Monday, January 24, 2011

Prageeth: Missing for one year - wife hands over petition to UN office in Colombo

The Associated Press | Yahoo News


The wife of a Sri Lankan journalist believed to have been abducted a year ago has urged the United Nations to help trace him, saying she believed the government was complicit in the crime.

Prageeth Ekneligoda was critical of the government's conduct during its civil war with the Tamil Tiger rebels, who fought for 25 years for an independent homeland.

Prageeth's wife, Sandya, handed a letter to the world body's office in Colombo on Monday that accused the government of having no interest in finding her husband.

Police spokesman Prishantha Jayakody rejected the allegation.

Sandya says in her letter that Prageeth had been outspoken about alleged use of chemical weapons in the civil war and was gathering evidence on the subject.

© Yahoo News

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Monday, January 24, 2011

JDS explains stand on GLF Appeal

Photo courtesy: Fazal | Flickr

Journalists for Democracy in Sri Lanka | Lakbima News

The Colombo based English language weekly "Lakbima News" sent a set of questions via email requesting a clarification of JDS position regarding the international appeal launched by JDS and RSF. The answers were published in full (while slightly altering the questions) as a sub section for an article that severely criticizes the JDS campaign. We publish the full interview along with the original questions we received. Interviewed by Ranga Jayasooriya:

I find your appeal to boycott GLF is absurd and counter productive. Can you tell me why is the Journalists for Democracy along with RSF is appealing for the boycott of GLF?

The international appeal launched by RSF/JDS does not ask anyone intending to attend the GLF, to boycott the event. If the renowned writers failed to express their concerns about the precarious conditions faced by the fellow writers and journalists, while attending a literary festival in a country where journalists/writers are killed and imprisoned simply for writing stuff that offends the regime, it simply legitimizes the status quo. Therefore, what the appeal calls for is “to consider Sri Lanka’s appalling human rights record and targeting of journalists” and to “ask in the great tradition of solidarity that binds writers together everywhere, to stand with your brothers and sisters in Sri Lanka who are not allowed to speak out” by “sending a clear message that, unless and until the disappearance of Prageeth is investigated and there is a real improvement in the climate for free expression in Sri Lanka, you cannot celebrate writing and the arts.

As a matter of fact, nearly 23 media workers (including journalists) have either been killed or disappeared since December 2005 (To see the full list of names click here). That excludes Prageeth Eknaligoda, who went missing on the 24th of January 2010. So far not a single perpetrator has been brought to book and no single case has been investigated in a satisfactory manner. Anyone, who is intending to attend a literary event in Sri Lanka in such a context, needs to make sure that his or her fame could not be used to strengthen the intensive state propaganda campaign to promote the country’s image as a ideal tourist destination where normalcy reigns and free space for cultural interaction exists. It is their moral obligation to make a stand to show that they are aware and are really concerned about the fate of their fellow writers and journalists who have fallen victim to repressive policies. If not, their glamor and passive appearance would provide the legitimacy that the state desperately needs to cover up the recent past, which is buried in a sea of corpses. That is the essence which lies at the centre of the campaign. Does it sound too sympathetic towards Tigers? Well, as far as the facts are concerned, we take the liberty to totally disagree with such narrow minded assumptions.

Are you aware it is not a state sponsored project, rather a community project to showcase heritage of English literature of Sri Lanka?

We are well aware that the event is not directly organized by any state institutions. If that had been the case, we wouldn’t have hesitated to call for a boycott in plain and clear terms. We do have great respect towards some of the people involved in the event, whose commitment to democracy and human rights is admirable.

Nevertheless, it does not prevent us from looking at the bigger picture and inviting others to do likewise. The Galle Literary Festival, either intentionally or not, overlaps with the massive propaganda drive of the Sri Lankan government aiming to promote Sri Lanka as a peaceful tourist destination where a considerable liberal space for free cultural life flourishes without any interference of the state. You describe it as a “ community project to showcase heritage of English literature of Sri Lanka”. Going through the programme itself shows that it is a misconception. If there is any community involved in setting this up, it is clearly the business community.

As for the heritage of “English literature of Sri Lanka,” we don’t see much showcased in the programme. However, the main thrust of the event is clearly promoting the virtues of a ‘free land’ where life is normal. Going through the list of sponsors and what they offer clearly calls upon the visitor to indulge in many luxuries which neither the ordinary writer/ reader or journalist can enjoy due to the poverty of the nation and the prevailing culture of insecurity.

Do you think your boycott of anything associated with Sri Lanka would help better the media situation in this country?

There were many who believed that the media situation in the country will be better following the military defeat of the Tamil Tigers. Forgetting the dead and not meting out justice does not auger well at any time for media freedom. It also questions the level of civilization. Lasantha was killed during the war and Prageeth went missing after the government declared the land to be under one rule. These two incidents are evidence that the situation has not improved. We as an organization will take every opportunity to raise the dire situation the country is faced with on its human rights and media freedom record. That Orhan Pamuk and Kiran Desai have already pulled out shows that there are people on this earth who have a conscience and are prepared to take action to improve the situation anywhere in the world. It is rather frustrating that some who have stood for freedom of expression in the past is now shooting the messenger rather than using the discussion to call for speedy accountability.

Have you guys turned to be a cat-paw of the Tiger sympathizers? Some can't help, but feel so...

It has become a fashion statement of the state to call any dissenter a ‘tiger paw’. When a senior journalist too uses that term on an organization, it speaks volumes of how far the suppression and censorship goes. RSF and JDS have been in the scene for some time highlighting the HR issues in Sri Lanka and you would recall that it is not the first time both these organizations were called Tiger lovers. It is not the feeling that matters when one is faced by the truth, but the real facts. The facts being, Sri Lanka is run by a regime that does not value human rights or freedom of expression among other wrongdoings and this will be not the last time that it’s record will be brought to question. Therefore we call upon all freedom loving people at large and Sri Lankans in particular to raise your voice to make Sri Lanka a place where justice and freedom prevails. If there is no effective mechanism to raise these issues within our country for obvious and terrifying reasons, we would not hesitate to highlight the issues in whatever forum possible.

Anything else as to why you want to boycott the GLF?

Not answered.

© Lakbima News

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Monday, January 24, 2011

Sri Lanka literary festival lose stars, India denies visa block

Photo courtesy: PEN American Center|Flickr

Lanka Business Online

Organizers of Sri Lanka's Galle Literary Festival has defended its tradition of openness after two star writers pulled out of the event in the wake of protest from rights groups, while India denied that its visa rules hindered writers.

"We are looking forward to welcoming writers and festival goers, to engage in debate, conversation and to raise important issues which reflect a post conflict Sri Lanka," festival founder Geoffrey Dobbs said in a statement.

"[T]he Festival is one of the few forums in the country which actively promote lively and spirited discussions, we want to continue with this tradition and we will always welcome any writers and journalists to use the festival as a platform to air these issues."

Paris-base Reporters without Borders and a group representing exiled journalists called on writers to boycott the festival citing repression of media and killings of mediamen which remain unsolved.

Orhan Pamuk and Kiran Desai said they were not attending the festival.

"Nobody could be sadder than me. I love Sri Lanka and had a super time the last time I was in Galle," the organizers quoted Desai as saying.

Pamuk's pullout has been blamed on India visa re-entry rules, a charge strongly denied by Indian authorities.

"I am very sorry for and frustrated about this decision…I looked forward to seeing the beauties of Sri Lanka very much," he was quoted as saying.

Indian authorities were quoted on the Hindu newspaper as saying that officials in Turkey and Sri Lanka had assured Pamuk of special waiver of regulations to facilitate his travel and re-entry to India.

Festival organizers said that the Indian missions in Colombo and Turkey had "gone beyond their call of duty" to re-assure Pamuk.

Organizers said Louis de Bernieres has "rescheduled his visit to coincide with the main Festival." The event has an updated schedule at


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Monday, January 24, 2011

Sri Lanka: life after the floods

Channel 4


Children and their families have started to leave the camps that they have called home since floods forced them to flee earlier this month.

While people are looking forward to getting back, they know it's going to be an uphill struggle to rebuild their lives. The rains have washed away everything; houses, crops and livestock.

All over the districts I work in, people are arriving to find the damage is even worse than they imagined.

None of the houses here were constructed to withstand flooding on this scale and almost every home- including my own- has been damaged in some way. Some, particularly the clay houses, have been completely destroyed.

The next few weeks here are going to be all about recovery. Any spare cash that people have is going to be spent on repairs long after the flood water- and the international media attention- drain away.

The situation is complicated by the fact that many farmers have lost their crops and livestock. In my home district of Batticaloa, 80 per cent of the rice crop has been lost, and many animals have drowned.

For the farmers I have met this week, this is nothing short of a disaster. Take Kamal, for example, a farmer and young father who owned paddy fields and 30 cows before the rains came.

I met him while he was on his way to inspect his rice crop, which he was sure had been completely destroyed. He’d just found that more than half his cattle had died in the rains.

He told me that all his income came from rice and cow’s milk. Without financial help, he could not see how he was going to recover.

Another farmer I met, Selvanesa, had 25 cows. 15 died in the floods. He also doesn’t know how he is going to earn enough money to survive the coming months. He's really worried about providing for his family and doesn’t know what he’s going to do.

It's not just farmers who will continue to suffer as a result of the floods. Many people here are day-to-day labourers who work in the paddy fields, but the colossal damage to the crop means there will be no work for them and less food available than normal.

Children's health and lives are also at risk- the lack of money and food mean that many face going hungry in coming weeks unless they receive assistance, at least until the next harvest.

If they don't get it, malnutrition in eastern Sri Lanka could soar, along with the diseases that may come with it. For children, especially the very young, one bout of hunger can cause health problems that last a lifetime.

I'm hopeful that people here will recover from this - but only with support from the outside world. They are resourceful - they've already dealt with the tsunami and the war in recent years, but they need help to ensure they are given the best possible chance to rebuild their lives. That’s where Save the Children comes in.

We're providing people with essential items for every day use such as tarpaulins, cooking pots, bottled water, hygiene kits, and clothes, and have teams of relief workers helping children in the worst affected areas.

The people here are facing an uncertain future, and every time a cloud appears on the horizon you see fear in their eyes. They know better than anyone that the effects of a flood last long after the rains have stopped.

© Channel 4

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Monday, January 24, 2011

It’s “Lesson Learnt” : 146,000 equal “naught” — Equals “Reconciliation”

By Kusal Perera | The Sunday Leader

For most like me, especially if they had been in teaching like me, a “lesson” is something we think we know the meaning of. We do have a very broad, a very intangible idea of what a “lesson” is, but not its actual, concise meaning.

At least, that “intangible idea” was what I had in me about a “lesson.” It was honestly the “Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission” (LLRC) appointed by President Rajapaksa, that provoked me to check on the meanings of the two words, “Lesson” and “Reconciliation.” Yes. “Reconciliation” is another word, we have taken for granted in present day politics.

Different people not only learn the same lesson in different ways, they learn different lessons from the same lesson too, for different reasons. If a lesson is “an experience or an event that serves as a warning or encouragement” (Encarta World English Dictionary), then for most here in Sinhala Sri Lanka it seems, an “experience” or an “event” is an encouragement to continue regardless and never a warning, to look back.

It was that to most, when Bishop of the Mannar Catholic Diocese, Rt. Rev. Dr. Rayappu Joseph told the “Lessons Learnt & Reconciliation Commission,” over 146,679 human beings in the Wanni are not accounted for, in post-war Sri Lanka. This unaccounted-for number of human lives in the Wanni around October 2008 that in most other democratic, civilised societies where human life has a value, would have created a political stampede, has neither crossed over to the government controlled areas when the war was finally over in May 2009, nor are they there (living) any more, in the last land patch of the battle zone.

This compelled the Bishop of Mannar, Rt. Rev Dr. Rayappu Joseph to tell the LLRC, (quote) “According to the Kachcheri, (meaning the District Office) the population in Wanni was 429,059 in the early part of October 2008” (unquote).

In that early part of October, Mannar District was being emptied by the escalating war. Adampan, Vidathaltivu and Nachchikuda with almost all ground on the West Coast in Mannar District had by August, fallen to the military. Pooneryn was a major target and was taken on November 15. By September, almost the totality of Wanni civil population was being herded in the two districts, Kilinochchi and Mullaitivu.

When President Rajapaksa declared the war over, in his address to the nation on May 19, 2009, all the remaining Wanni people who were living as whole or in pieces, were being counted by the military to be taken under their control. That process did not take long. Not even a fortnight. Therefore, the UN Organisation for Co-ordination of Humanitarian Aid (OCHA) had with them the numbers of displaced persons who had to be attended to, by end June, 2009. The Mannar Bishop therefore takes numbers from them and tells the LLRC, (quote) “According to UN OCHA update as of 10th July 2009, the total number of people who came out of the Wanni to government controlled areas after this (meaning the war) is estimated to be 282,380” (unquote).

There is obviously a difference in numbers and that number of 146,679 is all about human beings. That number is about civilian people, all, citizens of Sri Lanka. It is for that reason the Bishop wants the government to make “due clarification” as to what exactly happened to these people.

There is good reason for such “clarification” by the government. If the government is serious in its efforts for “reconciliation” as stressed not once by the President, and most recently in his speech at the Thai Pongal festival the previous week end in Jaffna, then there has to be ‘political honesty’ in seeking the truth behind all human catastrophes in the long conflict. Seeking “Truth” as stressed by the Bishop in his submissions to the LLRC is an unavoidable path and (quote) “recognizing in public the objective truth of the events of destruction that has taken place during the decades of war and violence is indispensable for any attempts at reconciliation” (unquote). That is what gives the Tamil people the confidence and the trust to fall in line with the government and be “one” Sri Lanka.

Therein lies the necessity of officially investigating into the number of persons as large as 34 per cent of the population that is claimed was in the Wanni, seven months before the war was declared over. Therein lies the sincerity and honesty of a government that claims it wants reconciliation and ethnic amity, for future development of Sri Lanka, as “one” country.

While the government is yet to tell the people that it does take serious note of this massive number of people claimed unaccounted for, no political party and no religious leader in the South has shown any concern for such human life. If the government and the political leaders do not show any interest in clarifying and solving the riddle of missing numbers, then it is the responsibility of society and its opinion makers to lobby for the “Truth” to be sought. It is the responsibility of the media to step in, to demand due clarification from the government.

Yet for any of the Colombo based media, not dividing between the government controlled and the private, not making distinctions between the Sinhala and the English editors too (pardon me for my inability to assess Tamil media), this issue of human life, counted as over 146,000 people, had no importance to be given the decency of front page coverage,if not its headline. In fact most editors did not even see this Bishop’s submission as worthy of any coverage, in their media. For them, this was no information the readers had a right to know. For them the likes of the Mannar Bishop need not enjoy the right to express himself in the media, even on a nationally important issue.

Media freedom, freedom of expression and the right to information thus go out of their mandate as editors and journalists, leaving it the responsibility of those few dozen who come out on the streets and continue asking for justice, two years after Lasantha’s murder, two years after Sirasa media centre was attacked and a year after Eknaligoda’s disappearance.

That thus makes little importance of LLRC submissions, if all what is talked of at these sessions, is the plight of the Tamil people. GroundViews (GV) a media website that provides space for alternate views and positions on socio-political, economic and cultural issues, in a snapshot of media coverage on LLRC submissions and related news, (, proves the SL media has been woefully mediocre in their interest of issues and controversies that came up with the LLRC. With no importance given to the LLRC, the media in Colombo that do date was extremely selective in providing coverage, cannot have any interest in “reconciliation” either.

For those who want to feel victors in a war and their media, reconciliation is never an issue. It cannot be. Reconciliation is often a prerogative of the defeated mind. Politically, it is only a necessary positive correlation between polarised societies for sharing of power. Of finding a political answer that human deaths in hundreds of thousands in war, cannot achieve. That again is not for the victorious Sinhala mind.

If on the flip side of such thinking is, subdued, subordinate living with an ethno-religious ego that allows a plundering regime to continue unabated, then it’s “politics of the villain” that keeps society happy and going, though on the decline.

Politics that lives with a State carrying on with its unhindered authority and decides what the regime could be comfortable with. That politics in Sri Lanka is what allows for the domination of the South over the North. Such politics has no necessity for “reconciliation.” Such politics leaves President’s promises on ethnic amity and peace, a joke among fifth graders, whose teacher cannot match the intellect of the class he teaches.

The result is evident in what the Bishop said, (quote) “Building a Buddhist place of worship (Pansala) in Murunkan Town where there was a Hindu Kovil is something that has caused a lot of concern, particularly as there is no Buddhist population in this area. Erections of Buddhist statues in prominent public places in many new locations in the North have also made our people fearful of Buddhist domination of majority Hindu, Christian and Islamic areas” (unquote).

If this is what the LLRC is for, 146,679 human lives would equal “naught” and the “Lesson Learnt” is naught too.

© The Sunday Leader

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Monday, January 24, 2011

Indian Bank moves into Sri Lanka's old war zone

Money Control

Indian Bank on Friday opened a branch in Sri Lanka's city of Jaffna, in the former northern war zone, aiming to get a piece of the growing post-war reconstruction lending pie.

Indian Bank is the second foreign bank in Jaffna out of a total of 16 banks that have opened branches there since the end of a 25-year civil war in May 2009

"This is branch for the people to grow economically, especially in the agricultural sector," said T M Bhasin, the chairman and managing director.

Sri Lanka's government is aiming to bring financing and banking services into Jaffna, at the island's northern tip, and the rest of northern Sri Lankato help develop the war-scarred region and integrate it with the rest of the USD 42 billion economy.

Indian businesses have longstanding ties in Jaffna, barely 40 km across the Palk Strait from India southern Tamil Nadu state. The Indian government recently opened a new consulate there.

© Money Control

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Monday, January 24, 2011

Choice of Sri Lankan envoy is questioned

By Daniel Flitton | The Sydney Morning Herald

Australia is under pressure because of a war crimes controversy to reject Sri Lanka's choice of a senior military commander as its next top envoy in Canberra.

A former Sri Lankan navy chief, Thisara Samarasinghe, has reportedly been nominated to fill the vacant position of high commissioner to Australia.

But the Herald understands Foreign Affairs - which must decide if it will accept the nomination - sees the appointment as ''problematic'' for Australia amid calls for a United Nations investigation into human rights violations in Sri Lanka.
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The issue also threatens to derail Australia's official co-operation with Sri Lanka on immigration controls and asylum seekers fleeing the aftermath of the country's long civil war with Tamil separatists.

No specific allegation of war crimes arising from the conflict has been made against Vice-Admiral Samarasinghe, who took over as chief of the Sri Lankan Navy in July 2009 after the end of the civil war.

But Tamil community leaders in Australia have demanded that the Foreign Affairs Minister, Kevin Rudd, reject the nomination in protest at Sri Lanka's refusal to allow an international war crimes tribunal.

''[The nomination] clearly shows Sri Lanka is … becoming a military state,'' said Sam Pari, of the Australian Tamil Congress. ''Their diplomatic posts are being taken over by military or former military personnel and I think that's a very, very worrying sign.''

Foreign Affairs and the Sri Lankan high commission in Canberra declined to discuss the nomination.

The bitter 26-year conflict with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam - which demanded a homeland for Sri Lanka's Tamil ethnic minority - ended in May 2009 after government troops finally crushed the insurgents.

Thousands of civilians were trapped inside a military cordon in the island nation's north-east in the closing phase of the conflict as government troops hemmed in remnants of the militants and pounded the area with heavy artillery, mortars and combat aircraft.

Aid groups complained that Sri Lankan forces deliberately targeted civilians during the fighting, especially in the province of Mullaitivu, while the government accused the Tamil Tigers of imprisoning locals for use as human shields.

United Nations estimates at the time put the civilian death toll at more than 6500 in the four months before Mullaitivu was finally overrun. About 300,000 Tamils were forced to flee the violence to emergency camps.

The fighting sparked the 2009 exodus of asylum seekers from Sri Lanka, many of them later attempting to reach Australia by boat from Indonesia.

Vice-Admiral Samarasinghe commanded operations in the country's eastern and northern waters during the final three years of the fighting.

He retired from the navy 10 days ago and media reports say he is expected to be Colombo's next representative in Canberra.

But the former NSW attorney-general and Supreme Court justice John Dowd - who is collecting evidence for the International Commission of Jurists to present to an eventual war crimes tribunal in Sri Lanka - said the nomination of a senior military commander raised concerns.

''It's very difficult to see how anyone in a senior command position … is not going to have a likelihood of allegations of war crimes, and indeed evidence of war crimes,'' Mr Dowd said.

Mr Dowd said he had recorded stories of shelling of civilians from naval vessels during the war in Sri Lanka.

The posting of a retired general, Janaka Perera, in 2001 sparked protests but he remained high commissioner until 2005.

© The Sydney Morning Herald

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Monday, January 24, 2011

Ban's Sri Lanka war crimes panel stuck in New York

By Colum Lynch | Foreign Policy

Sri Lanka has cut off direct talks with a U.N. panel set up in June to promote accountability for war crimes during the final stages of the country's bloody 2009 offensive against Tamil separatists, U.N. officials told Turtle Bay.

The panel had been planning a trip to Colombo to question senior officials responsible for addressing massive rights violations during the conflict, but that visit is now unlikely.

Sri Lanka's deputy U.N. ambassador, Maj. Gen. Shavendra Silva, who commanded troops during the war, wrote to the office of U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon this month to say that going forward his government would only hold talks with Ban's advisors, not with the panel investigating war crimes. U.N. officials say they fear Sri Lanka's action, which comes one month after Sri Lanka's U.N. ambassador, Palitha Kohona, invited the panel to Colombo, may be calculated to run down the clock on talks on a visit until the panel's mandate expires at the end of February.

The dispute centers on the terms under which the visit would take place. Sri Lanka has agreed to a visit by the U.N. panel on the condition that its activities be limited to testifying before the Sri Lanka Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission, which was set up by President Mahinda Rajapaksa last year to address the conflict and promote reconciliation between the country's ruling Sinhalese and minority Tamils. The panel has demanded broader freedom to talk to a range of Sri Lankan officials.

President Rajapaksa agreed to invite the panel to Sri Lanka during a meeting with Ban in New York along the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly debate last September, Sri Lanka's U.N. envoy, Palitha Kohona, told Turtle Bay. "The understanding at that point was the panel will come to Sri Lanka and make representations to the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission," he said. Kohona claimed the panel has sought to unilaterally "expand the scope of that understanding." U.N. officials have privately challenged Kohona's account of Ban's agreement with Rajapaksa, saying Ban did not agree to limiting the scope of the panel's activities in Sri Lanka.

The Sri Lankan army mounted a brutal military offensive in 2009 against the country's rebel Tamil Tigers, decisively defeating the 33-year-old separatist insurgency that pioneered the use of suicide bombers and assassinated a Sri Lankan president, Ranasinghe Premadasa, in 1993 and former Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi in 1991.

In their last stand, the separatist Tamil Tigers embedded themselves in a displaced community of hundreds of thousands of ethnic Tamil civilians, forcing them to serve as human shields. The Sri Lankan military, meanwhile, fired indiscriminately into crowds of civilians, killing as many as 30,000.

Human rights groups fear that Sri Lanka's successful, though highly brutal, military campaign will become a model for other governments seeking to crush insurgencies. They have pressed Ban to ensure that Sri Lankan war criminals are held accountable.

Ban exacted a pledge from Rajapaksa in May 2009 to ensure that war criminals on both sides of the conflict be held accountable. The government has since set up the Lessons Learnt Commission to promote reconciliation between the Tamils and Sinhalese, but the commission has been criticized by human rights groups and foreign dignitaries as inadequate.

Frustrated with the lack of progress, Ban established a three-member panel in June to advise him on how to ensure rights violators are held accountable for possible war crimes. In a statement, Ban said the panel hoped to cooperate with Sri Lankan officials in Sri Lanka.

The panel is chaired by Marzuki Darusman of Indonesia, Yasmin Sooka of South Africa, and Steven Ratner of the United States. It has a mandate to examine "the modalities, applicable international standards and comparative experience with regard to accountability processes, taking into account the nature and scope of any alleged violations in Sri Lanka." It is also supposed to advise Sri Lanka on ensuring Sri Lankan war criminals are held accountable.

Sri Lanka initially accused Ban of exceeding his authority and refused to provide the panel members with visas to enter the country. Sri Lankan authorities are concerned that the panel, which will produce a report with recommendations, may call for the establishment of a commission of inquiry, a frequent first step before an international prosecution.

In July, Sri Lanka's minister for housing and construction, Wimal Weerawansa, led a group of pro-government protesters that ringed the U.N.'s Colombo headquarters, harassing U.N. employees, preventing staffers from entering and exiting the U.N. compound, and burning U.N. Secretary-General Ban-Ki moon in effigy. Sri Lanka officials essentially ignored the panel's repeated requests for visas to travel to Colombo.

But in December, Sri Lanka's U.N. ambassador, Palitha Kohona, invited the panel to lunch and offered an invitation to visit Colombo. A subsequent letter made it clear that the panel's visit would be restricted to sharing their views on accountability before the Lessons Learned Commission: They would not be permitted to question the commission or conduct interviews with key Sri Lankan officials, including the attorney general, responsible for pursuing justice in the case.

"The Sri Lankan mission had initially indicated they would be amenable to the panel meeting with it to make whatever representations it may wish to make, but it seems now that such a visit has still not been decided," said a senior U.N. official. "I am not sure if this is a simple matter of the Sri Lankan side prevaricating. The panel is nevertheless open and keen on any appropriate interaction with the LLC."

"The Sri Lankans have sought to keep their interaction through the secretariat, specifically the EOSG [the executive office of the secretary general]," the official said. "We have, however, been asking them and the panel to deal with each other directly and shall continue to do so."

© Foreign Policy

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Monday, January 24, 2011

Sri Lanka's war-scarred minorities living 'in fear' - rights group

By Nita Bhalla | Alertnet

Many of Sri Lanka's minority Tamils and Muslims displaced by the country's civil war have been poorly resettled and are living in harsh conditions as part of a deliberate policy to marginalise them, according to a report by a human rights group.

The Indian Ocean island's 25-year-old war against Tamil Tiger separatists ended almost two years ago, with the Sinhalese-majority government declaring victory over the rebels.

But while hundreds of thousands of Tamils and Muslins who fled the violence in the north and east of the island have since returned home, the London-based Minority Rights Group (MRG) says they continue to suffer repression and exclusion in politics and development policies.

"Despite the end of the war, many Tamil and Muslim minorities in Sri Lanka continue to live in fear," MRG's Executive Director Mark Lattimer said in a statement this week.

The report, entitled "No war, no peace: the denial of minority rights and justice in Sri Lanka", says the resettlement process has not taken place according to international standards.

"The situation in the resettlement areas in the north and east is very worrying, particularly as international and national media and NGOs (non-governmental organisations) have restricted access," Lattimer said.

"There is a high level of militarisation and state control over freedom of movement and association, with local women vulnerable to sexual abuse and harassment."

Sri Lankan diplomats have dismissed the report as an attempt to discredit the country and its government.


According to the report, not only have people going back to conflict-ravaged areas endured poor housing conditions, they also have limited livelihood opportunities after losing everything during the war.

Parts of the former conflict zone are still designated High Security Zones (HSZs), meaning former residents cannot return home.

In other areas, land has been appropriated for hotels and other development projects mostly employing labour from the majority Sinhalese population brought in from other regions of the country, the report adds.

"Unable to return to their land and resume the income-generating activities that they practiced before the conflict, and excluded from these new employment opportunities, many Muslims and Tamils are living in poverty," it says.

"Some members of minority communities living in army-controlled areas ... spoke of intimidation and harassment at the hands of the military, including sexual and harassment and rape," it says, adding that a culture of impunity means victims have been denied justice.

The report urges the Sri Lankan government to publish a policy that addresses minority rights issues, resume all-party negotiations on political representation and governance for minorities, and develop an impartial mechanism for justice and reconciliation.


Sri Lankan diplomats say the report is a deliberate attempt by Western groups under pressure from supporters of the Tamil Tiger rebels to sabotage President Mahinda Rajapaksa's current visit to the United States.

"Whenever there is some important international event which is linked to Sri Lanka, these groups issue some statement or report repeating the same old accusations to discredit the government and the president," said Sugeeswara Senadhira, minister counsellor at the Sri Lankan High Commission in New Delhi.

"This is all fabricated, and these groups are being influenced by supporters of the Tigers, which still has a lot of support in the diaspora."

MRG says its report "includes groundbreaking first-hand research from the north and east of the country, including areas that international and national media and NGOs have limited access to".

But Senadhira said MRG had not visited Sri Lanka to conduct an investigation, and the report was drawn from interviews with Sri Lankans in the West, who had gained political asylum but had actually left the country for economic reasons.

"This is absolute nonsense as 52 percent of the population in Sri Lanka's capital Colombo is made up of Tamil and Muslims - so how can these allegations be true?" said Senadhira.

© Alertnet

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Monday, January 24, 2011

Sri Lanka: State of emergency extended without debate

Daily News

The vote on extending the state of emergency was passed with a majority of 118 votes for the first time in Parliament history without a debate yesterday. Accordingly, the motion seeking the extension received 123 votes in favour and five against.

TNA, DNA and UNP voted against the motion. The debate on extending the emergency is scheduled for February 8. Prime Minister D M Jayaratne moved that the emergency regulations should be extended by another one month.

At this stage, DNA MP Anura Kumara Dissanayake stated that as discussed at the party leaders’ meeting, they agree to take the vote today without the debate.

But he requested for a full day debate on February on the extension of the state of emergency.

Leader of the House and Irrigation and Water Resources Management Minister Nimal Siripala de Silva stated that the debate will be taken on February 8.

DNA MP Anura Kumara Dissanayake asked for a division.

© Daily News

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Monday, January 24, 2011

Amnesty International makes accusations against Sri Lankan forces

By Ashish Kumar Sen | The Washington Times

Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa is reportedly on a personal visit to the U.S., prompting calls from an international human rights group that he be investigated for his alleged role in torture and war crimes.

Mr. Rajapaksa is commander in chief of Sri Lanka's armed forces, which along with the rebel Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), face allegations of war crimes during the decades-long conflict on the South Asian island.

Under international law, military commanders may face criminal charges if they knew, or should have known, of such crimes being committed by their subordinates, according to Amnesty International.

"The United States has an obligation under international law to investigate and prosecute people who perpetrated war crimes and grave human rights violations such as extrajudicial executions, torture and enforced disappearances," said Sam Zarifi, Amnesty International's Asia-Pacific director.

A spokesman for the Sri Lankan Embassy in Washington was unable to confirm reports that Mr. Rajapaksa is in the U.S.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has convened a panel of experts to advise him on accountability issues during the war in Sri Lanka.

The LTTE, which resorted to suicide bombers and child soldiers, has been listed as a foreign terrorist organization by the State Department.

"Thousands of victims in Sri Lanka demand accountability for the abuses they've suffered from the Sri Lankan security forces as well as armed groups such as the LTTE," Mr. Zarifi said.

Contrary to Mr. Zarifi's claim, the embassy spokesman, Steve Hedges, said that Sri Lankan forces actually rescued about 300,000 civilians that were held hostage by the LTTE.

Sri Lankan forces, he said, were under strict orders to carry out a "zero civilian casualties" campaign.

A number of government soldiers died and were injured trying to clear a path of escape for the civilians, Mr. Hedges said. It was LTTE practice to shoot civilians who tried to escape and the LTTE did shoot some civilians as they fled to the government troops, he added.

Tamil protesters disrupted Mr. Rajapaksa's visit to Britain late last year.

The Oxford Union said it was forced to cancel a scheduled talk by the Sri Lankan leader in December "due to the sheer scale of the expected protests."

The war against the Tamil separatists wrapped up in May 2009 soon after LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran was killed by the army.

The last few months of fighting were some of the bloodiest. According to some estimates, as many as 40,000 civilians were killed.

However, the United Nations sets the toll at a much lower 7,000 casualties. The government of Sri Lanka believes that civilian deaths were minimal, since its troops opened up several routes through which hundreds of thousands of trapped civilians were rescued.

In a confidential cable published by the anti-secrecy website WikiLeaks, U.S. Ambassador to Sri Lanka, Patricia Butenis wrote that Mr. Rajapaksa, along with the country's top civilian leadership and then-army chief Gen. Sarath Fonseka, was largely responsible for the alleged war crimes.

"There are no examples we know of a regime undertaking wholesale investigations of its own troops or senior officials for war crimes while that regime or government remained in power. In Sri Lanka this is further complicated by the fact that responsibility for many of the alleged crimes rests with the country's senior civilian and military leadership, including President Rajapaksa and his brothers and opposition candidate General Fonseka," Ms. Butenis wrote in the Jan. 15, 2010, cable.

She cited this as the reason for the slow progress in the investigation of allegations of war crimes.

Fonseka challenged Mr. Rajapaksa in a presidential election and was later convicted of corruption by a court-martial last year.

© The Washington Times

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