By Louis Charbonneau - UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - A full international investigation is needed to determine whether Sri Lankan soldiers summarily executed Tamil rebels in violation of international law, a U.N. investigator said on Tuesday.
"Any government has a clear obligation to have a very thorough investigation in response to an allegation of this type," Philip Alston, U.N. special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, told Reuters in an interview.
His comments came in reaction to video footage aired last week by Britain's Channel 4 television, which it said showed Sri Lankan forces executing a group of unarmed, naked, bound and blindfolded Tamils during the army's final assault to smash Tamil Tiger rebels earlier this year.
The Sri Lankan government has dismissed the video as fake, and Alston acknowledged there was no certainty it was authentic. Channel 4 said it got the footage from a group called Journalists for Democracy in Sri Lanka.
"There's nothing on the surface to indicate that it is not authentic and, if that's the case, it would raise very grave concerns," Alston said.
Although he said it was incumbent that Sri Lanka begin an investigation, Alston noted that its government had a poor record investigating such cases.
"Given the not-very-happy record of such investigations in the past, it would in my view be desirable that this be an international investigation, which would ensure its independence and impartiality," Alston said, adding that an investigation would ideally be under U.N. auspices.
U.N. VOICES "UTMOST CONCERN"
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has not called for an investigation, though a spokeswoman for the world body indicated on Monday that he was taking the issue seriously.
"We have always viewed with utmost concern the reports and information received from various sources of serious human rights violations, including those related to war crimes," spokeswoman Marie Okabe said.
She added that the Channel 4 video was "no exception".
Sri Lanka's government has repeatedly denied that its forces committed war crimes or human rights violations during the last months of its 25-year war against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), whom it defeated in May.
U.N. humanitarian chief John Holmes has said several thousand civilians were killed during the final phase of the war, when the LTTE retreated to a narrow strip of coast in northeastern Sri Lanka.
The rebels brought hundreds of thousands of Tamils, whom U.N. officials said were used as human shields.
U.N. and Western officials accused Sri Lanka of using heavy artillery to shell areas that it knew were heavily populated with civilians, killing many of them in the process. Colombo denied the allegation.
Alston said he has made several requests to visit Sri Lanka in recent months.
He added that an investigation of the abuses was important for Sri Lanka in the post-war period.
"Unless you have accountability, it's hard to have reconciliation (with the Tamil minority), which is what the government has said is its goal," Alston said.
Hundreds of thousands of Tamils remain in refugee camps in northeastern Sri Lanka and are not allowed to return home as the government tries to root out remaining LTTE members.
Sri Lankan officials have told Reuters that the government's target of letting 80 percent of the refugees go home by the end of the year will most likely not be met.
© Reuters India
Arbitrary execution by Prof Philip Alston - Ceylon Daily News
Tuesday, September 01, 2009
Tuesday, September 01, 2009
A High Court in Sri Lanka sentenced journalist Jayaprakash Sittampalam (JS) Tissainayagam to 20 years rigorous imprisonment on Monday, for writing and publishing articles that criticized the government's treatment of Sri Lankan Tamil civilians affected by the war. The court said the articles caused "racial hatred" and promoted terrorism.
Amnesty International said that it considers JS Tissainayagam to be a prisoner of conscience, jailed solely for exercising his right to freedom of expression in carrying out his profession.
JS Tissainayagam was the first Sri Lankan journalist to be formally charged (and now convicted) under the country's draconian Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) for his writing.
The verdict comes in the context of increasing pressure on Sri Lanka's journalists. More than 30 media workers have been killed in Sri Lanka since 2004. Many others have been assaulted, abducted, threatened or forced into exile. Sri Lankan journalists say that the government is responsible for many of these incidents and has failed to protect against others.
JS Tissainayagam was arrested in March 2008 and detained in police custody for five months before he was charged with an offence. He and two colleagues were eventually accused of bringing the government into disrepute (a charge that was later dropped) and inciting racial and ethnic animosities through material published in a short-lived monthly magazine called the North East Herald. He was also accused of raising funds for the magazine to further terrorist objectives.
The right to freedom of opinion and expression is protected under international law and is also recognized in the Sri Lankan Constitution. Sri Lanka has misused the PTA and the Emergency Regulations (ER) to silence a critical voice and violate Mr Tissainayagam's rights to freedom of opinion and expression.
Tissainayagam's indictment was based on passages from two articles which expressed critical opinions about the government's treatment of Tamil civilians affected by armed conflict. A July 2006 editorial headlined, "Providing security to Tamils now will define northeastern politics of the future" concluded: "It is fairly obvious that the government is not going to offer them any protection. In fact it is the state security forces that are the main perpetrator of the killings."
A second article published in November 2006 addressed the humanitarian situation in the eastern town of Vaharai, where warfare included attacks on civilian areas. It accused the government of starving and endangering civilians to further political and strategic military objectives.
The prosecution also put forth as evidence an alleged confession made by Tissainayagam while in police custody. Tissainayagam maintains that he was tortured by the police and that the confession was forced. The Court ruled that the evidence was admissible. Sri Lanka has a long history of torture and ill treatment of prisoners. Under the PTA, the burden of proof rests with the accused to prove that the confession was made under duress or torture.
Tissainayagam was arrested on 7 March 2008 by the Terrorist Investigation Division (TID) of the Sri Lankan Police in Colombo when he went to the police seeking information about the arrests the day before of two colleagues, B Jasiharan and his wife V Vallarmathy, a printer and owner of the building that housed the offices of Outreach Sri Lanka, a website Tissainayagam edited. Arrested along with Tissainayagam was reporter K Wijayasinghe, who accompanied him to the TID offices. The website's visual editor Udayan, and G Gayan Lasantha Ranga a video cameraman, were also arrested separately on 7 March.
After repeated inquiries by Tissainayagam's family, the police eventually confirmed that they had detained him and the others because they suspected them of being members of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). Early on the morning of 8 March, TID officers raided Tissainayagam's home, searched it without a warrant and seized a copy of the Northeastern Monthly Magazine.
Wijayasinghe, Ranga and Udayan were released without charge on 19 March 2008, the day that Tissainayagam filed a Fundamental Rights Case in the Supreme Court alleging violation of his constitutional rights to freedom from torture, equality and equal protection of the law, as well as freedom from arbitrary arrest and detention.
Tissainayagam and his co-defendants were indicted in August 2008 for alleged violations of the PTA and the ER. The PTA had in fact been suspended following the ceasefire agreement between the government and the Tamil Tigers in February 2002. In prosecuting Tissainayagam for articles and activities conducted in 2006, the prosecution applied the PTA retroactively.
The Sri Lankan government dropped the charge of "bringing disrepute to the government" on 9 September 2008 but retained other charges related to editing, printing and fundraising for the magazine. Jasiharan was charged with aiding and abetting Tissainayagam to further terrorism. Vallarmathy was charged with the offence of aiding and abetting her husband Jasiharan in these acts.
On Monday, High Court Judge Deepali Wijesundara announced her verdict, finding Tissainayagam guilty of writing articles intended to create communal disharmony and of raising money for a magazine whose articles violated the PTA. Tissainayagam's lawyer has vowed to appeal the sentence.
Amnesty International denounced the verdict as a direct violation of Tissainayagam's right to freedom of expression and more broadly as an assault on press freedom in Sri Lanka. The organization called for the immediate release of Tissainayagam and his colleagues, and an end to the use of the PTA to silence peaceful dissent.
© Amnesty International
Jail sentence for dissident Sri Lankan reporter condemned - CNN
Sri Lanka's abuse of press freedom - National Post Editorial Board
Sri Lanka Defends Sentencing of Tamil Journalist on Terrorism Charges - VoA
Tuesday, September 01, 2009
New York, August 31, 2009--The Committee to Protect Journalists announced today that it will honor imprisoned Sri Lankan journalist J.S. Tissainayagam with a 2009 International Press Freedom Award. Tissainayagam, left, sentenced today to 20 years in prison on specious charges of violating anti-terror laws, is one of five journalists who will be honored by CPJ at a ceremony in November. The full slate of awardees, selected by CPJ's Board of Directors this summer, will be formally announced in September.
A Colombo High Court sentenced Tissainayagam to 20 years of hard labor in the first conviction of a journalist under the country's harsh anti-terror laws. Tissainayagam, known as Tissa, suffers from poor health and said his confession to the charge was extracted under threat of torture, according to his lawyers.
"We are announcing this award today to highlight the depth of outrage at this unjust sentence," said CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon. "Its harshness and the retroactive nature of the charges reflect vindictiveness and intolerance. We are calling today for Tissainayagam's release--an appeal we plan to repeat at our awards ceremony, when the world's leading journalists gather to demand press freedom for all of our colleagues."
Terrorism Investigation Division officials arrested Tissainayagam, an English-language columnist for the Sri Lankan Sunday Times and editor of the news website OutreachSL, on March 7, 2008, when he visited their offices to inquire about the arrest of colleagues the previous day. He was held without charge under emergency regulations before his indictment in August 2008 for articles published nearly three years earlier in a now-defunct magazine, North Eastern Monthly.
Judge Deepali Wijesundara said articles Tissainayagam wrote for the Monthly in 2006 incited communal disharmony, an offense under the Prevention of Terrorism Act, according to international news reports. She also found him guilty of raising funds to publish the magazine, itself a violation of the anti-terror law. The Monthly folded in early 2007.
The anti-terror laws were relaxed in 2006-07, according to CPJ research. Under a cease-fire accord then in effect between the government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, the government pledged not to detain people under the statutes. The government re-enacted provisions of the anti-terror laws after the cease-fire dissolved in early 2008, according to international news reports. Tissainayagam will appeal the sentence, the reports said.
The two colleagues, Vettivel Jasikaran and Vadivel Valamathy, also face anti-terror charges for aiding and abetting Tissainayagam. Published reports indicate they have not gone to trial. Jasikaran, who also worked on OutreachSL, owned a printing business that helped publish the Monthly. Valamathy had no reported involvement with the magazine beside her personal relationship with her companion, Jasikaran.
"The retroactive sentencing sets a very dangerous precedent. The government has singled out articles written during the cease-fire, when terrorism laws weren't even in effect," said Simon. "It sends a very clear message to journalists who've ever criticized a government policy: Anything you've ever said could suddenly be evidence against you."
U.S. President Barack Obama highlighted Tissainayagam's case during his World Press Freedom Day address in May.
Hundreds of prominent journalists will gather in New York on November 24 to recognize Tissainayagam and the other honorees. Christiane Amanpour, CNN's chief international correspondent, will be the host; Robert Thomson, editor-in-chief of Dow Jones and managing editor of The Wall Street Journal, is chairman of the event.
A CPJ special report, "Failure to Investigate," chronicles some of the growing incidents of attacks on journalists in Sri Lanka, including circumstances surrounding the murder of outspoken editor Lasantha Wickramatunga in January 2009.
© Committee to Protect Journalists
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