity as the leader of the Sri Lanka Core Group, voted for the resolution against Sri Lanka.
Sunak declared in August: “My heart goes out to all of you and all of those in Sri Lanka.” The politician went on to emphasize his vision for what he called a democratic country free from corruption and inappropriate military influence. To achieve this and overcome the crippling economic disaster, Sunak asserted the need for conditional assistance through the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
The then Finance Minister commented on the ‘hurt and pain caused by the civil war and the events of 2009,’ while throwing his weight behind Tamils in their struggle for “justice and accountability for mass atrocities” claimed to have been committed during the final stages of the armed conflict. Sunak reiterated his support for Western powers taking a tougher stance on Sri Lanka.
“I am proud of the UK’s role, and the UK will continue to play a central role in bringing about justice and accountability,” The Tamil Guardian quoted Sunak as having said.
Sunak stressed his support for the latest UN resolution on Sri Lanka, which mandated the collection of evidence that may be used in a future war crimes tribunal.
Asked how Britain would ensure that Sri Lanka officials would not spend their “ill-gotten gains in the UK”, Sunak responded by stating that any future government, under him, would look at “how we’ve done this to Russian officials.” The Minister was referring to harsh sanctions ever against Russia in the wake of the war in Ukraine. “I helped put this together” Sunak boasted. “We’ve got a much better playbook and we know more about how to do it… It is a new tool in our toolkit.”
Commenting on the continuing demand to accept the Tamil genocide, Sunak stated that he would look into the matter and that different countries would have different standards but that for the UK this would be a legal matter, following a court proceeding.
Of course, no one among the audience raised India’s accountability in spite of thousands of deaths and disappearances in Sri Lanka’s Northern and Eastern regions, during the deployment of the Indian Army (July 1987-March 1990). India lost nearly 1,300 officers and men and double that figure wounded. The LTTE retaliated by assassinating wartime Indian Premier Rajiv Gandhi, at Sriperumbudur, in May 1991. The new UK Premier cannot be unaware that at the time the LTTE assassinated Gandhi, the group maintained its International Secretariat in London. The UK turned a blind eye to the LTTE issuing statements from London about its terror attacks. Those statements primarily dealt with attacks in Sri Lanka.
Anton Balasingham, former employee at the British High Commission, Colombo, was among those who received British citizenship in spite of being members of the dreaded terrorist organization. At that time (Balasingham died in December 2006, in the UK,) he served as the LTTE’s theoretician. The late Balasingham’s wife, Adele, who adorned female LTTE cadres’ necks with cyanide capsules, still lives in the UK. Perhaps, the suicide bomber, who targeted Rajiv Gandhi at an election rally, received her cyanide capsule, too, from Adele. Tamil conservatives wouldn’t dare discuss that wretched past.
A hostile agenda
Sri Lanka brought the war to a successful conclusion, seven years before Sunak entered Parliament, in 2015, the year the then yahapalana government co-sponsored the Geneva resolution against one’s own country, in Geneva.
Three years later, the UK succeeded the US as leader of Sri Lanka Core Group after the latter quit the Geneva Council alleging it was a cesspool of political bias for exposing crimes committed by Israel in occupied/illegally annexed Palestinian lands. (Don’t forget how Israeel ‘killed’ the Goldstone report on 2008 war crimes report).
The new Conservative party leader owed an explanation how the UK compared the ongoing war in Ukraine and eradication of Tamil terrorism in Sri Lanka. Obviously, the two situations cannot be compared, under any circumstances though Sunak felt comfortable in playing politics, with the issue at hand, for his benefit.
With Sunak moving to No 10, the ongoing war crimes allegations campaign against Sri Lanka is likely to be intensified. Over the past several years, the issue has been raised in the House of Commons, on many occasions, with some MPs targeting General Shavendra Silva, Chief of Defence Staff (CDS).
Labour MP Virendra Sharma, of Indian origin, is one of those lawmakers seeking political benefit at Sri Lanka’s expense. Sharma has asked the Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs, the status of discussions with the US Administration, regarding the designation of Gen. Shavendra Silva, under the Global Human Rights (GHR) Sanctions regime. The US designated the CDS, in February, 2020, as a persona non grata.
Both President Ranil Wickremesinghe and Prime Minister Dinesh Gunawardena congratulated the new British leader. They expressed confidence bilateral ties could be further strengthened. However, the incumbent leadership should take tangible measures to set the record straight. Fourteen years after Sri Lanka eradicated Tamil terrorism that at one point threatened to destabilize the region (Sunak was nine when Indian-trained Sri Lankan Tamil terrorists launched a sea borne raid on the Maldives. They nearly succeeded in assassinating the then Maldivian President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom. India intervened to save Gayoom. A vessel that had been commandeered by Sri Lankan terrorists, fleeing the aborted coup attempt in the Maldives, was sunk in international waters, by the Indian Navy. Those who demand accountability on the part of Sri Lanka are never bothered about the deaths caused by such confrontations.
As a person of Indian origin, though his parents were from East Africa, Sunak should be able to comprehend the daunting challenge countries face in defeating terrorism that received the backing of powerful international players, when it is in the interest of their global agenda. The LTTE couldn’t have waged nearly a 30-year war unless it had the wherewithal to raise funds in Europe, the US, Canada, Australia and many other countries, over the years. The LTTE had unlimited funds to procure weapons, ranging from Chinese artillery to shoulder fired anti-aircraft missiles. In spite of the group being proscribed in the US, the UK and India, its operatives continuously collected money required to procure weapons and transferred them to Sri Lanka. Thanks to specific intelligence, provided by the US, in the latter stages, intrepid SLN units hunted down the LTTE’s floating arsenals, on the high seas. The war couldn’t have been brought to a successful conclusion, in May, 2009, if Vice Admiral Wasantha Karannagoda’s Navy failed in its task.
The UK never interfered with the LTTE operations on its soil. In fact, successive governments there ensured law enforcement authorities refrained from taking action as they didn’t dare to upset voters of Sri Lankan Tamil origin. The UK granted special status to the LTTE, during the war. The LTTE continued to enjoy privileged status, even after the assassination of highly popular Sri Lankan Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar, during the Ceasefire Agreement worked out by the Norwegians. Anton Balasingham, who definitely knew of the planned assassinations of Rajiv Gandhi, in May 1991, moderate lawmaker Dr. Neelan Thiruchelvam, in July 1999, and Kadirgamar, in August 2005, was allowed to continue his ‘work’ in the UK without hindrance. As the LTTE’s top Europe-based emissary, Balasingham, a British passport holder, received foreign delegates and other LTTE operatives.
Close on the heels of Kadirgamar’s assassination, Balasingham received the then Norwegian Foreign Minister Jan Petersen and Deputy Foreign Minister Vidar Helgessen, in London on August 17, 2005.
How UK tried to suppress wartime cables
The UK strenuously tried to thwart the disclosure of diplomatic cables, that originated from the British High Commission in Colombo. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) desperately tried to block the revelations as the UK realized the whole operation, meant to haul the Sri Lankan military before foreign judges, could go awry.
Lord Naseby, in terms of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), made his request to the FCO, on November 6, 2014, nearly a year before the yahapalana government betrayed the military, at the UNHRC, by co-sponsoring an accountability resolution, seven years after the successful conclusion of the war.
The FCO, on December 3, 2014, informed Lord Naseby that it had the required information though it needed time to consider his request. Clearly, Naseby’s request rattled the FCO. On January 5, 2015, the FCO told Lord Naseby that his request couldn’t be granted. Lord Naseby, on January 14, 2015, requested for an internal review of the FCO’s decision.
The FCO informed Lord Naseby, on February 19, 2015, that the decision couldn’t be changed. An irate Lord Naseby complained to the FCO, on March 16, 2015. The FCO, on May 7, 2015, reiterated its original decision to deprive Lord Naseby of the requested information.
Interestingly, the FCO, on December 21, 2015, offered to provide a section of the previously withheld documents, claiming that the move was made possible due to the releasing of Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) report on the investigation, on Sri Lanka, on September 15, 2015.
However, the FCO withheld a substantial section of the requested documents, on the basis of Sections 27 (1) (a), 31 and 41 of FOIA.
Having received a part of the requested documents, Lord Naseby had raised concerns with the Information Commissioner’s Office that the FCO could be still holding documents that could be released. Subsequently, the FCO released three more censored documents, on February 23, 2016. The three documents were dated April 7, 25 and 26, 2009.
The FCO wouldn’t have released any documents if not for Lord Naseby seeking the intervention of the Information Commissioner’s Office. Lord Naseby got in touch with the Information Commissioner’s Office, on June 10, 2015, five months after the presidential election here that brought an end to the unbroken Mahinda Rajapaksa rule, from 2005 to 2015. Following Rajapaksa’s defeat, President Maithripala Sirisena, as agreed in the run up to the presidential poll, invited UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe to form a new government. Violating all parliamentary norms, Wickremesinghe was sworn in as the Prime Minister, in spite of having the backing of less than 50 members in the 225-member Parliament. The SLFP-led UPFA, in spite of having a staggering two-thirds majority in the House, with the SLFP group alone comprising 126 members, gave into the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe move. The Geneva betrayal should be examined against that political background.
The new UK Premier must be reminded that Northern Tamils, at the 2010 presidential election, voted overwhelmingly for the then General Sarath Fonseka though he lost the election by over 1.8 mn votes, though they had previously accused him and his Army of committing war crimes. The war-winning Army Chief fielded by a coalition of political parties, including the dominant Tamil party, the Tamil National Alliance (TNA), secured all eight predominately Tamil speaking electoral districts in the Northern and Eastern provinces less than a year after the LTTE’s defeat. The TNA’s backing for Fonseka should be examined taking into consideration its 2001 declaration that the LTTE was the sole representative of the Tamil speaking people and the role played by the US in forming that grouping.