Saturday, May 14, 2011

Sri Lanka: Australian entangled in a final act of civil war

By Ben Doherty | Sydney Morning Herald

In the frantic confusion of the last hours of the Tamil Tigers' war, some sought a way out. Through text messages and phone calls they offered an unconditional surrender, in return for safe passage out of the war zone.

Now, two years on, an Australian citizen and senior Sri Lankan diplomat stands accused, in an application to the International Criminal Court, of complicity in the murder of surrendering Tamils. A Herald investigation examines one desperate final act in Sri Lanka's civil war on a lonely, bloody beach at Mullaitivu.

The ruthless separatist war waged by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam against the Sinhalese-majority Sri Lankan government came to its bloody end, after more than a quarter of a century, in May 2009.

The terrorist army, which at one stage controlled a third of the island, was reduced in the end to a narrow strip of coastal land, hemmed in by the sea, a lagoon, and a relentless assault from the advancing army.

Many Tigers vowed to fight to the death rather than lay down their arms, but as the bodies piled up on the beach, some sought a way to surrender, for themselves, and for the thousands of civilians they held hostage.

Under constant heavy shelling, on mobile phones with waning batteries, they rang and sent text messages to anyone they thought could help rescue them.

They contacted diplomats, journalists, workers of non-governmental organisations, seeking anyone who could broker an agreement between their rump of a resistance and the government.

They made dozens of calls.

Through a European intermediary, they got a message to Dr Palitha Kohona, Sri Lanka's foreign secretary, and at that time the public face of Sri Lanka's war against the Tigers.

Dr Kohona is dual Sri-Lankan Australian citizen, a former Australian diplomat and trade negotiator for the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. He is now an ambassador for Sri Lanka, the country's permanent representative to the United Nations.

He was contacted with a message on behalf of a man called Pulidevan, who was the head of the Tiger peace secretariat. Pulidevan was not a soldier, but a key Tiger policymaker. He offered an unconditional surrender.

Willing to walk out with him were members of his family, Nadesan, the head of the Tigers' political wing, a Tigers' Colonel called Ramesh, and more than a dozen civilians.

Over several hours it was negotiated that those who wished to could safely surrender under a white flag. They were told a route to walk from behind a defensive bund into the custody of the army's 58th division. The troops were told to expect them.

At 8.46am on Sunday, May 17, Dr Kohona sent a text message to a third party intermediary, which was passed on to Pulidevan.

"Just walk across to the troops, slowly! With a white flag and comply with instructions carefully. The soldiers are nervous about suicide bombers."

At 6.30am the next day, Pulidevan and Nadesan, each carrying a white flag above his head, and followed by a group of about 15 that included their families, walked from their hideout towards the 58th division.

A Tamil man who was in the war zone and watched them leave - who has since fled Sri Lanka, but asked that his name be withheld for fear of reprisals - told the Herald they walked as instructed and none were armed.

"I saw them with my own eyes. Pulidevan and Nadesan and then behind them the other people. I saw them walk towards the soldiers. The soldiers had trucks, they took the people behind the trucks and behind the sand mound, we couldn't see them any more. Then we could just hear shooting, and people yelling. The shooting was fast, like a machinegun.''

Reports at the time said Pulidevan's wife, a Sinhalese woman, called out to the troops in their native Sinhalese: "He is trying to surrender and you are shooting him".

The deaths of Pulidevan and Nadesan were reported within half an hour. The body of Pulidevan's wife was found, too, also shot dead.

The war ended that day. The bodies of some of those who surrendered were found in the days following, but many were not. It is believed that none of those who surrendered survived.

Dr Kohona told the Herald the text message was not part of any negotiations with the Tigers. "I have said … categorically that as foreign secretary of Sri Lanka, I never had the authority to issue orders to troops or to discuss surrender terms of any terrorists, either directly or indirectly."

He did not "honestly believe" an effort was made by the group to surrender.

"The text is likely to have been in response to an inquiry, but not from anyone associated with the LTTE. This was not an effort to arrange a surrender, which I had no authority to do.

"In my understanding this is how surrenders normally take place. This was all the advice I could give."

The Herald has confirmed with three independent sources the message sent by Dr Kohona to a third party was in response to an offer from Pulidevan of a surrender. The message was passed to Pulidevan.

But while Palitha Kohona was regarded as a key player in negotiations, evidence is emerging the Tigers' planned surrender was foreknown throughout the Sri Lankan government and military, to the very highest levels.

The report to the UN Secretary-General on the conduct of the war, released last month, found: "both [Sri Lankan] President [Mahinda] Rajapaksa and [his brother] Defence Secretary Basil Rajapaksa provided assurances that their surrender would be accepted.

"These were conveyed by intermediaries to the LTTE leaders, who were advised to raise a white flag and walk slowly towards the army, following a particular route advised by Basil Rajapaksa."

Leaked US embassy cables show Norway's ambassador was in regular contact with Tamil Tiger leaders and with both Basil Rajapaksa and another brother, Gotabaya, urging the government to accept a surrender.

And a deposition from a senior army officer, seen by the Herald, says there were instructions from a field commander "to get rid of the LTTE cadres who are surrendering, without adhering to the normal procedures".

The Sri Lankan government has maintained the surrendering Tamils were shot by other cadres as they deserted. It says it pursued a humanitarian rescue operation.

Dr Kohona himself addressed the UN Security Council this week, telling it that at the end of the war, "the government adopted a zero civilian casualty policy''.

He told the Herald he has "absolutely no idea" how Pulidevan and Nadesan died.

"The version [presented by the report to the UN] appears to be a convenient entree to establish criminal conduct. The rump LTTE has been working overtime clutching at straws to get even.''

The UN Secretary-General's report found it was "unable to accept the version of events held by the government of Sri Lanka".

© Sydney Morning Herald

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Saturday, May 14, 2011

'Walk to the troops': SMS sent Tamils to their death

By Ben Doherty | The Age

Beaten and with nowhere left to run, they received the text message just before 9 o'clock on a Sunday morning.

It came, through an intermediary, from the Sri Lankan foreign secretary, apparent instructions for a surrender: ''Just walk across to the troops, slowly! With a white flag and comply with instructions carefully. The soldiers are nervous about suicide bombers.''

At dawn the next day, a group of nearly 20 - Tamil Tiger soldiers and civilians - scrambled from behind their defensive sand embankment, walking under white flags towards the Sri Lankan army's 58th Division.

Within half an hour their leaders were found, shot dead. None who surrendered are known to have survived.

The man who sent the text message was Dr Palitha Kohona, a dual Sri Lankan-Australian citizen, a former Australian diplomat and trade negotiator for the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. He is now an ambassador for Sri Lanka, the country's permanent representative to the United Nations.

A report to the UN Secretary-General last month named him as party to the failed surrender talks, and two Tamil groups have accused him of war crimes.

Dr Kohona denies the claims, telling The Saturday Age that while he sent the text message it was not a guarantee of safety. ''Absolutely not. This would be have been way beyond my authority to promise,'' he said.

The ruthless separatist war waged by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam against the Sinhalese-majority Sri Lankan government came to its bloody end in May 2009.

The Tigers, who once controlled a third of the island, were forced into a narrow strip of coastal land, hemmed in by the sea, a lagoon, and a relentless assault from the army.

Many Tigers vowed to fight to the death, but as the bodies piled up, some sought a way to surrender, to save themselves and thousands of civilians they held hostage. Under heavy shelling, they rang and sent messages to diplomats, journalists - anyone they thought could broker an agreement with the government.

Through a European intermediary, they got a message to Dr Kohona. He was contacted on behalf of a man called Pulidevan, head of the Tiger peace secretariat. He offered an unconditional surrender.

Willing to walk out with him under a white flag were members of his family, Nadesan, the head of the LTTE's political wing, an LTTE colonel called Ramesh, and more than a dozen civilians.

At 8.46am on Sunday, May 17, Dr Kohona sent a text message to a third-party intermediary, which was passed on to Pulidevan.

At 6.30 the next morning, Pulidevan and Nadesan, carrying white flags and followed by about 15 others walked towards the army, which had been told to expect them. A Tamil man who watched them leave told The Saturday Age they walked towards the soldiers as instructed.

''The soldiers had trucks,'' he said. ''They took the people behind the trucks … Then we could just hear shooting and people yelling. The shooting was fast, like a machinegun.''

The deaths of Pulidevan and Nadesan were reported within half an hour. The body of Pulidevan's wife, also shot, was found too.

Dr Kohona told The Saturday Age the text message was not part of any negotiations with the Tigers. He did not believe the group tried to surrender. ''The text is likely to have been in response to an inquiry, but not from anyone associated with the LTTE. This was not an effort to arrange a surrender, which I had no authority to do.''

The Saturday Age has confirmed with three independent sources that the message sent by Dr Kohona to a third party was in response to an offer from Pulidevan of an unconditional surrender. The message was passed to Pulidevan.

But while Palitha Kohona was regarded as a key player in negotiations, evidence is emerging that the Tamil Tigers' planned surrender was known at the highest levels of the military and the government.

The report to the UN Secretary-General on the conduct of the war, released last month, said both Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa and his brother, Defence Secretary Basil Rajapaksa, gave assurances that their surrender would be accepted.

The Sri Lankan government has maintained the surrendering Tamils were shot by other cadres as they deserted. It says it pursued a humanitarian rescue operation.

Dr Kohona addressed the UN Security Council this week, saying that at the end of the war ''the government adopted a zero civilian casualty policy. Our troops endeavoured to distinguish between combatants and civilians, and the protection and liberation of the civilians from the clutches of the terrorist group was their highest priority.''

The Secretary-General's report said the UN was unable to accept the government's version of events.

In January, an application to the International Criminal Court by two Tamil diaspora groups alleged Dr Kohona was culpable for the deaths of those who surrendered.

Sri Lanka does not recognise the court, and its citizens are exempt from its proceedings, but Dr Kohona's status as an Australian citizen means he could face prosecution before it.

Rajeev Sreetharan from US-based Tamils Against Genocide, said while it was unlikely Dr Kohona was the sole mastermind of any surrender plan, his role warranted investigation.

But Dr Kohona said he had no idea how Pulidevan and Nadesan died.

''The version [presented by the report to the UN] appears to be a convenient entree to establish criminal conduct,'' he said.

© The Age

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Saturday, May 14, 2011

Jailing the Journalist

By Adam Sievering | City Beat

While American civilians were preoccupied with an onslaught of fear-inducing swine flu headlines during the winter and spring of 2010, civilians of Sri Lanka were engrossed in the final chapters of a 26-year civil war that left nearly 100,000 corpses in its wake — many of which are yet to be found.

A frightening percentage of the missing people were Sri Lankan journalists, specifically those who felt confident enough to publish damning information about their government’s military campaign against the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).

Journalists who were targeted were those that exposed war crimes and human rights violations including, but not limited to, the government’s use of nuclear equipment in proximity of civilians, forced recruitment of child soldiers, torture, and the widespread killing of civilians residing in LTTE-occupied areas.

Despite rights ensured in the Sri Lankan Constitution that guarantee freedom of press, numerous reports of government-ordered abductions, assassinations and violent raids on newsrooms circulate, prompting human rights organizations like Amnesty International to demand justice for those who have been tortured, killed or wrongfully imprisoned for exercising their constitutional freedoms.

On May 7, award-winning Sri Lankan journalist Jayaprakash Sittampalam Tissainayagam (known as J. S. Tissainayagam, or “Tissa”) spoke about his experience as a prisoner and martyr of the Sri Lankan government at Amnesty International’s Southern Ohio Meeting, held in a conference room at University of Cincinnati’s College of Law.

During his 20 years as a journalist, Tissa wrote political columns about Tamil issues that were frequently critical of the government, but not partisan to the LTTE. Notably, he served as a reporter for The Sunday Leader under Lasantha Wickrematunge, who was assassinated in January 2009 following the publication of an editorial that stated “Murder has become the primary tool whereby the state seeks to control the organs of liberty,” among other reflections on the government’s brutal censorship of the media. Also, Tissa founded North Eastern Monthly and contributed columns to The Sunday Times prior to his arrest.

On March 7, 2008, he was taken into custody by the Terrorism Investigation Division of the Sri Lankan Police for writing an article in North Eastern Monthly, that stated:

“Providing security to Tamils now will define northeastern politics of the future. It is fairly obvious that the government is not going to offer them any protection. In fact, it is the state security forces that are the main perpetrator of the killings.”

After five months of detention, during which he was allegedly tortured and forced into writing a letter of confession dictated to him, the Colombo High Courts convicted Tissa and sentenced him to 20 years hard labor in prison for inciting communal violence with his writings and receiving money from the LTTE.

He was sentenced under the Prevention of Terrorism Act. Similar in nature to the United States’ Patriot Act passed in October 2001, it provides the Sri Lankan police with broad powers to search, arrest and detain suspects. It was first put in place as a temporary law in 1979, and then made permanent in 1982 when the LTTE resistance became formidable.

Proscribed as a terrorist organization by 32 countries, including Sri Lanka and the United States, the “Tamil Tigers” sought to secede from government order and establish an autonomous state in north and eastern regions of Sri Lanka beginning in the early 1980s.

LTTE supporters say the group’s chief objective was to secure a homeland for Eelam Tamils, who are native to the country, but represent an ethnic minority commonly persecuted by the predominantly Sinhalese government.

“My family couldn’t live in Sri Lanka after I was arrested,” says Tissa, who was released on bail by the Court of Appeals on Jan. 11, 2010, after the government received significant pressure from human rights organizations.

“You see, the biggest problem is, once you’ve been arrested for something that’s labeled a terrorist act, you become a terrorist in the public eye. Your family, your friends, anyone who is out to publicly defend you, will also be labeled a terrorist by the government.”

Tissa and his family have taken asylum in the United States. He now studies at Harvard University and speaks candidly about brutal censorship in Sri Lanka, which continues today.

“People will not speak out on important issues because they are scared,” he said. “Fear rules. There needs to be an impartial, international investigation of the war crimes in Sri Lanka because without accountability, there is no justice. Without justice, there is no resolution.”

© City Beat

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Saturday, May 14, 2011

For Sri Lankan women, war for survival continues in peacetime

By Amantha Perera - IPS | The Irrawaady

The civil war ended two years ago this month, but for war-affected women—widows, mothers, daughters, and former rebels— the struggle to survive rages on.

Nearly one-third of families that have returned to the former conflict zone in the north are headed by women single-handedly trying to make ends meet, said a recent study by the Sri Lankan government and the United Nations office here.

The study, called the "Joint Plan for Assistance Northern Province 2011", detailed funding needs and goals in the former conflict zone. It found that more than 110,000 families who fled the fighting between late 2008 and May 2009 have now returned to their home villages or live with host families.

The report said as many as 30,000 of these families now could be headed by women, old and young, facing the daunting task of caring for families in a region devastated by over two and a half decades of war and only now slowly showing any signs of permanent recovery.

The war, waged by militants who sought an independent Tamil state, began in earnest in 1983 and raged on till May 2009. It left more than 70,000 dead, hundreds of thousands displaced, and an indelible imprint on all parts of Sri Lankan life.

It also left tens of thousands of women either widowed, with husbands missing during the conflict, or maimed or seriously injured. The numbers are hard to come by, but some estimates place at 40,000 the number of war widows in Sri Lanka’s east, where the conflict ended earlier, in 2007.

War-affected women can be found on both sides of the fence. There are also wives of government soldiers either killed, missing or seriously injured who now have to look after their families.

Another category is former fighters with the Tamil Tigers. The Tigers in fact recruited females heavily, naming them "Freedom Birds", with their own line of command. Of the more than 11,000 Tigers who were detained or surrendered to government forces at the end of the fighting, over 3,000 were females.

"We are only seeing the surface of this problem, it runs deep into our society," says Shantha Jayalath, the Chief Commissioner of the Girls Guides’ Association in Sri Lanka.

The Girl Guides recently launched an island-wide program to assist war-affected women. Officials working closely with the program told IPS that the more they worked, the more they realized the severity of the women’s situation.

Those who work with affected women on the ground agree with that bleak assessment. Saroja Sivachandran, Director of the Centre for Women and Development in the northern Jaffna area, told IPS that the massive task of rebuilding the region almost from scratch has pushed the issue of war-affected women to the sidelines.

"Everyone knows that women are facing a tough situation, but there is so much to be done here and very few resources," she told IPS.

There is help available, but on a small scale. For example, when stray cattle roaming the former war zone—there are over 60,000 of them left—are collared and handed back to owners, single women heading households are given priority to receive unclaimed animals.

The Girl Guides have launched a programme to impart skills training. Officials said the biggest demand was for skills that the women could use and earn a living with, while staying at home. Considerable interest has been shown in home gardening, dressmaking, handicraft and animal husbandry.

"It is very clear that most of the women want to work while staying at home. They have a dual role from what we see—that of the breadwinner and the traditional stay-at-home wife’s duties," Arundathi Chandrathileke, the Girl Guide’s official overseeing the training, told IPS.

The project tries to either fund self-employment or assist in job placements for those who complete the six months training.

Wives of government soldiers who were killed, missing or gravely injured showed a similar interest in skills that can be applied gainfully while staying at home. "These are young women with very few skills. It is still a very tough prospect for them," Chandrathileke said.

The Girl Guide official told IPS that most women in the role of sole breadwinner could not or did not want to leave an injured spouse or young children alone at home for extended hours.

Women and girls who once served in the ranks of the Tamil Tiger face a different kind of problem. Many of those who were once detained and released have received vocational and other skills trainings, but continue to be haunted by their past.

"It is very similar to them being branded on their foreheads," Chandrathileke said.

She mentions the example of an 18-year-old girl who was forced into joining the Tigers.

The girl passed her university entrance exam with exceptional marks, possesses language skills in all three main languages used in the country—Sinhala, Tamil and English—and has been trained as a data entry programmer.

"But no one wants to employ her. Why? Because she was a former Tiger," Chandrathileke said of the girl hailing from Kilinochchi in the Northern Province, the former showcase administrative centre of the defeated Tigers.

Sivachandran, who works extensively with such women and widows, told IPS that the stigma is a big factor in the women’s lives. She said that many women in the former conflict zone married young and bore children in an effort to avoid conscription by the Tigers.

"Now we have young women not even in their mid-20’s who are widows with two children. They face all types of pressures and discrimination," Sivachandran said. In Eastern Sri Lanka, the bulk of the estimated 40,000 war widows are thought to be under 30.

Both Sivachandran and Chandrathileke agree that more attention should be devoted to helping these women.

"Most of them are victims of circumstances not of their own making. If we don’t make an effort to help them now, not only these women, but others who depend on them will suffer the wounds of war when all of us are talking of peace," Sivachandran said.

© Irrawaddy

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Saturday, May 14, 2011

UN Panel Report, Sri Lanka and India

By Sivanendran | South Asia Analysis Group

“The first step is to penetrate the clouds of deceit and distortion and learn the truth about the world, then to organise and act to change it. That’s never been impossible and never been easy” - Noam Chomsky

On April 25th the United Nations officially released a report of the UN Secretary General's Panel of Experts on Accountability in Sri Lanka. The report alleged that both the Sri Lankan government and LTTE were responsible for possible violation of humanitarian and human right law. The ethnic conflict gives context to the UN's report that the Sri Lankan Army (SLA) slaughtered Tamils during the last phase of the war.

A draft of the report was given to the Government of Sri Lanka (GOSL) for their review and response prior to publication. It was intended to incorporate their response in the final document. The government obviously rattled by the findings in the report, leaked it to their slavish press and sought to mobilise the Sinhala masses against the UN and the West. The government used all tactics in their armoury to prevent its publication, and using the period before publication to hurl abuses at everyone connected with the report. The press instead of investigating the mass of information in the report and examining its recommendations - as it is their function in a democracy - set about ridiculing and vilifying the panel members for its contents. Sri Lankan media have been especially frantic in their attacks on UNSG Ban ki Moon for commissioning the report. They have dismissed the document as a "fabrication," and contend that the UN researchers that documented the massacres of innocent Tamil victims of SLA are pursuing a vendetta against the Sri Lankan State.

Finally, GOSL blasted the report as "flawed, offensive and ridiculous" and decided not to issue a response and seek other ways of preventing any follow up action by the UN. Rejecting the report, the country's Media Minister said, "The report is a fraud and biased and we reject it... We are not panicked, and even we made our protest when they appointed the panel with“.

GOSL hoped that mounting such a campaign would at best dissuade the publication of the report or at worst force a review and weaken its contents. That would not be surprising, since UN employees have been reporting the massacres to their bosses for years, with no effect. But surprisingly (compared to previous UN vacillation over Rwanda and Bosnia), in this instant, the UNSG stood his ground and published the report without mollifying Rajapakse’s government. Its most controversial parts are accusations against the government , which according to it “Most civilian casualties in the final phases of the war were caused by government shelling,” and it believed that “Tens of thousands lost their lives from January to May 2009, many of whom died anonymously in the carnage of the final few days.”

The War and Crimes against humanity

It is impossible to understand the current situation in Sri Lanka, or to make a contribution to resolving some of the acute problems, without recognising the reality of the many human right violations over the past twenty five years committed by all parties, the huge crime that profoundly colours every individual and every event in the island. Yet this is not what the report has attempted to do. It was addressing only the final phase of the war. It has found credible information that war crimes might have been committed and they need investigating by an Independent authority. This has pushed the panel report in the eyes of Sri Lankan Government as an extremely partial, even partisan role and perceive it as highly political.

Article 7 of the Rome Statute of the ICC, entitled =Crimes against Humanity‘, reads:

1. For the purpose of this Statute, "Crime against Humanity" means any of the following acts when committed as part of a widespread or systematic attack directed against any civilian population, with knowledge of the attack:

(a) Murder;

(b) Extermination;

(d) Deportation;

(e) Imprisonment or other severe deprivation of physical liberty in violation of fundamental rules of international law;

(f) Torture;

(g) Rape, enforced prostitution or any other form of sexual violence of comparable gravity;

(h) Persecution against any identifiable group or collectively on political, racial, national, ethnic, cultural, religious, gender as defined in paragraph 3, or other grounds that are universally recognized as impermissible under international law, in connection with any act referred to in this paragraph or any crime within the jurisdiction of the Court;

(i) Enforced disappearance of person



2. For the purpose of paragraph 1:

(a) ‘Attack directed against any civilian population’ means a course of conduct involving the multiple commission of acts referred to in paragraph 1 against any civilian population, pursuant to or in furtherance of a State or organizational policy to commit such attack;

(b) ‘Extermination’ includes the intentional infliction of conditions of life, inter alia the deprivation of access to food and medicine, calculated to bring about the destruction of part of a population;

(d) ‘Deportation or forcible transfer of population’ means forced displacement of the persons concerned by expulsion or other coercive acts from the area in which they are lawfully present, without grounds permitted under international law;

(e) ‘Torture’ means the intentional infliction of severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, upon a person in the custody or under the control of the accused; except that torture shall not include pain or suffering arising only from, inherent in or incidental to, lawful sanctions;

(g) ‘Persecution’ means the intentional and severe deprivation of fundamental rights contrary to international law by reason of the identity of the group or collectivity;

(i) ‘Enforced disappearance of persons’ means the arrest, detention or abduction of persons by, or with the authorization, support or acquiescence of, a State or a political organization, followed by a refusal to acknowledge that deprivation of freedom or to give information on the fate or whereabouts of those persons, with the intention of removing them from the protection of the law for a prolonged period of time.

In the last few months of this conflict there have been widespread allegations of massive human rights and international humanitarian law violations. Eye witnesses to these allegations are the surviving 300,000 victims of Mullivaikal and personnel belonging to International NGO‘s present in the conflict zone. The report states “a number of credible sources have estimated that there could have been as many as 40,000 civilian deaths. Two years after the end of the war, there is still no reliable figure for civilian deaths, but multiple sources of information indicate that a range of up to 40,000 civilian deaths cannot be ruled out at this stage”. It is estimated almost 300,000 reported as being interned in camps. The SLA and the LTTE attacked each other without sparing the civilians caught in the middle, which not only constitutes a violation of customary international law, but also amounts to criminal conduct by them.

Many attacks on civilians fall into a pattern. Hospitals were continuously shelled in the conflict zone. Independent agencies such as Human Rights Watch lists thirty hospitals as being shelled during a period of less than four months. Other shelling hit government declared no-fire-zones, where women, children and the elderly gathered for shelter. On the 9th and 10th of May 2009, a small beach area near Mullaitivu, a declared no-fire-zone, was attacked mercilessly by the SLA while 50,000 residents gathered, leaving hundreds of civilians dead in a single attack. Prisoners, surrendered as well as captured persons were summarily executed (Shown on Channel 4 in UK) or simply disappeared.

The populations of entire villages were forced to move to camps with harshly restricted exit, devastating conditions and no access for international observers. Civilians in such camps are subjected to: sexual violence, mistreatment as well as refusal of humanitarian aid, food, water, means of sanitation and medical supplies. At Manik Farm, the shortage of water and sanitation were especially severe causing the deaths of many weak and elderly people.

The deceptions

The panel also criticises the UN in failing to report and “to take actions that might have protected civilians.” The panel says casualty figures collected by the UN should have been made public at the time.

Releasing casualty figures isn’t enough. Why was the world happy to bury this horror in silence, and ignore the pleas of Tamils everywhere to intervene? In this day and age, when satellite information is so readily available at the press of a button, it beggars belief that the world did not see such an atrocity being taking place under its very eyes. Is it not shocking that such a horrible crime of such magnitude was allowed to be perpetrated by a bunch of mendacious men who almost got away by clearing the debris and burying the evidence?

The Rajapakse regime confused the international community about the nature of the war in Sri Lanka. GOSL successfully persuaded the world that the intractable ethnic war as a war against terrorism in an international political climate favourable to it. No doubt the LTTE made its contribution to fit in with this vision. In their effort, to solve this ethnic problem, GOSL drove out all independent international NGO’s from the war zone and perpetrated the massive atrocities against a trapped Tamil population, pummelling it with multi barrel rocket launchers in a war without witness. When the Tamil Diaspora was telling the world, that there were at least 300,000 in the war zone, GOSL called it a lie. The GOSL convinced the world that there were 70,000 in the war zone. When a massive population of men women and children were suffering and struggling for survival, all food rations and medications were limited to these numbers by this regime who should have known the facts. At the end of the war survivors numbered more than 300,000. To this day there are no apologies to the survivors or to the rest of the world from this regime for getting these numbers so wrong.

Again, take the matter of the solution to the National Question. The regime promised the world that they are addressing the underlying problem causing strife in the island through an All Party Representative Committee appointed in 2006 under the Chairmanship of Prof. Vithane. The distinguished panel was mandated by the President to prepare a set of proposals that would form the basis for a solution to the National Question. President Rajapakse during the course of the war, assured the world community and especially the Indian government during their many interactions that he was awaiting the recommendation of the APRC to finalise his course of action. After the end of the war, a triumphalist Rajapakse abandoned the whole APRC process and consigned the monumental efforts of the panel to the dustbin of history. The international community was once again manipulated and deceived.

The political somersaults the current Foreign Minister of Sri Lanka is a man of superb academic credentials and, is the face of the Sri Lankan government to the international world. He was the leader of the Sri Lankan delegation to the Norwegian peace process encouraging the LTTE to join him to explore jointly a solution to the National Question. The world is familiar with the modalities of this process. He has now cynically abandoned all his previous convictions to serve his time as an apologist for this regime. How can his judgement be trusted?

It was surprising that the Rajapakse regime who convinced the world that nothing untoward has occurred during the war and that they scrupulously observed all the laws of war. It managed to get the United Nations Human Rights Council to pass a deeply flawed resolution on 27 May 2009, on Sri Lanka that ignored calls for an international investigation into alleged abuses during recent fighting and other pressing human rights concerns. Further, GOSL assured that august assembly during its deliberations, that it does not regard a military solution as a final solution, and further underlined its commitment to a political solution with implementation of the thirteenth amendment to bring about lasting peace and reconciliation in Sri Lanka. India believing these promises supported the resolution. We now know how Sri Lanka misled the world. This resolution was a political act and not a worthy epitaph for the defenceless men, women and children who died in the war.

"The Human Rights Council did not even express its concern for the hundreds of thousands of people facing indefinite detention in government camps," said Juliette de Rivero, Geneva advocacy director at Human Rights Watch. "The council ignored urgent needs and wasted an important chance to promote human rights."

"It is deeply disappointing that a majority of the Human Rights Council decided to focus on praising a government whose forces have been responsible for the repeated indiscriminate shelling of civilians," said de Rivero. "These states blocked a message to the government that it needs to hear, to ensure access to displaced civilians and uphold human rights standards. They undermined the very purpose of the council."

During the special session, UN High commissioner for human rights Navi Pillay called for an independent international investigation into violations of international human rights and humanitarian law during the recent fighting, including those specifically responsible. UN estimates say that more than 7,000 civilians have been killed in the fighting in Sri Lanka since late January 2009.

"The images of terrified and emaciated women, men, and children fleeing the battle zone ought to be etched in our collective memory," Pillay said. "They must spur us into action."

A majority of council members - including China, Pakistan, India and Uruguay - ignored the call for accountability and justice for victims by the UN high commissioner for human rights, Navi Pillay. Instead, the resolution adopted reaffirms the principle of non-interference in the domestic jurisdiction of states, a step backward for the Human Rights Council, Human Rights Watch said.

This resolution is a travesty of the truth. Sri Lanka, hailed it as vindication for the block of third world countries and for standing up for their cultural values against the Western block. What values; what culture? The panel of Experts, have now requested the Human Rights Council to review this special session resolution of May 2009 in the light of its report.

We cannot justify to the world that we can put behind this moment in history and move on. The victims of this conflict need closure, and this is not the way to bring it about. The dead have perished and more than 300,00 survivors are still waiting to tell their story. The full story is not yet told.

Indeed the systematic abuses by Sri Lankan government forces are among the most serious conduct imaginable. There abuse of human rights such as torture and extrajudicial killings is so widespread that Governments of the world owe it to Sri Lankan human rights victims – and to victims of human rights abuses around the world not to believe again the assurances of the Sri Lankan government and to ensure that the recommendations of the Expert panel is fully implemented.

Will India support the implementation of this report of the Expert panel in world councils, and answer the cries of the victims consistent with the noble spirit of the founding fathers of modern India or will it again trust the deceitful Rajapakse government to spin a web of deception on a trusting world. We are waiting.


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Saturday, May 14, 2011

Sri Lanka: "Impunity prevails despite end of war"- Amnesty

BBC Sinhala

Sri Lanka authorities failed to address past human rights violations despite the end of the war, the Amnesty International said.

The government continued to subject people to torture and enforced disappearances, the watchdog said in its annual report.

"Enforced disappearances and abductions for ransom carried out by members of the security forces are reported in many parts of the country," the report said.

On Thursday, the UN said Iniya Bharati, an advisor to President Mahinda Rajapaksa, is running a faction of the TMVP paramilitary group that still forcefully recruits children.

Child recruitment

In a statement to BBC, Iniya Bharati has denied the accusation.

"Police and army personnel continued to torture or otherwise ill-treat detainees. Some people died in custody after being tortured by police," the AI said.

It added that police killings of suspects or killings in apparent "escape attempts" continued to be reported from Sri Lanka.

The AI report is also highly critical of the government's treatment of former Tamil Tiger combatants.

Describing the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) as an "ad-hoc" measure, the London based watchdog says the panel is not empowered to investigate accountability issues on human rights violations.

'Ad-hoc' LLRC

Noting its shortcomings in mandate, the AI, Human Rights Watch and the International Crisis Group earlier rejected an invitation to testify before the LLRC.

The annual report accuses the Sri Lanka authorities of not properly addressing the issue of Internally displaced Tamil People (IDP) despite the fact that only 20,000 IDPs currently remain in the camps out of 300,000.

"Many Tamils who left the camps still lived in unsettled conditions and continued to depend on food aid. Tens of thousands remained with host families and some 1,400 remained at transit sites," it said.

The UN report on Children in conflict stated allegations of sexual violence across the four districts in the north (Killinochchi, Mullativu, Vavuniya and Mannar) among the displaced communities.

"Women and girls have reported lack of safety owing to the presence of members of the Sri Lankan Army or local officials, some of whom have been reported to have returned to the communities at night wearing civilian clothes and requesting sexual favours" says the report compiled by Under-Secretary-General and Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict Radhika Coomaraswamy.

© BBC Sinhala

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