Posts filed under 'NGO Report'
Statement by Reporters Without Borders:
Reporters Without Borders is outraged by the murder of Paranirupasingam Devakumar, a television reporter of Tamil origin, who was hacked to death yesterday evening as he was returning to his home a few kilometres outside the northern city of Jaffna. A friend who was with him was also killed in the attack.
“Devakumar is the latest journalist to fall victim to the spiral of violence that has wracked the Jaffna peninsula since fighting between the government and Tamil Tigers resumed in 2006,” the press freedom organisation said. “The government in Colombo must do everything possible to establish the circumstances of this murder and identity those responsible, so that it does not go unpunished as so many others have.”
Reporters Without Borders added: “Although no suspect has yet been found, the security forces should explain how this attack took place in an area of the peninsula that is supposed to be under close military control. The government is exposing both its inability and its lack of political will to protect journalists.”
Aged 36, Devakumar had worked for the past three years for the three stations owned by the Maharaja Television group-MTV, Sirasa TV and Shakthi TV. He was hacked to death by an unidentified group of assailants at Navanthurai, a few kilometres outside Jaffna, as he was returning to his home in Vaddukoddai. The friend accompanying him, 24-year-old computer technician Mahendran Varadan, died later in hospital from the injuries he sustained in the attack.
The government has reportedly assigned three police teams to probe the incident. Priority could not be given to any hypothesis for the time being as Devakumar was known for covering both sides of the war between the government forces and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). He had not been criticised or threatened in the past and a personal motive cannot be ruled out.
Stressing that Devakumar’s murder was just the latest in a series of killings of journalists in the troubled Jaffna region, the Free Media Movement said condemnations and promises of investigations had no meaning “without the political will” to complete the investigations. “The repugnant impunity that aids and abets violence against journalists and media personnel must come to an end,” the FMM said.
Caught in the crossfire between two armed forces, journalists in the Jaffna peninsula are constantly the targets of threats, kidnappings and murders, and many of them have been forced to flee the region.
Reporters Without Borders has long condemned the untenability of this situation in its press releases and in a report entitled “Jaffna’s media in the grip of terror” which it published on 24 August 2007 as a member of an international press freedom mission to Sri Lanka.
President Mahinda Rajapaksa recently reiterated his determination to “defeat the terrorism” of the Tamil Tigers, who are blamed for the frequent deadly bombings in the Colombo region. Despite their attempts to suppress the information, the security forces have sustained heavy losses in the course of their attempts in recent months to dislodge the LTTE from the Jaffna peninsula.
May 29th, 2008
Selected events covering the period from January to early May 2008:
The early months of 2008 provided stark reminders of how rapid economic growth in parts of the region has changed nothing in many day-to-day lives. People continue to live in poverty and under abusive governments. An extreme case was the government of Myanmar’s disregard for its beleaguered population as it failed to facilitate aid reaching those suffering the impact of Cyclone Nargis.
Many people were executed by their governments as the year wore on, and thousands more continued to live on death row. The true total is unknown, as figures for China, Viet Nam and other countries are kept secret. Thousands faced extreme violence and losing their livelihoods as armed? conflicts intensified or reopened.
Repression of dissent
In Tibet peaceful demonstrations by monks in Lhasa led to violent protests in March, including racially targeted attacks on Han Chinese, which in turn prompted a heavy crackdown by Chinese authorities. Tibetan sources estimate that more than 150 people were killed in the unrest, with thousands detained and unaccounted for.
The crackdown on those suspected of being involved in, or supporting, 2007’s peaceful anti-government protests in Myanmar continued, with further arrests and lengthy jail terms. At least 700 prisoners of conscience arrested in relation to the demonstrations remain in detention. UN Special Advisor Ibrahim Gambari again visited Myanmar in March, but concluded his visit “yielded no tangible results”. On May 10, even as hundreds of thousands of people who survived Cyclone Nargis suffered without adequate food, shelter, and access to health care, the government proceeded to hold a national referendum on a long delayed draft Constitution, while introducing a law criminalizing protests against the referendum.
Vietnam stuck firmly to its long-held pattern of repressing legitimate and peaceful dissent — the government brought at least seven dissidents to trial and sentenced them to lengthy prison terms, and arrested at least 14 people protesting Chinese policies during the Olympic torch relay in April.
In Indonesia, 20 people in Maluku who reportedly attempted to raise a flag of independence in 2007 were sentenced to long jail sentences in April. One of them, Johan Teterisa, received a life sentence.
The Australian publishers of the Fiji Times and the Fiji Sun newspapers were deported in February and May respectively — raising concerns over a continuing trend by Fiji’s interim military administration to intimidate the media.
Human rights defenders
As the Beijing Olympics draw nearer, the authorities tightened security and the government arrested or sentenced increasing numbers of human rights defenders, often on charges of “abusing state power”.
Authorities in Cambodia arrested 16 villagers protesting to protect their land — the opening months of 2008 saw at least four incidents of forced evictions. The arrests illustrate concerns over authorities’ abuse of the criminal justice system to silence defenders of land and housing rights. The majority have since been released, six after the Prime Minister’s direct intervention.
In the Philippines further periodic political killings of leftist activists included that of trade unionist Gerardo Cristobal in March. In January the Supreme Court issued rules designed to improve habeas corpus protections as the government continued to try to improve the effectiveness of police investigations and the work of prosecutors.
However legal challenges in Malaysia against the detention without trial of five members of the Hindu Rights Action Force under the Internal Security Act were unsuccessful.
People under fire
In Afghanistan, there was no let up for those caught in the crossfire. In fact a marked rise in insurgency-related violence — including suicide attacks by the Taleban and other armed groups — directly led to civilian deaths. By April, at least 120 civilians had been reported killed in 20 separate suicide attacks.
The 2002 ceasefire agreement between the government and the LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam) in Sri Lanka broke down in January, making civilians increasingly vulnerable to abuses by all sides in the escalating armed conflict. A series of suspected LTTE bomb attacks on buses resulted in more than 100 civilian deaths.
Violence in southern Thailand continued unabated with abuses by both sides, including targeting of civilians by armed groups and reports of torture of detainees by security forces.
Voters across the region defied expectations by punishing governments with poor human rights records and pushing for human rights assurances from their candidates, and the resulting governments — in words at least — made positive commitments.
Historic elections in Nepal in March, for example, led to the establishment of a Constituent Assembly. Voters clearly expressed a desire to see the full realization of the human rights commitments in the 2006 peace agreement, including measures to combat impunity and enfranchise historically marginalized groups, such as women, lower castes, and various ethnic minorities. Concerns over excessive use of force and arbitrary arrests by the police force re-emerged both in the context of the election campaign, and during police operations against peaceful Tibetan and other demonstrators in April.
Malaysia also went to the polls in March. Opposition parties broke the ruling party’s half-century long monopoly of power, fuelling expectations that laws restricting freedoms of expression, association and assembly may be eased and reform of the police accelerated.
Elections in Pakistan in February brought to power a coalition government composed of parties opposed to the rule of General Pervez Musharraf. The new government promised to restore human rights safeguards undermined during the late 2007 State of Emergency, particularly by reinstating independent judges improperly removed by President Musharraf and repealing restrictive legislative amendments. In April, the new government ratified or signed three key international human rights covenants.
In Sri Lanka the spiralling conflict fuelled concerns over the administration of justice and the misuse of emergency laws, with the authorities failing to effectively investigate patterns of enforced disappearances and unlawful killings, including of media workers.
Better news from Bangladesh, where in April, three months after a high-level Amnesty International delegation visited the country, the caretaker government raised the possibility with the UN Secretary General of UN support to address war crimes allegedly committed in the 1971 war of independence.
Meanwhile in the same month in India, the Supreme Court asked the National Human Rights Commission to investigate human rights violations allegedly committed by government-backed militiamen within the context of continuing violent protest against industrial projects in adivasi (tribal) areas.
Reports of police brutality and abuse of detainees persisted throughout the Asia Pacific region. Reports of torture and other ill-treatment by state agents continued in Indonesia, with the UN Committee against Torture due to consider Indonesia’s compliance with the Convention in early May.
As global scrutiny focuses on China’s excessive use of the death penalty in the run up to the Beijing Olympics, other countries in the region continued to apply capital punishment. Seven inmates have been executed since January in Japan, for example, with at least 105 remaining on death row. In North Korea, 15 people were publicly executed for attempting to cross the border into China without permission. More welcome was the news from South Korea, where six of the 64 inmates facing execution had their sentences commuted. And in March, three members of the ‘Bali Nine’, all Australians convicted of drug-trafficking in Indonesia, had their death sentences commuted to life imprisonment by the Supreme Court. At least 112 others are known to remain on death row in the country.
In Australia the government announced in February that it would release 21 Sri Lankan asylum seekers still held in Nauru and that discussions had begun with the Government of Nauru to close the detention centre, thus ending the much-criticized “Pacific Solution” to those seeking asylum in Australia.
In January at least 75 Chin refugees and asylum seekers from Myanmar were reportedly made homeless after immigration officials in Malaysia burnt down a campsite.
For more information please call Amnesty International’s press office in London, UK, on +44 20 7413 5566 or email: email@example.com
International Secretariat, Amnesty International, 1 Easton St., London WC1X 0DW, UK www.amnesty.org
Amnesty International: Sri Lanka Country Report 2008
Related ~ BBC Sandeshaya: ‘Impunity’ for rights violators
May 28th, 2008
Update, May 21, 2008: Sri Lanka’s Defeat a Victory for Human Rights Council [HRW]
Statement by Human Rights Watch:
Winners of the Nobel Peace Prize from three continents called on UN members to reject Sri Lanka’s candidacy for the UN Human Rights Council, the NGO Coalition for an Effective Human Rights Council said today. Nobel laureates Desmond Tutu of South Africa, Adolfo Perez Esquivel of Argentina, and Jimmy Carter of the United States each published statements urging opposition to Sri Lanka because of its abusive human rights record. Elections to the 47-member council, the United Nations’ leading human rights body, will be held in New York on May 21, 2008. Six candidates-Bahrain, Japan, Pakistan, South Korea, Sri Lanka, and Timor Leste are running for four seats allocated to Asian states. Council members are required to “uphold the highest standards” of human rights and “fully cooperate” with the council.
Bishop Desmond Tutu
The Nobel Peace Prize 1984
In a commentary published by The Guardian in London, Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa charged that “the systematic abuses by Sri Lankan government forces are among the most serious imaginable,” citing widespread torture and extrajudicial killings. “Governments owe it to Sri Lankan human rights victims and to victims of human rights abuses around the world to ensure that the Sri Lankan bid fails,” Tutu declared. Tutu won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1984 for his leadership of the campaign to end apartheid in South Africa.
Adolfo Perez Esquivel
The Nobel Peace Prize 1980
In a commentary published by Pagina 12 in Buenos Aires, Adolfo Perez Esquivel compared the routine torture and the hundreds of “disappearances” and extrajudicial killings committed by Sri Lankan government forces to the “dirty wars” waged by various Latin American governments against their own citizens in the 1970s and 1980s. “As Latin Americans know all too well, there are few crimes more horrible for a government to commit than summarily removing its own citizens from their homes and families, often late at night, never to be heard from again,” declared Esquivel. “Latin American governments can do a great service to the people of Sri Lanka by rejecting their government’s candidacy for the Human Rights Council.” Esquivel won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1980 for his opposition to the “disappearances,” extrajudicial killings, and torture used by the military government of Argentina in combating domestic terrorists.
Jimmy Carter (James Earl Carter, Jr.), thirty-ninth president of the United States The Nobel Peace Prize 2002
Former US President Jimmy Carter observed that the UN established membership standards for the Human Rights Council in 2006 so that it would be “led by countries with a greater commitment to human rights.” A statement released by the Carter Center in Atlanta “calls on the General Assembly not to re-elect Sri Lanka to the Human Rights Council,” citing “the country’s deteriorating human rights record since its first election to the Council in 2006.” Carter won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2002 for his work to resolve international conflicts, advance democracy and human rights, and promote economic and social development.
The Nobel laureates added their voices to the Sri Lankan and international campaigns against the re-election of Sri Lanka to the council. Human rights organizations within Sri Lanka urged UN members to “hold the Sri Lankan government accountable for the grave state of human rights abuse in the country” by rejecting its candidacy, observing it “has used its membership of the Human Rights Council to protect itself from scrutiny.”
A coalition of more than 20 nongovernmental organizations from all regions of the world wrote to UN members to oppose Sri Lanka’s re-election to the council, citing its government for a wide range of serious abuses, including hundreds of extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances, widespread torture, and arbitrary detention. The website established by the NGO Coalition for an Effective Human Rights Council detailed how Sri Lanka rejects the recommendations of UN human rights experts, harshly attacks senior UN officials who report on human rights issues, and has refused to engage in serious discussions to allow international human rights monitoring.
The coalition noted in its letter that the armed separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam have long been implicated in serious human rights abuses, but says this provides no justification for government abuses. The abuses in Argentina opposed by Esquivel were committed by that government in the name of combating extreme domestic terrorist organizations.
In 2007, a coalition of NGOs successfully opposed the candidacy of Belarus for the Human Rights Council.
“Cheers went up amongst human rights defenders around the world when Belarus was defeated,” said Hassan Shire Sheikh of the East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project in Uganda. “This year’s election provides an opportunity for African states to send a strong signal, following up on the defeat of Belarus. The Human Rights Council must stand with the victims, not become an abusers’ club.”
To read the letter from the NGO coalition to the UN Human Rights Council, opposing Sri Lanka’s candidacy, please visit: http://www.hrw.org/effectiveHRC/SriLanka/INGOletter.html
To read more about the Sri Lanka campaign, please visit: http://www.hrw.org/effectiveHRC/SriLanka
May 19th, 2008
At the invitation of the Reconciliation and Peace Desk, Colombo Diocese of the Anglican Church, a team of religious leaders visited Mannar from 15th-18th April 2008. The team included a senior Buddhist Monk, several Anglican priests, a Methodist priest, a Catholic Priest, a Catholic nun and two lay Christians.
The visit was intended as a solidarity visit to the people and religious leaders in Mannar and to better understand the present situation in Mannar.
The team met with displaced people from Mussali (Arippu, Silabathura areas) and Manthai West (Vanni), residents of Mannar, representatives of the Fisherfolk groups, traders groups, Citizens Committee and local and international NGOs. The team also met the Government Agent of Mannar and held several meetings with clergy of the Catholic diocese of Mannar. We visited the Buddhist Temple but were unable to meet its incumbent who was out of Mannar. We also sought an appointment with the Area Commander of the Security Forces to which there was no favorable response, but had the opportunity to interact with several soldiers and officers manning checkpoints.
In addition to Mannar town, the team visited Nanattan, Pesalai, Kalimoddai, including several camps hosting displaced people. We also had the opportunity to join a fast-prayer service calling for the protection of the Madhu shrine from political and military activities, which was organized by the Mannar Catholic Diocesan Inter-Religious Council.
Please note that the contents of the report, observations, conclusions and recommendations are limited to the areas we visited and information received during the visit, although in some cases, relevant background information is cited.
B. OUR EXPERIENCES, OBSERVATIONS AND KEY ISSUES IDENTIFIED
1. Militarization and checkpoints
Mannar town and all outlying areas are heavily militarized. All passengers entering and exiting Mannar through the A30 Vavuniya-Mannar road, or through the A14 road from Medawachiya (by train or by road) are subjected to intense checking and registration. Security forces personnel were present on the road leading to Mannar and several times, the vehicle we were traveling stopped and pulled aside to let military convoys pass through. Between Medawachiya and Mannar, our vehicle was stopped and registered 6 times. Our group was not subjected to intensive checking, but we noticed that at each checkpoint, passengers traveling by bus had to get down, carry their baggage and walk a distance that would range from few meters to half kilometer, as part of the “checking” procedure. There was also heavy presence of security forces in Mannar town and outlying areas we visited.
2. Restrictions of road access to Medawachiya
Since early this year vehicles going from Colombo to Mannar are not allowed proceed beyond Medawachiya, and vehicles leaving Mannar are also not allowed to proceed beyond Medawachiya. This is applicable to buses as well as private vehicles. Thus, we were compelled to take a train and request friends in Mannar to arrange transport between Medawachiya and Mannar. This is causing severe inconveniencies to civilians, particularly elderly, handicapped, those with infants etc.
This is also hampering the work of relief agencies that provide assistance to displaced people, as supplies have to be unloaded and reloaded again. This also increases the price of relief supplies,
There is no clearly spelt out procedure on criteria and procedure to apply for exemptions, when a need arises. We learnt that the current practice adopted for such exemptions is approval by military, including by the Defense Secretary.
While the primary restriction is on vehicles, we also heard that the security forces have been arbitrarily deciding not allow some people to pass through Medawachiya. We were told by one humanitarian organization that two of their staff, who were going form Mannar to Anuradhapura in the 1st week of April were not allowed to proceed beyond the Medawachiya checkpoint by security forces.
More disturbingly, we also heard of stories of blatant discrimination of Tamil community, as some had been told that Tamil people could only travel from Medawachiya by train and not by road, beyond Medawachiya.
3. Preventing non Mannar residents entering Mannar
On the 15th April, on the way to Mannar, we met a staff of a humanitarian agency, resident in Chettikulam but working in Mannar, who had been not allowed to go to work on 14th April, after being stopped at Kattaiadampan by security forces. There has no notice or information given on this.
After proceeding towards Mannar, we ourselves were stopped at Kattaiadampan checkpoint and told that people outside Mannar (meaning people whose National Identity Card didn’t have a Mannar address). We had to wait for almost 2 hours, in the hot sun, with no shelter or shade, while making frantic phone calls to the Bishops House in Mannar, who in turn had contacted the security forces, who had finally given us the green light to proceed, just after we had turned back the vehicle to proceed towards Medawachiya again.
We met one woman whose was being stopped, and who told us that she is not able to reach her husband who was in Mannar. Several others were coming back to Mannar after New Year celebrations elsewhere. Some were going to work, Mannar island being the central point of the district. While we were waiting, some relatives from Mannar came to meet some people held up, but we saw one group turning back and going without having being able to convince the security forces to let their relatives come to Mannar. We saw some who had been waiting from morning, turn back towards Medawachiya-Vavuniya, hitching a rides in a lorry.
The officers manning the checkpoint were almost apologetic to us, saying they can’t take any decision to allow us through to Mannar, until orders from superiors were received. One said he didn’t know the reason for the order, while another said it maybe because some Sinhalese visitors from the south had been abducted by the LTTE. However, during our stay in Mannar, we never heard about such an incident, even from other security forces personnel we interacted with.
Subsequently, we came to know from eye witnesses, that the security forces had continued to stop people from entering Mannar at Kattaiadampan, although the Area Commander as well as Military Spokesperson had denied such restrictions were in place when questioned by media.
4. SPECIFIC CONCERNS OF DIFFERENT COMMUNITIES IN MANNAR:
4.1 People displaced from Vannai
Amongst the places we visited was a camp in Kalimoddai. Many people living in the LTTE controlled Vanni areas have started to come by boat to Mannar. Initially, they had been questioned on arrival by security forces and then left alone. Few young men had been detained for further questioning.
But since March, the security forces have decided to hold all these people in a camp in Kalimoddai. Thus, although many of them that we met mentioned that they prefer to stay with friends and relatives elsewhere, they are not allowed to do so.
We heard from the people as well as the security forces in charge of the camp that the camp is snake infested. We saw a snake that was killed when we were in the camp, and were told that snakes are killed there daily. We also heard that UN agencies and NGOs provide assistance for shelter, food etc. But many complained that these were far short of what they needed.
We came to know of a pregnant women, who is expected to give birth in two weeks time form the date we visited, i.e., around 30th April. She urgently needs medical attention. She has relatives in Mannar who are ready to host and take care of her until and after delivery. We also met a distraught women whose husband and children are in the Vanni, and she is unable to join them, after she had accompanied some children of a relative. Another boy we met is ready to go abroad and his father is waiting in Colombo . But he is unable to join his father in Colombo and neither is his father able to visit him, due to prevailing restrictions on travel imposed by security forces.
There were young children, advanced level students and also university students who are unable to continue their education. There was also a girl whose wedding arrangements have been finalized and but she herself, the bride, is unable to go.
Teachers and government servant have not received salaries and others such as fisherfolk and farmers also have no income, as they remain confined to the camp.
We also heard that some people had been allowed outside for few hours, but this had stopped after one boy who had been allowed for few hours, could not come back due to non availability of public transportation from Mannar. The boy told us that this was inspite of the fact that he had informed security forces in Mannar about this situation and returned to the came by 10am next day.
Several people expressed frustration that they are being held back by the government, after promises of being looked after if they ran away from the Vanni to government controlled areas. They all had come with hopes of better lives in government controlled areas. But their hopes are dashed, and many told us that they would not have come if they knew the government was going to confine them to a camp.
The main aspiration of these people was very simple, that is to be allowed to be free and live with friends and relatives without being confined to a camp. This may indicate the reaction of some of those who told us that they don’t want the dry rations being offered by various aid agencies, but just want to be free.
We would like to place on record that the security forces at the camp welcomed us politely, even offered us few chairs they could find and facilitated our visit and interactions with people by not following us around. They requested that we not carry our cameras and phones and not to take photos or video, which we followed.
4.2 People displaced from Musali division
We also visited some displaced people living in camps in Nanattan. However, unlike in Kalimoddai, it was difficult to interact with people, as security forces followed us when we tried to talk with the people. Our team as well as people was not keen to talk with us in the presence of security forces. Though we were escorted to one camp situated within a church compound by the priest in charge, security forces insisted that we get their permission to visit the site and take photographs.
The people we visited were amongst the more than four thousand that had been displaced by security forces operations in the Musali division, in early September. During this operation by the security forces, there had been no reported casualties to the security forces or LTTE cadres, but 12 civilians were killed in an explosion. We also heard reports of two others who had been killed.
At the time they had been asked to leave, they were told by the security forces that they would be allowed back home within 2-3 days. Subsequently, they had heard through media, security forces announcements that they could go back to their homes in January. However, when we visited, more than 7 months after being displaced, they are still not allowed to go back.
The facilities in the camps we visited were basic and the conditions in Nanatan Rice Mill in particular looked terrible. We were told that NGOs and UN agencies were assisting with food and shelter. While were we were at the rice mill, ICRC was distributing cadjan for temporary shelter. The camp in the Church compound in Nanattan had its own temporary school, made out of cadjan, wood and bamboo. We were told that classes are conducted upto advanced level, and that the teachers who had been displaced are teaching there. It was brought to our notice also that there is a lack of furniture in the school.
Fishing is a popular occupation in Mannar. We met fisherfolk and representatives of fisherfolk groups in Mannar as well as in Pesalai. They face a number of difficulties in fishing, such as the restrictions on night fishing, which is most productive time for fishing and also restrictions on “dragnet” fishing. There have also been recent regulations asking fisherfolk to deposit their engines to the security forces by 6pm and collect them following morning. Though fisherfolk had offered to keep the boats instead of engines, this request had not been granted by the Navy. Furthermore, only 10 & 15 horse power engines allowed to now. Restrictions on fuel also affect the livelihood of fisherfolk.
We heard that number of fisherfolk get beaten by the security forces for even slight delays in obeying these regulations. We also heard that Navy personnel take some of the best fish for themselves without any payment for personal use when going home for holidays and also for regular use in their camps.
Another key concern raised was the tolerance of illegal fishing by Indian trawlers, even in night when fishing is prohibited. When local fisherfolk go in the morning, as per Navy rules, available fish is already less.
Fisherfolk also face difficulties in transporting fish, due to restrictions imposed, particularly at the checkpoint at Medawachiya as well as several other checkpoints. We heard stories of how the fish had been spoilt and there had been no income from lorry loads of fish, due to delays, and being checked several times. We also came to know that it was difficult to obtain sufficient amounts of ice, which is essential to transport fish.
Transport restrictions are also adversely affected due to restrictions on travels. Goods have to be unloaded and reloaded twice, at the Medawachiya checkpoint, as well as Uilankulan checkpoint closer to Mannar. At Medawachiya, the vehicle also has to be changed. This means extra labour and transportation costs as well as possible damages. One trader told us that a lorry load of tiles that used to be Rs. 15,000 now cost about Rs. 50,000. Another trader told us that hardware stores are facing severe problems due to restrictions such as on iron rods.
Along with fishing, agriculture is also a popular occupation. The unexpected rains had negatively affected the harvest, but we came to know that this was being made worse by arbitrary opening of the water of the Giants Tank. Although the opening and closing the water is a prerogative of the civil administration, we learnt that this decision had been made by the security forces. The regulation asking labourers from outside Mannar, such as those from Batticaloa to leave is also affecting the farmers, and in addition to this, many labourers who come to Mannar to assist with agriculture are not able to come, due to restrictions imposed at Kattaiadampan.
5. Progress on investigations on Pesalai Church incident
On 17th June 2006, when thousands of people had been taking refuge in St. Mary’s Church, Pesalai, men on motor bicycles had come and fired at the church and also thrown grandees. One woman was killed and 47 reported as being injured. Five fishermen were also killed by the Navy on the same morning in a related incident. There is no doubt in the minds of the local people who were eyewitnesses and church leaders that it was the Navy that was responsible for this. Marks left by the grenade and bullet holes are still visible in the church. Many people in Pesalai had subsequently fled to India in fear as refugees after this incident, as they realized the place they considered their last place of refuge, the Church, is not immune to attacks by security forces.
Although this received wide publicity, and was also in Nov. 2006 included amongst 15 high profile cases to be inquired into by a Presidential Commission of Inquiry, we are extremely concerned to note that to the best of our knowledge, no progress had been made and no one has been prosecuted or even subjected to disciplinary inquiries.
6. Concerns regarding Madhu shrine
Madhu Shrine has been a sacred place of worship for Catholics, as well as Non-Catholics, all over Sri Lanka , representing all communities. In the last three decades, the Madhu Shrine had offered refuge to thousands of displaced people irrespective of their religious affiliations and came to be recognized locally and internationally as a “safe haven” for the displaced.
The Catholic Diocese of Mannar which administers the shrine had attempted to keep it strictly away from any military or political activities and purely as a place of religious worship and humanitarian refuge for displaced people.
Despite this, in several instances, the Shrine has come under attack, resulting in death of several people, including some incidents few months ago. Almost all people in the Shrine area had fled in fear as Sri Lankan Armed forces intensified operations around the Madhu area. On 31st March 2008 and the days following, shells had again fallen in the Shrine area, and forced the priests and others who had remained in the church with the sacred statue of Our Lady of Madhu, to hide in bunkers. On 3rd April, priests and others had also fled the Madhu Shrine for safety, taking the sacred statue with them.
They relocated to Thevanpiddy with the statue, the only functioning Catholic Church in the Mannar diocese in the Vanni area. It is als the northern most Church in the Mannar diocese and borders the Jaffna diocese. We met priests who had been involved in this process, as well as those who had visited Thevanpiddy while we were in Mannar. Their common reflection was that Our Lady of Madhu statue was displaced for the first time in history, ironically, after offering refuge to thousands of people over three decades of war. But without doubt, the arrival of the much revered Our Lady of Madhu statue to Thevanpiddy, would be welcomed by the displaced people from the surrounding areas who had gathered there. In effect, Our Lady of Madhu statue had followed the displaced in their new place of relocation.
The Bishop of Mannar, the priests and people of Mannar, as well as the Catholic Bishops Conference of Sri Lanka had been calling on the government and the LTTE not to use the Madhu Shrine for military and political purposes, not to enter the shrine area and to leave it in the sole and complete control of the Church and to declare it a zone of peace. Church leaders have made clear that their intention is to return the statue to Madhu shrine when those conditions are ensured.
We also had the opportunity to join and express our solidarity towards this cause by joining a peaceful prayer-fast, on 18th April in the Mannar town. Several other services were also being held in churches around Mannar towards this, and we also learnt that about 4000 people had taken part in a public prayer service and peaceful March 1st April. The leadership of the Catholic Bishop and clergy and the commitment of the people of Mannar was inspiring to all of us.
7. Thalladi Church incident 
St. Anthony’s Church falls under the St. Sebastian’s Parish (Cathedral) and has been a popular place of devotion. In the months preceding the incident, the church had been a church only in name, as security forces had taken control of it and not allowed priests and devotees to conduct or join religious services and infact had used it as a military facility, thereby exposing it as a target.
When six soldiers in the church premises were killed by LTTE shelling on 12th February 2008, the military made false accusations that the priests has asked soldiers to clean the church. The priests concerned brought to our notice that the truth of the matter was that they had only asked for the church be made available for religious services. As we passed by several times in front of the church, we were able to witness for ourselves that the Church was indeed occupied by the military. From the main road, military vehicles and personnel were clearly visible inside the church premises.
We also noted with regret that the explanation of the priests involved was ignored by a widely publicized public statement by the Catholic Bishops Conference of Sri Lanka, which is only based on the versions given by the military and state media.
C. SITUATION AND RESPONSE OF THE RELIGIOUS LEADERS
We observed that the Church leaders (clergy and religious) play a proactive role in assisting and protecting people affected by violence and subjected to human rights violations. The predominat Catholic Church’s work in this regard is visible and praiseworthy. Its leader, Bishop Rayappu Joseph regularly speaks out about the plight of civilians, abuses by security forces and has been calling on all parties to end violence and revert to negotiations. Priests and religious play a less publicly visible, but equally important role. Priests and religious proved to be a valuable source of reliable information about local realities to our team.
However, we regret to note that Church itself has been under attack. A priest of the diocese, who was involved in assisting the displaced people, was killed in Sept. 2007, while delivering assistance. A Catholic priest had also been killed in 1985 and a Methodist priest in 1984. Several churches had been attacked, including the ones mentioned above. No progress had been made with regard to investigations and prosecutions into any of these incidents. Many priests we met reported harassments and threats at the hands of security forces in and around Mannar. And we also learnt that priests serving in areas controlled by the LTTE also face challenges in the face of abuses by the LTTE. We came to admire the commitment of the Bishop and priests, as they continued to travel dangerous ground by bus, motorcycle and serve their people with the minimum facilities at their disposal.
We were saddened that the Bishop and priests are often labeled as “LTTE supporters”, despite their tireless work for the people of Mannar, in the face of dangerous and difficult conditions.
We also heard that the Churches in Mannar, particularly the Catholic Church, appreciated the assistance and concern of different church based groups and civil society groups, several of whom had been visiting Mannar and working with the Bishop and clergy.
However, the need for continuing and even intensified support from civil society and religious leaders was stressed by several priests in our formal and informal meetings. The need for greater understanding and involvement of the Churches in other parts of the country, especially in the south was also clearly visible to us.
D. CONCLUSIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS
During our visit, we realized that people in Mannar, the residents as well as the displaced, live in fear and with a feeling of hopelessness. Catholic clergy and religious we met on the eve of our departure re-affirmed this, acknowledging that in the context of Mannar, a priority in their ministry is to give people hope, and they seek to do this by various interventions that give witness to the truth regarding the plight of the people and coming forward to assisting and protecting victims, survivors and family members of human rights violations, often at great risk to themselves.
Clearly, there is a total lack of confidence of ordinary people, church leaders and civil society and even senior government civil officials about possible redress mechanisms available to the public.
We also saw clearly that the civil administration in Mannar exits only in paper and name, and that key decision that affect civilian life is taken by the security forces, side lining and not even consulting the civil administration, leave alone civil society and ordinary people. It appeared that Mannar is a defacto military junta. The considerations for decisions that affect civilian life are based on military and political priorities, with minimal or no consideration of humanitarian needs. Sri Lanka’s international human rights commitments and even the fundamental rights guaranteed to citizens also clearly have no place in Mannar.
We regretted that there was no favorable response to our request for a meeting with the Area Commander of the Security Forces, which would have given us an opportunity to engage in a dialogue with him about our observations and include the security forces perspectives in our report.
According to government statistics, about one fourth of the Mannar district’s population is displaced. They live in conditions that are inhumane and lack essential facilities such as food, shelter, healthcare and education.
However, the constant and loudest cry we heard from people in Mannar was a cry to be able to live in dignity, to be respected as human beings, to be treated as equal citizens. A cry for freedom, to be free form fear, want, live in their own homes or with their relatives and friends, to be able to engage in their normal occupations.
As religious leaders, we do not agree with the militaristic approach and violent tactics adopted by the Government of Sri Lanka, the LTTE and other armed groups, however legitimate their causes maybe, and believe that the ONLY way forward towards resolving the ethnic conflict is through negotiations.
At the same time, we recognize that the Government of Sri Lanka has the legal authority to engage in military operations and to derogate some international human rights commitments and fundamental rights guaranteed in the Sri Lankan constititution, in certain situations, at its own discretion. But it is paramount that even these restrictions must be in line with procedures laid down, particularly international standards and norms and that international humanitarian law (rules of war) is respected in military operations. What we have seem in Mannar, as pointed out above with actual cases, are frequent violations of international humanitarian law as well as international and even local standards and norms regarding derogation of human and fundamental rights and non-derogable rights.
We are also convinced that “national security” of all people in this country is best achieved by respecting and fulfilling human rights, in the short term as well as long term and respecting all Sri Lankans as equal citizens and dignity.
It is based on these reflections that we make the following commitments and recommendations:
We commit ourselves to:
i. Share what we have seen and heard in Mannar, as well as our perspectives on these in the light of our religious teachings, through collective action and individually
ii. Take up with relevant authorities and other people who could assist, various issues that we have highlighted in this report
iii. Be in regular touch with our fellow religious leaders and civil society groups in Mannar
iv. To support the efforts of religious leaders and civil society groups in Mannar in their efforts to assist and protect victims of human rights violations and general violence prevailing in and around Mannar
We call on the:
The Government of Sri Lanka to
i. Immediately halt the blanket restriction imposed on people entering Mannar
ii. Gradually ease the restrictions on vehicular traffic through the Medawachiya checkpoint, and immediately make known procedures to be followed in obtaining exceptions to the existing restrictions
iii. Facilitate the freedom of movement of people confined to the Kalimoddai camp and address urgent humanitarian issues faced by people in the camp, including those highlighted in this report
iv. Facilitate the return of people displaced from the Musali division in September 2007
v. Ease the restrictions imposed on fishing, including some of those highlighted in this report
vi. Ensure proper and speedy investigations, prosecutions and convictions in relation to the attack on Pesalai church in June 2006 and make progress known publicly
vii. Ensure that security forces do not attack nor enter the Madhu Shrine and for the President to declare it a “Zone of Peace” to be administered by the Catholic Church in Mannar
The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam to:
i. Ensure that its cadres do not enter the Madhu Shrine area and do not use it as a shield in confrontations with government security forces
ii. Ease the restrictions imposed on civilians living in the LTTE controlled areas in coming to government controlled areas
Civil society including churches and other religious groups (in Sri Lanka and outside):
i. Constantly monitor the human rights and humanitarian situation in Mannar, disseminate this information to the general public and relevant authorities
ii. Undertake regular solidarity and fact finding missions to Mannar
iii. Assist religious leaders and civil society groups in their humanitarian and human rights work
 Refer Lanka Enews news report dated 16th April available at http://www.lankaenews.com/English/news.php?id=5707
 For background and more details of the incident, refer to the report by the Catholic Bishop of Mannar dated 18th June 2006 and report dated 28th June by the Centre for Policy Alternatives and INFORM
 See appeals by the Bishop of Mannar dated 1st April and 7th April 2008, statements by the Catholic Bishops Conference of Sri Lanka dated 10th April 2008 and an appeal by the Inter-Religious Council of the Mannar Catholic Church on 18th April 2008.
 For further details, refer to the statement by the priests concerned endorsed by the Catholic Bishop of Mannar on 14th February 2008
May 8th, 2008
by University Teachers for Human Rights (Jaffna)
On 4th August 2006 17 aid workers were extrajudicially executed in their Action Contre la Faim (ACF) compound in Mutur town. Through blatant cover up by the Sri Lankan authorities, their experts, Attorney General and diplomats overseas the facts of killings have been suppressed along with any potential association between this massacre and the killing of five students on the Trincomalee foreshore on 2nd January 2006.
With the support of individuals equally interested in bringing out the truth and finding justice we have uncovered information that reveals that the 17 aid workers were killed by at least one member of the Muslim Home Guard (Jehangir) and two police constables (Susantha and Nilantha) in the presence of the Sri Lankan Naval Special Forces. Four different types of guns were used. Evidence suggests that the killers had prior approval from ASP (Sarath Mulleriyawa) and OIC (Chandana Senayake) for their vile enterprise. But it is highly unlikely that the ASP and OIC would have taken a reckless approach or that they had any particular reason to want the aid workers killed and they had earlier received orders from Trincomalee to ensure the safety of the aid workers. We believe they may have received an instruction from their superiors in Trincomalee (namely the DIG Rohan Abeywardene and SSP Kapila Jayasekere) that the aid workers should be killed. The commandos must have been informed by their superior to let the killings take place and may be directly responsible for firing the bullets that killed at least one of the aid workers.
SSP Kapila Jayasekere, along with Zawahir (OIC Crime Harbour Police, Trincolmalee), is widely known to have been responsible for planning, orchestrating and covering up the killing of the five students by STF assassins amidst a naval security cordon and hundreds of witnesses, who were part of a captive audience. The intimidation of families and witnesses and the killing of witnesses and a journalist who pursued the case are well documented. This includes the family of Hemachandran, one of the five students killed, in particular Hemachandran’s brother, Kodeeswaran. Kodeeswaran had spoken to a member of the STF killing team, believed to be VAS Perera its head, who answered one of the victims’ mobile telephone just prior to the killing of the five students. Kodeeswaran was then systematically harassed by the security forces until he was killed in the ACF massacre seven months later. We believe that the 17 aid workers would have lived, had disciplinary action been instituted against SSP Jayasekere over the killing of the five students.
The murders of the 17 aid workers and the five students are among thousands who have died by violence during the past 26 months. Perhaps we know more about these 22 tragedies because of contact with some of the families, but the ones we do not know are no less poignant. The stories of thousands of young dying and maimed in the Vanni, having been forced to fight for the LTTE against their will, remain a closed book until perchance a plaintive unsent letter is recovered from a dead cadre.
These two cases, given also the international interest, remain the most promising means of making cracks in the prison of impunity, which grips the nation. In the history of crimes of this nature, even when they lead to investigation and court proceedings, we are left in the dark about the deeper political underpinnings of the crime, instigation at higher levels, the thinking behind and motivations, knowledge of which are key to exposure and deterrence.
The country has learnt to be comfortable with grave crimes going unpunished one after another, with the certainty that even graver ones would follow. The answer to the question why Sri Lanka is steeped in recurrent gross crimes, especially against the minorities, that go unchecked is not far to seek. The rulers without good sense or vision would fight hard against command responsibility being invoked in judicial practice. This would have been relatively harmless if the politicians and security forces were reasonably law abiding. Unfortunately, this country is determined to earn the contempt and ridicule of the rest of the world.
For years the State has gone on denying, obfuscating, abusing detractors, intimidating or killing witnesses and making matters progressively worse. Our envoys like the foreign minister, foreign secretary, minister for human rights, Attorney General and many more have tried to cover the country’s shame with rhetoric–’We have our Supreme Court, our judges, our own Police Force, Attorney General, forensic pathologists and ballistic experts. We don’t need foreign help in investigations that are progressing well’.
The ACF case by itself proves this rhetoric to be empty–not because of local incompetence but because of malice. Malice against justice and against the minorities. We use the word malice advisedly because it is an unvarying condition, with no desire for correction.
As for the Police that was directly responsible for the killing of both the Five Students and the ACF staff, it has largely ceased to be a police force. The Police are more involved in perverting the evidence and silencing witnesses than in any real investigation. In a state that has deliberately truncated itself to a Sinhalese State, the Police have been increasingly used as its criminal arm.
The hypocrisy about our state institutions has to stop and the fact has to be faced that there has now been a long history of justice being out of the reach especially of minorities even for sensational crimes that draw world attention.
It is not without great pain that we appeal to the outside world for justice. It abases us and hurts our pride and often, for unfair reasons, our self-respect. When we had working institutions solving the cases above was routine work. But today the criminality of the very institutions that are meant to deliver justice has thrown huge barriers against justice and the people are helpless.
Early attempts to get information from sources close to the Police and Home Guards were fruitless. What was clear was that they knew, but were very scared to talk. And so, it was maintained, their superior SSP (Operations) Kapila Jayasekere knew about the killings only when apparently an anonymous caller told Prem working at the Trincomalee ACF office on the 6th and he told the Police resulting in Jayasekere ordering SI Gunawardene to investigate. Contrary to what the Police maintain, a local councillor Ragees from Mutur had informed ACF Trincomalee on the 5th morning and also told the BBC the same day.
After a search by friends, we came across a number of sources with a good knowledge of goings on at the Police Station. Several sources are involved and we will merely describe what happened. A number of persons would speak out if they would not suffer adverse measures from the protectors of the law.
Having gone through over a year of deception by the Police and Attorney General’s Department, a simple policeman with a sense of shame who was then in Mutur confessed, “Ape kattiya thamai marala dhamma. Kaatath kiyanda bahe. Api boruwata thamai satchi dhunna.” Rendering the Sinhalese idiomatically into Sri Lankan English, it reads, “Our chaps only killed and dumped them. It is a shame we can’t tell anyone. For lies only we gave
evidence.” Indeed, just before the policemen went before the Commission of Inquiry, a senior officer told them to maintain that they were stuck in the Police Station and did not know what went on outside.
About 3.00 PM on 4th August it got around the police station that a message had come from a senior officer of the Trincomalee Police that the ACF staff was stranded, to take care of them and send them to Trincomalee safe and sound. Our sources said that the police officers in charge did not act as though this was their intention.
After the Naval Special Forces patrol came back to the Police Station around 4.00 PM there was a sense of relief. They were sure that the LTTE had left Mutur town. Jehangir, who had come to know that the ACF staff had stayed back had been insistent about the ACF being an LTTE base. We believe that anything that Jehangir said in anger was a pretext for others high up who wanted to harm the ACF staff, as all responsible persons knew that it was civilians who were at the ACF office. Jehangir as a home guard had no rank and was lower than a constable. Such persons are at best servitors and scavengers used in dirty work (See Appendix I). In Mutur, Jehangir had been guiding the commandos and had in the meantime become very chummy with them.
The ASP and OIC asked Jehangir, the OIC’s bodyguard Susantha, and another favourite Nilantha, who received a minor injury on the 2nd from LTTE fire in an incident described above, to go with the Special Forces to see if there were any LTTE cadres at the ACF. A party of about two-dozen went including a dozen commandos (Naval Special Forces) and the rest home guards and policemen. On the way Jehangir spoke to men who came on a
bicycle who confirmed that the ACF staff was there.
Led by the commandos, Jehangir and the rest of the party including policemen and home guards turned left from the main road past the Hospital, and went to the ACF. The commandos surrounded the place. Those at the ACF were drinking tea and eating biscuits, stuff they had bought a little while ago.
The commandos called the ACF staff and asked them in Sinhalese what they were doing there after everyone else had left. The latter replied that their Trinco office had asked them to remain. Jehangir butted into the conversation and without giving the ACF staff a chance to explain, insisted that the staff were LTTE. Susantha and Nilantha, the two policemen with him said nothing. The commandos remained passive. Jehangir got the staff to kneel, and the victims were fired upon as they begged for mercy. It was all over within five minutes from the time they arrived. Two were killed away from the others, apparently trying to run away and their bodies were found separately.
The main persons who fired at the ACF staff were Home Guard Jehangir, Police Constable Susantha and Police Constable Nilantha. The party got back to the Police Station by 5.00 PM. The word of a mere home guard and servitor of dubious reputation sufficed apparently for the commandos and policemen to commit the atrocity.
Upon their return, there was an air of celebration. Jehangir, Susantha and Nilatha were given a heroes’ welcome by ASP Sarath Mulleriyawa and OIC Chandana Senanayake, who warmly shook hands with them.
This was very strange. The fact of the ACF staff being stuck in Mutur was much talked about in INGO circles. There had been a meeting of INGOs and NGOs at 11.00 AM the same day at the Trincomalee UN office where the matter was taken up. Most importantly, the ASP and OIC in Mutur had been asked to ensure that the ACF were safely conveyed to Trincomalee.
How does one explain the celebration of murder at the Mutur police station? The way it happened and the far reaching cover up, all go to suggest that it was not the ASP and OIC who took the decision to kill. Despite their receiving instructions from a senior officer to safeguard the ACF staff, someone else more powerful, it seems, gave instructions to use some pretext to kill them. Jehangir and perhaps some other hotheads who wanted revenge may have provided such a pretext. The commandos must have been instructed by their commanding officer to let it happen. We explain later why someone more senior in Trincomalee may have welcomed the pretext provided by Jehangir for the executions.
One thing is certain about the ACF killings. They would not have happened if minimally, timely disciplinary action had been taken against SP Kapila Jayasekere once his role in the Five Students outrage became widely known. Instead he was promoted to SSP in July 2006. The ACF killings followed just after-a celebration observed by the Mutur ASP and OIC with handshakes. Jayasekere may not have spelt out the order for the ACF killings, but in his presence the air in the Police Force was reeking with impunity-anyone could do anything. Both killings flowed from the same compulsion to kill young Tamils.
That brings us to the State. For two years it has gone on denying, obfuscating, abusing detractors, intimidating or killing witnesses and making matters progressively worse. Our envoys like the foreign minister, foreign secretary, minister for human rights, attorney general and many more have tried to cover the country’s shame with rhetoric–’We have our Supreme Court, our judges, our own Police Force, Attorney General, forensic pathologists and ballistic experts. We don’t need foreign help in investigations that are progressing well’.
The ACF case by itself proves this rhetoric to be empty–not because of local incompetence but because of malice. Malice against justice and against the minorities. We use the word malice advisedly because it is an unvarying condition, with no desire for correction.
Take the Chief Justice’s role as ex-officio chairman of the Judicial Service Commission. He had the ACF case transmitted to the Anuradhapura Magistrate after the Mutur Magistrate had issued orders in the exercise his investigative function (Special Reports 25 and 27). The public senses the true intention of such meddling. For one, it scares off witnesses. An important witness Haji Abdul Rahuman, who was earlier down to testify, is now missing. A bold local magistrate who is strict with the Police can do a great deal for justice and this instance, the case was moved out of the locality. There are at least two more important instances of the JSC removing magistrates from cases to cover up for the security forces (Special Report No. 25 and Appendix III of Special Report No.29)
The Attorney General’s Department that has led the evidence at the Commission of Inquiry purposefully relied on the distorted evidence and accounts provided by the Police. It has not helped in making any honest breakthrough, in contrast with the alacrity with which it set out to quash Dodd’s identification of a 5.56 mm projectile.
We must also question the bona fides of JMO Anuradhapura who was mysteriously imposed as pathologist for this case. We now know that the time he put down in the inquest reports, ‘Most likely in the early morning of 04 August 2006′ was very misleading. He must also explain the missing original photograph of the ‘5.56 mm’ bullet found in Romila at the second autopsy that has remained a subject of controversy. Now that we know that Uzi submachine gun and other bullets had also been used that did not turn up in the investigation, we must ask if the Anuradhapura JMO removed any evidence during the first post mortem.
Further, the fact that only one type (7.62 mm) turned up in the investigation, whereas the fact that at least three different types of bullets were used, along with controversy about the type of bullet found in Romila, questions the integrity of the process of collection, preservation and transmission of evidence and ballistic analysis.
As for the Police that was directly responsible for the killing of both the Five Students and the ACF staff, it has largely ceased to be a police force. In a state that has deliberately truncated itself to a Sinhalese State, the Police have been increasingly used as its criminal arm.
The hypocrisy about our state institutions has to stop and the fact has to be faced that there has been a long history of justice being out of reach especially for the minorities, even in respect of sensational crimes that draw world attention. This hypocrisy reaches bewildering heights when our Foreign Ministry secretary Dr. Kohona, an Australian citizen, articulates Asianness (New York Times 9 Mar. 08) as governments who are nice and courteous to each other–leave alone however abominably they treat their own people.
The ACF case has been an act of grand perjury where the entire hierarchy down to the Attorney General’s Department and Police have misled the evidence. We will not insult the AG’s Department by supposing that the truth evaded their intelligence. The President disingenuously cited the paucity of witnesses in the Five Students case and allowed Kapila Jayasekere to get a promotion. The Government has piously refused any foreign role in checking our institutions citing their virtues that now lay naked before the world. Who will now see that a measure of justice prevails in Sri Lanka?
It is not without great pain that we appeal to the outside world for justice. In our courts and police we had institutions that were working quite well until the communal violence of 1977 when the new UNP regime used the Police as an instrument of appalling crime against a minority. The institutions never recovered since, but deteriorated further. This is not going to change overnight and certainly not under this Government. We have no alternative but to eat humble pie and accept outside help.
It abases us and hurts our pride and often, for unfair reasons, our self-respect. When we had working institutions solving the cases above was routine work. But today the criminality of the very institutions that are meant to deliver justice has thrown huge barriers against justice and the people are helpless.
In this connection we welcome UN Human Rights Commissioner Louise Arbour’s statement on 15th January with regard to the Sri Lankan conflict where she pointed out that international law prohibited all sides in the Sri Lankan conflict from committing unlawful killings or torture, arbitrary detention, recruiting or deploying child soldiers, and forcing people out of their homes. She said “Violations of these rules by any party could entail individual criminal responsibility under international criminal law, including by those in positions of command.” It is now time for her and others of a similar mind to get a move on.
A Note on the Addendum and Witness Protection
We received important testimony that corroborates aspects of the evidence cited above. Every revelation of sensitive evidence at present leaves someone potentially vulnerable. We are constantly faced with the dilemma of balancing the public good that revelation would bring with the danger faced by witnesses. Young Tamils are being targeted by the Defence Ministry’s killers simply because they were active or showed some spirit-that is all the 22 victims considered in this report were guilty of. The recent case at the end of Appendix II shows how little a life counts under this Government. No investigation and even the Press too scared to report it. The Tamils certainly need liberation from the Tigers but not to live under a regime that is no better.
After 15 months of the Commission of Inquiry there is no meaningful protection for witnesses or others. Three witnesses were killed. Haji Abdul Rahuman, a key witness in the ACF case, is missing from late 2006 after the Police had identified him as a witness. The Police has thoroughly misinformed the CoI about him. Others affected in the two incidents have been continually harassed and intimidated into leaving the country. Some did not have the means or the will to carry on in Sri Lanka. Asylum in a few prominent cases cannot be the solution to a much larger problem. This should never be lost sight of.
[This is the summary and conclusion of special report no 30 by the University Teachers for Human Rights (Jaffna) titled" Unfinished Business of the Five Students and ACF Cases–A Time to call the Bluff"]
March 31st, 2008
Extracts from statement by the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances
Disappearances are currently a global problem. Today disappearances are current in countries suffering from internal conflicts such as Colombia, Nepal, the Philippines, the Russian Federation and Sri Lanka.
In the context of internal armed conflict we have received information that opposition forces have perpetrated acts that are analogous to disappearances such as in the case of Colombia, Nepal, the Russian Federation and Sri Lanka. Although our mandate is limited to violations carried out by state agents or other non state actors acting with the consent or acquiescence of the state the Working Group condemns the practice of acts analogous to enforced disappearance irrespective of who the perpetrators may be.
The Working Group is also concerned at the increasing number of reported cases of disappearances in Sri Lanka. As a result the Working Group sent a request in October 2006 for an invitation to be extended for a visit to that country in early 2007. However, the Government responded that it would not be possible for the visit to take place at that time. The Working Group hopes to meet with the delegation of Sri Lanka during this session and invites the government to issue an invitation for a visit by the Working Group as soon as possible.
Extract from statement by Manfred Novak the Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment
I also undertook a visit to Sri Lanka in October 2007. I have full appreciation for the challenges faced by the Government in relation to the violent and long lasting conflict with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. However since the Government did not allow me to travel to LTTE controlled areas I cannot report on the situation with regard to torture and ill treatment by LTTE in this region of the Island.
The Sri Lankan Government has taken a number of important legal steps in order to prevent and combat torture as well as to hold perpetrators accountable such as the enactment of the Torture Act 1994 and the Corporal Punishment Act of 2005.
Nevertheless I came to the conclusion that the current legal system cannot be regarded as fully effective. The high number of successful fundamental rights cases decided by the Supreme Court of Sri Lanka and the even higher number of complaints received by the national Human Rights Commission indicate that torture is still widely practiced.
While I received only a comparatively low number of torture allegations from detainees suspected of ordinary crimes, in the context of detentions under the Emergency Regulations, in particular with respect to LTTE suspects, the clear majority of detainees complained of having been subject to torture and ill treatment by the police and/or the Army.
I was shocked by the brutality of some of the torture methods which included burning with soldering irons and suspension by the thumbs.
With regard to prisons, I am concerned about the high number of complaints of corporal punishment I received and about conditions of detention in severely over crowed and antiquated institutions. In police stations, detention under the Emergency Regulations for periods of several months up to one year in cells not intended to be used for such prolonged detention amounts to inhuman treatment.
Third I found that under the Emergency Regulations most of the safeguards against torture either do not apply or are simply disregarded. This opens the door for abuse of detainees and lead to a situation in which torture becomes a routine practice in the context of counter terrorism operations.
Finally, I wish to express my concern about the reported collaboration between the Government and the TMVP-Karuna Group which was confirmed by a representative I met during my visit in Trincomalee. This group, whose leader Colonel Karuna is currently detained in the United Kingdom, has been accused of particularly brutal human rights abuses in Sri Lanka such as torture, summary executions and recruitment of children.
Extract from statement by Australia
In particular, Australia is concerned at continued reports of widespread forced disappearances in Sri Lanka, with more than 5,000 outstanding cases reported.
We strongly encourage the Sri Lankan Government to act to ensure the alleged perpetrators of such serious crimes, from all parties to the conflict, are brought to justice swiftly.
We would also encourage the Sri Lankan Government to schedule a visit by the Working Group, which was unable to go ahead during 2007 due to visits by other special rapporteurs.
Extract from the statement by Switzerland
Switzerland is also grateful to you for your mission report on your mission to Sri Lanka and the many recommendations you make in it. Your report which takes into account some positive developments concludes nevertheless that torture is widespread in Sri Lanka and is linked to the conflict and it is practiced both by the Government of Sri Lanka and by non government armed forces, Group/TMVP the LTTE and the Karuna Faction and the LTTE. Switzerland greatly regrets the fact that you were unable to go to the areas controlled by the LTTE which would enabled you to give a better report to the Council on violations perpetrated by the LTTE.
Switzerland believes that the fight against impunity is a priority and we have therefore taken note of your comment in paragraph 16 of your report on Colonel Karuna and the deals that have been made to prosecute him under universal jurisdiction for war crimes including for the recruitment of children, for summary executions and for torture.
Could you perhaps give us additional comments on this particular case. Could you in particular comment on universal jurisdiction when it comes to cases of torture.
(Statements during the interactive dialogue with the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances and Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, 10 and 11 March 2008)
March 13th, 2008
The evening of 11 August 2006 is etched in the minds of those who live in the northern Jaffna peninsula. At around 5.30pm, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) attacked the front lines that separated government-controlled Jaffna and areas under Tiger control farther south. The onslaught prompted the closure of the A-9 highway, the only land link between the peninsula and the rest of the island.
[A retail trader at the Jaffna town market. Open market commodity prices fluctuate depending on supply and other considerations-Photo: Brennon Jones/IRIN]
About 100km of the A-9 runs through LTTE-controlled areas and it has not opened for civilian traffic since, leaving Jaffna residents isolated.
“The A-9 closure has been the key date that changed life in Jaffna,” Mirak Raheem, a human rights researcher from the Colombo-based Centre for Policy Alternatives (CPA), told IRIN. “Everything else that followed stemmed from the closure.”
Jaffna’s 632,000 civilian population now depends on the limited number of ships and aircraft for commodities and other essentials such as medicine, according to the Jaffna Food Security Bulletin, January 2008, released by the World Food Programme (WFP), the International Labour Organisation (ILO), UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) on 18 February.
However, compared with 2006, the situation on the peninsula has improved. “The very good cooperation between local authorities and international agencies working in the peninsula has meant there is a wide availability of food and shelter material,” Neil Buhne, the UN Resident Coordinator in Sri Lanka, who recently toured Jaffna, told IRIN.
“Almost all essential food items are available in Jaffna; however, open market commodity prices fluctuate depending on supply and other considerations,” the Jaffna Food Security Bulletin stated, adding that despite prices being slightly higher than in the rest of the country, they had dropped compared with August 2007.
“Most food stocks in the peninsula are sufficient for three months,” the report stated. Eight cargo ships were transporting supplies to Jaffna and “in total 30,000MTs per month can be transported by these cargo vessels, more than the total monthly full requirement for food and other essential items of 25,000MTs per month”. The report also stated that 326,000 people in Jaffna benefited from government and WFP relief programmes.
However, Raheem remains concerned that the security situation could deteriorate again very swiftly. “Things are very tense, especially after 16 January (when the Sri Lankan government ended the 2002 ceasefire agreement with the Tamil Tigers), and there is an overwhelming military presence,” Raheem told IRIN.
“There are still significant challenges to overcome,” Buhne said. “As long as Jaffna remains this isolated, there is a very limited chance of its economy recovering.”
“All road movement by civilians is subjected to the military convoys and there are parts of the peninsula where civilians are not allowed called high security zones; these two combined are definitely impacting on the mobility of agencies,” Jeevan Theeyagaraja, executive director of the Consortium of Humanitarian Agencies, an umbrella group of local and international relief organisations working in Sri Lanka, told IRIN.
“The high security zones, curfews and road closures all have restricted movement one way or the other,” Gordon Weiss, chief of communications at UNICEF in Sri Lanka, told IRIN.
Other agencies said they had worked their routines around the movement of the convoys and other restrictions, in order to minimise delays.
“Work is not affected if you plan your own movements not to clash with the convoys and curfews,” Menaca Calyneratne, spokeswoman for Save the Children UK, told IRIN. “We take alternate routes and pre-plan the work so that they don’t clash with any restrictions.”
The Sri Lankan military said the restrictions were in place for the safety of the civilians and that extra care was taken not to cause undue delays. “When Claymore mines and other attacks targeted the military in Jaffna, ordinary civilians also got caught and killed,” military spokesperson Brig Udaya Nanayakkara told IRIN.
[This is an Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN) report that was originallly released under the heading "SRI LANKA: Tough times continue for Jaffna residents".]
March 10th, 2008
Sri Lanka: ‘Disappearances’ by Security Forces a National Crisis International Human Rights Monitoring Mission Urgently Needed
(New York, March 6, 2008) – The Sri Lankan government is responsible for widespread abductions and “disappearances” that are a national crisis, Human Rights Watch said in a new report released today. Human Rights Watch urged the government to reveal the whereabouts of the “disappeared,” immediately end the practice, and hold the perpetrators accountable.
Since major fighting between the government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) resumed in 2006, Sri Lankan security forces and pro-government armed groups have “disappeared” or abducted hundreds of individuals, many of whom are feared dead.
The 241-page report, “Recurring Nightmare: State Responsibility for ‘Disappearances’ and Abductions in Sri Lanka,” documents 99 of the several hundred cases reported, and examines the Sri Lankan government’s response, which to date has been grossly inadequate. In 2006 and 2007, the United Nations Working Group on Enforced and Involuntary Disappearances recorded more new “disappearance” cases from Sri Lanka than from any other country in the world.
“President Mahinda Rajapaksa, once a rights advocate, has now led his government to become one of the world’s worst perpetrators of enforced disappearances,” said Elaine Pearson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “The end of the ceasefire means this crisis will continue
until the government starts taking serious measures.”
Under international law, a state commits an enforced disappearance when it takes a person into custody and denies holding them or disclosing their whereabouts. “Disappeared” persons are commonly subjected to torture or extrajudicial execution, and cause family members continued suffering. An enforced disappearance is a continuing rights violation – it is ongoing until the fate or whereabouts of the person becomes known.
The vast majority of cases documented by Human Rights Watch indicate the involvement of government security forces – army, navy, or police. In some cases, relatives of the “disappeared” identified specific military units that had detained their relatives and army camps where they had been taken. In other cases, they described uniformed policemen, especially members of the Criminal Investigation Department (CID), taking their relatives into custody before they “disappeared.”
Vairamuththu Varatharasan, a 40-year-old truck driver and father of five, was abducted from his home in Colombo on January 7, 2007, and has not been seen since. His wife told Human Rights Watch:
“A group of about 20 men – some in police uniforms, some in civilian clothes surrounded the house. One policeman came inside and asked for our identity card. I went into one of the rooms to get the identity card. By the time I came out of the room, my husband was not there; neither was the policeman. I ran out and spotted a van parked in a dark place on the road. I ran to the road, but by the time I got there, the van started and left.”
Most of the victims are ethnic Tamils, although Muslims and Sinhalese have also been targeted. In many cases, the security forces “disappeared” individuals because of their alleged affiliation with the LTTE. Clergy, educators, humanitarian aid workers, and journalists also were targeted – not only to remove them from the civil sphere, but also to warn others to avoid such activities.
Pro-government Tamil armed groups are also implicated in the abductions and “disappearances”-specifically the Karuna group and the Eelam People’s Democratic Party (EPDP)-acting either independently or in conjunction with the security forces.
The number of abductions perpetrated by the LTTE is comparatively low since targeted killings, rather than abductions, appear to be the LTTE’s primary tactic. The LTTE has also been responsible for numerous other egregious abuses, including bombings against civilians, political assassinations, forced child recruitment, and the systematic repression of basic civil and political rights in areas under their control.
In the face of the crisis, the government of Sri Lanka has demonstrated an utter lack of resolve to investigate and prosecute those responsible. Not a single member of the security forces has been brought to justice for involvement in “disappearances” or abductions. Human Rights Watch said that Sri Lanka’s emergency laws, which grant the security forces sweeping powers to arbitrarily arrest and detain people without being held to account, have facilitated enforced disappearances.
“So long as soldiers and police can commit ‘disappearances’ with impunity, this horrific crime will continue,” said Pearson.
The Rajapaksa government has set up an array of special bodies tasked with monitoring and investigating “disappearances” and other human rights violations. None have yielded concrete results.
Human Rights Watch said this failure is unsurprising given that, at the highest levels, the Sri Lankan government continues to downplay the problem, denying the scale of the crisis and that its own security forces are involved.
“The government’s mechanisms to address ‘disappearances’ will remain impotent so long as the president and top officials fail to send a clear signal to the security forces that these abuses will not be tolerated,” said Pearson.
Sri Lanka’s key international partners and the UN bodies, including the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, have raised serious concerns about the alarming number of “disappearances” and prevailing impunity. They have expressed growing support for the establishment of a UN human rights monitoring mission to investigate and report on abuses by government forces and the LTTE throughout the country.
Human Rights Watch deplored the Sri Lankan government’s opposition to an international monitoring mission, given that such initiatives have proven effective elsewhere in dealing with “disappearances.” With sufficient mandate and resources, the monitoring mission could achieve what the government and various national mechanisms have failed to do: establish the location of detainees through unimpeded visits to the detention facilities; request information regarding specific cases from all sides to the conflict; assist national law enforcement agencies and human rights mechanisms in investigating the cases and communicating with the families; and maintain credible records of reported cases.
“The Sri Lankan government’s rejection of a UN monitoring mission reflects badly on its commitment to human rights,” said Pearson. “While the government dawdles, many Sri Lankans will continue to pay the price.”
Human Rights Watch called on the government of Sri Lanka to:
* Take immediate measures to end the practice of enforced disappearances, vigorously investigate all cases reported, and bring the perpetrators to account; and
* Cooperate with the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to establish and deploy an international monitoring team to report on violations of international human rights and humanitarian law by all parties to the conflict;
Human Rights Watch also called on Sri Lanka’s international partners, in particular India and Japan, to make further military and other non-humanitarian assistance to Sri Lanka contingent on government efforts to halt the practice of “disappearances,” and to end impunity, including its acceptance of an international monitoring mission.
Testimonies from the report:
“They started beating Thiyagarajah. They took his T-shirt off and stuffed it into his mouth. The neighbors came out to help, but they pushed them away. His wife was crying and shouting, and they hit her with a gun butt. She was nine months pregnant. They were accusing Thiyagarajah of having bombs in the house, and forced him to dig the ground around the house. They searched the house, turning everything upside down, but didn’t find anything. They beat him so badly that he couldn’t walk – they had to carry him away. They took him away on a motorcycle.” – A relative of 25-year-old Thiyagarajah Saran, “disappeared” on the night of February 20, 2007, from East Puttur, Jaffna
“The villagers told me they saw Pathinather and Anton being interrogated by the military. The military held them at gunpoint. Then the military put them into the Powell [vehicle], and also loaded their bicycles into their vehicle. The villagers could not see much because the army ordered them to disperse, and now they are too afraid to talk to anybody about what they saw.” – A relative of 21-year-old Anton Prabananth, “disappeared” on February 17, 2007 together with 24-year-old Pathinather Prasanna, from Jaffna
“When we got to the [Kodikamam] army camp, I saw my nephew’s bicycle parked there. It was parked near the camp, in the military-controlled area. When we asked the soldiers, they denied arresting them, and when I said we had seen the bike, they got very angry, and started yelling, ‘Who told you to go and look there?! We’ll shoot you if you ever approach this place again!’ We asked the GS [local civilian official] and the police to get the bike back, but they couldn’t. Eventually, the commander in the camp returned the bike to us. He said that the people who had arrested our men were no longer there, so we should just take the bike and go.” – A relative of 26-year-old Thavaruban Kanapathipillai, “disappeared” on August 16, 2006, together with 30-year-old Shangar Santhivarseharam from Kachai, Jaffna
“Two people came to our door, in uniforms. They were armed. Another man was dressed in an army T-shirt and jeans. I asked where they were taking my husband. The person in civilian clothes showed me a pistol. I asked where they were taking him again and he showed the pistol again, and then they took him out. I ran after them, and they had two vans, white and blue.” – Wife of 21-year-old Ramakrishnan Rajkumar, “disappeared” on August 23, 2006, from Colombo
Realted: “Recurring Nightmare: State Responsibility for ‘Disappearances’ and Abductions in Sri Lanka” [HRW]
March 6th, 2008
UN: Rights Council Should Tackle Somalia Crisis
Put Spotlight on Burma, Eastern Congo, and Sri Lanka
(Geneva, March 3, 2008) – The UN Human Rights Council should draw attention to the neglected human rights crisis in Somalia, Human Rights Watch said today as the council began its first session of this year. The council, meeting in Geneva, should also intensify its engagement on the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Sri Lanka and Burma, Human Rights Watch said.
“Crises like those in Somalia and Burma quickly fall off the front pages,” said Juliette de Rivero, Geneva advocacy director at Human Rights Watch. “The Human Rights Council has a responsibility to keep such tragedies in the spotlight.”
The UN Secretary-General’s independent expert on Somalia, Ghanim Alnajjar, will present his report on the human rights situation in that country, and the council will consider renewal of the expert’s mandate at this session.
The armed conflict in Somalia that began in late 2006 when Ethiopia ousted the Islamic Courts Union from Mogadishu has resulted in numerous violations of international humanitarian law by all sides. Ethiopian armed forces, troops of the Transitional Federal Government, and the insurgents have all been responsible for deliberate and indiscriminate attacks against civilians in the capital, Mogadishu.
Up to 400,000 people are estimated to have been displaced from Mogadishu since December 2006, with ongoing attacks, threats and violence provoking new displacement on a daily basis. Somali civilians have been terrorized by targeted and indiscriminate attacks, mass arbitrary arrests, and enforced disappearances.
The council should renew the mandate of the independent expert to ensure continued reporting on the dire human rights situation in Somalia. The council should also condemn the serious violations of international human rights and humanitarian law ongoing in the country, call on the primary armed actors – namely the armed opposition groups, the forces of the Transitional Federal Government, and the Ethiopian military – to immediately cease attacks on civilians, including humanitarian aid workers, facilitate humanitarian assistance and press for accountability for the crimes committed.
“Somalia is suffering through a major human rights crisis yet it’s almost invisible,” said de Rivero. “The Human Rights Council should break the world’s silence on Somalia and address the human rights tragedy that’s unfolding.”
Human Rights Watch said Burma is also in urgent need of international attention. In 2007, the council adopted two resolutions on Burma which urged the government to release those detained for engaging in peaceful protests, as well as all political detainees, including Aung San Suu Kyi, to lift restraints on peaceful political activities, to fully respect human rights, and to bring to justice perpetrators of human rights violations.
Today, Aung San Suu Kyi is still under house arrest, a number of those detained last September remain in prison, and just last month two journalists were arbitrarily arrested for investigating the international response to last year’s crackdown. While the independent expert appointed by the council to address Burma, Paulo Pinheiro, was able to visit the country in November, the government has failed to comply with the council’s calls to accept a follow-up mission to the country.
In the face of diminished international attention, the council must draw attention to these ongoing abuses. Burmese authorities should be pressed to comply with the council’s earlier resolutions by releasing all those arbitrarily detained, including Aung San Suu Kyi. The council should also take strong action to ensure that Burma allows the council’s expert to return to the country as soon as possible, and should renew the expert’s mandate as a matter of priority.
Democratic Republic of Congo
The council will also take up the renewal of the mandate of the independent expert for the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) at this session. Although presidential and parliamentary elections were held successfully in 2006, the DRC still has to overcome serious and widespread human rights violations, including arbitrary arrest and detention of people linked to the political opposition in Kinshasa, the use of torture, and accountability for war crimes committed during the armed conflict. The role of the independent expert is important in efforts to improve the human rights situation in the DRC and provide support to institution building. The council should renew this mandate as well.
In addition, recent events in eastern DRC demand targeted action by the council. A peace deal was reached in late January with the government and all armed groups in North and South Kivu, following a renewal of armed conflict in which more than 400,000 people were displaced, scores of civilians were killed or abducted, and widespread rape and looting and destruction of property occurred. That deal has seemed increasingly fragile in recent weeks, and the council could play a crucial role by creating a separate mechanism to monitor the implementation of the human rights commitments contained in the agreement.
Several reports in this session will draw attention to the deteriorating situation in Sri Lanka. The Special Rapporteur on Torture will report on his mission to Sri Lanka in October 2007. In addition, the Working Group on Enforced Disappearances will present its 2007 report in which Sri Lanka has the highest number of new cases of “disappearances” reported in the world. Assessments made by numerous independent experts who have visited the country and Human Rights Watch’s own research (”Return to War,”) demonstrate the urgent need for an international human rights monitoring mission under UN auspices in the country. The council should take immediate steps to encourage Sri Lanka to cooperate in the establishment of such a mission.
“The Human Rights Council has a unique responsibility to address the desperate situations in countries like Somalia, Burma, DRC, and Sri Lanka,” de Rivero said. “Otherwise the council will be complicit in the neglect of human rights crises across the globe.”
March 3rd, 2008
Democracy Charade Undermines Rights
(Washington, DC, January 31, 2008)–The established democracies are accepting flawed and unfair elections for political expediency, Human Rights Watch said today in releasing its World Report 2008. By allowing autocrats to pose as democrats, without demanding they uphold the civil and political rights that make democracy meaningful, the United States, the European Union and other influential democracies risk undermining human rights worldwide.
In Sri Lanka, heavy fighting between the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam and government forces led to deliberate and indiscriminate attacks on civilians. Hundreds of people have “disappeared,” and more than 20,000 have been displaced.
Events of 2007
In the continuing conflict between the Sri Lankan government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), both sides show little regard for the safety and well-being of civilians-and violate international humanitarian law-by indiscriminately firing on civilian areas and unnecessarily preventing the delivery of humanitarian aid. Since the breakdown of the ceasefire and the resumption of major military operations in mid-2006, hundreds of civilians have been killed and over 208,000 persons remain displaced as of October 31.
Government security forces are implicated in extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances, forcibly returning internally displaced persons (IDPs) to unsafe areas, restricting media freedoms, apparent complicity with the abusive Karuna group, and widespread impunity for serious human rights violations. Hundreds of people have been detained under newly strengthened Emergency Regulations that give the government broad powers of arrest and detention without charge. The regulations have been used to conduct mass arbitrary arrests of ethnic Tamils in the capital Colombo, as well as to detain political opponents, journalists, and civil society activists.
In areas under its control, the LTTE continues to forcibly conscript children and adults, control the media, and suppress freedoms of expression, association and assembly. In contested areas, the LTTE continues to conduct targeted killings of perceived political opponents. On November 28, two bombings attributed to the LTTE killed 18 civilians in Colombo.
The Karuna group, which has been aligned with government forces since breaking away from the LTTE in 2004, openly engaged in child recruitment, extortion, abductions for ransom, and political killings. Its expelled leader Colonel Karuna was arrested by UK immigration authorities in London in October.
Nearly 315,000 people, mostly Tamil and Muslim, have fled their homes in the north and east because of renewed hostilities. Currently over 200,000 remain displaced in the east; many have been displaced multiple times. Returning IDPs face regular threats and occasional violence, including abductions, by both the LTTE and pro-government armed groups. In several instances during 2007, government authorities forced IDPs to return to insecure areas. Others are unlikely ever to be able to return to their homes following the government’s announcement in May of the creation of “High Security Zones” that include “special economic areas” on land where thousands of families once lived.
Abductions and Enforced Disappearances
More than 1,100 new “disappearances” or abductions were reported between January 2006 and June 2007, the vast majority Tamils. While the LTTE has long been responsible for abductions, most recent reported “disappearances” implicate government forces or armed groups acting with government complicity, who target young Tamil men deemed to be part of the LTTE’s civilian support network. On the northern Jaffna peninsula alone, in areas under strict military control, more than 800 persons were reported missing from December 2005 to April 2007. The national Human Rights Commission (HRC) does not publicize its data on “disappearances,” yet credible sources maintain that about 1,000 cases were reported to the HRC in 2006 and over 300 cases in the first four months of 2007. A prominent Sri Lankan NGO, the Law and Society Trust, says that, on average, five persons are either killed or “disappeared” each day in Sri Lanka. The group recorded 540 cases of “disappearances” between January 1 and August 31, 2007.
In the lawlessness that has grown since the return to conflict, Tamil armed groups and criminal elements have committed numerous abductions for ransom. The victims were mostly businessmen from the Tamil community in Colombo.
In December 2006 the government expanded the Emergency Regulations that were reintroduced in August 2005, labeling a range of peaceful activities as “terrorist offenses.” Using sweeping language, the regulations criminalize any action threatening public order that aims to bring about “political or governmental change” or compels the government “to do or abstain from doing any act.” The government has used the regulations to detain political opponents, journalists, and civil society activists, and at this writing has provided no information about the number of people held and their whereabouts.
On November 22, 2006, agents of the Terrorist Investigation Division arrested Munusamy Parameswary, a reporter for the weekly newspaper Mawbima, under the Emergency Regulations, accusing her of “helping the LTTE” and of being “a suspected suicide bomber.” On March 22, 2007, the Supreme Court found no reasonable grounds for her detention and ordered her release.
Before Parameswary’s release, on February 27, the Terrorist Investigation Division arrested Dushantha Basnayake, spokesman and financial director of Standard Newspapers Ltd., the company that publishes Mawbima and the English-language weekly Sunday Standard. They detained Basnayake for over two months also under the Emergency Regulations, eventually releasing him on bail. On March 13 the government froze the assets of Standard Newspapers, citing suspected links to the LTTE, and neither Mawbima nor the Sunday Standard have been published since March 29.
The Sri Lankan government fails to hold members of the security forces and non-state armed groups accountable for abuses. Key parts of the criminal justice system, such as the police and the Attorney General’s Office, have not effectively investigated human rights violations or brought perpetrators to justice. Victims of abuses by security forces and non-state armed groups are apprehensive about complaining to the authorities for fear of retaliation, especially in the absence of functioning victim and witness protection mechanisms. A draft witness protection bill is still pending.
Sri Lanka’s Human Rights Commission is of limited capacity and political weight, and unable to investigate specific incidents and make recommendations for redress, primarily for lack of cooperation from the government. Independence of the Human Rights Commission and other constitutional bodies has been undermined since 2006, when Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa directly appointed commission members, contrary to the constitution.
Given their limited resources and mandate, and lack of support from government agencies and the security forces, the Presidential Commission of Inquiry and the International Independent Group of Eminent Persons (IIGEP) have been ineffectual in investigating the 15 incidents of grave human rights abuses selected for inquiry. In its first statement in August 2007, the IIGEP noted that the Commission of Inquiry and the IIGEP are not a substitute for robust, effective national and international human rights monitoring to address the country’s broader human rights problems. In early November the president extended the term of the Commission of Inquiry by an additional year, but determined that the body cannot examine practices of the Attorney General’s Office.
The Nordic-led Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission (SLMM), created to monitor violations of the 2002 ceasefire, has had a significantly reduced role since the effective end of the ceasefire in mid-2006 and due to restrictions on its access.
The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) documented 210 cases of recruitment and re-recruitment of children by the Karuna group from December 2006 to September 2007, and an almost identical number of cases of recruitment or re-recruitment by the LTTE in the same period. Fear often prevented parents from reporting cases, however.
Evictions of Tamils from Colombo
On June 7, 2007, 376 Tamils resident in Colombo were forcibly evicted and expelled from the city by security forces. While the government cited security reasons, those evicted included infants, the elderly, the sick; some evictees had been resident in Colombo for over a decade. Following an interim order halting the process arising from a fundamental rights petition filed by the Centre for Policy Alternatives, an NGO, the government reportedly brought back 140 of those expelled. The prime minister apologized on behalf of the government, although the defense secretary defended the decision. President Rajapaksa ordered a commission to investigate the evictions but it is unclear how the commission will be constituted or what action, if any, it will take.
The environment for media freedom continues to worsen. Tamil journalists in particular work under severe threat from both the government and LTTE, but the government also pressures Sinhala-language outlets that present critical news and views.
The Karuna group impedes and at times has blocked circulation of some Tamil-language newspapers in the north and east, including by issuing death threats to newspaper distributors in Trincomalee. There was no apparent effort by the government to address these actions or arrest those responsible.
Sri Lankan Migrant Workers
More than 660,000 Sri Lankan women work abroad as domestic workers, nearly 90 percent in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Lebanon, and the United Arab Emirates. Poor monitoring of labor recruiters has allowed unscrupulous labor agents and their unlicensed sub-agents to demand illegal, exorbitant fees from prospective migrant domestic workers, leaving them highly indebted. Labor agents often deceive women about their conditions of employment, including the country where they will work and their salary. In mid-2007 the government instituted measures to provide migrant workers greater information about their employment contracts; the impact of these efforts is not yet clear. Once abroad domestic workers face a wide range of abuses, including long hours, no rest days, forced confinement, extremely low wages, physical and sexual abuse, and conditions that amount to forced labor (see Saudi Arabia and UAE chapters). Sri Lankan consular officials often provide little or no assistance to domestic workers who approach them with cases of unpaid wages and abuse.
Human Rights Defenders and Humanitarian Workers
Human rights defenders, community leaders, and humanitarian workers in Sri Lanka have particularly come under attack. The government tries to silence those questioning or criticizing its approach to the armed conflict or its human rights record. It has dismissed peaceful critics as “traitors,” “terrorist sympathizers,” and “supporters of the LTTE.” The Law and Society Trust reported that from January 2006 to August 2007, 40 humanitarian workers and religious leaders had been killed and 20 “disappeared.” During an August 2007 visit, UN Under-Secretary for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief John Holmes described Sri Lanka as “one of the most dangerous places for aid workers in the world.” The chief government whip and cabinet minister Jeyaraj Fernandupulle dismissed Holmes as a “terrorist.”
In areas under its control the LTTE prevents development of any independent and effective human rights institutions. Domestic human rights organizations critical of the LTTE have justifiable concerns for their safety.
Key International Actors
Expressions of concern about the situation in Sri Lanka grew in 2007 but international action on human rights was slow and lacked cohesion.
In early May the UK suspended around US$3 million of debt relief aid to the Sri Lankan government, citing concerns over human rights and defense spending. In June the European Parliament Committee on Development conducted a hearing on the humanitarian and human rights situation in Sri Lanka since the December 2004 tsunami. There was little support within the Parliament to pass a resolution on Sri Lanka, however.
The US increasingly criticized the Sri Lankan government and the LTTE for failing to stem human rights abuses. Notably, at the end of a three-day visit in May, US Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs Richard Boucher expressed strong concern about the spate of abductions, killings, and attacks on the media in Sri Lanka. In October the US for the first time called on the Sri Lankan government to cooperate with the United Nations in establishing an international human rights monitoring mission to investigate and report on human rights abuses by all sides to the conflict. The US government’s Millennium Challenge Corporation suspended more than US$110 million in aid due to concerns about the country’s human rights situation.
European Union members on the UN Human Rights Council sought unsuccessfully to adopt a resolution on human rights in Sri Lanka. The Sri Lankan government sought to thwart such efforts by inviting United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour and Special Rapporteur on Torture Manfred Nowak. Both UN officials visited Sri Lanka in October 2007. At the end of the high commissioner’s five-day visit, Human Rights Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe told Arbour that Sri Lanka would not agree to her call for UN monitoring of human rights in the country. Authorities tried to dismiss allegations of human rights violations as propaganda by separatist Tamil Tiger rebels, but Arbour stated she believed there were “credible allegations that deserved to be investigated.” She also expressed concern about the culture of impunity and a disturbing lack of investigations that undermines confidence in institutions set up to protect human rights.
Related: 2008 World Report Human Rights Watch
February 1st, 2008