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

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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

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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

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Friday, October 23, 2009

Report on Sri Lanka to US congress

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

US state department has handed over a report to the congress detailing incidents that allegedly occurred during the final months of the war in Sri Lanka.

The US embassy in Sri Lanka said on Wednesday that the report to the powerful Congressional Appropriations Committee details incidents "that may constitute violations of international humanitarian law or crimes against humanity and related harms".

'First hand accounts'

The report to the committee consisting of members from all parties has been prepared following a Congressional request.

US embassy in Sri Lanka says that the the information contains "first-hand accounts communicated by persons from within the government-declared No Fire Zones and locations close to the fighting".

It also says that the report compiles alleged incidents involving both sides in the conflict.

During the final days of the conflict between Sri Lanka and the LTTE both parties have been accused of putting the lives of civilians trapped in a narrow strip of land, at risk.

The Sri Lankan military has blamed civilian deaths on the Tigers, saying they are using people as human shields, while the military was accused of indiscriminate bombing.

US Ambassador- at-Large for War Crimes Issues Stephen Rapp told the BBC of credible reports that these acts have killed "thousands of civilians".

"Hundreds of thousands of people trapped in this area were essentially denied adequate food and medical care," he added.

'fabricated allegations'

The Sri Lankan Government says the report appears to be unsubstantiated, and maintains the Armed Forces were scrupulous in protecting civilians.

In a statement the Sri Lankan foreign ministry alleges, "there is a track record of vested interests endeavouring to bring the Government of Sri Lanka into disrepute, through fabricated allegations and concocted stories".

The United Nations has previously raised concerns about human rights violations in Sri Lanka's civil war but the US is the first country to publish an independent third party report.

European parliament

Meanwhile, the European parliament passed a resolution on Wednesday calling the Sri Lankan government to uphold human rights.

In a special reference to media freedom European parliament said, "the Sri Lankan government must cease its repression of the media in the name of its anti-terrorist legislation".

It also called upon the Tamil leadership to "commit themselves to a political settlement and renounce terrorism and violence once and for all".


Related Links:
U.S. Embassy Statement on Report to the U.S. Congress
US urges Sri Lanka to probe, prosecute possible war crimes - AFP
Sri Lanka blasts US report on human rights abuses - Guardian
US report on Lanka’s war on terror will ‘fan secessionist flames':FM - The Island

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Friday, October 23, 2009

EU human rights report could cost Sri Lanka $100 million

By Mian Ridge - Sri Lanka came under fresh pressure to address the plight of its Tamil minority this week after a report from the European Union slammed the island for its recent human rights record.

The report lodges some of the strongest international criticisms since Sri Lanka ended its war against Tamil rebels in May, and could prompt the EU to remove more than $100 million in trade concessions.

Previous criticism from abroad has had little impact on the Sri Lankan government, which remains more popular at home than ever. It said Thursday it would study the EU's report and respond by a Nov. 6 deadline.

The inquiry, conducted over the past year to determine whether the country should continue receiving trade concessions, found that Sri Lanka was in severe breach of human rights law in its final bloody push against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). It should lose the concessions, the report stated.

The details of the report coincide with the discovery of hundreds of Tamil asylum seekers who had fled the island, on boats bound for Canada and Australia – a reminder of the suffering faced by many of Sri Lanka's Tamils nearly half a year after the government declared the 25-year war against the LTTE, or Tamil Tigers, over.

Since the war's end in May, Western countries and the world's sizeable Tamil diaspora have pressed for some kind of accountability for thousands of Tamil deaths and human rights violations during the last phase of fighting.

The US State Department released Thursday a report on allegations of war crimes in Sri Lanka during the last months of its civil war. The US emphasized that the report had not reached legal conclusions and recommends that Sri Lanka investigates the allegations.

There have also been repeated calls for the immediate release of more than 200,000 Tamils who remain in camps in the island's north.

But at home, plaudits

Despite castigations from abroad, Sri Lanka's government is more popular at home than ever, after winning what many had viewed as an unwinnable war.

Sinhalese constitute around 74 percent of Sri Lanka's population and Tamils around 18 percent. Their discrimination as the minority helped fuel the Tamil Tigers' long war.

Last week, Sri Lanka announced it would hold both presidential and parliamentary elections before next April – two years ahead of schedule. The announcement followed President Mahinda Rajapaksa's eighth decisive victory in provincial elections. Victory in general polls seems almost certain for the ardent Sinhalese nationalist.

Mr. Rajapaksa has said he will wait until after the vote to introduce political reforms aimed at addressing Tamil grievances. He speaks often of the need for reconciliation, but critics are growing more skeptical about what this might mean in practice.

On Monday, the New York-based Human Rights Watch said a new commitment from the government to return 100,000 of the original 273,000 displaced people stuck in camps "breaks a promise to camp residents and the international community."

In May, the government had said 80 percent of the displaced people would be able to return home by the end of the year.

"Enough is enough," said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch, in a statement. "It is well past time to release civilians detained in the camps. Sri Lanka's international friends should tell the government that they will not accept any more broken promises."

The EU's report provides evidence of police violence, torture, and breaches of employment laws, notably the use of underage children.

EU: Sri Lanka's biggest export market

The concessions at stake made the EU Sri Lanka's largest export market in 2008, accounting for 36 percent of all exports. Garments earned the country a record $3.47 billion from EU markets and were its biggest source of foreign exchange, followed by remittances and tea.

Over the weekend, 76 migrants believed to be Tamils fleeing the island were arrested on a ship off Canada's coast. There are reports that a further 255 Tamil migrants, who couldn't afford to board that vessel, paid instead for a passage to Australia. They were intercepted in Indonesia and given temporary asylum.

© Christian Science Monitor

Related Links:
Sri Lanka and the EU:Plus and minuses - The Economist
Government will not betray nation - Ceylon Daily News
EU snubs Sri Lanka over its human rights record - Deutsche Welle

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Friday, October 23, 2009

Almost 30,000 lost jobs in first quarter

By Gihan de Chickera and Yohan Perera - Almost 30,000 people have lost their jobs in the first quarter of this year, the government said in parliament yesterday.

According to a Labour Ministry response tabled in the House, a survey conducted by the Labour Department had revealed that 29,159 jobs had been lost in various fields in the country during the first three months of 2009.

The Ministry said the government together with the International Labour Organization (ILO) would implement an unemployment benefit scheme to people who lost their jobs due to the global economic crisis.

The tabled answer added that the ministry planned to implement a re-employment programme by registering persons on the Sri Lanka job net.

Earlier, the opposition asked if the government admitted that as stated by the ILO 192,000 jobs had been lost in the first quarter of 2009.

The government rejected this figure, and said according to a Labour Department survey only 29,159 jobs had been lost in the same period.

© Daily Mirror

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