The Logic in Sri Lanka’s Disappearances

by Jan Jananayagam, Tamil Guardian, London, December 29, 2010

The logic of such state violence was best put by Sivaram himeself. These brutal acts, he said, are about “forcing the target population to lose its collective will.”

“Arrest, detention and torture, all indiscriminate, and interrogation destroy the basis of civil society. All this denies one’s sense of rights; you want people to lose track of the idea that they have rights of any kind. You reduce them to the point where staying alive becomes their top priority.”

Protest re Sri Lanka disappearances abductions April 8 2007

When people are abducted and never seen again – ‘disappeared’ – or their bodies are later found dumped, and when they are gunned down in public or in front of their families, these acts are often described as ‘senseless’. Senseless because nothing these people might have done – or are suspected to have done – is seen to justify such horrific ends.

But there is a purpose to disappearances and extra-judicial killings: terror. These acts are not just about the individual, but the rest of society. They constitute a specific form of violence aiming to define the relationship between the state and the community concerned, between fear and submission.

How genocide?

Disappearances are not mere ‘senseless’ manifestations of ‘lawlessness’, but a deliberate and planned effort by a state to achieve its objectives. As Amnesty International said this week, “entire communities can fracture under pressure as people fear being associated with those targeted.”

Historically, disappearances and extra-judicial killings fit within a strategy to destroy the political will of a target population or a way to destroy in whole or in part a target population.

If the target group shares a political belief (for example some Latin American states’ assaults on leftist movements during the Cold War), then it is politicide. If this target population is chosen on the basis of ethnicity – as with the Armenians, Kurds or the Tamils – then disappearances and extra judicial killings become part of a strategy of genocide.

As Raphael Lemkin, the academic who coined the term put it,

“Genocide is intended rather to signify a coordinated plan of different actionsaiming at the destruction of essential foundations of the life of national groups, with the aim of annihilating the groups themselves.”

“The objectives of such a plan would include the disintegration of the political and social institutions, of culture, language, national feelings, religion, and the economic existence of national groups, and the destruction of the personal security, liberty, health, dignity, and even the lives of the individuals belonging to such groups”

Sri Lanka’s case

In Sri Lanka, disappearances and extra-judicial killings have long been part of the state’s assault on the Tamils. Indeed, given the scale of such targeted violence, it is integral to the degradation of Tamil political and physical life, to genocide.

According to a 1999 UN Study Sri Lanka then already had the world’s second highest rate of disappearances – the overwhelming majority of victims since 1990 being Tamils. In the decade since thousands more, again mainly Tamils, have vanished since being taken into government custody.

By 2003 Amnesty International had received 20 000 complaints of disappearances since the armed conflict began in 1983 – of which 9000 were still open. Last year Amnesty said:

“Enforced disappearances continued to be part of a pattern of abuse apparently linked to the government’s counter-insurgency strategy. … Many enforced disappearances took place inside high-security zones and during curfew hours.”

Even after the end of the armed conflict, thousands of Tamil men, women and youth are being held by the state accused of working for the LTTE. None have been charged. The ICRC and international human rights groups have been denied access to them, amid persistent reports of torture, summary executions and rape.

Sri Lanka said last year 11,000 people were being held. Amid international protests, a tiny handful have been released in a few much publicised ceremonies. The state also now claims only 5,000 are held.

Continuous

Disappearances and killings even continued, after a short lull, during the internationally-brokered ceasefire and peace process period (2002 to 2006).

Amongst the high-profile cases, Sri Lanka’s best known defense analyst, Sivaram Dharmaratnam was taken off a Colombo street in May 2005. His body was found the next day, he had beaten and shot in the head. Tamil MPs Joseph Pararajasingham (Dec 2005) and Nadarajah Raviraj (Nov. 2006) were gunned down in public – just two amongst several Tamil parliamentarians. All were advocates of Tamil self-determination.

Some Sinhala critics of the government have also been killed or disappeared. Lasantha Wickrematunge editor of the Sunday Leader newspaper was murdered in January 2008 – a case that gets much more attention internationally than fellow newsman Sivaram’s.

However, notably, the vast majority of media workers killed or disappeared are Tamil: of 35 cases between 2004 and 2009, 29 were Tamil, 3 Sinhala and 2 Muslim. The office of Tamil newspapers in government-controlled Jaffna,  including Uthayan, were repeatedly stormed and threatened by gunmen.

Purposeful

Why are reporters and media targeted? It is not only a question of their criticisms or exposes of government policy. It is also about spreading terror across the media and imposing collective self-censorship, about ensuring non-coverage of the broader assault on, and destruction, of their community. As Rodney Pinder, head of International News Safety Institute says, “Murder is cheap censorship …Terror increases self censorship.”

Another group of Tamils who have been targeted are humanitarians. Several aid workers with the Tamil Rehabilitation Organisation (TRO) were abducted and disappeared in January 2006.

In August that year seventeen staff – all but one Tamil – of the French aid agency Action Contre la Faim (ACF) were lined up and shot dead by Sri Lankan troops (the second worst attack worldwide on aid workers, after the bombing of the UN in Baghdad).

Why are aid workers targeted? It is about spreading terror among humanitarians and curtailing the capacity for extending assistance to a population suffering deprivations amid military offensives.

As a recent study points out, terrorising aid workers into leaving amid a humanitarian crisis is effectively a “death sentence” for refugees and internally displaced.

As the ICRC protested in 2006, even before the ACF killings, the attacks were “severely hampering the efforts of humanitarian actors in Sri Lanka to provide assistance to the most vulnerable segments of the population.”

Seeking submission

Amongst the other Tamils who either disappeared in government custody or murdered by the armed forces and their paramilitary allies, are civil society leaders, student leaders, academics, parliamentarians, business owners, relatives of LTTE cadres.

The logic of such state violence was best put by Sivaram himeself. These brutal acts, he said, are about “forcing the target population to lose its collective will.”

“Arrest, detention and torture, all indiscriminate, and interrogation destroy the basis of civil society. All this denies one’s sense of rights; you want people to lose track of the idea that they have rights of any kind. You reduce them to the point where staying alive becomes their top priority.”

Based on a presentation to the 6th International Conference Against Disappearances (Dec 2010), hosted by ICAD (International Committee Against Disappearances)

Sri Lankan War Crimes Suspect Gets Post as Representative to U.N.

by Ashish Kumar Sen, The Washington Times, December 6, 2010

The army’s 58th Division, which was under Gen. Silva’s command, allegedly executed civilians, killed LTTE fighters as they tried to surrender and shelled medical facilities.

The Sri Lankan government has appointed a senior army officer accused of war crimes in the conflict with Tamil rebels as its deputy permanent representative to the United Nations.

Maj. Gen. Shavendra Silva‘s presence in New York coincides with U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon setting up a panel of experts to advise him on accountability for human rights violations during the final stages of the conflict in Sri Lanka.

In an interview with theSunday Leader newspaperlate last year, Gen. Sarath Fonseka, the Sri Lankan army chief who led a campaign that ended more than two decades of conflict with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam LTTE) in May 2009, said Defense Secretary Gothbaya Rajapaksa gave Gen. Silva orders “not to accommodate any LTTE leaders attempting surrender and that ‘they must all be killed.'”

The army’s 58th Division, which was under Gen. Silva‘s command, allegedly executed civilians, killed LTTE fighters as they tried to surrender and shelled medical facilities.

Gen. Silva denies the allegations.

Alan Keenan, Sri Lanka project director at the International Crisis Group, said Gen. Silva‘s appointment is “disturbing.”

In a phone interview from London, Mr. Keenan said it appeared to be more than a coincidence that Gen. Silva would be appointed to the mission in New York at the same time as Mr. Ban set up the panel of experts.

“So it seems fair to assume that he is trying to influence it, which is the right of the Sri Lankan government. But I think that is disturbing that someone who himself was involved in the very incidents that the U.N. has begun looking into should have any chance to influence the panel’s operations,” Mr. Keenan said.

Reports, including some received by the U.S. Embassy in Colombo and confirmed by Gen. Fonseka, document an incident on May 18, 2009, in which three LTTEleaders tried to surrender with their families while holding white flags. According to a Tamil eyewitness, Sri Lankan troops opened fire on the group. Everyone was killed.

“Because of the [Sri Lankan] government’s failure to seriously investigate laws of war violations during the fighting, this alleged incident should be part of an international investigation,” said James Ross, legal and policy director at Human Rights Watch.

A senior Sri Lankan army officer has confirmed in a sworn affidavit to the group Tamils Against Genocide (TAG) that the army was given orders to kill guerrilla leaders and then burn their bodies.

Jan Jananayagam, a U.K.-based member of TAG, while declining to identify the officer over concern for his safety, said the officer told her group the army‘s field commanders received oral orders from the defense secretary in the last months of the battle.

Mr. Rajapaksa, who is the brother of Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa, has denied giving such orders.

Gen. Silva also said the defense secretary never instructed him to kill LTTEleaders trying to surrender and that reports the army attacked hospitals are fabricated.

“I, being a disciplined and professionally trained military officer, who respects and believes in human rights and has a thorough knowledge on humanitarian law, have never given any instructions under my command relating to the execution of LTTE leaders, or anyone else,” Gen. Silva said in a written response to questions from The Washington Times.

“Never under my command have I ordered any attacks on hospitals or medical facilities during the humanitarian operations that were conducted during the final stages of the war,” he added.

Gen. Silva said he had not been contacted by the U.N. panel.

Gen. Silva‘s appointment is in line with a long-standing practice of the Sri Lankan government of appointing high-ranking military officers to diplomatic posts.

A U.N. spokeswoman said the world body has no say in such appointments.

“It is not for the U.N. to tell countries who to appoint to its missions,” said spokeswoman Soung-ah Choi. “Every sovereign state has the right to appoint its own representatives.”

Jaliya Wickramasuriya, Sri Lanka‘s ambassador in Washington, described Gen. Silva‘s record as exemplary.

“Allegations that he violated the rights of surrendering LTTE officers are unfounded,” Mr. Wickramasuriya said in a written response to questions from The Times.

More than two decades of conflict between the Sri Lankan military and the LTTE, a Tamil separatist group, came to an end in May 2009.

The last few months of fighting were some of the bloodiest. According to some estimates, as many as 40,000 civilians were killed.

In a cable exposed by the website WikiLeaks, U.S. Ambassador to Sri Lanka, Patricia Butenis, wrote that the Sri Lankan president, along with the country’s top civilian leadership and Gen. Fonseka are largely responsible for the alleged war crimes.

“There are no examples we know of a regime undertaking wholesale investigations of its own troops or senior officials for war crimes while that regime or government remained in power. In Sri Lanka this is further complicated by the fact that responsibility for many of the alleged crimes rests with the country’s senior civilian and military leadership, including President Rajapaksa and his brothers and opposition candidate General Fonseka,” Ms. Butenis wrote in a Jan. 15 cable.

She cited this as the reason for the slow progress in the investigation of allegations of war crimes.

“The cable makes clear that the allegations pertain to the top leadership,” said Mr. Keenan, adding, “We are not talking about rogue elements, but what was clearly a government policy coming down from top and from the president’s brother and likely the president himself.”

The Sri Lankan foreign ministry said in a statement that it was in the process of obtaining the contents of the leaked cables that pertain to Sri Lanka.

If “the contents reveal any material relevant to Sri Lanka‘s interests, these will be taken up through diplomatic channels,” the ministry said.

Reports from the State Department and human rights groups cite violations by both the military as well as the Tamil Tigers.

The LTTE, which is designated a foreign terrorist organization by the State Department, has been accused of using civilians as human shields. Its recruitment of child soldiers is also well documented.

A State Department report in March said the Sri Lankan government‘s “respect for human rights declined as armed conflict reached its conclusion.”

“Credible reports cited unlawful killings by paramilitaries and others believed to be working with the awareness and assistance of the government, assassinations by unknown perpetrators, politically motivated killings, and disappearances,” the report said.

After the war, the Sri Lankan government established a presidential commission of inquiry, called the “Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission.” However, International Crisis Group, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International declined an invitation to testify before the panel. They cited the lack of independence of the commissioners, witness protection and a clear mandate to look into war crimes.

Gen. Fonseka challenged Mr. Rajapaksa in a presidential election and was later convicted of corruption by a court-martial this year.

Did a U.S. Ambassador Accuse Sri Lanka’s President of War Crimes?

by Charles Homans, Foreign Policy blog, Washington, DC, December 1, 2010

“While regrettable, the lack of attention to accountability is not surprising. There are no examples we know of a regime undertaking wholesale investigations of its own troops or senior officials for war crimes while that regime or government remained in power. In Sri Lanka this is further complicated by the fact that responsibility for many of the alleged crimes rests with the country’s senior civilian and military leadership, including President Rajapaksa and his brothers and opposition candidate General Fonseka.”

Are we surprised to learn, via WikiLeaks, that American diplomats in Colombo blame Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa and his top officials for the massacre of tens of thousands (by most estimates) of Tamil civilians during the final months of Sri Lanka’s bloody civil war? The goods are in a Jan. 15 cable sent by U.S. Amb. Patricia A. Butenis on the eve of Sri Lanka’s presidential elections (which Rajapaksa won handily). Butenis was assessing the country’s ability to come to terms with the atrocities committed in the protracted conflict between the government and the Tamil Tigers rebel group, which was defeated in May 2009 after nearly three decades of fighting.

In May, the Sri Lankan government announced plans to launch a “truth and reconciliation commission,” modeled on South Africa’s post-Apartheid investigation, to look into the brutal last phase of the war, in which large numbers of Tamil civilians were trapped between the government and rebel troops. Human rights groups aren’t exactly holding their breath for the results of the ongoinginquiry, led as it is by the same government that was allegedly responsible for most of the carnage. Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and International Crisis Group — which released a sweeping and damning report on the war crimes in May — all turned down invitations to participate. Butenis, it turns out, was similarly nonplussed, writing:

There are no examples we know of a regime undertaking wholesale investigations of its own troops or senior officials for war crimes while that regime or government remained in power. In Sri Lanka this is further complicated by the fact that responsibility for many of the alleged crimes rests with the country’s senior civilian and military leadership, including President Rajapaksa and his brothers and opposition candidate General [Sarath] Fonseka.

This last observation gets headline treatment from the Guardian, and it is notable for Butenis’s willingness to name names. But the State Department has been fairly clear, albeit more diplomatic, about what it thinks happened in the spring of 2009, in a report released in March:

The government’s respect for human rights declined as armed conflict reached its conclusion. Outside of the conflict zone, the overwhelming majority of victims of human rights violations, such as extrajudicial killings and disappearances, were young male Tamils, while Tamils were estimated to be only 16 percent of the overall population. Credible reports cited unlawful killings by paramilitaries and others believed to be working with the awareness and assistance of the government, assassinations by unknown perpetrators, politically motivated killings, and disappearances.

An August report from State also (cautiously) expressed concern about the integrity of the government’s commission. In short, Butenis’s assessment is generally consistent with what humanitarian workers on the ground in Sri Lanka at the time of the conflict thought State’s position was — one that may not have been shared by American defense and intelligence personnel, who were believed to be less squeamish about the military campaign against the Tigers.

I asked Alan Keenan, Sri Lanka project director for ICG, about the cable. He says it contains few surprises:

It’s certainly consistent with how the embassy and the State Department are looking at the situation. They knew bad things happened — they’re calling them “alleged” war crimes, but I think in a quiet moment they would say they were war crimes. They recognize that that happened. But they don’t think there’s the space internally for it to be addressed. So I don’t think we’re learning a whole lot new. What would tell us more, and what will be more interesting, and where the issues are a bit more gray, is what happened during the war — what did the U.S. government know, and what did it do, or not do, to prevent the worst abuses and suffering?

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US embassy cables: Rajapaksa shares responsibility for 2009 Sri Lankan massacre

Friday, 15 January 2010, 12:23
S E C R E T SECTION 01 OF 03 COLOMBO 000032
SIPDIS
DEPARTMENT FOR SCA/INSB
EO 12958 DECL: 01/15/2020
TAGS PGOV, PREL, PREF, PHUM, PTER, EAID, MOPS, CE
SUBJECT: SRI LANKA WAR-CRIMES ACCOUNTABILITY: THE TAMIL
PERSPECTIVE
REF: A. 09 COLOMBO 1180 B. COLOMBO 8
COLOMBO 00000032 001.2 OF 003
Classified By: AMBASSADOR PATRICIA A. BUTENIS. REASONS: 1.4 (B, D)

1. (S) SUMMARY: There have been a few tentative steps on accountability for crimes allegedly committed by Sri Lankan troops and civilian officials during the war with the LTTE. President Rajapaksa named a committee to make recommendations to him on the U.S. incidents report by April, and candidate Fonseka has discussed privately the formation of some form of “truth and reconciliation” commission. Otherwise, accountability has not been a high-profile issue — including for Tamils in Sri Lanka. While Tamils have told us they would like to see some form of accountability, they have been pragmatic in what they can expect and have focused instead on securing greater rights and freedoms, resolving the IDP question, and improving economic prospects in the war-ravaged and former LTTE-occupied areas. Indeed, while they wanted to keep the issue alive for possible future action, Tamil politicians with whom we spoke in Colombo, Jaffna, and elsewhere said now was not time and that pushing hard on the issue would make them “vulnerable.” END SUMMARY.

ACCOUNTABILITY AS A POLITICAL ISSUE

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2. (S) Accountability for alleged crimes committed by GSL troops and officials during the war is the most difficult issue on our bilateral agenda. (NOTE: Both the State Department Report to Congress on Incidents during the Conflict and the widely read report by the University Teachers for Human Rights (Jaffna) also detailed many incidents of alleged crimes perpetrated by the LTTE. Most of the LTTE leadership was killed at the end of the war, leaving few to be held responsible for those crimes. The Government of Sri Lanka (GSL) is holding thousands of mid- and lower-level ex-LTTE combatants for future rehabilitation and/or criminal prosecution. It is unclear whether any such prosecutions will meet international standards. END NOTE.) There have been some tentative steps on accountability on the GSL side. Soon after the appearance of the State Department report, President Rajapaksa announced the formation of an experts’ committee to examine the report and to provide him with recommendations on dealing with the allegations. At the end of the year, the president extended the deadline for the committee’s recommendations from December 31 until April. For his part, General Fonseka has spoken publicly of the need for a new deal with the Tamils and other minorities. Privately, his campaign manager told the Ambassador that Fonseka had ordered the opposition campaign to begin work planning a “truth and reconciliation” commission (ref B).

3. (S) These tentative steps notwithstanding, accountability has not been a high-profile issue in the presidential election — other than President Rajapaksa’s promises personally to stand up to any international power or body that would try to prosecute Sri Lankan war heroes. While regrettable, the lack of attention to accountability is not surprising. There are no examples we know of a regime undertaking wholesale investigations of its own troops or senior officials for war crimes while that regime or government remained in power. In Sri Lanka this is further complicated by the fact that responsibility for many of the alleged crimes rests with the country’s senior civilian and military leadership, including President Rajapaksa and his brothers and opposition candidate General Fonseka.

THE TAMIL PERSPECTIVE

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4. (S) For different reasons, of course, accountability also has not been a top priority for most Tamils in Sri Lanka. While Tamils have told us they would like to see some form of accountability, they have been pragmatic in what they can expect and have focused instead on securing greater rights and freedoms, resolving the IDP question, and improving economic prospects in the war-ravaged and former LTTE-occupied areas. Indeed, while they wanted to keep the issue alive for possible future action, Tamil leaders with whom we spoke in Colombo, Jaffna, and elsewhere said now was not time and that pushing hard on the issue would make them “vulnerable.”

5. (S) The one prominent Tamil who has spoken publicly on the issue is Tamil National Alliance (TNA) MP, self-proclaimed presidential candidate, and Prabhakaran relative M.K. Sivajilingam. Breaking from both the TNA mainstream and the pro-government Tamil groups, he launched his campaign because he believed neither the government nor the opposition was adequately addressing Tamil issues. Sivajilingam has focused on creating a de-centralized federal structure in Sri Lanka with separate prime ministers for the Sinhalese and Tamils, but he also has spoken about accountability, demanding an international inquiry to get justice for the deaths and suffering of the Tamil people.

6. (S) Other Tamil politicians have not made public statements on accountability and are generally more pragmatic in their thinking. In our multiple recent discussions with TNA leader R. Sampanthan, he said he believed accountability was important and he welcomed the international community’s — especially the diaspora’s — interest in the issue. But Sampanthan was realistic about the dim prospects for any Sri Lankan government to take up the issue. Granting that governments in power do not investigate their own, Sampanthan nevertheless said it was important to the health of the nation to get the truth out. While he believed the Tamil community was “vulnerable” on the issue and said he would not discuss “war crimes” per se in parliament for fear of retaliation, Sampanthan would emphasize the importance of people knowing the truth about what happened during the war. We also have asked Sampanthan repeatedly for his ideas on an accountability mechanism that would be credible to Tamils and possible within the current political context, but he has not been able to provide such a model.

7. (S) Mano Ganesan, MP and leader of the ethnic Tamil Democratic People’s Front (DPF), is a Colombo-based Tamil who counts as supporters many of the well-educated, long-term Colombo and Western Province resident Tamils, and was an early supporter of Fonseka. The general made promises that convinced him that if Fonseka were to win, ethnic reconciliation issues would then be decided by parliament, not the Executive President. On accountability, Ganesan told us that while the issue was significant XXXXXXXXXXXX accountability was a divisive issue and the focus now had to be on uniting to rid the country of the Rajapaksas.

8. (S) TNA MP Pathmini Sithamparanathan told us in mid-December that the true story of what happened in the final weeks of the war would not go away and would come out eventually, but she also said now was not the time for war crimes-type investigations. Finally, on a recent trip to Jaffna, PolOff found that local politicians did not raise accountability for events at the end of the war as an issue of immediate concern, focusing instead on current bread-and-butter issues, such as IDP releases, concerns about Sinhala emigration to traditional Tamil regions, and

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re-developing the local economy.

COMMENT

——-

9. (S) Accountability is clearly an issue of importance for the ultimate political and moral health of Sri Lankan society. There is an obvious split, however, between the Tamil diaspora and Tamils in Sri Lanka on how and when to address the issue. While we understand the former would like to see the issue as an immediate top-priority issue, most Tamils in Sri Lanka appear to think it is both unrealistic and counter-productive to push the issue too aggressively now. While Tamil leaders are very vocal and committed to national reconciliation and creating a political system more equitable to all ethnic communities, they believe themselves vulnerable to political or even physical attack if they raise the issue of accountability publicly, and common Tamils appear focused on more immediate economic and social concerns. A few have suggested to us that while they cannot address the issue, they would like to see the international community push it. Such an approach, however, would seem to play into the super-heated campaign rhetoric of Rajapaksa and his allies that there is an international conspiracy against Sri Lanka and its “war heroes.” BUTENIS

_____________________________________________________

WikiLeaks cables: ‘Sri Lankan president responsible for massacre of Tamils’

by Julian Borger, diplomatic editor, The Guardian, UK, December 1, 2010

Tamil activists in Britain – where Mahinda Rajapaksa is currently visiting – are seeking an arrest warrant for alleged war crimes

Sri Lanka's president, Mahinda Rajapaksa 2010

Sri Lanka’s president, Mahinda Rajapaksa. Photograph: Keystone/Rex Features

American diplomats believed that the Sri Lankan president, Mahinda Rajapaksa, bore responsibility for a massacre last year that is the subject of a UN war crimesinquiry, according to a leaked US cable.

Lawyers for Tamil activists in Britain are seeking an arrest warrant against President Rajapaksa for alleged war crimes committed last year at the bloody end of the long-running civil war against Tamil separatists. Rajapaksa, who is in the UK, is due to meet the defence secretary, Liam Fox, tomorrow and had an address to the Oxford Union scheduled for Fridaycancelled due to security concerns.

Thousands of Tamils are thought to have died in a few days in May 2009, when a large concentration of Tamil Tiger guerrillas and civilians, crammed in a small coastal strip, came under heavy bombardment from Sri Lankan government forces.

In a cable sent on 15 January this year, the US ambassador in Colombo, Patricia Butenis, said one of the reasons there was such little progress towards a genuine Sri Lankan inquiry into the killings was that the president and the former army commander, Sarath Fonseka, were largely responsible. “There are no examples we know of a regime undertaking wholesale investigations of its own troops or senior officials for war crimes while that regime or government remained in power,” Butenis noted.

“In Sri Lanka this is further complicated by the fact that responsibility for many alleged crimes rests with the country’s senior civilian and military leadership, including President Rajapaksa and his brothers and opposition candidate General Fonseka.” Fonseka was convicted of corruption by a court martial this year.

In her cable to Washington, Butenis seeks to explain why there is so little momentum towards the formation of a “truth and reconciliation” commission, or any other form of accountability.

Most Tamil Tiger commanders, also under suspicion for war crimes such as the use of civilians as human shields, had been killed at the end of the war.

President Rajapaksa had meanwhile fought an election campaign promising to resist any international efforts to prosecute “war heroes” in the nation’s army.

Not only was the Colombo government not interested in investigating itself, but Tamils in Sri Lanka – unlike those abroad – were also nervous about the issue as it might make them targets for reprisals.

Butenis wrote: “While they wanted to keep the issue alive for possible future action, Tamil leaders with whom we spoke in Colombo, Jaffna and elsewhere said now was not time and that pushing hard on the issue would make them ‘vulnerable’.

“Accountability is clearly an issue of importance for the ultimate political and moral health of Sri Lankan society,” the ambassador concluded, but she did not think it would happen any time soon.

Last month David Cameron endorsed calls for an independent investigation into the end of the Sri Lankan civil war in 2009. The UN has set up a inquiry into the events of last May, but Butenis thinks any overt foreign push for prosecutions would be counter-productive.

“Such an approach, however, would seem to play into the super-heated campaign rhetoric of Rajapaksa and his allies that there is an international conspiracy against Sri Lanka and its ‘war heroes’,” Butenis argued.

A spokesman for Fox said: “Dr Fox will be meeting President Rajapaksa in a private capacity. This reflects Dr Fox’s long standing interest in Sri Lanka and his interest in, and commitment to peace and reconciliation there.”