Monday, April 18, 2011

UN leak points to "crimes against humanity" in Sri Lanka's war

Channel 4 News

A leaked version of the long-awaited report by the United Nations Secretary General (UNSG) panel reveals "credible allegations" of war crimes which - if proven - suggest a "grave assault on the entire regime of international law".

The report estimates that tens of thousands of civilians were killed in the final four months of Sri Lanka's civil war in 2009.

It indicates that actions by both the Sri Lankan government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) could amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity.

These alleged crimes include executions, rape and torture by government forces. The leaked report also lists the shelling of civilians inside "no-fire zones", the "systematic shelling" of hospitals and attacks on the UN and Red Cross.

The LTTE stands accused of refusing civilians permission to leave the conflict zone and "using them as hostages" in a "buffer zone".

The UN panel also says that authorities "sought to intimidate and silence the media and other critics of the war through a variety of threats and actions, including the use of white vans to abduct and to make people disappear".

The Sri Lankan government has not yet responded in full to the allegations - a spokesman said earlier that the report was "under study". But in an earlier statement officials said the investigation was "fundamentally flawed". It has also been called a "conspiracy" in the Sri Lankan media.

Call for independent investigation

Yolanda Foster from Amnesty International has told Channel 4 News "this report is a call to action" and that an international independent investigation should now be set up. She said it would be difficult for the Sri Lankan government to "push back" against allegations on this scale.

Video first broadcast by Channel 4 News used as evidence

The 26-year war officially finished in summer 2009, when the Sri Lankan army defeated the LTTE (Tamil Tigers) in an area the government named the "no-fire zone".

On the 25 August 2009 Channel 4 News received a video via email from a group calling itself Journalists for Democracy in Sri Lanka.

It showed naked, bound men being executed with a shot to the back of the head by two men in khaki uniforms on what appears to be a dirt road. It is bookended by two executions; by the end the bodies of nine naked men lie in the wasteland.

Soon after Channel 4 News found itself involved in the unfinished business of Sri Lanka's bitter civil war, and into the centre of an argument which involved human rights organisations, the United Nations, the American ambassador to the UN Susan Rice, and most vocally and actively the government of Sri Lanka.

In January 2010, a UN investigation concluded that the video "appears authentic".

© Channel 4 News

Read More

Bookmark and Share

Monday, April 18, 2011

Sri Lanka leader urges protests against UN report

AFP | Yahoo! News

Sri Lanka's president has called for mass protests against a UN report which urged a probe into alleged war crimes committed during the fight against Tamil Tiger rebels, his office said Sunday.

President Mahinda Rajapakse said in an address to officials of his Sri Lanka Freedom Party that this year's May Day rally should be turned into a "show of our strength" against international calls for war crimes investigations.

"All these days we did not demonstrate our strength, but now on May Day we will show our strength," the president said on Saturday. An audio tape of the speech was released by his office.

His remarks came after a leaked UN report called for an independent inquiry into "credible" allegations that Sri Lanka committed war crimes and crimes against humanity in its final 2009 offensive against Tamil Tiger rebels.

Rajapakse said that a section of the international community was leading a campaign against Sri Lanka and harbouring a "grudge" because he did not allow the country to be divided, as demanded by the Tamil Tigers.

He said the world had also benefited from the crushing of the rebels who had mastered the use of "suicide jackets" in their trademark bombings.

Rajapakse said allegations of war crimes, contained in a UN expert panel report, were not new but that there were increasing suggestions that those who led the military campaign should be taken before a war crimes tribunal.

"On behalf of the country, if they ask me to sit on the electric chair, I will happily do it," the president said.

The leaked report detailed "credible allegations" which, if proven, indicate a wide range of violations by both the government and the rebels, "some of which would amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity".

Labelling a Sri Lankan government commission set up to study the handling of the conflict "deeply flawed", the report urged Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to immediately set up "an independent international mechanism" of inquiry.

The leaked excerpts were published Saturday in Sri Lanka's pro-government The Island newspaper, with observers suggesting Colombo might have engineered the leak to prepare a full rebuttal that would pre-empt its official publication.

Sri Lankan External Affairs Ministry officials said the government will also drum up support from "friendly nations" to prevent any international action against the country and its political and military leaders.

Colombo is banking on support from close allies China and Russia to block any UN Security Council move against it. Sri Lanka has avoided censure at the UN Human Rights Council thanks to the support of the two veto-wielding powers.

External Affairs minister G. L. Peiris will brief diplomats on Colombo's opposition to the UN report this week after Rajapakse completes an upcoming three-day state visit to Bangladesh, officials said.

The UN report said "tens of thousands" of people died between January and May 2009 in the final offensive that resulted in the defeat of the Tigers, ending a decades-old ethnic conflict which had claimed up to 100,000 lives.

The report said allegations of attacks against civilians demanded a serious investigation and the prosecution of those responsible.

"If proven, those most responsible, including Sri Lanka army commanders and senior government officials, as well as military and civilian LTTE leaders, would bear criminal liability for international crimes," it said.

It also listed alleged violations by the rebel forces, saying they had intentionally used civilians as human shields.

© Yahoo! News

Read More

Bookmark and Share

Monday, April 18, 2011

Sri Lanka: Govt. launches major counter-offensive against the UN report

By Diplomatic Editor | The Sunday Times

Sri Lanka will launch a diplomatic offensive in "neutral" countries to meet the allegations made against the government in the report of the three-member experts’ panel that advised the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on civilian casualties during the last stages of the military offensive against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in early 2009.

Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa told the Sunday Times that the government would take the report "seriously" and send teams to India, Pakistan, Indonesia, Malaysia, the other Non-Aligned countries including those in Africa and Latin America to explain why Sri Lanka had no option but to use military force to liquidate the LTTE's military capabilities.

He said a white paper would be prepared outlining the justification for military action; the civilian casualties caused by the LTTE; the benefits that have accrued to the people of Sri Lanka both in the north and south from the elimination of terrorism; and the humanitarian measures taken by the government during that final offensive against the LTTE and thereafter for the displaced civilians during the final stages, especially in the Vanni and Mullaitivu districts.

Already three retired Foreign Secretaries -- Nihal Rodrigo, Bernard Gunatillake and H.M.G.S. Palihakkara -- have been requested to assist the Attorney General in preparing a report to counter the allegations made in the UN panel report.

The UN panel that comprised Marzuki Darusman (Indonesia), Yasmin Sooka (South Africa) and Stern Ratner (the United States) has made some strong recommendations to the UN Secretary General. It calls on the SG "to establish an independent international mechanism" to probe accountability in civilian casualties during that period in early 2009, and that the "Government of Sri Lanka should issue a public,
the people of Sri Lanka both in the north and south from the elimination of terrorism; and the humanitarian measures taken by the government during that final offensive against the LTTE and thereafter for the displaced civilians during the final stages, especially in the Vanni and Mullaitivu districts.

Already three retired Foreign Secretaries -- Nihal Rodrigo, Bernard Gunatillake and H.M.G.S. Palihakkara -- have been requested to assist the Attorney General in preparing a report to counter the allegations made in the UN panel report.

The UN panel that comprised Marzuki Darusman (Indonesia), Yasmin Sooka (South Africa) and Stern Ratner (the United States) has made some strong recommendations to the UN Secretary General. It calls on the SG "to establish an independent international mechanism" to probe accountability in civilian casualties during that period in early 2009, and that the "Government of Sri Lanka should issue a public,formal acknowledgement for its role in and responsibility for extensive civilian casualties in the final stages of war", which is interpreted by diplomatic analysts as being a call for a public apology by the government for what happened.

The report, a copy of which was sent to the Sri Lanka government by the UN Secretary General through the country's permanent mission at the UN headquarters in New York on Wednesday, rejects the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) established by the government to go into issues relating to the separatist insurgency and matters connected to it.

In a hard-hitting reference to the LLRC, the panel's report says it "fails to satisfy key international standards of independence and impartiality, as it is compromised by its composition and deep seated conflicts on interests of some of its members". It says the LLRC is "deeply flawed" and cannot be seen to satisfy the joint commitment of the Sri Lankan president and the UNSG to an accountability process.
The panel has also rejected the explanation given by the government delegation that it met secretly last month on measures adopted to "balance reconciliation with accountability".

"The assertion of a choice between restorative and retributive justice presents a false dichotomy. Both are required," says the panel. The panel confirms the meeting between the Sri Lankan government delegation comprising Attotney General Mohan Peiris, then Foreign Secretary Romesh Jayasinghe, Ambassador to the UN Palitha Kohona and his deputy Maj. Gen. Shavindra Silva.

The panel says, "The Government's two-pronged notion of accountability as explained to the panel, focusing on the responsibility of past governments and of the LTTE, does not envisage a serious examination of the government's decisions and conduct in prosecuting the final stages of the war or the aftermath, nor the violations of law that may have occurred as a result".

The Sri Lanka government rejected the findings of the expert panel's report saying it was "flawed" and "biased".

“The report includes "unconfirmed and unsubstantiated details and figures on the final stages of the ethnic conflict. The report is entirely misleading and baseless. We are not ready to accept this report,” Media Minister Keheliya Rambukwella said.

© The Sunday Times

Read More

Bookmark and Share

Monday, April 18, 2011

Sri Lanka forces committed war crimes, says UN

By Andrew Buncombe | Thge Independent

The authorities in Sri Lanka are under mounting pressure to agree to an independent inquiry into a military operation against Tamil rebels, after a UN panel found "credible allegations" that the government committed war crimes and offences against humanity.

A leaked report by a team established by UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon, suggests government troops systematically shelled civilians it had encouraged to gather in so-called "no-fire zones", at hospitals, at the UN's hub, and even close to an area where aid workers from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) were coming to collect wounded people from the beach. It says the government allowed this even though it knew from its own intelligence the impact of the repeated bombardment.

The panel, which calls for an independent international inquiry, concludes that "tens of thousands" of civilians lost their lives, and that most casualties in the final phases of the war were caused by government shelling. It says the government sought to intimidate and silence the media and its critics, and even resorted to abduction, using "white vans" to make people disappear. The report says there is evidence that Tamil rebels also committed war crimes and that they used civilians as human shields, shot dead those who tried to flee the war zone, and forcibly recruited teenagers to become fighters.

The damning report, parts of which have been leaked to media in Sri Lanka, is likely to be the most comprehensive insight yet into the bloody final stages of the 2009 offensive that crushed the rebel Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE, known as the Tamil Tigers) and brought an end to a decades-long civil war that had taken more than 70,000 lives. At the time, there was widespread international criticism of the way the government had failed to protect Tamil civilians caught in the war zone. But the authorities dismissed this and President Mahinda Rajapaksa was re-elected the following year on the back of his victory over the rebels.

The UN has yet to make public the report or comment on the recommendations of the three-member panel. However, Gordon Weiss, a former spokesman for the UN in Sri Lanka who served in the capital, Colombo, during the offensive against the LTTE, said the report "damns the government of Sri Lanka's so-called war on terror, which incidentally killed many thousands of civilians. The Tamil Tigers were equally rotten in their disdain for life."

The Sri Lankan government has dismissed the findings. "The government finds this report fundamentally flawed in many respects," said the Foreign Ministry in a statement. "Among other deficiencies, the report is based on patently biased material, which is presented without any verification. The government will, in due course, comment in detail on the contents of the report."

The UN panel was established last year by the Secretary General after failing to persuade Mr Rajapaksa to order an independent inquiry into what may have taken place. At the time, the Sri Lankan authorities described the panel's formation as "an unwarranted and unnecessary interference with a sovereign nation". It said it would provide visas for the panel members to visit Sri Lanka only if they were attending the government's own "inquiry" – the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission, which human rights groups and, indeed, the UN panel said lacks credibility.

As a result, the panel members – Marzuki Darusman, a former Indonesian attorney general, Yasmin Sooka, a South African human rights expert, and Steven Ratner, a US lawyer – were unable to visit the island to gather evidence.

During the offensive, the Sri Lankan authorities insisted they were operating a policy of zero civilian casualties, and denied reports that troops were shelling the no-fire zone. The government insisted photographs from the war zone published by Tamil groups and others were propaganda. The testimony of doctors in the war zone who told journalists of the casualties, and the suffering of up to 330,000 men, women and children scrabbling to survive in a tiny strip of land, was dismissed. After the war, the medics were put in front of a press conference where they recanted what they had previously said.

Yet the UN panel says it has "found credible allegations which, if proven, indicate that a wide range of serious violations of international humanitarian law and international human rights law were committed both by the government of Sri Lanka and the LTTE, some of which would amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity". It adds: "Indeed, the conduct of the war represented a grave assault on the entire regime of international law designed to protect individual dignity during both war and peace."

Precisely how many people died in the final stages of the offensive remains unclear. At the time the operation was going on, the UN said it had evidence that up to 10,000 had died. Mr Weiss later told broadcasters up to 40,000 people may have lost their lives. The Sri Lankan authorities have always denied both figures. Yet the panel's report says the authorities in Colombo deliberately underestimated the number of civilians who were in the conflict zone. It adds: "Tens of thousands lost their lives from January to May 2009, many of whom died anonymously in the carnage of the final few days."

In the last weeks of the military operation, countless thousands of civilians were living in bunkers dug into the sands of Mullaitivu beach in the far north-east of Sri Lanka, which media and aid organisations had been strictly prevented from visiting. Desperately short of food, water and medicine, the civilians were shelteringfrom the sun under tarpaulins, scrambling out when the shelling let up to scavenge for supplies and to bury the dead. Many were killed by the LTTE as they tried to escape.

The offensive ended in May 2009, when advancing troops broke through the LTTE's final defences and thousands of civilians were able to pour out. They were taken to refugee camps set up behind barbed wire in the north of the country. Some were held for up to a year before being allowed to return to their villages.

Among those killed in the final stages of the war was Velupillai Prabhakaran, the LTTE leader, who was shot in the head. There was persuasive evidence that several senior LTTE leaders were shot and killed as they tried to surrender.

It is unclear what immediate impact the UN report will have. In some circles President Rajapaksa has been praised for his decisive crushing of the Tamil rebels, who had launched a bloody campaign for a Tamil homeland in the north and east of the country. Last week, US Congressman Joe Wilson called on Capitol Hill for a renewal of US-Sri Lankan relations, and commended the government's victory over "terrorist forces within its borders".

Mr Rajapaksa called off a visit to the UK last November when he was to have addressed the Oxford Union after Tamil activists threatened to seek his arrest. Many commentators and human rights groups have denounced what they say is a continuing assault against free speech and independent journalism in Sri Lanka. Others have complained that the President has failed to seek national reconciliation.

Tom Hockley, a UN official in Sri Lanka, said yesterday that his team had not seen the report, other than what had appeared in The Island, a Sri Lankan newspaper. The UN Secretary General said: "It is deeply regrettable that parts of the report found their way prematurely to a Sri Lankan newspaper. The full report will be released next week."

© The Independent

Read More

Bookmark and Share

Monday, April 18, 2011

"Uthayan" : A Target

By Nirmala Kannangara | The Sunday Leader

The Jaffna Municipal Council (JMC) has issued a circular banning all government institutions and libraries operated by local government institutions from subscribing to the Uthayan newspaper.

Following the Uthayan newspaper’s expose in its March 22, 23 and 24 editions of an irregular tender by the JMC, Jaffna Mayoress, Yogeswari Patkunarajah had instructed all government institutions to not subscribe to this newspaper nor invite any journalists from it to cover state events, interact with the journalists, provide any information or send press releases to the paper, according to its Chief Editor, M.V. Kanamylenathan.

“In the true spirit of investigative journalism we exposed how the JMC advertised a tender calling for bidders to build a five storeyed shopping complex in Jaffna town.

On October 27 last year Patkunarajah had presented a proposal to the council to build a five storeyed shopping complex. Generally such proposals should come from the members and not from the Mayoress. However in this instance the proposal came from her and she was able to get the necessary approvals from the council. Meanwhile, Patkunarajah ignoring the local Tamil newspapers in Jaffna, advertised the tender notification in two Colombo publications — the Daily News and Thinakaran which has a small circulation in Jaffna, Mullaithivu, Kilinochchi, Wanni, Vavuniya and Mannar,” Kanamylenathan said.

Further, recounting the incident he said as a result there was only one application and this bidder is allegedly a friend of Minister Douglas Devananda. “Although there are no provisions for any local body to offer a tender unless there is more than one bidder, Patkunarajah offered the tender to Minister Devananda’s friend without advertising for a second time,” Kanamylenathan said.

According to him, following the exposé the JMC was in turmoil and the opposition members on April 5 had urged the Mayoress to cancel the tender and to advertise once more in the four local Tamil newspapers to which the ruling party however had objected.

“Although the opposition members created mayhem in the council requesting her cancel the tender the ruling party decided to go for a vote. Since many opposition members were absent it was passed by one vote the same day. The very next day we once again exposed the heated arguments that had taken place,” Kanamylenathan said.

According to Kanamylenathan, it was on that day (April 6) Patkunarajah had issued a circular to all government institutions and libraries that come under the local authorities not to subscribe to the Uthayan newspaper.

Our attempts to contact Patkunarajah for a response failed.

© The Sunday Leader

Read More

Bookmark and Share

Monday, April 18, 2011

Sri Lankan government deepens IMF austerity measures

By Sampath Perera | World Socialist Web Site

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) this month released the seventh installment of its standby loan to Sri Lanka, publicly endorsing the government’s performance in slashing spending. Just three days before the IMF’s April 4 release, the government increased fuel prices by an average of about 8 percent, in accordance with IMF prescriptions, further driving up the cost of living for working people.

This month’s transfer of $US218 million brought the total IMF disbursement to $1.75 billion. President Mahinda Rajapakse obtained a loan of $2.6 billion in July 2009 to avert an acute balance of payment crisis produced by the global financial crash and the cost of the regime’s renewed war against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). Since then the government has been making the working class pay for the resulting debt by increasing taxes, cutting price subsidies on essential goods and privatising public utilities.

As a result of the government’s adherence to budget deficit reduction targets, the IMF announced that it would conduct its economic reviews every six months, rather than every three. “The Sri Lankan economy continues to make progress under the Fund-supported program,” the IMF statement declared. Koshy Mathai, the IMF’s residential representative, reiterated: “There is no indication of problems that would prompt us to believe that the targets will not be met.”

The IMF statements stand in contrast to boasts by Rajapakse and his associate, Central Bank governor Ajit Nivard Cabrral, that the government is not implementing IMF dictates. For all the government’s denials, aimed at assuaging public discontent, it is faithfully implementing all the IMF’s austerity measures.

The latest Central Bank figures show that the budget deficit fell to 7.9 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) last year, just below the IMF-set target of 8 percent, and a sharp reduction of 2 percentage points since 2009. The target for this year is 6.8 percent, and by 2012 the deficit must be cut to 5 percent, indicating the scale of the attacks on living standards still to come.

Despite the devastating floods at the beginning of the year that destroyed homes, crops and infrastructure across numbers of districts, particularly in the island’s East, the IMF was confident that the government’s relief measures would not compromise the deficit reduction program. The fund said the handling of “flood-related expenses by reallocating and reprioritising expenditure within the existing budget will help maintain the program’s deficit target for 2011.”

One million people were affected by the floods and about 300,000 were displaced, but people have been sent back to their homes with little or no assistance. By the government’s own estimates, the floods caused 66 billion rupees worth of damage ($US600 million) across several provinces, yet only 33 billion rupees was allocated for relief and reconstruction, and this was all to come by cutting other public spending. The government has not yet revealed details of where these cuts will be made.

Although the IMF praised the “progress” of the Sri Lankan economy, it admitted that the government faced a difficult balancing act because of rising prices. Mathai stated: “We expect inflation to increase over the next two months [but] we don’t advocate immediate tightening of monetary policy that would slow down the economy.”

In March, the cost-of-living index rose by 8.6 percent above the level of a year earlier—a 26-month high—making Sri Lanka’s inflation rate one of the worst in Asia. While the government and the employers, assisted by the trade unions, have refused to increase wages, food prices rose by 10 percent last year.

On April 2, the government raised petrol, diesel, kerosene and domestic gas prices by an average of 7.5 percent. Kerosene prices, which particularly affect plantation workers and the rural poor, were lifted 20 percent.

The government blamed unrest in the Middle East and the war in Libya for its fuel price hikes. Certainly, the turmoil across north Africa and the Middle East has pushed up oil and gas prices internationally. However, the Rajapakse government has slashed the fuel subsidies in line with the requirements set out by the IMF in 2009.

The IMF indicated that further energy price increases were in store over coming months. It said the government had promised to bring the Ceylon Electricity Board and the state-owned Petroleum Corporation to “break-even point” by the end of this year. That inevitably means pushing up electricity and fuel prices for ordinary people.

At the same time, as in other countries, the IMF insisted that the government had to step up its protection of corporate interests. The fund’s statement added: “Financial sector reforms will continue to focus on strengthening the resilience of this sector, and expand the scope of financing options available to the private sector by increasing the depth of the corporate bond market and improving the functioning of the stock market.”

This “reform” program has further enriched the wealthy and increased social polarisation. An analysis by TKS Securities released in March showed that 221 firms out of the 247 listed companies on the Colombo Stock Exchange recorded combined profits of 123 billion rupees ($US1.15 billion) last year. This was a phenomenal 140 percent increase over 2009, according to the Sri Lankan Daily FT.

Bank, finance and insurance corporations earned a combined 33 billion rupees, an 87 percent increase over the previous year. Companies in the telecommunications, plantations, investment trusts, hotels and travel, power and energy sectors recorded an overall increase of more than 100 percent. Profits in some industries soared even higher—motor vehicles by ten-fold, plantations nine-fold and hotels and travel nearly four-fold.

A Sunday Leader analysis of Colombo Stock Exchange data in January showed that as a result of soaring profits and share prices, 20 rupee-billionaires held more than 122 billion rupees ($US1.1 billion) between them. Apart from this tiny wealthy elite, an upper middle class layer has directly benefited from this stock market boom.

At the other social pole, the official poverty line stood at an extraordinarily low figure of 3,328 rupees per month in February. This is equal to 111 rupees or one dollar per day, which is just enough for one meal a day. According to the conservative government figures, about 7.7 percent of the population, or more than 1.4 million people, were living below this line.

Far from providing evidence of a decline in poverty, as the government claims, this estimate provides some indication of the depth of impoverishment in the country. The pro-market restructuring and austerity measures being imposed by the Rajapakse government at the behest of the IMF are setting the stage for the eruption of sharp class struggles.


Read More

Bookmark and Share
© 2009 - 2014 Journalists for Democracy in Sri Lanka

  © Blogger template 'Fly Away' by 2008

Back to TOP