A top Sri Lanka military officer who issued a death threat in public to Tamil protestors in London had been allowed to work as a diplomat in the UK by the British government that failed to check his human rights record.
On Sri Lanka’s 70th Independence Day, 4 February 2018, Defence Attaché Brigadier Priyanka Fernando repeatedly mimed slitting throat gestures to hundreds of chanting Tamil protestors outside the High Commission in London. The video of him, in full military dress uniform, doing this in front of the High Commission building went viral.
“The UK government has clearly not done the due diligence to ensure that potential human rights violators are prevented from entering the UK and being allowed to hold office in the UK,” said JDS and the International Truth and Justice Project (ITJP) in their latest report on Brigadier Fernando.
The UK Government is spending £6.5m on security sector reform in Sri Lanka which includes a component of training the Sri Lankan police and army. Accepting the credentials of military officers to the UK without vetting them constitutes a serious breach of UK commitment to human rights and the rule of law.
Therefore, ITJP and JDS are calling the UK government to specify what its criteria are for vetting members of the Sri Lankan security forces.
The Sri Lankan military have been accused of a wide range of war crimes including summary execution that in some instances involved the slitting of throats of bound Tamil detainees, the gesture was deliberate and intended to inspire fear, says the report.
Brigadier Fernando described as a “battle hardened” soldier, played a key role in a military operation alleged of shelling the Mullaitivu hospital in northeastern Sri Lanka. He was commanding a battalion under the 59th division of the Sri Lankan army in 2008 when it launched an offensive against the Tamil Tigers in the north.
During this period the 59 Division was the most nearby fighting force to Mullaitivu where the UN confirmed the hospital came under repeated shell attack from government forces.
ITJP and JDS is requesting vetting authorities to ask him to clarify what his role, if any, was in those attacks on hospitals, which if proven in a court of law could amount to war crimes.
Tamil Solidarity that organised the London protest on Sri Lanka’s 70th Independence Day with the Tamil Coordination Committee has launched an online petition calling for the immediate removal of the abusive defence attaché.
A cross party British parliamentary group urging the expulsion of Brigadier Fernando has written to Foreign Secretary saying that his gesture was “inappropriate, unacceptable and threatening behaviour from someone who is serving in an official capacity as a guest of this country.”