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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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