Sunday, June 20, 2010

Freed Sri Lankan journalist Tissainayagam arrives in U.S.

The Committee to Protect Journalist welcomes the arrival in the United States of Sri Lankan journalist J.S. Tissainayagam, who arrived at Washington’s Dulles International Airport on Saturday morning. He was met there by friends. According to CPJ representative Kamel Labidi, who was on hand to meet Tissa, “He was all smiles, and said to thank everyone who helped him gain his freedom.”

“Tissainayagam’s arrival in the United States is very welcome news, and we join in the joy that he and his wife Ronnate are feeling,” said Joel Simon, CPJ’s executive director. “We hope his arrival in the U.S. is a step by the government to address its harsh policies toward the media—policies that have not changed since the end of Sri Lanka’s more than 30 years of civil conflict.”

On May 3, World Press Freedom Day, the government announced that it would grant Tissainayagam a presidential pardon. Tissainayagam had been released on bail in January and had lived in seclusion in Sri Lanka since. The Tamil editor was first jailed in March 2008 and eventually indicted under the Prevention of Terrorism Act in August 2008.

So far, the Sri Lankan government has made no official statement about the terms of his release, and Tissainayagam and his wife have made no public statements.

© Committee to Protect Journalists

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Sunday, June 20, 2010

Alston slams Commission on Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation

By Udara Soysa - In a brief but compelling interview with The Sunday Leader, UN Special Rapporteur on Extra-judicial Executions, Philip Alston slammed a Sri Lanka government initiative, asserting the Commission on Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation will not focus or address human rights, humanitarian law, violations or war crimes.

Q: What are your views on the Commission on Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation?

A: Well, first of all, the Commission on Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation has not, as you suggest, been appointed to look into alleged war crimes.

As an article on the website of the Ministry of Defence summarises its purpose, it is “to find out the root causes of the terrorist problem”. There is not a single mention of ‘human rights’, ‘humanitarian law’, ‘violations’, ‘war crimes’, or any comparable term. The mandate accorded by the government very carefully avoids any of these issues. Instead, the President has indicated that the commission should look forward, which is generally a way of saying that past violations should be ignored. Consistent with this, he has spoken of restorative justice designed to further strengthen national amity, which is another way of making the same point.

Q: What if the mandate were to be changed?

A: Even if the mandate were to be changed, the question would then be whether the commission meets international standards for a credible inquiry into alleged human rights violations. A key issue here is whether an observer could consider the commissioners to be reasonably independent of the government. Here, again, the picture is not a very convincing one. The Chairman, Chitta Ranjan de Silva, is a former Attorney-General who oversaw that office when it was strongly criticized for having interfered with the independence and effectiveness of one of the government’s previous inquiry commissions (the still unpublished 2006 Presidential Commission of Inquiry). Including the chairman, six of the eight members are former senior government officials, several of whom have spent much of their time defending Sri Lanka in international forums. While the latter is a worthy endeavour, it does not tend to signal independence or impartiality when one is considering serious allegations directed against the government itself.

Q: What is your opinion of the procedures by which the commission will function?

A: The next issue concerns the procedures under which the commission will operate. Chairman de Silva has stated that proceedings will not be public, and the government has made no commitment to making the findings and recommendations public. There is no indication that the commission will use the powers of law to sub poena all relevant witnesses and to obtain evidence from internal government sources. Overall, it is difficult to conclude that there are any conditions which are conducive to the production of an independent report, which would seriously and credibly address the very extensive allegations of war crimes that have been made.

Of course, the fact that any such crimes occurred, has consistently been denied by the government. Most recently, Sri Lanka told the Human Rights Council that they were “unsubstantiated, uncorroborated heresy”. But the detailed and deeply troubling allegations won’t magically disappear. Sri Lanka’s capacity to heal and forge a unified national identity which embraces all of its different ethnic groups will require a genuine examination of the past sooner or later.

Unfortunately, Sri Lanka has an unparalleled track record of ineffectual commissions of inquiry of this kind. Indeed, its history, especially since 1977 is littered with them. It is precisely because such inquiries have been utterly unconvincing, that they have not succeeded in drawing a line under the contentious issues of the past that need to be addressed before they can be transcended.

Q: But do you not think it only right that the government be left alone to conduct its own inquiry minus outside interference?

A: It is also interesting to contrast the government’s insistence in the UN Human Rights Council, that it should be left entirely alone to conduct its own inquiry, with its strong support for an international investigation into Israel’s killing of nine people in the raid on the Gaza flotilla carrying humanitarian aid. Sri Lanka apparently feels so strongly that international measures are needed in relation to Israel that its ambassador to the UN in New York is the chairman of the so-called group of three currently carrying out an international investigation into Israel’s activities.

I believe there are strong grounds for international action in both cases. I should add that one of the most problematic responses in terms of giving Sri Lanka its own space, in this matter, has been the suggestion by the Minister of Defence that any statement by General Fonseka on war crimes should be treated as treason and could thus lead to his being executed. If the objection is that Fonseka is not telling the truth, then let there be a public inquiry with the opportunity for all sides to present their evidence. Yet, for the government, this appears to be out of the question.

Instead, the very idea that any Sri Lankan could acknowledge that war crimes might have been committed, despite the fact that they have been reported by a wide range of other sources, is treated as a hanging offence. This approach does not bode well for the prospect of a genuine national inquiry into war crimes any time soon.

© The Sunday Leader

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Sunday, June 20, 2010

No more policing for Sri Lanka: International war crimes investigation off

By Namini Wijedasa - The Tamil diaspora is likely to be livid. International human rights groups like Human Rights Watch, International Crisis Group and Amnesty International will not be happy. And this certainly was not what Navi Pillai, the UN high commissioner for human rights, had hoped for.

Nevertheless, the Sri Lanka Government seems to have pulled it off–if the public statements of several visiting envoys last week are to be believed, an international war crimes investigation is off the cards for now.

Proof of the pudding

The main reason for this is the appointment of a Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) by President Mahinda Rajapaksa. While this commission is derided by critics as a dud, an inevitable failure and a feeble exercise to buy time, members of the international community seem increasingly inclined to evaluate rather than to condemn outright. “After all,” said a US official last week, “the proof of the pudding is in the eating.”

Calls for an international body to probe alleged war crimes are being replaced by a willingness to let the LLRC do its work first. Despite unflinching evidence that commissions of inquiry in Sri Lanka have been nothing more than temporary measures to deflect attention, three sets of foreign envoys last week laid emphasis on domestic accountability mechanisms over external ones.

This may partly be due to the government’s recent efficacy in convincing the international community of its good faith in setting up the commission. With the war–and elections-over, the Rajapaksa regime has toned down its rhetoric and has embarked on a mission of engagement. And one subject, the government has been irrevocably clear: They will not allow for or participate in an international investigation into domestic affairs. In the face of such obduracy, the international community, too, has been forced to engage.

Visiting the country last week were Japanese envoy Yasushi Akashi; UN Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs Lynn Pascoe; Special Assistant to President Barack Obama on Multilateral Affairs and Human Rights Samantha Power; and Obama’s National Security Council Director for War Crimes and Atrocities David Pressman.

Internal matter

Akashi made Japan’s position on war crimes allegations clear on Monday, in comments to media after his meeting with External Affairs Minister G.L. Peiris. The international community should not dwell on the past, he said. If there were reasonable allegations that international norms of combat were violated, it was for Sri Lanka to define the precise role of an inquiry. “It is not for other governments or international organizations to dictate to Sri Lanka what it should be doing in this highly complicated and sensitive area,” he said.

Lynn Pascoe’s visit to Sri Lanka had been in the pipeline for some months. At the UN headquarters in New York, journalists grilled Ban Ki-moon’s spokespersons about reports that Sri Lanka was deliberately blocking Pascoe’s trip. But at a press conference on Thursday, Pascoe showed no signs of tension with the government. He said he was “very impressed” by the government’s efforts to provide basic facilities for the internally displaced and showed appreciation for the difficult task Sri Lanka faced in recovering from the trauma of a 25-year-old war.

Pascoe confirmed during the question-and-answer session that Ban Ki-moon will set up a panel next week to advise him on international standards and comparative experiences with accountability. He said it will also be available as a resource Sri Lankans can turn to. He indicated that the panel’s members would have a broad mandate. The indication was that the panel would be more of a body that Sri Lanka could rely on for assistance rather than one that would query the military’s actions during the final stages of the war.

In Pascoe’s own words last week, there have been “many misunderstandings about what the panel will do”. He said there was “no cause for concern” and that it would be “very useful for the government”. So much for Ban Ki-moon’s sensational panel.

Meanwhile, Pascoe, when questioned about Sarath Fonseka’s detention, emphasised that it was an internal matter that should be left to the Sri Lankan legal system. This, it is understood, is also the position of the US which is now placing great emphasis on domestic process.

President makes pledges

The visiting US envoys, like Pascoe and Akashi, had a long week of travel and meetings that involved stops in the North and East. During discussions with government officials, including President Mahinda Rajapaksa, Power and Pressman reportedly stressed that the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission was an important tool in moving forward. Their position was that there must be closure for those civilians who had suffered loss and injury in the war–and the LLRC would provide the means by which such closure could be achieved.

In reply to several concerns raised emphatically by Power and Pressman, President Rajapaksa made several pledges. He assured them, for instance, that there would be an investigation into alleged war crimes and that there would be criminal accountability, official US sources said. In other words, those found guilty of wrongdoing would be punished. He said the report of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission would be made public. He also promised that the ICRC would be given access to Tamil detainees.

It is learnt that Power and Pressman during their trips to the North and East were repeatedly struck by the sense of fear among the civilian population. This prompted them to raise concerns about witness protection with President Rajapaksa. The US sources said Power and Pressman had stressed to the president that it was important to ensure there were no reprisals against anyone for testifying before the LLRC. (Significantly, draft legislation related to witness protection is still in limbo despite the government promising to have it passed during the tenure of the short-lived Commission of Inquiry into 15 allegations of human rights and international humanitarian law).

The US delegation’s final position was that they were encouraged by the president’s promises but that only time will tell if these pledges are kept.

Global context

The international community now seems to be moving in a direction that supports Sri Lanka’s own post-war aspirations. This has led some analysts to scrutinise whether the “China dynamic” is at play.

The US is eager to further relations with Sri Lanka on the basis of “mutual interest”. This includes maritime cooperation. India is recently more interested in showing greater presence (either way) in Sri Lanka. This is reflected also in requests to open deputy high commissions in other parts of the country. There is realisation that Sri Lanka, with its strategic position in the Indian Ocean, will readily move towards so-called rogue nations if its Western friends keep berating the government.

And in the meantime, China is moving in fast

As confirmed by UN Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs Lynn Pascoe, a panel to advise UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on accountability for potential war crimes in Sri Lanka is likely to be named next week. The Sri Lanka Government continues to oppose the appointment of this panel. LAKBIMAnEWS reliably learns that the panel will consist of a member from Indonesia and one from Austria. The announcement is expected to follow Pascoe’s return from Sri Lanka. It is also learnt that the Indonesian member is Marzuki Darusman, former attorney-general of Indonesia who was also on the panel to investigate the assassination of former Pakistani premier, Benazir Bhutto.

Interestingly, Darusman was also a member of the International Independent Group of Eminent Persons (IIGEP) that was composed to assist the farcical Commission of Inquiry set up under Justice Nissanka Udalagama to probe 15 serious violations of human rights and international humanitarian law in Sri Lanka. The Austrian has not yet been identified to media.

Truth must be firmly placed

Human rights activists like Rajan Hoole welcome some form of international pressure on Sri Lanka “to ensure that the truth of what innocent civilians suffered as the result of the actions and designs of both sides is placed on public record”. In his own words:

“The very fact that an international war crimes tribunal is widely discussed, should make each one of us ask why this virtual reprimand? It is of no use blaming the rest of the world or the LTTE. It is a by-product of this country’s post independence political legacy. It is a statement of the fact that the country drove itself into creeping anarchy by repeatedly spurning opportunities to put its house in order.

“Unfortunately, the latest commission to go into Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation underlines the problem of credibility. The earlier commission that drew much attention was the one appointed by the president to go into several cases of impunity, including the ACF (Action Contre la Faim) killings. That too was an opportunity mislaid. The ACF hearing was largely directed under the former attorney general, the chairman of the new commission. That commission never revealed the truth. An extract from its leaked alleged report, contrary to the best indications, blamed the LTTE and in our (UTHR-J) documentation we have shown that the AG’s role was to suppress the truth. A study of the ACF case and how the state behaved would reveal most of the lessons important for the Sinhalese.

“UTHR-J documentation reveals frankly the LTTE’s culpability for turning several opportunities for peace into very destructive wars. There is a crying need for the Tamils to make a frank assessment of the LTTE’s legacy and put it behind us. But this new commission is not the place where Tamils could speak frankly with a good conscience, against the well-founded suspicion that, like in the ACF case, it would not do them justice and instead all they say would be misused to shift the blame from the state.

“I feel hesitant to talk about an international war crimes tribunal. But for any reconciliation the truth must be placed firmly on record and we must be grateful for any international effort to this end–humbly acknowledging that we have failed and have shown no real desire to succeed. We are the cause of making our sovereignty an object of ridicule.

“International norms and measures to deal with questions of justice came through recognition of past collective failures involving several nation states–nothing aimed at us. If we recognise that the future of this planet is our collective responsibility, we should have the courage and foresight to use international mechanisms for our own good. Xenophobic abuse would only confirm us in our perdition.”

© Lakbima News

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Sunday, June 20, 2010

Japan's continuous support to Sri Lanka development, Japanese special envoy assures

Representative of the Government of Japan for Peace Building, Rehabilitation, and Reconstruction in Sri Lanka, Yasushi Akashi met Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa at the Temple Trees this morning and held discussions on the latest developments in the country.

Praising the measures taken by the government to enhance the living standards of war affected people in the North, the Japanese special envoy said the government is systematically carrying out resettlement of IDPs in line with the infrastructural development in the North.

Noting that a rapid development is taking place in the conflict-affected region, Akashi assured his government's continuous support to Sri Lanka for its development plans.

The Japanese envoy praised the government for its measures towards creating lasting peace in the island.

Minister of External Affairs Prof. G.L Peiris, Secretary to the President Lalith Weerathunge, Japanese Ambassador Kunio Takahashi, Secretary to the Ministry of External Affairs Romesh Jayasinghe were also participated in the discussions.

© Colombo Page

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Sunday, June 20, 2010

Lanka and UN Chief in open battle

An Indonesian and an Austrian are to form the panel of experts to advise UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on accountability issues relating to the last stages of the separatist war in May last year.

The move, a prelude to a possible UN investigation into alleged war crimes, both by troops and Tiger guerrillas, is to be announced in New York in the coming week. This is after Lyn Pascoe, UN Undersecretary General for Political Affairs, who was on a three-day visit to Sri Lanka, briefs the UN Secretary General tomorrow.

The Indonesian member has been identified as Maruzuki Darusman, a former Attorney General. He was a member of the now defunct International Independent Group of Eminent Persons (IIGEP) appointed by President Mahinda Rajapaksa to observe proceedings of the Commission of Inquiry mandated to inquire into 16 cases of human rights violations. This included an incident in which a group of aid workers were killed in Trincomalee.

Mr. Darusman had also served in a UN panel that had investigated the death of one time Pakistan Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto. She was assassinated during an election campaign. The identity of the Austrian member of the panel of experts is still not known.

On Friday, Mr. Pascoe told a news conference in Colombo that UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon would next week announce officially the appointment of the experts panel.

The announcement came after the Government gave clearance to a long-awaited request by Mr. Pascoe to visit Sri Lanka. His official declaration in Colombo came just a day ahead of the victory parade where 8,000 troops and 700 officers took part in a national event.

The move by Mr Pascoe to make an official announcement regarding the appointment of the impending panel has already raised concerns both in Government and Opposition circles. External Affairs Minister G.L. Peiris strongly canvassed to stop the move on the grounds that President Rajapaksa has already appointed a Commission to identify lessons learnt and recommend measures for reconciliation.

External Affairs Ministry officials remained tight lipped yesterday over whether Mr. Pascoe made the announcement with the concurrence of the Government. An official who spoke on grounds of anonymity said the Government would express its disapproval “in the strongest terms if and when a UN announcement of the panel of experts is made.”

Sri Lanka's ongoing battle with Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon over the appointment of a panel of experts to advise him on issues relating to war crimes has a parallel to the charges of ''state terrorism'' against Israel whose military forces invaded a flotilla of ships carrying humanitarian aid to Gaza last month.

Faced with overwhelming condemnation, Israel followed closely in the footsteps of Sri Lanka by appointing its own commission of inquiry to forestall and outfox Ban Ki-moon. But in a clever move, the Israelis co-opted two international ''observers'', one Irish and the other a Canadian, who for all intents and purposes, have no powers to take a significant role in the investigation.

At a news conference Friday, however, Mr. Ban insisted his proposal for an international investigation of the attack on the Gaza flotilla was still on the table. But to appease the Israelis and the Turks (whose nine nationals died in the attack), his proposed commission will include one Israeli and one Turk, along with three other international experts. Whether this will be a reality or not remains to be seen.

The US, a strong supporter of Israel, obviously does not want the Ban commission. Playing it safe, the US says: "We will go along with any commission provided Israel agrees to it."'

Unlike Mr. Ban’s Sri Lanka panel, which has no mandate from the General Assembly, the Security Council or the Human Rights Council, his proposed international commission on Gaza has the approval of the Security Council. So, Sri Lanka has been lobbying vigorously, with support mostly from non-aligned countries and from China and Russia, against the expected announcement of the panel next week.

The government has sent another message last week warning that Mr. Ban was exceeding his authority and acting in violation of the UN charter.

But the speculation in Sri Lanka’s External Affairs Ministry circles is that Mr. Ban is being pressured by a senior UN official from a South Asian country. If, as expected, the panel is announced next week, Sri Lanka is expecting strong support from non-aligned members to politically crucify Mr. Ban, who will soon be getting ready to run for a second term when his current term expires at the end of next year.

© The Sunday Times

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Sunday, June 20, 2010

Sri Lanka: Kohona notes Gaza abuses

The UN Special Committee on Israeli Practices in the Occupied Territories, led by Ambassador Palitha Kohona, Permanent Representative of Sri Lanka to the UN in New York, expressed serious concerns about the human rights situation in the Gaza Strip, the West Bank -including East Jerusalem, and the occupied Syrian Golan.

“Victims of the systematic and often arbitrary restrictions on human rights and basic freedoms have the right to see justice prevail,” the UN quoted Ambassador Palitha T.B. Kohona, Permanent Representative of Sri Lanka to the UN in New York, and Chairman of the Committeeas saying at the end of a 13-day fact-finding visit to Cairo, Amman and Damascus. “Violations must cease,” he added.

“The testimonies that we have heard attest to a failure to address the long-standing pattern of serious violations of human rights,” Ambassador Kohona noted. In the past two weeks, the three-member Committee has heard the testimonies of dozens of witnesses from across the occupied Palestinian territory and the occupied Syrian Golan, recounting their first-hand experiences of life under occupation.

Since the Committee’s establishment, the Government of Israel has failed to accommodate its requests to visit the occupied territories. The Committee has benefited from the cooperation of representatives from the Governments of Egypt, Jordan and Syria, whose countries the Committee visited.

This year’s mission began just days after the Israeli military interception, in international waters, of a flotilla of ships carrying aid for Gaza that resulted in 9 deaths and scores of injuries; and one-and-a-half years after the December 2008 / January 2009 Israeli military offensive on Gaza, known as ‘Operation Cast Lead’.

The Special Committee also met with the Ministers of Foreign Affairs of Egypt, Jordan and Syria, and with the Secretary General of the League of Arab States, and exchanged views on the latest developments in the occupied territories.

The Special Committee will present a mission report to the UN General Assembly in November 2010, with its observations and recommendations to improve the human rights situation for those whose lives are affected by occupation.

© Daily Mirror

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