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Hague’s WikiLeaks admission spells legal danger to Sri Lanka war-criminals

[TamilNet, Saturday, 5 February 2011 15:31 No Comment]

The Sierra Leone war crimes tribunal in The Hague has granted Charles G. Taylor, 62, the former Liberian president, who has been on trial charged with 11 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity, the right to use two leaked American diplomatic cables as evidence to challenge the court’s impartiality. While the leaked information in the Taylor case was used by Taylor’s lawyer to raise doubts on the courts independence and suggested the prosecution was political, Sri Lanka’s leaked cables from the US Embassy contain incriminating information on the complicity of Rajapakse family, Ex-SLA Commander Sarath Fonseka, and Tamil paramilitaries in war-crimes and crimes against humanity on Tamil civilians, legal sources in Washington said.

The Special Court for Sierra Leone (SCSL) was set up jointly by the Government of Sierra Leone and the United Nations. It is mandated to try those who bear the greatest responsibility for serious violations of international humanitarian law and Sierra Leonean law committed in the territory of Sierra Leone since 30 November 1996.

While the statute governing the SCSL provides concurrent jurisdiction to the SCSL and National Courts of Sierra Leone, the SCSL is given primacy and the SCSL can request the Sierra Leone Court to defer to SCSL’ s competence in teh Rules of procedure and Evidence."

The first cable – dated March 10th – quotes the US ambassador to Liberia, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, as saying that “all legal options should be studied to ensure that Taylor cannot return to destabilise Liberia”.

The second, dated April 15th, allegedly revealed that sensitive information about the trial was leaked to the US embassy in The Hague by “unnamed contacts” in the court and the office of the prosecutor.

Taylor insists his war crimes trial is based on “lies”. He claimed in a written application that the US cables “raise grave doubts about the independence and impartiality” of his trial.

The Tribunal judges, however, denied Taylor’s request to investigate and identify the sources within the court’s chamber, prosecution and registry who provided the US government with the information in the cables, saying “the evidence does not demonstrate whether these ‘contacts’ have any relationship with the US government capable of interfering with the independence or impartiality of the Court or any organ of the Court.”

Spokesperson for Tamils Against Genocide (TAG), a US-based activist group said, "this precedent setting decision by the United Nation’s sponsored war-crimes tribunal will likely guide similar admissibility determinations evidence in ICC and ICJ. When geopolitical conditions converge and UN members haul Sri Lanka to the ICC, the alleged war-criminals then have to confront Ambassadors Butenis and Robert O’Blake’s statements in a legal setting."

PDF: Colombo US Embassy cable

A January 2010 cable from US Embassy in Sri Lanka, made public by Wikileaks acknowledges that U.S. is cognizant of the fact that "responsibility for many alleged crimes rests with the country’s senior civilian and military leadership, including President Rajapaksa and his brothers and opposition candidate General Fonseka." Ambassador Butenis further reasons the lack of progress in internal investigations: "There are no examples we know of a regime undertaking wholesale investigations of its own troops or senior officials for war crimes while that regime or government remained in power."

PDF: WikiLeaks: Robert Blake, 18 May 2007

Another WikiLeaks cable, dated 18th May 2007 from US embassy in Colombo, accuses Defense Secretary Gotabaya Rajapakse of giving orders to Sri Lanka Army (SLA) commanders in Jaffna not to interfere with Tamil paramilitaries who are "doing "work" that the military cannot do because of international scrutiny. The work referred to in the cable includes extra-judicial killings, extortion, abduction and prostitution by the Tamil paramilitary groups EPDP and Karuna Group. Both groups are led by Ministers in the present ruling Government in Sri Lanka.

"When Tamils continue with determination seeking justice and truth amid the cacophony of empty voices from the United Nations, and members of the international community, Wikileaks has unexpectedly established unprecedented legal difficulty for the alleged war-criminals in Sri Lanka. WikiLeaks is an indespensible institution to the oppressed minorities," TAG spokesperson added.

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