Friday, October 30, 2009

Death threats to Sunday Leader staff: President orders probe

by Mike Andree - President Mahinda Rajapaksa early yesterday instructed the Inspector General of Police to conduct a thorough probe into death threats received by two senior journalists attached to the Sunday Leader newspaper, Presidential Secretariat sources said.

Earlier this year, founder Editor of the Sunday Leader, Lasantha Wickrematunga was gunned down near his office by unidentified gunmen.

The two journalists of the newspaper, now under threat said they had received letters last week threatening them with death if they do not stop writing.

The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists said it was greatly concerned by last week’s death threats against the Sunday Leader journalists.

"The air of impunity surrounding violence against the media is having a chilling effect on journalists," CPJ’s Asia program coordinator Bob Dietz said.

© The Island

Read More

Bookmark and Share

Friday, October 30, 2009

Graduates in state service to support struggle of unemployed graduates

The Graduate Employees’ Union (GEU) reiterated they would extend their cooperation fully to the continuous fast and protest carried out by unemployed graduates’ unions for the last 22 days as the government was avoiding taking measures to find solutions and the struggle carried out by unemployed graduates of Indigenous Medicine. This was stated by the General Secretary of GEU Chadnana Suriyarachchi at a media meeting held at Hotel Nippon today (29th).

Mr. Suriyarachchi said the GEU would symbolically join the fast carried out by unemployed graduates and his union would send telegrams to President Mahinda Rajapaksa, as a part of the struggle to uphold the rights of more than 25,000 unemployed graduates.

If the government continues to ignore the issue and does not take any measures to solve the issue more stringent measures would be taken said Mr. Suriyarachchi. He said, “By now unemployed graduates have launched various campaigns demanding employment. We too engaged in struggles before we were able to get employment in 2005. Despite the government promising employment to graduates in all budgets that were presented since 2006, those promises have not been kept.

Hence, the number of unemployed graduates throughout the country is about 30,000. Every time there is a struggle the government gives false promises and tries to deceive the graduates. The fasts that have been launched by graduates opposite Fort Railway Station and Ayurvedha Hospital at Borella have continued for 25 days. The government states they would be employed in 2010. However, the government tries to bring in a ‘vote on account’ for 2010 instead of a budget. There is no possibility of providing employment to graduates from a ‘vote on account.’ Hence, we say that the government should prepare a scheme to provide employment for graduates immediately. If not we, graduates in state service, would take stern action jointly with unemployed graduates,” said the General Secretary of GEU.

© Lanka Truth

Read More

Bookmark and Share

Friday, October 30, 2009

Sri Lanka outcry over police brutality

By Charles Haviland - Sri Lanka's war ended in May but one branch of its security forces is now under particular scrutiny.

There has been an outcry against the police over brutal acts they are said to have committed.

People have also been protesting against their crackdown on organised crime, saying they are getting out of control.

A focus for public anger is the impoverished village of Angulana, half an hour to the south of the capital, Colombo.

Children and families play in the surf there as the ocean gleams.

The houses and shacks lining the sandy shore are poorly built with breezeblocks and tin roofs.

In a house nearby two families gather to tell the BBC the harrowing story of what happened there a few weeks ago.

One evening their sons, Dinesh, a fish-seller, and Dhanushka, a gym instructor, went missing. They were cousins, both in their 20s.

Hours later it emerged that they had been picked up by the Angulana police and held at the police station.


Dinesh's father Sangadasa says it was late the same night that he discovered his son's fate.

"On my way to the police station I heard people saying a nice-looking boy had been killed and his body was on the beach.

"I rushed to the seashore. I saw his body there. I went into shock."

Dhanushka's body was found later by a railway track.

Both youths had gunshot wounds. Nine policemen now face possible murder charges.

Media reports said the victims had been teasing a local woman but exactly what happened remains unclear and local people were enraged by the killings.

Once they attacked the police station, the authorities promised action.

This is one among a recent series of apparent police misdeeds.

There are regular deaths in detention - the government admits 32 people have died in custody this year alone.

A human rights lawyer, Chandrapala Kumarage, believes the security concerns of decades of war have left some police officers (by no means all) feeling they are not accountable.


"It is really police abuse," he says.

"Impunity is really the thing which encourages the police to commit this kind of crimes. And now the extrajudicial killings continue after the end of the war."

In Maligawatte, an old Muslim quarter of Colombo with narrow streets and brightly-painted houses, there is also indignation.

As Friday prayers finished at the mosque, children laughed and teased each other in the street outside.

But there was anger in the neighbourhood against the police, especially a so-called Special Task Force which had, over a number of weeks, been shooting men in this part of the city in what they call a crackdown on the underworld - a phrase also used by top members of the security forces.

Most of those killed happened to be Muslims although the police say this has nothing to do with ethnicity and that they are targeting known criminals.

Local people say many are not criminals and that even those who may be, deserve due legal process.

As soon as the prayers finished, dozens of Muslim men and women marched down the street with banners showing pictures of young men, at least one of whom had been killed.

Speakers addressing a rally a few minutes later voiced outrage.

One said some of those killed had been helping politicians and were only later labelled as "underworld" members and had weapons planted on them.

In defence

"They don't have the right to kill those people," another said. "We want to show the government, the entire world, that there is no law in this country."

Many are suspicious because police accounts of these killings usually follow the same pattern.

They say that a man is arrested; he takes police to a place where weapons are hidden; then draws a gun on them so officers are forced to shoot him.

But Sri Lanka's police spokesman, Nimal Mediwake, defends his force.

In every case a magistrate's inquiry and post-mortem are held, he says.

"After completing that, the judge will decide whether it is justifiable homicide or the police are to be dealt with."

The spokesman added that there had not, to date, been any instances of the police being indicted after the death of so-called "underworld" members. In general, he said, it was ruled that the killings were justifiable homicide.

"These people have taken the law into their hands, trying to attack the police. So the police have had to return fire."

But lawyer Chandrapala Kumarage disagrees.

"In a country where there is rule of law and not law of the jungle, you can't kill people like that," he says.

'A violation'

"A responsible government has no moral right to say those killings are justified. They are illegal and they are in violation of the law of this country."

He links the "underworld" cases with the others, such as the Angulana ones, which have struck a chord with ordinary people.

Lawyers, including him, say the Sri Lankan government is violating the constitution by not having a standing independent commission on the police.

Back in Angulana, Devika Fernando grieves as she remembers identifying the body of her son, Dhanushka, killed like his friend and cousin, Dinesh.

"How can we accept the police as people who protect the public, if they commit this type of intolerable crime against society?" she asks.

"They are supposed to protect us."

In Angulana and many other places, public opinion has been hardening against the police. Now the war is over there are calls for efforts to rebuild the rule of law, undermined by decades of conflict.


Read More

Bookmark and Share

Friday, October 30, 2009

Sri Lankan camps are 'crime against humanity

While the guns may be silent in Sri Lanka for the first time in 26 years, the price of peace could not be higher, a Labour MP said yesterday.

Introducing a Westminster Hall debate about the internally displaced persons (IDP) camps in Sri Lanka, Joan Ryan (Lab, Enfield North) accused the country's government of having no regard for the welfare of the 300,000 civilians being detained.

Water and food are scarce for the hundreds of thousands of Tamil civilians living in the camps, Ryan told MPs.

Poor sanitation facilities mean that people are dying of treatable diseases.

The UK government must raise its voice on behalf of those whose human rights are "being ridden over roughshod".

Ryan highlighted the existence of around 10 secret camps that the Sri Lankan government refuses to acknowledge.

The conditions in these camps are impossible to monitor, she said.

"The camps are illegal and a crime against humanity."

Ryan called for Sri Lanka to be suspended from the Commonwealth and removed from the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group.

The Sri Lankan government does not give "a damn" about the international community, Lee Scott (Con, Ilford, North) said.

Scott argued that the IDP camps simply should not exist in the present day. If the Sri Lankan government will not stop its behaviour, the only solution is to suspend it from the Commonwealth, he said.

Unless the Sri Lankan government understands the Tamils’ aspiration for self-determination, there is no hope for progress, Barry Gardiner (Lab, Brent, North) told MPs.

Tom Brake (Lib Dem, Carshalton and Wallington) urged the Sri Lankan government to allow free media access to the IDPs.

The IDPs are not in refugee camps, they are in prison camps, Jeremy Corbyn (Lab, Islington, North) argued.

It is unacceptable that so many are "essentially prisoners of war" when the war is supposed to be over, John Barrett (Lib Dem, Edinburgh, West) insisted.

He urged the international community to use its economic leverage.

Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (Con, Cotswold) called on the British government to assist Sri Lanka in rebuilding the country's infrastructure.

He said that any future elections must be free, fair and involve all sectors of society equally.

The British government has recently provided £500,000 to a de-mining organisation, the HALO Trust, to speed up the process of land clearing, Michael Foster responded.

The parliamentary under-secretary of state for international development said he hoped this will enable a faster return for people from the camps.

Foster acknowledged that the monsoon season could potentially "wreak huge damage to the sanitation systems" in the IDP camps.

The Commonwealth should seriously consider suspending Sri Lanka. The Govt is not prepared to listen to the UN, EC, Human Rights Organization. So what do you do for such a country. Sanctions should be imposed by the International Community.
29th Oct 2009 at 4:27 pm by Leon

It is just very cruel to see that children are being held in these camps without adequate food and water, If these were the Sinhalese Majority..treatment by the Govt would have been different. The only solution for the Tamils are to live freely in their Tamil Home land ie Tamil Eelam.
29th Oct 2009 at 3:56 pm by Karen

What has been achieved? Nothing achieved. Everybody knows what is going in Sri Lanka but still they support it to continue the human rights violations.The UN is powerless and its secretary is bought by Sri Lanka. Most of the humman rights violating countries want to escape through Sri Lanka. They joined together and agreed it as a internal problem and then next? Now nobody can control them.

Because of Bush's foreign policy, Western democratic countries are powerless and they have to face a big team of anti-American countries. China want to control the economy as well as the world politics by secretly invading every nook and corner of the world.

If the western countries want to control China, the better way is to stop the import from China and break these countries it to bits by supporting the freedom fighters. Healing the root cause of the problems make more supporters for the western countries. Do not support the countries like Sri Lanka.


Read More

Bookmark and Share

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Sri Lanka Must Investigate Death Threats Against Two More Journalists

The Sri Lankan authorities must act to ensure the safety of two female editors at a national newspaper who received death threats last week, Amnesty International said.

The organization also called for an immediate investigation into the threats, received by Frederica Jansz, Editor-in-Chief of the Sunday Leader, and the newspaper's News Editor, Munza Mushataq.

The threats, which were written in red ink, were delivered by post to the newspaper on 22 October.

The founder and former Editor-in-Chief of the newspaper, Lasantha Wickrematunge, was murdered in January three weeks after receiving a similar death threat also written in red ink.

No one has yet been prosecuted for his murder.

The most recent threats relate to the coverage by the Sunday Leader of a video, broadcast on UK TV station Channel Four in August, which allegedly showed Sri Lankan soldiers executing Tamil prisoners.

The Sri Lankan government has stated that the video had been faked, but on 18 October the Sunday Leader printed an article on its front page, highlighting a report that an analysis of the video had concluded that the footage had not been tampered with or edited.

The threatening letters were postmarked 21 October, just three days after the newspaper ran its controversial story. Both letters included text saying "if you write anymore, we will kill you, [and] slice you into pieces".

The journalists reported the threat to Sri Lanka's Inspector General of Police, and also to local police in the capital, Colombo. However, no action has yet been taken by the authorities.

In September, Dileesha Abeysundera, who works for the Sinhala-language edition of the Sunday Leader and also campaigns for greater press freedom in Sri Lanka, was threatened.

There have been numerous serious attacks on the staff of the Sunday Leader and its publishers. Its offices have been burnt down, bombed and sealed several times.

Over the past three years, numerous journalists have been detained in Sri Lanka while others have fled the country. At least 14 media workers have been killed. Investigations have not resulted in prosecutions.

© Amnesty International

Related Links:
Death threats sent to paper of slain editor in Sri Lanka - CPJ
Sri Lanka editors receive death threats for Channel-4 video comments - Tamil Net

Read More

Bookmark and Share

Thursday, October 29, 2009

EU tells Sri Lanka it wants action and not just words

By Easwaran Rutnam - The European Union (EU) has continued to put pressure on the Sri Lankan government to address several concerns being raised over alleged human rights allegations including media suppression and has insisted that Sri Lanka must respond through actions and not words.

In an email to Daily Mirror online, Mrs Jean Lambert, Chair of the European Parliament (EP) Delegation for Relations with South Asia said that a European Parliament Resolution adopted last week shows beyond any doubt that the apprehensions of the European Parliament on Sri Lanka is widely shared.

The EP Resolution last week follows on from the hearing in the EP Human Rights sub-committee. It is the European Parliament's view on the humanitarian situation, and is there to advise Commission and Council policy decisions and offer proposals to the Sri Lankan Government, Mrs Jean Lambert said.

While noting that the European Parliament will not directly interfere on the GSP plus procedure which is in the hands of the European Commission, Mrs Jean Lambert said that the resolution by the European Parliament last week will be taken into account in the overall analysis of the situation.

“The fact that the views of the EP, expressed on 23 October, were largely echoed by the Council's conclusions which, on Tuesday, stressed that "indiscriminate detention of IDPs is a clear violation of international law", shows beyond any doubt that the apprehensions of the House are widely shared. Impunity, as well as severe harassment of journalists, must come to an end,” Mrs Jean Lambert told Daily Mirror online.

She reiterated that what counts now is whether the Government of Sri Lanka will at last take concrete steps --actions, not words-- in order to remedy the situation and demonstrate its willingness to engage into a meaningful dialogue with the EU institutions and relevant statutory bodies.

The Resolution adopted by the European Parliament last week expressed concerns over the continued detention of internally displaced people, media suppression and other issues but also noted the need for continued EU support for Sri Lanka’s economy and dialogue with the Sri Lankan government.

© Daily Mirror

Read More

Bookmark and Share

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Holding on to hope for Sri Lanka's missing

Matt Wade - Samson Nihara's pain shows in her dark eyes. Her husband and son disappeared more than a year ago.

Her nightmare began last September, when her 24-year-old son, John Reid, vanished. He and his fiancee were returning from a trip to a beach north of Colombo, when the van he was driving was blocked by four armed men on two motorcycles.

They hijacked the van, dropped the woman at a busy Colombo intersection and sped away. Mr Reid has not been seen since.

The family's crisis deepened a month later, when Ms Nihara's husband, K. A. Anthony, became the target. Four men burst into the tiny two-room home in central Colombo at 4am and took him away.

''I saw them all,'' says Ms Nihara. ''They said they were from the military - one was in uniform.''

Reports of abductions in this way are so common that Sri Lankans call the phenomenon ''white van syndrome''.

Last year, the Committee to Monitor Investigations into Abductions and Disappearances (CMIAD) was established to help relatives of missing people. It was notified of 283 disappearances in 2008 and 113 so far this year, although the number may be much higher.

Most of those missing are believed to be in custody on suspicion of having links with the Tamil Tigers.

''Unexplained disappearances have become a systemic problem in Sri Lanka,'' a human rights activist told The Age.

''It's very difficult to deal with because it's so institutionalised.''

A Government spokesman admitted some disappearance cases remained ''unresolved'' but claimed many alleged abductions have turned out to be false when investigated.

Tamil MP P. Radhakrishnan, who is a founding member of CMIAD, said the Government was ''doing its part to trace people'' but many of those found were in official custody. One of them was Rushantha Selvarathnam. He is 25 and has twice been detained by police for long periods on suspicion of having links with the Tamil Tigers. ''If they do it again, I might never be released,'' he says. He feels he has no choice but to leave Sri Lanka and has applied for asylum in Switzerland.

Samsun Nihara has not lost hope of finding her husband and son. She has visited police stations across Colombo, lodged complaints with many official bodies and even written to the Sri Lankan President, Mahinda Rajapaksa. But no one has been able to help.

''I believe they are still alive,'' she says. ''I'm just praying that one day they will come back.''

© The Age

Read More

Bookmark and Share

Thursday, October 29, 2009

IUSF pledges to launch mass protest

By Yohan Perera - The Inter University Students Federation which brought the traffic along Galle Road, Bauddhaloka Mawatha and Town Hall to a standstill yesterday pledged to launch a mass protest with the support of the school children and to paralyze the schools in the country in the future.

They staged a protest in Colombo calling for the release of its convener Udul Premaratne who is in custody and to stop the alleged privatization of education.

Over 2000 students who participated in the protest march warned that they would get the support of the school children as well bringing the schools to a standstill if the government continues to turn a blind eye to their demands. Inter University Students Federation Acting Convener Sanjeewa Bandara said they have offered to discuss the issues with the President but their request had not been taken seriously. “We pleaded with the government several times and we are compelled to take the government head-on as it has turned a deaf ear to our request,” he said. Bandara charged that several students were arrested while others have been suspended from the university. He said two bhikkhu students were expelled from the university because of their effort to safeguard the free education system of the country.

The students opposed the private universities and charged that the Minister of Higher Education Prof. Viswa Warnapala had given the right to NIBM a private Institute to award four kinds of degrees. He said these rights have been given through a gazette notification, which had been signed by the Minister. “The Minister of Higher Education is applying his famous Warnapala Theory to resolve issues but that would not serve the purpose, “ they said.

The students said they would have to spend lacks of rupees to get a degree under the new education system, which the government is planning to implement. “Can our poor parents afford this,” the student leaders asked.

The march was stopped by the police at the Kollupitiya Junction at which point the students demanded to see President Rajapaksa. A message was sent from the Temple Trees that Presidential Secretary would talk to them. But, the students who refused to see him burnt the petition which they were to handover to and went away stating that they would launch a massive protest in the future.

© Daily Mirror

Read More

Bookmark and Share

Thursday, October 29, 2009

UN official says will investigate Sri Lanka's execution tape

The UN Special Rapporteur on arbitrary executions has said he is initiating inquiries into the video tape showing incidents of alleged extra judicial killings by the Sri Lankan Army.

"I have begun to commission some analysis of that video tape because I do think it is incumbent upon me and I think I owe it to the government
of Sri Lanka to try to probe more deeply," Philip Alston told journalists here.

In August, footage surfaced showing a Sri Lankan soldier
shooting at point-blank range a bound and blindfolded Tamil rebel. The video also shows eight bound corpses – reinforcing allegations about executions by Sri Lankan Army.

After initially declaring that the video was fabricated, Colombo did a self-investigation, which was widely discredited. More recently, Sri Lanka announced another probe into the incident.

Alston, however, said he was not convinced that the tape was fake nor did he trust the Sri Lankan authorities to carry out an independent inquiry.

"The government of Sri Lanka does not have a very proud track record in this area," Alston said.

Expressing doubts over any future committee of inquiry set up by Sri Lankan authorities, he stressed the need for independent investigators to be allowed into the country.

"I think the track record shows very clearly that unless you have some real independence there the situation in Sri Lanka today is not one that will lend itself to an independent an d impartial let alone convincing analysis," Alston told journalists here.

"Let individual investigators in... let them talk to tens of thousands of people who present at the time... which could provide eyewitness accounts, Lets get the truth on the table," he added.

The Special Rapporteur said insider investigations lacked objectivity and independence, and the Sri Lankan authorities had not made it easy for independent agencies to establish facts.

"The government of Sri Lanka has not permitted any such access... Until it is revealed that it is prepared to subject itself to scrutiny it is very hard to take its assurances that nothing happened, at face value," he said.


Related Links:
UN Rapporteur questions credibility of Lanka’s probes - Daily Mirror
UN questions the credibility of any probe - Hindustan Times

Read More

Bookmark and Share

Thursday, October 29, 2009

University students agitate demanding release of convener of IUSF

Students of all universities in the island engaged in a protest campaign today (28th) demanding the release of convener of the Inter University Students Federation (IUSF) Udul Premaratne who was arrested 44 days ago and has been imprisoned since then and demanding immediate stop to privatization of education.

The students who engaged in the protest campaign that commenced at Viharamahadevi Park in Colombo in the afternoon marched to Kollupitiya through Town Hall shouting slogans. Most of the slogans were against imprisoning of the convener of the IUSF and against privatization of education.

The police had put up temporary barricades at Kollupitiya junction to prevent the students from marching further and protestors remained there for nearly one hour shouting slogans.

Later acting convener of the IUSF Sanjeewa Bandara addressing the students said, “We came here very peacefully to present our issue to Mr. Mahinda Rajapakse and get a solution. However, Mr. Mahinda Rajapakse does not like to discus with us. That’s why he has sent his henchmen to speak to us. We would like to tell him that we’ll talk only with him and not with his henchmen. By today Comrade Udul has been imprisoned for 44 days. The crime Comrade Udul committed was to fight to protect free education. Comrade Udul who came forward to protect education has been imprisoned. But Daya Master and George Master who were terrorists have been released. This is the democracy of this government,” said Mr. Bandara.

After his speech the letter brought to be handed over to the President and an effigy resembling the President were burnt stating more stringent moves would be taken in the future.

© Lanka Truth

Related Links:
SL university students take to the streets against the government - Lanka Page
Thousands of students march on Temple Trees - Sri Lanka Guardian

Read More

Bookmark and Share

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Sri Lanka: Domestic Inquiry into Abuses a Smokescreen

The Sri Lankan government's proposal to create a committee of experts to examine allegations of laws-of-war violations during the conflict between the government and the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) is an attempt to avoid an independent international inquiry, Human Rights Watch said today.

The government made its proposal in response to a report by the US State Department, published on October 22, 2009, that detailed hundreds of incidents of alleged laws-of-war violations in Sri Lanka from January through May. According to conservative UN estimates, 7,000 civilians were killed and more than 13,000 injured during that period, the final months of fighting.

"The government is once again creating a smokescreen inquiry to avoid accountability for abuses," said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. "Only an independent international investigation will uncover the truth about this brutal war and ensure justice for the victims. The UN and US should not play along with the government's pretense that it will conduct its own investigation."

Human Rights Watch urged the United Nations secretary-general, Ban Ki-moon, to establish an independent international investigation into alleged laws-of-war violations in Sri Lanka. The United States, the EU and other international actors should emphasize to the Sri Lankan government that because of its proposed committee's lack of independence and the failure of past government commissions, a government inquiry is unacceptable as a substitute for an independent international investigation.

The current political climate, in which the government frequently persecutes critics, branding them LTTE supporters, makes a credible and impartial domestic investigation unlikely, Human Rights Watch said.

On May 23, soon after the end of the fighting, the Sri Lankan president, Mahinda Rajapaksa, and Secretary-General Ban issued a joint statement that promised there would be credible national investigations. The government had taken no steps to open an investigation until the State Department report was released.

The UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights issued a statement on October 23 calling for an independent international investigation, which Human Rights Watch supported. A spokesperson for the office told reporters: "We still believe that something like the Gaza fact-finding mission is certainly warranted given the widespread concerns about the conduct of the war in Sri Lanka."

On October 26, President Rajapaksa announced that he would appoint a committee of experts to "examine carefully" allegations of violations of the laws of war during the final stages of the 26-year-long armed conflict.

On October 27, the European Union, during its foreign ministers' meeting in Luxembourg, repeated its call for an independent inquiry into violations of international humanitarian and human right law.

Since independence in 1948, Sri Lanka has established nine presidential commissions and various other bodies tasked with investigating allegations of human rights violations. None of the commissions have produced significant results, either in providing new information or leading to prosecutions.

The most recent Presidential Commission of Inquiry, appointed in November 2006, to investigate serious cases of alleged human rights abuses was a complete failure. A group of international experts, appointed to ensure the investigation was being conducted according to international norms and standards, resigned in 2008 because it had "not been able to conclude...that the proceedings of the Commission have been transparent or have satisfied basic international norms and standards." The experts included: Justice P.N. Bhagwati (India); Bernard Kouchner (France); Prof. Sir Nigel Rodley (UK), Prof. Yozo Yokota (Japan); and Kamal Hussein (Bangladesh).

In June 2009, Rajapaksa dissolved the Commission of Inquiry, even though it had conducted investigations in just seven of its 16 mandated major human rights cases. The president has not published the report.

Among the cases it investigated was the August 2006 execution-style killing of 17 Sri Lankan aid workers for the Paris-based humanitarian agency Action Contre la Faim. Despite strong evidence of involvement by government security forces in the killings, leaked findings of the commission exonerated the Sri Lankan army and navy on the basis of limited testimony from witnesses.

Earlier this year the UN Human Rights Council mandated an international fact-finding mission into abuses during the recent Gaza conflict. On October 16, Secretary-General Ban ordered an international commission of inquiry into human rights violations in Guinea after approximately 150 people were killed during anti-government demonstrations.

Although the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and other senior UN officials have called for an international investigation in Sri Lanka, Secretary-General Ban has refrained from making such a call. Inexplicably, the US State Department has indicated support for the Sri Lankan government's committee of experts.

"The government's committee is merely an effort to buy time and hope the world will forget the bloodbath that civilians suffered at the end of the war," Adams said. "Pretending that this is a serious attempt to investigate would betray the memory of the victims of war crimes and other abuses."

© Human Rights Watch

Read More

Bookmark and Share

Thursday, October 29, 2009

'Released' IDPs re-arrested

The Sri Lanka military has confirmed that the security forces are re-arresting displaced people suspected of former LTTE members released from Vavuniya camps.

Acting military spokesperson Brigadier Prasad Samarasinghe told BBC Sandeshaya that re-arrested suspected former rebels are sent back to rehabilitation camps in Vavuniya.

He was responding to allegations by a pro-government politician that Tamil war displaced released from Vavuniya camps are being re-arrested in Trincomalee camps.

Judy Devadasan, Trincomalee district TMVP organiser and public relations officer to the eastern province chief minister said the trend has recently increased.

"People are being arrested from three centres; Chenayur MV, a school in Eachchalampattu and Kuchchiveli school. Nobody knows where they were taken to," she said.

Confirming the arrests, Brig. Samarasinghe says anybody concerned can contact the military or authorities of the relevant camp to find more information.

“LTTE terrorists are also being identified in camps in Trincomalee. Then they are being arrested and referred to rehabilitation camps in Vavuniya,” Brig. Samarasinghe said.

The Sri Lankan foreign ministry has informed the European Union that screening of 160,000 IDPs has already been completed.

Statement to EU

Sri Lanka's Ambassador to Belgium, Luxembourg and the European Union, Ravinatha Aryasinha addressing the Human Rights Sub Committee of the European Parliament earlier said "out of 290,000 people liberated from the LTTE, over 150,000 had been registered and 110,000 issued with ID cards".

Ms. Devadasan said the allegations were made by IDPs in Trincomalee camps when she visited the camps with the chief minister.

President Mahinda Rajapaksa's ruling coalition gained power in the eastern provincial council elections together with the TMVP.

The elections in the east in 2008, after decades of conflict, were hailed as a triumph for democracy in Sri Lanka.

The government continuously pointed that the appointment of a former LTTE child soldier as the chief minister was a significant step towards democratising the east after the decades of LTTE rule.

However, the TMVP official says they are facing difficulty in bringing government's message to Tamil people in ground.

"People are asking why they are not allowed to enjoy fruits of freedom secured by the security forces for the country," she said.

The military insists that it is necessary to rehabilitate former LTTE members to secure peace in Sri Lanka.

© BBC Sinhala

Related Links:
60 transferred IDPs arrested from transit centres in Trincomalee - TamilNet

Read More

Bookmark and Share

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

New threats to privately-owned print media

Reporters Without Borders urges the Sri Lankan authorities to take all necessary measures to investigate threatening letters received six days ago by Frederica Jansz and Munza Mushtaq, two journalists who work for the Leader Publications media group. “We will slice you up if you do not stop your writing,” the letters said.

At the same time, senior newspaper employees have been questioned by the police about their sources in a new attack on editorial independence.

“The police must treat these death threats written in red ink with the utmost seriousness, especially as they were sent to two journalists whose press group has repeatedly been the target of physical violence,” Reporters Without Borders said. “We urge the police to track down and arrest those who wrote these letters.”

The press freedom organisation added: “It is also vital that the authorities order the security forces to put a stop to their unwarranted summonses and arrests of journalists, and to register the complaints submitted by journalists when they are physically attacked.”

The editor-in-chief of the Sunday Leader newspaper, Jansz plans to go police headquarters in Mount Lavinia (just to the south of Colombo) on 27 October to file a complaint about the threatening letters (see photo) that she and Mushtaq received on 22 October. The threats may have been prompted by the newspaper’s coverage of a video showing Sri Lankan soldiers executing unarmed men.

Jansz told Reporters Without Borders the letters were similar to those received by Sunday Leader managing editor Lasantha Wickrematunge three weeks before he was murdered in January 2009. “We wrote to the police station describing the threats but the police have not even contacted me (…) The Sunday Leader’s publisher mentioned these persistent threats at a meeting with the president a few months ago. The president told one of his aides to follow up the matter, but since then there has been nothing.”

Jansz and Leader Publications are currently facing three complaints brought by the president’s brother, defence secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa, one accusing her of contempt of court because she printed a profile of him in the weekly after a judge ordered the press group not to publish anything about him. The defence ministry’s website has meanwhile accused the press group’s lawyers of being traitors while another site linked to the ministry referred to some of Jansz’s comments to foreign news media as “prostitution.”

In a separate case, Chandana Sirimalwatta, the editor of the newspaper Lanka Irida, was detained and questioned by the Colombo police on 17 October about his sources for an article about tension between the president and the head of the armed forces, Gen. Sarath Fonseka. The previous day, the police had gone to the newspaper’s headquarters to arrest Sirimalwatta.

On 20 October, the government information office threatened to "blacklist" online media that speculated about tension within the government.

Ruling party activists meanwhile attacked journalists who were accompanying opposition members on 4 October as they tried to approach a "palatial residence" allegedly built by a member of the president’s family with public funds. Five journalists were slightly hurt. One of them told Reporters Without Borders that police at the Matara police station refused to register his complaint.

A few days before that, three Lanka Irida reporters were arrested near this residence on "terrorism charges". They were later released on bail but their equipment was confiscated.

© Reporters Without Borders

Read More

Bookmark and Share

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Sri Lanka frees publisher held for 19 months

A Sri Lankan judge on Monday freed a publisher who had been held in custody for 19 months on charges of supporting terrorism, saying the accused man had been forced to confess under torture.

S. Jaseeharan and his wife, who were detained in March 2008 for articles published in their North Eastern Monthly magazine, were acquitted of all charges.

The judge said that a confession in which Jaseeharan admitted to supporting the separatist Tamil Tiger rebels had been obtained under duress and that medical records presented in court showed he had been tortured.

“The attorney general withdrew the charges as the judge noted that the confession was not made voluntarily,” a court official said.

Government troops finally defeated the Tiger rebels in May after decades of fighting, but international press groups say that Sri Lankan journalists still face major restrictions on reporting.

J.S. Tissainayagam was in August jailed to 20 years of hard labour for two articles he wrote in the North Eastern Monthly in 2007.

He was found guilty of causing “racial hatred” through his writings about Tamils affected by the war and of raising money for “terrorism.”

Several Sri Lankan reporters have been killed in recent years by unidentified groups.


Related Links:
Detained Tamil publisher is freed - BBC

Read More

Bookmark and Share

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Sri Lanka to probe U.S. charges of possible war crimes

Sri Lanka's president will appoint a home-grown committee to probe a U.S. State Department report of possible war crimes at the end of Sri Lanka's 25-year war against the Tamil Tigers, the government said on Monday.

Sri Lanka is facing heavy Western pressure over its human rights record, which the government blames on members of the Tamil diaspora who have settled in European countries or the United States and are angry the Tigers were beaten.

The United States issued a report on Thursday detailing possible atrocities by both government and Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) at the final battle of the 25-year war, and urged Sri Lanka to investigate the allegations.

"The president had decided to appoint a home-grown committee, to look into this report and give him recommendations," Human Rights Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe told a news conference. Sri Lanka had already rejected the report as unsubstantiated.

The decision to appoint a local panel is unlikely to satisfy the West, given Sri Lanka's long history of inquiries into rights abuse that have largely failed to hold anyone accountable.

A probe into the massacre of 17 aid workers in 2006 blamed on security forces was wound up prematurely.

Sri Lanka, with the backing of allies China and Russia, fought off Western criticism and calls to halt its offensive earlier this year. It has been adamant that its prosecution of the war was an internal matter not subject to outside scrutiny.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, during an official visit to Colombo on Monday, signaled Moscow's continued backing.

"The government of Sri Lanka is fully capable using its own legal system to resolve any complaints which might emerge," Lavrov told reporters. "I don't believe that we should really discuss any agreement of procedures internationally."

Days after Sri Lanka declared the war over, the U.N. Human Rights council passed a resolution praising its victory with the backing of China, Russia and India, which defeated a European-backed draft critical of how it handled the war.

On Friday, the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights has suggested that an external inquiry similar to the one that looked at fighting in Gaza may need to be carried out to determine what happened in Sri Lanka.

The European Union is also considering whether to withdraw a trade preference that helps Sri Lanka's top export, garments, after finding it failed to adhere to a number of rights conventions required under the trade scheme.

The State Department report, requested by Congress, recounted allegations of government shelling of civilians during the early months of 2009 and killing of LTTE fighters who had surrendered.

It also accused the Tigers, who were listed as a terrorist organization by more than 30 countries, of recruiting children to fight and keeping thousands of Tamils as human shields by killing those who tried to flee.

© Reuters

Read More

Bookmark and Share

Sunday, October 25, 2009

The Sunday Leader editors threatened with death

Once again editors at The Sunday Leader are under threat. Last Thursday, October 22, Frederica Jansz, Editor-in-Chief of this newspaper and Munza Mushtaq, News Editor were both sent two hand written death threats by post.

The two letters are identical — written in red ink and appear to have been posted on October 21, 2009. Coincidentally, the late Lasantha Wickrematunge, founder Editor-in-Chief of The Sunday Leader was sent a similar missive — also written in red ink — in December last year, three weeks before he was murdered.

This newspaper has consistently in the entire 15 years of its existence come under attack. We have been burnt, bombed, sealed, harassed and threatened, culminating in January this year with the brutal killing of Lasantha Wickrematunge.

Not satisfied with that assassination, The Sunday Leader has continued to come under attack. In May this year, Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa brought a fresh case against the newspaper and its Editor, Frederica Jansz alleging we were in contempt of an ongoing case in court for having carried a profile on him days after he won the war.

Barely two weeks later after we were asked to show cause in Court, five lawyers who appeared for The Sunday Leader in this case of contempt of court were branded ‘traitors’ by the government’s very own Defence Ministry web site.

This was followed by another article also posted on the Defence Ministry web site by none other that the Defence Secretary himself Gotabaya Rajapaksa where he reiterated the position of the previous article on the Defence Ministry web site going a step further and accusing the five lawyers appearing for The Sunday Leader as running “to their Nanny” the Bar Association of Sri Lanka. Rajapaksa’s defensive and angry rebuttal followed the BASL and the International Bar Association having issued statements on the incident condemning the actions of the Defence Ministry.

Thereafter, continuing this war against The Sunday Leader, in September, the web page of the Media Centre for National Security carried a slanderous article refuting certain statements made to al Jazeera by Frederica Jansz in relation to the infamous Channel 4 video. The article went so far as to even carry terminology such as “prostituting and prostitute.”

This was despite Frederica Jansz having clearly in her interview to al Jazeera stated that Channel 4 – UK should never have aired the controversial video unless and until it had checked the authenticity of the images.

However, to the credit of Director, Media Centre for National Security, Lakshman Hulugalle no sooner Frederica informed him of the scurrilous article he had it removed from the web site. Interestingly, though he told Frederica at the time she informed him of the article in question that he had absolutely no knowledge it was even on the site and she had to in fact walk him through the motions to even find it. The Media Centre for National Security functions under the purview of the Defence Ministry.

Last week’s death threat to both Frederica Jansz and Munza Mushtaq appears to follow a similar pattern. The Sunday Leader last week on October 18, carried a front page news item which said that in a controversial turn of events, a United States company specialising in forensic services has in a preliminary report maintained that no tampering or editing was carried out in either the video or audio portions of the controversial Channel 4 video clip which showed a man in Sri Lankan military uniform executing civilians. Our story merely reported extracts from the report as well as quoted Minister Keheliya Rambukwella who we spoke to in relation to its contents.

The Sunday Leader has been a controversial newspaper because we say it like we see it: whether it be a spade, a thief or a murderer, we call it by that name. We do not hide behind euphemism. The investigative articles we print are supported by documentary evidence. We have exposed scandal after scandal, and never once in these 15 years has anyone proved us wrong or successfully prosecuted us.

From us you learn the state of your nation, and especially its management by the people you elected to give your children a better future. Sometimes the image you see in that mirror is not a pleasant one. The journalists who hold the mirror up to you do so publicly and at great risk to themselves. That is our calling, and we do not shirk it.

© The Sunday Leader

Read More

Bookmark and Share

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Publication of false reports using senior Army Officers’ Identities could be punished – military spokesman

It has been observed that certain individuals who intend to engage in political work continue to use names of serving senior Army Officers for baseless reports in some print media and websites, said Military Spokesman Brigadier V.U.B. Nanayakkara in a press release.

Section 120 Penal Code and Gazette Extraordinary of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka and also in the Army Act and the Emergency Regulations states:

“Whoever by words, either spoken or intended to be read, or by sign; or by visible representations, or otherwise, excites or attempts to excite feelings of disaffection to the President or to the Government of the Republic, or excites or attempts to excite hatred to or contempt of the administration of justice, or excites or attempts to excite the People of Sri Lanka to procure, otherwise than by lawful means, the alteration of any matter by law established or attempts to raise discontent or disaffection amongst the People of Sri Lanka, or to promote feelings of ill – will and hostility between different classes of such People, shall be punished.”

Officers serving the Army are completely barred from political work and use of their names for personal political gains and agendas for such wrong reports is therefore illegal and liable for prosecution. The Government reiterates that those failing to do so are liable for prosecution.

The Defence Secretary has instructed the Police and the authorities to take action with immediate effect. Hence, publication of such false reports using names of those officers should be stopped forthwith

© Lanka Puwath

Read More

Bookmark and Share

Sunday, October 25, 2009

European parliament raps Sri Lanka government on Tamil civilians' condition

Click here to read the complete resolution

The European Parliament adopted a resolution on Sri Lanka on Oct 22 deploring the fact "that over 250,000 Tamil civilians are still held in camps, contrary to undertakings given by the Colombo government."

The resolution asked that their return be organized and that humanitarian organizations be given free access to the camps in order to provide the necessary humanitarian assistance.

European lawmakers in the statement called “on the Sri Lankan authorities to grant humanitarian organizations free access to the camps in order to provide those detained with the necessary humanitarian assistance, particularly with the imminent arrival of monsoon rains in the north of the country.”

Welcoming the introduction of “the Victim and Witness Assistance and Protection Bill, which is currently at second reading in the Sri Lankan Parliament,” the resolution asked the government to respect human rights in the conduct of trials of LTTE members.

The resolution insisted that Sri Lankan Government is “under an obligation to apply international human right standards in judicial proceedings against members of the LTTE.”

The pan-European assembly urged Sri Lankan government to "stop the repression of the media under anti-terrorist legislation and to allow freedom of the press; and calls on it, now that the conflict has ended, to review its anti-terrorist legislation and to ensure that all alleged violations of media freedom are the subject of full, open and transparent investigations”

The European parliament asked the European Commission, the executive arm of the EU to “sponsor additional support for urgent mine-clearance work in Sri Lanka,” while asking Colombo to “take the very positive step of acceding to the Ottawa Treaty (Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Anti-Personnel Mines and on their Destruction).”

Moreover, the lawmakers called on Tamil leaders to commit themselves to a political settlement and renounce terrorism and violence once and for all.


Read More

Bookmark and Share

Sunday, October 25, 2009

UN rights office backs Sri Lanka war probe

The office of the UN human rights chief renewed its call Friday for a probe into alleged war crimes committed by Sri Lankan troops and Tamil rebels during the final stages of the country's civil war.

"We still believe that something like the Gaza fact-finding mission is certainly warranted given the widespread concerns about the conduct of the war in Sri Lanka," said Rupert Colville, a spokesman for UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay.

Colville was referring to the controversial probe by former international war crimes prosecutor Richard Goldstone into the recent conflict between Israel and the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip.

Goldstone's fact-finding mission was set up by a vote in the 47 member state UN Human Rights Council, which has so far not taken up the Sri Lankan issue.

The United States on Thursday urged Sri Lanka to probe allegations of war crimes committed by government troops and Tamil Tiger rebels towards the of their decades-old conflict earlier this year.

The call followed publication of a US State Department report that contained claims of atrocities committed by both sides.

Colville underlined that the US report did not constitute the necessary full inquiry but he acknowledged that it "catalogues in quite some detail specific events that have been reported."

"It seems that more clarity is likely to emerge about who did what to whom and whether or not war crimes and crimes against humanity and other very serious war crimes were committed by one or both sides," he added.

The UN human rights office also urged the Sri Lankan government to honour pledges that it would allow displaced Tamils out of government-run camps and seek to reduce discrimination against the Tamil minority.

"The issue of some 240,000 - 250,000 displaced people living in what are in effect internment camps continues to be of great concern," said Colville.

"We hope the government takes serious actions to fulfill these commitments in the very near future," he added.

Sri Lanka's ultra-nationalist government has so far rejected calls for a war crimes probe.


Read More

Bookmark and Share

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Tamils herded into disease-ridden camps seek any escape

Drew Warne-Smith - When Muthu Kumaran returned to Sri Lanka in February 2007, he had hoped, even expected, that his Tamil people were about to win independence.

An Australian citizen and civil engineer, he wanted to be there when a Tamil state was established, freed from majority Sinhalese rule, and he wanted to lend his expertise in water management, too.

Instead, the father of two from Sydney's west would endure the brutal reality of the Sri Lankan government's final push to wipe out the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, the militant Tamil Tigers.

Kumaran was not only swept up in the renewed hostilities of a 25-year civil war, he was also detained in one of the notorious internment camps that are still home to nearly 300,000 Tamils.

He returned to Australia in the first week of August this year, having managed to buy his way out of the largest military-run camp in Sri Lanka, at Manik Farm. And with so many Tamils still detained in their homeland, and the Rudd government wrestling with how best to cope with those who have escaped and are seeking asylum in Australia, Kumaran has decided to speak out about his experience and the plight of his people.

"People need to know, the international community needs to know, what it is happening in Sri Lanka," Kumaran tells Focus.

"The US, Britain, Australia, they talk about democracy and human rights. Well, they cannot keep their eyes closed to these things."

Fearing retribution here in Australia as well as for his extended family in Sri Lanka, Kumaran - not his real name - has requested his identity not be revealed. Having first left Sri Lanka 35 years ago, Kumaran had planned on staying for an extended period when he returned in early 2007, perhaps to retire there eventually. Basing himself in the northern city Kilinochchi, the de facto Tamil capital, he initially worked alongside non-government organisations Oxfam, Solidar, Forut and ZOA on water sanitation issues, as well as helping set up livelihood projects: teaching women how to dry banana leaves and make baskets for sale and setting up street stalls. He also taught English in schools.

However, in January last year the Sri Lankan government withdrew from a ceasefire arrangement with the LTTE and the military began moving north into Tigers-held terrain in a bid to wipe them out. By December Kilinochchi was being targeted in bombing raids and Kumaran had to flee with more than 100,000 residents.

The Sri Lankan government directed Tamils to evacuate to a designated safe zone at Visuwamadu about 10km away. For the next 5 1/2 months Kumaran remained on the road, herded south through seven safe zones alongside hundreds of thousands of other banished Tamils known as internally displaced persons, or IDPs.

At each stop, an impromptu camp would be established in the belting heat, tents erected, bunkers, ground wells and toilets dug out, hospitals set up. Then a few days later the bombs would resume and this mass of humanity would move again, the numbers swelling all the time.

"The roads would be chock-a-block. Lorries, tractors, bullock carts, pick-ups, motorbikes, push-cycles, people walking, everyone carrying bags. There were young children, pregnant ladies, babies, people on stretchers, you've never seen anything like it," he says.

Kumaran also says they regularly came under fire along the way from bombs dropped by the Sri Lankan air force, rockets from naval ships, long-distance shelling and rifle rounds from the jungle bordering the roadside. He says he saw people killed and many injured. He ferried the bodies, dead and alive, to the nearest hospital or cemetery in a four-wheel drive.

"Twice my pick-up got hit, but luckily not me. I think maybe I saw a dozen people killed, maybe another 20 injured, right in front of me," he says.

By the time he left Mullivaikal in the second week of May, Kumaran was on foot, as were almost all the 300,000 Tamils, his possessions reduced to just a plastic shopping bag containing clothes and his Australian passport.

Thirty-six hours later they came to a military screening point at Vavuniya, where everyone was frisked for weapons and directed to school grounds. There, the sprawling crowd was ordered to divide into two groups: those who were associated with the LTTE and those who were not. "We were told if we were LTTE, to declare it and there would be an amnesty. But they said, 'We know you, if we find out you have lied, you will be severely punished,"' Kumaran recalls.

He joined the non-Tigers. They were then ordered on to buses and driven six hours to an area called Chettikulam, and a large swath of cleared jungle off the Vavuniya-Mannar Road. He had come to the Manik Farm internment camp. Kumaran describes the camp as a series of blocks, separated from each other by a road and strip of jungle. The facility was ringed by razor wire and guarded by armed troops.

He estimates about 2500 people were held on each block, housed in 160 tents, with 16 people to each 4mx4m tent. Each block also had a community kitchen, a medical facility and four toilets each for men and women.

Conditions were primitive at best, Kumaran says. There were no plates or utensils, so meals of dhal curry and rice were eaten off plastic bags that were reused each day. Water was limited to two 1000-litre tanks a block. Disease was everywhere.

"I volunteered to be a translator for the Sinhalese doctors at the hospital. There was a lot of typhoid, chicken pox, fever, diarrhoea, malnutrition. People had large rashes because of the lack of bathing facilities, too," Kumaran says.

"Our block, four people died while I was there, and another elderly gentleman hanged himself."

In all, he would be there for eight days. In that time he wrote to the Australian High Commissioner and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees in Colombo about his detention, letters a camp official agreed to send.

But before he heard back, Kumaran says he discovered via "the bush telegraph" he could buy his freedom. He is reticent to reveal details of his escape or how much he paid, but he says he approached a local worker on his block who smuggled him out late at night two days later, hiding him in the back of a van. He presumes the camp guards knew what was happening. "The guards stopped us, but they didn't question (the driver) very much and they let us go," he says.

They were driven to another location, where they waited until the money was transferred into the required bank account.

But it would be another six weeks before he flew out of Colombo.

He lost 25kg during his ordeal, so much that airport officials were concerned he did not resemble his passport photo and it was arranged for Australian embassy officials to meet him in Bangkok to double-check his identity.

But Kumaran says there was no pleasure, or even relief, in setting foot in Sydney in early August. Instead he felt an overwhelming sense of guilt.

"As soon as I was in the air leaving Colombo, it was a bad feeling. My heart is still there," he says, tears welling in his eyes. "So many people made sacrifices, and yet still people are behind barbed wire, queuing to use the toilet and for food. They are not free. And I am here."

Perversely, however, Kumaran believes the turmoil of past year, including the defeat of LTTE, may bring an independent Tamil state closer to reality. The Sri Lankan government's treatment of the IDPs demonstrates that the Sinhalese and Tamils cannot live peacefully side by side, he says.

"It will happen. I am confident still," Kumaran says. "Maybe they have done us a favour. They have created a bigger problem by what they have done and it will force the world to act. And they have only strengthened Tamil nationalism. They have not killed it."

© The Australian

Read More

Bookmark and Share

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Media freedom before GSP Plus: Media groups tell Govt.

Five media rights groups yesterday called on the government to take immediate steps to ensure media freedom and respond positively to other issues raised by the European Union (EU) as a prerequisite for retaining the GSP + preferential trade facility.

In a statement, the five media groups said they wished to draw the attention of the people of the country to the fact that the EU has along with several other issues raised its concern regarding media freedom in the country as well as laws that impede media freedom and threats to media personnel. The EU has said this would figure prominently when the EU decides on November 7 whether to extend the GSP facility or withdraw it.

“If the GSP facility is lost, the garment sector in the country could effectively collapse and in turn thousands of people will be economically deprived. If such a situation takes place, we say the government will be held responsible for their predicament.”

The five media organisations that signed the statement are: the Free Media Movement, the Sri Lanka Tamil Media Alliance, the Sri Lanka Muslim Media Forum, the Federation of Media Employees Trade Union and the Sri Lanka Working Journalists’ Association.

© Sunday Times

Read More

Bookmark and Share

Sunday, October 25, 2009

US war crimes report adds to pressure on Sri Lanka

MATT WADE - Thousands of Tamil refugees held in camps since May have been released amid growing international pressure on the Sri Lankan Government over its human rights record.

About 5700 refugees left the huge camp at Menik Farm, in the country's north, on Thursday to be resettled, the Government said. A further 36,000 were due to leave the camps and be resettled "over the coming weeks''.

The Government's final victory over the separatist Tamil Tiger rebels, and its subsequent treatment of Tamil refugees, has been under intense international scrutiny, with government forces and the rebels accused of indiscriminate shelling of civilians.

On Thursday, the US State Department released a report of possible war crimes committed during the final months of the civil war, citing actions by government forces and the Tigers between January and May 2009.

Internal US embassy reports from Colombo, satellite images and information from relief agencies and media were used to compile the report. The report included harm to civilians caught up in conflict, killing of captured combatants and disappearances "which may constitute violations of international humanitarian law or crimes against humanity and related harms".

The Government has vehemently rejected the report, saying the allegations against it were "unsubstantiated and devoid of corroborative evidence".

The Foreign Ministry said in a statement that vested interests wanted to "fan the flames of secessionism" and undermine the Government's rehabilitation and reconciliation efforts.

The US State Department's ambassador at large for war crimes issues, Stephen Rapp, told The Washington Post: ''We are calling on the Government, as part of the reconciliation process, to develop an accountability process …''

Sri Lankan authorities insisted they could conduct a credible internal investigation into alleged abuses, Mr Rapp said. ''We are going to take them at their word and follow that process.''

The 68-page US report does not reach a conclusion on whether the incidents add up to violations of international law.

''We wanted to lay out all of these credible allegations of human rights violations,'' a US State Department spokesman, Ian Kelly, said in Washington. ''The report doesn't attempt to verify all the claims, but we believe that the claims, which are based mostly on reporting, are credible.''

In New York, Human Rights Watch said the report showed the need for an independent international investigation.

"The US State Department report should dispel any doubts that serious abuses were committed during the conflict's final months," said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. "Given Sri Lanka's failure to investigate possible war crimes, the only hope for justice is an independent, international investigation."

Since the end of the bloody civil war in May, more than 250,000 mostly Tamil refugees have been held in the guarded camps, mostly at Menik Farm, near the town of Vavuniya.

The Government has been criticised for slow progress in resettling the displaced people and for restricting their movement for so long. Before Thursday only about 15,000 people had been released from the camp.

© Sydney Morning Herald

Related Links:
Reports Press Sri Lanka on Possible War Atrocities - The New York Times
US: 170 alleged ‘war crimes’ between May 2 and 18 - Sunday Times

Read More

Bookmark and Share

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Sri Lanka faces fuel shortage in oil union protest

Long lines have formed at gas stations in Sri Lanka's capital as workers of the state-owned oil corporation continue a strike to push for a pay increase.

The four-day strike has paralyzed fuel distribution in the capital, Colombo, but authorities say panic buying has aggravated the situation. The strike ends Sunday.

Petroleum minister A.H.M. Fowzie told Parliament on Friday that the government would hold talks with unions Monday.

Trade union spokesman D.J. Rajakaruna has urged the government to give workers at the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation an interim allowance of 5000 rupees ($44) per month until salaries are increased.

Such strikes are common in Sri Lanka's state-owned companies.

© The Associated Press

Read More

Bookmark and Share

Friday, October 23, 2009

More calls to investigate Sri Lanka war

Human Rights Watch is calling for an urgent investigation following a US State Department report about possible violations of the laws of war in Sri Lanka.

The report criticises the actions of the Sri Lankan government and the Tamil Tigers during the final months of the 26-year civil war.

Foreign affairs correspondent Jonathan Miller said the report was significant "because it is the first time that a government has actually spelt out some of these allegations of possible war crimes by both sides."

A State Department official in the US has told Channel 4 News that the government of Sri Lanka has a responsibility for accountability.

Jonathan Miller said: "In the absences of any Sri Lankan investigation, any serious Sri Lankan investigation into what happened in the latter stages of the war, or indeed a UN investigation - and that was kiboshed at the UN recently by effective Sri Lankan lobbying - human rights groups, Human Rights Watch, say this report shows the need for a real independent international investigation.

"The Sri Lankan government has dismissed this who report as unsubstantiated and devoid of corroborative evidence, but, interestingly, a lot of the stuff that's in it is corroborated by reports from, not only media sources, but by other governments and humanitarian and human rights groups on the ground.

"This report compiles a list of incidents. It doesn't jump to any conclusions about the legality. For example, with the Tamil Tigers, it talks about how they recruited children allegedly; it talks about how they used civilians as human shield.

"On the government side there are detailed allegations of indiscriminate shelling and, for example, they show satellite imagery of a hospital which was filmed in late January, and you can see all the buildings intact on the ground. And then six weeks later in mid-March [images] show the damage to these structures - this was a hospital.

"The State Department will now be relying on the Congress Appropriations Committee which decides on where money goes, to determine what happens next. They will deliberate on this.

"Military aid to Sri Lanka from the US has already been frozen. What could happen is there may be further financial restrictions on dealings with Sri Lanka.

"Whatever happens, though, the Sri Lankan government is not going to like this."

© Channel 4

Read More

Bookmark and Share

Friday, October 23, 2009

Thousands leave Sri Lankan camp

Nearly 6,000 Tamil refugees have been released from Sri Lanka's main camp for war-displaced people, officials say.

It is the first time refugees have been allowed to return to areas formerly controlled by the Tamil Tigers.

Those who left Menik Farm are among almost 40,000 people to be resettled over the next few weeks, officials say.

It would be the largest single batch freed since the Tamil Tigers were defeated in May. Some 250,000 civilians are housed in military-run camps.

The authorities have been criticised for the slow pace of resettlement.


Rehabilitation Minister Rishat Badurdheen told the BBC that 5,700 left the camp on Thursday and another 36,000 would be resettled "over the coming weeks".

Those who left Menik Farm on Thursday included Tamils from areas previously controlled by the rebels.

It is the first time people have been allowed to return home to areas once held by the Tigers. About 15,000 refugees have been freed up to now.

The BBC's Anbarasan Ethirajan says the government's announcement comes at a time when it is under increasing international pressure to resettle the tens of thousands of people displaced in the final stages of the conflict.

A US state department report on the final months of the conflict released on Thursday cited incidents committed by both sides which it said may have constituted crimes against humanity.

The report - based on first-hand accounts from both sides of the conflict - said the majority of incidents occurred in official no-fire zones.

The Sri Lankan government said the report appeared to be unsubstantiated and that the armed forces were scrupulous in protecting civilians.

The UN has previously raised concerns about human rights violations in the war, but the US is the first country to publish an independent third party report.


Sri Lanka's government earlier said it intended to release 80% of the refugees held in camps by the end of the year.

Most of those are in Menik Farm, which the BBC's Charles Haviland recently visited. He says the camp has now swollen to cover some 10 zones with a population of a quarter of a million.

Many refugees in the camp complained about poor food and sanitary conditions.

One said that after being displaced 15 times by the civil war in three years, and being rescued by the army, she was now sharing a tent with 24 people.

"I don't know how to live like this," she said, simply. "Please send us to a good place, or to our homes."

Another woman lamented that inhabitants were falling sick while children remained uneducated.

The government has previously defended itself from human rights groups, many of whom have criticised the slow pace of the releases.

It argues that it needs to weed out rebels from the camps and ensure that areas in the north are de-mined before refugees return home.

Aid agencies have repeatedly expressed concern over conditions in Menik Farm - near the north-central town of Vavuniya - and have warned that flooding and poor sanitation will become worse when monsoon rains, which are due at any time, eventually arrive.


Related Links:
41,685 Tamils sent back home from Sri Lanka relief camps - The Hindu

Read More

Bookmark and Share

Friday, October 23, 2009

U.S. Govt report adds to pressure for war crimes probe

Click here to read the US state department report on Sri Lanka

The U.S. State Department released a report Thursday detailing possible violations of the laws of war in Sri Lanka during the first half of 2009, adding to pressure for an independent, international investigation into alleged atrocities committed by government forces and Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) separatists.

"The government of Sri Lanka has said that they are determined to establish a reconciliation process with the people of the north, but we believe strongly that a very important part of any reconciliation process is accountability," said State Department spokesman Ian Kelly.

"This report lays out some concerns that we have about how this military operation was conducted," Kelly said.

The report was welcomed by civil society groups and NGOs who have sought to call attention to war crimes committed against civilians during the recent violent conflict in Sri Lanka from January to May 2009.

"The U.S. State Department report should dispel any doubts that serious abuses were committed during the conflict's final months," said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. "Given Sri Lanka's complete failure to investigate possible war crimes, the only hope for justice is an independent, international investigation."

The State Department Office of War Crimes Issues' report focuses on crimes committed during the final months of the 26-year civil war between the Sri Lankan government and the LTTE.

The fighting resulted in the final defeat of the LTTE, but reports have emerged of child recruitment by the insurgent group, LTTE and government attacks on civilian populations, killing of captives by the government, disappearances conducted by the government or government supported paramilitary forces, and shortages of food, clean water and medicine for civilians trapped in the war zones.

The report was submitted in accordance with the 2009 Supplemental Appropriations Act, which directed the secretary of state to submit a report "detailing incidents during the recent conflicts in Sri Lanka that may constitute violations of international humanitarian law or crimes against humanity, and, to the extent practicable, identifying the parties responsible."

The act also instructed the U.S. government to cut off financial support to Sri Lanka, except for basic humanitarian aid, until the Sri Lankan government respected the rights of internally displaced persons, accounted for persons detained during the fighting, allowed humanitarian organisations and the media access into affected areas, and implemented policies to promote reconciliation and justice.

The LTTE has been listed as a terrorist organisation by the U.S. since 1997, but the report focuses on incidents occurring from January 2009, when fighting intensified as government and LTTE separatists waged their final battle.

"This report compiles alleged incidents that transpired in the final stages of the war, which may constitute violations of international humanitarian law (IHL) or crimes against humanity and related harms," said the report.

"The report does not reach legal conclusions as to whether the incidents described herein actually constitute violations of IHL, crimes against humanity or other violations of international law. Nor does it reach conclusions concerning whether the alleged incidents detailed herein actually occurred," it added.

The report specifically addresses a number of incidents.

According to reports, during the final months of the civil war, the LTTE took male and female children as young as 12 to fight as soldiers.

Sri Lankan sources have stated that, despite denials from the Sri Lankan military, the government was shelling the no-fire zone and targeting hospitals.

The report details alleged incidents in which the government of Sri Lanka shelled civilian populations before a ceasefire - imposed to give civilian populations time to move to safety - had expired and incidents in which the LTTE prevented the escape of displaced persons and used them as "human shields".

"The Sri Lankan government cannot get away with hiding what it did to civilians during the war," Tom Malinowski, Washington advocacy director for HRW, told IPS. "And this report helps to show that. It compiles all of the information out there about what happened and it turns out there's a lot of sources."

"If their goal was to win the war and not allow the world to see what was happening to civilian caught in the crossfire then they failed," Malinowski went on to say.

The State Department also discusses reports of the killing of captives or combatants seeking to surrender by the Sri Lankan government and disappearances of Tamil civilians by Sri Lankan government forces or government supported paramilitaries.

The report details instances of severe food shortages, malnutrition, surgeries performed without anaesthetic, and significant shortage of support for internally displaced persons even though the government pledged to provide sufficient food, medicine and clean water.

"Human Rights Watch's own research into the fighting found that both sides repeatedly violated the laws of war," said HRW. "The LTTE used civilians as human shields, employed lethal force to prevent civilians from fleeing to safety, and deployed their forces in densely populated civilian areas. Government forces indiscriminately shelled densely populated areas, including hospitals. Both parties' disregard for civilian life resulted in thousands of civilian casualties."

The Sri Lankan government prevented outside observers, media and NGOs from accessing the war zone so reports of war crimes committed by the government and LTTE are limited.

Human rights groups have complained that the Sri Lankan government has failed to take appropriate action to investigate the allegations of war crimes committed earlier in the year.

"In the absence of any domestic steps to investigate these terrible offences there does need to be, in our view, an international inquiry," said Malinowski.

According to the U.N., the conflict between the Sri Lankan government and the LTTE killed between 80,000 and 100,000 people since 1983.

© Inter Press Service

Related Links:
Report to the US Congress on Sri Lanka - Ministry of Foreign Affairs
US says Sri Lanka should investigate alleged atrocities - AP
US Calls on Sri Lanka to Investigate Alleged War Crimes in Tamil Conflict - VoA

Read More

Bookmark and Share
© 2009 - 2014 Journalists for Democracy in Sri Lanka

  © Blogger template 'Fly Away' by 2008

Back to TOP