Police in Northern Ireland organised a meeting between British officials and a Sri Lankan military adviser a month after the massacre of tens of thousands of Tamil civilians in Sri Lanka, it has emerged – but no minutes were taken about what was discussed.
The policing board, which scrutinises the running of the Police Service of Northern Ireland, has confirmed it arranged the talks between the Foreign Office and the Sri Lankan defence forces representative with a view to the PSNI becoming "critical friends" of the country’s security forces.
Government lawyers have confirmed in a freedom of information request that no minutes exist of the meeting at the policing board headquarters in Belfast on 18 June 2009, shortly after Sri Lanka’s military allegedly killed tens of thousands of people in a final offensive against the Tamil Tigers.
Researcher Phil Miller, from the pressure group Corporate Watch, who submitted the FOI request, told the Guardian: "We are being kept in the dark about what went on at this Belfast meeting. Did Britain raise any concerns about Sri Lanka’s massacres of Tamils before it let the PSNI continue its role as ‘critical friends’ with Colombo?"
The FCO says the only information it holds on the 2009 meeting is a single sentence, noting that its official agreed in advance for the PSNI to offer further assistance to Sri Lanka. The PSNI officers continued to work with Sri Lanka even after the UN concluded that at least 70,000 Tamil civilians were killed in the final months of the conflict. Hundreds of thousands of survivors were then interned in camps.
One of the PSNI officers called to give advice to the Sri Lankans was the assistant chief constable Duncan McCausland. He had previously co-written a report for the Americans in Iraq, advocating the creation of Belfast-style "peace walls" to separate rival sectarian communities in Baghdad.
A policing board spokesman said countless overseas delegations travelled to Belfast to discuss police-related issues with the PSNI. "The board regularly received visits and delegations from across the world to share the experiences of policing change in Northern Ireland and lessons learnt in terms of independent oversight and accountability for the PSNI.
"The meeting on 18 June 2009 was reported to the policing board meeting on 2 July 2009 as part of chairman’s business and the minutes are published on the board’s website. Such visits received a standard presentation, which cover the roles and responsibilities of the board as the accountability authority of the PSNI, and as such minutes are not considered a necessity."
Yasmine Ahmed, from Rights Watch UK, said: "The British public has a right to know the nature and extent of UK government cooperation with and support to the Sri Lankan government during a period of brutal violence and severe human rights abuses against the Tamil population.
"Any information about this meeting must be disclosed so that the public can be assured of the nature of the involvement of UK police forces. It is inconceivable that no records were kept of the contents of this meeting and we call on the government to disclose such information."
Last weekend it emerged that 3,500 Sri Lankan police officers, including some senior commanders, had received training from the Scottish Police College (SPC) since 2007.
Policing in Northern Ireland through the Troubles, particularly towards its endgame in the late 1980s and early 1990s, is studied as a template for counter-insurgency methods across the world. Following the invasion of Iraq in 2003 a number of former senior Royal Ulster Constabulary officers were recruited to advise the post-Saddam government on how to police divided communities and build up an intelligence system to counter terrorism.
RUC Special Branch veterans and other senior commanders were paid handsomely not only for advising the Iraqi government about how to police the Sunni-Shia communal schism on the streets but also methods of agent recruitment within insurgent groups. (The Guardian)