Lord Naseby vs the Sri Lanka Campaign War is over, but body count debate continues

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By 2017-12-17

By Sulochana Ramiah Mohan

It's quite intriguing why Lord Naseby PC and the President of the All Party British Sri Lanka Parliamentary Group, which was initiated by him in 1965, came back like a knight in shining armour to challenge the United Nations' Panel of Experts' death toll of 40,000 against his 7,000 casualty claim during the last phase of the war.

His debate that around 7,000 were killed in the last days of the war was not a new discovery. He has been supportive of the faction that argues that the Government of Sri Lanka never committed war crimes during the Rajapaksa regime. But his speech at the UK Parliament last October caught wide attention, thanks to the media and a vulnerable government that entertained his claim – which took many by surprise – by accepting to look into his 7,000 deaths claim although the UK co-sponsored the 2015 UN resolution.

Sri Lanka Campaign – a global non-partisan movement – noted the incumbent Sri Lankan Government is using Naseby's statement to lobby to reverse its international commitments on accountability, where the current Foreign Minister suggested that the government would see the latest information as an opportunity to counter international pressure.

What is also interesting is that Naseby's claims should be taken into consideration in a backdrop of series of enforced disappearances, excavation of mass grave yards, families searching for their missing loved ones, paramilitary groups in operation, white van abductions, extrajudicial killings and overall alleged human rights violations that rocked the country for several decades.

It's also quite interesting to see him meddling with internal affairs of a country that has always been opposed to international interferences by criticizing every country that spoke on the injustices committed against its people.

Moreover, there has been a series of accusations from the very top Army personalities such as Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka who revealed that Gen Jagath Jayasuriya committed crimes while he was posted in the North during the last months of the war.

When this writer interviewed Gen Jayasuriya this year, and asked whether he knew of any mass killings in the North, all he had to say was that while being posted in the Mullaitivu camp how he could have known what was going on at the Nandikadal lagoon.

The secret detention camp JOSOPH was located in the camp where he was serving, but he said he would not have known anything because another officer was in charge of that building.

Utter chaos

Lord Naseby's 7,000 deaths claim should also be considered in the backdrop where the writer was told by former Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa that the last days of the war was utter chaos with so much going on and in a situation like that who could go about monitoring who was doing what.

Naseby's statement is also against the UN's statement which noted that hundreds of enforced disappearances committed since 2006 have already placed Sri Lanka among the countries with the highest number of new cases in the world.

It should also be reminded that former Secretary General Ban Ki-moon admitted that the UN failed during the last days of the war.

Lord Naseby tells Ceylon Today in an email response that all his evidence related to the final number of deaths, which was gathered over a period of nearly three years, has been made available to the UK Government, the Government of Sri Lanka, and that last week he delivered it to the Secretary-General of the United Nations. He also says the High Commissioner of the UNHCR as well as the nine special rapporteurs on the UNHCR who have visited Sri Lanka recently have received a copy of his claims and that he awaits their response.

On the missing persons issue Naseby says he understands that the Government of Sri Lanka is taking the matter very seriously, having set up a new department of 'Missing Persons' and that a great deal of research has already been done by the ICRC and the Paranagama Report. "I do feel for all the families who come from all over Sri Lanka not just the North and East. I shall be monitoring progress," he says.

Sri Lanka Campaign fought back against Naseby theory of low casualty stating that his information was clearly the initial numbers that were in record and that was not the ultimate result and it's obvious he is making a major error.

They also noted that this information is from 39 pages of heavily redacted war-time diplomatic despatches between the former British Defence Attache in Sri Lanka, Lieutenant Colonel Anton Gash, and the UK Foreign Office.

The Defence Attache is quoted by Naseby as stating, on 26 April 2009, the total number of civilians killed between 1 February and 26 April stood at 6,432. Based on this, Naseby argues that the "UK must now get the UN and the [UN Human Rights Council] in Geneva to accept a civilian casualty level of 7,000 to 8,000, not 40,000."

Presenting old data

Sri Lanka Campaign reiterated that the Defence Attache's figure is presented by Naseby as new and distinct from other estimates of civilian casualties to date. However, it is not. In fact, as evidenced by this Guardian report from 2009, it is merely a snapshot of figures compiled over a much broader time-frame by the UN Country Team in Sri Lanka, which placed the total number of civilians killed between August 2008 and 13 May 2009 at 7,721. This estimate has been in the public domain at least since 2011, when it was cited by a Panel of Experts appointed by the UN Secretary-General to look into the final stages of war. Their report found 7,721 'likely to be too low' an estimate of civilian casualties – highlighting the 'quite conservative' methodology deployed by the UN Country Team in arriving at the figure, and pointing out that the counting of the dead by UN Country Team staff had stopped several days before the war actually came to an end, "when the number of civilian casualties grew rapidly".

These later UN estimates, which together indicate that the range of civilian deaths probably lie somewhere in the range of 40,000-70,000, remain the most credible to date. The suggestion by Naseby that – having highlighted a mere portion of the evidence – is simply incoherent, Sri Lanka Campaign, also based in the UK, noted. Naseby's motive to not accept facts pertaining to final casualty figures and other serious human sufferings as accepted by the UN, of which both the UK and Sri Lanka are member countries, is still unknown. But, the fact remains that he has been highly glorified in Sri Lanka for the only reason that he is against all accusations against Sri Lanka, which is preventing the victims from calling for an end to their sufferings.

It's also interesting that the British High Commission dismissed Naseby's claims by stating that his call doesn't reflect UK's stance.

The BHC Colombo stance on the matter is obvious that the despatches by Col. Anton Gash, the former defence attache of the British High Commission that the death toll was an initial estimation.

What Naseby said about Darusman's POE report was that "there is still no reliable figure for civilian deaths," but then guessed at 40,000. This figure is bandied about by virtually every human rights organization and the thousands of Tamil diaspora throughout the world, many of whom were LTTE Tamil Tiger supporters and still are, inflamed by Tamil Net and those ghastly Channel 4 Killing Fields films, which so influenced the previous Prime Minister.

Meanwhile, a senior official of a prominent ministry, who did not want to disclose his name, told Ceylon Today that the so-called Sri Lanka Global Forum is on an agenda to bring back the Rajapaksas and they have been heavily backed by some current and former mission heads, who have close associates and relatives as MPs in the Joint Opposition.

He also noted that Naseby's statement is being used by them to try to create a conflict within the country and also make the government and the President look foolish in the eyes of the international community. "They miss the point that the panel of experts report doesn't matter. It is not a UN report and in any case, the number that died in the last phase of the conflict is not the reason for any of the resolutions to be adopted.

Some of the prominent figures in the international NGO sector noted that the old statistics being rehashed with total dishonesty because Gash (who anyway was sitting in Colombo so what did he know) said 7,000 (based on very conservative UN estimates in April 2009 ) does not preclude 40,000 (or more) being a reasonable estimate reached after the war – the UN panel is not saying they counted 40,000 bodies – they are estimating – based on all the reports they got – including the 7,000 count which is anyway a partial count.

"Naseby deliberately and simplistically uses the 7,000 count to contradict the 40,000 estimate and have no credibility abroad and OISL cannot be undone," he noted further.

Excludes worst killings

Naseby quotes a figure of 6,432 killed from Anton Gash. That is the precise figure used by the UN for casualties from 20 Jan to 20 April 2009 only – that is three months and not including the worst killing in May 2009. Gash would have heard these UN briefings.

I have seen the UN spreadsheets they are based on. These are only triangulated ('verified') deaths where three independent sources confirm them. It's an amazingly cautious figure. And yet this UN data says 20% of dead (of 6432) were kids. In addition 13,946 were recorded injured in this period by UN and perhaps some will have died of their injuries.

In 2012 the UN noted that they failed to call proper attention to the plight of hundreds of thousands of Sri Lankan civilians during the bloody final stage of the Government's war against the LTTE.

The report said the UN system failed to meet its responsibilities – highlighting, in particular, the roles played by the Secretariat, the agencies and programs of the UN Country Team, and the members of the Security Council and Human Rights Council.

Ban's panel, was led by Charles Petrie, a former UN official. Later he said their findings and recommendations provide an urgent and compelling platform for action.

The panel also criticized UN member states for not calling a single formal meeting of the Security Council, the Human Rights Council or the 193-nation General Assembly during the final months of the Sri Lanka conflict.

Petrie's report cites 50,000 casualties from UN uncorroborated (i.e. not triangulated) data and paragraph 210 explains it thoroughly.

The need of the hour is to investigate all these number claims and the assistance by Col Anton Gash who is around to testify on his report how and when he got these statistics. The matter cannot be delayed because Sri Lanka has been using human sufferings as a tool to do power games and politics.

Naseby's 7,000 or Darusman's 40,000 death toll does not define how fair the war was, but how did you do it. If Darusman's numbers are based on no reliable evidence, then Naseby should tell what happened to the rest of the 32,000 people in the calculation and prove his death toll number 7,000 with tangible evidences.

Unanswered:

Some of the pertinent questions emailed to Naseby came unanswered. Some of them were: What's new about the 6,432 figure – Is it what UN's COG collected and briefed diplomats on in Spring of 2009? Of course Gash would report on it. So what about it?

The Petrie report annex cites 17,810 and 36,905 killed and injured – but these numbers were not verified in the way the smaller figure was. Isn't it possible the figure is actually much bigger than the 7,700 UN collected because this number doesn't include deaths in May 2009 when the war was at its most intense and people were starving etc. 'also this figure doesn't include all those people who disappeared after surrendering or in custody? What have you to say?

It was 18,479 verified injuries by UN by April 2009 – isn't it possible many of these also died of their wounds given conditions in war zone in May 2009, how do your casualty numbers relate to the numbers collected by the UN in 2009?

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