Sunday, October 09, 2011

Unforgotten: War Crimes in Sri Lanka


Video Courtesy: Right to Life

Sri Lanka Guardian
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How Sri Lankan security forces committed War Crimes against innocent Sinhalese two decades ago.

This happened almost twenty years ago in a majority Sinhala dominated area in Sri Lanka, well before the culture seeped into the Tamil dominated areas. The term ‘War Crimes’ is not a new phenomenon in Sri Lanka which has long history like other countries around the world. The new video provided by a local rights group to the Sri Lanka Guardian shows glaring account of war crimes being committed by the crude, unethical, barbaric security forces in Sri Lanka during the second uprising of the
People Liberation Front (JVP) in 1988-89.

The Right to Life- a local non-government organization based in Colombo that works on human rights, has given the new video showing experience of the victims of war crimes committed by the security forces during the said time period.

“They (security forces) took me and my husband to one of their torture centres, where hundreds of others were tortured, killed and burnt,” Mrs. Premasili, a widow has revealed her account carrying with her the late husband’s photograph. “Then they took my husband and hung him by his toes after making him to remove the clothes and then started to torture him naked. They blind folded me and started to torture as well after hanging me like my husband,” she said.

“Lieutenant Colonel Rahula Sirimanna , a commanding officer who tortured, raped several times and ordered the others to rape many women suspected of supporting the JVP,” she said.

“ They finished off my husband after two days of torture, and then took me to Hambantota where number of women were held on suspicion. To my knowledge, most of them were innocent like me. There too they tortured me and urged me to reveal the names of the people who had connections with the JVP, but I did not know anyone who had JVP connections and I didn’t have any link with them either,” Mrs. Premasili says.

Premasili is one of women who was raped several times by several Security men in the torture centres. She was hanged and tortured continuously. Fortunately, she narrowly escaped from death but her husband was killed by the security forces and justice never came forth for her. She is a eyewitness for several killings and tortures by the Sri Lankan army and she is one of the thousands still seeking justice still.

© Sri Lanka Guardian

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Sunday, October 09, 2011

'No one knew the extent of civilian casualties' says Ex-UN Spokesperson in SL



Interviewed by Charles Devasagayam | Tamil Mirror
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Gordon Weiss was the United Nations spokesperson in Sri Lanka for two years during the recent civil war. He participated in a panel discussion of ‘Post War Opportunities and Challenges in Sri Lanka’ held at Ryerson University, Toronto on September 15, 2011, organized by Sri Lankans Without Borders. Immediately after the discussion, Charles Devasagayam interviewed him for the Tamil Mirror readers.

Charles Devasagayam: What was the purpose of publishing the book called ‘The Cage’? What does the book convey or what do you want to convey through this book?

Gordon Weiss: The book was supposed to provide a credible account of what happened in the final phase of the war in Sri Lanka and posit that account in the larger context of the Sri Lankan history.


CD: High level politicians in Sri Lanka have said that Sri Lanka waged India’s war during the Eelam War IV. Do you have any coverage about this in your book?

GW: Yes, one of the things I discussed a lot was the role of India in the regional politics and specially in Sri Lanka. I argued, it was an ambivalent role in Sri Lanka.

CD: Wikileaks has revealed recently that the Co-Chairs knew about the civilian casualties. So, why didn’t they take any action, in your opinion?

GW: I think that every body knew that there were civilian casualties. What people did not really know was the true extent of it, perhaps. The reason why the Co-Chairs didn’t take action was because they had very limited leverage.

At the time, you remember China was protecting Sri Lanka at the Security council and so, Sri Lanka had a great deal of latitude when it came to manoeuvring in 2008 and 2009. I don’t think that the Co-Chairs could have done anything, really.

CD: Are you pro Tamil or Pro Tamil Tigers as some people like to argue? Are you being dragged in to the propaganda war as someone alleged today at the conference?

GW: I don’t think it’s a reasonable assessment of what I have written. You can only judge by what I have been saying and what I have written.

No, I am not a supporter of the LTTE. I am not a supporter of any particular camp. I think I have written a book that is a reflection on all, basically. Its not about taking sides in Sri Lanka. It’s a reflection on war and what happened in the war in Sri Lanka in 2009.

CD: Refresh my memory, that during the last phase of the war, did you make any comments and how the Sri Lankan government reacted to them?

GW: Yes, I made quite a number of comments regarding the civilian casualties and the news papers and the government of Sri Lanka reacted strongly. My name was excoriated in the local press and at least in one press conference, I was talked about by the government ministers. There were protests, street protests with my name on placards and things like that. So, Yes, there were reactions to what I said at that time.

CD: Do you think that the U.N. will really act on the Human Rights Violations and War Crimes in Sri Lanka as Amnesty International (AI) and Human Rights Watch (HRW) are alleging?

GW: I think its up to the U.N. member states and I think there is evolution in the position of U.N. member states, including India. That’s ultimately what’s going to lead to an accountability mechanism of some sort that looks at and try to understand what happened during the final phase of the war.

CD: Why do you think the U.N. was unable to prevent the blood bath in the final phase of the war?

GW: Well, first, the U.N had no military forces on the ground. Secondly, U.N. only had the humanitarian presence in Sri Lanka. So, I am sure that anything could have really stopped the final phase of the war in Sri Lanka, except the Sri Lankans themselves.

CD: What is your opinion about the Lessons Learned and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC))? Is it a good alternative to the Independent International Inquiry?

GW: I think the way the LLRC has been constituted, as well as the mandate that has been given and the recent comments by Rajiva Wijesinghe suggest that the LLRC is going to be a fig leaf covering or sparing any real considerations over allegations of war crimes.

CD: Why was the International media, specially the western media did not show any interest to the happenings in early 2009, granted there was a ban on media persons by the Sri Lankan Government? Still, there were many other conflicts going on in the world but CBC, CNN nor BBC really did not give any prominence to the crisis in Sri Lanka at that time?

GW: Charles, I have a good answer for that. Certainly, the government of Sri Lanka made it very difficult for the journalists to go and report on the war. That’s one big reason, because it was too expensive for news organizations to send a journalist in to Sri Lanka for a cover story they could not cover. So, I think it’s a very difficult story to report, a very obscure story and not many people really understood what it was all about or cared.

CD: Yes, but when thousands of Diaspora Tamils lined up on the streets and in front of Legislative and Parliament buildings, the local media could have interviewed and or given prominence on the crisis as to why they are on the streets!?

GW: I have no explanation, sorry.

CD: As you said at the conference, the International community wanted the demise of LTTE. Does that mean that Norway’s Peace Talks, backed by the International community was a farce?

GW: No, I don’t think it was a farce. Its not that people were trying to hurry the demise of the LTTE necessarily. But, they were not prepared to intervene. Its as simple as that. They were not prepared to intervene to prevent the destruction of the LTTE.

CD: So, they had the opinion all along that LTTE has to go? Was that their position ?

GW: I think that there was the commonly accepted position that the LTTE was more of a menace than a help for an ultimate solution in Sri Lanka.

CD: I know violence is not the way to solve any crisis. However, you have witnessed the carnage in Mullivaikaal and now have written a book as to what happened there, including the killing of civilians. AI and HRW are calling for an International Independent inquiry. TNA has been complaining that two years have passed and no sign of political solution to the Tamil issue. If the LTTE is still functional it would have said, look now, the Sri Lankan Government is the one who is intransigent, and it’s the killing machine, this is why we resorted to the arms struggle?

GW: Charles, I am not defending it. What I am saying is, it is clear from the dynamics, that you can see that most countries were prepared to see the Tamil Tigers go.

CD: I spoke to a friend of mine yesterday, who just returned from holidays in Sri Lanka. He said that the Rajapaksa regime is unchallenged in the southern part of Sri Lanka. So, they feel that nothing good is going to come out because President Rajapaksa portrays himself as a strong leader among the Sinhalese. In this situation do you think he will listen to the western countries?

GW: No, I don’t think that the Sri Lankan government is listening to the western governments on the Tamil issue at the moment. They are obviously very strong. I also think, things have changed.

CD: What is really the solution then for the ethnic question? Do you think this Independent International Inquiry will be upheld by the U.N.? Will there be any remedy or accountability as the human rights organizations are calling for?

GW: I think that there will be an accountability mechanism. I just don’t know what form it will take. I think we just have to wait and see. What is important at the moment is the evolution of Individual countries regarding accountability in Sri Lanka.

CD: Are you satisfied with the reception to your book? Do you think it will make any difference in finding the truth about what happened during the Eelam War IV?

GW: Yes, I am very satisfied with the reception of the book. I mean, it has been very well received by the International press. It has gone in to second print in U.K. It is being translated in to Tamil now in Tamil Nadu. So, there will be a Tamil edition by this Christmas. And I am very happy with the fact that it did achieve my aims, which was to provide a credible narrative of what happened during the war in Sri Lanka.

CD: Thank you for spending some time and sharing your thoughts with the Tamil Mirror readers.

GW: You are very welcome.

© Tamil Canadian

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Sunday, October 09, 2011

US endorses immunity to Maj. Gen. Shavendra



The Sunday Times
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The United States will endorse claims for diplomatic immunity by a Sri Lankan diplomat facing charges of alleged war crimes in a New York Court.

A State Department document certifying immunity for Major General Shavendra de Silva, Deputy Permanent Representative to the United Nations, in terms of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations (1961), will be forwarded by his lawyers to the Southern District Court of New York.


This is in response to summons served on September 23. It was accepted by a staffer in his Manhattan apartment and required Maj. Gen. de Silva to respond within 21 days – that is on or before October 14. He had earlier declared that he would ignore the immunity and face the charges in courts to prove his innocence. The charges include alleged torture, cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, forced disappearances and crimes against humanity in terms of international, Sri Lankan and US laws. However, lawyers will now represent him to tell court that he enjoys diplomatic immunity.

The Sunday Times learns that the State Department will confirm documentarily that Maj. Gen. de Silva is entitled to full diplomatic immunity in terms of Article 31 of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations (1961). This article states:

“A diplomatic agent shall enjoy immunity from the criminal jurisdiction of the receiving State. He shall also enjoy immunity from its civil and administrative jurisdiction, except in the case of:

(a) A real action relating to private immovable property situated in the territory of the receiving State, unless he holds it on behalf of the sending State for the purpose of the mission;

(b) An action relating to succession in which the diplomatic agent is involved as executor, administrator, heir or legatee as a private person and not on behalf of the sending State;

(c) An action relating to any professional or commercial activity exercised by the diplomatic agent in the receiving State outside his official functions.
“A diplomatic agent is not obliged to give evidence as a witness.”

A pro-Tiger guerrilla lobby initiated the court action through the American University Washington College of Law’s UNROW Human Rights Clinic. It was to be what was described as a “test case.”

The plaintiffs in the case are Vathsala Devi, wife of late Thurairajasingham alias Colonel Ramesh and Sitharam Sivaram on behalf of her dead father.

© The Sunday Times

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Sunday, October 09, 2011

Liam Fox's role in the politics of Sri Lanka



By Randeep Ramesh | The Guardian
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Liam Fox is a well-known figure in the corridors of power in Sri Lanka. For decades, a vicious civil war between the two main ethnic groups – Tamils and the Sinhalese majority – had meant daily life in the small island nation was punctuated by spasms of destruction.

The fight was about territory: pitting the north and east against the south. It was also religious: Hindu Tamils against Buddhist Sinhalese. And by the time the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) were routed in 2009, it had claimed almost 100,000 lives.


Fox had first arrived in 1995, landing at the palm-fringed airport as a junior Foreign Office minister. A little more than a year later, such was his influence with the Sinhalese elite, who essentially run the country, that he had persuaded the rival parties not to attempt to outflank each other while negotiating peace or ceasefires with the brutal rebel separatists of the LTTE. The "Fox agreement" was a landmark, the first time an outsider had managed to broker such a consensus in a notoriously violent political setup.

Fast forward more than a decade. The old Sinhalese powerbrokers had been ousted in favour of a more militaristic clique, led by the president, Mahinda Rajapaksa, and his brothers Gotabhaya, the defence secretary, and Basil, a political fixer. During a chance meeting in Singapore in 2007, Fox – by then shadow secretary of state for defence – fell in with one of Rajapaksa's lieutenants, the foreign minister Rohitha Bogollagama. He was back in the game.

The Labour government, along with the United States, had viewed the new president as a dangerous populist whose military buildup and wooing of China needed to be restrained. Concerned that the Sri Lankan army was indiscriminately bombing and killing Tamil civilians, the west ratcheted up pressure on the regime. Fox, a neocon in outlook, took a rather different view. And his new friends turned to him for help.

In the last few months of the war Fox, who was seen in the capital Colombo as a possible future Tory leader, became an influential messenger boy – carrying back rebuttals to western capitals from Sri Lanka. At the beginning of 2009, the then prime minister, Gordon Brown, attempted to send a special envoy to the island and the US offered to evacuate the 100,000 civilians trapped in the last 20 square miles of territory under LTTE control. The foreign minister told Fox, who happened to be on a visit to Colombo at the time, that the government was declining "offers of assistance" until it had "cleared the north from the clutches of the terrorists".

However, since the LTTE was crushed, the clamour for a war-crimes investigation has grown. While Rajapaksa remains apparently invincible at home, the net is tightening abroad. Channel 4's documentary Sri Lanka's Killing Fields appeared to show the shelling of areas where civilians sheltered, executions of captured LTTE combatants, and dead female Tamil fighters being loaded on to a truck. A United Nations panel found "credible allegations" that the ghttp://www.blogger.com/img/blank.gifovernment had committed war crimes and offences against humanity. There were calls for an independent international inquiry, and reports that "tens of thousands" of civilians had lost their lives and that most casualties in the final phases of the war were caused by government shelling.

The UK supplied arms to Sri Lanka throughout its bitter civil war – comfort for arms manufacturers but none for Sri Lankan taxpayers. Colombo has increased the defence budget by 6%.

© The Guardian

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Sunday, October 09, 2011

Lasantha Murder Investigation: No sign of progress in sight



By Mandana Ismail Abeywickrema | The Sunday Leader
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To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history,” US President Barrack Obama during his inauguration speech in 2009.

Over two and a half years later, the murder investigation on The Sunday Leader Founding Editor Lasantha Wickrematunge has not made any progress. Despite many claims made by no lesser person than President Mahinda Rajapaksa that he would announce “very important details” about the murder in February 2009, the investigation seems to be at a standstill.


Rajapaksa in usual form called on the IGP to expedite the investigation and to bring the culprits to book. However, whenever journalists pose questions about Wickrematunge’s murder investigation to the President, the only response now is that the police are still inquiring into the matter.

The prolonged investigation has been handed to the Terrorist Investigation Department (TID) from the Criminal Investigations Department (CID) giving the impression that the inquiry is being carried out in full swing. The police are yet to make any leads in the case except for a garage owner named Jesudason from Nuwara Eliya who remains in custody since the mobile phone SIM cards used by the alleged assassins were purchased under his name. A person known to Jesudason and a former army intelligence officer Kandegedera Piyawansa, who was also arrested by the police, was released a few months back due to the lack of evidence against him.

When contacted by The Sunday Leader, Police Spokesperson SSP Maxi Proctor said he was unable to comment on the investigation as it is being carried out by the TID. TID OIC Prasanna de Alwis when contacted said he was handling the investigation, but refused to speak about it.

De Alwis also refused to comment on whether the police have made any breakthrough in the investigation.

However, when the case was taken up for hearing at the Mount Lavinia Magistrate Court on September 28th, the TID informed court that investigations were still being carried out to apprehend the main suspect in the murder.

Be that as it may, there were several interesting twists to the murder investigation.
In February last year, when the TID arrested 12 army soldiers attached to the Army Military Intelligence Unit and also identified as having worked closely with former Army Commander Sarath Fonseka, investigators looked into the possible involvement of Fonseka in Wickrematunge’s murder.

The TID investigators then took into custody five mobile telephones that had operated on the same route as Wickrematunge on the day he was murdered. Of the 17 soldiers who were arrested, the detectives narrowed the number down to seven prime suspects. After detaining them for a brief period, the army personnel were released. It was speculated at the time that the soldiers had been released following comments made by them incriminating some senior members of the government.

Another Fonseka aide, Brigadier Duminda Keppetiwala was also detained and statements by him were recorded about Wickrematunge’s murder. However, he too was released after a brief detention.

Meanwhile, the former army intelligence officer Piyawansa who has now been released on bail, made a statement in open court during a previous hearing of the case on May 12, stating that one OIC Prasanna de Alwis of the TID had tried to influence him into making a statement implicating a senior military officer in Wickrematunge’s assassination, with the promise of being made a state witness and given overseas employment. However, TID Sub Inspector A. E. Adhikari rejected the statement made by Piyawansa and informed court on Thursday that the investigating officer concerned would appear in court on the next hearing date on June 9.

The Magistrate had later recorded a statement from Piyawansa in chambers, a process which lasted over three hours. Piyawansa’s lawyer, Upul Anuradha Wickremaratne said that the courts had provision to take appropriate action if there is an inducement or threat made by an investigating officer to a suspect in violation of the Criminal Procedure Code. In such an event, the Magistrate can record a statement from the suspect and hold an inquiry.

Amidst these interesting twists, Wickrematunge’s case remains unsolved and investigators are still unable to even identify the murder weapon. Wickrematunge was killed on January 8, 2009, 8 hours after the arson attack on the MTV/MBC station in Depanama.

© The Sunday Leader

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Sunday, October 09, 2011

Sri Lanka: The regime’s politics of violence implodes



Asian Human Rights Commission
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On the last day of the 3rd stage of the Local Government Election, two prominent politicians from United People Freedom Alliance (UPFA) fought with each other at Mulleriyawa in Kolonnawa in Colombo District, according to reports. Former Member of Parliament and a presidential advisor on trade unions, Bharatha Lakshman Pramachandra, and three of his body guards, were shot dead on the orders of Duminda Silva, a Member of Parliament and advisor to the Ministry of Defence. Duminda Silva has survived after an emergency surgery by a team of doctors. He is now said to be being treated at an Intensive Care Unit (ICU).

No one has yet been arrested for the three murders and the injuring of several others who are undergoing treatment at hospitals. There is no report as yet as to whether a case has been filed before the Magistrate’s court on the triple murder and the other incidents. Under the provisions of the Criminal Procedure Code police should file a report before the nearest Magistrate’s court as soon as possible when a serious crime has taken place in its vicinity. There is no report of any warrant issued for the arrest of Duminda Silva or any others regarding the triple murder.

This violent conflict between two prominent members of the ruling regime points to the type of politics prevailing in the country. Duminda Silva was before accused of a rape; however, the case was discontinued due to his political allegiance to Rajapaksha Regime. He is a rich businessman who is widely believed to be engaged in the illicit trafficking of drugs.

The emergence of such persons as prominent politicians on whom the regime depends on for their political campaigning indicates the extent of coercion and violence used during election campaigns and during elections. The government has refused to create an independent commission for the conduct of elections and in fact virtually abolished the provisions of 17th amendment to the Constitution. As a result, Sri Lanka does not have legal institutions which are capable of guaranteeing free and fair elections.

The regime believes in the use of extensive violence for all purposes including in conducting elections. The police are coopted to support this violence. The police lack the power and the capacity to resist the political influence. The police in Sri Lanka are no longer in an independence institution capable of enforcing law and order.

The present implosions like this among the hardcore elements supporting the regime are merely indications of the descent into the politics of coercion and violence. At the moment the Sri Lankan judiciary lacks the capacity to intervene against the regime’s politics of violence.

It is only the people’s own interventions against such violence that could restore rule of law and democracy in Sri Lanka. If, however, the present violence continues it is hardly possible to imagine the depths to which the country may descend.

© AHRC

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Sunday, October 09, 2011

Four dead in Colombo election violence



Sky News
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Four people, including a Sri Lankan presidential advisor, have been killed and 12 injured in election-related violence just outside of Colombo.

The clash - in which Bharatha Lakshman Premachandra, the presidential advisor on trade union affairs, was among those killed - occurred in Kolonnawua, 14 kms southeast of the capital, as polling closed late Saturday.


Parliamentarian Duminda Silva was in a critical condition after receiving three bullets to the head, hospital sources said.

A curfew was imposed in the area where the incident took place, after mobs set fire to a police vehicle soon after the shootout between supporters of Premachandra and Silva, who are both from the ruling party.

Some 1.5 million voters were registered for the polls in 23 local councils. The turnout was around 60 per cent.

President Mahinda Rajapaksa's United People's Freedom Alliance (UPFA) party won more than two-thirds of the 300 local councils in elections held in the first phases in March and July.

The ruling party's popularity has been high since the defeat of the separatist Tamil rebels in May 2009, ending a 26-year war.

But the party failed to win a majority of local councils in the Tamil-dominated northern region that experienced the brunt of the ethnic conflict.

© Sky News

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Sunday, October 09, 2011

Sri Lanka's ruling coalition sweeps local elections



PTI | The Hindu
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Sri Lanka’s ruling UPFA won a landslide securing 21 of 23 seats in local elections marred by violence that killed at least four people, including an adviser to President Mahinda Rajapaksa.

The United People’s Freedom Alliance headed by Mr. Rajapaksa won control of 21 of the 23 councils which went to polls on Saturday, official results announced today showed.


The main opposition United National Party (UNP) managed only to retain the Colombo Municipal Council, considered the most prestigious, while losing their seat in the central town of Kandy which they had held for nearly 60 years.

The main Muslim party, Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC), a partner of the ruling coalition secured the eastern province’s Kalmunai municipality in the polls, seen by many as a mid-term test for Mr. Rajapaksa.

This was the last phase of the staggered local elections which began in March.

The ruling coalition swept the board in earlier rounds as well.

Commenting on the ruling party’s victory, Senior Minister Nimal Siripala de Silva said it was a further endorsement of President Rajapakhttp://www.blogger.com/img/blank.gifsa’s leadership.

However, yesterday’s polls were marred by violence that claimed at least four lives and left several people injured.

© The Hindu

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