Sri Lanka's first post-war parliament must get rid of draconian emergency laws that have allowed for decades of widespread human rights abuses, Amnesty International said on Tuesday.
Ahead of the first sitting of Sri Lanka's first post-war parliament on 22 April, Amnesty International is calling on Sri Lanka to lift the State of Emergency that has been in force almost continuously since 1971, and to abolish the Prevention of Terrorism Act and other associated emergency security laws and regulations, replacing them with human rights-friendly laws.
The emergency laws grant state authorities sweeping powers of detention and permit the use of secret prisons, a practice that encourages human rights abuses like enforced disappearances, torture and death in custody, which could constitute crimes under international law. In the last thirty years, thousands of Sri Lankans have spent years in detention without trial.
Over the past year, the government has increasingly used these laws to crack down on journalists, political opponents, and trade unionists.
"Sri Lanka must repeal these laws and end impunity for human rights violations if it wants to move forward," said Madhu Malhotra, deputy director of Amnesty International's Asia-Pacific programme.
"The Prevention of Terrorism Act, the Public Security Ordinance and other emergency provisions in Sri Lanka enable security forces to systematically violate human rights."
Since the war with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) ended almost a year ago, Sri Lankan legislators have continued to extend the State of Emergency on a monthly basis. Successive governments have ignored calls for repeal of the Prevention of Terrorism Act.
"The war is over. Perpetuation of the emergency is now just being used as a weapon against political opposition, and as a quick fix for poor law enforcement practices and a dysfunctional justice system,â?? said Madhu Malhotra.
Amnesty International is calling on the new parliament to press for the release of people detained under Sri Lanka's emergency laws unless they are charged with an internationally recognized criminal offence, and are tried in regular civilian courts to international standards for fair trial.
The emergency laws reverse the burden of proof when it is alleged that police obtained confessions under torture. The Public Security Ordinance, Prevention of Terrorism Act and emergency regulations also shield officials from prosecution for actions taken under these laws, provided they acted â??in good faithâ??.
In July 2006 President Rajapaksa issued directives to the security forces aimed at protecting the human rights of persons who had been arrested or detained.
Although the emergency regulations do not require the government to publish places of detention, the President ordered that a person under arrest be "afforded reasonable means of communicating with a relative or friend to enable his whereabouts being known to his family"; for the Sri Lankan Human Rights Commission to be informed of the arrest and the place of detention in each case within 48 hours, and for Commission members to visit those arrested.
These safeguards were never effectively implemented.
Beyond concerns about the nature of legislation and the government's failure to rectify shortcomings, Amnesty International is concerned that the security forces have used the general threat of their wide ranging powers under the emergency laws to intimidate people.
Because they provide for vaguely and broadly defined offences such as "terrorism" the emergency laws have also been used to restrict freedom of expression and association, increase pressure on human rights activists, journalists, trade unionists and others holding dissenting views.
© Amnesty International
Wednesday, April 21, 2010
Wednesday, April 21, 2010
Sanjana Hattotuwa - wide-ranging interview published in the Daily Mirror with Sri Lanka’s Defence Secretary, Gotabaya Rajapaksa, also the brother of the President, addresses the issue of internet and web surveillance. The relevant excerpt follows:
"As an IT expert, do you think that it is ethical for a government to infiltrate into the online privacy of Sri Lankan citizens by gathering information, with regard to their political affiliations?
"Actually, if we could do that it would be good, however as a third world country we don’t have that facility. But in all other developed countries they monitor emails, telephone conversations, SMS and people in the streets. So they have a lot of monitoring systems and also all their systems are integrated. Unfortunately, ours is not. All security agencies in these countries could, by simply giving a number; they can obtain all the details of a person. But we don’t have that facility and in fact we have to develop such a system.
"Our ID card system is not effective, so we have to introduce a better system. We faced a situation in the past 4 years, we saw the weakness of the ID card system, where every suicide carder and terrorist had a bogus ID. Further our passport system is not fool-proof.
"We don’t have a close CCTV surveillance system in Colombo; whereas in all the other big cities they are monitored.
"We cant monitor SMS’s or email, we need to have such a system but we don’t and we are not doing it."
While it is not true that all developed countries monitor internet, web and mobile communications, many in fact do. As I noted in When even democracies go awry with online dissent, Australia, the United Kingdom, France, Thailand, Indonesia and even the United States are guilty of online filtering, blocking and surveillance. As I wrote then, it is extremely important that we condemn these proposed and enacted measures as vehemently as we decry actions and policies to censor online content by regimes like China, Iran, Egypt and Saudi Arabia.
And yet, the clear and present danger of the kind of pervasive surveillance championed by the Defence Secretary in post-war Sri Lanka is best expressed by Tapan Bose, a well known Indian journalist, film producer and political activist.
"Today, in Sri Lanka nobody feels safe. There is an elected president. The election to the parliament has just been held. Yet this is the country where the main opposition candidate in the presidential election was summarily taken away by the military police and is now being forced to face military court martial on trumped-up charges. In Sri Lanka, whether one is a businessman or a politician or a judge or a media person no one escape the scrutiny of the intelligence wings of the state. The most powerful organ of the state is the intelligence apparatus of the government. This is return to the “Arthashastra”, ancient Indian treaties on governance written by Chanakya. The advice of Chanakya to the “Prince” was that the success of the regime depended on the system’s ability to get the subjects to spy on each other and constantly report to the state." (Review of Sri Lanka: The Emergence Of The Power Of The Intelligence Apparatus, published in Sri Lanka Guardian)
One also recalls columnist Kumar David’s dire prediction earlier this year – which I flagged in Sri Lankan President halts web censorship, which raises more vital questions.
"The problem is this, the government will get draconian measures ready but will not reveal them till after the elections – why give the opposition another handle to beat it with – then will come the LIDA communication straight-jacket and legislation to smother dissent."
Prima facie, what Gotabaya Rajapaksa points to is certainly desirable from the perspective of intelligence operations to thwart terrorism. But the real fear, given the government’s noted tendency to clamp down on dissent and political opposition is that a sophisticated surveillance system will lead to persecution, execution and censorship – in sum, a system in the control of a few in government to contain and control media and content.
We have such efforts before. Citizens.lk, now largely forgotten, has gone through two versions without any significant improvement. The first version was downright farcical. The second version was no less bizarre and dysfunctional. I have never bothered to enter my details into this site and once told the Cinnamon Gardens Police, who politely insisted I enter my details to this system, to come back with the legal basis that required me to do so. They have not stepped into office since. So clearly, we already have intrusive websites created and promoted by government with no legal basis that at their most benign, serve no purpose other than to replicate information already in multiple locations in the administration.
In sum, Gotabaya Rajapaksa is in favour of a Police state. There is nothing more important for him than command and control of citizenry, a mindset that fuels an architecture of monitoring private communications and public media inimical to democracy given the lack of legal redress and quite often, the extra-judicial nature of government reprisals. Sadly too, there is no progressive vision here for the use of ICTs to strengthen government. Initiatives like the US State Department’s Opinion Space, or one of my own through Groundviews to foster progressive ideas on democracy, are not even on the radar of this government or its supine puppet, the ICT Agency.
Kumar David may well be correct. Given the bent of the Defence Secretary, post-war Sri Lanka is set to head into an Internet dark age.
© ICT 4 Peace
Wednesday, April 21, 2010
The US Agency for International Development has tied up with Sri Lanka’s private sector to support new businesses in the former war zone that will generate employment, the aid agency said.
The USAID Public-Private Partnerships for Northern and Eastern Sri Lanka Program is expected to create the equivalent of 5,000 full-time jobs in the former conflict zones.
The aid agency said it is partnering with five local businesses in aquaculture, apparel manufacturing, logistics, and horticulture.
"USAID’s investment of about 600 million rupees will generate an additional 1,400 million rupees investment from the private sector for a total of about two billion rupees."
A ready-made garment plant to be set up in Omanthai, near Vavuniya in the Northern Province, in an alliance between USAID and a leading garment manufacturing and export company will create 1,000 jobs for refugees, including young widows.
A ready-made garment factory will also be built by a local garment company in Samanthurai in the Ampara district with 15-20 machine lines and employing more than 1,000 employees.
Another alliance between USAID and a Sri Lankan aquaculture company will expand high value seafood production in the eastern and northern provinces and increase incomes of people.
By the end of the three-year project, 1,300 smallholder farmers will increase their net income by 300 percent, USAID said.
A leading logistics company will invest in logistics activities to help farming communities in the conflict-affected areas.
"Through this alliance, farmers in northern and eastern provinces will have an opportunity to increase both their production and income."
At least 1,500 farmers and fishermen will benefit from the project in which cold storage units will be built in Jaffna, Ampara, and Batticaloa.
The USAID has also struck a deal with a Sri Lankan horticulture company to improve the productivity and profitability of fruit and vegetable farming in Jaffna, Vavuniya, and Mannar by minimizing post harvest losses and by enhancing farmers’ skills in modern farming.
About 1,100 farmers will participate in the program.
"We are committed to helping conflict-affected communities return to normalcy through the creation of sustainable jobs and increased business opportunities," USAID mission director Rebecca Cohn said.
© Lanka Business Online
Wednesday, April 21, 2010
By Feizal Samath - Whenever Sri Lankan rights activist Shereen Xavier attends a meeting related to her work in this war-battered northern capital, she makes sure to be dressed in a sari, a traditional gown worn by South Asian women.
"To be accepted by society here, you need to be seen in a sari," says Xavier, executive director of the Home for Human Rights (HHR). But back in the confines of her office, the Western-educated Xavier feels comfortable enough to wear trousers.
That she is able to do even that is considered a step forward for women here in Jaffna, Sri Lanka’s most conservative city.
It is among the indications that, thanks to the efforts of the Tamil Tiger rebels who were defeated by the government last year after nearly three decades of armed conflict, women here are slowly being freed from the strict roles and ways imposed on them by tradition.
Although the Tigers failed in their military conflict to create a separate state for minority Tamils – a conflict that took the lives of more than 70,000 soldiers, rebels and civilians – they helped women here take a closer look at themselves and take on roles and ways other than those dictated by society.
For sure, many women had been forced to step up simply because of personal tragedy. Among them are the war widows, estimated to be in the thousands. There are also households where the husband survived the conflict, but in which the wife became the de facto head.
"They had to take the lead role," says Xavier of many women here and elsewhere at the height of the Tigers’ uprising. "Even women whose husbands were alive had an extended role. For example, if someone came looking for a male in the house or if there was a commotion outside their home, the men stayed indoors while the females ventured out."
At the time, many young men were dragged from their homes and forced into the rebel movement or arrested by the military on suspicion of being a rebel supporter or part of the Tigers.
One homemaker here echoes Jaffna elders in describing how the women coped. "They had a double burden: running a family and taking decisions. Most women were comfortable with only the first, traditional task."
But eventually, even the rest of society began to give women more space. In many homes these days, women have moved to making decisions in matters such as health and education of family members, which used to be the men’s preserve.
Xavier stresses how the caste structure collapsed under the writ of the rebels, most of who came from lower-caste families – including their leader Velupillai Prabhakaran.
Many high-caste Tamils were forced to rethink caste divisions, as young Tiger rebels, many of whom were low-caste and used to be treated with disdain, were now affectionately called ‘thambi’ (our boys) as the struggle gathered momentum and support.
The rebels, moreover, romanticised the insurgency as a chance for the youth to free themselves from societal obligations and parental pressure. Even females were welcomed into the Tiger fold; young, shy village girls turned into spirited young women, dressed in trousers and shirts, and carrying guns with authority.
Comments Xavier: "Women had this romantic notion of freedom from emancipation and were looking for a taste of equality, which the rebels were providing. It was an illusion of equality."
"At one time (too)," she recalls, "we had role models in (rebel) women like Adele Balasingham who could sit alongside her husband, Anton, and speak out as an equal, which was unheard of in Jaffna society."
Balasingham was the Tigers’ head strategist while his wife Adele, an Australian, was the de facto chief of the group’s women’s wing. Anton Balasingham died some years back due to health complications; Adele, a nurse by profession, now lives in Britain.
Xavier herself returned to Jaffna in 2007, two years before the defeat of the Tigers, to carry on her father’s work as a civil rights lawyer. The organisation she is now with campaigns for the rights of Tamils and provides them free legal help.
She says this country’s women are gradually trying to carve out more space for themselves. "However," she says, "it will take a long time for women to be as free as the rest of Sri Lanka."
No woman here wears jeans or trousers except for a few Western-educated Tamils who work here or visit from abroad, non-Tamil non-government workers, and hundreds of Sinhalese, Sri Lanka’s ethnic majority, who have been visiting the north in droves since the end of the war.
But at the same time, a few women can be seen riding scooters, a sight quite familiar some 30 years ago.
At a girl’s hostel in the city, young women wear shorts – but only within the perimetres of the boarding house. Says a teacher at the hostel who declines to be named: "Sometime back, women unable to afford saris wore skirts and that created a huge row among elders. This is still a patriarchal society though some liberation of women is taking place."
© Inter Press Service
Wednesday, April 21, 2010
Wasi'Ul Ulum - At least 139 Sri Lankan immigrants have been evacuated from Indah Kiat Harbor, Merak, Cilegon, Banten to Tanjung Pinang, Riau.
They were transported by bus to Soekarno-Hatta airport to be flown to Riau. “They are being moved after negotiations. They didn’t want to be moved before,” said S.B. Sudjatmiko, the Director of Diplomatic Security of the Department of Foreign Affairs, when contacted yesterday.
They, said Sudjatmiko, will be verified by a team from UNHCR before being deported.
However, there are three immigrants left behind because they’re sick.
“They are one family, a pregnant wife, husband and a child,” said Sumantri Sihite, Head of Banten Immigration.
The police are looking for several missing immigrants.
Previously, there were 255 illegal immigrants from Sri Lanka caught in Sunda Strait at the end of 2009.
When moved, some of them ran away from the harbor.
© Tempo Interactive
Wednesday, April 21, 2010
By Paul Tighe - President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s party fell short of a two-thirds majority in Sri Lanka’s Parliament according to results from the last two districts to report after the April 8 general elections.
The ruling United People’s Freedom Alliance won 10 seats yesterday after a new vote was ordered in Kandy and Trincomalee, according to the government’s Web site.
The UPFA has 127 of the seats for directly elected lawmakers as well as 17 filled proportionally from parties based on vote tallies. The total is six short of the 150 needed for a two-thirds majority in the 225-member assembly, according to the Election Commission.
Rajapaksa won re-election as president in January by the biggest margin in 16 years, boosted by Sri Lanka’s growing economy since the army defeated the Liberation Tigers and Tamil Eelam in May and ended a 26-year civil war. A two-thirds majority in the assembly would have enabled him to change the constitution that limits a president to two terms.
Sri Lanka’s main opposition parties abandoned an alliance after General Sarath Fonseka, Rajapaksa’s main challenger in January, was arrested. The former army chief is facing a court martial on charges he violated military and exchange-control laws, allegations he denies.
The main opposition United National Party won a total of 60 seats in parliament, according to the commission. A party representing minority Tamils won 14 seats.
Sri Lanka’s economy is forecast by the central bank to grow by 6.5 percent in 2010, the fastest pace in three years, led by a construction spree, increased farm production and an improving tourism industry.
Continuing the economic recovery and bringing reconciliation with the Tamils will be Rajapaksa’s biggest challenges.
The new vote was ordered in the two districts after allegations of election malpractices, the government said April 10.
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