Posts filed under 'Press Statement'
The International Red Cross focus on International Women’s day (Mar 8th) this year will be on the phenomenon of “disappearances of male family members” Of women.This humanitarian tragedy is widely prevalent in most conflict ridden areas. This is an issue of crucial importance where the Sri Lankan Government is specifically accused of involvement in disappearances.
[Tamil woman waits in line to lodge a report about a missing or abducted relative in Trincomalee February 29, 2008-photo courtesy: Reuters, Via Yahoo! News]
The full text of the ICRC communique is as follows:
For hundreds of thousands of women one of the worst consequences of armed conflict is the long and agonizing wait for news about their missing relatives. Since the vast majority of those who are killed or disappear are men, the burden of trying to find out what happened to them usually falls to the women in their family. On International Women’s Day (8 March), the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) highlights its commitment to easing the plight of these women.
Ashwak, an Iraqi refugee now living in Jordan, has lost track of her husband. “We looked everywhere. We went to all the prisons and the forensic institute. We searched for more than four months,” she says. “We looked in all the places we could think of, but we always received the same answer – that he was not there. Yet we still have hope.”
For those who are left behind like Ashwak, not knowing the fate of a relative is emotionally devastating. No matter how difficult it is to mourn the loss of a loved one, it is even more distressing not to be able to mourn at all. Many women spend years and their life’s savings on a fruitless search. For those trying to trace a missing child, husband or father, peace in their country does not automatically bring peace of mind, because abandoning their quest would seem like a betrayal.
The missing person is often the family’s breadwinner or the sole owner of property. Women who lack skills and training are therefore left destitute and are often poorly prepared to take his place. In addition, the undefined legal status of a missing person’s spouse or descendants can have an effect on property rights, guardianship of children, inheritance and the possibility of remarriage.
[Tamil women show pictures of their missing relatives whilst they wait to complain to local politician in Trincamalee, March 1, 2008-Reuters Via Yahoo! News]
“On International Women’s Day this year we want to draw attention to the particular plight of women whose male relatives have gone missing”, says Florence Tercier, who heads the ICRC’s programme to help women in war. “Everything possible must be done to prevent disappearances and to provide the women left behind with the support they need.”
All too often the parties to an armed conflict make little effort to shed light on the fate of missing persons. The ICRC, acting on behalf of the victims and their family, endeavours to remind the relevant authorities of their duty in this respect. Together with the National Red Cross/Red Crescent Societies it accepts tracing requests from families who have had no news from their relatives during armed conflicts and tries to locate these persons by all possible means. The ICRC issues attestations to wives of the missing to enable them to claim welfare assistance and compensation. Depending on the needs and situation of the women and girls left behind, it also offers material support and psychosocial counselling.
Women prove to be resourceful and courageous in contending with the challenges they face when a loved one goes missing. They found associations many of which are supported by the ICRC and fight to obtain information. In many countries, the mothers, wives, grandmothers, sisters and daughters of the disappeared continue to exert pressure on the authorities long after a conflict has ended. For example, the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo in Argentina organized demonstrations for many years to demand answers from the government about the fate of their missing children.
[Relatives of slain ethnic Tamil youth Theyoda Krishthopar mourn after identifying his body in Trincomalee February 29, 2008. Krishthopar, who was 19, was abducted on February 4, 2008-pic courtesy Reuters via Yahoo! News]
Related: Women and the Missing: the burden of those left behind [ICRC.org] On the occasion of International Women’s Day (8 March), Florence Tercier, ICRC’s women and war adviser, explains the immensely challenging plight of women whose male relatives have gone missing in war and what the ICRC is doing to support them.
March 7th, 2008
The Sri Lankan Government of President Mahinda Rajapakse was dealt a severe blow as the International Independent Group of Eminent Persons unilaterally suspended its monitoring of Presidential Commission of Inquiry appointed to probe selected instances of human rights violations in Sri Lanka. The IIGEP stated that the Presidential Commission’s Public Inquiry Process so far falls short of International norms and standards.
The Colombo Government has cited the Commission of Inquiry headed by Justice Udalagama as proof of its bona fides in probing human rights violations.
The IIGEP pull-out has affected the Commission’s credibility drastically.
IIGEP Public Statement, Mar 6, 2008:
In November 2006, H.E. the President of Sri Lanka appointed a Commission of Inquiry (theCommission) to investigate and inquire into 16 incidents of alleged serious violations of human rights that arose in Sri Lanka since 1 August 2005. The President subsequently also invited eleven persons of international repute to form the International Independent Group of Eminent Persons (the IIGEP). The IIGEP was called to observe the work of the Commission and to comment on the transparency of its investigations and inquiries, and their conformity with international norms and standards. The President also invited the IIGEP to make recommendations for redress.
The IIGEP was established when the last Member’s nomination was approved by the Government of Sri Lanka in February 2007. It held its fifth quarterly plenary meeting in Colombo on 17-19 February 2008, in order to review its Members’ observations and conclusions over the period from mid-December 2007 to mid-February 2008.
Observations on the Public Inquiry Phase
The most important development since the IIGEP’s last public statement, dated 19 December 2007, is the commencement of the Commission’s public inquiry phase on 5 January 2008. The IIGEP welcomes this move by the Commission. During the November 2007 Joint Commission/IIGEP Session, the Commission advised the IIGEP that there would be no public inquiry until Parliament passed the amendments to the Commissions of Inquiry Act (1948).
(Subsequently, the “Commissions of Inquiry (Amendment)” Bill was passed on 7 February 2008. The amendments related primarily to the investigative powers of a Commission and the ability of a Commission to sit without its full membership.) In contrast with the in-camera investigations the Commission has been carrying out so far, public inquiries are expected to be held in the full view of any interested parties and particularly those most concerned, the surviving victims and the families of victims.
The IIGEP has observed the poor attendance of interested parties, such as the families of victims and civil society, in the sessions of inquiry and questions the level of publicity the Commission has given to the public inquiries. The notices in the newspapers were relatively small in size and need to be recurrent or continuous to achieve sufficient impact. It should be possible for representatives of the Commission to make personal contact with interested parties, particularly the surviving victims and the families of all victims, to ensure that these people are made aware of the intended hearings. The IIGEP has also suggested that the Commission consider holding public inquiries outside Colombo, closer to the areas where the incidents under review took place, in order to improve the accessibility of potential witnesses to the Commission.
The Commission has, as of 17 February 2008, held six public inquiry sessions into the case of the killing of five youths in Trincomalee on 2 January 2006. During these sessions, three witnesses appeared before the Commission.
The Commission summoned the Trincomalee Magistrate to testify in his capacity as the investigating Magistrate who attended the crime scene on 02 January 2006. Following intervention from the Judicial Services Commission, the Registrar of Trincomalee Magistrates Court attended the Commission of Inquiry session in his place and read out the contents of the Magistrate’s report. The IIGEP is concerned that this intervention prevented the Commission from hearing direct testimony from the Magistrate regarding police action at the crime scene and his initial evaluation and instructions.
In the sessions of 5 and 7 January 2008, the Police Inspector, responsible for carrying out the original investigation, appeared as a witness and during his testimony made statements about the Police and the Armed Forces present at the scene around the time of the incident. During the inquiry of 10 January 2008, the Judicial Medical Officer testified that, in his opinion, if one of the deceased victims had been brought to the hospital immediately after the attack, he could have been saved.
The IIGEP emphasizes the point that all the issues examined by the Commission should have been considered during the original criminalinvestigation process. It is clear that the original investigation was flawed and incompetent. Specifically, the quality of statements taken from
police and service personnel was inadequate in detail and depth, and reflected negatively on the competence and thoroughness of those in charge of the original police investigation. It appears that little or no effort was put into tracing and identifying eye witnesses from a number of local citizens known to have been in the vicinity on the evening of the incident
causing the death of the five youths in Trincomalee. The Commission needs to ask the question: why were the flaws in the original police investigations undetected, ignored, or possibly abetted by the responsible Government authorities?
In the search for truth and justice in this case, it is imperative that the testimony of the security forces personnel and police witnesses heard by the Commission to date is fully and adequately exposed and tested. The general public, surviving victims, family representatives and others must have the opportunity to judge the credibility of some of the witnesses. It is also essential for them to be able to observe the working of the Commission and be encouraged to do so.
The Commission, in response to the IIGEP’s last public statement, stated that “no agency or individual shall be excluded from investigation or inquiry if such an investigation or inquiry is merited on the basis of material before the Commission”. The Commission has so far failed to
implement this assurance in practice with State bodies and agencies.
The public hearing phase was suspended on 14 January 2008 and did not resume until 15 February 2008. The IIGEP is once again concerned about the slow pace of inquiries, considering that the Commission has already heard and gathered testimonies from these same witnesses in its in-camera investigation phase.
The IIGEP has informed the Commission about several material witnesses who have approached the IIGEP and expressed their willingness to give evidence to the Commission, from as far back as in August 2007. The IIGEP has urged the Commission to take concrete steps to include these critical witnesses in the current inquiry and is seeking to agree with the Commission on procedures that would permit this to happen, while protecting the safety
The Commission has indicated that the inquiry stage would yield more positive developments. Yet, to date, and notwithstanding the spirited efforts of the Commission’s independent legal counsel of the Unofficial Bar in leading the questioning, its inquiries have largely been conducted in the same manner as the Commission’s investigation sessions and have, so far, proved largely ineffective in unearthing useful or actionable evidence affecting the current case.
Protection for witnesses is indispensable for the success of the Commission. The IIGEP observes that sufficient efforts are still not being made to ensure the protection and safety of all those involved with the inquiries and investigations of the Commission. Without a comprehensive system of victim and witness protection, and demonstrated Government
competence and willingness to implement such a system, critical witnesses are unlikely to come forward. Perhaps more than any other factor, this impediment inhibits any effective future pursuit of the filing of indictments, convictions, and appropriate accountability for the alleged grave human rights violations under review.
As recently as January 2008, the IIGEP was dismayed to find a newspaper article, citing a source within the Commission, identifying the possible whereabouts of witnesses. The IIGEP has stated in writing to the Commission that, similarly to a previous instance, the publication of such information about witnesses, undermines the purpose of the Commission’s work and constitutes a potentially dangerous breach of confidentiality. The cornerstone of all witness protection programs is confidentiality, without which the integrity of the program can be permanently damaged.
Financial Independence Issues around the Commission’s insufficient budget and lack of financial independence have recently re-surfaced in the media. The IIGEP already commented on the Commission’s lack of financial independence in its 11 June 2007 public statement. The IIGEP further brought the matter to the attention of the President in a meeting in August 2007. The IIGEP can only reiterate the vital importance that the Commission be sufficiently funded on the one hand, and that it hold its own purse strings on the other. Financial independence is vital for the successful functioning of the Commission and its capacity to provide effective witness protection and assistance.
The IIGEP has decided that it will terminate its operation in Sri Lanka. It has taken this decision after due consideration and for fundamental reasons. The President charged the IIGEP to observe the proceedings of the Commission of Inquiry, to offer suggestions, and to assess the conduct of these proceedings against international norms and standards. The Eminent Persons conclude that they have accomplished all that is possible within the constraints of the prevailing situation. They no longer see how they can contribute further to the protection and enhancement of human rights in Sri Lanka and have regretfully decided to bring to an end their activities in this country.
The Eminent Persons have all come to Sri Lanka a number of times and met a large variety of personalities involved in the process of protection and promotion of human rights. They have visited different locations in the country where alleged violations have taken place and have diligently followed the proceedings of the Commission. The IIGEP representatives, a group of highly qualified Assistants to whom the Eminent Persons have delegated authority, have been following the investigations and inquiries on a full-time basis in Colombo and in the field. The IIGEP is satisfied that the activities and reports of their representatives have met the
highest standards of quality and professionalism.
In keeping with both the letter and the spirit of its mandate, the IIGEP has made substantial suggestions and observations-in its Interim Reports to the President and in direct contact with the Commission and with representatives of the Government of Sri Lanka (GoSL). Most of these
suggestions have been ignored or rejected. Official correspondence directed to the IIGEP has too often been characterized by a lack of respect and civility. While the IIGEP has repeatedly been accused of going beyond its mandate and of interfering with national decision-making, this has never been its intention or the reality. The Eminent Persons have always respected the authority of their interlocutors, be they commissioners, judiciary, parliamentarians, civil servants or ministers, and the limits of their mandate.
The IIGEP’s next and concluding report to the President and subsequent public statement will detail the Eminent Persons’ observations and conclusions, substantiated by the evidence available. In summary, the IIGEP concludes that the proceedings of inquiry and investigation have fallen far short of the transparency and compliance with basic international norms and standards pertaining to investigations and inquiries. The IIGEP has time and again pointed out the major flaws of the process: first and foremost, the conflict of interest at all levels, in
particular with regard to the role of the Attorney General’s Department. Additional flaws include the restrictions on the operation of the Commission through lack of proper funding and independent support staff; poor organisation of the hearings and lines of questioning; refusal of the State authorities at the highest level to fully cooperate with the investigations and inquiries; and the absence of an effective and comprehensive system of witness protection.
The Eminent Persons are fully aware of the overall context in which the Commission is operating, which makes its activities, however diligent, incapable of eliciting the kind of facts that would be necessary to ensure that justice is seen to be done. Underlying it all was the impunity that had led to the prior fruitless investigations that, in turn, led to the setting up of the Commission. There is a climate of threat, direct and indirect, to the lives of anyone who might identify persons responsible for human rights violations, including those who are likely to have been committed by the security forces. Civilian eye witnesses have not come forward to the Commission. Security forces’ witnesses preferred to make themselves look incompetent rather than just telling what they know. Accordingly, it is evident that the Commission is unlikely to be in a position to pursue its mandate effectively.
These inherent and fundamental impediments inevitably lead to the conclusion that there has been and continues to be a lack of political and institutional will to investigate and inquire into the cases before the Commission. The IIGEP is therefore terminating its role in the process not
only because of the shortcomings in the Commission’s work but primarily because the IIGEP identifies an institutional lack of support for the work of the Commission.
Beyond these considerations, the IIGEP is of the opinion that there has not been the minimum level of trust necessary for the success of the work of the Commission and the IIGEP. The IIGEP model may be unique. However, experiences associating national and international persons and processes in the past, with the view to harmonizing national practice with
international norms and standards, have always relied on confidence and trust for their success. The IIGEP does not see how its continued engagement with the process could change this situation. The Eminent Persons hope, nevertheless, that their concluding observations and recommendations will assist the Commission of Inquiry, the Government of
Sri Lanka and all the courageous people of Sri Lanka to achieve the full implementation of the rule of law and respect for fundamental human rights.
IIGEP International Independent Group of Eminent Persons
March 6th, 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
The Free Media Movement (FMM) is both surprised and disturbed to learn that the CID has taken into custody a computer used by Dr. Rama Mani, the former Executive Director of the International Centre for Ethnic Studies (ICES), to check for “controversial” correspondence, as reported by The Sunday Times on 24th February 2008.
The events leading up to and surrounding Dr. Mani’s forced and hurried departure from Sri Lanka and other matters of organisational administration internal to ICES are not our concern here. Our interest is to strengthen the open exchange of competing ideas that we strongly believe and affirm are a cornerstone of a vibrant democracy. Dr. Mani had an inalienable right to hold her own opinions and ideas, to articulate them, to promote them and discuss them with friends, colleagues and associates in Sri Lanka and internationally. This is fundamentally the freedom of expression.
Further, the FMM has for years called for Right to Information legislation that holds all public bodies, including NGOs, accountable for their actions and transparent in their initiatives. Sadly, this regime has clearly indicated that it will not countenance such legislation because it would place it in a spot of bother if the public were allowed scrutiny into its familial workings. Given the absence of such legislation and that even “controversial” ideas fall under the rubric of democracy, we find the confiscation of Dr. Mani’s PC by the CID to be entirely absurd and an action that can only be interpreted as a thinly veiled tactic to intimidate civil society in Sri Lanka.
We are also concerned by the reporter’s point that “initial investigations into the files contained in all the other computers at ICES have not found any reference to R2P and hence the CID has now taken Dr. Mani’s computer into its custody.” This peculiar reasoning raises the question as to whether mere reference to R2P is now enough in Sri Lanka for the CID to interrogate members of civil society? By extension, we are compelled to believe that media and civil society can no longer openly debate and promote issues related to the concept of R2P or other “controversial” ideas, lest the CID confiscates all PCs, mobile phones and notepads belonging to them.
We note with deep regret and concern that Sri Lanka today is the third most dangerous country in the world for media personnel and journalists. It is the worst ranking Sri Lanka has received to date on not one, but many press freedom rankings. There is no media freedom left to speak of. With total impunity, the Government openly names and shames journalists and civil society activists as traitors and terrorists and openly calls for tighter State censorship. Physical violence against media personnel and journalists occurs with total impunity. Tragically, the Sri Lankan Police themselves have been implicated in attempts to abduct senior journalists and are themselves responsible for undermining media freedom. Government MPs who run amok in media institutions go scot free, while journalists who courageously stand up in the face of intimidation are violently attacked, threatened and are subject interrogation by Police.
In such a context, the confiscation of equipment on the incredible basis of searching for references to “controversial policies” smacks of the worst kind of overt State censorship-control by fear and violent intimidation. Dr. Mani’s case joins the astonishing number of other incidents, documented by the FMM and other local and international rights groups, related to journalists, civil rights and media trade union activists and others who have been systematically and repeatedly threatened, attacked and silenced over the past two years. The regime’s unwillingness to listen to and acknowledge these significant concerns is a clear indication of a disturbing and continuing complicity in the significant erosion of the freedom of expression, media freedom and democratic governance in Sri Lanka.
It is in this light that the FMM expresses its serious concern that the action by the CID to take into custody Dr. Mani’s computer is an indicator of a vicious witch-hunt against those who hold, articulate and promote ideas contrary to those sanctioned by a regime uninterested in democratic governance and the freedom of expression.
[Free Media Movement Press Release]
February 27th, 2008
A statement by theRt Revd Duleep de Chickera, Bishop of Colombo
[The Church of Ceylon (E-P) - Ceylon]
The killing of a Pastor and theserious injury to his wife in Ampara by unidentified gunmen must becondemned by all true adherents of all religions. This violent actcallsfor a prompt and impartial investigation by the Police who must dealwiththe perpetrators under the law.I extend the condolences of our Clergy and Congregations to thePastor’sfamily and pray for a speedy recovery for his wife.
May Jesus the GoodShepherd lead you from death to life as you forgive and reconcile withthose who have hurt you so grievously.This murder and certain recent inter-religious tensions in the AmparaDistrict have caused concern amongst small scattered Christiancommunitiesin the area.
Consequently I call upon the IGP to ensure the safety andprotection of Christian Clergy and Congregations in order that they mayfreely practice their Christian faith.If the behaviour of some persons of one religion have hurt the feelingsofpersons of another religion, a responsible inter-religious team shouldbeappointed to mediate and restore harmony. It is this way that religiousdignity and freedom is sustained through conflict in multi-religioussocieties like ours.
Violence and murder is never the answer.Media reports of some Pastors being recently taken into custody forallegedly being in possession of suicide jackets have also causedanxietyamongst Christians. This could lead to a new wave of suspicion andantagonism against Christian Clergy in general.In order that justice may be done by all and inter religious trustrestored soon, I call upon the Police to expedite an impartialinvestigation and to make its findings public.
If the suspects areguiltythey must be dealt with under the law. Christian action that supportswilful death and destruction is a contradiction of the Christian Gospeland is totally unacceptable. In such an event it will also be necessaryfor the particular Church concerned to tender a public apology, and forall Churches to review their procedure of selection and training fortheministry to prevent a repetition of such happenings.
If on the other hand these pastors are innocent they must be releasedandthey and their Church publicly exonerated. The corporate goodwill ofmanywill then be required to eliminate prejudice and restore the good nameofthis church and its members.In the meantime I appeal to those conducting investigations and themediato refrain from releasing bits of information until investigations arecomplete and the full story known.
Some information made public beforeallis known, is improper and can lead to a hasty and unfair judgement ofreligious leaders and communities.The shelling of a church in Mannar by the LTTE in which six soldierswerekilled has led to conflicting reports. Yet regardless of thesedifferentversions, the wilful attack on a place of worship must be condemned.The perpetrators on both sides of this war must take fullresponsibilityfor the wider war culture in which incidents like these occur.
Theabsenceof a neutral monitoring body easily encourages impunity; and thecontinuing disregard for acceptable ethical and humanitarian normseasilyfacilitates the occupation and destruction of places of worship.In these circumstances every death of a soldier, militant cadre orcivilian is a cause for sorrow and regret. While the final solution isforan early ceasefire and peace negotiations, it can never be too late toimplement checks and balances to ensure a humanitarian war till then.
With peace and blessings to all.
The Rt Revd Duleep de Chickera
Bishop of Colombo
19th February 2008
February 20th, 2008
Amnesty International today called on the Sri Lanka government to make human rights the priority by allowing the organisation into the country to make an impartial assessment of its and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) human rights record, following accusations from Defence spokesman Keheliya Rambukwella that the organisation was biased against the government.
[Irene Khan, Secretary General of Amnesty International]
“Amnesty International’s role is to monitor and report on human rights abuses by all parties to the conflict. The organisation has repeatedly requested that the government should facilitate this role by allowing us access to the country,” said Irene Khan, Secretary General of Amnesty International.
Amnesty International also rejected claims by the Defence spokesman that it had failed “to utter a single word’ against recent bomb attacks. In the last month alone the organisation made several statements condemning the targeting of civilians including one on 4th February 2008 entitled: Sri Lanka: Right to life of civilians disregarded as conflict intensifies.
“The situation in Sri Lanka has deteriorated and both the government and the LTTE stand accused of serious human rights abuses. All parties should immediately stop targeting civilians and uphold their commitments to international human rights law,” she said.
The rule of law continues to be undermined and the culture of impunity persists. The government must make protection of human rights the top priority. Instead, human rights defenders have also been increasingly attacked or threatened. At such a time attacking the messenger distracts from the overriding responsibility for serious action to address the problem.
February 16th, 2008
IFJ Asia-Pacific Regional Meeting, Kuala Lumpur
Joint Statement to President and Government of Sri Lanka
We, the representatives of journalists’ unions and associations across the Asia-Pacific region, meeting in Kuala Lumpur, appeal to President Mahinda Rajapaksa and the Government of Sri Lanka to protect the safety of journalists in Sri Lanka and uphold the rights of the media to report freely.
As Asia-Pacific affiliates and partners of the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), jointly fighting for freedom of expression and the safety of journalists in all countries and communities of our region, we are alarmed by the Sri Lankan authorities’ overt ridicule for the principles of free expression and the rights of journalists as Sri Lanka descends toward all-out war.
Recent actions by authorities indicate an irresponsible and dangerous disregard for the rights of journalists and media institutions to report freely and without threat of violence. Cases in point include recent public statements by Sri Lanka ’s Army Commander and Defence Secretary calling for media censorship, the judicial enforcement of criminal defamation and the prosecution of leading media institutions for “critical reportage”.
We condemn in the strongest terms the disrespect and outright physical aggression shown by members of the Government and senior public officials toward journalists, media institutions and the right to freedom of speech.
Professional media has a duty and a responsibility to critique the central issues in Sri Lanka’s war, to expose corruption and to unearth underlying interests of warring factions. However, journalists and media institutions in Sri Lanka are under extreme pressure to comply with the Government’s propaganda on conflict and peace if they want to avoid targeted hate speech and rabid public condemnation. Official censorship and self-censorship are fuelling a dangerous cycle of misinformation and conflict, and journalists are finding it increasingly difficult to act in the public interest.
We are extremely concerned for the safety of our colleagues in Sri Lanka . Journalists and their leaders are directly in the line of fire, whether they are reporting on events in conflict zones or bearing the brunt of the hostility of senior officials and others displeased with independent critical commentary.
We condemn the prevailing culture of impunity in Sri Lanka , which is exemplified by acts of physical and verbal abuse perpetrated by senior authorities targeting the media.
We advise the President and the Government that the failure to bring to account the perpetrators of physical and psychological violence against journalists and to rein in the anti-media activities of government members and other officials sends a message that the they have no respect for the rights and safety of journalists and for the range of all rights set out in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
The anti-media sentiment expressed by officials at various levels underscores a widespread failure to understand that free expression and a strong, independent and critical media are hallmarks of a successful-and peaceful-democracy.
We demand that the President and the Government desist immediately from implicitly or explicitly inciting violence against journalists and media institutions, by way of death threats, intimidation, physical harm and the use of language that incites hate and drives conflict. The Government must put an end to the culture of impunity, including acting against criminal gangs that target journalists.
While we urge the President and the Government to lead the way, we demand that other groups in Sri Lanka , including paramilitary groups and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), also desist from committing or inciting violence against journalists.
We strongly support our colleagues in the Federation of Media Employee’s Trade Unions (FMETU), the Free Media Movement (FMM), the Sri Lanka Working Journalists’ Association (SLWJA), the Sri Lanka Muslim Media Forum (SLMMF) and the Sri Lanka Tamil Journalists’ Alliance (SLTJA) in their demands that the Government urgently implement the following measures.
* Halt all threats, harassment, abductions and attacks against journalists, media workers and media institutions perpetrated by all parties to the conflict, in particular on, but not limited to, the Tamil-language media.
* Refrain from all interference in editorial independence, including the use of economic or legal sanctions, such as restrictions on newsprint, the indiscriminate use of search and seizure powers by the tax authorities or the freezing of assets, to interfere in the publication of a newspaper.
* Cease using informal means, such as direct calls to newsrooms and editorial offices, to influence media coverage and editorial lines.
* Desist from the dangerous and irresponsible practice of publicly vilifying journalists and media workers in a manner likely to endanger their lives and those of their families and invite the authorities, political parties and community leaders to demonstrate a clear and unambiguous rejection of the targeting of media by incitement and language likely to excite hostility.
* Amend or revoke all Sri Lankan legislation, regulations and powers, particularly the emergency regulations of August 2005, the Prevention of Terrorism and Specified Terrorist Activities Regulations of December 2006, the Official Secrets Act, Press Council Laws and broadcasting laws that fail to meet international standards on press freedom and freedom of expression.
Signed by leaders of the following organisations, in Kuala Lumpur for the regional meeting of IFJ Asia-Pacific:
Aliansi Jurnalis Independen (AJI)
Afghan Independent Journalists Association (AIJA)
All India Newspaper Employees Federation (AINEF)
Association of Taiwan Journalists (ATJ)
Cambodian Association for Protection of Journalists (CAPJ)
Engineering, Printing and Manufacturing Union , New Zealand (EPMU)
Federation of Media Employee’s Trade Unions (FMETU)
Free Media Movement (FMM)
Federation of Nepali Journalists (FNJ)
Hong Kong Journalists Association (HKJA)
IFJ Asia Pacific
Indian Journalists Union (IJU)
National Union of Journalists, Malaysia (NUJM)
Media Entertainment & Arts Alliance (MEAA)
Nepal Press Union (NPU)
National Union of Journalists ( India ) (NUJI)
National Union of Journalists, Nepal (NUJN)
National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP)
Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ)
Sri Lanka Working Journalists Association (SLWJA)
For further information contact IFJ Asia-Pacific on +612 9333 0919
The IFJ represents over 600,000 journalists in 120 countries
February 4th, 2008
by Rt.Rev Duleep de Chickera
A Message to the Nation on the occasion of Sri Lanka’s National Day
This year we celebrate 60 years of independence from British colonial rule. Our history as an independent people was interrupted and suppressed at the beginning of the sixteenth century with the invasion by the Portuguese, followed by the Dutch and the British. There is yet to be an apology from the former colonial powers, for the violence and exploitation to the economy and cultures of countries like ours.
[Orrs Hill, Trincomalee]
Today sixty years after self Government we still are a deprived and divided people. While there is no such thing as a perfect nation, our performance continues to be traumatic and tragic. Our growth and progress as an independent people has been violated by confrontational party politics, greed, and lack of vision and planning of the political leadership of the country, and an indifferent civil society. There has yet to be an apology from our successive layers of political leaders for depriving our people of a legitimate, secure and integrated quality of life.
A long journey lies ahead towards freedom. True freedom is freedom for all. There can be no freedom for some at the expense of freedom for others. Any such promise is immoral and a political lie.
The journey towards freedom must acknowledge and overcome the immediate national threats of poverty, impunity and violence, the oppression of ignorance and disease, the hypocrisy, rhetoric and lies of politicians, and growing corruption, suspicion and fear amongst the people.
It is a journey that will require forgiveness, reconciliation and healing between the communities.
It is a journey in which each is called to see the other as a gift. It is a journey that will only reach its destination through a transformed and participatory political vision as well as the patience and courage of all.
It is then that our people will be free to;
dance and sing on the streets,
dream and discover themselves,
think and disagree,
relate and integrate,
be different but one,
and move and live without restriction.
“May God give us the courage to change the things we can,
the humility to accept the things we cannot change,
and the wisdom to know the difference.”
Feb 4, 2008
[The Rt Revd Duleep de Chickera is the Bishop of Colombo]
January 31st, 2008
Full Text of Press Statement by iTRO:
Tamils Rehabilitation Organization (TRO) offices today took time to pay their respects and remember the 7 TRO humanitarian workers who were abducted on 29 and 30 January 2006 while traveling through the Welikanda area in the Government of Sri Lanka (GoSL) controlled Polonaruwa District.
Paramilitary forces allied to and working in conjunction with the GoSL abducted the 7 TRO workers (6 men and one woman) tortured them, raping the woman, and then executed and disposed of their bodies. The bodies have never been found. This incident was the culmination of a series of attacks on TRO in GoSL controlled areas which began in 2004, it was also the beginning of a campaign of intimidation and harassment of local and international NGOs by the GoSL, paramilitaries and government controlled media outlets.
Since January 2006, 60 humanitarian workers have been killed in Sri Lanka leading John Holmes, UN Under Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs, to observe that Sri Lanka is among the most dangerous places on earth for humanitarian workers.
These killings of humanitarian workers appear to be aimed at limiting or ending the humanitarian work that local and international NGOs are engaged in, thus creating a climate of fear within the humanitarian community.
The execution of 17 of Action Contre La Faim (ACF) humanitarian workers in August 2006, a massacre the Nordic Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission blamed on the GoSL security forces, received worldwide attention and condemnation. Unfortunately this has not led to any improvements in conditions for humanitarian organizations or the communities that they serve.
The lack of any meaningful investigation of the attacks on TRO, ACF or the other organizations has contributed to the current climate of impunity in Sri Lanka and has reduced the space available for humanitarian organizations to operate effectively.
Though the President of Sri Lanka created a Commission of Inquiry (COI) to investigate the ACF executions, amongst other cases, the TRO 7 were not among the cases taken up and the whole exercise is seen by most to be an attempt by the GoSL to placate the international community. Even the International Independent Group of Eminent Persons (IIGEP), set up to monitor and give technical advice to the COI, has severely criticized the investigations and the lack of independence of the COI.
TRO appeals to the international community, the UN and human rights groups to move beyond the tired, ineffectual statements issued to date. These statements have failed to have any impact on the GoSL. The first step should be to establish a United Nation Human Rights Monitoring Mission and to bring the massive violations of human rights by the GoSL to the attention of the Security Council. This is even more important now due to the unilateral abrogation of the Cease Fire Agreement by the GoSL and the resulting departure of the SLMM.
The 7 TRO humanitarian workers abducted:
29 January 2006 Abductions:
Mr. Kasinathar Ganeshalingam: Age 53 (Member TRO Board of Directors; Secretary of the Pre School EDC)
Mr. Kathirkamar Thangarasa: Age 43
30 January 2006 Abductions:
Ms. Premini Thanushkodi: Age 25 (Chief Accountant Batticaloa Office; Student at the Eastern University)
Mr. Shanmuganathan Sujendran: Age 24 (Children’s Home Accountant)
Mr. Arulnesarasa Satheeskaran: Age 23 (Children’s Home Accountant)
Mr. Kailayapillai Ravindran: Age 26 (Children’s Home Accountant)
Mr. Thamiraja Vasantharajan: Age 24 (Children’s Home Accountant)
500 Sunleigh Road, Wembley, HA0 4NF, UK
Tel No: + 44 (0) 208 733 8283
January 29th, 2008