Ex-UN Under Secy General tells LLRC:
Intl. laws shouldn’t apply to conflicts
between States and terrorist groups


Ex-UN Under Secy General tells LLRC:
Intl. laws shouldn’t apply to conflicts
between States and terrorist groups
... calls for a review of Rules of War

By Shamindra Ferdinando 

Terrorists shouldn’t be allowed to exploit international covenents says ex-UN diplomat, who believes the government has no option but to face international scrutiny over alleged human rights violations in the aftermath of war against LTTE terror.

Veteran diplomat Jayantha Dhanapala says International Humanitarian Law (IHL) should not be applied to Sri Lanka’s war against LTTE terrorism and the time is opportune for the country to push for new guidelines.

The former head of the Peace Secretariat says a conventional army cannot be bound by international laws in fighting a terrorist organisation, which deploys suicide cadres, child soldiers and human shields.


Ambassador Dhanapala called for international consultation among member States of the UN and other stakeholders such as the NGOs to work out a mechanism.

Testifying before Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission on Wednesday (Aug. 25) at the Kadirgamar Institute for International Relations, Dhanapala said that many of the Rules of War and International Humanitarian Laws were based on the assumption that the warring parties were conventional armies of states but in Sri Lanka’s case the LTTE had totally disregarded those laws and principles.

Asserting that terrorism could not be justified, Ambassador Dhanapala said that in the post-LTTE era Sri Lanka should initiate a dialogue with the international community on the subject of counter-terrorism. He said that conventional armies could not be expected to react to the threat posed by the LTTE the way they faced a conventional military threat.

Ambassador Dhanapala submitted a comprehensive written proposal to the commission.

In his brief but thought provoking presentation and in response to queries by the commission, the much respected international diplomat urged the government to engage the global community in a civilised way. Referring to the US-led international military presence in Iraq and Afghanistan as well as Bolivia’s battle with FARC, Ambassador Dhanapala asserted that there should be a dialogue among countries battling terrorism. Sri Lanka should discuss the issue with the ICRC, he said.

Ambassador Dhanapala emphasised that the government should address human rights issues raised by the international community. The government should be prepared to respond to international concerns, he said, while emphasising the importance of exploring the possibility of accommodating Opposition and NGO representatives in HR delegations as part of measures to improve relations with the international community.

The Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation commission headed by former Attorney General C. R. de Silva is expected to finish its work in six months. The sittings began on Aug 11.

Commenting on right of humanitarian intervention (aka Responsibility to Protect or R2P), one-time top UN official emphasised that countries, which sponsored and directed terrorism against other countries, too, should be held accountable by the international community. In an obvious reference to India’s role in setting up bases for Sri Lankan terrorists in the early 80s, Ambassador Dhanapala said that those who sponsored terrorism should take the responsibility for the situation it had created as in the case of Sri Lanka. He said that those who had facilitated the LTTE to receive funds, too, were equally responsible for Sri Lanka’s misery.

At the outset of Wednesday’s sittings, Ambassador Dhanapala said that there was no need for him to testify in camera as he did not have anything to hide.

Ambassador Dhanapala said that the army had had o fight in extremely difficult conditions, particularly due to use of human shields during the final phases of war. Praising the army for having brought the war to an end with the minimum loss of civilian life, he appreciated the way the army had brought the war to an end though their operations had been hindered by the presence of some 300,000 civilians. He echoed Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa sentiments that efforts to save civilian lives had caused losses to the fighting forces.

The former UN Under Secretary General for Disarmament Ambassador Dhanapala said that now that the LTTE had been destroyed the government should step up its efforts to recover weapons in the hands of various unauthorised persons. He said that there had been private armies and some politicians commanded security units. But, the end of war in Mary last year, had given President Mahinda Rajapaksa an opportunity to implement a programme on the lines of Mathata Thitha to eliminate all unauthorised weapons. In a post-war era, it should be a priority, he said.

Ambassador Dhanapala strongly condemned the destruction of LTTE cemeteries in the liberated areas. The families of the combatants should be allowed to move the remains of their loved ones who had died fighting for the LTTE to cemeteries of their choice.

While welcoming a decision to recruit Tamil speaking youth to the police, Ambassador Dhanapala said Tamils should be accommodated in the armed forces as well.

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