Feature Article

Passport fiasco

[TamilNet, Sunday, 23 December 2007, 11:58 GMT]
While the Sri Lankan High Commissioner for U.K., Ms. Kshenuka Senewiratne, toils hard to extricate the Government of Sri Lanka from the diplomatic bungle it made in issuing a diplomatic passport under false name to fugitive Vinayagamoorthy Muralitharan alias Karuna, Rights organizations accused Karuna of "war crimes," and urged British Government to try him in Britain. Meanwhile, informed sources in Colombo said Canadian Embassy had earlier rejected visa application for "Karuna," before British Embassy was misled by Colombo to issue a visa under the name of "Dushmantha Gunawardene, Director General, Wild Life Conservation."

Kshenuka Senewiratne
Sri Lanka’s High Commissioner to the United Kingdom, Ms. Kshenuka Senewiratne
Sri Lanka-Karuna Diplomatic Passport Fiasco: Time Line
  • 30 August- Sri Lanka Immigration Department issues diplomatic passport to Karuna under the false name of Dushmantha Guawadena on the orders of top authorities.
  • 05 September- British Embassy issues British visa on the travel document on false name on Third Party Notice (TPN) by Sri Lanka's Foreign Ministry: Mr Dushmantha Gunawardene's designation was Director General, Wild Life Conservation Department.
  • 11 September- Minister Champika Ranawaka submits application for visa to Canadian Embassy after he returns from Japan on the 10th
  • 15 September- Ranawaka cancels trip to Canada, after a disputed delay by the Canadian Embassy to issue visa in time: See Island editorial and Ambassador Angela J. Bogdan's response below.
  • 18 September- Karuna lands at Heathrow Airport and was accompanied to the aircraft at the Bandaranaike International Airport to board the London flight by Airport and Aviation Deputy Chief Shalitha Wijesundera. Minister Ranawaka refutes allegations of complicity in a Sunday Times interview.
  • 22 September- Ranawaka travels with President Rajapakse to New York to attend a climate change conference in New York
  • 02 November- British Borders and Immigration Agency arrests Karuna
Fred Abrahams of Human Rights Watch (HRW) said in a radio interview in Chicago Saturday that Colombo will likely have Karuna killed if he was extradited to Sri Lanka, adding that the Government is "nervous about what he will say" if he is prosecuted in Colombo.

On the issue of the passport, "British authorities have accumulated sufficient evidence to conclude that the Sri Lanka Government was complicit in arranging for Karuna to obtain a diplomatic passport and thus avoid the rigorous visa procedure at the British High Commission in Colombo, according to sources acquainted with the British inquiries into the case," a column appeared in Colombo-based Sunday Times said.

"Sri Lanka’s official position that it was not aware of any diplomatic passport held by Karuna was conveyed to British authorities when Sri Lanka’s High Commissioner Kshenuka Senewiratne was called to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) on Monday to express London’s concern," the paper said, adding "Britain has dismissed Sri Lanka’s explanation that it had no hand in granting a diplomatic passport."

Karuna applied for a British visa allegedly with the help of Mr Champika Ranawake's Environment and Natural Resources Ministry, pretending to be the "Director of Wild Life Conservation," and obtained his visa on the 5th September for his later travel to UK on the 18th September.

The timeline indicates, Mr Ranawake, member of Jathika Hela Urumaya, extremist Buddhist Monk's party, had attended an environmental conference on the 22nd September in the U.S., and has had a "well publicized" dispute with the Canadian High Commission which resulted in his cancelling a trip to Canada on the 15th September.

Informed sources in Colombo said that the Canadian High Commission, which is known to have instituted thorough vetting visa procedures, had previously denied a visa application to Karuna submitted through Mr Ranawaka's Ministry, and this was the reason for the Minister's ire at the Canadian High Commission.

Champika Ranawake
Champika Ranawaka, extremist Buddhist monks party, JHU parliamentarian (Photo: Sunday Leader)
On the issue of trying Karuna for war crimes, British courts have set a precedent in a landmark case against Faryadi Zardad, an Afghan warlord also known as Zardad Khan, who was prosecuted in Britain in 2005 for crimes committed in Afghanistan under the British Criminal Justice Act and the UN Convention Against Torture. These statutes established torture as a universal crime against humanity.

In the U.S., a similar statute dated 1789, labeled Alien Tort Claims Act (ATCA), allows federal jurisdiction to any foreign national alleging a tort committed in another country in violation of international laws, including crimes against humanity.

23.12.07  Passport fiasco

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External Links:
ST: Lanka ready to rock climate conference
ST: JHU's Champika complains of harassment by Canadian HC
BBC: Afghan warlord guilty of torture
TS: Alien Tort Claims Act of USA
ST:  Foreign Ministry responds to British summons - Right of reply
ST: Britain unimpressed with government explanation on Karuna passport


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