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
By Sarath Kumara
The euphoria in the Sri Lankan government and military over the prospects of a quick victory over the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) is beginning to fade. While the security forces regularly report the killing of LTTE members, little progress appears to have been made in seizing the LTTE’s major northern strongholds in the Kilinochchi and Mullaithivu districts.
Open warfare erupted in July 2006 when President Mahinda Rajapakse ordered the army to capture the LTTE-held area of Mavilaru in open breach of the 2002 ceasefire agreement. In the space of a year, the military quickly overran the remaining LTTE bases in the East and turned its attention to the LTTE’s northern territory. Last July, the Rajapakse government celebrated the victory in the East with jingoistic speeches and a parade through the capital of Colombo.
In January, Rajapakse finally dropped the pretence of adhering to the ceasefire. The decision to pull out of the truce was accompanied by a series of statements declaring that the LTTE would be defeated militarily by the end of the year. On December 30, Army Commander, Lieutenant General Sarath Fonseka, bragged to the Sunday Observer that “the LTTE could not prevent losing their remaining 3,000 cadres and there is no assurance that the LTTE Leader V. Prabhakaran would survive for the next six months”.
Fonseka, who is expected to retire in December, told foreign journalists on January 11 that he would not hand the war to next army chief. Government leaders enthusiastically repeated the statement, even declaring that Prabhakaran would be captured and sent to India for trial over the murder of former Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi by a LTTE suicide bomber.
A month later, however, the military high command is not so confident. On February 10, Fonseka explained in Irida Lakbima that he was not committed to a deadline for winning the war. “They [the LTTE] are an organised force with a lot of experience. I don’t conduct the war looking at deadlines and timeframes.” Expressing a degree of frustration, he added: “Can a war that has been going on for more than 25 years be completed by March? But, what I say is-give us a chance.”
On February 23, military spokesman Brigadier Udaya Nanayakkara echoed the army commander’s comments. As reported by Agence France Presse, he declared that the military was “winning the war…but we have never said that we will finish them off. We have never set deadlines.”
Military operations in the North were always going to be more difficult than in the East, where the LTTE had been seriously weakened by a devastating split in its ranks in 2004. The breakaway group, initially headed by V. Muralitharan or Karuna, took an estimated one third of the LTTE’s total fighting force. It has since collaborated closely with the military in conducting operations in the East against the LTTE, and terrorising the Tamil population.
The course of the war is difficult to follow in detail. The only sources of information are the security forces and the LTTE, which both distort reports to suit their own propaganda. The army allows no correspondents into the war zones. The Colombo media functions under the threat of censorship and physical violence. Anyone publishing negative reports on the military is quickly branded a traitor.
The military’s basic strategy appears to be one of attrition-the use of superior firepower, including air strikes and artillery bombardments, to sow panic among the population, wear down the LTTE’s defences and kill its fighters. The high command is only too well aware of the failure of previous broad scale offensives. In 2000, the LTTE inflicted a devastating series of defeats on the army, capturing its key strategic base at Elephant Pass, in a sharp counteroffensive against an overextended military operation.
In the North, the military is seeking to slowly advance on the LTTE strongholds from all sides-from Mannar in the west, Vavuniya in the south, Welioya in the east and Muhamalai in the north. While there have been numerous reports of small victories and LTTE casualties-all undoubtedly exaggerated-the military has failed to gain a great deal of ground.
The Mannar operations started last July. The army captured the fishing village of Silavathurai last year and has since seized several other areas but the gains remain small. The main aim in present operations is to secure the Madhu area then Viduthalaithivu. The area is crucial to the LTTE’s main supply routes from the neighbouring southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu.
Recent fighting has taken place around the Madhu church area, including Admapan and Pandivirichchan, in preparation for a push on Viduthalaithivu. The Sunday Times reported last weekend that the military had announced the capture of the Pandivirichchaan area and the killing of 20 LTTE members. The pro-LTTE Tamilnet reported the recapture of the area on the evening of the same day, with the killing of 11 soldiers.
On Sunday, the LTTE claimed to have repelled the military’s advance from Palaikushi. This week, the defence ministry claimed the army had penetrated deeper into LTTE-held area in Mannar, killing 83 LTTE cadres and wounding many more. It admitted the military had lost 9 soldiers with 40 injured. Whatever the true figures and territory gained or lost, the fighting is obviously heavy.
On the Welioya front, the results are similarly inconclusive. The military reported that it gained control of some areas previously in “no-man’s land” under the ceasefire arrangements. On February 26, the army handed over the bodies of 14 LTTE fighters to the International Red Cross. This week, however, the LTTE claimed to have thwarted the military’s advances, killed six soldiers and taken ammunition. The seizure of Welioya would open the way for an advance on Mullaithivu, a major LTTE basing area.
The aerial bombardment of LTTE-held areas continues unabated. Earlier this week, the air force bombed Poonakari close to Muhamalai, claiming its fighter jets were targetting an LTTE sea base. On February 22, warplanes bombed the same area. According to the LTTE, that attack resulted in deaths of nine civilians, including an infant and two children. On Monday, the air force bombed what it claimed was a communication centre in Kilinochchi where the LTTE headquarters are based.
Another sign of the military’s difficulties is its turn to India for assistance. General Fonseka began a six-day tour to India on Sunday “to further strengthen the military ties”. He will meet India’s defence minister, A.K. Anthony, as well as top military and civilian officials in a bid to obtain weapons and light aircraft. However, Fonseka is unlikely to get all that he wants from India, which to date has provided limited assistance and training. While wanting to prevent an LTTE victory, New Delhi is concerned that the ongoing war will inflame opposition in Tamil Nadu.
The Sri Lankan military is under pressure from Rajapakse to deliver a quick victory. His government, an unstable coalition of 13 parties, confronts growing popular discontent over the economic impact of the war, which is helping to fuel inflation and undermine living standards. Rajapakse needs success stories to boost his chauvinist appeals and to dispel fears in ruling circles of an inconclusive and protracted war that will inevitably fuel an economic and political crisis.
Speaking on Sunday at a rally in Ratnapura organised by his Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP), Rajapakse declared that the government would carry out “liberation operations” against the LTTE until “every inch of land is captured and the last terrorist is completely destroyed”. He insisted it was the “bounden duty” of people to support the war.
The government is not conducting a war for “liberation” or against “terrorism” but to maintain the economic and political dominance of the country’s Sinhala Buddhist elite. For six decades, Colombo governments have whipped up communal politics to divide working people and prop up their rule. Rajapakse’s decision to plunge the country back to war was bound up with his government’s inability to deal with growing unrest over declining living standards.
The return to war has only compounded the economic burdens on working people. The military has purchased new weapons and boosted its strength to 150,000, recruiting 34,000 last year. Another 15,000 are to be recruited this year. Along with rising oil prices, military expenditure is a major factor fuelling inflation. The annualised inflation rate hit 24 percent in February. Rajapakse has responded to any opposition, including strikes and protests, by demonising critics as “pro-LTTE”.
These social and political tensions will inevitably sharpen if the military operations against the LTTE slow, or if the army suffers reverses. That accounts for the shrill tone of Rajapakse’s speech at Ratnapura-it is a sign of growing desperation. [courtesy: WSWS.org]
March 7th, 2008