Friday, September 18, 2009

Sri Lanka should permit an impartial investigation into the 'Channel 4 videotape' - UN Special Rapporteur

Professor Philip Alston, the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial executions, appointed by the United Nations Human Rights Council today issued the following statement:

I have been requested by the Government of Sri Lanka to issue a public statement in response to the latest information provided by the Government in relation to the Channel 4 video which purports to show extrajudicial executions being carried out by the Sri Lankan Army. I have carefully reviewed the various briefings and statements made by the Minister for Disaster Management and Human Rights, which are essentially based upon a detailed "Consolidated Response" issued by the Government to the local and international media on 7 September 2009 and to the diplomatic community the following day. The Government's response was summarized in the Minister's statement on 15 September 2009 to the Human Rights Council in which he stated that "four separate investigations have now scientifically established beyond any doubt that this video is a fake."

I welcome the fact that the Government is now devoting considerable attention to this issue. The legal obligation incumbent upon a Government in a situation such as this is to undertake a "thorough, prompt and impartial investigation."* My role as Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial executions is to evaluate whether the investigations undertaken have met the relevant criteria established under international law, and to advise the Human Rights Council accordingly.

I can attest to the fact that the investigation has been "prompt" since it was completed within two weeks of the information becoming available.

I am not, however, in a position to conclude that it was "thorough." I have not seen the original version of three of the four expert investigations. The fourth of the investigations seems to have originated as an Opinion piece in The Island newspaper, and was subsequently elaborated upon. It is not clear whether or not this was at the Government's request. The statement provided by the Minister summarizes "observations" made by the remaining three experts in presentations made at a meeting convened by the Government for this purpose. I would welcome the publication of the full text of the analyses undertaken and reports presented by each of the four experts.

The third and most important question is whether the "four separate investigations" meet the criteria of impartiality. I would note that two of the experts are members of the Sri Lankan Army, the body whose actions have been called into question. A third report is by Dr. Chathura De Silva, BSc Eng Hons (Moratuwa), MEng (NTU), PhD (NUS), Senior Lecturer, Dept of Computer Science and Engineering, University of Moratuwa, who has advised the Government in relation to a number of other similar issues in the past. And the fourth is by Siri Hewawitharana, a broadcast media specialist based in Australia, who is said to be the former head of Cisco's global broadcast and digital video practice. No other information has been provided by the government on Mr Hewawitharana, but it would appear that he is a member of a network of Sri Lankan Professionals. I would welcome more information on how he was identified and selected by the government as an independent expert.

Based on the limited information available to me, it is impossible to conclude that these four individuals, given their relationship to the Government, meet the criteria for impartiality in this context. When the actions of a Government are called into question in a matter of this gravity, what is required is to undertake an investigation by demonstrated experts who can be shown to be fully independent of the Government concerned. Two of these individuals are full-time Government employees, one has previously acted on behalf of the Government, and the basis on which the fourth was identified and selected as an expert remains unclear. I must conclude therefore, on the basis of the information made available by the Government, that the investigations undertaken cannot be characterized as "impartial".

The final question that remains is whether the information provided by the Government raises significant doubts as to the authenticity of the video. On this question, my conclusion is that the views expressed do indeed raise several issues which warrant further investigation before it could reasonably be concluded that the video is authentic. The only way to do this is for an independent and impartial investigation to take place. This is all that I have called for. Such an investigation might well conclude that the position adopted by the Government is fully warranted. I would welcome that outcome very warmly, and I hope that the Government would do likewise.

(*) United Nations Principles on the Effective Prevention and Investigation of Extra-legal, Arbitrary and Summary Executions, adopted on 24 May 1989, para. 9.

© Relief Web

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Channel 4 Fake Video Footage: At last the Original has Emerged - Asian Tribune

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Friday, September 18, 2009

Sri Lankan War Refugees Impatient to Leave Camps, UN Envoy Says

By Paul Tighe - Sept. 18 (Bloomberg) -- Sri Lankan refugees held in camps since the defeat of Tamil Tiger rebels in May are “impatient” to return to their homes, Lynn Pascoe, the United Nations political chief, said after visiting centers in the north.

“I saw some efforts under way to make areas suitable for resettlement,” Pascoe said, according to the UN. “I also met with people in the camps who want to leave and return to their homes, but cannot do so, and are understandably growing impatient and anxious about their future.”

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon sent Pascoe to Sri Lanka to press the government to speed up the resettlement of an estimated 280,000 displaced people. Rains flooded tents in camps last month, prompting international calls for the civilians to be allowed to leave before the monsoon season begins in the next two months.

President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s government says its plan to resettle the mainly Tamil civilians by December depends on ensuring security in the north and clearing mines from conflict areas. The army defeated the last forces of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam in a battle on the northeastern coast in May, ending their fight for a separate Tamil homeland in the north and east of the South Asian island nation.

Pascoe, who is scheduled to meet with Rajapaksa in the capital, Colombo, today, went to two transit camps and a rehabilitation center for former LTTE members in the northern city of Jaffna as well as visiting Manik Farm, the camp in Vavuniya housing the most displaced people, the UN said.

Letter From Ban

The envoy will deliver a letter to Rajapaksa outlining the “concerns of the international community,” Ban said at a news conference in New York yesterday.

An “intolerable” number of civilians are “effectively detained under conditions of internment,” Navi Pillay, the UN human rights commissioner, said in Geneva earlier this week.

Mahinda Samarasinghe, Sri Lanka’s minister for disaster management and human rights, rejected the assertion, telling the Human Rights Council that the government is undertaking a program providing relief, resettlement and reconciliation for displaced people.

The government has information that Tamil Tiger members infiltrated the camps, the minister said.

People “can and will be permitted to leave the relief villages and welfare centers once they are screened,” he told the Council.

More than 167,900 displaced people have been registered, Samarasinghe said. Since May, 14,500 have been cleared to live with relatives and more than 31,000 have been united with their families, he said.

Workers Detained

Pascoe said he intends to discuss with Rajapaksa the detention of two UN workers arrested in the north in June and the recent expulsion of a spokesman for the UN Children’s Fund.

A special UN envoy last week called for an independent investigation into whether a video appearing to show the army executing nine people is authentic. Sri Lanka has said it will cooperate with any UN probe and that four investigations the government carried out show the tape is a fake.

While Sri Lanka has carried out a prompt investigation, the legal obligation on a government is to undertake a “thorough, prompt and impartial” probe, Philip Alston, the UN’s special rapporteur on extrajudicial executions, said yesterday.

Alston said in a statement he’s not in a position to conclude that the probe was thorough or that it met the criteria for impartiality.

There are issues that warrant further study to ascertain whether the video is authentic and “the only way to do this is for an independent and impartial investigation to take place,” Alston said.

© Bloomberg

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Friday, September 18, 2009

SL President orders political investigation into a solidarity letter

The President of Sri Lanka is reported to have instructed the Defense Secretary to verify the facts stated in a newspaper advertised petition published in several papers, signed by 133 persons condemning the death threat to Dr. P. Saravanamuttu who has received the threat by way of a letter that he would be killed if Sri Lanka does not get the GSP+. (Kindly see the advertisement and the copy of the death threat reproduced below).

The Defense Secretary was asked to verify as to whether there was such a threat stating that there is some international conspiracy against Sri Lanka.

Following the report of the instructions of the president, officers from the Criminal Investigation Division (CID) visited and questioned several signatories to this advertisement. They were asked:

a. How they know of Dr. P. Saravanamuttu
b. Whether there was any meeting for all signatories of the advertised petition.
c. Have they in fact seen the threatening letter, and
d. Who had sent the threatening letter?

The persons who had been questioned are concerned that perhaps another kind of political prosecution may be on the way. In any case the visits by the CID and the questions are without any basis in law and are direct interference into the basic rights of citizens to engage in any kind of solidarity work within the framework of the law.

The Defense Secretary does not have the power to direct inquiries into acts which are entirely legal and are within the rights of citizens. The basis of any inquiry is the allegation of a criminal act. In this instance the engagement of acts of solidarity by a group of citizens are not criminal acts. The CID officers do not have the duty to obey any orders which are not based in law. They particularly do not have any obligation to carry out political work aimed at suppressing those that the government considers their political opponents.

The CID officers are law enforcement officers and their activities must be defined within the framework of the law.

It is the duty of the director of the CID to ensure that the officers who work under him are not being directed or used for purposes of political activities and particularly for activities directed towards intimidation.

Under Sri Lanka’s fundamental rights laws, any directions given to engage in purely political activities done under the pretext of investigations are a violation of the rights of citizens for security, which is a violation of article 13 of the Constitution and article 9 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights to which Sri Lanka is a party.

It is the duty of any investigating officer to explain to anyone who is being questioned as to what crime he or she is being charged with. Engaging in an act of solidarity on behalf of a fellow citizen is not a crime. In fact, it is one of the most honorable duties that a citizen owes to his fellows.

In the past the Asian Human Rights Commission has warned that a political police and a political prosecution system are emerging in Sri Lanka. Several previous cases indicate an attempt to give the pretext of investigations and prosecutions on the basis of criminal charges while, in fact, the purpose of such investigations and prosecutions are entirely political.

This is even more alarming in a situation where assassinations and threats of assassinations are not being investigated by the authorities who have the responsibility to investigate them. In this instance the letter containing the death threat was brought to the notice of the government and it was very widely publicized. Like in the earlier cases of such deaths threats no investigation was carried out. In fact, some who work for the propaganda machinery of repression tried to ridicule the complaint regarding the threat.

Now instead of investigating into those who issued the threat investigations are being carried out against those who expressed concern and wanted protection for the threatened person. This is no different, for example, to conducting enquiries against the parents of the recent assassinations at the Angulana police station instead of the officers who carried out the killings. It was due to the popular uproar that such an occurrence did not happen and that, in fact, the actual perpetrators were investigated and prosecuted. However, what happens most of the time is the protection of the actual perpetrators of the crime and the suppression of those who complain about harassment. The AHRC has repeatedly warned that the entire legal process in the country has been turned upside down and the justice process is being deliberately subverted for political purposes.

The Asian Human Rights Commission calls for the end to the harassment of Dr. P. Saravanamuttu and his organisation and also to stop the persecution of Sri Lankan citizens who have engaged in acts of solidarity relating to a fellow citizen. We also urge the Director of the CID to conduct an inquiry as to how the officers working under him are being utilised for such political activities. We also urge the director to issue instructions to his officers to clarify the position of the law that they are under no obligation to obey illegal orders. We urge the civil society to follow the courageous lead of the signatories to this petition and to act in solidarity for the defense of their rights. We urge the international community to support the Sri Lankan people in their struggle for a return to a society based on the rule of law and in their attempt to prevent the emergence of a political police in Sri Lanka.

© Asian Human Rights Commission

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Friday, September 18, 2009

Plantation workers oppose wage sell-out

Tens of thousands of plantation workers are defying the Ceylon Workers Congress (CWC) and continuing their go-slow actions in protest at the sell-out wage deal struck by the union and employers on Saturday. The new collective agreement with the Ceylon Employers Federation (CEF), due to be signed today, will tie 500,000 tea, rubber and coconut workers to poverty-level wages for another two years.

Yesterday workers held a sit-in protest in Bogawanthalawa town against the deal. In an apparent attempt to prevent opposition spreading, CWC leader Arumugam Thondaman visited the local union office to advise regional leaders. Police tried to block marchers entering the town but workers stormed into the CWC office just after Thondaman had left. Police fired tear gas and warning shots to disperse the crowd.

In the past three days, hundreds of workers have picketted and marched in the towns of Agarapathana, Bogawanthalawa, Dickoya and Maskeliya in Hatton area to oppose the deal.

The Socialist Equality Party has been campaigning in the tea estates for workers to launch their own independent campaign based on a socialist perspective. Yesterday Political Committee member M. Thevarajah received an appreciative hearing from a meeting of more than 50 workers at the Balmoral estate in Agarapathana.

The protests have triggered a nervous response in Colombo. Plantation Minister D.M. Jayaratne called on other plantation unions to step in and curb the protests by workers. “It is a matter of serious concern that they [workers] create unruly scenes on the streets,” he warned.

An editorial in yesterday’s Island blamed the protests on rivalry between the various plantation unions and called on the government “to step in to prevent the estate dispute developing into a fully-fledged prestige battle which will lead to anarchy on plantations. The industry has suffered enough over the past two weeks or so and it is badly in need of a breather.”

The call for government intervention is a sharp warning. President Mahinda Rajapakse will not hesitate to use the police state apparatus built up during the country’s protracted civil war against the working class. During the 2006 strike, he denounced striking workers for undermining national security and aiding the “terrorist” Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). Now, amid global economic recession, the government is declaring that wage rises cannot be afforded and workers must again sacrifice.

For plantation workers, the new agreement is intolerable. Having initially called for a combined daily wage of 750 rupees, the CWC has accepted just 405 rupees ($US3.50)—a basic wage of 290 rupees plus bonuses based on attendance, commodity prices and productivity.

While declaring a further wage rise unaffordable, even the Island editorial had to acknowledge: “Estate workers living in abject poverty, no doubt, deserve a better deal”. The present total daily wage—the product of the CWC’s betrayal in 2007—is just 290 rupees. In the past two years, the official cost-of-living index has risen by 55 percent.

Two other unions—the Lanka Jathika Estate Workers Union (LJEWU) and the Joint Plantation Trade Union Committee (JPTUC)—yesterday expressed their fundamental agreement with the latest CWC wage deal. The LJEWU announced that it would seek amendments, but has not elaborated.

The LJEWU is affiliated to the right-wing opposition United National Party (UNP), which initiated the privatisation of the plantations. The JPTUC includes unions led by the Lanka Sama Samaja Party and the Communist Party. Like the CWC, both parties are part of Rajapakse’s ruling coalition.

Several unions have declared their opposition to the CWC deal and are calling for a wage of 500 rupees. Ceylon Workers Alliance (CWA) general secretary S. Sathasivam has announced a joint campaign with the All Ceylon Plantation Workers Union (ACPWU) and the Democratic Workers Congress (DWC). The Up Country Peoples Front (UPF) has also declared it will take part.

However, as during the 2006 strike, this “opposition” is purely tactical. Well aware of the widespread anger among plantation workers, these unions have stepped in to contain and sabotage any independent movement by workers.

On Sunday, UPF leader P. Chandrasekaran accused the CWC of “treachery” for agreeing to less than 500 rupees, and appealed to Rajapakse to intervene to settle the dispute. Like CWC leader Thondaman, Chandrasekaran is a cabinet minister and is committed to the government’s policies of making the working class bear the burden of the current economic crisis.

The ACPWU is affiliated to the Sinhala extremist Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP), which supported Rajapakse during the 2005 presidential election and backed his re-launched communal war in mid-2006. After Rajapakse branded plantation workers as “terrorist supporters” in 2006, the JVP and ACPWU called off their limited campaign against the wage sell-out.

When SEP Political Committee member M. Thevarajah addressed workers at the Balmoral estate yesterday, he urged them learn the political lessons of the 2006 struggle. “First the CWC made a deal then the other unions accepted it and called off the strike. Workers must reject all these unions and form their own action committees to continue the struggle. You must unite with other sections of the working class. Unions are collaborating with the management not only here, but all over the world.”

Arguing for a socialist perspective, Thevarajah explained: “The capitalist system is in a global economic crisis and is incapable of giving workers enough pay even to provide for their food. By forming action committees, workers are taking the first step in putting the struggle into their own hands and deciding decent wages, working hours and other needs such as health and education. If the capitalist system can’t provide these legitimate demands, it must go. The working class must reorganise society from top to bottom. This can only be done through a workers’ and peasants’ government based on socialist policies.”

The workers who took part in the meeting are deeply opposed to the CWC sellout and have continued their go-slow campaign. After the meeting, 15 workers participated in a discussion on forming an independent action committee. They took nearly 500 copies of the SEP statement “A socialist program for Sri Lankan plantation workers” to circulate to fellow workers.

An SEP team in the Bandarawela area spoke to workers at the Islaby estate who had ended their go-slow actions, not because they agreed with the CWC deal, but because of their distrust in the unions.

As workers explained: “We went back work because we have no faith in the unions. The wage increase is inadequate. Earlier the government told us it couldn’t reduce the price of essentials because of the war. But since the end the war [in May] we are experiencing the same thing. The unions are not ready to fight for our demands. If we continue our fight under these leaders we will get nothing. We want to fight, but we want a genuine leadership that doesn’t divide workers but unites them.”

At the Nayabedda estate near Bandarawela, workers were continuing their campaign. They bitterly denounced the unions for “collecting about 65,000 rupees a month from around 1,000 workers at the estate—65 rupees per month from each worker as union dues—but doing nothing for us”.

One of the go-slow actions has been to halt work at the manager’s residence. A worker angrily explained: “The estate manager’s monthly salary is between 80,000-100,000 rupees. About five workers are allocated for working at his bungalow. The dog at his bungalow is fed meat for its three meals a day. Then why do they refuse to increase our wages?”

Workers demanded a guaranteed monthly wage rather than the current daily wage system and pointed out that they were frequently deprived of their attendance allowance. “As we work hard, we get back pains and other illnesses. We get bitten by leeches while working. We have to go to a private clinic in the town to get medicine to speed recovery. Otherwise we would be absent from work and our attendance allowance would be cut,” a worker said.

After the discussion, the group insisted that SEP members had to return regularly to hold meetings and educate them politically.

© World Socialist Web Site

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Friday, September 18, 2009

Sri Lanka re-detains released refugees - Tamil Lawmaker

By Krishan Francis - Hundreds of Tamil war refugees whom the Sri Lankan government said it had released from military-run camps last week were simply moved to other detention centers, a lawmaker said Thursday.

Mavai Senathiraja, a parliamentarian from the Tamil National Alliance, an opposition party representing ethnic Tamils, also alleged that thousands of others who were promised freedom remain in the camps.

His claims came as a top U.N. official, who toured camps in the north on Thursday, urged the quick release of nearly 300,000 minority Tamils forced from their homes by the civil war. The 25-year war ended in May when the government routed the Tamil Tiger rebels.

Human rights advocates have called on Sri Lanka to immediately release all the civilians held in the camps and have warned that monsoon rains due to start next month could create a public health crisis in the crowded facilities.

The government has refused to open the camp gates, but says it will resettle 80 percent of the displaced by the end of the year, after land mines are cleared from their villages.

To buttress that promise, the government announced last Friday it had released 9,920 people and sent them to their homes in the country's east and north.

Senathiraja said 6,000 of those promised release last week were from his constituency in northern Jaffna, but only 580 arrived in the area and all of them were immediately sent to another camp, where they continue to be detained.

"There is no resettlement. This is like being sent from one prison to another prison," he said.

In the eastern districts of Ampara and Trincomalee, many returning refugees were being held in schools that have been turned into makeshift camps, he said.

The government denies the charge.

"There is no way it can happen. We select the people carefully for resettlement, and these people were sent nowhere else," Media Minister Lakshman Yapa Abeywardena said.

But a government official in Ampara confirmed about 130 people who had been released from a camp in the north were being held until they received security clearances and their homes were repaired. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to journalists.

With concern for the civilians growing, U.N. Undersecretary General for Political Affairs B. Lynn Pascoe urged the quick release of the displaced people.

"We do actually know the security concerns. We are not oblivious to that. But it is very important as we see it to get people out into more normal circumstances as soon as possible," Pascoe said.

Pascoe is also expected to raise with the government reports of wartime human rights abuses. He is to meet President Mahinda Rajapaksa on Friday.

Separately, Philip Alston, U.N. investigator on extrajudicial killings, called Thursday for an "independent and impartial investigation" into a video that purports to show Sri Lankan troops killing naked, blindfolded men during the civil war.

Sri Lanka's government says four separate studies have concluded that the footage — released last month by a German-based group and shown on British television — was doctored. It denies government forces carried out extrajudicial killings during the war with the Tamil Tiger rebels.

Speaking in Geneva, Switzerland, Alston said none of the studies cited by Sri Lanka appears to be independent.

The Tamil Tigers fought for a separate state for Tamils, claiming decades of discrimination by the Sinhalese majority. The U.N. says between 80,000 and 100,000 people were killed during the war.

© Associated Press

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Friday, September 18, 2009

Police arrest 12 undergrads after protest in Maharagama

Police have arrested 12 undergraduates after a violent protest during an attempted entry into the Ministry of Indigenous Medicine in Maharagama yesterday (Sept. 17).

The students from Sri Jayawardenapura University and some unemployed graduates had marched from the campus to the ministry at Nawinna.

They had been demanding the opening of the outpatients department at Ayurvedic Hospital in Borella.

They had reportedly attacked police and security personnel guarding the premises and damaged property.

According to police spokesman DIG Nimal Mediwake, police had arrived on the scene and taken measures to disperse the protestors.

Among the arrested is convener of Inter University Students Federation Udul Premaratne.

They will be produced before a magistrate, said the police spokesman.

© Colombo Today

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Friday, September 18, 2009

Retailers urge EU caution over Sri Lanka

UK retailers are calling on the European Commission not to penalise Sri Lankan workers or British shoppers in a human rights row.

The British Retail Consortium has warned a threat to remove special tax-free arrangements for cheap, good-quality clothes imported from Sri Lanka could hit flourishing businesses and jobs in the country and put up customer prices.

Sri Lanka has until Thursday to deliver to Brussels its response to charges of human rights abuses during the country’s civil war earlier this year.

If human rights complaints are upheld by a Commission investigation, Sri Lanka could lose its special trade access to EU markets.

Alastair Gray of the British Retail Consortium said: “We do not want to get involved in the political issues, but we are saying that whatever the human rights concerns, any response has to be balanced.

“Otherwise, if the preferential access deal is withdrawn by the Commission, business in Sri Lanka could close.

“Sri Lanka has many very good textile factories, but profit margins are small, and if they lose their current import arrangements, there are textiles manufacturers in Bangladesh, Vietnam, and Thailand who will be ready to compete hard.”

An estimated 250,000 workers employed in textile factories could lose their jobs with manufacturers forced to move or increase wholesale rates, leading to price increase of possibly 10% on popular Sri Lankan-made clothes in UK shops including Next and Marks & Spencer.

A European Commission spokesman said: “Questions remain over the degree of effective implementation of certain UN human rights conventions in the country.”

© Retail Week

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EU sanctions could hit clothing imports from Sri Lanka - Retail Week

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