The United States which denied entry visas to Sri Lanka Army Commander Lt. Gen. Shavendra Silva and his family this week ‘officially’ reasoning that it has credible information he was “responsible for gross violation of human rights and extrajudicial killings” earlier revoked or denied visas to International Criminal Court (ICC) members who were scheduled to visit the U.S. to investigate alleged war crimes by the U.S. military in Afghanistan.Sri Lanka’s Army Commander Lt. Gen. Shavendra Silva
The Trump administration announced last year it was barring entry into the U.S. to ICC investigators to probe into possible U.S. war crimes in Afghanistan in 2017. A 2016 ICC report accused the U.S. military of torturing at least 61 prisoners in Afghanistan and accused the CIA of subjecting at least 27 prisoners to torture, including rape, at a number of CIA prison site.
Earlier Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that the United States will revoke or deny visas issued to International Criminal Court members who’ve been investigating possible war crimes committed by the U.S. military. Pompeo also threatened investigators with sanctions, and noted that the rules would also apply to members who investigated American allies without the U.S.’s consent.
International Criminal Court prosecutor Fatou Bensouda (center) whose U.S. entry visa was revoked by the U.S. State Department last yea
Pronouncements from the Trump administration suggested that the United States was preparing to go to war against the ICC itself, motivated largely by an effort to silence investigations into alleged American war crimes committed in Afghanistan. In a speech at a Washington D.C. event held by the Federalist Society, Donald Trump’s onetime national security adviser John Bolton denounced the ICC as “illegitimate” and expressed his intentions toward the institution in no uncertain terms. “We will not cooperate with the ICC,” Bolton said. “We will provide no assistance to the ICC.”
Because it involves U.S. officials themselves, at the center of the campaign against the ICC is a 2016 report by ICC prosecutors that deals in part with the war in Afghanistan. That report alleges the commission of widespread crimes by the Taliban and Afghan government forces. But the report also makes allegations of serious crimes committed by U.S. military forces and the CIA, including “torture, cruel treatment, outrages upon personal dignity, and rape.”
The ICC investigators were scheduled to arrive in the United States to continue with their investigations when the Trump administration revoked their entry visas.
The crimes in question appear to have been related to detention programs run in Afghanistan during the early years of the U.S. occupation. While the report does not name the individuals responsible or their victims, it indicates that there are dozens of cases in which torture, cruel treatment, and sexual assault were committed by American soldiers and CIA officers in Afghanistan from 2003 to 2004.
The report also states that the alleged crimes “were not the abuses of a few isolated individuals,” adding that “there is a reasonable basis to believe these alleged crimes were committed in furtherance of a policy or policies aimed at eliciting information through the use of interrogation techniques involving cruel or violent methods which would support U.S. objectives in the conflict in Afghanistan.”
Having had this checkered past of disallowing the ICC to carry out its routing probe in revoking the investigative team’s entry visas, the U.S. denied visas to the family of Sri Lanka Army Commander Shavendra Silva, as Sri Lanka’s Foreign Ministry stated “there were no substantiated or proven allegations of human rights violations against him.”
When Shavendra Silva was appointed the Army Chief last August, the U.S. Embassy in Colombo in a media note stated its deep concern about the appointment because of “allegations of gross human rights violations against the new Army Commander, documented by the United Nations and other organizations, are serious and credible.”
This week, in refusing the entry visa to Lt. Gen. Shavendra Silva the State Department issuing a statement said:
“Section 7031(c) provides that, in cases where the Secretary of State has credible information that foreign officials have been involved in a gross violation of human rights or significant corruption, those individuals and their immediate family members are ineligible for entry into the United States. The law also requires the Secretary of State to publicly or privately designate such officials and their immediate family members. In addition to the public designation of Shavendra Silva, the Department is also designating his immediate family members.
“The allegations of gross human rights violations against Shavendra Silva, documented by the United Nations and other organizations, are serious and credible. His designation underscores the importance we place on human rights in Sri Lanka and globally, our concern over impunity for human rights violations and abuses, as well as our support for promoting accountability for those who engage in such acts. We urge the Sri Lankan government to promote human rights, hold accountable individuals responsible for war crimes and human rights violations, advance security sector reform and uphold its other commitments to pursue justice and reconciliation.
“We deeply value our partnership with the Sri Lankan government and the long-standing democratic tradition we share with the Sri Lankan people. The United States remains committed to strengthening the bilateral relationship with Sri Lanka and helping reshape its security forces to tackle current and emerging threats. Security cooperation will continue to emphasize respect for human rights as a fundamental component of our training, assistance, and engagements.
“The United States will continue to use all available tools and authorities, as appropriate, to address human rights violations and abuses around the world no matter when they occurred or who perpetrated them. Today’s actions underscore our commitment to support human rights, promote accountability for perpetrators, and encourage reconciliation in support of a peaceful, stable, and prosperous Sri Lanka.”
Short-sighted decision with consequences related to Indo-Pacific region
The refusal of entry visas is not necessarily a decision taken in Washington. In the case of Army Commander Lt. Gen. Shavendra Silva, this is solely taken by the American diplomatic mission in Colombo in concurrence with Washington. The State Department acts are based on reports sent by the American Embassy in Sri Lanka.
Shavendra Silva was leading a Division of the Army, supported by other Divisions, engaged in the final assault on the Tamil Tiger fighting cadre that led to the defeat of the separatists.
Washington was not happy about the final defeat of the LTTE as Washington maneuvered in April 2009, a month before the total defeat, to get the Government of Sri Lanka to halt the offensive on the pretext of safeguarding the unarmed civilians to prevent a total annihilation to save the top leadership of the outfit for later use as a ‘pressure group’ to make changes in Sri Lanka’s polity which the U.S. often believed under the control of extremist Sinhalese.
This unexpected defeat of the LTTE led Washington to manipulate the UNHRC in Geneva to investigate how Sri Lanka handled the final stage of the Eelam War IV. Washington’s decisions to halt the offensive against the Tamil Tigers and its moves to use UNHRC were largely influenced by operatives of the LTTE in the U.S. and many Western capitals. State Department officials were in constant contact with the LTTE representatives in the Tamil Diaspora during the final months of the War. A month before the war ended (May 18, 2009), the LTTE activists in the U.S. were engaged in a discourse with Assistant Secretary Richard Boucher and U.S. Ambassador Robert Blake who were on video conference linking Colombo and Washington.
Since the advent of the Trump administration in January 2017, Washington – both the State Department and Pentagon – worked very closely with the centrist Sirisena-Wickremasinghe administration, which had already replaced the Rajapaksa administration which had moved away from the United States due to latter’s drastic reduction of military assistance during the (2006-2009) war, to enlist Sri Lanka as a ‘Willing Partner’ in its ambitious military buildup in the Indo-Pacific region to face the expansion of China.
The 2007-signed – eight-page – Acquisition and Cross-Services Agreement (ACSA) was drastically revised and enhanced to 83 pages for the U.S. and Sri Lanka to sign in August 2017. Washington thereafter was interested in signing a Visiting Forces Agreement (also known as Status of Forces Agreement/SOFA), which could bring American boots to Sri Lanka, to fully activate the ACSA. The SOFA is still under scrutiny and pending. During the past three years Washington’s military enhancement in the Indo-Pacific region – with both U.S. and India cementing their military bonds following two 2+2 Ministerial Dialogues – Sri Lanka was drawn closer to American military endeavor because of its strategic location in the region. The Asian Tribune has often reported in these columns that Washington wants to keep Sri Lanka as a “Willing Partner” in its military exercise to meet the Chinese expansion in the region highlighting the frequent visits to Colombo of US military leaders.
Since Gotabaya Rajapaksa became the President in November 2019, his administration has so far made no indication that he was neither interested in a SOFA agreement nor prepared to move away from the 2017-signed ACSA.
Having known this background the U.S. Department of State rejected the entry visa for Lt. Gen. Shavendra Silva, a move that could unnecessarily anger President Gotabaya Rajapaksa who served in the Sri Lanka military with Silva in the last millennium and was closely tied with him during the Eelam War IV (2006-2009) when Rajapaksa was Defense Secretary giving the leadership to the battle against the separatist LTTE which was threatening the territorial integrity and sovereignty of the nation.
The Asian Tribune is currently carrying a report – Philippines scraps military pact – SOFA/VFA – with the U.S. – a result of refusing an entry visa to a close colleague of President Duterte.
Media widely reported that the move to end the pact follows anger over Washington’s reported decision last month to cancel the U.S. visa of Philippine Sen. Ronald dela Rosa. The former chief of National Police, dela Rosa, enforced Duterte’s war on drugs, which has been widely condemned by international human rights watchdogs.