Shavendra Silva, accused of human rights abuses during Sri Lanka's war against LTTE, becomes army chief

FP Staff

United Nations has come down heavily on the appointment of Major General Shavendra Silva as the new Sri Lankan Army chief calling the move 'deeply troubling'. Silva, a controversial field commander, is accused of grave human rights abuses during the country's long-running civil war.

President Maithripala Sirisena also promoted Silva to the rank of lieutenant general on Monday.

The officer headed the Sri Lankan Army's 58th Division during the final stages of the civil war against the rebel Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in 2009.

The newly-appointed army chief was implicated in an incident when an LTTE cadre who was surrendering, was reportedly executed after being assured security, The Hindu reported.

What the United Nations is saying? 

"I am deeply troubled by the appointment of Lieutenant-General Shavendra Silva as Commander of the Sri Lankan Army, despite the serious allegations of gross violations of international human rights and humanitarian law against him and his troops during the war," the UN's High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) Michelle Bachelet said in a statement on Monday.

Bachelet added that the promotion "undermines reconciliation efforts, particularly in the eyes of victims and survivors who suffered greatly in the war. It also sets back security sector reform, and is likely to impact on Sri Lanka's ability to continue contributing to UN peacekeeping efforts."

One of his brigades was accused of attacking civilians, hospitals and restricting humanitarian supplies to trapped Tamil civilians.

Silva (55), who will take charge as incumbent Army chief Lt Gen Mahesh Senanayake's service was not extended, has however denied the allegations of violating international human rights laws, including shelling a hospital.

During the final months of the war, as many as 45,000 ethnic Tamil civilians were estimated to have been killed, according to the United Nations.

United Nations 2015 report 

In a 2015 UN report, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights alleged human rights violations linked to Silva's 58 Division, accusing the Sri Lankan forces of grave abuses, including unlawful killings and sexual and gender-based violence, Al Jazeera reported.

According to the report, Silva's army division shelled a hospital and a UN hub in Putumattalan, a city that the security forces were tasked to recapture from the rebel Tamil Tigers.

During the last months of the war, the OHCHR alleged that hospitals were repeatedly shelled, forcing patients to escape, with some even carrying their intravenous drips.

The OHCHR alleges that during the last months of the offensive, hospitals were shelled repeatedly, during which patients were forced to escape, some even carrying their intravenous drips with them.

The report further said that the attack by the Sri Lankan forces were not "isolated incidents" and "in some cases may have deliberately targeted the humanitarian facilities".

International Truth and Justice Project refers to Silva's appointment as 'immense damage' 

Other than the UN, the International Truth and Justice Project, a group seeking accountability for wartime abuses, called the development as "immensely damaging to the country".

"After so much bloodshed Sri Lankans need to hold their leaders accountable in order to stop the repeated cycles of violence," Yasmin Sooka, the organisation's executive director, said, adding that Silva's promotion sent a message of "total impunity".

The group also said that the appointment might put US assistance to the Sri Lankan Army in question. The island nation's army is subject to Leahy Laws which prohibit the US from providing military assistance to foreign security force units that violate human rights with impunity.

With inputs from agencies 

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