Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Amnesty urges independent Sri Lanka war crimes probe

By Frank Jordans | Associated Press

A leading human rights group on Wednesday urged the United Nations to launch an independent investigation of alleged atrocities committed in the final stages of Sri Lanka's 26-year civil war, saying the country's own probe into the matter was flawed.

Suspicions of war crimes by government forces and Tamil Tiger rebels have risen since the conflict ended in May 2009.

In a 69-page report, Amnesty International concludes that Sri Lanka's government-appointed Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission wasn't likely to deliver justice for victims and their relatives.

"Its mandate is seriously flawed and in practice it falls far short of international standards on national commissions of inquiry," the report found.

Amnesty claimed the commission failed to use witness testimony to identify alleged perpetrators, didn't protect witnesses who spoke before it, and made no recommendations for bringing individuals to justice.

The report was released days before the U.N. Human Rights Council is expected to take up the issue of Sri Lanka during a three-week meeting in Geneva starting Monday.

Sri Lanka's ambassador to the U.N. in Geneva dismissed the Amnesty report, accusing the group of "bad faith" for refusing an invitation to speak last year before the commission, which is still engaged in its probe.

"It is evident that the real aim of those questioning the legitimacy of (the) LLRC is to undermine the principle of state sovereignty," the ambassador, Tamara Kunanayakam, wrote in an email. "Pre-judgment of the commission's outcome is unacceptable and unwarranted, and is to be considered as interference in the internal affairs of a sovereign state."

Sri Lanka's government acknowledged for the first time last month that civilian casualties occurred in the final phase of the conflict, calling the deaths unavoidable.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in April that he would welcome a mandate from the Human Rights Council, Security Council or General Assembly to launch an international probe into allegations of possible war crimes, after a U.N. panel concluded earlier this year that tens of thousands of people were killed in the last months of the war.

The panel found Sri Lankan troops had allegedly shelled civilians in no-fire zone and targeted hospitals in their push to finish off the Tigers. The rebels, meanwhile, were accused of holding civilians as human shields, using child soldiers and killing people who tried to leave areas under their control.

Separately, a U.N. expert reviewed video footage obtained by Britain's Channel 4 apparently showing soldiers shooting bound, blindfolded prisoners and abusing corpses.

Christof Heyns, the U.N.'s independent investigator on extrajudicial killings, concluded in May that the video was authentic and provided enough evidence to open a war crimes case.

"All U.N. member states should fulfill their shared responsibility to investigate and prosecute persons suspected of responsibility for war crimes and crimes against humanity in Sri Lanka by exercising universal jurisdiction," the Amnesty report said. Under "universal jurisdiction" countries can decide to prosecute serious crimes even if they haven't happened on their territory.

Sri Lanka has been trying to rally its traditional supporters, such as China, India and Cuba, to prevent any action against it at the United Nations.

© AP

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Wednesday, September 07, 2011

'complete destruction' seen by Moon

BBC Sinhala

The UN Secretary General had told the diplomats that he saw a scene of "complete destruction", when he flew over the former "no-fire zone" in Sri Lanka. He described the conditions of Manik Farm refugee camp as worse than anything he had ever seen before, reveals a US diplomatic cable released by Wikileaks.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon briefed Co-Chair Ambassadors of Sri Lanka aid group at Colombo airport on the night of 23 May 2009 at the end of his 24-hour visit to Sri Lanka.

Responding to a question from Norwegian Ambassador Tore Hattrem on his assessment of conditions at Manik Farm, Secretary General had said his visit to the camp had been "very sobering and very sad."


Menik Farm was housing more than 200,000 people displaced by the fighting.

"Conditions were worse than those at any other camps, including in Darfur and Goma" UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon had told the diplomats. He had told them that there had seen signs of malnutrition in Manik farm.

In his visit to Sri Lanka following the government declaration of military victory over Tamil Tigers, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon (UNSG) had meetings with President Rajapaksa, Foreign Minister Bogollagama, and other senior government officials.

US government cable say the Secretary General was asked by diplomats to comment on his fly over of the former "no-fire zone," "where the Army and LTTE fought their final battles and tens of thousands of civilians were kept against their will by the LTTE and trapped in the crossfire between the two sides".

'Complete destruction'

The cable sent by Charge d'affairs James R Moore on 27 May 2009 says that the UNSG had described what he saw as a scene of "complete destruction."

The secretary had also commented that in the absence of adequate shelter and even trees for shade, the civilians "must have suffered terribly."

"In his messages to the government during a 24-hour visit UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon emphasized the key points of the need for a political process and reconciliation, better access by humanitarian workers to the IDP camps, early IDP returns, and greater accountability on human rights".

He felt no purpose would be served by continuing to press for international access to the no-fire zone as there were no sign of people on the ground.

Joint statement

Concluding his visit to Sri Lanka the UNSG issued a joint statement with President Rajapaksa in Colombo.

"According to Ban" the cable says, there were disagreements between the government of Sri Lanka and the UN over the final wording of the joint statement.

"Intense last minute negotiations with Foreign Secretary Kohona and senior presidential advisors".

"The UN prevailed in retaining the proposed language" say the leaked cable, the call for "an accountability process for addressing violations of international humanitarian and human rights law," making clear that this must be a high priority for the United Nations.

© BBC Sinhala

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Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Sri Lanka: End of emergency

By R.K. Radhakrishnan | Frontline

A day before the delayed debate on Sri Lankan Tamils took off in the Indian Parliament and just over a fortnight before the 18th regular session of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) is scheduled to meet, President Mahinda Rajapaksa proposed to the Sri Lankan Parliament that the state of emergency in the island nation need not be extended.

“I would like to present to this supreme Parliament the proposal to repeal the emergency regulations for administrative activities to function democratically under the ordinary law. This is because I am satisfied with the fact that there is no longer a need for extending the emergency regulations for the administration of the country now. Therefore, I propose not to extend the emergency regulations,” he told Parliament on August 25. With this announcement, the state of emergency will be lifted on September 8, when the current Act lapses.

There was heightened anticipation over the nature of the announcement ever since the President's Office sent an SMS (short messaging service) to senior journalists in the capital early on August 25.

The announcement on the lifting of the emergency came as a surprise, though it was a subject of speculation in early August. The widespread belief was that the President would have something to tell Parliament about the “invisible grease devils” (yaka in Sinhala) who have been selectively attacking women in some parts of the country. Since not a single grease devil had been apprehended, the story ran that it was yet another ploy of the government to extend the emergency. Some people in Muslim-majority areas claimed that they had seen the grease devils run into naval detachments and army camps!

People, already on the edge, turned vigilantes, forcing the powerful Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa to chopper down to some spots and also summon heads of mosques to Colombo for a meeting. Gotabaya later declared that the government did not need the excuse of a yaka to extend the emergency provisions.

The President's special statement in Parliament went thus:

“From the time when terrorist activities ended in May 2009 until today, there have been no reports of any terrorist activities other than the imaginary Grease Demon. During this period, through the conduct of several elections, the country has moved further towards democracy. Society has accepted that these were peaceful and fair elections. Accordingly, in the recent past, we have been removing various clauses of the emergency regulations and steadily bringing society to normal administration. Internationally too, it is now accepted that there are no reports of terrorist activity in Sri Lanka. We have also introduced to Parliament internationally recognised laws and regulations to avoid monetary activities, exchange of goods, drug trafficking, banking and financial risks carried out by terrorists engaged in further nurturing terrorism. In addition to strengthening national security, we have worked towards pre-empting opportunities for terrorism to emerge through these laws and regulations.

“When I took over the leadership and administration of the country in 2005, what we inherited was this environment of emergency. Although we made strong efforts to proceed with the peace talks that had been initiated at the time I assumed office in 2005, the brutal killing of people by the LTTE [Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam] at Kebithigollewa and later closure of the Mavil Aru anicut led to our having to launch a humanitarian operation. The liberation of the East and the subsequent liberation of the North from terror was done under this environment. Emergency regulations became necessary and useful for providing relief to a large number of innocent people who had been taken hostage by the forces of terror and were released with the liberation of the entire North and East from terror, as well as for carrying out urgent measures for their resettlement.”

Plethora of laws

Emergency laws are not new in Sri Lanka, which has seen frequent violence since the time it gained independence. However, it was the violent agitation by the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) that led to the first such serious repressive measure. With each new problem since the early 1970s, the government sought to circumvent existing laws and enact more draconian ones. Often, these have been overlapping and vague in definition and have been derided by human rights organisations for not allowing even basic individual rights. In some cases, these laws grant the security forces blanket immunity from prosecution.

Around the time the Eelam War IV began, there were as many as 20 new emergency regulations. The government argued that normal laws were powerless to deal with ruthless terrorist organisations such as the LTTE. Blanket provisions were necessary to provide legal immunity to the uniformed personnel who went after the LTTE, since the latter had become adept in taking advantage of the loopholes in the legal system, it said.

But human rights activists say that the emergency laws are open and abusive. And because there are so many of them, Sri Lankans hardly understand the laws and this might affect them adversely some day, they argue.

To understand the plethora of laws, it is necessary to trace their origins. In the beginning, there was the Public Security Ordinance, 1947, put in place by the British to deal with the “locals” who dissented. No Parliament, Prime Minister or Executive President has sought to annul this draconian ordinance. The ordinance has empowered Presidents to declare a state of emergency and enact more draconian regulations when they wanted to.

Not satisfied with the provisions under the ordinance, the government enacted the Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Act (PTA) of 1979, essentially to deal with the JVP and its offshoots. Long after the JVP gave up armed struggle as the way to usher in social transformation and long after the last LTTE fighter fell to a bullet bearing his name, this legislation remains. Though not an Act related to the emergency, some of its provisions are as draconian.

In the mid-2000s, the ordinance gave birth to two more laws, one in 2005 and the other in 2006. The Emergency (Miscellaneous Provisions and Powers) Regulation No. 1 of 2005, enacted by President Chandrika Kumaratunga in response to the assassination of former Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar, gives sweeping powers to the state to arrest and detain people, search and seize, and so on.

The Emergency (Prevention and Prohibition of Terrorism and Specified Terrorist Activities) Regulation No. 7 of 2006, enacted by President Rajapaksa following the assassination attempt on his brother Gotabaya Rajapaksa, expands on the 2005 law and makes, among other things, dealing with a terrorist or terrorist group, regardless of knowledge and intent, punishable.

The 1947 ordinance also confers on the President special powers. Under Section 12 he can summon and deploy armed forces, under Section 16 he can order curfews, and under Section 17 he can declare any utility/service as an essential service. This is independent of the emergency provisions.

When President Rajapaksa spoke about lifting the state of emergency, he was referring to the 2005 and the 2006 laws, which are extended every month. Since 2005, Parliament has extended the emergency regulations every month. When the LTTE was active, the vote was unanimous, but since its defeat there has been dissent. A few of the 225 members of Parliament have abstained too.

Welcoming the move

A few in the Sri Lankan establishment assumed that the presidential order was prompted by Indian interference. However, although India has been demanding the scrapping of the emergency laws, it did not appear that the Indian officialdom was aware of the Sri Lankan move.

The Cabinet spokesperson was forced to deny that India had pushed for the lifting of the emergency laws. “We did not succumb to pressure from India; everyone knows that this government does not get pressurised by outside forces,” Minister of Environment Anura Priyadarshana Yapa said in response to a query from a journalist.

The first to welcome the lifting of the emergency laws was Maldivian President Mohammed Nasheed, a friend of Rajapaksa's. India followed suit. The United States, too, issued a statement, which, for once, was not loaded. “This is a significant step towards normalising life for the people of Sri Lanka, and reflects more than two years without terrorist activity after the defeat of the LTTE,” said Christopher Elms, Press and Information Officer at the U.S. Embassy in Colombo, in a release.

The British High Commission in Colombo also welcomed the move. “We welcome President Rajapaksa's statement that the state of emergency will be brought to an end, after a period of over two years free from terrorist attacks. This announcement marks an important move towards normalisation and the strengthening of civil and political rights. We look forward to the lifting of the emergency regulations,” it said.

But the human rights organisation Amnesty International wants more. “The lifting of emergency regulations indicates the Sri Lankan government is feeling international pressure,” said Sam Zarifi, its Asia-Pacific director. “With the [United Nations] Human Rights Council due to meet soon, it's time to demand that the government undertake real reforms, including repeal of the PTA and providing accountability for the thousands of people who suffered during the country's civil war.”

Now the question arises as to what happens to those who have been held under the provisions of the emergency laws. On August 27, The Daily Mirror reported that a new Act would be enacted to try the terror suspects. Amnesty wanted a quick solution to these cases. “There are hundreds of people who remain in detention under these regulations who should be released immediately or charged with a recognisable crime in a proper court of law,” Zarifi said.

© Frontline

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Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Sri Lanka Tamil expats should apply for new deeds

By Franklin R. Satyapalan | The Island

The government requests the Tamils who have gone abroad for various reasons and not visited their agricultural and residential land in the Northern Region for several decades, to apply for new deeds, Minister of Land and Land Development Janaka Bandara Tennakoon says.

The Minister said yesterday that some members of the Tamil community who had abandoned their properties and gone abroad for fear of the LTTE or the conflict or in search of greener pastures should obtain the application form from the Divisional Secretariats.

Once the Ministry of Land and Land Development receives the perfected forms, inquiries to verify the authenticity of each application would be carried out by land officers, and the respective land would be surveyed before a new deed is issued to the rightful owners.

When contacted, the Senior Assistant Secretary to the Ministry of Lands and Land Development P. M. P. Udayakantha said that the government had decided to conduct inquiries in stages in each Divisional Secretariat in the districts of the Northern Region.

"Currently, we are inquiring into lands in the Nallur Divisional Secretariat area in the Jaffna District and forms have been made available at the respective Divisional Secretariat, he said.

Land matters in Karachchi, in the Killinochchi district, Nedunkerni in the Vavuniya District, Maritime Pattru in the Mullaitivu district and Musali in the Mannar district are also been looked into.

Udayakantha said that it would be appreciated if applicants would obtain a form, fill it and hand it over personally, but for those who are living abroad and cannot make it to Sri Lanka immediately, they could search the WEB.

© The Island

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Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Ethnic Triumphalism?

By Sumit Ganguly | The Diplomat

It's been two years since the ethnic civil war in Sri Lanka drew to a close. The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), the principal organization that had sought to create a separate state through the systematic use of terror, hasn’t managed to re-group. Nor is it likely to do so as a viable force any time in the foreseeable future.

Quite understandably, I’ve found during my trip here a palpable sense of relief across the island – especially amongst the dominant Sinhala speaking community. The easing of their anxieties is wholly reasonable. The civil war, which erupted in 1983, cost the country much blood and treasure.

But the majority community’s relief notwithstanding, it has been disturbing to note that little political effort has been expended to promote any serious reconciliation with the minority Tamil community. Thanks to the LTTE’s ruthlessness, ordinary Tamils were also victims of terror. Worse still, they frequently found themselves caught in a most unfortunate vice between the LTTE and the Sri Lankan armed forces. Their present hapless and insecure state necessitates that the regime of President Mahinda Rajapaksa reach out to them and offer some modicum of solace.

Sadly, instead of undertaking any such concerted effort, the regime has engaged in a feckless and callous form of ethnic triumphalism. Worse still, its principal exponents have dismissed the legitimate criticisms of the global community over the harsh tactics that were adopted to end the civil war. Instead, they’ve insisted that the regime has no reason to express any form of contrition, and they have sought to stir up populist sentiment against any possible external censure.

This strategy may well help the regime garner electoral support amongst the majority community in the short term. However, it also risks alienating the aggrieved minority community and generating resentment and frustration that could affect a whole new generation.

© The Diplomat

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