Tuesday, February 23, 2010

U.S.- based video processing company confirms authenticity of Sri Lanka's execution video

Click here to read Technical Note prepared by the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial executions
Click here to read the Appendix to the Technical Note

A U.S.-based company that analyzed the controversial Channel 4 video, showing an execution alleged to have been carried out by the Sri Lankan military, issued its own statement Thursday verifying the video’s authenticity.

Cognitech Inc., specializing in forensic video processing, was one of three “independent experts” requested to analyze the video by U.N. Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions Philip Alston. Following those investigations, Alston issued a statement on Jan. 7 indicating that all three experts had concluded from their investigations that the video is authentic.

The company stated that its technical representative and forensic multimedia analyst Jeff Spivak had successfully conducted the “forensic video processing and analysis” of the recording said to have been obtained using a cell phone.

The Video Investigator software used for the analysis was developed by Cognitech in 1988. The company claims its latest software package, consisting of a trio of programs including Video Investigator, to be “the most scientifically advanced and the only comprehensive forensic video processing and 3D analysis software in the world.”

In a phone interview with SLNN, a company official confirmed that it can state with 100 percent certainty that the video is authentic.

The recording, reportedly obtained by a group known as Journalists for Democracy in Sri Lanka, was broadcast on Britain’s Channel 4 in August 2009. Subsequently, the video was widely circulated on the Internet, increasing pressure on the Sri Lankan government to address human rights issues in the country.

The Sri Lankan government says its own analysis of the video has shown that it is not authentic and strongly denies allegations of human rights abuses during the final stages of the war.

Alston has requested a full investigation into the alleged incident.

© Sri Lanka News Network

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Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Nine year old girl raped by Sri Lanka Army soldiers

A nine year old ethnic Tamil girl has been raped by three suspected Sri Lanka Army soldiers, reports say.

The victim is a grade five student of Sitthandi Digili Vellei School in Batticaloa. Girl was admitted to the Mawadiwembu hospital.

Army Media Spokesman Major Prasad Samarasinghe confirmed to media, that the girls' mother has been filed a complaint in police regarding the crime.

Meanwhile Body of a man who protested against the rape found near in nearby lake, report said further.

According to reports, a group of soldiers went to house to house and threat villagers who protested against the crime. Commodore soldiers are questioning the girl frequently victim, reports said.

© Nidahasa News

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Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Sri Lanka: Hundreds need reconstructive orthopedic surgery - MSF

Many patients who had surgery during the time of fighting between the Sri Lankan army and the Tamil Tigers (LTTE) that were operated on initially under emergency conditions have developed infections, particularly of the bone. The wounds, mostly caused by exploding shells and bullets, have not healed.

Dr. Inga Osmers, an MSF orthopedic surgeon, stops by a patient's bed and reviews the X-ray. An internal plate is clearly visible, attached to the bone beneath the skin. "We can see on the X-ray that the two bones are still far apart and we can see this little hole on the skin, which we call a fistula," the surgeon explains. "It is a sign of infection, a natural discharge channel. It is not very visible or striking, but underneath it, the infection has already done quite a bit of harm." Infections are very frequent in the case of war wounds, when a foreign body enters; here, most often, small shell fragments. The risks are even higher when there are many wounded patients at one time and not enough surgical resources to intervene quickly under optimal conditions.

Speaking to the patient, Inga says, "Here's what I can do: open the wound, clean it, remove the internal fixator and replace it with an external one to reduce the presence of foreign bodies in the wound. But that means you'd have to stay in the hospital for at least another several weeks. The other possibility is to wait and hope that the wound will heal, with the fistula allowing pus to drain out. I'll let you think about this for a while. Do you know when you have to go home?" The answer is no. Over the last few weeks, large numbers of displaced persons have been returning home. MSF patients are worried that hospitalisation will prevent them from going back. That's why the medical staff is careful not to perform lengthy treatments - except in the case of medical urgency - without talking it over with the patient first.

Clean, stabilise and treat to encourage healing

Leaning against the bed of an 18 year-old patient, Ingma explains the situation to the young woman. "We cleaned the wound by removing the infected tissues and bits of bone, and placed an external fixator on your leg to stabilise it. During the operation, we also took tissue samples for analysis. This will tell us what kind of infection you have and which antibiotics will be effective."

Wounded on April 20, this young woman had been transferred to a functioning hospital more than three days later. There, she would not agree to amputation. Five weeks later, she left the hospital with a cast and crutches. She was in constant pain, but it was bearable. The pain worsened in early November. She went to a clinic at the Menik Farm camp, where the Ministry of Health doctor referred her to the MSF hospital. She learned that the wound had not healed inside the cast and that pus was seeping out. An X-ray at the hospital revealed that the bone had not set and had become infected.

Finding patients who need surgery

In many cases, patients return home before having an operation that could ensure they would have the best possible use of their limb. "There are certainly several hundred patients who need reconstructive surgery," says Dr. Patrick Herard, an MSF consulting surgeon. "There is really no urgency. It's more a question of future quality of life than of life or death. However, they would have to agree to new operations, which will mean weeks, even months, of hospitalisation to preserve or improve the use of the wounded limb. We have experience in this kind of operation, specifically with our program in Amman, Jordan, for wounded Iraqis. MSF has developed expertise in second and third-line surgery for war wounds."

When these wounded patients return to their families and their homes, requests for this kind of surgery will probably increase.

© Medecins Sans Frontieres

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Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Sri Lanka: Villagers protest against the Police over mysterious killing

By Wasantha Chandrapala and Navaratna Samarathunga - The residents of several villages in Inginiyagala staged a protest compelling the authorities to hold an impartial inquiry against the individuals responsible for the mysterious killing of a young man who was allegedly taken into custody by Inginiyagala police.

They burnt tyres and obstructed the traffic on Damana-Padagoda Road.

A resident of Mahawala in Inginiyagala police area Saman Tilakasiri (39) was allegedly taken into custody by police on Sunday night and his body was recovered from a canal last morning.

The relatives of the deceased and the residents who suspected a foul play made representations to the Ampara Additional District Judge Chaminda Sampath Hewawasam who held a preliminary inquiry at the scene.

A resident of the area L.V. Chandrasena told the magistrate that Saman and Chandana were asleep in his house when three police officers came on motorcycles and arrested Saman.

He said: “Police told us that they wanted to record a statement from Saman in connection with a complaint. When we were talking to the police officers, they received a call from the Police Station. The officer who answered the call asked weather they should bring Saman right now or tell him to come to the police station on the following day.

Later they wanted Saman to come with them. After they left we went to the police station. On our way we saw their motorcycles halted near the bund.

However, the police officers did not reply when we made inquiries about Saman. The following morning we heard that his body was floating in the canal,” he said. Thousands of people from several villages flocked to the scene when the body was recovered from the canal.

They said the death was a foul play for which Inginiyagala police was responsible. They pointed out Saman Tilakasiri was a social worker of the area and he was under death threats from police.

His wife accused the police for the killing.

However, the Magistrate told the people to appear in court on next Friday and make statements in this regard.

He advised them to take up the issue with the SP Ampara Premalal Ranagala. A police team of Ampara Police is conducting formal inquiries on the instructions of SP Ampara.

© Daily Mirror

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Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Sri Lanka: Last chance for lasting peace

Iranga Kahangama - The recent election loss of Sri Lankan opposition candidate Gen. Sarath Fonseka underlines the island's failure to build on its recently achieved peace, while his subsequent detention brought to light a threat to its democracy. Now, upcoming parliamentary elections, slated for April 8, represent the country's last chance to build an opposition that can bring the ethnic grievances that drove Sri Lanka's civil war into the political arena, while also maintaining a stable multiparty democracy.

Incumbent President Mahinda Rajapaksa wasted little time in using his commanding electoral victory over Fonseka to consolidate his power. Shortly after the election, Fonseka was arrested and has since been kept in detention under unofficial charges of sedition. Some see this as an act of revenge and political suppression by Rajapaksa against his opponents. Others see it as a preemptive strike to silence Fonseka - who, as the commanding general of Sri Lanka's military campaign to defeat the Tamil Tiger insurgency, could reveal information supporting potential war crimes charges against the government.

Nonetheless, the political ramifications of the arrest have already begun to be felt. Fonseka's National Democratic Front party -- a coalition that had the support of both Tamils and Muslims -- has begun to disintegrate into its component parties, which are preparing to contest April's elections separately. While many of these smaller parties differed greatly in policy, they were able to coalesce around Fonseka in the presidential balloting because they realized the broad range of support needed to challenge Rajapaksa. Without such a unified presence countering him in April, the president could expand his majority to pick up the two-thirds necessary to amend the constitution -- allowing him to potentially consolidate his power institutionally thereafter.

Rajapaksa's wider-than-expected margin of victory underscores the need for a united opposition to contest parliamentary elections. The strong mandate he won without the support of Tamil or Muslim minorities gives Rajapaksa no incentive to expedite political inclusion. To date, he has only offered vague rhetoric concerning political reconciliation with the Tamils, and it is no coincidence that the provinces Rajapaksa failed to win form a territory eerily similar to that of Tamil Eelam -- the independent Tamil state the insurgency sought to establish.

Unification of the opposition will achieve very little, however, if Tamil voter turnout does not significantly increase as well. Only by having a stronger impact on domestic politics can Tamils expect more government attention to their grievances. Before it was militarily defeated last year, the Tamil Tiger insurgency enforced electoral boycotts that historically kept Tamil turnout low. But turnout figures in January's election in the Tamil-dominated Northern provinces of Jaffna and Vanni were approximately 25 percent and 40 percent, respectively, compared to more than 70 percent in other districts in the South and East.

Arguably, the lower turnout can be explained by the fact that Jaffna and Vanni are the most underdeveloped and war-torn provinces, flooded by internally displaced people. But it is also a sign of lack of faith in the political process, a result of the neglect the Tamil population and its regions have received from the government, both historically and since the end of fighting last year.

One measure of this neglect has been the government's inability to meet its self-imposed deadline of resettling 100,000 IDPs by the end of January. It now aims to do so by April instead. While the presidential elections distracted the country from substantive action, the April parliamentary elections are likely to have a similar effect. And that will only be exacerbated by Rajapaksa's recent maneuvers, which represent a significant threat to the country's historically stable democracy.

The arrest of Fonseka, who awaits a potential court martial on allegations of planning a military coup, is just one component of this threat. Military officers who supported him were forced to retire early, and several other supporters were arrested along with Fonseka. The election itself was also marred by charges that Rajapaksa exploited state resources. State media heavily favored Rajapaksa, and it could be argued that the newly printed 1,000 rupee note featuring him on the front served as a campaign poster in everyone's wallet. Now, in the upcoming weeks, a Chinese delegation is set to visit Sri Lanka to help monitor and block offensive Web sites, specifically news media outlets.

Such deteriorating respect for civil liberties and democratic values poses a significant threat to both the country and region. Sri Lanka seems to have learned little from its decades of war, with sporadic violence breaking out over Fonseka's arrest. Failure to promote political reconciliation and the further marginalization of Tamils will generate instability that can endanger the entire region. Rather than pursuing peace, though, the government has found another way to avoid it.

With Rajapaksa already guaranteed another six years in power, he should not be given carte blanche over Sri Lanka's political landscape. Tamil reconciliation and protecting democracy are critical matters that must advance simultaneously, but will only suffer with another comprehensive win by Rajapaksa. Handing him yet another victory removes any incentive he may have to negotiate the devolution of political power, which might serve as the foundation of a lasting solution for the island's Tamil regions. Only a healthy and unified opposition that can bring out the Tamil vote in mass will be able to advance reconciliation, while preserving Sri Lanka's democratic institutions.

Iranga Kahangama is an intern with the Regional Voices program at the Henry L. Stimson Center in Washington, D.C.

© World Politics Review

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Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Sri Lanka: Post-election protests fail to get wide support

By Amantha Perera - Street protests that erupted in Colombo and other cities following the Feb. 8 arrest of defeated presidential candidate Sarath Fonseka have yet to gain wider support from non-political groups.

The protests did in fact begin on a fiery tone when around 2,500 pro- Fonseka protestors chased down by pro-government supporters braved tear gas and water cannons to hold their first rally near the country’s highest court on Feb. 10. They vowed to continue the movement until the former Army commander is released.

Fonseka was arrested on charges of corruption and attempts to topple the government while he was in public office.

The government has maintained that there is no political motivation behind the arrest of Fonseka. "We have repeatedly said that there is no political motive behind this. The law of the nation has been followed," media minister Lakshman Yapa Aberyawardena told the press on Feb. 17.

Although no formal charges have been filed against Fonseka, the government has accused the losing presidential candidate of plotting to overthrow the government in a military-style coup.

Protests and processions held in the city have been boisterous but peaceful. But several of those that have been staged in cities outside Colombo have turned violent with protestors clashing with police.

The protests have been led mainly by the People’s Liberation Front (PLF) and the United National Party (UNP), the two main political parties that formed the foundation for Fonseka’s failed presidential bid.

There have been attempts by non-political groups to lend support to the protests, but they have not been able to bring large numbers of protestors. "The arrest … is a reflection of our freedoms. It affects all of us – mothers, wives, widows. This has to become our struggle," Vishaka Dramadasa, one of the protestors, told IPS.

Dramadasa participated in the protest organised by a non-governmental group called Women for Democracy in Colombo on Feb. 15. But it managed only to attract dozens, and not hundreds, of participants.

"The manner in which he [Fonseka] was arrested was totally unacceptable. It undermines law and order," Anuradha Nirashini, one of the participants at the vigil held by the women, told IPS at the rally.

"We have launched a non-violent campaign to gain his release," Fonseka’s wife Anoma Fonseka said to the local media when she visited lawyer Srilal Lakthilaka, who had begun a peaceful protest calling for Fonseka’s release.

The protest movement, however, would have taken on a totally different dimension had a large convention of Buddhist monks pushed through on Feb. 18 in the central town of Kandy. Four major Buddhist leaders had written collectively to the government, calling for Fonseka’s release. They had also called the convention to discuss future actions.

Soon after receiving the letter, the government sent emissaries to meet with the Buddhist priests. By Feb. 16, the convention was postponed.

The opposition has now come out accusing the government of bringing pressure on the monks to postpone the convention. "There was a lot of pressure," Tissa Athanayake, the secretary-general of the UNP, told IPS. But the government denied any hand in the postponement. "There have been various interpretations, but the prelates have said why the event was postponed," Dulles Alahaperuma, the Minister of Transport, said.

If the convention was held, it would have given the pro-Fonseka movement a semblance of wider acceptance and support outside the political parties supporting him.

Any momentum likely to be gained from the pro-Fonseka protests would have a direct impact on the parliamentary election set for Apr. 9. The beleaguered opposition leader is expected to contest the results and his arrest could become the rallying point.

The UNP, however, has decided to field candidates under its own banner and Fonseka, notwithstanding his detention, is likely to enter the fray under a new coalition spearheaded by the PLF.

For a brief period immediately after the Fornseka arrest, the opposition appeared to have been galvanised. It was that momentum that launched the first wave of protests on behalf of Fonseka.

The opposition was left in disarray after Fonseka lost the Jan. 26 presidential election by a margin of 1.8 million votes to incumbent President Mahinda Rajapaksa.

The former Army commander led the final military assault against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, who had been fighting for a separate state for the country’s Tamil minority since the early 1980s. Government forces wiped out the Tigers in May last year and Fonseka was hailed as a hero soon afterwards. He later fell out with the Rajapaksa government and came forward as the opposition presidential candidate. Two weeks of charge trading after the election ended when Fonseka was arrested.

The UNP and the PLF, despite their inability to form a common block to counter the formidable government challenge at the Apr. 9 election for 225 parliament seats, have given strong indications that the protests will continue.

"If the President thinks that he can get away with this, he is very much mistaken," Somawansa Amarasinghe the leader of the pro-nationalist party, People’s Liberation Front (PLF), told a group of about 400 supporters. They had converged at a busy thoroughfare on Feb. 16 for yet another public protest, blocking traffic. They were calling on the government to let Fonseka free.

The UNP, the country’s largest political party, has also come out strongly against the Fonseka arrest. Its leader, Ranil Wickremasinghe, has told the media that Fonseka was imprisoned to prevent him from contesting the upcoming elections for the parliament.

"There was never any talk of overthrowing the government. All these charges are false," Wickremasinghe said earlier last week.

"We still don’t know the charges against him; the usual practise is that charges are formally made known before any arrest," Wickremasinghe, who was also the leader of the opposition in the last parliament, told the media on Feb. 17 as he signed a petition for Fonseka’s release. He accused the government of being on a witch hunt, allegedly harassing relatives and supporters of the defeated presidential candidate.

The police detained on Feb. 17 the mother of Fonseka’s son-in-law following an arrest warrant on her son and the recovery of over 500,000 U.S. dollars in cash from bank deposit boxes maintained under her name. She was later released on bail.

The government has maintained that the arrest was not a case of victimisation and was due to violation of exchange control regulations. "The notes (recovered by police) have not been used; they are in sequential order. The exchange control regulations have been violated and the police and the Central Bank are looking into this," Minister G. L. Peiris told the media on Feb. 18.

The UNP and PLF jointly launched a public signature campaign last week for the release of the former Army commander. They promised to collect as many signatures as they can before they hand over the petition to President Rajapaksa.

"Over four million voted for Fonseka at the presidential election – we can get all that. We will not give up this struggle for justice," PLF leader Amarasinghe vowed during the campaign’s launch.

© Inter Press Service

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Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Sri Lanka: No deadline on resettlement

The government says it has not set a deadline for the resettlement of the remaining Internally Displaced People (IDP) who are still in camps at Vavuniya.

When asked by Daily Mirror online on reports of a possible deadline to resettle the IDPs, Minister of Resettlement and Disaster Relief Services, Rishard Bathiudeen said no such deadline has been set but the government hopes to resettle the IDPs as “soon as possible”.

Indian sources had told Daily Mirror online that the government had informed India that all the IDPs will be resettled by the end of next month, just prior to the April 8 General Elections.

© Daily Mirror

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