Explained: Why has the US imposed a travel ban on Sri Lanka Army Chief?

Explained Desk | New Delhi |

Updated: February 15, 2020 3:05:31 pm

Explained: Why has the US imposed a travel ban on Sri Lanka Army Chief Shavendra Silva? FILE PHOTO: Chief of staff of Sri Lankan army Shavendra Silva attends a news conference in Colombo, Sri Lanka May 16, 2019. Picture taken May 16, 2019. On August 19, 2019 Shavendra Silva was named as army chief. REUTERS/Dinuka Liyanawatte/File Photo

On Friday, the US government imposed sanctions on Sri Lanka’s Commander of the Army and Chief of Defence Staff Shavendra Silva and his immediate family saying there was “credible information of his involvement in human rights violations” during the final phase of the 26-years long Sri Lankan civil war that ended in 2009. The sanctions imposed prevent Silva and his family from entering the US.

The statement issued by the Department of State said, “The allegations of gross human rights violations against Shavendra Silva, documented by the United Nations and other organizations, are serious and credible. His designation underscores the importance we place on human rights in Sri Lanka and globally, our concern over impunity for human rights violations and abuses, as well as our support for promoting accountability for those who engage in such acts.

“The United States remains committed to strengthening the bilateral relationship with Sri Lanka and helping reshape its security forces to tackle current and emerging threats,” it added.

Explained: Who is Shavendra Silva?

Silva commanded the 58th Division during the final phase of the Sri Lankan civil war in May 2009 and reported to General Jagath Jayasuriya at the time. He was then a part of the Gajaba Regiment of the then Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa.

In September 2011, two plaintiffs filed a case for torture and wrongful killing against Silva in New York, which was dismissed on the grounds of diplomatic immunity in 2012. In the same year, Silva was removed from a top UN peacekeeping advisory committee because of allegations of war crimes against him.

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In August 2019, Rajapaksa appointed Silva as the army chief, following which in October, US officials said that Sri Lanka’s appointment of a war veteran accused of serious human rights violations as head of the army will significantly curtail US security cooperation with the country.

Explained: Why has the US imposed a travel ban on Sri Lanka Army Chief Shavendra Silva? Sri Lanka’s Lt. Gen. Shavendra Silva at a military facility in Kilinochchi, Sri Lanka in 2009. (AP Photo: Chamila Karunarathne, File)

Previously, a UN panel had also accused the division that Silva commanded during the civil war of carrying out extrajudicial killings of unarmed rebels during the final weeks of the war and the systemic torture of people in custody.

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Soon after the announcement, Sri Lanka’s Ministry of Defence issued a press release, which said that Silva was appointed to the post by the Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa on account of him being the senior-most serving military officer. “While the timing of this imposition of this travel restriction 6 months after Lt. Gen. Silva’s appointment as Army Commander is concerning, it is disappointing that a foreign government should question the prerogative of the democratically elected President to call upon persons with proven expertise to hold key positions on national security related matters.”

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