Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Attack on Sri Lankan journalist: Police submits report

Photo courtesy: Tamilnet

By R.K.Radhakrishnan | The Hindu

Barely three days after Sri Lanka’s top cop, Inspector General N.K.Ilangakoon, was asked to investigate the attack on a senior journalist of a Tamil newspaper based in Jaffna, he submitted an interim report on the incident.

Gnanasundaram Kuhanathan, 59, the news editor of Uthayan was beaten by unidentified men with iron bars and left for dead near his home, on Friday. This was the second such attack on anUthayan journalist in the past two months. A reporter from the paper S. Kavitharan was attacked on May 28. Uthayan supports the Tamil National Alliance, the umbrella organisation of Tamil parties, which openly supported the Tamil Tigers earlier.

“He submitted the report to the President today,” Bandula Jayasekara, Presidential Spokesman told The Hindu.

President Mahinda Rajapaksa ordered the country’s top police official to investigate the incident. Though there have been similar investigations in the past, this is the first time that report on an attack was being submitted in such a short time. Officials pointed out that this is the first case of attack on the media that Mr.Ilangakoon has directly supervised since he took over as Inspector General.

© The Hindu

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Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Protest in Sri Lanka condemns attack on Tamil journalist

Photo courtesy:

Deutsche Presse Agentur | Monsters and Critics

Media personnel and activists demonstrated Tuesday in Colombo, condemning an attack that seriously injured a senior Tamil journalist in northern Sri Lanka.

Ganasundaram Kuhanathan, 58, was hit in the head Friday with an iron rod as he was leaving the Uthayan newspaper office in Jaffna, 390 kilometres north of Colombo. He was in intensive care in hospital.

An estimated 500 journalists rallied against the government, saying it had failed to protect media freedom, and against the police, saying they had failed to investigate previous attacks on members of the media.

The Uthayan, for which Kuhanathan was news editor, is an independent newspaper operating in the former war-torn Jaffna Peninsula, which saw fighting and attacks during the government's conflict with separatist rebels from the Tamil ethnic minority.

The newspaper has come under attack more than 10 times since 2000. At least six people, including two journalists, have been killed, and the paper's rinting press has been set on fire.

It continued to print from 1987 to 1990 in a bunker to avoid being hit by airstrikes. It also resorted to printing on cardboard sheets at the time because of a lack of newsprint.

The owner of the newspaper, E Saravanapawan, is a member of Parliament from the opposition Tamil National Alliance, which won the majority of councils in a local election held July 23 on the Jaffna Peninsula, defeating the ruling party, led by President Mahinda Rajapaksa.

Sunil Jayasekara, a spokesman for the Free Media Movement, said the protesters demanded the government carry out a full inquiry into the attack on Kuhannathan and ensure that media freedom is protected.

'We are not happy with the progress of previous investigations carried out into the attacks on this paper as well other cases,' he said.

Rajapaksa has called on the Criminal Investigations Department to submit a report about the attack, but media rights groups said similar orders have been given before without achieving results.

© M & C

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Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Rights group demands probe of Sri Lankan massacre

Photo courtesy: Tamilnet

By Bharatha Mallawarachi | Associated Press

An international human rights group urged the United Nations on Wednesday to investigate the execution-style slaying of 17 workers for a French aid agency in Sri Lanka five years ago, after a government probe did not identify the killers.

New York-based Human Rights Watch said the government's failure to bring the killers to justice "highlights a broader lack of will to prosecute soldiers and police for rights abuses."

The Sri Lankan employees of Action Against Hunger were found dead in August 2006 in a region rocked by heavy fighting between government soldiers and separatist Tamil Tiger rebels. At the time, European monitors said they were convinced government troops were responsible, but the government blamed the rebels.

"Despite strong evidence of involvement by the security forces in the killings, government inquiries have languished and no one has been arrested for the crime," Human Rights Watch said.

The government, under intense international pressure, appointed a presidential commission in 2007 to probe wartime abuses including the killings of the aid workers. In 2009, the commission exonerated the military of any involvement in the massacre, according to newspaper reports.

The commission's full report was presented to President Mahinda Rajapaksa and has never been released.

"On the fifth anniversary of the murder of 17 aid workers, the Sri Lankan government is no closer to prosecuting those responsible," James Ross, Human Rights Watch's legal and policy director, said in a statement.

The group also repeated its call for the United Nations to hold "an independent international investigation" into rights violations by all parties in Sri Lanka's civil war.

There was no immediate comment from the government, but officials have repeatedly rejected such calls as a violation of Sri Lankan sovereignty.

Sri Lanka has been under heavy pressure to allow an independent investigation into alleged human rights violations by both government troops and the rebels, which a U.N. expert panel said could amount to war crimes.

The government condemned the U.N. panel's report and appointed its own Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission. But rights groups say the commission has no mandate to probe alleged crimes, and is aimed at deflecting calls for an international inquiry.

The rebels were defeated in May 2009, ending a quarter-century rebellion for a homeland for ethnic minority Tamils. Between 80,000 and 100,000 people died in the conflict.

© AP

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Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Sri Lanka's formal response to war crimes allegations

Radio Australia

The Sri Lankan government has formally conceded that civilians were killed by security forces in the final offensive against Tamil Tiger rebels in 2009.

The Defence ministry's report entitled "Humanitarian Operation -Factual Analysis" follows a damning Channel 4 British television documentary of government atrocities and an earlier UN report that blames both sides for crimes against humanity.

Correspondent: Kanaha Sabapathy
Speakers: Gotabaya Rajapaksa, Sri Lanka's Defence Minister; Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asian Director of Human Rights Watch; Dr Jehan Perera, Director, National Peace Council

SABAPATHY: On the first anniversary of the crushing of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, president Mahinda Rajapakse had insisted that not a single civilian was killed by his troops. Speaking at the victory parade in June last year he said "Our troops carried a gun in one hand and a copy of the human rights charter in the other."

In April when the UN Advisory panel released its report saying that it had received credible evidence that both the security forces and the LTTE had committed war crimes the government rejected it claiming it could not be substantiated.

But when Britain's Channel 4 released its television documentary "Sri Lanka's killing fields" quite soon after, the government was forced to address the matter. Releasing the government's interpretation of the last days of the war on monday this is what defence minister Gotabaya Rajapaksa had to say.

RAJAPAKSA: While the LTTE's propaganda machine continues to spin its lies, and such lax standards of journalism continue to prevail in the west, the narrative on Sri Lanka may continue to be obscured by vicious falsehoods. I sincerely hope that with the publication of this document, these falsehoods will be laid to rest once and for all.

SABAPATHY: Apart from releasing its report in which it admitted that civilian deaths by security forces cannot be avoided in a war of this magnitude, the government also released a video to give context to and its interpretation of the documentary.

Dr Jehan Perera the director of the National Peace Council says while some sections of the video are questionable others hold weight.

PERERA: They highlighted what might have been behind the protests that took place. The people of Kilinochi protesting against the departure of the UN because they showed and had interviewed people who said that those people had been mobilised for the purpose of the protest by the LTTE which is entirely plausible because when the LTTE was in control of any part of the country the people who lived there had to do what they said.

SABAPATHY: Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia Director for Human Rights Watch has also viewed the government video.

She says the government which had earlier said that the clips of atrocities conducted by the security forces were faked had used some of the same clips and overlaid Sinhalese voices with Tamil voices to put the blame on the Tamil Tigers.

GANGULY: It is almost identical video of some men being dragged, they are blind folded and their hands are tied behind their backs and they are dragged and brought forward and they are shot at the back of their head, completely execution style. Now that same footage and one has Sinhalese voices the other one has Tamil voices.

SABAPATHY: Ms Ganguly says while the government has taken a significant step forward by releasing its report, its failure to address the allegations of war crimes and its repeated contradictory statements makes it all seem like a cover-up.

GANAGULY: First there was not a single civilian killed now they admit that some civilians were killed. Now they say they did not use heavy weapons in the no fire zone except that they had previously themselves said that we have now stopped the use of heavy artillery which means they had been previously using. They are getting caught up in their own lie and their own cover-up.

SABAPATHY: Angry at the continued allegations of a government cover up of war crimes and the refusal of the issue to disappear defence minister Gotabaya Rajapaksa had this to say.

RAJAPAKSA: Why should a government that extended such care to families so directly linked to the LTTE and former LTTE cardres themselves be accused of mistreating civilians who suffered because of the LTTE. Yet that is the accusation levelled against Sri Lanka by parties with vested interests.

SABAPATHY: But Dr Jehan Perera says for reconciliation to happen and for the country to recover from the 3 decades of war there is a need for the real story to be told.

PERERA: If we want reconciliation then we have to go into what had happened and tell the story of what had happened to those people in the last days of the war. Who had disappeared or who have died and find out the truth and compensate the families and also try to come up with a political solution to the root of this conflict that led to this terrible war.

SABAPATHY: It's a view also shared by Ms Ganguly.

GANGULY: This is a country that now needs to find its peace and to find its peace the government needs to understand that it has to be transparent.

© Radio Australia

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Wednesday, August 03, 2011

India wants to share Lanka’s economic zone

South Asian News Agency

India has proposed that Sri Lanka’s exclusive economic zone be shared as a measure to resolve the Indo-Lanka fishing crisis, which has now turned out to be a diplomatic issue, Fisheries Minister Rajitha Senaratne said.

The Minister told Daily Mirror it would be one of the subjects discussed when India’s Agriculture Minister -Sharad Pawar, who is in charge of the fisheries sector, visits Sri Lanka soon.

Mr. Pawar was expected to participate at last week’s National Aquaculture Conference of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) but had to cancel his visit because of a sudden meeting called by Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh with regard to the cabinet reshuffle. The cancellation led to the postponement of an agreement between the two countries for cooperation on the agriculture sector.

“I know Mr. Pawar personally. I have spoken to him on several issues in the past. When, Minister S.B. Dissanayake was stripped of his civics rights, I briefed the Indian political leadership at the time. I met Mr. Pawar on one such occasion. I am looking forward to seeing him again,” he said.

Fishermen crossing the maritime border have become a serious issue with several fishermen by arrested by the coast guard of both countries.

More than 70 Sri Lankan fishermen are still in the custody of Indian coastal guard though the Indian fishermen who were arrested by the Sri Lanka Navy have been released. The fisheries crisis worsened after a Tamil Nadu fisherman was shot dead allegedly by the Sri Lanka Navy. However, the Navy denied this allegation. Later in another incident Sri Lankan fishermen had reported to have surrounded a group of Tamil Nadu fishermen involved in poaching in Sri Lankan waters and handed them over to the law enforcement authorities.


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Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Is this Ban's 'Never Again' moment?

By Edward Mortimer | Huffington Post

We failed to prevent a massacre in Sri Lanka. We must not fail to seek justice for it.

'Never again' is the promise that has followed the Holocaust, Cambodia, Rwanda and Srebrenica; issued each time with outrage and contrition, and, in recent years, a report on the failure of the international community to act. Kofi Annan commissioned one such report in 1999 on the Rwandan genocide, declaring: "Of all my aims as [UN] Secretary-General, there is none to which I feel more deeply committed than that of enabling the UN never again to fail in protecting a civilian population". Less than five years later, the UN was unable to galvanise international action in Darfur. Ten years later it failed to prevent tragedy unfolding in the final stages of Sri Lanka's long-running civil war.

On 27 July, Channel 4 News screened an interview with a soldier reported to have served with the Sri Lankan army, who claimed that government forces actively targeted civilians and buried large numbers in mass graves. He described witnessing soldiers "shoot people at random, stab people, rape them, cut their tongues out [and] cut women's breasts off". This is the latest blow to the Government of Sri Lanka's (GoSL) efforts to portray its May 2009 defeat of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) as a triumph over terrorism - a humanitarian operation that freed its Tamil citizens from this ruthless terrorist outfit. Many world leaders seemed to accept this version: the GoSL had managed to end some three decades of conflict and crush the LTTE, a group consistently criticised by the UN and NGOs for its use of suicide bombings, child soldiers, torture and extortion, and this was a matter for congratulation rather than skepticism or inquiry.

But at what price? International alarm bells should have started ringing in autumn 2008, when the GoSL asked aid agencies to leave the conflict zone ahead of a major military push. Only the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) was able to remain, though it too was later squeezed out. Nonetheless, accounts of the devastating consequences of the government's push began to seep out, countering the official narrative of military success with 'zero civilian casualties'. So the GoSL ramped up its long-standing war on the press. In January 2009 alone a prominent newspaper editor was assassinated, a TV station attacked and another journalist stabbed.

But the government couldn't silence everyone. In early 2009 eyewitnesses and photos betrayed the suffering of the 330,000 civilians trapped in the ever-shrinking battleground. Encouraged to move into government-declared 'no fire zones', they were repeatedly shelled by the army, which systematically targeted food distribution lines and hospitals. Some who tried to flee were shot by the LTTE. While the UN spoke officially about 7,000 dead, the London Times, citing a UN source, put the figure at 20,000. In April 2011, a panel of experts convened by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said that a death toll of as high as 40,000 could not be ruled out - some five times the number of those who died in the Srebrenica massacre. The GoSL meanwhile continued to maintain that it had not killed a single civilian.

The pageantry and triumphalism that followed the GoSL's victory should have signalled what was to come: the appalling treatment of those who survived. Displacement camps were run like prisons, or worse. Reports emerged of sexual violence, shortages of food and medical supplies, and reprisals, including executions and disappearances, against those suspected to have been LTTE fighters. International officials, including Mr Ban, were whisked round one camp in carefully stage-managed visits that allowed little time for speaking with survivors. Even so, after seeing the camp, Mr Ban said: "I have travelled around the world and visited similar places, but this is by far the most appalling scenes [sic] I have seen."

With good reason. Despite the GoSL's efforts to make this a 'war without witness', these people and their relatives had horrifying stories to tell. For two years the government managed with some success to rubbish their testimonies, and the international community was largely willing to play along. But now it seems that the sheer amount of credible evidence has reached a tipping point.

Civilians were not the only witnesses in the conflict zone. In June 2011, Channel 4 - which has doggedly pursued this story, largely ignored by the rest of the media - broadcast a documentary with a series of clips filmed by government soldiers. Sri Lanka's Killing Fields contains what is possibly the most disturbing footage ever screened on British television. It depicts what appear to be soldiers shooting LTTE fighters and civilians; dragging naked bodies along the ground and piling them in a truck; bullying comrades into executing prisoners; filming male and female corpses, some showing signs of sexual violence; and using explicit and dehumanising language when referring to their victims. The clips have been independently verified by a number of experts and appear to tally with government records of some of those identified in the films, such as LTTE television presenter Lsaipriya.

This footage followed the damning report by Mr Ban's panel of experts referred to above. The report found credible allegations indicating that "a wide range of serious violations of international humanitarian law and international human rights law was committed both by the GoSL and the LTTE, some of which would amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity", and called for an international investigation. The panel said that "the conduct of the war represented a grave assault on the entire regime of international law designed to protect individual dignity during both war and peace". It concluded that the majority of civilians killed died at the hands of GoSL forces.

The report also called on Mr Ban to conduct a review of the actions of the UN during and after the conflict, regarding the "implementation of its humanitarian and protection mandates". While in 2009 UN officials had repeatedly expressed concern over Sri Lanka and called for a ceasefire, it was leaks by UN staff, not official statements, that betrayed the true gravity of the situation. The rest of the international community performed even worse. Some countries echoed the UN's concerns but did not take action. Others, notably China and Russia, were keen to promote the GoSL's rhetoric - one reason why the Security Council failed to act despite briefings from UN staff. The UN Human Rights Council did act, but only to issue a resolution congratulating [sic] Sri Lanka on its conduct. States such as South Africa, Brazil, Cuba, India and Pakistan voted for it. Contrast this with the reaction to the situation in Libya earlier this year.

Mr Ban should be commended, for setting up his panel despite fierce resistance by the GoSL, but he has not been forceful enough in taking forward its recommendations. He says he needs authorisation by an intergovernmental body such as the Security Council or Human Rights Council to set up an investigation. Yet he has chosen not to formally transmit the report to those bodies. China and Russia are said to be the likely causes of this approach - Ban needed their support to secure a second term as Secretary-General - but other countries aren't challenging it either.

The willingness of China and Russia to support Sri Lanka shouldn't be exaggerated - 'genocide-supporter' is a sobriquet that no one covets. China allowed the Security Council to refer Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir to the International Criminal Court even though Sudan was its sixth-largest oil supplier and a major importer of Chinese weapons.But even if China and Russia remain firm, that cannot excuse other countries' failure to speak out.

Despite internal pressure, Indian leaders have been reluctant to take a firm stance on Sri Lanka. Others, including the UK and US, continue, at least publicly, to hide behind the GoSL's domestic inquiry mechanism, the 'Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission', although it is deeply flawed (it does not even have a mandate to look at gross human rights violations) and serious questions have been raised about its impartiality. Most independent experts believe it is little more than an attempt to avoid censure. Sri Lanka has a long history of inquiries that have achieved little or nothing.

Meanwhile, the evidence mounts and the need for an independent investigation grows more urgent. Many experts believe that the GoSL has spent the last two years trying to destroy evidence of its actions, in particular in the tiny strip of land on which some 130,000 civilians were trapped. There are signs that the international community's silence has set a dangerous precedent. Rights organisations such as the International Crisis Group have warned that the so-called 'Sri Lanka model' of scorched-earth tactics, used seemingly with impunity, is being actively exported to other countries. A recent military seminar in Colombo to 'learn lessons' from the government's victory was attended not only by senior officials from many repressive developing-country regimes but also by representatives of the US armed forces.

Finally, there is Sri Lanka's deeply worrying trajectory. More than two years after the end of the conflict, draconian emergency and anti-terror laws remain in place. Journalists, political opponents and human rights defenders continue to be harassed, and public institutions and the rule of law eroded. Even though most of the civilians held in camps have now been released, many of them are in transit locations or destitute and struggling. Some 3,000 LTTE suspects are still being held without charge or access to lawyers. Meanwhile the north of the country has been militarised, with the army controlling all aspects of daily life. Political activities have been suppressed and killings, disappearances and sexual violence remain frequent. Recent local election results show that Tamils in the area have little confidence in the Rajapaksa regime. Most importantly, no progress has been made on a political solution, without which reconciliation remains impossible.

What happened in 2009 in Sri Lanka was merely the brutal climax of a long crescendo of violence. While all the country's communities have suffered, Sri Lanka's Tamil civilians have borne the brunt: subjugated by the LTTE, which progressively repressed the people it was supposed to be representing and made them synonymous with terrorists; and brutalised by successive Sinhalese governments, which at best pandered to aggressive majoritarianism, and at worst engaged in state-sponsored violence. This week, Tamils will be remembering the dark days of July 1983, when Sinhalese mobs rioted, leaving 1,000 Tamils dead and a staggering 150,000 displaced. Nearly three decades later, they continue to suffer.

It is clear that the international community failed to protect Sri Lanka's civilians in 2009, including from what appear to have been widespread war crimes and crimes against humanity. The least it can do now is to insist on an international investigation. We must do more than look back with outrage and contrition, reading yet another report commissioned by a UN Secretary-General pointing to our failings. Sri Lanka should become not another hollow 'never again' but the starting point for a real change in the world's response to genocide and mass atrocities.

Edward Mortimer is the Chair of the Sri Lanka Campaign for Peace and Justice

© Huffington Post

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Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Sri Lanka war-displaced have high occurrence of mental health conditions, study reports

Colombo Page

According to a study conducted by a medical research team Sri Lankans displaced by the war have a higher occurrence of war-related mental health conditions including depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

The study, published in the prestigious medical journal of American Medical Association (JAMA) on its today's theme issue, was conducted by a research team led by Farah Husain, D.M.D., M.P.H., of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, USA.

The team has carried out a health survey between July and September 2009 among 1,517 households in Jaffna District including two internally displaced person (IDP) camps to estimate the prevalence of the most common war-related mental health conditions, symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety, and depression, and to assess the association between displacement status and these conditions in postwar Jaffna District, Sri Lanka.

The study received a high response of 92 percent from 1,448 subjects of which 1,409 were eligible. Among the respondents 2% were currently displaced, 29.5 % were recently resettled, and 68.5 % were long-term residents.

The researchers discovered that compared with long-term residents, currently displaced participants were more likely to report symptoms of PTSD and depression while recently resettled residents were more likely to report symptoms of PTSD. However, displacement was no longer associated with mental health symptoms after controlling for trauma exposure. The overall occurrence of PTSD was 7.0%, with 32.6% suffering from anxiety and 22.2% experiencing depression symptoms.

The study concluded that among residents of Jaffna District, prevalence of symptoms of war-related mental health conditions was substantial and significantly associated with displacement status and underlying trauma exposure.

The researchers wrote that although the association between displacement status and symptoms of PTSD, depression, and anxiety was no longer significant after adjusting for trauma exposure in this study, the act of being displaced and the daily stressors associated with it may be considered traumatic in themselves and may be an indicator or proxy for recent trauma as well.

The team suggested that interventions in Sri Lanka should target the most vulnerable populations, mainly those living in displacement camps and include support from family, friends, religious leaders, and traditional counselors.

© Colombo Page

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