SriLanka's Longstanding Defense Attache Problem (Part 1)

By Together Against Genocide (TAG), Thursday, February 08 2018
In view of the recent suspension and ongoing discussion around expulsion of Sri Lanka's Defense Attache Brigadier Priyanka Fernando, we are going public with our 2012 briefing on war crimes allegations that contributed to his predecessor, Defense Attache General Prasanna de Silva leaving the UK. The first of 2 notes that we hope illustrates Britains's longstanding Sri Lanka Defense Attache Problem.  Brigadier Fernando reported to previous Defense Attache Gen de Silva during the war and faces similar war crimes allegations (recently outlined by ITJP). The Foreign Office should have monitored Brigadier Fernando  closely following war crimes allegations against the previous appointee, his former commander, Gen de Silva.

1       Executive Summary

This briefing note seeks to identify wartime atrocities committed by the 59th and 55th Sri Lankan Army Division under the command of Major General Prasanna de Silva which constitute to war crimes and crimes against humanity under international law. The alleged atrocities committed by both divisions under the command of the accused were part of a systemic Sri Lankan state-policy of undermining international legal standards framed by international human rights law as well as international humanitarian law by engaging in war crimes and crime against humanity during the final stages of Sri Lanka’s decades-long civil war.
Since 2010 Major General Prasanna de Silva resides in London, UK, whilst serving as the Defense Attaché of the Sri Lankan High Commission in Britain. As part of the Sri Lankan diplomatic corps to the UK, Major General Prasanna de Silva is a beneficiary of diplomatic immunity from possible judicial prosecutions. De Silva’s appointment by Sri Lanka’s President Mahinda Rajapaksa, who is equally facing growing calls for investigations of war crimes and crimes against humanity as well as personal responsibility and complicity in such alleged crimes, has come as a larger post-war policy of the militarization of Sri Lanka’s diplomatic apparatus.
This Briefing supports a call from a criminal investigation of Major General Prasanna de Silva by the War Crimes Unit of the Metropolitan police by providing ample evidence of command responsibility and complicity in alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity of the latter.
Due to the various restrictions set by the GoSL in war reporting and post-war evidence gathering, the provided evidence is by no means a comprehensive list of all possible attacks and crimes that took place in the relevant period of war. The focus of this briefing note is to link widely publicized attacks to both, the 59th and 55th  Army Division, whilst under the command of Major General De Silva.
Most of the North/South movement of the SL army took place until they captured Kilinochchi. Subsequent movement of the SL army mainly followed the A35 road in a primarily Eastward direction running from Paranthan (just north of Kilinochchi) to Mullaitivu via the towns of Visuvamadu and Puthukkudiyiruppu (PTK).  Most of the towns which were big enough to maintain separate hospital installation were located along the A35 road.
Major General Prasanna de Silva was appointed as the Commander of the 59th SLAF Division operating South of Mullaiththeevu on or around 7th May 2009. Prior to his appointment to command the 59th Army Regiment in early May 2009, he was commanding the 55th SLAF Division which broke out from Elephant Pass and advanced south towards Chu'ndikku'lam and Chaalai.
In Tamils Against Genocide’s (TAG) briefing note named ‘GoSL attacks on Hospitals, Vani 2009,’ a number of hospital attacks by the SLAF, whether through heavy shelling or artillery fire, were attributed to various SLAF Divisions that were in the range and direction from where the source of aggression against the civilian institutions could be traced from.
Two of the numerous hospitals and makeshift hospitals that came under attack during the military siege were the Puthukkudyiruppu and Puthumathalan (Putumattalan) Hospital on the coastal strip bordering the Bay of Bengal. The civilian hospitals run by Government doctors were in use respectively until February4th 2009 and late April 2009, but had to be abandoned by civilian population in the wake of the continous attacks by and advance of the SLAF. Amongst the Army Divisions in proximity and direction of the source of attacks was the 55th Division of the SLAF under the command of Major General Prasanna de Silva.
Description: 1: Progression of 55th Division of SLAF from Elephant Pass southwards towards Valyanmadam (near Mullaittivu).

2       Possible war Crimes and Crimes Against Humanity Committed under the Command of Major General Prasanna de Silva of the SLAF.

2.1 Hospital Attacks
Puthukkudyiruppu (PTK) Hospital
Eyewitnesses testified to the UN Security General’s Panel of Exports Report on the PTK Hospital attack in between late January and early February 2009. From paragraph 90 to 92 it states:
90. Fighting in the area intensified as part of the expressed efforts by the 55th and 58th Divisions to capture PTK by 4 February (…). PTK hospital was the only permanent hospital left in the Vanni, and its neutrality was recognized by the Government and the LTTE. The medical staff, including five doctors, was stretched beyond its capacity, and medical supplies were very limited. The shelling in the first NFZ had marked a turning point in the conflict, and civilian casualities were rising. PTK hospital was packed with hundreds of injured civilians from the NFZ. Many had severe or life-threatening injuries caused by artillery fire or burns. The casualities, many of them babies, young children and the elderly, were packed in very conceivable space – on beds, under tables, in hallways and outside in the driveway.

91. (…) in the week between 29 January and 4 February, PTK hospital was hit every day by MBRLs and other artillery, taking at least nine direct hits. A number of patients inside the hospital, most of them already injured, were killed, as were several staff members. Even the operating theatre was hit. Two ICRC international delegates were in the hospital when it was shelled on 4 February 2009. The shelling was coming from SLA positions.
92. The GPS coordinates of PTK hospital were well known to the SLA, and the hospital was clearly marked with emblems easily visible to UAVs. On 1 February 2009, the ICRC issued a public statement emphasizing that "[w]ounded and sick people, medical personnel and medical facilities are all protected by international humanitarian law. Under no circumstance may they be directly attacked."[1]
The involvement of the 55th Division of the SLAF under Major General Prasanna de Silva in the attack of PTK Hospital from January 9th until February 4th with MBRLs and other artillery is thus verified by testimony of eyewitnesses and the UNSG Panel Report.
Putumattalan Hospital.
Numerous eyewitnesses testify in the ICG report that LTTE had no presence at the Putumattalan or its environs.  On page 18, the report states:
“For the three days before the new NFZ came into effect, the security forces shelled the civilian area in Putumattalan from the south and from Chalai to the north, striking in the immediate vicinity of the hospital and killing and wounding civilians.”  [2]
Shells “from the south” would have come from the 59th Division, and shells “from Chalai to the north” from the 55th Division. The 55th Division was at that period still under the command of Major General Prasanna de Silva.
2. 2 Using Chemical weapons
An eyewitness account testifies to the Sri Lanka Campaign about the usage of chemical weapons during the attack of the Puttumatalan Hospital. He states:
The Army announced that Matalan was a No Fire Zone. After they made the announcement, I went there with my friends and put up a tent. Then the Army started to shell the Matalan hospital and people who had constructed shelters around it. The Army used phosphorous bombs and cluster bombs. I was there when the bombs fell and I saw them. Phosphorous bombs produced smoke that would make breathing very difficult. Some bombs burned human bodies. We were surrounded by empty land so we could see what was happening around us. People were crying with the bodies of their relations because there was no place to take them. My uncle and his son died from this phosphorous. They were in a tent over a shallow bunker; the phosphorous split bodies into pieces. [3]
The before noted presence and alleged participation of the 55th Division of the SLAF under Major General Prasanna de Silva renders him directly responsible for the usage of chemical weapons against civilians and civilian institutions.
2.3 Attacking Civilians
In another eyewitness testimony obtained by TAG, a survivor of the final stage of war states:
When they advanced they threw granades into the bunkers (most people were living in bunkers) and killed so many wounded, elderly, children, mothers, pregnant women and so on. This happened from April to May 18th. From Matalan (Puttumattalan) onwards towards Mulivaikal people were wounded and didn’t have any places to go due to the lack of hospitals in the area. They saw the people inside the bunkers and knew exactly what they were doing. The army was throwing the grenades into the bunkers from the closest proximity with being aware of who they are targeting because they could see them always. They were doing that to every bunker they crossed in Mulivaikal. There were simply so many bunkers there, bunkers equaled life and living!
There were also so many people who surrendered to the Army and went missing ever since. Lots of people I knew personally suffered a fate like this. Around 20 of them disappeared, there were women, young girls, children and elderly. They didn’t care for the people, they were shooting at them with guns. They were shooting at the remaining tents when they came into the last few stretches and threw also grenades into them. So many elder people and wounded who couldn’t walk died like that. They knew of course people were inside of these tents. They just killed them like that though because they intended to kill them no matter if they are LTTE members or civilians. They were Tamils. That was enough.”[4]
The direction of the SLAF Division movements indicates the involvement of the 55th Division of the SLAF under the command of Major General Prasanna de Silva in the described crimes. Movements southwards of the 55th Division on the narrow coastline from Puttumattalan towards Mullivaikal in conjunction with the eyewitness narrative can be traced on Map 1 of the Briefing Note.