Maj Gen Shavendra Silva who was appointed to the Special Advisory Group on Peacekeeping Operations in January 2012 was barred in taking part in its meeting on 22 February 2012 – because of the credible allegations that he committed war crimes.
He was chosen by Asian countries to sit on this United Nations (UN) committee which advises the UN Secretary General on payment to troops participating in UN peacekeeping operations. He is also the deputy permanent representative for Sri Lanka at the UN.
Maj Gen Silva led the 58 division of the Sri Lanka Army during the last phase of Sri Lanka’s civil war and has been accused of multiple war crimes – including the summary execution of surrendered LTTE leaders. Channel 4 even went so far as to track him down in New York and present the allegations to his face. He has also been a subject of a US law suit even though the US courts dismissed the action citing “diplomatic immunity”.
It is reported that Maj Gen Silva did attend the group’s first meeting, but no members spoke to him and no documents were given to him. The group’s chair, Louise Frechette, said in a statement that this decision was made by consulting other members of the group and that she had advised Major General Shavendra Silva “that his participation is not appropriate or helpful.”
This comes in the wake of many protests by various human rights defenders, NGOs, and us. Our various discussions via Inner City Press on the issue were written about here and here, (scroll down to Feb 3) and were put to the UN Secretary General’s spokesman here.
More surprisingly UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navaneetham Pillai wrote to Ban Ki Moon officially expressing concerns about Shavendra Silva’s appointment as he was on a UN black list of suspected violators of human rights. Human rights organisations have also urged the UN to suspend the diplomatic credentials of Maj Gen Silva as Sri Lanka’s Deputy Permanent Representative to the UN. But the Government paid no heed
Frechette has rightly received much praise. Philippe Bolopion, United Nations director for Human Rights Watch, stated that “by defeating Silva’s attempt to pose as a respectable peacekeeping expert, Louise Frechette took a principled stand,”
Meanwhile the Sri Lankan government expressed predictable outrage at this situation and stated that “to seek to exclude him from a position in the UN is unfair and contrary to the principles of the United Nations.” But surely a far greater risk to the UN is the credibility it would lose by putting a man the Secretary General’s Panel of Experts claims has credible allegations of war crimes outstanding in a position of authority over peacekeepers. This is especially the case as credible allegations of war crimes by the Sri Lankan Army extend the the behaviour of Sri Lankan UN peacekeepers in Haiti.
Shivendra Silva and his superior Palitha Kohona’s presence in the UN fits in with an established pattern whereby mid-level commanders against whom there are credible allegations of war crimes are pressed into diplomatic service so that they will have diplomatic immunity. Prassana de Silva serves as military attaché in the UK for the same reason, and Jagath Dias did in Switzerland and Germany until Swiss NGOs took action.
This hasn’t just put these individuals beyond the reach of accountability and the law, but the militarisation of Sri Lankan diplomacy may well have contributed to the belligerence and intransigence of the Government’s foreign policy.