No vetting for Sri Lanka’s New Major Generals

#Johannesburg: On the eleventh anniversary of the end of the war in Sri Lanka, the President, Gotabaya Rajapaksa, intentionally promoted officers1 to the rank of Major General who should have been vetted and screened out of any official position, in accordance to Sri Lanka’s commitments under UN resolution 30/1 to security sector reform.

“The choice of these individuals is a highly politicised one which again sends a message to Sri Lankans and the international community that even lip service to reconciliation is off the agenda. This is yet another insult to victims and reeks of brazen impunity,” said the ITJP’s Executive Director, Yasmin Sooka.

The most striking promotion is of Andige Priyanka Indunil Fernando who was found guilty in absentia by a UK court of public order offences, while a Sri Lankan diplomat. He was convicted of making threatening throat slitting gestures at Tamil protestors outside the Sri Lankan High Commission building in 2018. Since returning to Sri Lanka he has been repeatedly promoted and hailed as a hero despite his criminal actions.

“The message to army officers – and diplomats – is if you go around the world insulting and threatening the Tamil diaspora you will be rewarded,” said Ms. Sooka. “It is also an acute show of disrespect for the judicial system in the UK”.

Another resounding blow for accountability is the promotion of former special forces commander, Harendra Parakrama Ranasinghe. He was identified in a video as one of the soldiers accepting the surrender of a female Tamil TV presenter known as Isaipriya in May 2009, whom a UN Inquiry found was shortly afterwards executed whilst in army custody. Ranasinghe to date has never been questioned about what happened though he’s clearly visible in the video with Isaipriya, whose semi-naked corpse was also seen in trophy photographs.

“One has to ask what it means to Isaipriya’s surviving family – driven into exile – to see a material witness to their daughter’s execution promoted to Major General,” said Ms. Sooka.

Channa D. Weerasuriya was 512 Brigade commander in Jaffna at a time when the unit, and other units, were allegedly involved in the detention and torture of Tamil suspects, some of whom the ITJP has interviewed.

The promotions come against a backdrop of increased militarisation and civilian jobs being given to retired and serving officers close to the President. A war commemoration event involving the armed forces was permitted to go ahead in Colombo this week despite concerns about Covid19 but security forces used the virus as an excuse to prevent such memorialisation by Tamils in the north-east .

“What we are seeing is the “normalisation” of military influence in the civilian sphere,” said Ms. Sooka, “informal networks are becoming formalised under President Rajapaksa with the result that impunity is further entrenched”.

1. Major General Andige Priyanka Indunil Fernando

Gemunu Watch,

Staff Number: O/60847.

Promoted after the war in 2009 .

2014: Commander 511 Brigade .

Priyanka Fernando was found guilty of a public order offence by a UK court after making throat slitting gestures at Tamil Protestors which he is appealing.

He was also active in frontline combat in the 2009 war.

Current Secretary of Defence, Kamal Gunaratne, said he commanded Brigadier Fernando in the 2009 war. In March 2019, well aware of the controversy over the throat slitting gesture, Kamal Gunaratne repeated the gesture himself on camera, indicating his support for Brigadier Fernando by saying the whole incident made his blood boil.

2. Major General Harendra Parakrama Ranasinghe

Special Forces, Staff Number: O/60846,

Promoted after the war in 2009.

571 Bde. commander in 2009: 17 Dec. 2008- 6 Aug. 2009. (See ITJP Dossier on Jagath Dias and 57 Division).

There is a video of the prominent Tamil TV broadcaster and singer known as Isaipriya surrendering unarmed at the lagoon edge in May 2009; photographs have also been published showing her corpse. The 2015 UN investigation concluded that Isaipriya was executed after surrendering to the Sri Lankan Army. Witness testimony has identified Lt Col Harendra Ranasinghe of the Special Forces in the video as one of the people accepting the surrender of Isaipriya; though there’s no indication he was responsible for her execution but he would likely know who was.

He went on to become the defence attache in Washington in 2014- 2015.

Thank you – Nehru Gunaratnam