Corporate Watch researcher and the author of “Britain’s Dirty War against the Tamil People” Phil Miller has highlighted the UK’s double standards in its approach to the human rights of the Tamil people in Sri Lanka.
Addressing the book launch of the Tamil translation of his investigative report “Britain’s Dirty War” against the Tamil People yesterday in Essen, Germany, Phil Miller slammed “although Britain has since supported a UN investigation into war crimes committed during this period, the details of this dubious Belfast-Colombo security liaison are still shrouded in secrecy”.
“Britain’s policy of relentless support was carried to its logical conclusion in 2009, when with bombs dropping on hospitals, the Foreign Office saw fit for senior Northern Ireland police officers to visit Sri Lanka as critical friends” He said further.
This event was organised by International Human Rights Association Bremen.
The full text of his speech is as follows:
I began the research for this report after seeing Tamil refugees deported en masse from the UK to Sri Lanka three years ago. Many of them had been tortured once already, and had the scars to prove it. But the British government was handing them back to their persecutors.
I was studying at a London university where there was a group that visited asylum-seekers in detention centres. This was how I came into contact with Tamil torture survivors. So some of us launched a direct action campaign to physically block the deportation buses from taking these Tamil refugees to the airport. We had some success, but I was stunned by Britain’s stubborn foreign policy on Sri Lanka and wanted to understand why it was so determined to be complicit in the torture of Tamils. I started going to the UK National Archives, doing Freedom of Information requests and linking up with Tamil and Sinhalese exiles who knew more about the history of Britain and Sri Lanka.
The report starts in 1979, four years before conventional historians say the civil war began in Sri Lanka. I deliberately picked this year as my starting point because the British state was already treating it like a civil war. The Foreign Office secretly sent Jack Morton, a former MI5 director, to advise on the total reorganisation of Sri Lanka’s intelligence agencies. He reported back on ‘the depressing picture of apparatus and morale in the security forces tackling the Tamil problem’, at a time when the Tamil armed struggle for independence was just beginning.
Who was Jack Morton? He had been a Director of Intelligence in Malaya during the emergency. Morton had also been involved in countering the IRA’s campaigns against British rule in Ireland.
In case Morton’s expertise wasn’t enough, a month before the official start of the conflict in 1983, senior Sri Lankan policemen visited Belfast “to see at first hand the roles of the police and army in counter-terrorist operations”. The next month, Sri Lankan police looked on as pogrom of Tamils spread through the capital. This event, known as Black July, marked the official start of the conflict.
Sri Lanka wanted British help setting up a police commando unit for counter-insurgency and paramilitary operations. The FCO promised to help “discreetly”. Conveniently then from 1983-1987, KMS Ltd, a British mercenary company comprised of ex-SAS soldiers trained Sri Lankan police commandos, army officers and helicopter gunship pilots in counter-insurgency techniques. KMS is now one of Britain’s oldest private military companies, trading under the name of Saladin Security.
The 1990s were no different; UK military training continued unabated. The Defence Attaché at the British High Commission even described himself as a protégé of General Frank Kitson, godfather of Britain’s colonial counter-insurgency campaigns in Kenya, Malaya and Ireland. Then in 1997, almost 50 years after Sri Lanka became independent from the Empire, the British Army helped establish a military academy on the island for senior officers.
The Ministry of Defence attached a British Colonel to the college, where he held one of the highest positions. His first batch of students included a young Kamal Gunaratne, who would go on to command the Sri Lankan Army’s 53rd Division in the killing fields during 2009. His unit is alleged to have executed the Tamil female journalist Isaipriya. The twisted irony is that the college’s motto was, ‘To war with wisdom and knowledge’.
Despite all these efforts to bolster the Sri Lankan military, by 2001 the Tamil Tigers were able to deliver a crippling blow on the island’s main airport, destroying almost a third of the Sri Lankan Air Force’s aircraft and half the civilian fleet of Sri Lankan Airlines. The financial repercussions were mitigated when Lloyd’s of London agreed not to raise insurance premiums. Instead, Lloyd’s arranged for a crack team of British special forces veterans to beef up security in Colombo and other vital ports.
Britain also used political pressure to marginalise the LTTE and privilege the Sri Lankan government at the negotiating table. The UK Terrorism Act 2000 included the LTTE on its list of proscribed organisations. The ban came at a time when the Tigers were offering a unilateral ceasefire.
Even after a truce was signed in 2002, the British government continued to arm and advise the Sri Lankan side. General Michael Rose, a former director of UK Special Forces, advised the Sri Lankan military on a “Strategic Defence Review” from 2002-4. Michael Rose had been in Derry on Bloody Sunday, when British troops massacred Irish protesters.
Britain’s policy of relentless support was carried to its logical conclusion in 2009, when with bombs dropping on hospitals, the Foreign Office saw fit for senior Northern Ireland police officers to visit Sri Lanka as ‘critical friends’. Although Britain has since supported a UN investigation into war crimes committed during this period, the details of this dubious Belfast-Colombo security liaison are still shrouded in secrecy. The Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) officers, Assistant Chief Constable Duncan McCausland and Chief Superintendent Gary White had plenty of counter terrorism and public order experience between them. On retirement they both took up directorships at Ineqe, a Belfast-based security company that offers 5 levels of riot control courses, covering water cannon and projectiles. The CEO is Jim Gamble, former Belfast Head of RUC Special Branch.
The report looks for answers in the geo-political background to the conflict. Some valuable insight comes from Liam Fox, Britain’s former defence secretary. During a speech in Colombo three years ago he commented that:
‘Sri Lanka is located in a pivotal position in the Indian Ocean with major international shipping routes between the Far East and the Gulf within 25 miles of your coast. In Trincomalee, Sri Lanka has a formidable strategic asset in this struggle [against piracy] that has yet to be fully realise