Sri Lanka ‘strongly objects’ to U.S. blacklisting its Army chief

Sri Lankan Army Chief Shavendra Silva during a ceremony at the Army headquarters in Colombo on February 3, 2020.   | Photo Credit: Reuters

Sri Lanka has taken “strong objection” to the U.S. blacklisting its Army chief over allegations of “gross human rights violations” that the State Department on Friday called “serious and credible”.

In addition to a statement from the U.S. State Department, Secretary of State Michael Pompeo said in a tweet: “I am designating Shavendra Silva making him ineligible for entry into the U.S. due to his involvement in extrajudicial killings during #SriLanka’s Civil War. The U.S. will not waver in its pursuit of accountability for those who commit war crimes and violate #humanrights.”

Responding swiftly to the development, Sri Lanka’s Ministry of Foreign Relations said: “The Government of Sri Lanka takes strong objection to the imposition of travel restrictions on Lt. Gen. Silva and his immediate family members by the Government of the United States, based on independently unverified information.”

“The Government reiterates that Lt. Gen. Shavendra Silva was appointed as the Commander of the Army by the then Head of State, taking into account his seniority and that there were no substantiated or proven allegations of human rights violations against him. His elevation as the Acting Chief of Defence Staff by the current Head of State President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, was on account of his being the senior most serving military officer,” the Ministry said in a statement issued late on Friday. 

Observing that the “timing” of the imposition — six months after Lt. Gen. Silva’s appointment as Army Commander — was concerning, Colombo urged the U.S. to “verify the authenticity of the sources of information and to review its decision”. 

Mr Silva was appointed to the post by former President Maithripala Sirisena last year. The move, that the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights termed “deeply troubling”, set off concern among Tamils and civil society groups demanding war-time accountability. Mr. Silva, who commanded the 58 Division of the Sri Lankan army during the final stages of the war, is linked to the infamous “white flag” incident when surrendering LTTE cadre were reportedly executed, after being assured safety.

Joining the government in defending the controversial Army commander, Leader of Opposition Sajith Premadasa on Saturday termed the travel ban on a “heroic field commander” regrettable and unfortunate. “All of us stand by him and his family at this hour of need. As a country we shall always stand with the war heroes that brought about an end to 30 years of terrorism,” he said in a tweet. 

The Tamil National Alliance said it hoped that the ban “opened the eyes” of the governments that have been avoiding accountability in the 10 years since the war ended. “We see this as a small improvement as a result of the affected Tamil people’s long struggle for justice,” its spokesman M.A. Sumanthiran said in a statement, urging the Sri Lankan government to act upon evidence from international investigations and bring perpetrators to justice. 

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Printable version | Sep 26, 2021 10:10:37 AM |

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