Ten days ago police said they would give details about those detained in the war, which ended in May 2009.
BBC Sinhala has learned of only one man out of hundreds who went to the former war zone of Vavuniya and actually found out where his relative was.
Thousands of families are still seeking loved ones two years after the war.
Almost all of them are Tamils, living in the former war zone in desperation because of their missing husbands, sons or daughters, correspondents say. Some have been missing for many years.
Police say information will only be made available to "close relatives".
Police spokesperson Prishantha Jayakody said three centres - in the north, south and in the capital, Colombo - which would provide details of people held by the police Terrorist Investigation Division (TID).
Many saw their loved ones forcibly conscripted by Tamil Tiger militants. Of these, correspondents say, many were thought to have come out of the war alive but were detained by the government and have not been seen since.
In Vavuniya, part of the former war zone, thousands went to find out the fate of their loved ones, our correspondent says. Because of the large numbers of people turning up, only 200 people a day were able to make inquiries.
"My 26-year-old son Pradeep was taken by the Criminal Investigation Department when he went to Colombo to get his passport. That's all we know," Mylu Shanmugathas from Tellipalai told BBC Sinhala's Dinasena Ratugamage in Vavuniya.
He has been missing since 2008. Mr Shanmugathas has been to police stations, military camps and human rights offices in search of his son.
The man who was told where his son was immediately boarded the first train out of town to the southern city of Galle, where his son was being held, our correspondent says.
Others said they were looking for the sole breadwinner in their family.
"There is no one to provide for me. Who will look after me or care if I fall ill?" said one Tamil woman whose son had gone missing since being taken by police in 2007.
TID officials in Vavuniya say that they are unable to provide details of the "disappeared".
Meanwhile in another northern town, Kilinochchi, people have tried to organise a demonstration asking where their missing relatives are.
The organisers told the BBC that the army obstructed the event, sending away more than half of the 150 parents who tried to attend before letting a smaller protest take place.
It was not immediately possible to reach the Sri Lankan military spokesman for comment.
The Committee for the Investigation of Disappearances Sri Lanka says that it has recorded details of more than 5,000 disappearances since 2006.
President Mahinda Rajapaksa says about the same number of people are being held in "rehabilitation centres" on suspicion of being former Tamil Tigers.
© BBC News
Thursday, June 23, 2011
Thursday, June 23, 2011
PTI | India Report
The fund will be used within three years for the construction of roads, bridges, water supplies, irrigation and power project, Cabinet spokesman Anura Yapa said here today.
The Cabinet had approved the move to sign a MoU with the China Development Bank for the purpose, Yapa said.
External Affairs Minister G L Peiris on Tuesday said that the government was looking forward to renewed cooperation with China in pursuance of President Mahinda Rajapaksa's meeting with Chinese President Hu Jintao at St Petersburg, Russia last week.
Chinese have extended extensive funding support to Sri Lanka in recent years. The biggest of them are the new port and airport being built in Hambantora, Rajapaksa's home base.
© India Report
Thursday, June 23, 2011
By Iftikhar Gilani | Tehelka
India’s views is that despite Sri Lankan forces having successfully wiped out the militant face of separatism, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), the separatist mindset and yearning for empowerment and preserving ethnic identity remains strong in the minds of Tamils. After stamping out militancy, the political sagacity demands to attend to bruised egos. Instead, the game plan of Colombo seems to assimilate Tamils in the larger Sri Lankan identity and forget granting any political autonomy or self-rule to the region.
What haunts India is its own track record. Sri Lankans are whispering that they have studied India’s experiences of wiping out insurgencies and separatism. Over the past 60 years, India has tackled insurgencies, militancy and voices of separatism in a similar fashion. Right from the 1950 Delhi Agreement between Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah and Jawaharlal Nehru, 1975 Indira Gandhi-Sheikh Abdullah Accord, 1986 Rajiv Gandhi-Harchand Singh Longowal Accord and other agreements with insurgent groups in the Northeast, the government of India has hardly kept the commitment. The sublime principle is that once the uproar, disruptions or insurgencies are over, forget the issue. This dangerous mindset keeps the issue ignited for future generations.
A top Sri Lankan diplomat unequivocally said that the focus of his country was on reconciliation and reconstruction. Amongst a host of measures, he mentioned setting up of a Commission of Reconciliation, which will seek a restorative, and not retributive, justice. In other words, military personnel involved in heinous crimes and massacres will be reprimanded and allowed to escape from the jaws of justice.
So far, Sri Lanka has shown the numbers of surrendered LTTE cadres to claim that it has brought normalcy in the region. Out of 11,260 surrenders so far, Colombo claims to have rehabilitated 6,500 cadres. The government is banking on increasing economic activity to keep Tamil nationalism at bay. In a typical government of India approach towards Kashmir problem, Sri Lankan diplomats have adopted 1995 PV Narasimha Rao line that anything short of separatism is acceptable. But, like the Indian government, Sri Lanka also feels shy of opening up its cards and putting the political package to parliamentary scrutiny.
It is believed that Sri Lankan leaders have told Indian negotiators to give them time to evolve a system of governance. They are now openly telling Indian interlocutors, that the Indian standards and concept of centre-state relations were not applicable in the island nation. They maintain that Colombo was ready to increase the Tamil representation at the centre to assimilate them with the majority Sinhalese community, but it will not grant autonomy to Tamil-dominated regions to make it susceptible to secessionism at any time in future.
The Indian team in Colombo met President Rajapakse, external affairs minister GL Peiris, defence secretary Gotabaya Rajapakse, among other officials, and also the leaders of various Tamil political parties, which are not part of the government. After the talks, Menon was quoted as saying that “the quicker Sri Lanka can come to a political Arrangement, in which all communities are comfortable, the better it will be for everyone. We will do whatever we can to arrive at it”. Tamil National Alliance spokesperson and Parliament member Suresh Premachandran said that the “Indian team did not suggest any political settlement but assured ‘full support’ for the Tamils’ demand for a life of dignity and security in Sri Lanka”.
Menon clarified that the 13th amendment to the Sri Lankan Constitution, dealing with power-devolution, was ‘their amendment’: “We struck the India-Sri Lanka Agreement and gave them an enabling environment. Now, if they want to do better than the 13th Amendment let them do it. They all must feel comfortable with it,” he said. The Sri Lankans are also reluctant to implement the 13th amendment, which is already a part of Constitution. Though it should be an obligation for Colombo to implement this law, it is getting lost in political lexicon. The lawmakers now say that the 13th amendment could be a process to begin with, and a political package can be built on this amendment. The Sri Lankans also talk about New Delhi not supporting Colombo on the Darusmann Report on war crimes, which was commissioned by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. In the past two years, when India was a member of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, New Delhi had not publicised its support for the report, yet it was pushing for the Sri Lankan case with fellow members.
In Colombo, Menon clarified that Sri Lanka did not seek India’s support on the Darusmann Report. According to him, India was against singling out nations at the UNHRC, and that the veracity of reports of 40,000 civilian casualties at the hands of the Sri Lankan armed forces could be questioned. In the global context, talking out against ‘singling out’ of a nation is a significant Indian position on ‘war crimes’ and human rights violations.
The Colombo discussions between India and Sri Lanka naturally referred also to the fisher folk’s issue, which could be a real thorn in the bilateral relations, independent of the ethnic issue and negotiations in Sri Lanka. Post-war, the problem of fisher folks from the two countries sharing the Palk Strait has become a livelihood issue. The Joint Working Group of officials from the two countries met in New Delhi recently, and the representatives of fisher folks too have been exchanging visits, to understand the inherent problems, before being able to address mutual concerns.
Notwithstanding the revival of the India-Sri Lanka ferry service between Thuthookudi and Colombo and host of measures to promote people-to-people contacts, there is no choice, but to discuss and implement a political package, where the Tamils of the north and eastern provinces feel politically, culturally and emotionally empowered. Otherwise, the ghost of LTTE may return. While helping Colombo to attain this objective, India should also look at its own track record.
Thursday, June 23, 2011
By Salil Tripathi | Live Mint
And so when Sri Lanka declared victory on 16 May that year, there were few tears shed for the LTTE. Sure, human rights groups condemned the army, but they would, wouldn’t they? The LTTE had earned few friends in its long campaign for Eelam. Sri Lanka was getting praise: military analysts wanted to learn from Sri Lankans how the war was concluded. One lesson that seemed to be emerging was to expel providers of humanitarian assistance, non-government organizations, journalists, and other foreign busybodies, and swiftly, brutally, clinically complete the job. First-hand accounts began to emerge, and slowly, the carefully crafted narrative—of Sri Lankan military’s precision, of the Tigers’ capitulation, and their use of women and children as human shields—began to unravel.
First were those videos on YouTube. Grainy and sporadic, those short films suggested that the Sri Lankan army had used brute force. The Sri Lankan government dismissed the allegations, but then in January this year, The New Yorker magazine published Jon Lee Anderson’s meticulously researched piece, where Anderson let facts speak for themselves, reporting what witnesses saw, and what some politicians boasted about.
Then a panel of international experts—Marzuki Darusman of Indonesia, Yasmin Sooka of South Africa, and Steven Ratner of the US—who were appointed by the United Nations (UN) secretary general Ban Ki-Moon, concluded there were credible allegations of war crimes. Their report said as many as 40,000 civilians may have died in the final stages of the war. It took the UN several weeks to make the report public; Sri Lanka, meanwhile, launched an aggressive campaign to discredit the report, even as it was being circulated surreptitiously, first among officials, then lawyers, academics, experts and others. I read it two days before it was finally made public. It told on a grand scale what those videos conveyed piecemeal.
A month earlier in a European city, I had met two journalists living in exile. They described the circumstances in which they operated during the final stages of the war. They used cellphones to film bombings, uploaded the videos with brief narrations, and promptly left the scene because Sri Lankan forces had the means to identify where the signals were emanating from, and once they had tracked down the location, they attacked the place with reasonable accuracy. I found their account credible; it also explained why those videos had jerky camerawork and why they ended so abruptly, making it difficult to piece together the images into a coherent narrative.
Now, the British TV network Channel 4 has added to the good work of Anderson and the UN panel through a shocking film, Sri Lanka’s Killing Fields. If what it shows doesn’t constitute crimes against humanity, nothing does. Two particular incidents stand out: hospitals with Red Cross insignia were hit, but that wasn’t collateral damage. As per the laws of wars, relief agencies send coordinates of civilian locations and safe zones, including hospitals to the combatants, so that such places, where doctors and nurses work against overwhelming odds to treat the wounded, are protected from harm. Attacking such places is a war crime. But soon after the coordinates were sent, those hospitals were attacked. At that stage of the conflict, only one side controlled the airspace.
There are other images, of men and women, who were stripped naked, sexually abused, and shot. One haunting image is of a young Tamil Tiger, made to squat, insults hurled at him in a language (Sinhala) the soldier may not have understood. He is in uniform, and he may have committed crimes himself. But there are rules under the Geneva Conventions about how prisoners of war are to be treated. You can see the raw fear in his eyes, which dart from one person to another in the film. And then you see his blood-splattered face, now still. In another sequence, you see Isaipriya, an anchor on a clandestine LTTE propaganda channel. In the next image, she lies naked and dead, more gruesome than any image in a Goya painting. You hear Gordon Weiss, former UN spokesperson in Sri Lanka, and William Schabas, a leading expert on war crimes, say that the film presented a compelling case for criminal investigation and prosecution.
But don’t expect the UN Human Rights Council to do much. In late May 2009, within a week of the war’s end, the council passed a resolution commending Sri Lanka. Twelve countries, mainly Western democracies, opposed that travesty of a resolution; 29 countries voted for it, including China, Pakistan, and Russia. And India.
Thursday, June 23, 2011
By Eric Ellis | The Age
In the Bosnian war of the 1990s, it was incontestable; Srebrenica, the largest mass murder in Europe since the Holocaust, a massacre directly witnessed by the very international peacekeepers deployed to stop it. Two Serb leaders, Ratko Mladic and Radovan Karadzic, are on trial in The Hague, the evidence against them overwhelming.
Rwanda in 1994 was also a no-brainer - a million Tutsi slain by their fellow Rwandan Hutu in a genocide openly planned as state policy by the then Hutu-led government in Kigali. Almost 100 Rwandans have been indicted by the United Nations International Criminal Tribunal. After Darfur, Sudan's President Omar Hassan al-Bashir became the first sitting head of state to be formally charged with war crimes, and today in oil-drenched Libya, the Atlantic powers and their Arab allies will drop more bombs on Muammar Gaddafi's Tripoli, to stop him murdering his countrymen.
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But what of Sri Lanka and the appalling end of its 30-year civil war between the mostly Sinhalese state and the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, the notorious Tamil Tigers? Through April-May 2009, thousands of Tamils were corralled to a supposed safe haven, a sand spit in the island's remote north-east that they were told would be a sanctuary. These were not Tiger combatants but neutral innocents. And they would die en masse under shelling in what the Colombo government had assured them and the world was a ''no-fire zone''.
"This was Sri Lanka's Srebrenica," says Gordon Weiss, an Australian who was the UN's spokesman in Sri Lanka through the war's end and aftermath. Now home in Newcastle after breaking with the UN, Weiss has just published The Cage, a book about the Sri Lankan war that is as damning of the UN's acquiescence in the atrocities that Colombo's forces were perpetrating, as it is of the regime that ordered them.
Weiss has no argument with Sri Lanka's central right to reclaim sovereign territory. His issue is how it murderously went about it. Weiss is right to say that the world is better off without the Tamil Tigers. They recruited child soldiers, brainwashed conscripts into taking cyanide capsules when captured, perfected the suicide bomber-assassin and terrorised Tamils into paying for their war by extracting ''liberation taxes'' from the diaspora. Refusal to part with a third of a Tamil emigrant salary in Sydney or Toronto meant intimidation of relatives back home.
Colombo claims there is no evidence of war crimes from when it vanquished the Tigers in 2009. But that's not true. An incriminating body of verified material cannot be ignored. Indeed, this material is more damning than anything made public by the International Criminal Court in its pursuit of the Gaddafis. Unsurprisingly in this era of portable media, much has been provided by Sri Lankan soldiers in trophy videos they filmed themselves. Last week British TV station Channel Four screened the most compelling evidence yet - a documentary called Sri Lanka's Killing Fields. It's a towering piece of journalism, verifying atrocities committed against Tamil civilians by Sri Lanka's military in nauseating detail: systematic murder, rape and torture of innocents and the surrendered, direct targeting of hospitals and clinics in the no-fire zones after Colombo received their co-ordinates from a neutral Red Cross.
In screening its program late at night, Channel Four apologised for the gruesome content but said it owed it to history to air horrors that the democratically elected government in Colombo denies ever happened. Footage inevitably made its way to YouTube, and the station has kept open the geo-lock on its website to allow the world to see it. For its part, Colombo condemned the program, and claimed the aired footage was the fictional handiwork of diaspora Tigers and Western stooges.
Far from being pursued for war crimes, Sri Lankan leaders insist they should be congratulated, boasting that in the West-led global war on terror, they have been the most successful prosecutors of it. Colombo now hosts how-to conferences while exporting anti-insurgency strategies to places such as Pakistan.
President Mahinda Rajapaksa and his brother-cronies of their elected dictatorship look near-untouchable. China runs their defence in the UN, ballasted by $3 billion of sovereign investment Beijing has staked in their home town of Hambantota, now vying with the Gold Coast to host the 2018 Commonwealth Games. Victory has been sweet, and Sri Lanka is now a safer, though in many respects more sinister, place than it has been for years.
But at what moral cost? By UN estimates, as many as 40,000 people died on that blood-drenched beach in April-May 2009. And as the case builds against the Rajapaksas, people such as Gordon Weiss ask why Australians are more agitated about what happens to their cattle in Indonesia than about the death of so many innocents in Sri Lanka's killing fields?
Eric Ellis is a foreign correspondent specialising in Asia. From 2001-2008 he covered Sri Lanka as Fortune magazine's south-east Asia correspondent.
© The Age
Thursday, June 23, 2011
By Chris Cobb | The Ottawa Citizen
Summary executions of bound and gagged young men, the aftermath of rape and murder of young women, and the bloodied corpses of children.
They are civilians, and among the 40,000 victims killed in Sri Lanka two years ago shortly after the government locked its doors to the outside world and set about dealing with its Tamil problem.
There is none of the familiar TV editing when the image stops a split second before the final act. What viewers see during the 60-minute Channel 4 documentary Sri Lanka’s Killing Fields are likely the most horrific scenes ever shown on a mainstream television documentary.
Killing Fields, shown in the U.K. on Tuesday and online through this weekend, has stirred intense though ultimately muted debate over how much graphic imagery is too much.
The documentary is another powerful example of how images shot by a simple mobile phone can have nation-changing impact.
The stated aim of the documentary producers is to push for an independent investigation into those alleged atrocities against civilians during the final weeks of Sri Lanka’s 2009 military campaign against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) — otherwise known as the Tamil Tigers.
And many believe that an outcome of that investigation would be a trial for crimes against humanity with Sri Lanka’s political and military elite in the dock at the International Criminal Court.
On the basis of this documentary, lauded by British Prime Minister David Cameron earlier this week, the prima facie case is strong.
The graphic footage, shown in the latter portion of the documentary, was shot by government soldiers on cellphones and helmet cameras — sick video trophies of the “cameramen” committing murder while filming themselves pulling the trigger or of fellow soldiers doing the same. And images of the bodies of naked civilians being tossed onto the back of trucks while the soldiers make disparaging and sexist remarks.
British Foreign Office Minister Alistair Burt said he was “shocked by the horrific scenes” and demanded the Sri Lankan government respond.
The response of President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s government was swift and predictable: The footage is fake and the documentary was made to deliberately discredit the Sri Lankan army.
In what would be a laughable comment if the circumstances weren’t so horrific, the Sri Lankan Defence Ministry accused Channel 4 of failing to meet “standards and fairness” expected of a respectable TV network.
Doubtless expecting the blowback, Channel 4 had the footage authenticated by independent video experts. It’s real right enough.
United Nations Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions, Christof Heyns, has called the documentary evidence of “definitive war crimes.”
In an interview with the British daily The Independent, C4’s head of news and current affairs Dorothy Byrne said: “I don’t urge you to watch this program. It’s horrific. The images will remain in your mind, maybe for years.”
The documentary was shown close to midnight in Britain to protect children from the images.
“But there are probably many adults who shouldn’t watch,” Byrne said. “People who can’t watch horrible stuff on the news. I would definitely say pregnant women shouldn’t look at it. I would rather I had never seen it.”
And Jon Snow, a respected veteran of British TV journalism called the story “the most important I have ever reported. I have reported civil wars before, not least in Central America in the 1980s, but I have never seen such graphic evidence, often at the hands of government soldiers themselves, of what have all the hallmarks of war crimes.”
The late-night showing to protect children and the sensitive is meaningless in the Internet age. Channel 4 immediately posted the documentary on its website (channel4.com) after Tuesday’s broadcast for all to see at any time they choose. It has also been segmented on YouTube.
Dramatic footage shot by Tamil civilians shows the apparent systematic shelling of hospitals while civilians are being treated.
Many of those attacks came after army commanders had been given co-ordinates so they would not accidentally attack the hospitals but, according to one UN official, the Sri Lankan army deliberately attacked hospitals — mostly temporary hospitals deprived of drugs and medical supplies — at least 65 times.
Killing Fields also makes the point that the rebel Tamil Tigers were no innocents. They often used their own people as human shields, holding terrified women and children at gunpoint, and — as we clearly see in the faces of dead Tiger soldiers piled into wagons — many children had been recruited as fighters.
Should the worst of the images have been shown?
Absolutely. The outpouring of outrage across the world, and the calls for a long-overdue independent inquiry, are evidence enough of the documentary’s positive impact.
It is harrowing and ugly but the power of this mix of smart journalism and new media to set the wheels of international justice in motion trumps all else.
© The Ottawa Citizen
Thursday, June 23, 2011
By José Luis Díaz | Amnesty International
We had already seen the cancellation of a separate screening for the media at UN headquarters because it would have clashed with the UN General Assembly vote – decided only a few days ago – giving Ban Ki-moon a second term as Secretary-General.
The fairly sizeable audience that eventually made it to the screening was surely not expecting to learn much that was new: the events at the end of the war in Sri Lanka in 2009 have been well documented, and the documentary was broadcast in the UK last week before being put on the web.
Still, no one is really prepared for the gruesome, heartrending and nearly unbearable images, captured by victims and sometimes by perpetrators, of civilians under deliberate attack and summary executions.
The film shocks you into silence. And so it was today: during the screening there was hardly a sound from the audience of diplomats, journalists and human rights workers, not even the otherwise ubiquitous pecking on smart phone keys.
The only noise came from the scribbling of the Sri Lankan ambassador to the UN and his deputy, who took notes in order to respond to the film.
Dr Palitha Kohona and Major General Shavendra Silva headed a 15-member Sri Lankan delegation to the screening. Silva is featured in the film, because in 2009 he headed the Sri Lankan army’s 58th Division, accused, among other things, of executing LTTE leaders attempting to surrender.
Their defence of the government was curious. In essence, they maintained that if the international community has done almost nothing to establish accountability in Sri Lanka – unlike the case of Sudan or Libya – it is because nothing untoward has happened there. But, as the saying goes, facts are stubborn things, including those recorded by mobile phone video cameras and detailed in reports by the United Nations, Amnesty International and others.
Even Kohona was forced to admit that in part, saying, during the discussion after the screening, that the film seemed to show some violations that would be looked at. A small concession, perhaps, but one that needs to be seen in the context of decades of basically sham national commissions of inquiry and “lessons learned” panels.
Meanwhile, as UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon begins his second term our hope is that he stops sitting on a report drafted by experts he appointed and governments strongly back their call for an international investigation into the outrages perpetrated two years ago in Sri Lanka.
© Amnesty International
Thursday, June 23, 2011
By Dinasena Ratugamage | BBC Sinhala
Nearly two thousand Tamils have visited the police in the northern Sri Lankan town of Vavunia over the last ten days to find details of those missing during the war and since the military declaring it's victory over Tamil Tigers more than two years ago.
Ten days ago Sri Lankan police announced they will release information about those held by the police to relatives.
Police spokesperson SP Prishantha Jayakody told BBC Sandeshaya that the information will not be made available to "any body other than the close relatives".
Three centres established in the north, south and the capital Colombo will provide details of those held by the police Terrorist Investigation Division (TID), he said.
Only one man out of thousands who went to the centre in Vavunia was told where his son is. As soon as he was told that the detainee is held hundreds of miles away in the southern town of Galle, he rushed to board the first available train out of town.
Due to the large number of relatives approaching the Vavunia centre, police only meet 200 people each day.
Journalists barred by the police were only able to talk to desperate and tearful relatives by the wayside.
Those who were unable to gather information of their missing relatives were desperate.
"My 26 year old son Pradeep was taken by the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) when he went to Colombo to get his passport. That's all we know," Mylu Shanmugathas from Tellipalai told the BBC after his search since 2008 drew a blank once again.
Mr. Shanmugathas has been to police stations, military camps and human rights offices in search of his son.
Some were looking for their sole breadwinner.
"There is no one to provide me. Who will look after me or care if I fall ill?" cried a frail looking Tamil woman who said that her son had gone missing since been taken by the police in 2007.
The Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) in place since 1979 gives the authorities power to hold detainees for 90 days incommunicado.
The defence secretary is the sole authority to renew or revoke a Detention Order (DO) under the PTA.
Brother of the president Gotabhaya Rajapaksa currently holds the position.
United Nations, European Commission and India alongside human rights organisations have called for the repeal of teh PTA.
TID officials in Vavunia say that they are unable to provide details of the 'dissapeared'.
The Committee for the Investigation (CID) in Sri Lanka say that they have recorded details of over five thousand dissapearances that took place since 2006.
Relatives in Vavunia keep coming to the TID information centre daily with gradually diminishing hope.
Leading the Sri Lankan delegation Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe told the UN Human Rights Commission in early July that over five thousand suspected Tamil Tigers are held in what he called rehabilitation centres.
© BBC Sinhala
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