US presence at candle light vigil in Colombo against diplomatic norms – JO

Int’l Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearances

The Joint Opposition (JO) has expressed concern over US Acting Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs and Acting Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan Alice Wells joining a candle light vigil at Vihaharamahadevi Park on Wednesday night (Aug.30) to mark the UN Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearances.

JO spokesman and Pivithuru Hela Urumaya (PHU) leader Udaya Gammanpila, MP, yesterday told The Island that Wells and US Ambassador in Colombo Atul Keshap joined the four-party Tamil National Alliance (TNA) at the Wednesday night event. Would US State Department allow Wells to join such an event in Pakistan or Afghanistan coming within her purview under any circumstances? MP Gammanpila asked.

Wells is here to participate in the second Indian Ocean Conference that began on Aug 31 at the Temple Trees.

Minister of National Co-existence, Dialogue and Official Languages Mano Ganesan, too, joined the event. How could a foreign envoy participate in an obvious protest against the host country along with a visiting State Department official? he asked. “Would US allow foreign envoys of countries ruined by Western military intervention to stage protests in Washington?”

Gammanpila alleged that an attempt was being made to humiliate Sri Lanka in the eyes of the world. Those who had blamed the previous government for thousands of disappearances were conveniently silent on Sri Lankans, including former members of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) living overseas, MP Gammanpila said. No less a person than Yasmin Zooka, member of Darusman panel had revealed in a report to Geneva that she was able to establish contact with LTTE cadres, including those who served its intelligence wing now living abroad, Gammanpila said.

The TNA should request EU member states, including the UK, US, Canada and Australia to help establish the identities of those who had fled the country over the years through illegal means, the MP said.

TNA chief R. Sampanthan, in a statement issued to coincide with the International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearances alleged that there were thousands of enforced / involuntary disappearances in Sri Lanka.

MP Sampanthan said that families of those who had disappeared over the years were engaged in peaceful protests, particularly in the North and East Provinces. “All that they demand is to ascertain the truth as to what happened to their loved ones. The armed conflict came to an end 8 years ago, yet the issues of the missing persons have not been addressed satisfactorily so far,” MP Sampanthan said.

The TNA leader said: “We urge the Government to give its priority to this matter of concern. People must know as to what happened to those whom they have handed over to the Forces, those who were abducted, those who went missing, and it is their right. This fundamental right cannot be overlooked. Also, we urge the Government to take action to bring the perpetrators before the law and ensure justice for the victims and to take all necessary steps to prevent enforced disappearances taking place in the future in this country.

We also urge the International Community to ensure that the rights of the victims of the enforced / involuntary disappeared are protected in this Country and to ensure that the Government is committed to its promises in this regard to the International Community.”

Responding to the TNA’s statement, Gammanpila pointed out those disappearances had been an issue since early 80s in the wake of Indian intervention here. Attorney-at-law Gammanpila said that those sent on special missions abroad by the LTTE, too, had disappeared and in some instances killed though they were still categorized as disappeared. The MP said those who had been killed by Indian security forces and police in the wake of May 1991 Gandhi assassination were buried there. Some of those assigned for the operation could have escaped and sought refuge in some other country, the MP said, alleging that the TNA was seeking political mileage.

The Indian Army, too, had been accused of disappearances during its 1987-1990 deployment here and complaints were made to the Amnesty International (AI) years ago, the MP said.

Gammanpila alleged that thousands of people had disappeared in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and Libya in the wake of US military interventions in those countries, whereas the US was shedding crocodile tears in Colombo. “The entire world knows what extraordinary rendition was all about,” MP Gammanpila said referring to clandestine worldwide operation conducted by the Central Intelligence Agency close on the heels of 9/11 Al Qaeda attacks in the US.

Acknowledging that the JO wouldn’t condone disappearances that had taken place in Sri Lanka during the conflict, politically motivated effort to focus on the Rajapaksa administration should be resisted, Gammanpila said. The JO spokesman said the US was working overtime to justify the Oct 2015 Geneva Resolution meant to establish an Office of Missing Persons (OMP) in addition to several other specific measures such as hybrid war crimes court.

The MP said US Ambassador Keshap should seek an explanation from the TNA as regards its support for war winning army commander Gen. Sarath Fonseka at January 2010 presidential poll after having accused the military of widespread human rights violations.

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