During the killing of tens of thousands of civilians by the Sri Lankan government in 2009, the UN withheld its own count of casualties, withdrew its international staff and even played a role in luring to surrender people who were then summarily executed.
The UN Secretariat never called for a ceasefire, and the UN Security Council never had a formal meeting on the mass killings. Now one of the military leaders of the campaign, Brigadier General Shavendra Silva, has been made a part of Secretary General Ban Ki-moon’s Senior Advisory Group on Peacekeeping Operations, and Ban has had nothing to say beyond "it’s up to member states."
Silva appears in UK Channel 4’s "Sri Lanka’s Killing Fields: War Crimes Unpunished," which premiered last night on television in the UK, and re-appeared overnight on YouTube. For now, click here to view, especially from Minute 23.
The documentary focused on four particular war crimes, including an assault on Putumattalan which killed at least 1,500 civilians.
The direct assault was carried out by the 58th Division under the command of Shavendra Silva, who appears on screen describing it as "very successful."
While the Sri Lankan Mission to the UN has in a letter sent to Ban’s spokesman’s office and select UN scribes attacked Inner City Press for writing about Silva, claiming as subsequently did some in the UN Asia Group that Silva’s 58th Division is not directly indicted in the UN Panel of Experts report, this new footage including Silva’s bragging should put an end to that.
With so much talk at the UN about accountability, how can the general who led and bragged about the killing of 1,500 civilians continue as an adviser to the UN on peacekeeping? We’ll see.
The documentary also has former UK foreign minister David Miliband and former UN humanitarian chief John Holmes taking positions much more protective of civilians than what either did when they had power. Holmes, for example, resisted calling for a ceasefire.
On the May 2009 trip to Sri Lanka with Ban Ki-moon and his outgoing political chief Lynn Pascoe, which Inner City Press went on and covered, Holmes on the record on the plane bemoaned all the e-mail pleas he was receiving from Tamils, saying "I just delete them."
After from Colombo Inner City Press reported the quote, Holmes demanded that it be removed, using other journalists from UK-based media organizations to pressure Inner City Press. Maybe he misspoke. Now in a cushy academic job, Holmes says Sri Lanka got away with it. Yes: with the UN’s and OCHA’s help.
Holmes refusal in 2009 to call for a ceasefire stands in contrast to his successor Baroness Valerie Amos’ stance on Syria. But is this a personal or political difference?
Inner City Press asked the UK Mission to the UN "does the UK have a position on if it is appropriate that Sri Lankan Brigadier General Shavendra Silva serve on the UN Senior Advisory Group on Peacekeeping Operations, given the way he and his 58th Division are depicted in the S-G’s Panel of Experts’ Report on Sri Lanka, and in UK Channel 4 films, past and to be broadcast in the UK tomorrow night?"
Midday on March 14, UK Mission spokesman Daniel Shepherd replied that the UK "highly values the Senior Advisory Group, and our own representative on it will work to help the Group come up with the best possible recommendations on the issues they are addressing. The Chairperson of the SAG has, following consultation with other SAG members, advised Major General Shavendra Silva that his participation is not appropriate or helpful for the purposes of the Group. We understand that he will not participate in its deliberations."
That is still by no means certain. Inner City Press covered the Asia Group meeting at which Sri Lanka tried to rally other countries in the Group to the defense of Silva; Ban Ki-moon has not spoken in support of Frechette.
Despite the harrowing footage and the high number of civilians killed, the Sri Lanka issue does not have the traction of Syria, or even #Kony2012. As viewers, mostly in the UK, tweeted about the film on Wednesday night, many expressed disgust at Ban’s UN and said that if Sri Lanka had a lot of oil, the West would have intervened as it did in Libya.
But there are others not directly interested in oil who have held back on Sri Lanka, perhaps due to the specter of terrorism. To a three organization panel at the UN on March 14, Inner City Press asked if Silva’s position as UN adviser on peacekeeping, and Ban Ki-moon silence, were appropriate.
The representative of Amnesty International said that advisers should be "vetted" for war crimes. But the representative of Human Rights Watch, when asked Wednesday on UN TV, had nothing to say on the topic. Video here, at end. HRW has previously refused to even summarize its boss Ken Roth’s meeting with Ban Ki-moon, saying that to do so might undermine HRW’s "access." Access for what?
There are many for whom it is convenient that the killing of tens of thousand of civilians in Sri Lanka in 2009 slip into the past without accountability.
There is a weak resolution pending in the Human Rights Council in Geneva; there are suggestions at the UN that l’affaire Silva can be solved by substituting Palitha Kohona, who was also involved in the so-called White Flag killing of surrenderees and has overseen the Sri Lankan Mission’s vituperative defense while not producing Silva to answer questions.
Kohona and Silva appeared together at the UN to show a government film purporting to rebut the first Killing Fields documentary, which itself was not screened in the UN. As exposed by Inner City Press in video, Ban Ki-moon made time to watch the government "rebuttal" before he ever watched Killing Fields I. What will Ban say about Killing Fields II?
Ban Ki-moon shook Silva’s hand, and berated his own staff in front of Sri Lankan president Mahinda Rajapaksa. War crimes unpunished, indeed.