April 2, 2020

Tamil Tigers’ Debt to America – Blog series 26

Daya Gamage worked at the American Embassy in Colombo, as the Sole Foreign Service National and as a Political Specialist with Dr Robert Boggs, who in recent times served as Professor of South Asian Studies at the Near East South Asia Centre for Strategic Studies at the US National Defence University, from 1989 to 1993. Dr Boggs was the Foreign Service Political Counsellor, while Daya Gamage was the Foreign Service National Political Specialist. Both of them were at the Colombo Diplomatic Mission’s key persons who closely monitored the Southern (JVP-88-89) insurrection and the North’s LTTE separatist-terrorist movement for the U.S. State Department. Daya Gamage retired in 1994 and has been living in Las Vegas since retirement. Sharing his knowledge, understanding and his intimate professional association with the US Department of State, he has come out in the form of a book ‘Tamil Tigers Debt to America’. He assures that facts found in his book cannot be found anywhere else!  Daya Gamage authorised the writer to ‘ to quote anything from his book’ so that the readers will get a clear picture of  America’s foreign policy, Sri Lanka’s national issues and the LTTE struggle in depth. His book is available at Amazon.

Two of the three US Deputy Assistant Secretaries of State and Defence who arrived on a  three-day on a “ fact-finding mission” in Sri Lanka from  January 29 to 3 February 2013, were not strangers to this South Asian nation.

Mr James Moore was the Deputy Ambassador in the  US embassy in Colombo during most of the period of the military offensive against the Tigers, observing and writing cables to Washington under Ambassador Robert Blake. Subsequently, he was posted as the Deputy Assistant Secretary for South and Central Asian affairs in Washington. He was knowledgeable about the principal players in the Mahinda Rajapaksa administration, their mindset and all.

Mr Vikram Singh was in Colombo during the war, reporting to the  US government, sponsored by ‘Voice of America.’ Both knew the terrain very well and continued to read diplomatic cables from the Colombo U.S Mission. They had solid background knowledge.

The third, Jane Zimmermann, was handling human-rights issues, working very closely with Blake-Moore office at the State Department. Therefore, these  midlevel  State Department officials who visited Sri Lanka were very much  knowledgeable  of the working, and well aware of the credentials of,  Mahinda Rajapaksa government.  Once in Colombo  on official tour, they got comprehensive briefing  from the American Embassy officials.

Why did they arrive in Colombo?  Having worked in that diplomatic mission for more than two decades, Daya Gamage was knowledgeable that their visit was to give a very serious message to Colombo before the Geneva Session in March 2013.  In fact, the  United States moved a resolution at  UNHRC in March on many Sri Lankan issues .(http://www.scribed.com/doc/131616227.UN-Resoluton-on-Sri-Lanka#scribed).

This was very clear when Mr Moore said in his opening  statement in  Colombo at the media briefing: 

James Moore’s Media briefing in Colombo.

In all our meetings we are discussing Sri Lanka’s efforts to implement its ‘ Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) recommendations and National Action Plan, and the importance of accelerated progress to achieve lasting reconciliation and durable peace. Key to this will be transparent governance, as well as following through with a process of accountability for events at the end of the war, including civilian casualties and creditable allegations of human rights violations. We have also discussed the importance of a vibrant civil society,  an independent judiciary, a free and independent judiciary, a free and independent media and full respect for human rights.”

It was the above statement that the United States delivered a clear message to Sri Lanka. It is doubtful if the United States will ever walk away from Sri Lankan issues as very clearly seen in supporting the September 2015 UNHCHR  proposal to have a  hybrid investigation on alleged violations of international humanitarian laws.

The three officials, two of whom had worked in Colombo, were at President Mahinda  Rajapaksa’s doorstep to: “ tell it all.” And they did. The American Policy toward Sri Lanka very clearly emerged during these  three days.

“The U.S. had decided to sponsor a procedural resolution (against Sri Lanka) at the March 2013 sessions of the UNHRC,” Deputy Assistant Secretary of State James Moore told reporters in Colombo.

The US and other 23 members of the UNHRC who voted for that resolution in 2012 believe that the government of Sri Lanka needs to fulfil its commitments made to its own people” he further said.

It is safe to say that the impeachment of the Chief of Justice also contributed to the decision to ensure that the  record ( against Sri Lanka) stays fresh in Geneva,” U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of defense Vikram Singh  told reporters referring to Mahinda Rajapaksa regime’s “ high-handed” removal of the Chief Justice.

It was Mahinda Rajapaksa regime blatantly disregarding the rule of law that angered Washington. It softened that attitude with the advent of the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe  regime in 2015.  They further called on  the strengthening of civil society: “ We can’t help but be worried about the future when we see the decline of the rule of law. We also hear from our contacts in civil society of harassment  and violence towards them, “ Ms. Zimmerman said.

The US Ambassador to the Human Rights Council in Geneva, Eileen C. Donahoe, at its fourteenth session on 1 November 2012 had made the following recommendations, which were used as the foundation of the three-member delegation talks in Colombo.

  1. Implement the constructive recommendations of the LLRC, including the removal of the military from civilian functions; creations of mechanisms to address cases of the missing and detained; issuance of death certificates; land reform; devolution of power; and disarming paramilitaries.
  • Transfer  NGO oversight to a civilian institution and protect freedom of expression and space for civil society to operate by inter alia investigating and prosecuting attacks on media personnel and human rights defenders.
  • End impunity for human rights violations and fulfill legal obligations regarding  accountability by initiating independent and transparent investigations, which meet international best practices, into  alleged violations of international law and hold those found culpable to account.
  • Especially in light of today’s  news of the efforts to impeach the Chief Justice, strengthen the  judicial independence by ending government interference with the judicial process, protecting members  of the judiciary from attacks, and restoring a fair, independent, and transparent mechanism  to oversee judicial  appointments.

The three-member delegation was in fact not on a fact -finding mission but  was there to notify Sri Lanka, diplomatically what was in store for them in Geneva, disclosed very clearly in 2013 and 2014 UNHRC sessions. The Sri Lanka report written  in the Office of the High Commission for Human Rights, which was to be tabled in March 2015 Session, at the request  of Sri Lanka’s new government of President Sirisena, was deferred to the September 2015 session. 

Ms. Donahoe said in November 2012 in the Geneva the following:

Serious human rights violations continue, including disappearances, torture, extra-judicial killings, and other threats to freedom of expression. Opposition figures have been harassed, detained, and prosecuted. There have been no credible investigations or prosecutions for attacks on journalists and media outlets. In the past 30 days, a judge who questioned executive interference in the judiciary was severely beaten in broad daylight by multiple assailants and derogatory posters appeared in Colombo threatening the Director of an NGO challenging a government bill that would weaken provincial councils. No arrests have been made.

This was reiterated by the three USG officials

Analysis of US Officials message

The three midlevel American officials gave many serious  messages to Sri Lanka when they were in Colombo in January 2013. Their messages to the government of Sri Lanka and the dialogue they had with officials were outlines at a media event on 28 January of which, the transcript was provided by the American embassy to the media, including the Asian Tribune.

The three officials reiterated many issues that the United States wanted Sri Lanka to address, issues  the USG highlighted  long before the domestic demise of the Tamil Tiger movement. The issues that concerned the Americans were defined or presented in such a manner that the GSL, in the opinion of American side, was unable to give cogent counterarguments that would have cleared the path for lasting solutions for a number of critical issues. Nevertheless, the media event in Colombo clearly projected that they were compelling the GSL  to take serious note of what they were saying using sgrategic and diplomatic language.

This formed the basis of subsequent policy dealings with the Mahinda Rajapaksa administration until it was  defeated at the  nationwide polls on January 8, 2015.

Days Gamage has selected six issues that concerned the United States clearly  reflected in this Colombo media event, the issues that were frequently raised by Washington since the defeat of the Tigers’ issues that were referred  well in to the 2015 sessions in UNHRC.

Courtesy: Daya Gamage – “Tamil Tigers’ Debt to  America”

Pic credit: Defense Photo, Google photos and Twitter

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