War crimes allegations: SLAF Chief’s diplomatic appointment rejected again

Govt. yet to take up the issue at hand, Parliament silent 

By Shamindra Ferdinando

The government is now planning to appoint retired SLAF Commander Air Marhal Sumangala Dias as Sri Lanka’s High Commissioner in Malaysia.

Sri Lanka’s Ambassador in Malaysia AM Kapila Jayampathy, who, too, served as the Commander of the SLAF previously, is likely to complete his term next December.

Having served the SLAF since 1984, Air Marshal Dias retired on Nov 02, 2020, as the SLAF’s 17th Commander. The Island learns that the government has been compelled to look for a new station in the wake of European Union member Italy’s refusal to accept Air Marshal Dias as Sri Lanka’s Ambassador there.

Authoritative sources said that retired senior members of the Sri Lankan military had been rejected on the basis of unsubstantiated war crimes accusations. Some countries have declined to issue visas even for private visits, sources said. They cited Australia’s refusal to issue visa to General Chagie Gallage, before his retirement, and the US slapping a travel ban on General Shavendra Silva, who is also the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS).

Earlier, the government sought to appoint the retired Air Marshal as Sri Lanka’s High Commissioner in Canada, a member of Sri Lanka Core Group, in Geneva, spearheading accountability issues. Canada campaigned for the resolution adopted on March 23 at the UNHRC with 22 countries voting for, 11 against and 14 abstentions.

Authoritative sources said that there hadn’t been a single specific accusation against Dias.

The Canadian High Commission declined to comment on the matter. Asked for clarification regarding Sri Lanka’s request and Canadian denial, the HC said that ‘as it is subject to state-to-state confidentiality, we do not comment on the process.”

The Island

sought Canadian HC’s response in the wake of the Air Marshal, receiving parliamentary approval.

The Communications Department of the Parliament on April 23, 2021, quoted the Secretary General of Parliament, Dhammika Dasanayake, as having said that the Parliamentary High Posts Committee, chaired by Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena, had approved Air Marshal Dias and P.M. Amza as Sri Lanka’s envoys in Canada and Saudi Arabia, respectively. The Secretary General made no reference to those countries declining to accept previous nominations. Amza held the rank of Acting Additional Secretary, Foreign Ministry.

Due to Canada and Saudi Arabia refusing to accept retired Air Marshal Sumangala Dias and Ahmed A. Jawad, respectively, as heads of Sri Lankan missions, Parliament made the April 23 announcement.

The government announced the appointment of AM Dias, as well as Ahmed A. Jawad, in late Oct 2020. The HPC approved their appointments the following month. Sources said that Saudi Arabia rejected Jawad’s appointment as he served as Sri Lanka’s Ambassador in Riyadh at the time teenage Sri Lankan maid Rizana Nafeek was beheaded in early January 2013. The then Rajapaksa administration protested the Saudi execution by recalling Ahmed. Saudi Arabia, too, recalled its envoy. Sources said that HPC should have considered Nafeek’s incident before making the announcement.

The Island

 raised the issues at hand with the Public Diplomacy Division of the Foreign Ministry.

The Island:

What is the status of the move to appoint retired AM Dias as Ambassador in Rome?


Air Marshal Sumangala Dias has not been appointed as the Ambassador of Sri Lanka to Italy.

The Island:

On what grounds Ottawa declined to accept AM Dias as HC?


The Government of Canada has not declined the nomination of AM Dias as the High Commissioner of Sri Lanka.

The Island:

When will civil society activist Harsha Kumara Navaratne, who recently resigned from the Human Rights Commission, leave for Ottawa?


The new High Commissioner-Designate of Sri Lanka to Canada, Harsha Kumara Navaratne, is expected to take up duties at the Mission shortly.

The Island:

How many foreign missions do we have?


The Government has established a total number of 66 diplomatic missions, excluding the Embassy of Sri Lanka, in Kabul, Afghanistan, temporarily closed due to the current developments in that country. The network of Sri Lanka’s diplomatic missions comprises 36 Embassies, 13 High Commissions, 02 Permanent Missions to the United Nations, 01 Deputy High Commissioner’s Office, 13 Consulates-General, and 01 Representative Office abroad.

The FM said that the Heads of Missions/Posts of Sri Lanka consists of a total number of 29 career officers appointed from the Sri Lanka Foreign Service, two career officers from the Department of Commerce, and 21 non-career personnel (excluding the Ambassador of Sri Lanka to Afghanistan whose tenure was concluded recently), serving as Heads of Mission/Post abroad.

Responding to another query, the FM said that 14 Sri Lanka Heads of Missions/Posts remained vacant excluding the Ambassador of Sri Lanka to Afghanistan. Accordingly, the Government of Sri Lanka was in the process of formalising appointments of new Heads of Missions/Posts to those vacant, posts as appropriate in collaboration with the receiving states, the FM said.

Ministerial sources said that Parliamentary High Posts Committee (HPC) chaired by Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena should seriously consider the issue at hand. The rejection of diplomatic appointments and visas in respect of private visits on the basis of unproved war crimes accusations should be properly dealt with. War winning Army Commander Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka, a current member of the HPC, too, remained blacklisted by the US.


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