Major General Prasanna de Silva – the defence adviser at the Sri Lanka high commission in London – is to return to Sri Lanka soon, the Guardian newspaper reported.This comes as an organisation representing the Tamil diaspora was set to launch legal action against the British Foreign Office over its failure to confront Major General de Silva over allegations of being involved in alleged war crimes. The Foreign Office confirmed it had received a dossier on Silva in January and had advised the NGOs who compiled it – the Society for Threatened Peoples, Trial and the European Centre for Constitutional and Human Rights – to pass “any credible evidence” on to the Met.“We also looked closely at the dossier ourselves,” said an FCO spokesman. “However, while we were assessing this evidence, we were notified that Silva was planning to move on soon.” The spokesman said that while the British government takes all such allegations very seriously, he was unable to comment on the legal action brought by the GTF.Siobhain McDonagh, the Labour MP for Mitcham and Morden and vice-chair of the all-party parliamentary group for Tamils, described the FCO’s failure to act sooner on the dossier as “unfathomable”. The Global Tamil Forum (GTF) alleges that Silva was involved in systematic attacks on Tamil civilians between January and May 2009 when he was a senior commander in the Sri Lankan army. It has emerged in the last few days that Silva is soon to return to Sri Lanka, raising fears that he may avoid questioning. The FCO’s legal advisers have also written to the GTF’s solicitors, Birnberg, Peirce and Partners, informing them there will be a two-week delay in dealing with the case because of the Easter recess.A spokesman for the Sri Lankan government told the Guardian on Wednesday night that Silva was going home because his 18-month term as defence adviser was almost up, adding: “The claim of a lawsuit by the GTF has nothing to do with this routine transfer matter and it appears to be yet another invidious attempt to embarrass both Sri Lankan and British governments and a continuation of GTF’s history of attempting to gain misplaced publicity mileage for events it has nothing to do with.” The Sri Lankan high commission has previously described allegations against Silva as “highly spurious and uncorroborated” and accused British media of seeking “entirely falsely, to implicate members of the Sri Lankan government and senior military figures” in such acts.The GTF – which points out that the dossier in the hands of the Metropolitan police has also been in the possession of the FCO since late January – worries that Silva will have left the UK by the time action is taken.“All we are seeking is justice for the hundreds of thousands of innocent people who allegedly perished at the hands of the likes of Prasanna de Silva and others,” said a spokesman. “Our kind request to the secretary of state is to let the legal process decide whether Maj Gen Silva is guilty or not guilty.” The GTF, he added, has “complete faith in the British justice system”. It decided to press for a judicial review of the FCO’s actions after the British foreign secretary, William Hague, refused to declare Silva persona non grata and strip him of his diplomatic immunity so he could be questioned over the allegations. Scotland Yard has been handed a dossier on the allegations facing Silva but has refused to comment further on the matter. “It does seem extraordinary [for the FCO] to take no action and just rely upon the Sri Lankan government to withdraw him,” she said. “Given the evidence and that the government saw the dossier from the NGOs, why on earth did they take no action?”The British government’s behaviour, she added, would send an unfortunate message about the UK’s commitment to human rights. “If you get a reputation for taking people who there are serious allegations of war crimes against, do other countries do the same thing?” she said.“Do we want people who have those allegations against them here? Do we want people to think that we’re an easy or a soft option?”Fred Carver, the campaign director of the Sri Lanka Campaign for Peace and Justice, said he could not believe that the British government had accepted Silva’s diplomatic accreditation in the first place.“Any intern equipped with Google and a working mouse could have determined that there were credible allegations against Silva,” he said.“Now they know what they should have previously suspected and investigated, they should not hesitate to revoke it before it is too late. If they do nothing then Silva’s unhindered return will be rightly interpreted as signifying that Britain is soft on war crimes suspects.”
Syrian children have been subjected to “unspeakable” suffering in the nearly three years of civil war, with the Government and allied militia responsible for countless killings, maiming and torture, and the opposition for recruiting youngsters for combat and using terror tactics in civilian areas, according to the first United Nations report on the issue. “Violations must come to an end now,” Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon says in the report, which was released yesterday to the Security Council. “I therefore urge all parties to the conflict to take, without delay, all measures to protect and uphold the rights of all children in Syria.”The report, covering the period from 1 March 2011 to 15 November 2013, lists a raft of horrors that Syria’s children have suffered since the opposition first sought to oust President Bashar al-Assad, ranging from direct commission of abuse, including sexual violence, to more general violation of their rights from school closures and denial of access to humanitarian aid. “The present report highlights that use of weaponry and military tactics that are disproportionate and indiscriminate by Government forces and associated militias has resulted in countless killings and the maiming of children, and has obstructed children’s access to education and health services,” Mr. Ban writes.“Government forces have also been responsible for the arrest, arbitrary detention, ill treatment and torture of children. Armed opposition groups have been responsible for the recruitment and use of children both in combat and support roles, as well as for conducting military operations, including using terror tactics, in civilian-populated areas, leading to civilian casualties, including children.”The report spotlights the disappearance of many children, notes that all parties to the conflict have seriously hampered the delivery of humanitarian assistance in areas most affected by the fighting, and warns that children have experienced a high level of distress as a result of witnessing the killing and injuring of members of their families and peers, or of being separated from their family and/or displaced.Detailing the detention of children as young as 11 years old for alleged association with armed groups by Government forces in large-scale arrest campaigns, the reports says they were ill-treated and tortured to extract confessions or humiliate them or pressure a relative to surrender or confess.“Ill treatment and acts tantamount to torture reportedly included beatings with metal cables, whips and wooden and metal batons; electric shock, including to the genitals; the ripping out of fingernails and toenails; sexual violence, including rape or threats of rape; mock executions; cigarette burns; sleep deprivation; solitary confinement; and exposure to the torture of relatives,” the report says.“Reports indicate that children were also suspended from walls or ceilings by their wrists or other limbs, were forced to put their head, neck and legs through a tire while being beaten, and were tied to a board and beaten. The report cites a 16-year-old boy as saying he witnessed his 14-year-old male friend being sexually assaulted and then killed, and notes other allegations that boys and in a few instances girls were raped. The 16-year-old said children and adults were beaten with metal bars, their fingernails pulled out, their fingers cut. “Or they were beaten with a hammer in the back, sometimes until death,” he added.Allegations of sexual violence by opposition groups were also received, but the UN was unable to further investigate them due to lack of access, the report says.It adds that opposition forces recruited and used both in support roles and for combat, while Government forces used children as human shields. It notes that during the first two years of the conflict, most killings and maiming of children were attributed to Government forces, but mainly due to increased access to heavy weapons and the use of terror tactics opposition groups increasingly engaged in such acts in 2013.“Armed opposition groups also engaged in the summary execution of children,” it says, reporting that lack of access, including for security reasons, prevented the UN from systematic documentation.Schools and hospitals have been disproportionally targeted by all parties, with indications that Government forces were the main perpetrators of attacks against hospitals and other health-care infrastructure, mainly opposition-run makeshift health facilities and of threats and attacks against medical personnel, according to the report.“Injured opposition fighters and civilians, including children, admitted to Government hospitals in perceived pro-opposition areas in Aleppo, Dar’a, Homs and Idlib governorates were reportedly exposed to arrest, detention, ill treatment and acts tantamount to torture by civilian doctors, and/or elements of Government forces,” it says.The UN also received reports on instances where opposition groups denied medical treatment to injured pro-Government fighters, or misused ambulances, including to cross Government checkpoints.In his list of recommendations, Mr. Ban calls on all sides to stop all grave violations against children cited in the report, end all indiscriminate and disproportionate attacks on civilian areas, including terror tactics, airstrikes, chemical weapons and heavy artillery, allow unimpeded humanitarian access, and immediately release abducted women and children.