Press Release | Lawyers for Democracy
The Report recently released by the UN concludes that the serious allegations of war crimes that have been made against the Government and the LTTE are credible. There is thus an overwhelming need to verify the accuracy of these allegations. Such verification is essential if the country is serious in guaranteeing long lasting reconciliation to its citizens.
Lawyers for Democracy (LfD), an active collective of representative lawyers, are saddened by the counter- productive and unprofessional responses from the political leadership, key individuals and professional bodies to the Report. Their responses are generally marred by their political affiliations and emotions. We have also watched a buildup of state sponsored moves at all levels to discredit the Report without responding to the allegations in a reasonable manner. Many professional bodies have also adopted resolutions guided by emotions and without considering the legal implications of the Panel Report. In doing so they have ignored the adverse consequences of their responses for Sri Lanka's international relations. LfD is of the view that professionals, including in particular legal professionals, to first understand the international legal obligations arriving out of the Report. This will be a constructive contribution to helping the political leadership and the country to come to terms with the Report and its recommendations.
As professionals, we have seen the deterioration of the institutional integrity and rule of law in this country for many years. As lawyers we have, from time to time, urged the succeeding governments to protect human rights of the citizens and establish Rule of Law. We are of the view that there is an overwhelming collective duty on Sri Lankans to ensure that Sri Lanka respects rule of law and democratic rights of the citizens, within its legal framework and in accordance with the international human rights obligations. There is thus an urgency of establishing internal mechanism in conformity with internationally accepted standards to address the accountability issues, which is perhaps the best response to the UN Report.
The issues raised in the Report are essentially alleged breaches of human rights and humanitarian law. Thus we are reminded of the words of late Mr. H.L. de Silva, President's Counsel and former President of the Bar Association of Sri Lanka, -which needs to guide legal professionals in particular at this hour-
"Our own sense of national pride, our sense of self esteem and the respect accorded to us by the rest of the world depend on the extent to which we respect human rights and freedoms of all people everywhere as well as in our own land."
Lawyers of Democracy (LfD) is a representative body of legal practitioners and include Lal Wijenayaka, Chandra Kumarage, K.S.Ratnavale, V. Sumanthiran, Sudath Nethesinghe, L. Jothikumar, Ranjit Wijekoon, Sujeewa Lal Dahanayake, J.C.Weliamuna and Sudarshana Gunawardena
Saturday, May 28, 2011
Saturday, May 28, 2011
AFP | Google News
"We will not betray you to the world," Rajapakse told troops during a colourful military parade at Colombo's seafront Galle Face promenade to commemorate the war success.
Colombo is under pressure from the West, the United Nations and international rights groups to submit to a probe into alleged war crimes committed during the final stages of the war in 2009.
The United States has warned that Colombo's failure to credibly investigate the allegations and establish genuine reconciliation with its ethnic Tamil minority could lead to an international war crimes probe being imposed.
However, Sri Lanka has the backing of China and Russia at the UN security council to thwart a possible international inquiry.
A report by a panel of experts appointed by UN chief Ban Ki-moon said last month that there were "credible allegations" that both the Sri Lankan army and Tamil Tiger rebels had been guilty of war crimes or crimes against humanity.
Sri Lanka has reacted furiously to the claim and has repeatedly denied the findings.
Flanked by armed forces chiefs, Rajapakse did not directly refer to the UN, but said accusations against Sri Lanka were aimed at discrediting the military and sowing mistrust between the majority Sinhala and minority Tamil ethnic groups.
He said that Sri Lanka has restored "genuine human rights" for its 21 million people by "eliminating terrorism" that engulfed the nation for 37 years and claimed some 100,000 lives, according to UN estimates.
"Human rights cannot be guaranteed only by including it in the constitution. People will have to be liberated to enjoy it," the president said.
At the end of the month, Sri Lanka will host a three-day meeting called "Defeating Terrorism - Sri Lanka Experience" where it hopes to share its experience of defeating its separatists.
Fourty-two countries are expected to attend, including Russia, China and India, while most Western countries will stay away.
New York-based Human Rights Watch has called the event "a public relations exercise to whitewash abuses."
Saturday, May 28, 2011
By Janet Heard | Lanka Independent
I recall hearing about Wickrematunge’s murder seven months before meeting Sonali. His chilling “Voice from the Grave” leader in which he predicted his death was circulated via email around our newsroom in Cape Town.
Wickrematunge’s death didn’t make big news around the country, save for a snippet in a few papers and perhaps a brief mention on the television news. But it made me sit up and take more notice of events unfolding in Sri Lanka. The devastating effects of the December 2004 tsunami had been given considerable coverage. However, the protracted civil war was covered sporadically and often superficially.
Sonali and I met in the United States while on a journalism fellowship at the Nieman Foundation in Cambridge, Massachusetts. We struck up a friendship, swapped notes about sambal and curry recipes and also our country’s mutual passion for cricket.
More profoundly, through Sonali, I was given a crash course in the complex political landscape of her country, and how brave journalists risked their lives daily.
One day, Sonali, US journalist Beth Macy and myself crossed the Charles River to explore Boston. We stumbled upon the open New England Holocaust Memorial, its six luminous glass towers set on a granite path. We strolled through symbolic gas chambers amid suffocating steam, with tattooed numbers of the deceased on the walls. Then we came to Martin Niemöller’s chilling Dachau poem: “First they came for the Jews,…Then they came for me.”. It was a harrowing experience. For Sonali, at this point, it was unbearable. These were the words that her husband repeated in his editorial published days after his death.
As a journalist I realised how comparatively “normalized” South Africa had become. I had entered journalism during the last decade of apartheid. I negotiated my way through a myriad repressive media laws, a state of emergency and a flagrant abuse of human rights by the government. Then the country fought for – and won – press freedom. It was enshrined in the constitution at the dawn of democracy in 1994.
This was something else for Sonali and myself to swap notes about.
Sonali had joined the Nieman fellowship as a journalist in exile, just like a number of journalists from South Africa during apartheid, starting with the late Lewis Nkosi – an outspoken Drum writer – 50 years ago. Other outspoken journalists often flew to the sanctuary of the Nieman Foundation after being detained, banned and harassed.
In tribute, a handful of South African journalists have been honoured with the Nieman Foundation’s Louis Lyons Award for conscience and integrity, all during the apartheid era. Recipients include Max du Preez (1991), Zwelakhe Sisulu (1987), Allister Sparks (1985) and Joe Thloloe (1982).
In the year of our fellowship, Wickrematunge was honoured with the Louis Lyons award, securing a unanimous vote by our group of fellows (won jointly with Afghanistan journalists).
I returned home to South Africa after our fellowship ended last July. Sonali remained in the US, still fearing harassment if she returned to Sri Lanka.
In Cape Town, Sri Lanka has all but fallen off the news pages, except for a brief period this year during the World Cup Cricket tournament.
At the Cape Times, where I work, news about Sri Lanka rarely makes more than a brief, even though the paper stands apart from its competitors when it comes to international news. The reality is that space constraints have limited the paper to one dedicated page for world news.
But Sri Lanka is on the radar in journalistic circles. At last count, there were 19 journalists forced into exile, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. It is ranked fourth on the CPJ’s 2010 Impunity index, a ranking of countries where journalists are regularly murdered and governments fail to solve the crimes.
According to the CPJ: “Ten Sri Lankan journalists have been murdered over the past decade for their coverage of civil war, human rights, politics, military affairs, and corruption, but not a single conviction has been obtained. Most of those killings have come during (Mahinda) Rajapakse’s time as prime minister and president.”
According to Reporters Without Borders Press Freedom Index 2010, Sri Lanka is towards the bottom of the list, at 158 (with the worst being Eritrea at 178).
South Africa is relatively high up, at number 38, though it has slipped five positions since the previous year.
I write this as South Africa falls under the threat of censorship – unprecedented in the new SA. Politicians are showing increasing disdain for the media, the craft of journalism and the quest for truth. We face a statutory media appeals tribunal to monitor and regulate the press, we face new regulations in the form of a Protection of Information bill, which will censor state information, and the ANC-led government has stepped up its verbal attacks on the media, thus threatening to tarnish the country’s image as a bastion of press freedom.
Seventeen years into democracy, journalists are engaged in a new battle. The hard-fought freedoms that I was so proud of and felt so privileged to enjoy during my sabbatical in the US as recently as a year ago are now under attack.
These warning signs are a reminder that an open society can never be taken for granted. Press freedom is always under threat from the rich and the powerful. Threats are carried out in different ways, from censorship and banning to harassment and murder. We can never become complacent. Journalists from around the world – from Sri Lanka to South Africa – need to stand together to keep up the pressure.
Janet Heard is assistant editor, head of news at the Cape Times (http://www.capetimes.co.za) and a 2009/10 Nieman fellow of journalism.
© Lanka Independent
Saturday, May 28, 2011
By V. Suryanarayan and Ashik Bonofer | South Asia Analysis Group
This essay is intended to provoke a lively discussion. It also makes a plea that India should revise its stance on the human rights issue. As and when the report comes up for discussion in the United Nations, India, unlike previous occasions, should not bail out Sri Lanka.
Few preliminary observations are in order. If one takes an overview of the convulsions that have taken place in Sri Lanka since independence, one fact becomes clear. Violence in Sri Lanka was not confined to Tamil areas alone. During 1988-90, aptly characterized by many perceptive observers as Bishana Samaya (massive repression), the two rivers of exquisite beauty in southern Sri Lanka, Kelaniya Ganga and Mahaveli Ganga, were clogged with dead bodies and foamed with blood. And violence in Sri Lanka degenerated from inter-ethnic violence to intra-ethnic violence. As the distinguished Anthropologist Valentine Daniel has pointed out, “violence is no longer inter-ethnic, but intra-ethnic, with Tamils killing Tamils, Sinhalas killing Sinhalas and the State killing the most, Sinhalas and the Tamils”.
During the second JVP revolt which broke out after the signing of the India-Sri Lanka Accord and the induction of the Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF), the Janata Vimukti Peramuna (JVP) capitalized on the Sinhala backlash, became the champion of Sinhala extremism and spread its own form of violence in southern Sri Lanka. Gradually the Sri Lankan Army got the upper hand and decimated the Sinhala youth, without any qualms of conscience. A young Sinhala politician left the shores of Sri Lanka, camped in Geneva and pleaded for UN humanitarian intervention to save his people. He was ably assisted by two comrades in arms, Vasudeva Nayanakkara and Tissainayagam. This politician is none other than the present Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa. I am sure Mahinda Rajapaksa would not like to be reminded of his earlier commitment to human values and his plea for UN intervention to save Sri Lanka from genocide.
The UN Advisory Panel came into existence following UN Secretary General’s visit to Sri Lanka. In a joint statement issued at the end of the visit, the Secretary General “underlined the importance of an accountability process” and the Government of Sri Lanka agreed that “it will take measures to address those grievances”. The Panel consisted of Marzuke Darusman (Indonesia) who was the Chairman, Steven Ratner (United States) and Yasmin Sooka (South Africa). The Panel formally commenced its work on 16 September 2010. The Panel was not a fact finding mission, it only made an assessment of the “nature and scope of alleged human rights violations”. In subsequent paragraphs, in certain places, we have referred to the UN Panel Report as Darusman Report.
Sri Lanka, it may be mentioned, is a signatory to several UN Human Rights Treaties and Conventions. Among the Treaties and Conventions which Sri Lanka has ratified mention should be made of 1) International Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Racial Discrimination; 2) International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. 3) International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights; 4) Convention on Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women; 5) Convention against Torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading Treatment or Punishment; 6) Convention on the Rights of the Child; 7) Convention on the protection of the rights of the migrant workers and 7) Convention on the rights of the persons with disabilities. It is, therefore, obligatory on the part of Sri Lanka to prosecute those responsible for human rights violations. The responsibility of Sri Lanka is to uphold the “the right to truth, the right to justice and the right to reparations, including institutional guarantees of non – recurrence”.
Since the advent of independence, the Government of Sri Lanka had appointed several commissions to enquire into human rights violations and take action against the guilty. To mention a few of these, the Samsoni Commission of 1977; Kokkaddicholai Commission of 1991; the Presidential Truth Commission of 2001 on ethnic violence and the 2006 Presidential Commission of Enquiry. In 2010 the Government of Sri Lanka has appointed the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission. What happened to these enquiry commissions? In some cases, the commissions did not submit any report, in few others their reports were shelved without publication and the Government did not act upon it. The reports rarely criticized the government functionaries. According to perceptive observers, the same fate will befall the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission.
The UN Advisory Panel submitted its report on April 12, 2010. Before it was formally published, a leaked version of it appeared in the Sri Lankan media and a chorus of vehement protests against the UN followed. Speaking in the Sri Lankan Parliament, the Minister for External Affairs Prof. GL Peiris underlined the views of the Sri Lankan Government. He maintained it was not a UN Report and it was constituted at the private initiative of the UN Secretary General. It has no investigative power, it is not a fact finding body. The Advisory panel has no formal nexus with the United Nations. Prof. Peiris claimed that while Colombo was involved in a reconciliation process with the Tamils, the Advisory Panel Report would sharpen the “dividing lines between the Sinhala and the Tamil communities”.
At the outset, it is necessarily to highlight the fact that the Darusman Report is highly critical of both the Government of Sri Lanka and the LTTE. The concluding part of the report sums the human rights violations of both parties. The human rights violations committed by the Tigers in the final stages of the war include using civilians as a human buffer, shooting and killing of civilians who were trying to escape from the LTTE control, forcibly recruiting children into the baby brigade and using military equipment in the proximity of civilians and forced labour. Since the Tigers have been decimated and Prabhakaran killed, naturally attention will be focused on the violations perpetrated by the Sri Lankan government and its continuing attitude of defiance and repression.
The Darusman Report highlights the following violations by the Sri Lankan Government. The killing of civilians by widespread shelling, savage attacks on hospitals and humanitarian objects, denial of humanitarian assistance, human rights violations suffered by victims and survivors of the conflict, including the IDPs and suspected Tiger cadres and violations outside the conflict zone including the media and political opponents. The Darusman report emphatically maintains that during the final stages of the war what happened was in stark contrast to what the Government of Sri Lanka was asserting before the international community. The position of the Government was that it was conducting “humanitarian rescue operations” with a policy of “zero civilian casualties”.
The Advisory Panel report has highlighted the fact that the withdrawal of the UN personnel and the international NGOs from the war zone meant that there was no way to ascertain what exactly was happening in the Kilinochi area. The report quotes the statement issued by two doctors working in the conflict zone, Dr. Sathiamurthy and Dr. Varatharaja, that “Most of the hospital deaths could have been prevented if basic infrastructure facilities and essential medicines were made available… We have been supplied with no antibiotics and not even a single bottle of IV fluid, leaving us in a desperate situation of not being able to provide even life saving emergency surgery”.
While there is no way to find out the number of exact casualties, the report adds that taking into consideration several factors including the reports of the UN country teams, “a number of credible sources have estimated that there could have been as many as 40,000 civilian deaths”. What is more, the cadres of the LTTE “were executed after being taken into custody by the Sri Lankan Army”. The UK based Channel 4 News released video footage of the summary execution of LTTE cadres by the Sri Lankan Army with their hands tied behind the backs. The Report further adds that “rape and sexual violence” against Tamil women are “greatly under reported”.
According to the UN Advisory Panel, between September 2008 and 19 May 2009, the Sri Lankan army advanced its military campaign into the Vanni, using large scale and widespread shelling causing large number of civilian deaths. To quote, “The campaign constituted persecution of the population of Vanni. Around 3, 30,000 civilians were trapped into an ever decreasing area, fleeing the shelling but kept hostage by the LTTE. The Government 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 Government shelled on a large scale in “no fire zones” where it had encouraged the civilian population to concentrate. The Government also gave the assurance that it would cease the use of heavy weapons. The Government shelled the “United Nations hub, food distribution lines and near the ICRC ships that were coming to pick the wounded and their relatives. All hospitals in the Vanni area were hit by mortars and artillery, some of them hit repeatedly, despite the fact that their locations were known to the Government. The Government also systematically deprived people of humanitarian aid, in the form of food and surgical supplies, adding to their suffering.
The Report describes continuing obstacles to accountability being created by the Sri Lankan Government like the continuation of the State of Emergency, which is being extended month after month, the prevention of Terrorism Act, which continues to be still in force, lingering militarization of the Conflict Zone and continuing restrictions on the media.
The Report highlights that the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) appointed by the President in May 2010 will not be able to deliver goods “due to lack of independence and impartiality”. To quote, the LLRC “is deeply flawed, does not meet international standards for an effective accountability mechanism and, therefore, does not and cannot satisfy the joint commitment of the President of Sri Lanka and the Secretary General to an accountability process”.
The Way Forward
The Advisory Panel report asserts that the Sri Lankan Government’s approach to accountability “does not correspond to basic international standards that emphasise truth, justice and reparations for victims”. The claim of the Sri Lankan Government that it was pursuing a “humanitarian rescue operation” with a policy of “zero civilian casualties” stands thoroughly exposed. Therefore, the Report adds that an “independent international approach is imperative”. The panel has also recommended that the UN Human Rights Council should reconsider its May 2009 resolution regarding Sri Lanka.
The ball is in the UN Secretary General’s court. One must wait and see what UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon does and how much support he gets from powerful international actors. On the last occasion, during the 11th Special Session of the UN Human Rights Council on 26-27 May 2009, when the question of Human Rights situation in Sri Lanka was discussed, Colombo was able to muster the support of China, Russia, Pakistan and India. It is imperative that India this time should not bail out Sri Lanka in the United Nations. On the contrary, it should raise its voice in support of the suffering Tamils in the island. Their feelings of anguish and agony should be reflected in the utterances of the Indian representatives in the United Nations.
Prof. V. Suryanarayan had the opportunity to visit Jaffna in January this year. He met a cross section of people – academicians, students, political leaders, representatives of NGO’s and ordinary people. All of them were unanimous that India, especially Tamil Nadu, did not do anything constructive to prevent the killing of innocent civilians during the last stages of the Fourth Eelam War. A feeling of despair and helplessness was visible in their eyes. The famous lines of Pablo Neruda in Water Song Ends came to his mind:
"Perhaps this war will pass like others which divided us
leaving us dead, killing us along with the killers,
but the shame of this time puts its burning fingers in our faces,
who will erase the ruthlessness hidden in innocent blood?"
Saturday, May 28, 2011
Photo courtesy: Perambara.org
Treasury Secretary Dr. P.B. Jayasundara has said the EPF and ETF Acts would be amended to make provision for the proposed pension scheme for the private sector.
The Finance Ministry is currently re-drafting the legislation to formulate the proposed pension scheme and the amendment of the EPF and ETF Acts are to help its implementation.
Following the amendment of the two Acts, funds from the EPF and profits from the ETF could be transferred to the proposed pension fund.
Meanwhile, trade unions have objected to the amendment of the EPF and ETF Acts claiming the government was trying to pilfer monies from the two funds.
© Colombo Page
Saturday, May 28, 2011
By Panini Wijesiriwardena | World Socialist Web Site
Sri Lankan academics are among the poorest paid in Asia, with monthly salaries as low as 20,700 rupees ($US190) for a junior lecturer and 57,000 rupees for a professor. They have not received a rise since 1996, and in 2006 the government of President Mahinda Rajapakse cut their academic allowances from 30 percent to 25 percent of their monthly salary.
The Federation of University Teachers Association (FUTA) has called for a “dignified salary increment” in monthly salaries of up to 200 percent. It is also urging the creation of a special professional category for university teachers and the trebling of the budgetary allocation for education from 2 percent to 6 percent of gross domestic product.
In a bid to crush the campaign, the government has instructed universities to withhold May’s salaries from all those taking part—an estimated 90 percent of the country’s 4,000 university teachers. Ministry of Higher Education Secretary Sunil Jayantha Navaratne also declared that “those who resigned from all voluntary posts would not be offered any position in the university system in future”.
Academics have resigned as heads of department, faculty coordinators, hostel wardens and student counsellors. They have not withdrawn from conducting lectures, but their protest action means that the universities cannot function properly.
Most students are sympathetic to the teachers’ struggle. Over the past year the government has also increased its repression of students, seeking to suppress opposition to the privatisation of university education and deteriorating conditions on campuses.
Since 2008, the government has repeatedly rejected the academics’ pay claims, despite two one-day strikes, last August and in March. FUTA chairman Nirmal Ranjith Dewasiri told the media that union officials met Higher Education Minister S.B. Dissanayake on April 17, seeking an “effective response” to their demands, but to no avail.
Dissanayake falsely claimed that the government had increased salaries by 36 percent in the 2011 budget. The budget rise was just 5 percent of basic salary, with other increases in research and study allowances.
The union has unsuccessfully appealed for talks with President Rajapakse. Instead, at a weekly meeting with newspaper editors on May 10, Rajapakse attacked the academics’ protest as “politically motivated”, without elaborating.
Rajapakse revealed the government’s actual concerns when he stated that if the increase were awarded to university lecturers, other sections of the public sector would demand a similar pay hike. The government is acutely aware of deepening resentment among workers, both public and private, whose wages have been effectively frozen since 2006 despite soaring food and living costs.
Committed to International Monetary Fund austerity measures, including deep budget cuts, the government is not about to concede wage rises. As in other countries, the government is intent on restructuring economic and social conditions to impose the full burden of the global economic crisis on the working class.
Dissanayake claimed that “some groups may attempt to use the strike by university academic staff to destabilise the government and gain support for the UN report on Sri Lanka”.
The reference to the UN report, which documents the war crimes of the government and the military committed in the final months of the country’s protracted civil war, is intended to intimidate the academics. The government claims that the report is part of an “international conspiracy” to undermine its grip on power and slander the military.
Despite the government’s aggressive stance, the FUTA leaders are looking for a compromise. Speaking to the Daily Mirror, Dewasiri reiterated the union’s willingness to “engage in a negotiated settlement”.
From the outset, the FUTA has appealed to the government on the basis that, far from being political, its campaign is essentially in line with the government’s own economic program. The union has declared that granting its demands would represent a victory for government’s efforts to “transform Sri Lanka into the next Asian miracle in the next five years or so, making it a knowledge hub in the region”.
The government’s slogan of making Sri Lanka an Asian miracle has nothing to do with improving the conditions of working people. It is a strategy based on turning the island into a cheap labour platform and commercial centre for big business and foreign investors. The “knowledge hub” concept is aimed at attracting private foreign universities, as well as overseas fee-paying students.
The government is deliberately running down public universities as part of its efforts to privatise university education, a policy that the FUTA has not publicly opposed.
Several teachers spoke to the World Socialist Web Site about the problems they face, and the general decline in university education. One lecturer explained: “To get a 25 percent research and development allowance you have to submit a research paper. This must be approved by a board and you must carry out the research without obstructing your duties. Actually, you can’t do this without taking leave.”
Another lecturer said that during the 1950s and 1960s, there was a pro-intellectual and cultural environment in university education, and academies had conducted very valuable research with the participation of students. “Now we can’t do the research since our salary is not enough even for day-to-day expenses. Students are now trained just for exams. As a result, they gradually drift from their own studies and become dependent on the notes of lecturers.”
Together with the students, academics are facing poor conditions, including crowded lecture halls, and a lack of staff, laboratories, adequate libraries and other facilities. The lecturer explained: “In many universities, there are no quarters for lecturers. We have to pay big house rents to live decently.”
The government’s threatening response to the academics demonstrates that they will not be spared from Rajapakse’s assault on the living conditions and democratic rights of students and working people.
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