UK government lawyers are claiming there are no minutes available from a controversial meeting held between British officials and a Sri Lankan military adviser at Belfast’s Policing Board HQ one month after the genocidal onsluaght on Vanni in 2009. The revelation comes after a year-long legal battle to get full disclosure from the Foreign & Commonwealth Office to a Freedom of Information request. The British government withdrew its national security exemptions just days before the matter was to due to be decided by a judge at the Information Tribunal. The Belfast meeting related to the deployment of two senior Northern Ireland police officers to Sri Lanka as “critical friends” of the regime during the final stages of the genocidal onslaught in 2009.
Britain has voted for a UN investigation into war crimes allegedly carried out by Sri Lankan forces during precisely this period. David Cameron has said that ‘Sri Lankans’ “need to know the truth about what happened during those terrible years of the civil war so that they can move forward.”
The Freedom of Information request asked for documents from a meeting between Catherine Weiss, a Foreign Office civil servant, and Sanjaya Colonne, an adviser to the Sri Lankan Ministry of Defence, that was held in the chairman’s office of the Northern Ireland Policing Board on 18 June 2009.
The UN estimates that at least 70,000 Tamil civilians were killed in the final months of conflict while UN expert Yasmin Sooka has said that over 100000 Tamils might have been killed in that period. Hundreds of thousands of survivors were then interned in barbed wire camps.
The FCO claims the only information it holds regarding the Belfast meeting is a single sentence, briefing Catherine Weiss in advance to agree further assistance from the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) to Sri Lanka.
No minutes from the actual meeting are available, suggesting it was held off-the-record. The PSNI officers continued to work with Sri Lanka. The PSNI project had started in February 2009, at a time when hospitals were being bombed by the Sri Lankan military.
One of the PSNI officers involved, Assistant Chief Constable Duncan McCausland, visited Iraq in 2007 and co-authored a report that urged the creation of Belfast-style “peace walls” in Baghdad to reduce sectarian violence. McCausland invited a US marine corps unit to Belfast, prior to deploying to Iraq’s Anbar province, so it could learn how the PSNI took the lead security role when working with the army.
The PSNI is Britain’s most militarised police force. Officers drive armoured jeeps and routinely use batons rounds and water cannon to deal with riots. Both PSNI officers who visited Sri Lanka in 2009 had extensive experience of counter terrorism and public order.
Yasmine Ahmed from Rights Watch UK told the Guardian on Friday, “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.”