Thursday, December 31, 2009

Wars and disputed elections: The most dangerous stories for journalists - RSF

click here to read the full report

Two appalling events marked 2009: one was the largest ever massacre of journalists in a single day – a total of 30 killed – by the private militia of a governor in the southern Philippines and the other was an unprecedented wave of arrests and convictions of journalists and bloggers in Iran following President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s disputed reelection.

A total of around 160 journalists in all continents were forced to go into exile to escape prison or death, often in very dangerous circumstances. The Iranian press photographers crossing the Turkish border to escape arrest or the Somali radio journalists fleeing to neighbouring countries to avoid certain death had all reported essential news and information that some people would go to any lengths to suppress.

Wars and elections constituted the chief threat to journalists in 2009. It is becoming more and more risky to cover wars as journalists themselves are being targeted and face the possibility of being murdered or kidnapped. But it can turn out to be just as dangerous to do your job as a reporter at election time and can lead directly to prison or hospital. Violence before and after elections was particularly prevalent in 2009 in countries with poor democratic credentials.

No one should be surprised that, as bloggers and websites continue to flourish, censorship and repression have surged proportionately. There is almost no country nowadays that has entirely escaped this phenomenon. As soon as the Internet or new media (social networking, mobile phones etc) start to play a leading role in the spread of news and information, a serious clampdown follows. Bloggers are now watched as closely as journalists from the traditional media.

Our major concern in 2009 has been the mass exodus of journalists from repressive countries such as Iran and Sri Lanka. The authorities in these countries have understood that by pushing journalists into exile, they can drastically reduce pluralism of ideas and the amount of criticism they attract. “This is a dangerous tendency and it must be very strongly condemned,” Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Jean-François Julliard said as this review of 2009 was released.

Number of journalists killed up by 26 per cent

Almost every journalist killed in 2009 died in their own country. The exception was Franco-Spanish documentary film-maker Christian Poveda, who was murdered in El Salvador. “Less known to international public opinion than the foreign correspondents, it is these local journalists who pay the highest price every year to guarantee our right to be informed about wars, corruption or the destruction of the environment,” Julliard said.

The year began very badly with the Israeli military offensive in the Gaza Strip. As well as refusing to allow foreign media into this territory, the Israeli government carried out military strikes against buildings housing media, in violation of international humanitarian law. Two reporters were killed in these attacks. Journalists and human rights defenders in the Russian Caucasus went through a terrifying year. The witnesses to the dirty war waged by Moscow and its local allies to be “eliminated” with complete impunity included Natalia Estemirova in Chechnya and Malik Akhmedilov in Dagestan.

Radical Islamist groups caused the death of at least 15 journalists worldwide. Nine reporters were killed in Somalia, where the Al-Shabaab militia carried out constant targeted killings and suicide attacks. Four of these journalists worked for Radio Shabelle, which does its best to provide news amidst the surrounding chaos. Reporters in Pakistan have increasingly been targeted by the Taliban in the northwest of the country.

Kidnappings have also continued to rise. Most cases are concentrated in Afghanistan, Mexico and Somalia. New York Times journalist David Rohde and his fixer managed to escape from the Taliban but Afghan reporter Sultan Munadi was killed in the military operation launched to rescue him.

“Three years have passed since the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 1738 on the protection of journalists in conflict zones but governments still seem incapable of protecting reporters,” Reporters Without Borders said.

Other forms of violence, physical assaults and threats have gone up by a third (from 929 cases in 2008 to 1,456 in 2009). Journalists are most at risk in the Americas (501 cases), particularly when they expose drug-trafficking or local potentates. Asia comes next with 364 cases of this kind, chiefly in Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Nepal. The number of censored media is escalating alarmingly with nearly 570 cases of newspapers, radio or TV stations banned from putting out news or forced to close. This happened to a satirical magazine in Malaysia, a score of reformist newspapers in Iran, Radio France Internationale in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the BBC World Service in Rwanda.

The number of journalists arrested fell slightly (from 673 in 2008 to 573 in 2009) above all because there were fewer cases in Asia. The largest number of cases was in the Middle East.

Election violence

The 30 journalists killed in the Mindanao Island bloodbath in Philippines had been covering an attempt by a local governor’s opponent to run as a candidate for regional elections in 2010. Tunisian journalist Taoufik Ben Brik was imprisoned in the days following President Ben Ali’s reelection, while his colleague, Slim Boukhdhir, was brutally assaulted. Several journalists were attacked and others received death threats in Gabon following President Ali Bongo’s reelection. Around six media were also temporarily shut down for reporting on the post-election violence and criticising members of the new government. Protests about President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s controversial reelection in Iran prompted a horrifying wave of repression against the media.

Pluralist elections that should be a symbol of democracy and free expression can turn into a nightmare for journalists. State media are too often prevented from giving fair and balanced coverage of all the candidates’ campaigns. Such was the case during the contentious Afghan elections and the travesty of an election in Equatorial Guinea. The most committed journalists can be exposed to reprisals from a rival camp. Media access is not always properly observed, as evidenced in provincial polling in the Tamil areas of Sri Lanka.

The most serious problems arise when results are announced. Overwhelmed by an opposition movement that was relayed online and in the reformist press, Ahmadinejad’s supporters launched an ultra-violent crackdown on hundreds of journalists and bloggers, accusing them of being spies in the pay of foreigners or bent on destabilising the country.

The courage shown by journalists this year before and after elections earned them periods in custody, mistreatment and prison sentences that were in some cases extremely harsh. These post-election crackdowns should stimulate the international community to seek better ways of protecting the press after rigged election results are announced.

“This wave of violence bodes ill for 2010, when crucial elections are scheduled in Côte d’Ivoire, Sri Lanka, Burma, Iraq and the Palestinian Territories” said Reporters Without Borders, which often carries out media monitoring during election campaigns.

More than 100 bloggers and cyber-dissidents imprisoned

For the first time since the Internet’s emergence, Reporters Without Borders is aware of more than 100 bloggers and cyber-dissidents being imprisoned worldwide for posting their opinions online. This figure is indicative above all of the scale of the crackdown being carried out in around ten countries. Several countries have turned online expression into a criminal offence, dashing hopes of a censorship-free Internet.

The Internet has been the driving force for pro-democracy campaigns in Iran, China and elsewhere. It is above all for this reason that authoritarian governments have shown themselves so determined to severely punish Internet users. This is the case with two Azerbaijani bloggers, who were sentenced to two years in prison for making a film mocking the political elite.

Although China continued to be the leading Internet censor in 2009, Iran, Tunisia, Thailand, Saudi Arabia, Vietnam and Uzbekistan have also resorted to frequent blocking of websites and blogs and surveillance of online expression. The Turkmen Internet remains under total state control.

This year, bloggers and ordinary citizens expressing themselves online have been assaulted, threatened or arrested as the popularity of social-networking and interactive websites has soared. Egyptian blogger Kareem Amer is still in jail, while the famous Burmese comedian Zarganar still has 34 years of his prison sentence to serve. The approximately 120 victims of Internet policing also include such leading figures in the defence of online free expression as China’s Hu Jia and Liu Xiaobo and Vietnam’s Nguyen Trung and Dieu Cay.

The financial crisis has joined the list of subjects likely to provoke censorship, particularly online. In South Korea, a blogger was wrongfully detained for commenting on the country’s disastrous economic situation. Around six netizens in Thailand were arrested or harassed just for making a connection between the king’s health and a fall in the Bangkok stock exchange. Censorship was slapped on the media in Dubai when it came for them to report on the country’s debt repayment problems.

Democratic countries have not lagged far behind. Several European countries are working on new steps to control the Internet in the name of the battle against child porn and illegal downloads. Australia has said it will set up a compulsory filtering system that poses a threat to freedom of expression. Turkey’s courts have increased the number of websites, including YouTube, that are blocked for criticising the republic’s founder, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.

“The number of countries affected by online censorship has doubled from one year to the next – a disturbing tendency that shows an increase in control over new media as millions of netizens get active online,” said Lucie Morillon, head of the Internet and Freedoms Desk. “That is why Reporters Without Borders will launch a new campaign against the Enemies of the Internet on 12 March.”

Media on trial

At least 167 journalists are in prison around the world at the end of 2009. One would need to go back to the 1990s to find so many of them in jail. Although the UN special rapporteur on freedom of expression keeps reiterating that imprisonment is a disproportionate punishment for press offences, many governments keep laws that allow them to jail journalists, and continue to abuse these laws. The sentences given to journalists in Cuba, China, Sri Lanka and Iran are as harsh as those imposed for terrorism or violent crime.

Imprisonment and brutality are too often the only way authorities react to journalists. At least one journalist is assaulted or arrested every day in the Middle East. More than 60 journalists were physically attacked or arrested in Iraq in 2009. In the Palestinian Territories, more than 50 journalists were detained by Hamas in the Gaza Strip and by Fatah in the West Bank.

Africa and Asia were neck and neck in the numbers of journalists detained. More than 10 journalists were arrested in 2009 in Niger, Gambia and Somalia, while Eritrea maintained its dubious distinction of jailing the most journalists in Africa, with 32 of them behind bars. In Asia, arrests are thankfully down, but the Chinese and Pakistani security forces continue to arrest foreign or local journalists when they crossed the “red lines” they are supposed to observe.

The 28 June coup in Honduras, which was backed by the conservative press, resulted in the persecution of journalists suspected of sympathizing with the ousted president, Manuel Zelaya, and the suspension or permanent closure of their media. Finally, Cuba drew attention to itself again this year with at least 24 arrests and two new long jail sentences, bringing to 25 the number of journalists in prison.

When the powerful are not arresting journalists, they are harassing them by constantly dragging them before the courts. One editor in Algeria, Omar Belhouchet, was summoned before judges 15 times in 2009. The opposition press in Turkey and Morocco have been bombarded with law suits, which almost always lead to convictions or closures because the courts are more inclined to favour the plaintiff than the media.

Choosing exile to stay Alive

For the first time, the Reporters Without Borders annual roundup includes figures for journalists who have been forced to leave their countries because of threats to their lives or liberty. A total of 157 journalists went into exile in the past year, often in very harsh conditions. Among the countries where the exodus of journalists and bloggers was particularly dramatic were Iran, with more than 50 fleeing, and Sri Lanka, with 29. In Africa, some 50 journalists fled the chaos in Somalia while scores of Eritreans sought refuge abroad for fear of being targeted for reprisals by the continent’s worst dictatorship. Journalists also fled Guinea, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Mexico, Colombia and Ethiopia.

This new measure is an indication of the level of fear that exists within the media in some countries. Journalists encounter many hazards as they go into exile and seek an uncertain future. Some wait months, even years, to get protection and possible resettlement.

Press freedom in 2009

76 journalists killed (60 in 2008)
33 journalists kidnapped
573 journalists arrested
1456 physically assaulted
570 media censored
157 journalists fled their countries
1 blogger died in prison
151 bloggers and cyber-dissidents arrested
61 physically assaulted
60 countries affected by online censorship

© Reporters sans frontières

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Thursday, December 31, 2009

Violence against media increased in 2009 : South Asia Media Commission

According to a report released on Tuesday, Pakistan topped the list of on-duty media persons’ deaths in South Asia, losing seven of 12 journalists in the conflict zones of eight South Asian states in 2009.

The figures were issued in a report prepared by the South Asia Media Commission (SAMC), indicating a worsened situation for the fourth pillar of the state.

The report stated that in Pakistan, “some zealots in the profession have used their new freedoms to scandalise and destabilise a fragile democracy, ignoring media norms quite frequently”. The report also points out that some leaders from the ruling party have lately opted to use threatening language against some journalists. The report underlines that there is a greater need now to have a shared discourse on media freedom. The year began with the detention of a journalist in a raid conducted by the Sindh Nationalist Front activists on January 3, 2009.

On January 4, Muhammad Imran, cameraman of a private TV channel and Saleem Tahir Awan, a freelance reporter, rushed to the site of a gas cylinder blast in Dera Ismail Khan only to be killed in a suicide attack along with seven others.

On January 24, Amir Wakeel, editor of a newspaper, was gunned down in Rawalpindi. Another TV channel’s employee Noor Hassan was abducted from Swat on February 8.

South Asian Free Media Association (SAFMA) Secretary General Imtiaz Alam was attacked with hockey sticks by four men when he was driving back home on February 18.

Another journalist Khawar Shafiq was abducted from Faisalabad by a state agency. Wasi Ahmed, a local journalist from Khuzdar, succumbed in Karachi after he was badly injured during an attack in his home district. Janullah Hashimzada, an Afghan journalist, was shot down in Khyber Agency on August 24.

The report said two journalists were killed in Afghanistan, one each in Nepal, India and Sri Lanka and seven in Pakistan.

Risky coverage: The report noted that the state authorities in these countries had failed to bring the murderers to justice. It also found that the on-going conflict in the frontier regions between Pakistan and Afghanistan and the surge of terrorism had brought tremendous pressure on journalists and reporting the truth had become “a hazardous affair”.

Poor handling: The report particularly noted that in most countries of the region, the regulatory environment had remained ill-defined, especially for the electronic media. “Newly emerging electronic media outlets employ no ethical and professional restraint on their conduct and standards fell with the induction of a non-professional breed of embedded amateurs.” The 180-page report throws light on country-wise events involving high-risk duties, casualties, threats and intimidations in Pakistan, India, Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh and Maldives. About India, the report said that despite its long and well-established journalistic traditions, it remained seized with debates on ethics of news coverage in the print and electronic media, as the tendency to sell news space for trivia grew in the country’s boom.

Concerning Sri Lanka, it said journalists there have suffered the worst adversities of the lot, considerably more serious than the travails of their counterparts in Pakistan. The daylight murder of one of the country’s best-known editors, Lasantha Wickrematunga; the abduction-style arrest of N Vithyatharan and the 20-year jail term for JS Tissainayagam on charges of ‘terrorism’ represent a new low for the country.

The report on Nepal noted the environment for journalism there has deteriorated and the new rulers have provided no reward to the media for spearheading the movement against the monarchial rule and the restoration of democracy in 2006. In Afghanistan, the report found that the situation for journalism remains seriously muddied. “ [The] media has become an arena where armed groups contest fiercely for political space and the tussle took its toll, killing two journalists in 2009,” it said.

About Bangladesh, the report underlines that media has been facing the pangs of transition, which Bangladesh went through for the return to the democratic era. It noted that legislative work on media issues is needed there. The report stresses the need for fostering a responsible media culture while keeping professional and ethical standards above political agenda.

Speaking on the occasion, Imtiaz Alam said it is a pleasant and unique occasion that there is no authoritarian regime left in South Asia. However, he showed apprehensions that democracy in many countries of the region, including Pakistan, Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Nepal, faced serious threats and dangers.

Alam said that Pakistan currently faces the serious issue of nation-centric chauvinism, which is a cause of lack of resumption of the Indo-Pak dialogue. He said that after the Mumbai attacks, the Pakistani media went into a self-denial mood and the Indian media got involved in war mongering. He said the media in Pakistan should play its positive role and keep in mind that the country’s fragile democracy could not bear any blows.

Free Media Association President Munnu Bhai declared that the report should be published in Urdu as well. Senior journalist Arif Nizami stressed the need for monitoring and taking care of the families of journalists who got killed in the line of duty.

© Daily Times

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Thursday, December 31, 2009

Former Thai PM Thaksin to advise Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka, an island country in South Asia, is in preparing to appoint former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra its economic adviser, former prime minister Somchai Wongsawat revealed on Wednesday.

Mr Somchai, Thaksin's brother-in-law, said the government should not worry because Thaksin's role as adviser to Sri Lanka, as well as to Cambodia, would do no harm to Thailand.

Thaksin has already been appointed economic adviser to the Cambodian government and Prime Minister Hun Sen.

Sri Lanka is one of the countries where Thaksin was reported to have frequently visited while on the run after being sentenced to a two-year jail term in the Ratchadapisek land case.

© Bangkok Post

Related Links:
Lanka denies reports Thaksin to be appointed as an adviser - Daily Mirror

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Thursday, December 31, 2009

India-Sri Lanka power link by 2013

Sudheer Pal Singh - The government's initiative to set up a high-capacity power transmission link between India and Sri Lanka is likely to be completed by 2013.

The 285-kilometre power link, including submarine cables over a stretch of 50 km, will enable the two countries to trade their surplus power, thereby offering a cheaper option to bridge their power generation deficit and also manage their peak demand.

The transmission link will pave the way for future trading of electricity between the two countries.

Powergrid Corporation of India Ltd, the country's largest electricity transmission company and the implementing agency from the Indian side, hopes that a memorandum of understanding for developing the Rs 2,300-crore project would be signed with the Ceylon Electricity Board, the largest electricity company of Sri Lanka, shortly. "The work on the project should begin by February-March next year after the MoU is signed. It will take us two-and-a-half to three years to complete this project," said S K Chaturvedi, chairman and managing director of Powergrid.

The link will also help Sri Lanka reduce its use of expensive fuels and import cheaper power from India's surplus. For India, the link will help open up a new market for its projected surplus of power. India currently faces an over 12 per cent power deficit, with a peak demand of 109,000 Mw annually. The government hopes it can add at least 62,000 Mw of generation capacity in the current Five-Year Plan period, ending March 2012, with additional capacities being set up by private investors through captive and merchant power plants. This, along with the power from ultra mega power projects has fuelled hopes for tradable surplus.

The subsea line would initially have a capacity of 500 Mw, according to Powergrid's feasibility report. Later, the power flow could be ramped up to 1,000 Mw by 2016 when the power generation capacities in the two countries improve, with surplus availability especially in India's southern grid.

The proposed undersea transmission link could also be useful for transfer of electricity from the 500-Mw imported coal-based power project being planned to be set up by NTPC Ltd , India's largest power generator, at Trincomalee in Sri Lanka. The island nation currently has a capacity of 2,500 Mw.

Powergrid had carried out a feasibility study of the project last year and had found the installing of the transmission lines to be feasible. "We have already received an approval from the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA). Now a detailed project report will be prepared," said Chaturvedi. The Sri Lankan government had given its approval to the transnational power link in July last year.

Globally, transnational undersea power transmission lines have been laid so far only between the UK and France for transmission of 2,000 Mw of electricity. In addition, Philippines is also planning to set up similar transmission links currently to connect its islands through undersea electricity network.

The Route

Powergrid and the Ceylon Electricity Board will lay down cables under the Gulf of Mannar between Rameshwaram in Tamil Nadu and Talaimannar in Mannar islands in Sri Lanka.

On the Indian side, the cable will be connected to the southern grid in Madurai through an overhead transmission line. On the Sri Lankan side, the underwater cable will be linked to the country's power network at Anuradhapura through an overhead line, Chaturvedi informed.

© Business Standard

Related Links:
Indian company to set up power transmission link to Sri Lanka - Colombo Page

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Thursday, December 31, 2009

The vested interests behind the Sri Lankan regime

Manny Thain - The reality is that Sri Lanka is in demand. One of the reasons that quiet, diplomatic appeals to establishment governments and political parties have practically no impact is that all of these governments have their fingers in the Sri Lankan pie. They want a piece of the action.

So, they cannot be too critical for fear of being frozen out of lucrative economic and strategic deals. The only time governments act in the interests of workers and poor people is when they are put under massive pressure.

The major regional powers, China and India, are jostling for position in the Indian Ocean, where the US administration also has strategic economic and military interests. There can be no doubt that the provision of weapons by the Chinese regime, streaming into Sri Lanka from 2007, played a big part in the defeat of the LTTE. China increased its bilateral aid fivefold in a year to $1bn in 2008 to become Sri Lanka’s biggest donor. In return, it has been awarded the project to develop the important deep-sea port of Hambantota. This fits with China’s ‘string of pearls’ policy, whereby it seeks to control the Indian Ocean seaway, which carries nearly half of all global seaborne trade.

The Indian government opened up unlimited military credit for Sri Lanka. It also extended naval and intelligence cooperation and other support. The Malaysian operator, Dialog Telecom, is moving in to profit out of the war-ravaged north and east.

Australia has pledged $1bn, its representatives say, to help with Tamil resettlement. But one of the main concerns of the Australian government is to stop Tamil refugees leaving Sri Lanka for Australia. This money will go to Rajapaksa’s administration and will be used to control Tamil-speaking people. Aid should be in the hands of those it is intended to help. It should be administered by elected representatives accountable to the communities they serve.

As for the western powers, they are playing a particularly hypocritical role. At one time or another they have all issued statements mildly critical of the Rajapaska regime. But trade and military links are more important to these powers than the rights of workers and poor people.

The US, for example, uses Sri Lankan ports as naval bases. The US is the only country with a veto in the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Yet, in July, the US abstained in the vote to agree a $2.8bn loan. If the US administration really cared about the Tamil-speaking people it could have stopped the money going through. The IMF loan is supposed to go towards the post-war ‘reconstruction effort’. One of the developments under way is for a string of luxury hotels along the east coast near Nilaveli – luxury hotels for the rich, prison camps with open sewers for the Tamil-speaking people.

Meanwhile, the British government – having supplied military equipment to Sri Lanka throughout the war – turns its back on the hundreds of thousands in the camps. It, too, is more worried about contracts for British companies, including military goods. So Des Browne, Britain’s special envoy to Sri Lanka, said: “We take the view that it is safe to return people, including Tamils, to Sri Lanka”. This was said in connection with the Tamil boat people stranded off the coast of Indonesia who have been refused entry into Australia. These powers stick together when they see it is in their own vested interests – and humanitarian concerns are quickly dropped.

Rajapaksa seems able to act with impunity. Last year, John Holmes, UN undersecretary general for humanitarian affairs, was accused of being in the pay of the LTTE after he stated the simple fact that Sri Lanka is one of the most dangerous places in the world for aid workers. The UN Children’s Fund communications chief was ordered to leave Sri Lanka after he raised the plight of children caught up in the conflict. Sadly, it matters little how well-meaning many in agencies such as the United Nations are, there is, in reality, little they can do when blocked by the major powers.

On top of this, the clampdown on reporting in Sri Lanka continues. Around 20 journalists have been murdered there over the last few years. Lawyers taking up sensitive cases have been threatened, public meetings cannot be held without advance government permission, and emergency regulations remain in place, including wide-ranging powers of search, arrest and seizure of property. Individuals can be arrested and held in unacknowledged detention for up to 18 months.

But the promise by Rajapaksa to the Sinhalese workers and poor that the declared end of the war will bring some kind of peace dividend is a rotten lie. Military spending in Sri Lanka swallows 5% of gross domestic product – one of the largest in the world. The regular army is five times bigger than it was in the late 1980s – now 200,000 strong, larger than the British (with three times the population) and Israeli armed forces. The Sri Lankan regime plans further increases to 300,000 – more troops than France, Japan or Germany.

Having crushed the Tamil Tigers, the Sri Lankan government has set up militarised zones throughout the north and east. It now occupies that area and will proceed to subjugate a whole people. This humanitarian catastrophe for Tamil-speaking people will also prove to be a massive financial drain. The living standards of all working class and poor people will be driven down even further. In time, this will lead to increasing resistance from Sinhalese workers. The oppression and poverty will also provide fertile ground for a new generation of Tamils raised on bitterness and hatred.

The Rajapaksa regime is not in the interests of the workers and poor in Sri Lanka, including the Sinhalese majority. It is a defender of the rich and powerful, aiming to keep itself in power as long as possible. That is why Tamil Solidarity supports united struggle by and in the interests of the working class and poor against this vicious regime, regardless of ethnic or religious background.


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Thursday, December 31, 2009

'Sri Lanka cannot escape war crime charges'

PK Balachandran - Although Sri Lanka is not a signatory to the Rome Convention which set up the International Criminal Court (ICC), the island nation can still be dragged before the ICC without its consent, senior cabinet minister and a former Professor of Law, G.L.Peiris, has said.

He told The Sunday Island on December 20, that the UN Security Council had the right to request the Chief Prosecuting Officer (CPO) of the ICC to embark on an investigation of the complaints it had received with a view to prosecution. The CPO could, on his own, seek the approval of the Pre-Trial chamber of the ICC to conduct investigations.

In the Sri Lankan case, the UN’s Special Rapporteur for Extrajuicial Killings and Arbitrarty Executiuons, Philip Alston, had called for clarifications on the allegation that the Sri Lankan army had killed three top leaders of the LTTE and their families when they had come to surrender waving white flags as per a prior arrangement between them and the Lankan government. The allegation had been made by no less a person than Gen.Sarath Fonseka, a former Army Commander who is now a candidate in the January 26 Presidential election.

It is felt that Alston’s letter could well be the first step in a UN bid to get key Sri Lankan decision makers and officials to appear before the ICC.


According to former diplomat Bandu de Silva, Sri Lanka might be able to block a Security Council initiative with the help of a Russian or a Chinese veto, but it should be borne in mind that the CPO could act independently. The CPO was already thinking of bringing the US before the court for war crimes, he said.

In an article in The Sunday Island on December 27, Kalana Senaratne, said that the CPO could on his own make a case for prosecution by analyzing the seriousness of the charges made and seeking further material from UN organisations, rights bodies and inter-governmental bodies.

“The statements made by Sarath Fonseka can only add to the evidence that is piling up in the CPO’s office right now.”

“If the prosecutor comes up with a serious case, the Security Council would need to take note of it, which could result, not in the setting up of a special tribunal, but in approving and directing the ICC to initiate an inquiry – which is possible under Art 13 (b) of the Statute,” Senaratne said.

Additionally, the ICC could come into the picture legitimately under the Rome Treaty on the grounds that Sri Lanka had failed to investigate the complaints on its own, and that external investigation was therefore necessary. Denial of Fonseka’s allegations would, therefore, not do. Colombo would have to investigate, Senaratne said.


Minister Peiris hinted at the possibility of other countries asserting jurisdiction on war crimes.

A Spanish court heard a case against Israeli Generals under the “universal jurisdiction theory under a private plaint by relatives of the affected parties (Geneva Convention).”

The District Court of Colombia heard the case against Israeli Lt.Gen.Moshe Ya’alon under a private plaint.


Peiris had also said that there was a “real danger” of Sri Lanka’s Defense Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa or the former commander of the 58 Army Division, Maj.Gen.Shavendra Silva, being questioned, if not arrested, when being abroad.

According to Kalana Senaratne, the Westminster Magistrate’s Court had issued an arrest warrant against Israeli Foreign Minister, Tzipi Livni, for alleged war crimes committed by Israel during the operations in Gaza in December 2008.


That the international community is not too pleased with Sri Lanka even now, six months after the end of the war against the LTTE, is evident from the fact that the European Council has recommended the denial of EU trade concesssions under the GSP Plus scheme on the grounds that Colombo has not kept its promise to safeguard human rights and work towards ethnic reconciliation.

© Express Buzz

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Thursday, December 31, 2009

War crimes probe request 'referred'

The Sri Lankan government says it is seeking advice on a request by the United Nations for a war crimes probe.

Sri Lanka's defence ministry said on Tuesday that a letter by UN Special Rapporteur on Extra- judicial, Summary and Arbitrary Executions Philip Alston has been referred "for advice on the cause of action to be taken on the issues".

UN has requested Sri Lanka government to send its observations over media reports that senior LTTE leaders who tried to surrender were killed in cold blood.

The Defence Ministry in a statement said that the request has been referred by the president to a special committee.

'Sunday Leader' report

The committee, chaired by DS Wijesinghe PC, was earlier appointed by president Rajapaksa to study a report by the US Department of State in October on incidents during the final days of the war in Sri Lanka.

Time given to the Committee to study and report on the US State Department Report has been extended up to April 2009, by President Mahinda Rajapaksa, says the defence ministry.

War crimes allegedly committed by the Sri Lankan military once again came to prominence after an interview with Sunday Leader newspaper by main opposition candidate, Gen (retd.) Sarath Fonseka.

Sunday Leader on the 13th of December reported that Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa has ordered field commanders to kill all LTTE cadres including those who wished to surrender.

Among those tried to surrender at the last stage of the conflict were LTTE political wing head, B Nadesan and head of peace secretariat S Pulithevan.

Denying having accused the forces of killing those came to surrender, Gen Fonseka later said he takes responsibility for everything happened during the last stages of war.

However, Sunday Leader Editor Frederica Jansz earlier told BBC Sandeshaya that she stood by the story and is in possession of the voice recording of the interview.

Gen Fonseka has, meanwhile, sent a letter of demand to Sunday Leader on Monday, seeking Rs. 500 million as compensation.

© BBC Sinhala

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