Monday, October 31, 2011

Commonwealth rights envoy opposed

By Saroj Pathirana| BBC Sinhala

The Sri Lanka government has confirmed that it objects to a move by a group of countries to establish a special envoy aimed at making the Commonwealth more effective on human rights.

A report by an advisory group has made over 100 recommendations aimed at reforming the organization, including bolstering the organization's ability to tackle violations of its core principles by member states.

President Mahinda Rajapaksa's spokesman, Bandula Jayasekara told BBC Sinhala service that a group of countries including Sri Lanka opposed to one of the key proposals to appoint a rights commissar.

“It is not only Sri Lanka. There are also other countries who are opposing this,” he told BBC Sandeshaya from Perth.

Amnesty International 'biased'

"Let me also add that Sri Lanka has the right to oppose when other countries have the right to propose.”

Media reports said India also supports Sri Lanka’s policy on the issue.

Rights watchdog Amnesty International has, meanwhile, said the two countries have “a lot to lose” if the human rights records in Sri Lanka and India were open to scrutiny.

The watchdog has also questioned the decision by the Commonwealth to host next Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in a country with a questionable human rights record.

The Commonwealth, said AI, “risks becoming irrelevant” if the next CHOGM held in Sri Lanka in 2013.

But in a strong worded attack, the Sri Lanka government has accused the AI of being biased against the island nation.

Gay rights

"We have seen how biased Amnesty International is and they have been issuing many anti-Sri Lankan statements,” Bandula Jayasekara told BBC Sandeshaya from Perth.

“It is time that Amnesty International clears their backyard before pointing the finger at a democratic country,” he added.

But the rights watchdog is not impressed.

"It is absurd to even consider allowing Sri Lanka to host CHOGM as long as it fails to account for alleged war crimes," said Madhu Malhotra, Amnesty International’s Asia-Pacific Deputy Director.

The BBC's Duncan Kennedy in Perth reports that the summit is divided over several key issues including moves to get rid of laws in some member states which discriminate against gay men and lesbians, our correspondent says.

“I am not qualified to comment on that. It is a matter for the external affairs minister who is taking part in the ministerial discussions,” was the response by Mr Jayasekara when asked about Sri Lanka’s response.

© BBC Sinhala

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Monday, October 31, 2011

Sri Lanka: LLRC Report not for public

By Dinouk Colombage | The Sunday Leader

The final report of the Lessons Learned and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) will not be made public by the Commission.

A draft of the final report of the Lessons Learned and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) has been completed and is being studied, media coordinator of the LLRC Lakshman Wickramasinghe said.

Wickramasinghe told The Sunday Leader that the Commission will be prepared to hand over the report to the President by the second week of November.
A report compiled by an expert panel appointed by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to advise him on matters related to Sri Lanka had earlier this year placed its report in the public domain despite opposition raised by the government.

When asked if a copy of the LLRC report will also be placed in the public domain Wickramasinghe said that the decision of whether or not the document will be made public lies with the President.

President Mahinda Rajapaksa appointed the eight member Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission in May last year to report on the lessons to be learnt from the events which took place between February 2002 to May 2009.

The Commission has been charged with reporting whether any person, group or institution directly or indirectly bears responsibility over some of the incidents.
It was also tasked with reporting on measures to be taken to prevent the recurrence of such concerns in the future and promote further national unity and reconciliation among all communities.

© The Sunday Leader

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Monday, October 31, 2011

Sri Lanka spurns war crime claims

By Daniel Flitton and Michelle Grattan | The Age

Sri Lanka's President has hit back against allegations of war crimes and continuing abuse of the country's Tamil-minority, saying the ''eradication of terrorism'' was the basis of Sri Lanka's prosperity.

Mahinda Rajapaksa defied calls for Colombo to be stripped of the right to host the next Commonwealth leaders' meeting, telling a gathering in Perth yesterday that reconciliation after Sri Lanka's brutal civil war was well under way.

''When the next CHOGM is held in Sri Lanka, it is my firm belief that it will be a memorable experience for you, my dear friends,'' he told the Commonwealth Business Forum.
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Greens leader Bob Brown yesterday said that Australia should boycott the 2013 CHOGM in Colombo if Sri Lanka did not adequately address issues of human rights and democracy.

Senator Brown said the government should follow Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who has threatened that Canada will stay away unless Sri Lanka acts. He said the Commonwealth was trying to make itself relevant - and Sri Lanka was a big challenge to that relevancy. ''If CHOGM is held in Colombo with nothing done about the war crimes and civil rights, that could be the end of the Commonwealth,'' Senator Brown said.

''It would raise a big question mark over the Commonwealth if it can't bring Sri Lanka to do the right thing.''

More than 7000 people are estimated to have been killed in 2009 in the final months of the three-decade conflict with the separatist Tamil Tigers.

But despite a UN finding that credible allegations of war crimes should be answered on both sides, Mr Rajapaksa defended the military crackdown.

''An end to terrorist violence was absolutely essential to moving the country forward along the path of economic and social development. We suffered for 30 years,'' he said.

Sri Lanka has refused to allow an independent investigation of the conflict, leading Canada to threaten to pull out of the 2013 CHOGM summit.

Colombo has set up its own inquiry on the conflict with a report expected next month.

Mr Rajapaksa said almost 11,700 of 12,000 captured Tamils had been released after time in rehabilitation camps.

Mr Rajapaksa said the Sri Lankan economy had grown 8 per cent annually and war-torn regions in the north and east of the country had grow by 22 per cent.

Meanwhile, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak called on Australian politicians not to make his country part of the domestic political crossfire. Mr Najib, who met Prime Minister Julia Gillard yesterday, said that the ''Malaysia solution'' had been unfairly characterised because ''it's actually a Malaysia-Australia solution''.

He said that the ball was now in Australia's court, ''but please don't make Malaysia part of your crossfire''. Hopefully, the government would get enough support in Parliament for the arrangement to go through, he said.

He also had a swipe at criticisms from the Coalition. ''I'm not against the opposition per se, but as leader of the country I have to set the record straight - that asylum seekers and refugees are treated well in Malaysia and that's a fact recognised by the UN.''

Last night, Commonwealth Secretary-General Kamalesh Sharma played down the prospect of CHOGM adopting the Eminent Persons Group's proposal for a commissioner for human rights, democracy and the rule of law.

© The Age

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Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Australian accuses Sri Lanka's president of war crimes

Hamish Fitzsimmons - Lateline | ABC


Ali Moore, Presenter: As Commonwealth leaders arrive for CHOGM this week, an Australian citizen has filed war crimes charges against the president of Sri Lanka, Mohindra Rajapaksa, in the Melbourne Magistrates’ Court.

A 63-year-old retired engineer who was caught up in the fighting at the end of the civil war says he saw hospitals and other civilian infrastructure in both Tamil-held areas and no-fire zones being deliberately attacked by Sri Lankan forces.

Thousands of civilians were killed in the three-decades-long civil war which came to an end when Sri Lankan forces defeated Tamil rebels in 2009.

The Sri Lankan government has repeatedly denied war crimes accusations, but there are growing calls for stronger action to be taken.

The federal Attorney-General will need to give final approval for the Australian indictments to proceed.

Hamish Fitzsimmons, Reporter: Two years ago retired engineer Jegan Waran left Sri Lanka for Australia, but he's still haunted by what he saw in the hospitals and displaced persons camps at the end of that country's civil war.

Jegan Waran:
Everybody who's alive today, it's a miracle that they have escaped death or injury.

Hamish Fitzsimmons:
Mr Waran is an ethnic Tamil and sympathised with the Tamil tigers, or LTTE, which fought for a Tamil nation for decades until their defeat in 2009 by Sri Lanka's military forces.

In 2007, the Australian citizen returned to Sri Lanka to offer what assistance he could, volunteering in Tamil hospitals, schools and displaced persons camps. It was here he says he witnessed Sri Lankan military forces deliberately attacking clearly-marked civilian infrastructure such as hospitals.

Jegan Waran: Patients were killed and patients who were in the hospital were killed and there were other patients waiting for treatment, they were killed. And there was a medical store where they kept the medicines, those were destroyed, scattered all over the place, you can see. Ambulances was destroyed. So I have seen that personally.

Jegan Waran: This and other incidents have led him to issue summonses for three war crimes charges against Sri Lanka's president, Mohindra Rajapaksa.

Hamish Fitzsimmons: Jegan Waran says that on Christmas Day 2008 drones circled another hospital before Sri Lankan Airforce planes attacked.

Jegan Waran: The hospital, clearly a big red cross sign was marked on the roof, and drones usually take surveillance, so I'm very positive that they know where the hospital is and they know it'll be damaged. So, that's what I can tell at this stage.

Hamish Fitzsimmons: Could there have been LTTE infrastructure near the hospitals that they were targeting?

Jegan Waran: No, I can positively say there was nothing whatsoever in that vicinity.

Hamish Fitzsimmons: Why bring these charges against president Rajapaksa?

Jegan Waran: Because I feel that he's the commander-in-chief and nothing would have happened without his knowledge or his directions, and ultimately, he should be answerable to what was happening.

Hamish Fitzsimmons: Sri Lanka's government has repeatedly denied allegations of war crimes.

Thisara Samarasinghe, Sri Lankan High Cmmissioner (Oct. 18):
I would categorically say it is not the learning of Sri Lankan military to fire at a hospital. That has never happened in our military.

Hamish Fitzsimmons: Last week, Sri Lanka's high commissioner to Australia, Thisara Samarasinghe, who led the Navy in the north of the country, was named in a brief by the International Commission of Jurists. It suggested he be investigated for war crimes. The Australian Federal Police is examining the allegations.

Thisara Samarasinghe: Such allegations are baseless and unsubstantiated. In the contrary, I have been commended for my role during the period of my career.

Hamish Fitzsimmons Claims that Sri Lankan armed forces deliberately attacked civilians are not new, but this is the first time charges have been brought by an Australian citizen in an Australian court.

Lawyers in the case have asked the federal Attorney-General to become involved, but a spokesman for Robert McClelland says the Attorney-General hasn't been informed of any criminal matter or charges relating to Mr Mahinda Rajapaksa.

Rob Stary, Lawyer for Complainant: We've written to the commissioner of the AFP and we've written to the Commonwealth Attorney saying here's your opportunity, Mr Rajapaksa will be in Australia, it's appropriate to conduct those investigations.

Hamish Fitzsimmons:
Last Thursday Victoria's chief magistrate authorised the charges brought by Jegan Waran to proceed, noting that they satisfied Victoria's Criminal Procedure Act. It now needs the approval of the federal Attorney-General to go ahead.

Rob Stary:
These are not frivolous or vexatious complaints, they are bona fide credible complaints.

Hamish Fitzsimmons: In April this year, a United Nations panel of experts appointed by Ban Ki-Moon found credible reports that both government forces and Tamil rebels committed war crimes towards the end of the civil war.

Bruce Haigh is a former diplomat who served in Sri Lanka and has long been critical of what he says is inaction on war crimes committed there.

Bruce Haigh, Former Australian Diplomat: I think just because the Sri Lankan government won the PR battle. The Tamils lost that a long time ago. They've had three decades of being ground under by the Sinhalese. That's why the Tamils wanted a separate state.

Hamish Fitzsimmons:
High commissioner Samarasinge says Tamil groups in Australia are manipulating human rights groups and pro-Tamil campaigners. This evening the Sri Lankan government declined Lateline's offer of an on-camera interview and issued a statement, which said in part:

Jackson McDonald, Lawyer's statement (male voiceover): "The issue of the proceedings which are apparently to be the subject of your story are plainly a violation of Australia's obligations under public international law. Furthermore the purported proceedings are incompetent under Australian law."

Hamish Fitzsimmons: President Rajapaksa arrives for CHOGM on Tuesday.


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Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Situation in North –Eastern Sri Lanka: A series of serious concerns

Photo courtesy: Steve Chao - Al Jazeera

By M.A. Sumanthiran |

1. Introduction | Click here to download the full report (PDF)

On 7th July 2011 I tabled a report in Parliament detailing the situation in the North and East, highlighting a series of urgent concerns. The following is an update to the previous report and discusses some of the most serious issues that have arisen since or continue to take place in these areas.

2. Militarization

2.1 Statistics and impact of military presence – Out of a total land mass of 65,619 sq km, Tamil people inhabited 18,880 sq km of land in the North and East, but after May 2009, the defence forces have occupied more than 7,000 sq km of land owned by Tamil people. There is one member of the armed forces for approximately every ten civilians in the Jaffna Peninsula. The heavy presence of the military continues to be the most serious concern in the North and East. More than two years since the conclusion of the war, the government has still failed to facilitate the proper transition of these areas from a situation of conflict to a ‘normal’ environment. As evident in the following sections of the report, the high level of militarization in the North is directly linked to most of the other problems prevalent in the area such as the breakdown in the social fabric, state brutality including sexual assault, land grabs and occupation, problems relating to livelihoods of the people in the area and illegal intrusion into the role of government including administration and dispute settlement.

2.2 Impunity – The prevailing culture of impunity has been a long-standing concern. This is even more so in relation to the issue of state brutality including sexual assault as described later in this report. When an incident is reported and allegations are made against the armed forces, state officials or private persons who are clearly acting under the direct or indirect acquiescence of state officials, it is usually the case that no investigations are carried out. For example, there has been no progress on investigations pertaining to the attack in Alavetti previously tabled. Similarly no progress has been made in investigations over the attack on the editor of the Uthayan newspaper, or the many attacks by ‘grease yakas’ in the North and East. No progress has also been made regarding the assault on residents whose houses were burnt by an armed group almost a year ago.

2.3 Dispute settlement – ­The military is involved in the settlement of disputes with respect to land in the Northern and Eastern provinces. The Land Circular No. 2011/04 issued on 22nd July 2011 establishes certain Committees of Inquiry responsible for resolving disputes regarding state land in the North and East. The committees include in their membership the Area Civil Coordinating Officer and a representative of the relevant Security Commander. Military personnel are also members of an Observation Committee, which is established to assist the Committees of Inquiry.

2.4 Encroachment into economic activity – The military is increasingly involved in economic activity in the North and East. Through it system of checkpoints, the military ensures that its proxies control the transportation of fish from the Northern coastal areas. Large sections of beach front land in the Eastern province have been parceled out to companies which are headed by military officers. The military has established a string of restaurants along the main Jaffna highway. An entire military tourism industry catering to Southern visitors is run by the military establishment. The Navy uses state resources to run ferry services for the Southern tourist industry. Military personnel also run various quasi-commercial enterprises such as shops and salons that are highly irregular and impact negatively on the local economies. By appropriating the limited economic opportunities that might otherwise be used by local residents to bring income and revenue to the fragile local communities, the military is sustaining and reinforcing the cycle of poverty. With the access and advertising support of corporate entities in the South and the unfair benefits of highly subsidized cost structure through the use of state infrastructure the military is distorting and suppressing any attempt at economic recovery in the North. In addition the military has taken several thousands of acres in Killinochchi, Mullativu and Vavuniya for cultivation without due process.

This has caused a significant negative impact on the already impoverished civilian population by depriving them of jobs. Army Commander Lieutenant General Jagath Jayasuriya is reported to have said that steps are being taken to establish permanent Army formations in the North and East with troops on duty even being given permanent houses in those areas. He is reported to have said “Army personnel arriving in those areas for duty are to be provided permanent houses and allowed to engage in cultivation work if they so desire.”

2.5 Intrusion into private lives – Most disturbing is the level of control the military wields over the private lives of the communities in the North and East. Families must inform the army of the guests they receive, their relationship, and the reason and duration of their visit. Any family gathering to celebrate the birth or naming of a child, attainment of puberty of a girl, a wedding or even a death, requires prior permission from the nearest police post. Every village has a “Civilian Affairs Counter” managed by the armed forces where anyone entering a village is required to register themselves. The army must be informed even of community activities such as sports meets. In a recent incident in Chavakachcheri youth participating in a football match were brutally assaulted by the army as they had played on a field without the permission of the army. Moreover the military is now involved in aspects of primary education in Jaffna. The security forces in Jaffna even organized an award ceremony for students obtaining high marks for the Grade 5 scholarship examination. The Civilian Military Co-ordination in Jaffna in its website discusses the very active role it has in civilian life in the North.

2.6 Intrusion into social life – It is common to see the presence of soldiers in all civilian activities including village, temple or church meetings. Churches are required to inform the army of all meetings conducted for its members and a military representative is generally present at meetings as an observer. The military is also involved in deciding on beneficiary lists and taking part in all activities at the community level including meetings to discuss local issues.

3. State brutality

3.1 The ‘Grease Yaka’ phenomenon – There have been several incidents recently in the North, East and other areas of Sri Lanka where ordinary citizens have faced threats to their safety by unidentified individuals who have injured and murdered civilians, and who have commonly come to be known as ‘Grease Yakas’ (Grease Devils). These attacks resulted in mass paranoia, fear and outrage in the North and East including in Jaffna, Puttalam, Mannar, Trincomalee, Batticaloa and Ampara. Public protests erupted in response to the widely believed involvement of the police and the armed forces in the ‘grease devils’ phenomenon. In Muttur, on 13th August 2011, a woman was attacked in her own kitchen. The attacker escaped but villagers followed him until he disappeared into a Navy camp. In Batticaloa on 17th August 2011, a girl was attacked and her finger was cut by an unknown man. In Pottuvil, in August 2011 there were similar attacks on several women. There were complaints of similar attacks in Muttur and Kinniya. Protests erupted over the refusal of the police and other authorities to apprehend the suspects. The protests were met with violent retaliation from the authorities, with the military and police arresting and detaining scores of these individuals. In addition to this, the police and military also carried out brutal, humiliating and degrading attacks against these people. The severe brutality with which these assaults were carried out have resulted in serious injuries and even in death. Often, individuals who were not even involved in the protests were arrested and assaulted. The incident in Navaanthurai is the most blatant example of such attacks. Over one hundred and fifty young Tamil men were brutally assaulted, arrested and detained in a night time operation by the army. Twenty of them were very seriously injured as a result of these attacks. Over fifty cases have been filed in the Supreme Court with regard to the attacks carried out in Navanthurai.

3.2 Assault in court premises – The shocking impunity with which members of the police force act is reflected in the brutal assault of an individual that took place recently just outside a court room in the precincts of the court premises in Jaffna, sparking protest by members of the Jaffna Bar. This individual was stripped half naked, dragged out and mercilessly assaulted in the presence of lawyers and members of the public, while judges presided over proceedings nearby.

3.3 Violent suppression of dissent – Other attacks carried out with impunity in the North by several ‘unidentified’ groups is also a cause of serious concern. The most recent attacks include those against Thavapalan, the leader of the students union of the Jaffna University, and Kuganathan, editor of the Uthayan newspaper. Thavapalan was recently involved in the mobilization of students in democratic protests against the grease-devil threat. The Uthayan newspaper is widely perceived to be critical of the State. Previously a similar attack was carried out against the secretary of TNA MP, Suresh Premachandran. Thus, these attacks are widely seen as attempts to stifle dissent and freedom of expression in the North and East

3.4 Sexual violence – Most disturbing are the increasing number of sexual assaults carried out against women and girls in the Jaffna, Mullaitivu and Kilinochchi districts, often by government officials and the military. The brutality with which these assaults are carried out is especially disturbing.

Women and girls also face a serious threat due to the labour force from the South being brought in for work on projects taking place in the North. Incidents are reported of women being raped by soldiers, and the victims and their families being too ashamed and afraid to make complaints or file charges. Doctors are being forced by the army to record that perpetrators are ‘unknown’ or ‘unidentified’ persons even though complainants have identified perpetrators, often where the involvement of army personnel is alleged.

3.5 Harassment of communities – Former LTTE cadres are threatened by the army to reveal the identity of those who supported the LTTE. In fear or panic, these former cadres identify individuals with no links to the LTTE, merely to stop being questioned by the army. The newly identified family is then subjected to harassment by the Army. Thus, people in these communities have lost trust in one another as they do not know which of their neighbours is an informer of the police or army. This has led to deep suspicion, destroying close-knit relationships within the community.

3.6 Election related violence and intimidation – Election crimes that took place in Jaffna in the lead up to the recently concluded local authority elections created fear among voters there. Both the TNA and the JVP complained that they were being prevented from carrying out election related activities. Allegations relating to these election crimes were leveled against the government and civil armed forces. Some of the most blatant displays of intimidation were carried out against the TNA. The report tabled by me in July this year documented in detail the attack carried out by a group of military personnel during a meeting in Alavetti, at which 5 TNA MPs were in attendance. Despite the MPs who were present having repeatedly declared both publicly and to the relevant authorities to whom they complained of the incident, that they are able to identify the perpetrators, no progress has been made regarding investigation into this matter. Another disturbing incident was that of the head of a dead dog being fixed onto the gate of one TNA election candidate, and the dog’s body laid out at his doorstep. In addition to this incident, a TNA organizer’s front yard was flooded with sewage water.

4. Loss of livelihood

Communities of Tamil people returning to their homes and attempting to rebuild their lives after the war now find themselves being prevented from pursuing their traditional means of livelihood. In the report tabled by me in July this year, the TNA highlighted several matters of concern relating to livelihood issues.

4.1 Unemployment and resource allocation – Job creation and income generation has received minimal attention from the State despite its central importance to the restoration and sustainability of family and community life. According to the Sri Lanka Central Bank Chairman, a minuscule US$2 million was allocated by the government for livelihood development, much of it in the form of cash for work programmes. Much of the government and donor focus on infrastructure projects do nothing to assist local communities. The limited opportunities available are consistently given to individuals of the labour workforce from the South. Estimates suggest that unemployment in the Northern Province is between 20% to 30% in the Northern Province, compared to a National average of 4.3%.

4.2 Restrictions on Tamil fishing communities in Mullaitivu – Severe restrictions are placed on members of Tamil fishing communities, resulting in a drastic impact on their means of livelihood. The report tabled by me in July of this year detailed the restrictions placed on members of the fishing community in Mullaitivu, especially in the areas of Kokkilaai to Chundikkulam in Kilaakaththai, Maathirikkiraama, Uppumaaveli, Thoondai, Alambil, Semmalai, Naayaaru, Kokkuththoduvaai, and Karunaattukkernee. These restrictions are still in place and of serious concern is the fact that several Sinhala fishermen in the area have received direct permission to fish in this area from the Ministry of Defence. Sinhala fishermen are also permitted to fish for prawns in Nanthikkadal. In addition to such restrictions faced by Tamil individuals in fishing communities in the North and East, these individuals have received no reciprocal permission to engage in fishing in the South. Resentment over such incidents are now becoming apparent, with recent objections from fishing unions in Vadamaarachchi over fishermen from the South occupying their property and also over their fishing practices which adversely impacted fishing in the area.

People returned by the government to Uduththurai in Maruthenkerny (Vadamarachchi East), were soon after evicted from their houses along the coast and placed in transit camps on the other side of the coastal road. These houses are now being occupied by people brought from the South who are permitted by the Ministry of Defence to engage in diving for coral and star fish. Therefore, in addition to the forced eviction from their homes, local members of the fishing community are also unable pursue their traditional livelihood of fishing as the sea bed is being disturbed as a result of diving activities. At a meeting in the Maruthenkerny District Office on the 15th of June 2011 at which Minister Douglas Devananda, and four TNA Members of Parliament were present, members of fishing unions complained that they had been threatened and their consent forcibly obtained for the evictions. They also complained that they had no access to the buildings that had been built for their use.

4.3 Raigam saltern – Vehement protests were made by the TNA against the implementation of the Raigam saltern project as far back as 2009. This project was started in September this year in Kuchchaveli, Trincomalee covering 1805 acres of land, despite Hon. Sampanthan raising the issue as far back as December 2009 with the President in the presence of the Hon. Basil Rajapaksa, and being assured then that no such proposal was entertained and no such proposal would be implemented. Hon. Sampanthan raised concerns that the proposal was being entertained without any consultation with him – the MP of the area. In 2010 Hon. Sampanthan again wrote to the President raising concerns that the project would adversely affect livelihoods of over 2500 families, lead to changes in the demographic composition of the area, create resentment among the people in the area and thus detract from reconciliation amongst different peoples. This is especially so as the Kuchchavelli DS division is now the only predominantly Tamil speaking division of the four DS divisions from the predominantly Tamil Kaddukulampattu DRO (Vanniyar) Division that existed when the country gained independence. The other three are Sinhala speaking divisions, two of them becoming such by reason of demographic changes through land settlement.

5. Resettlement

5.1 Progress on resettlement – Progress in the resettlement of Tamil communities displaced due to the war has been extremely slow. According to the government’s own figures as at 1st July 2011, 258,446 had been ‘returned’ or ‘resettled’ from welfare camps, leaving 12,661 in the Kadirgamar, Anandakumarasawmi (Zone 1), Arunachalam (Zone III) IDP camps. The most current figures suggest that only 7,440 persons remain in these camps, insinuating that all others have been returned or resettled. What the statistics do not reveal is that over 200,000 persons in the North and East have not been returned to their places of origin. These persons either continue to be confined in transit camps or have been compelled to take shelter with host families. Such persons include those displaced from Valikamam North in the Jaffna Peninsula, Sampur in the Trincomalee District, and several other areas in the Vanni. It was indicated in the previous report tabled by me in July that several families are unable to return to their homes as large areas of land have been taken by the military for camps and ad hoc ‘High Security Zones’ in Thirumurigandi, Shanthapuram and Indupuram, covering the districts of Mullativu and Killinochchi. These families have not yet been able to return to their homes and continue to live in camps, without the most basic facilities.

5.2 Move to Kombavil – Even the 7,440 persons who remain in the Menik Farm camps are scheduled to be moved to Kombavil, in the Puthukudiyiruppu Divisional Secretariat, instead of their places of origin. Kombavil is a remote area which lacks adequate infrastructure. The fact that it is located far from the sea affects the livelihoods of the relocated families as the majority of these families are engaged in fishing. The government has suggested that the reasons for this is that those places of origin are either being utilized for business and military purposes or that de-mining activities are still taking place in some areas, such as Puthumaththalan and Mullivaikkal.

5.3 No basic facilities – Communities that have been returned or resettled now find themselves without basic facilities such as housing, sanitation, healthcare and education. Examples include Kokkilai in the Mullaitivu District, and Krishnapuram and Vinayakapuram in the Killinochchi District. In the latter two villages, as many as 170 out of 658 families still live in temporary shelters. The government has also failed to provide food rations to a significant portion of families in need of assistance. Conservative estimates reveal that at least 242 families are in need of assistance, as only 416 persons are currently employed amongst 658 families. However, shockingly, only 128 families receive food rations. Hence at least 114 families who are in dire need of assistance do not receive any assistance. This is only a snapshot of the ground situation in the North and East with respect to newly returned or resettled communities.

5.4 No access to proper health and education – The situation with regard to health and education in these areas is just as appalling. For example, medical officers are known to visit the two villages in Krishnapuram and Vinayakapuram merely once every two weeks. This inadequacy has in fact resulted in avoidable patient deaths, such as the death of a girl on 7th October 2011 as a result of untreated rabies. Another matter of serious concern is the fact that the children of these villages are deprived of secondary education. Such deprivation is completely inconsistent with national standards and is a reflection of the socioeconomic discrimination faced by the people of the North and East.

5.5 Uninhabitable housing in Vadamarachchi East – In Vadamarachchi East, the Government commenced a ‘resettlement’ just before the elections. Previous housing in the area was demolished and the stones obtained from the demolished houses were used in the reconstruction of the new houses. The new constructions were mere shells of houses, where walls were erected and painted, but there were no floors or any facilities within the constructions.

6. Systematic Evictions, Land Grabs and Occupation

6.1 Land grabs and forced evictions – Members of armed forces are forcibly, and often without any explanation, taking over public or private property and land, in areas to which Tamil people are returning after being displaced due to the war. E.g. the Army has closed off the post office, a school and the medical dispensary in the town of Kokkilai in the Mullativu district; the Navy is in occupation of land in the village of Mullilukulam in the Mannar district.

Earlier this month, former residents of Sampur received a letter from the District Secretary’s office stating that under Extraordinary Gazette No. 1538/08 dated 29.01.2008 Sampur East, Sampur West, Soodaikkuda, Sampukkali Kadatkaraichchenai, Kooniththivukkaadu, and Navaraththinapuram, were declared to be ‘Special economic zones’. Accordingly, the people who lived there would have to be relocated in the areas of Seethanavedi, Vembadiththottam, Ilankkanthai, Veeramaanahar (North), Thangapuram and Kuravan Vettuvaan. These residents were asked also to fill out a form sent to them with this letter. The form required the residents to furnish personal information about themselves, supposedly for the purposes of relocation and awarding of compensation.

The Air Force without any authority whatsoever is taking steps to extend the Outer Circular Road, via Thampalakamam, destroying private paddy land belonging to residents of the Grama Niladhari Division of Koyilady in the Thambalagama Divisional Secretariat in the Trincomalee District.

Moreover, no one has been allowed to resettle or cultivate land in Ragamwela, and the only presence in the village is a police checkpoint. People in Panama allege that officials from the Amparai Divisional Secretariat have forcibly taken over 850 acres of land belonging to the Panama villagers. The inhabitants of this village comprise both Sinhala and Tamil communities and their main source of income is derived through farming and fishing.

The issue of Tamil farmers in Muttur, having lands in Paddukadu, Ottu and Muthalaimadu has been previously raised by Hon Sampanthan and also included in the report tabled by myself in July this year. These farmers have lost approximately 1,630 acres of paddy land. Sinhalese farmers with the assistance of home guards have claimed these lands and further claimed that these lands were identified for their use by the Ministry of Defence. There are allegations that certain members of the Buddhist clergy in the area are involved in these incidents. The Tamil farmers have lost yet another season severely impact their livelihoods and has increased levels of poverty. Some farmers have attempted to make police complaints but the police stations in Kanguveli and Muttur are refusing to take their complaints.

6.2 Occupation of schools by army – Several schools are currently under army occupation, including the Keppapilavu GTM school in Keppapilavu, Mulliyawalai, Mullaitivu, the Maththalan R.C.G.T.M. School in Mulliwaikkal, Mullaitivu, Mullivaikkal West K.S.V Mullivaikkal,Mullaitivu Mulliwaikkal East GTM School, Mulliwaikkal Mullaitivu, Vikneshwara Vidiyalayam Pooneryn, Arasaratnam Vidyalayam Manthuvil Puthukkudiyiruppu, Sivanagar Tamil Vidyalayam Puthukkudiyiruppu Mullaitivu, Myliddy, R.C.T.M.S Mylidy, Kankesenthurai.

6.3 Access to irrigation stopped – An irrigation facility from Inginiyagala tank has been denied to more than 2000 acres of paddy cultivated in the Yala season in Tamil areas in the 13th and 14th colony located on the border of the Batticaloa district for the last one month. According to complaints made by farmers at the coordinating meeting of the Vellaave’li Divisional Secretariat, one-month-old crops are facing destruction due to lack of water.

6.4 Tourism Development in Kuchchavelli – There was a proposal to allocate fifty-one blocks of state land for Tourist Development in Kuchchavelli, Trincomalee. By letter dated 16th May 2010 to the President, Hon. Sampanthan stated that he was informed that steps were being taken by the Central government officials to allocate land as per the above proposal. He expressed concerns that no public notification was made of this and the process adopted deliberately attempts to circumvent constitutional provisions pertaining to state land. All persons chosen to receive such valuable state land are from the majority community, while over 95% of the population in the Kuchchavelli DS division, who are Tamil speaking, have long been requesting that these lands be made available to them to facilitate their own residence and occupation. Many of these people are landless.

Despite Hon. Sampanthan having expressed such concerns, and despite the issue being raised in the previous report tabled by me, twenty-five blocks of this land has already been allocated to companies all being run by Sinhalese individuals from the South. Two blocks of this land have already been handed over to these individuals.

6.5 Jaffna lagoon and impact on ground water table – The government has taken over three hundred and fifty acres of coastal marsh land along the Jaffna Lagoon in Kaarainakar, Mandaitheevu and Araali for prawn culture with a Sinhalese workforce brought from the South. Even though this land is claimed to be developed for freshwater prawn culture, the project will ruin the groundwater table in the above places.

7. Creation of Sinhala settlements

7.1 Creation of Weli Oya DS Division – Tamil communities in the town of Kokkilai in the Mullaitivu District continue to lose their land to groups of Sinhala people being settled there. Steps are being taken to divide the District of Mullaitivu and create within it the new District Secretariat division of ‘Weli Oya’. Seventy-five houses have reportedly been built exclusively for Sinhalese families who have been settled in the village of Chettikkulam.

7.2 Systematic removal of Tamils from the civil service – Orders have been issued by authorities to have Tamil civil servants removed or transferred from the North and to fill the vacant posts with Sinhala trainee civil servants. One hundred and forty Sinhala civil servants have been relocated to the North as part of this initiative and Tamil civil servants have been ordered to go on compulsory leave. These drastic measures must be viewed in the backdrop of systematic deliberate exclusion of Tamils in the civil service in selection processes, promotions, trainings and development opportunities.

7.3 Places of worship – The rapidly changing demography of the North of Sri Lanka is escalating. The number of Buddhist statues, viharas and stupas on the A9 highway have increased rapidly. A Buddhist Vihara named Mahatota Raja Maha Vihara has come up within 50 meters of the famous Thirukethiswaram temple in Mannar district. Also the armed forces are preventing people from rebuilding original Christian and Hindu places of worship that have been damaged or destroyed. A Buddhist temple is being erected on the site of the Arasadi Pillayar Hindu Kovil. In Kokilai district, Mulaitivu a Hindu Kovil (temple) which was damaged during the war is being demolished and a Buddhist Temple is being erected in that place. Part of the land of the Hospital in Kokilai and part of the land of a post office are being used to construct this Buddhist Temple. Earlier, it was the Pillayar Kovil that was there in that place. The previous report tabled by me in July also highlighted plans to install a statue of the Lord Buddha in Kinniya at a place where seven hot wells and a Pilliyar temple is situated where, for centuries, Hindus have performed certain religious ceremonies. The report also highlighted that Hon. Sampanthan had made a complaint regarding this this issue. The Hindu temple is now destroyed, and a Buddhist statute has been erected in the vicinity on the other side of the hot wells.

7.4 Bringing in a Southern labour force – The government claims that the programme being implemented in the North titled Vadakkin Vasantham (Northern Springs) will result in exceptional progress in the North in the areas of infrastructure development, electricity, water supply and sanitation, agriculture, irrigation, livestock development, inland fisheries, health, solid waste disposal, education, sports, cultural affairs and transportation. However, it is widely believed that the real beneficiaries of this programme will not be the Tamil community living in the North but unemployed Sinhalese youth who will be employed in the projects under this programme that have been handed over to Sinhalese contractors. For example, the reservoir bunds repair and road construction of the A9 road and the secondary road have been handed over to Sinhalese contractors from the South who bring in their own labour force. Only an insignificant number of Tamil labourers are employed by them despite the fact that there are numerous Tamil youth and men who are unemployed in the Vanni.

7.4 Houses and school given to Sinhala communities – The section discussing land grabs and forced evictions undeniably reflects a clear trend of land in Tamil areas being handed over to members of the majority community. The allocations of state land in Kuchchavelli, and land grabs from Tamil farmers in Muttur are stark examples of this. Additionally, houses and other buildings in Tamil areas are also being given to members of the Sinhala community. For example, thirty Sinhalese families have been allocated lands under the Mahaweli Development Land Distribution Scheme in a traditional Tamil village Oamadiyaamadu located in Koa’ralaippattu North DS division in Batticaloa District. A Sinhala medium school was built along the Madhu road, while hundreds of schools for Tamil children in the vicinity are in a state of disarray. Also project to build new houses along a section of the Madhu road was launched with the assistance of state commercial banks. The beneficiaries of these houses are predominantly Sinhalese settlers, as only two houses out of approximately 80 houses proposed under the project are to be given to Tamil families.

7.6 Name boards – The trend of changing Tamil names of roads and towns to Sinhala names continues to be observed. There were several instances of complete removal of Tamil name boards and replacement with name boards only in Sinhala. This practice continues to concern local Tamil communities who view such acts as deliberate attempts to erase their identity. For example, three roads close to the A9 highway in Kanakarayankulam have been given Sinhala names – Kosala Perera road, Anura Perera road, and Rev Yatiravana Vimala Thero Street. The first two names are those of soldiers who took part in the war and the last one is the name of a Buddhist priest. Another example is the renaming of the Omanthai checkpoint as ‘Omantha’. The checkpoint is manned by Sinhala speaking soldiers. The Tamil name boards put up by the Municipal Council of Batticaloa along the border of Kattankudy have been allegedly removed by the police. This has resulted in tension between the Tamil and Muslim communities in the area. Several other examples of such incidents were previously highlighted in the report tabled by me in July this year.

8. Social issues

8.1 Psychological trauma – Reports indicate that the heavy military control and presence in the North has resulted in psychological stress on local communities. The mental trauma experienced during the war thus continues to impact on the community psyche. Reports from mental health workers indicate that not only is the treatment of post-traumatic stress is not a priority for the government. Distressingly, these reports cite some cases where the military has refused to allow counsellors in to reach affected people. Reports even indicate that clear instructions have been received from the government to churches and non-governmental organizations prohibiting the provision of any kind of counseling to those suffering psychologically and emotionally as a result of the war.

8.2 Harassment and molestation of women and girls – There are complaints of harassment and molestation of local women and girls. Many projects employ Sinhalese contractors from the South, who bring in their own labour force. The labour force generally stays near the site next to the villages and has proven to be a threat of molestation and harassment to the local women and girls. Reports also indicate that when such complaints of harassment or molestation are made the complainants are often threatened and sometimes abused by the military personnel concerned. There are also reports of complaints to the police being generally met with inaction when the alleged perpetrators are either the security forces or labourers or workmen from the South.

8.3 Hunger and malnutrition – With soaring levels of unemployment concerns of hunger and malnutrition has become a serious issue. The World Food Programme reflects national assessments of dangerously low levels of food security faced by the population in the North. It is estimated that 60% of the households in the Northern Province are facing food insecurity. Half the households have income of less than USD 1 per day. This is in stark contrast to the Sri Lanka GDP per capita of USD 2399.

8.4 School drop outs – There is a high rate of school dropouts reported in the East, especially in the war affected Vakarai. There are several contributing factors including poverty most likely as a result of loss of livelihoods and also the increase in the number of underage marriages.

8.5 Breakdown of social fabric – There are reports of young Tamil girls becoming pregnant by Sinhalese soldiers. This serious issue is a direct consequence of the high level of militarization. It contributes to the breakdown of the social fabric, whereby young adults are forced to deal with consequent social and economic hardships. A general increase in extra marital affairs, teenage pregnancies, abandonment of children and even suicides are indicators of the social breakdown which will have a long terms impact on the development of communities in these affected areas. The military is also encouraging alcohol abuse and dependency in the community.

8.6 Institutionalization of children – Incidents of infanticide and child abandonment in the North and East were reported throughout 2011. In response to these reports, the government took steps to launch a new programme to ‘assist both mothers and children in the areas.’ However, there have been reports even in the Sinhala media that the new programme intends to remove children from the care of war widows and unwed women in the North and East and institutionalize them. The government is yet to reveal the precise nature and scope of the initiative. However, it is widely accepted that high levels of risk are attached to the institutionalization of children. If there is in fact a covert agenda to arbitrarily and indiscriminately remove children from the care of widows and unwed women in the North and East, the programme would be unconscionable and would flagrantly violate the law applicable to child care and protection.

8.7 Fear psychosis – The various issues faced by communities described above is quickly creating not only resentment among members of the local Tamil community, but even more sinister fears. For example, it is even widely believed that food products sold at the army welfare stores are mixed with drugs that could cause sterility. Such fear is reminiscent of the widespread belief in the days immediately following the war, that female IDPs in Menik farm were being forcibly sterilized. The rampant spreading of such fear reflects the mindset of a society that has been systematically stifled of all forms of expression. Such fear and paranoia also displace the real concerns and problems faced by the community and may result in extremely volatile situation in the area.

9. Legal issues

9.1 Registration of Persons – Five TNA Parliamentarians of the Jaffna district previously filed a fundamental rights application seeking to stop forcible registration of residents of the Jaffna and Kilinochchi districts. In this case, the Attorney General to the Supreme Court in February 2011 to suspend immediately the forcible registration of residents of the Jaffna and Kilinochchi districts by the security forces and Grama Niladharis. Despite this undertaking, registrations of residents are continuing in contempt of Court from as early as 14th March 2011. There are complaints that the Police in Jaffna are circulating forms which require householders to furnish details of persons within their homes. The procedure is now being justified under the Police Ordinance. Grama Niladaris have been instructed to distribute the forms to residents and collect it as soon as possible.

In addition to this, a new registration process is also under way to register and issue entry ID cards for fishermen fishing in the Jaffna Lagoon. All members of families of fishermen have been required to provide photos and personal details to the Navy and Army.

9.2 The land circular – The Land Commissioner General issued a new circular on 22nd July 2011, which exclusively deals with land in the Northern and Eastern provinces. The circular temporarily suspends all distribution of land in the North and East unless lands are distributed for national security and special development projects; provides for the settlement of disputes relating to state land; and most importantly, requires all persons in the North and East, including private land owners to submit ‘ownership application forms’ disclosing all details of their land.

Under the circular, all landowners of the North and East, including private land owners, who do not possess supporting documents, are required to furnish details to the relevant Divisional Secretary or Assistant Government Agent, through the Grama Niladari, within two months. The consequences of not furnishing such details are unknown.

Hence private landowners of the North and East stand to lose title to their lands if they fail to furnish details within two months. The Registration of Title Act No. 21 of 1998 already provides for a process of land registration, which in itself is deeply problematic. However, the circular is presently applied in a manner that circumvents the provisions of even this Act, as no cadastral surveys have been conducted in the Northern Province prior to calling for land claims.

Moreover, competing claims to state lands in the North and East would be decided by two Committees of Inquires and special mediation boards. As mentioned above, military personnel are made part of these Committees of Inquiry. This process for the settlement of disputes clearly violates the Constitution and alienates the judicial power of the people, which is vested exclusively in the judiciary.

The limited information provided to the people regarding the process is another serious concern. The closing date of November 2011 has resulted in confusion and created a sense of panic amongst people in the North and East.

9.3 Prevention of Terrorism Act – On 25th August 2011, H.E. the President declared in Parliament that the state of emergency would be lifted, as terrorism in the country had been eradicated. The President also acknowledged that the ordinary law of the land was sufficient to deal with those who take law into their own hands thereby disturbing peace and stability. These sentiments were repeated at the United Nations General Assembly on 23rd September 2011.

Yet the Minister of Defence issued five new regulations under the Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Act No. 48 of 1979 (PTA), which respectively deal with the proscription of the LTTE; the proscription of the Tamil Rehabilitation Organization (TRO); the extension of application of certain emergency regulations; detainees and remandees; and surrendees care and rehabilitation. These regulations clearly violate the constitution by flagrantly infringing the fundamental rights of the people. The regulations also violate the provisions the PTA, as they fall outside the scope of the Act. Tamil persons from the North and East are the worst affected by the regulations. Hence Hon. Mavai Senathirajah, filed a fundamental rights application before the Supreme Court challenging the latter three regulations in particular. The application, however, was dismissed with no apparent reasons recorded. The Supreme Court had previously held that, unlike emergency regulations promulgated under the Public Security Ordinance No. 25 of 1947, PTA regulations cannot restrict any fundamental right in terms of Article 15(7) of the Constitution.

Regulations No. 1 and No. 2 of 2011, which deal with the Proscription of the LTTE and the TRO establish extremely overbroad offences. The regulations make transacting with any organization that is ‘reasonably suspected of being connected with or concerned in’ unlawful activities, an offence—which may even criminalize the provision of legal services. These regulations also permit the President to arbitrarily seize properties in the possession of persons. An inquiry may be held only if the President himself thinks it fit. Even the PTA does not provide for such powers, as section 4 specifies that properties become forfeit only upon a conviction by a court.

Regulations No. 3 of 2011, extended the application of three previous emergency regulations including two that deal with the appointment of persons to exercise, perform and discharge the functions of twenty two local authorities. Such subjects are clearly not within the ambit of the PTA and brazenly violate the franchise rights of the people.

Regulations No. 4 of 2011 deal with detainees and remandees, and strip Magistrates of all discretionary power to order the release of suspects on bail and converts of detentions under emergency regulations into detentions under the PTA. The regulations clearly violate the constitution and facilitate the arbitrary arrest and detention of Tamil persons on ‘preventive’ grounds—which the PTA itself makes no provision for.

Regulations No. 5 of 2011 deals with surrendees care and rehabilitation, a subject falling completely outside the scope of the PTA. The regulations affect the rights of scores of Tamil persons from the North and East who sought to surrender to the armed forces for various reasons. Shockingly, even those who surrendered merely ‘through fear of terrorist activities’ may be detained for up to two years without inquiry. The regulations also compel Magistrates to commit child surrendees to a Child Rehabilitation Centre if ‘there is evidence’ that the child has engaged in armed conflict as a combatant. Such provisions violate the Constitution and Sri Lanka’s international obligations

9.4 Reduction of parliamentary seats – Concerns relating to the decision to reduce the number of parliamentary seats have already been raised by the TNA as a matter of urgent public importance. The total number of members of Parliament elected to the territory covered by the present Jaffna Electoral District in 1977 under the First Past the Post System was eleven. The total number of members of Parliament elected to the Jaffna Electoral District under the proportional representation system at the last General Election was nine. It now appears that this was to further decline to six. This reduction was attributed to the decline in the total number of voters currently registered within the Jaffna Electoral District. In a speech in Parliament Hon. Sampanthan pointed out that this decline was not caused voluntarily, and was in fact a result of the violent and abnormal situation that prevailed within the Jaffna Electoral District due to the war. The TNA also highlighted the fact that the vast majority of the voters within the Jaffna Electoral District are Tamils and that a substantial reduction of their representation in Parliament is not merely a denial of their franchise but also an erosion of their sovereignty.

9.5 NGO secretariat under Ministry of Defence – The NGO Secretariat which was previously operated under the Social Services Ministry and thereafter the Internal Affairs Ministry has been under the purview of the Defence Ministry since mid 2010. Non-governmental organizations are required to submit financial statements, audited reports and work plans on a regular basis the Secretariat. Oversight of a clearly civilian function by the Ministry of Defence is deeply repressive. This is apparent in the restrictions that have been placed on organizations limiting work to specific activities and subject areas. Moreover the monitoring of such organizations mainly working to address human rights and humanitarian concerns, especially in the North and East creates an environment of self censorship and curtails meaningful intervention.

9.6 Death Certificates – A matter of grave concern is the non-issuance of death certificates to many IDPs who have lost relatives and family members in the war. This results in difficulties in relation to title to land and property, and other administrative services. Thus, those who left lost family members and relatives during the war have to, in addition to facing the trauma of such loss, face the additional problems such as the inability to prove title to property. These victims of war, are also compelled to avail themselves of entitlements due to them as a result of having lost such family members or relatives. The Registration of Deaths (Temporary Provisions) Act of 2010 was passed with the intention of simplifying the procedure in relation to issuing death certificates. Its objectives included providing for the registration for the deaths of persons reported missing as a result of terrorist or subversive activity or civil commotion. The Act provides for the issuance of death certificates for those reported missing for at least a year, when the person’s disappearance is attributable to such events. It is unclear, however, if the Act is being implemented, and if not, the reasons for such non implementation.

M.A.Sumanthiran is a prominent human rights lawyer and represent the Tamil National Alliance (TNA)in Sri Lanka's Parliament. The detailed report published here, was tabled in Parliament by him on Friday, October 21st 2011.


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Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Sri Lanka: Time is of the essence

By Bruce Haigh | The Drum - ABC

The primary focus of Australian diplomacy towards Sri Lanka is to prevent Tamils from getting onto boats and coming to Australia.

To that end there is an AFP presence at the Australian High Commission to liaise and work with the Sri Lankan navy, army and police.

How will they explain these activities at CHOGM? How will Australia explain that its sole cause of concern for the ravaged and defeated Tamils in the north of Sri Lanka is to prevent them seeking refugee status? It is a good look for a country seeking a seat on the UN Security Council.

However the Australian narrow self-concern is surpassed by that of the Sri Lankan government. Two years after the end of the war and all indicators are that Tamils are being pushed to the margins of survival.

In June three members of the Malaysian parliament went to Sri Lanka. They were Dato Johari Abdul, M Manogaran and Senator S Ramakrishnan. They produced a report, Report On Fact Finding Trip To Sri Lanka By Malaysian Parliamentarians, parts of which I quote.

The Sri Lankan government is continuing to mutilate and neglect the war-victimised Tamil community in northern and eastern Sri Lanka. The ruling government is only interested in further cleansing any LTTE remnants and mentally rehabilitating LTTE cadres into accepting the current Sinhala mastery in Colombo. It continues to militarise and Sinhalarise (sic) the whole northern and eastern provinces. The traumatised and grieving Tamil population is under complete control of the army. The army controls and in the process rapes, robs, sexually harasses and loots the Tamils of whatever little they have. The Tamils in the northern and eastern provinces will not be able to recuperate and settle back to normalcy for a long time to come. The army is a lord unto themselves and they control and monitor any outside contact and help given to the captive Tamils in IDP camps.

The Sri Lankan government is misleading the whole world into believing that it is doing everything to rehabilitate, reconstruct and reconcile the Tamil population back to normalcy. But on the other hand it is neglecting and hindering the rehabilitating and reconstruction initiatives of India and the Tamil Diaspora. The destabilised Tamil community is struggling among themselves to share very limited resources and the past family cohesiveness and supportiveness is fading away. Their houses flattened and their other belongings are looted by the army itself. Any note of complaint falls on the deaf ears of the army authority. To add insult to injury the Sri Lankan government is attempting to settle the Sinhalese in the Northern Province which has been the homeland of the Tamils for centuries.

Till today nobody is held accountable for war crimes and many war criminals are appointed to high ranking offices and sent as ambassadors to foreign countries... Opposition politicians and civil society live in fear of government reprisal in speaking about war crimes and the post war conduct of the military government in the northern and eastern provinces...The urgent task is to bring the Sri Lankan government to a war crime tribunal and undertake humanitarian work urgently. All attempts must be made to demilitarise the military zones and decentralise the governance and the administrative function to the Northern Province. Under the current jubilant and chest beating mood of the Rajapakse government changes have to be initiated externally and through international bodies.

Further points made in the report:

Our many talks and meetings with the various categories of people, support the conclusion that there is an attempt by the Sri Lankan government to inflict maximum social damage on the Tamils. Even if there is no more LTTE threat or resurgence, the government wants to keep this threat alive to justify the military presence everywhere in the North. Although the war is over, the conflict is not over and civilians who may not have any part in the war are being punished severely.

There is also widespread, planned 'genocide' of the Tamil people as girls and women are raped and mutilated so as to prevent them from conceiving in future.
Meanwhile we were told that in Jaffna hospital alone five-six girls go in for abortions daily.

Women cadres (LTTE) who have been released from rehabilitation camps are subjected to the worst of atrocities and many of these women are still in their late teens and early 20s...

Due to the lack of income women are forced into prostitution to make ends meet and the only male presence in the villages are the police or military. The only interactions these women have are with the military. Many of these women have more than four children... To get money mothers sleep with the military or police personnel and even when they don't need the money they are forced to sleep with the military.

...There now lives a whole population of widowed women, fatherless children who are all victims of trauma. Their emotional stability has not been addressed, there have been no avenues of release or dealing with it and if it proceeds to go unaddressed, the next generation will carry the conditioning of the war. Repercussions of this conditioning can be seen in violent and abusive or withdrawn characteristics and substance abuse.

...More than 30,000 children were orphaned and with the lack of orphanages and proper schooling they are forced into the labour sector... Sexual abuse is also rampant in the orphanages.

There is a clear distinction between being returned and being resettled... women and men were forced to return back to nothing with nothing and to return to normalcy. One is not sure what normalcy means to these people anymore.

Resettlement homes include tin sheets and wooden plank infrastructure. This structure was meant to be for only a period of six months. This was in January 2010; presently June 2011 there are still no toilets, wells or even flooring for these temporary transition homes. The government to date has no housing scheme in place.

Over 300,000 people are in these camps with little or no hope of returning to their original homes. Most homes are destroyed and many Tamil lands are now being resettled by Sinhalese people. Buddhist temples are being erected in areas where there are no Buddhists.

All possible human rights violations are taking place. Activists are labelled as traitors if they seek international help and alliances. Dissent is labelled and attacked as anti-Sri Lanka. All sorts of crime is now being committed by the authorities including rapes of Tamil women and girls on a daily basis. The Sri Lankan army hates the LTTE and, by extension the Tamils. In the last month over 48 people from Jaffna went missing and are still unaccounted for.

Although the Tamils and Muslims have suffered the most, surprisingly none of them had anything bad or adverse to say about the LTTE. In fact a number of them said they felt safer when the LTTE was around.

The hostility of many Sinhalese, particularly the police, army and navy toward the Tamils led to a three-decade war, ending only with the defeat of the Tamil armed forces in 2009. The above report details the ongoing discrimination and hostility toward the Tamils by the government of Sri Lanka and its agencies. This discrimination is racially based and in the manner that it is now being expressed amounts to genocide.

Through their complete denial of human rights to the vanquished Tamils the government of Sri Lanka has validated the war fought by the Tamils against the majority Sinhalese supremacists. The Tamils always understood that this was the Sinhalese end game, that the Sinhalese always wanted to dominate and control the lives of the Tamils.

Faced with a military imbalance the breakaway Tamils had to match the state-sponsored and funded armed forces of Sri Lanka, modelled on former colonial administrator Great Britain.

In his book, The Cage, Gordon Weiss says, "On rare occasions, Black Tigers returned from their missions. They were suicide attackers only in the sense that the daring and destructive capacity of their attacks entailed almost certain death. The value they added was thus twofold: in the extraordinary courage they displayed during attacks, and in the actual destruction of their targets". The events of 9/11 saw the misappropriation of these attacks by the Sri Lankan government and its supporters into suicide attacks with all the negative connotations the US was able to weave into that phrase.

The government of Sri Lanka over the decades of conflict with the Tamils was corrupt. Many of the vital supplies and arms required by the Tamils were received in this way. But the corruption of the present Rajapaksa government and the 52 members of his family, who are also members of the government, surpasses all the governments who preceded it.

Weiss says:

By extension, anybody who criticised Mahinda Rajapaksa, the personification of the new era that would dawn in Sri Lanka following the defeat of the Tamil Tigers, also was a traitor. So too those who suggested that anything was rotten in the republic... arms deals linked to the ruling clan, the corruption and brutality of the police, the sprawling employment of hundreds of Rajapaksa relatives and cronies in government service. This ... constituted a general warning to dissenters and was backed up by the beating, death or disappearance of those proscribed online and in the press... The 'white van' syndrome pervaded the steadily reducing circles of dissent, spreading fear of the 'abyss without bottom... In under three years, Mahinda Rajapaksa's government introduced more than 20 new emergency regulations that weakened the rule of law and deepened the existing human rights crisis in Sri Lanka...

In 2009, the international media watchdog Reporters Without Borders rated Sri Lanka number 162 out of 175 countries for media freedom... The death squad threat enforces the government's writ. Opposition media and public opinion remain full of trepidation in the atmosphere of a Sinhalese supremacist ideology vindicated by the conquest of the Tamil Tigers.

On Thursday October 20 the Global Tamil Forum held an all-day conference at the Sheraton on the Park in Sydney. Delegates attended from all over the world and around Australia. The Sri Lankan High Commission made around 40 telephone calls to the hotel seeking to have the hotel withdraw the conference venue. The hotel refused, but it should have reported the conduct of the High Commission to the Department of Foreign Affairs.

The High Commission continues to ring and harass members of the Tamil community in Australia; these people are Australian citizens. The AFP and ASIO continue to have close contact with the Sri Lankan High Commission in the interests of terrorism and people smuggling. In view of the ongoing activities of the High Commission this closeness of contact should cease.

Left to the Sinhalese, the future of the Tamils in Sri Lanka has no prospect. They are being subjected to great cruelty. The Sinhalese are lying as to their welfare. They are subjected to arbitrary violence and deprivation of liberty. There is no quality to their lives, no hope and no mercy from a venal and corrupt regime that displays all the qualities and attitudes of the Apartheid regime, with equal lack of care and interest over the people it has subjected to state control.

The Commonwealth heads of government are meeting in Perth from October 28 to 30. Sri Lanka has violated and continues to violate every tenet of Commonwealth membership, the most basic being genocide. On this basis alone it should be suspended.

Zimbabwe was suspended for the basic transgression of the human rights of many of its citizens; Fiji was suspended for lesser crimes and for far less than Sri Lanka is guilty.

Sri Lanka is denying all human rights to members of its minority Tamil population. It should be suspended, but that will do little to change the horrible circumstances for members of the Tamil community.

A stepped approach might work better; if Sri Lanka were to be offered the prospect of staying in the Commonwealth if it allowed a monitoring force of 3,000 to oversee and facilitate the provision of food, health and basic services to the Tamil population and oversee the withdrawal of the bulk of the Sri Lankan armed forces to military duties in areas away from the traumatised Tamil population.

The Sri Lankan military has its fangs around the throat of the defeated Tamils and they must be made to let go.

After basic infrastructure, health and other resources have been restored the Commonwealth might then use its good offices to broker a peace, allowing dignity and hope to be restored to both sides, but particularly to the vanquished Tamils.

Not to do so offers the prospect of further violence from the next generation of young Tamils, who are growing up without the benefit of formal education and against a background of deprivation and dislocation which will breed anger. Further mindless cruelty against Tamils trapped in this nightmare on Sri Lanka could also come, in time, to galvanise Tamils offshore. We don't need that.

There are people at the top of DFAT who understand this, their considerable experience and understanding must be allowed to prevail in the final run into CHOGM.

Bruce Haigh is a political commentator and retired senior diplomat who served in Sri Lanka.


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Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Indian company drills second oil well off Sri Lanka seas

Xinhua | The Citizen

An Indian company engaged in exploring oil in the seas of northern Sri Lanka has begun drilling a second well, the Sri Lankan government said. Cairn Lanka, a subsidiary of Cairn India, who had recently announced the discovery of oil in the Mannar basin has now begun drilling a second well to look for oil in the island nation.

The Sri Lankan Information Department said that in its first well, Cairn has found a 25-metre hydrocarbon deposit at a depth of 3,000 metres.

The Indian company has now started work on a second well after its first successful attempt, and also hopes to drill three wells under its exploration programme, which is expected to be completed early in 2012.

© The Citizen

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Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Sri Lanka GSP benefits extended by US

Courtesy: Daily Mirror

Lanka Business Online

President Barak Obama has signed a law extending temporarily halted generalized system of preferences (GSP) trade concessions to Sri Lanka till July 31, 2013 the US embassy said.

The concessions will become effective from November 05 and GSP benefits will also be available retroactive from January 2011.

"As the GSP program was renewed retroactively, Sri Lankan exporters will be reimbursed for tariffs paid during the gap period," the US embassy in Colombo said in a statement.

"Exporters who filed their entries electronically used the appropriate special programs indicator (SPI).

"For entries made without using the SPI, exporters should request refunds of duties deposited."

The embassy said requests should be made in writing to Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) within 180 days or by Wednesday, April 18, 2012.

In some cases, given the anticipated volume of requests, duties collected may take up to 90 days to process and refund retroactively.

More information could be found at the Customs and Border Patrol website, the embassy said.


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Monday, October 24, 2011

Channel 4's Sri Lanka documentary cleared by Ofcom

By Mark Sweney and Jason Deans | The Guardian

Channel 4's controversial documentary Sri Lanka's Killing Fields, which featured graphic footage of alleged war crimes, has been cleared of breaching the broadcasting code.

Ofcom said images featured in the documentary, broadcast in June, "whilst brutal and shocking", did not exceed what the Channel 4 audience would have expected, given the pre-transmission warning about the nature of the content and the programme's scheduling at 11.05pm, well after the 9pm watershed.

The media regulator received 118 complaints about the documentary, about issues including impartiality, offensiveness and the broadcast of misleading material, but concluded it had not breached the broadcasting code on any of these counts.

Sri Lanka's Killing Fields, which focused on a UN investigation into alleged war crimes during the final weeks of the country's civil war, included a number of images of murdered and tortured bodies, and also of partially clothed women who, it was suggested in the documentary, had been sexually abused prior to their death.

The documentary featured mobile phone footage, photographs and eyewitness accounts gathered by programme-maker ITN Productions.

The regulator said: "Channel 4 has a unique public service remit to provide programming that is challenging, diverse and likely to provoke debate. Consequently, the broadcaster has a history of broadcasting very challenging material from war zones (including graphic footage) and seeking out the voices and views of those who may not be represented.

"The images included in this programme, whilst brutal and shocking, would not have exceeded the expectations of the audience for this Channel 4 documentary scheduled well after the watershed with very clear warnings about the nature of the content."

On the question of impartiality, Ofcom noted that Channel 4 had put all the significant allegations included in the documentary to the Sri Lankan government and broadcast the limited statement that was provided.

The documentary also included previous Sri Lankan government statements relating to the final stages of the civil war against the Tamil Tigers, including a clip of an official claiming that the first video of an alleged execution shown in the programme was a fake.

Ofcom also said the documentary was only required to maintain due impartiality on its specific subject – the government offensive against the Tamil Tigers in the final stages of the war – and not the conflict as a whole.

"Ofcom therefore concluded that overall Channel 4 preserved due impartiality in its examination of the Sri Lankan government's actions and policies during its offensive and there was no breach of [the broadcasting code]," Ofcom concluded.

In response to complaints that the programme was misleading, Ofcom said Channel 4 had taken reasonable steps to establish that the material included in Sri Lanka's Killing Fields was not faked or manipulated, and had not materially misled viewers in the way it was presented on air.

Last week Dorothy Byrne, the Channel 4 head of news and current affairs, told the Lords communications committee that programmes such as Sri Lanka's Killing Fields faced PR pressure from the Sri Lankan government.

She said a demonstration held outside the Channel 4 headquarters in London was organised by the Sri Lankan ministry of defence.

• To contact the MediaGuardian news desk email or phone 020 3353 3857. For all other inquiries please call the main Guardian switchboard on 020 3353 2000. If you are writing a comment for publication, please mark clearly "for publication".

© The Guardian

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Monday, October 24, 2011

Sri Lankan President accused in Australian court

By Michael Gordon | Sydney Morning Herald

Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa - who was due to arrive in Australia last night - has had a charge laid against him in a Melbourne court accusing him of war crimes in his country's civil war.

Sri Lankan-born Australian Arunachalam Jegatheeswaran filed an indictment against the President yesterday, declaring he was seeking justice for thousands who perished in a series of aerial bombardments and ground attacks on shelters, schools, hospitals, orphanages and community centres.

The court move coincides with this week's Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Perth, which the Sri Lankan President is attending. ''People are still suffering because of what he did and I think the world should know,'' Mr Jegatheeswaran told The Age.

''I've seen all of these things,'' he said, having been a volunteer aid worker in Sri Lanka from 2007 to 2009. ''I can't bear that the person who is responsible for all of this - who is the commander-in-chief - is coming to my country and getting off scot-free. I'm asking the highest court of justice in Australia to decide whether he is guilty or not guilty.''

The indictment had been filed under the Australian criminal code with the Melbourne Magistrates Court yesterday and set for hearing on November 29, his lawyer, Rob Stary, said.

For the case to proceed, the AFP would have to conclude there is enough material to compile a brief of evidence of criminality, which it would then refer to the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions for consideration. If a decision to prosecute is made, the Attorney-General's consent would be sought.

Mr Rajapaksa, who strenuously denies any wrongdoing, has already been cited in a brief of evidence compiled by the International Commission of Jurists' Australian section and handed to the AFP.

The brief recommends that the President be investigated for alleged war crimes, along with Sri Lanka's high commissioner to Australia, Thisara Samarasinghe, and other military and

political figures. Mr Samarasinghe has also denied committing war crimes and, in an interview with The Age last week, cast himself as a unifier of the Sinhalese and Tamil communities in Australia.

Mr Jegatheeswaran, 63, who arrived in Australia in 1987 and became an Australian citizen three years later, says he is still haunted by the killings and injuries he saw. ''I am living testimony to what happened. I'm trying to forget, but I just can't,'' he said.

Mr Stary said he had written to federal Attorney-General Robert McClelland last Thursday to alert him to the move and urge him to take up the case. He had also written to the Australian Federal Police yesterday asking them to serve the indictment on Mr Rajapaksa.

''The government will need to show a bit of backbone to investigate it, but there is absolutely no reason on the face of it why they should not pursue it. It's incontrovertible in our view that war crimes have been committed,'' Mr Stary said.

A spokesman for Mr McClelland said he had not been told about any criminal matter or charges relating to Mr Rajapaksa.

In a seven-page statement, Mr Jegatheeswaran describes how he returned to Sri Lanka early in 2007 to work as a volunteer and initially stayed with relatives in the Tamil stronghold of Kilinochchi.

When aid work was disrupted by the war, he volunteered to work in a camp for displaced people, before being forced to move and eventually becoming displaced himself. ''I saw Sri Lankan planes directing bombs into towns and open areas where displaced people were congregated, including areas declared as no-fire zones. I saw many hundreds of civilians killed and injured by these attacks.

''I also witnessed many civilian buildings and public facilities damaged or destroyed by aerial bombardments. I saw houses, shelters for displaced people, schools, hospitals, religious temples, orphanages and community centres shelled and bombed.''

© The Sydney Morning Herald

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