The appointment of Major-General Shavendra Silva as the 23rd Chief of the Sri Lankan Army by President Maithripala Sirisena has deeply concerned the international community in Colombo. In January this year, the International Truth and Justice Project published a 137-page dossier on Silva which showed there was more than enough evidence to charge him with war crimes and crimes against humanity. Instead, he has now been promoted to the most powerful job in the Army just months before the presidential election.
“This is a man who has shown his willingness to violate international law…His promotion will spark fear throughout the country, especially among the hundreds of thousands of Tamils who suffered immense loss in 2009 when Silva oversaw attacks on civilian sites,” said Yasmin Sooka, executive director of ITJP.
Silva commanded the Sri Lankan Army’s 58 Division during the final stages of the civil war against the LTTE in 2009 and was responsible for executing white flagcarrying LTTE cadre who were surrendering after being assured of safety. His taking over as the Army chief marks the end of any reconciliation process and undermines the Colombo co-sponsored UN Human Rights Council resolution of 2015 to promote justice and accountability.
While the Tamil majority Northern and Eastern Provinces are still reeling under Army occupation, the Tamil National Alliance found the elevation of Silva an affront to their sentiments.
His promotion severely compromises Sri Lanka’s commitment to promote justice and accountability. Dispensing with diplomatic niceties, the US Embassy in Colombo issued a strongly worded statement which said: “The US is deeply concerned by the appointment of Lieutenant-General Shavendra Silva as Army Commander.
The allegations of gross human rights violations against him, documented by the United Nations and other organisations, are serious and credible. The appointment undermines Sri Lanka’s international reputation and its commitments to promote justice and accountability, especially at a time when the need for reconciliation and social unity is paramount.” Accusing ‘foreign entities’ of trying to influence the administrative process of public service promotions, Sri Lanka’s Foreign Ministry said the appointment of Silva as Army Chief was a ‘sovereign decision’ taken by President Sirisena and the comments were “unwarranted and unacceptable.”
Persons holding key positions in public service need to act responsibly according to rules and regulations in the larger interest of the general public. Silva had never been held accountable for crushing the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna insurgency in the late 1980s during which time there were summary executions, enforced disappearances, torture and sexual violence. He was based in Matale, serving under Gotabaya Rajapaksa who commanded the first Gajaba Regiment. Gotabaya is Sri Lanka Peoples Party’s presidential candidate. Que sera, sera.