Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Sri Lanka 'still torturing' Tamils

By Jonathan Miller | Channel 4

The UN has already found that evidence of the killing of up to 40,000 civilians amid allegations of serious human rights abuses amounted to "credible allegations" that war crimes had been committed during the last days of the civil war in 2009.

Now ahead of a United Nations meeting tomorrow, human rights groups are calling for an urgent investigation into the allegations that human rights abuses are still rife in Sri Lanka.

President Mahinda Rajapaksa's government dismisses all that as "preposterous". He has embarked on a charm offensive to help repair his island nation's tarnished reputation.

But Channel 4 News has spoken to two men who say that behind the smiles, there still lies a vengeful, sadistic regime.

The Tamil Tigers stand accused of war crimes too. Suspected fighters were rounded up at the end of the war, but it is claimed suspects are still being detained - and tortured - today.

'It felt like I was breathing fire'

"Nimal", whose identity we have concealed, claims he was tortured by Sri Lankan security forces in June this year because of his association with the Tamil Tigers.

"They used to beat me with a steel cable. It would peel away my skin. The pain would be simply unbearable. They would hang me upside down and dunk my head into water. They covered my head with a polythene bag soaked in petrol and tied it tightly round my neck. When I tried to breathe in it felt like I was breathing in fire," Nimal tells me.

"I had no medical treatment. I couldn't sleep because I had to lie face down so I wasn't laying on my wounds. You can't sleep in that much pain. They would tie me upside down and dip me into a barrel of water.

"My wounds would feel like they were burning as soon as they touched the water. When I screamed in pain they would come back with the confession and try again to make me sign it," he continues.

"Maaran" says his treatment at the hands of the government made him want to die.

"They hung me upside down and shoved my head in a barrel of water. They laid me face down on a table and hammered me with wires, poles and rods. They burned me with cigarette butts and when I asked for water to drink they gave me urine. I thought it would have been better if I died at the end of the war rather than to have survived to face this."

The men I met have now been granted asylum in the UK. Both had past associations with the outlawed Tamil Tigers. Both were tortured in Sri Lanka this summer.

It can take years to be granted asylum. The two men I met were approved within weeks because the government accepted their stories. Both had past associations with the outlawed Tamil Tigers.

Calls for 'urgent investigation'

"Nimal" and "Maaran" are not alone. Tomorrow a United Nations committee meets to consider mounting evidence that Sri Lanka is in breach of the UN convention against torture, to which it is legally bound.

Among reports submitted to this committee from 12 international organisations, the most detailed and damning is from the UK-based group Freedom from Torture.

Its Sri Lankan caseload is based on forensic medical documents compiled from 35 men and women, tortured, it says, since the end of Sri Lanka's civil war. It says torture perpetrated by the military and the police is still occuring in 2011.

The evidence, the group concludes, is sufficiently serious to merit urgent investigation.

Juliet Cohen of Freedom from Torture, says the effects of torture can last for years.

"People have been through overwhelmingly terrifying experiences, and these in Sri Lanka seem to have employed the full range, pretty much, of torture methods.

"People seem to be having a very high concentration of torture within quite a short time frame, and they're very damaged by it and theyve got physical and psychological scars."

Turned back

This year, the British government has forcibly removed an unknown number of failed Tamil asylum-seekers to Sri Lanka.

The UK has signed the UN convention against torture, which states that no-one should be deported if there are "substantial grounds" to believe they would be tortured.

The government bases its assessment of that risk on the UK Border Agency's country of origin information reports.

The latest COI report on Sri Lanka is dated July this year. Under the section on torture, it quotes international human rights groups, other governments and the UN as stating that torture is still rife in Sri Lanka.

Having said all that, the report then cites a letter, in paragraph 8.35, from a British diplomat - our man in Colombo - who writes: "I asked the Senior Government Intelligence officials if there was any truth in allegations that the Sri Lankan authorities were torturing suspects. They denied this was the case."

The Border Agency told us that it only returns those whom they are satisfied are not at risk, in line, it says, with a European court ruling that not all Tamil asylum-seekers do require protection.

Human rights groups contend that failed Tamil asylum-seekers are all at risk.

From the evidence we have heard from those who have made it out of Sri Lanka's torture camps, the long war is not over yet.

© Channel 4

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Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Families search for thousands of missing victims from brutal war

By Andrew Buncombe | The Independent

His name was Abi, he was six, and the last his family glimpsed of him was in the frenzied moments after deadly shells struck close to the bunker where they had been sheltering. His sisters were gravely injured, his mother too, and the young boy put his arm around her. "Mother," he sobbed three times.

That scene played out in May 2009, on a patch of blood-soaked sand in northern Sri Lanka where Tamil rebels made a last stand against the advancing forces of the Sri Lankan army. With them were up to 300,000 civilians. Since then, Abi's family has searched for him without reward, turning to the army, charities even Hindu priests. "I don't know what happened to him. All I know is that he put his arms around my neck," said the boy's mother, Getharagowri Mahendiran.

The family is not alone. Two-and-a-half years after the end of the military operation that destroyed the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), many hundreds, and perhaps thousands, of people remain missing and unaccounted for. Campaigners say the uncertainty and trauma for their families is creating a stumbling block to the government's efforts to work towards reconciliation in a country scarred by decades of violence.

Figures made available by a project set up by the Sri Lankan authorities in conjunction with UNICEF to trace missing children, suggest 2,592 people, including around 700 youngsters, have been officially registered as unaccounted for. The Family Tracing Unit (FTU), based in Vavuniya, is only mandated with looking for children, and passes details of missing adults to other government officials.

Around 30 children have been traced and reunited since the unit started its work at the end of 2009. Another 20 are in process. In 64 further cases, the names of missing children have been matched to those on the unit's database. Around 65 per cent of the children's cases, relate to forced recruitment by the LTTE.

"It is not an easy process. It is very difficult," said Brig JB Galgamuwa, a retired army officer who heads a team of three female probation officers that scours police and army records, hospitals and children's homes, for information about the missing. There are suspicions some children's homes may have engaged in child trafficking. "We are doing our best to help [the families]," he added.

"We are all parents, or else good sons or daughters, and that is why we realise the importance of this issue."

The uncertainty for people such as the family of Abi, the missing six-year-old whose family is now being assisted by the FTU, adds to the misery of a community still reeling from the war and who may only recently have been released from refugee camps. Yet the work of the unit is highly sensitive, given the intense dispute over the number of civilians killed in the final stages of the military and that both government forces and the LTTE have been accused of war crimes.

Officials say that given the unit's limited resources and that for someone to be officially counted as missing requires there to be a living relative in a position to register the case, it is likely the FTU's figures only represent a portion of the total of those people unaccounted for.

"Many people are coming to us, saying can you confirm whether the child is dead or alive, even if you cannot reunite us," said one official linked to the project who asked not to be named. "With that uncertainty they don't want to be resettled to their original districts because they feel they should stay here. They also feel unable to go back to work or to return to their fields until they recover their child."

The majority of cases relate to the period between January-May 2009 when the once powerful LTTE retreated north and eastwards as the Sri Lankan army advanced. As they did so, around 300,000 civilians were caught up with them, the LTTE's leader, Velupillai Prabhakaran, intending to use them as both a buffer and a bargaining chip.

Witnesses have reported that LTTE cadres subsequently shot dead a number of civilians who tried to escape to government-controlled territory.

After the LTTE's headquarters of Killinochi fell in early January 2009, crowds of civilians flooded east along the A35, heading towards Mullaitivu, close to where the last fighting took place and which remains off-limits to journalists. Today, both in Killinochi and along this rutted road, where the monsoon rains have left it sticky with crimson mud, it seems as if almost everyone either lost a friend or relative, or else is searching for someone unaccounted for.

In a barber's shop in Killinochi, Ponnathurai Suriyakumar wept uncontrollably as he recalled being forced eastwards with his family until they reached the so-called "no fire zone" established by the government. Numerous eyewitnesses have told how both the government and the LTTE continued to fire on and out of this patch of land, with devastating impact on civilians. On May 8, a single shell claimed the lives of 13 people taking shelter with him, said Mr Suriyakumar, including his eight-year-old son, Sakinder. Mr Suriyakumar, himself badly injured, said his 23-year-old cousin had been missing since that day. "We have no information about her," he said. "You cannot imagine [the situation there]. Everything was destroyed. It was chaotic."

A farmer called Bala Singham, who lives close to the A35, said his family fled until they reached the village of Pokkanai, which was seized by government troops. It was there that his brother went missing. "All the people ran towards the army. He was not there. We ran over bodies," said Mr Singham, who was released from a government camp in May of this year. "We have searched everywhere. We have gone to the ICRC (International Committee of the Red Cross), the police, NGOs. I am still searching."

In the absence of hard information, many families are turning to priests and astrologers, hoping they can offer insight. Officials say relatives are torn between accepting a family member is dead, grieving and moving on with their lives, and continuing to believe that person is alive. Young women whose husbands are missing are particularly vulnerable. Officials suspect not all astrologers - paid a fee for their services - act responsibly.

In Jaffna, heartland of the Tamil community and a place that has seen intense violence and conflict, a Hindu priest called Sivashanmuga Nandakurkal, said people had long come to him for information about loved ones who had "disappeared". Yet the numbers had increased since 2006, after a peace-deal with the LTTE broke down and President Mahinda Rajapaksa took the decision to renewed military operations to end to a separatist insurgency that had left up to 100,000 people dead.

"They come with the missing person's horoscope. Through the horoscope we can tell whether the person is alive or not," said the priest. "If you are talking recent history, most people are not alive. Only in a few cases is that person alive."

The priest, who claimed an accuracy rate of 95 per cent, said he would not mislead a relative as to the fate of their loved one. Yet he said in an attempt to cushion their pain, he never directly told someone their relative had died. "In those cases, we say 'It will be very difficult to find them'," he explained.

A farmer called K Sathyanantharaja, who grows rice in flooded fields next to the A35, said his father-in-law and sister-in-law had been killed in the fighting, while his 21-year-old nephew was still missing. Having contacted the ICRC but with no results, the family had instead contacted a priest. "We don't know whether he was taken by the LTTE or the army," he said. "We approached the astrologers. They said he was still alive. They said he could not come at the moment but that he will return in three or four months."

The government of Mr Rajapaksa has spent millions of pounds on post-war projects in the north, improving roads and infrastructure, providing emergency shelter, food and financial support, as well establishing large numbers of military bases in territory formerly held by the LTTE. Yet campaigners and Tamil politicians say the issue of the missing remains a source of ongoing trauma. Nuwan Bopege, president of Students for Human Rights, called on the government to release the names and details of captured and suspected former LLTE members still being held.

The circumstances in which the last weeks of the war were fought remains deeply controversial. Earlier this year, a panel established by UN Secretary General Ban Ki -moon found there were "credible allegations" both the Sri Lankan army and the LTTE committed war crimes in the final stages. It said tens of thousands of civilians may have been killed and called for an independent international probe. Among the most serious allegation was that the army shelled hospitals in the no fire zone.

The Sri Lankan authorities have rejected the panel's findings. Its own commission of inquiry on the conflict is due to report to the government later this month. Prof Rajiva Wijesinha, an MP with the ruling coalition and an adviser to the president on reconciliation, said almost all the 11,000 former LTTE fighters held by the government had now been released and that about 200 were to be charged. "The names [of those being held] are with the National Human Rights Commission… The names are available to the next of kin," he said.

On the issue on civilian casualties, Mr Wijesinha said he believed a total of around 5,000 people may have died, including those killed by the LTTE, as well as those who died as a result of "collateral damage". He said the government had taken a number of steps towards reconciliation, including economic and social development, but said there was more to be done. He added: "We have to persuade people to work towards a pluralistic society."

Meanwhile, for people such as the family of Abi, who would now be nine years old, there is little they can do but wait, and hope. His mother said: "I strongly believe he is somewhere."

Aftermath: Truth and recrimination

After the 2009 operation to defeat the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), there were widespread calls for an independent investigation into claims that war crimes may have been committed, but Sri Lanka rejected the demands.

In the spring of 2010, the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said he would appoint a panel of experts to advise him. At the same time, President Mahinda Rajapaksa announced his own Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) to examine the events between 2002 to 2009. It is believed the LLRC will report later this month, but many have already accused the commission of pro-government bias and of failing to protect witnesses. "Sri Lanka's LLRC is not a credible accountability mechanism. Its mandate is seriously flawed and in practice it falls far short of international standards on national commissions of inquiry," said Amnesty International.

The UN report, meanwhile, found "credible allegations" that both government troops and the Tamils committed war crimes. Among the most serious claims aimed at Sri Lanka's army was that it fought in a "no-fire zone" and "systematically" shelled clinics. It accused the LTTE of forced recruitment, of using civilians as human shields, and of preventing people from making their way to government-held areas. It said tens of thousands of civilians may have died, most killed by government forces. The government dismissed the allegations.

The Independent

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Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Sri Lanka urges news websites to register after ban

By Ranga Sirilal & Shihar Aneez | Reuters

Sri Lanka ordered news websites Saturday to register with the Media Ministry, in what critics called a further step toward restricting media after the banning of an anti-government site last month.

"It's a request from the Media Ministry to register (news) websites with the ministry," said Director General of the government's Information Department Ariyarathna Athugala.

He declined to comment on the reason for the measure.

Sri Lanka's Telecommunication Regulation Commission, last month blocked access within Sri Lanka to the anti-government Lanka-e-News (www.lankaenews.com) website, which carried news critical of President Mahinda Rajapaksa and his brothers.

The United States Embassy said it was deeply concerned over the banning of the site.

"The United States believes that a free and independent media is vital to ensuring the health and continuation of any democracy. Freedom of expression, including unfettered access to internet news websites, is a basic right which must be respected," it said in a statement.

"We therefore call on the Sri Lankan authorities and the management of Sri Lankan telecommunications firms to stop activities aimed at blocking free access in Sri Lanka to all legitimate media websites, including Lanka-e-News."

In May, the Sri Lankan government imposed a ban on Lanka-e-News for publishing false news. A court lifted the ban after accepting the website's apology.

The island nation's government initially blocked news websites during the final phase of a 25-year war against separatists Tamil Tiger rebels, banning the rebels' main propaganda website in 2008.

The government defeated the rebels in May 2009, but continued the ban on anti-government websites from time to time.

"I don't see any necessity for registering. There is enough room under the normal law to prevent obscene and unethical publications," Kusal Perera, a government critic and director of the Center for Social Democracy, told Reuters.

"This is just to hunt down the dissent."

© Reuters

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Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Sri Lanka targets dissident websites

Agence France-Presse (AFP)

Sri Lanka on Saturday warned websites to register with the authorities after the United States expressed deep concern over Colombo's blocking of a popular Internet-based dissident publication.

The Ministry of Mass Media and Information said many reports posted on dissident websites amounted to character assassination of President Mahinda Rajapakse, his ministers and top officials.

"This ministry believes that those who are operating and maintaining these clandestine websites have been doing so to discredit the government, the head of state," the ministry said in a statement.

"Such slanderous publications should not only be discouraged but also acts of this nature would have to be effectively prevented in the interest of the general public."

It said the websites should register with the ministry at the earliest, but did not say which laws were being used against dissident websites. It did not specify penalties for those who fail to comply.

However, the statement came four days after the US embassy in Colombo said that freedom of expression, including unfettered access to Internet news websites, was a basic right which must be respected by Sri Lankan authorities.

"We... call on the Sri Lankan authorities and the managements of Sri Lankan telecommunications firms to stop activities aimed at blocking free access in Sri Lanka to all legitimate media websites," the embassy said.

Sri Lanka began web censorship in June 2007 with the blocking of the pro-rebel Tamilnet.com website at a time when security forces stepped up their attacks against the rebels who were eventually defeated by May 2009.

However, since then many website which are openly anti-government have been blocked by Sri Lankan authorities.

Rights groups have repeatedly accused the government of stifling media freedoms, a charge denied by the authorities.


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Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Four million Lankans anaemic; the aged go hungry

By Elmo Leonard | Lakbima News

Four million Sri Lankans are anaemic, 1.3 million school-goers underweight and 0.4 million children under five years of age are underfed, Head of Nutrition, Medical Research Institute (MRI) Dr. Renuka Jayatissa said in Colombo last week.

Hunger stared in the face of 0.3 million of the country’s elderly or people over 60-year of age; 1.8 million of the country’s womenfolk are underweight, Dr. Jayatissa said at the launch of the World Disaster Report 2011.

On the other side of the coin, 1.3 million women aged between 15 and 49 years were obese or overweight. The survey which continues island wide is being carried out in the categories of poorest, poor, middle, rich and richest levels and the data collated is both revealing and interesting, Dr. Jayatissa Herath said.

Over one billion go hungry every night

The Sri Lankan population is nutritionally in a stage of transition while people lacked education on how to make use of food available for optimum nourishment, she explained. Backing her conclusions, Dr. Jayatissa showed that while 26 per cent of the country’s poor women with child are underweight, 11 per cent of the affluent pregnant women are emaciated.

Obesity was a phenomenon more common among the middle class women. Cases of obesity were most marked among women whose husbands held well-paid jobs; such women stayed at home, had domestic aides and needed little effort to get through life.

Over a billion people worldwide go hungry to bed every night, and ironically, 1.5 billion people in the world are overweight. Where food was scare, women and the aged worldwide, and in Sri Lanka, received the least amount of food, delegates from abroad said.

Dr. Jayatissa showed graphs which suggested that among the poorest category, less than 95 per cent of boys and a lesser percentage of girls from the ages of five to 17 years received three meals per day. Among males of the poorest section of society, in the 18 to 59 year category less than 85 per cent have access to three meals while the same number of women received three meals per day. As the graph moved from the poorest, to the middle rich and richest, older women were given preference of food over older men.

In the middle income levels, 95 per cent of women and 90 per cent of men received three meals per day.

Less than 26.2 per cent of the poorest mothers were underweight in the island and of the infants they gave birth to, 24.5 per cent were underweight.

In the poor category, 22.2 per cent of mothers were underweight and 20.7 of their babies were underfed, or malnourished.

In the rich category, 13.2 per cent of mothers were underweight and 15.1 per cent of their children were of low birth weight.

Of children under five years of age, 0.38 million are stunted. Stunting originated during the critical 100 days from conception to a child’s second birthday, Dr. Jayatissa said.

The Disaster Management Report says that the world’s poorest people were at risk from rocketing food prices and volatile global markets.

Era of cheap food over

A new round of food inflation and severe hikes in the price of basic foodstuffs such as rice, maize, oil, sugar and salt were plunging many of the world’s poorer people, including millions across the Horn of Africa into deeper poverty and into situations of severe hunger and malnourishment. The worst hit those poor people who typically spend between 50 and 80 per cent of their income on food.

Bob McKerrow, head of the International Federation of Red Cross (IFRC) delegation in Sri Lanka said that governments and donors should invest more in agriculture, thus giving a helping hand to farmers.

It was not just food which was becoming more expensive but the prices of new technologies, seeds, fertilizers and fuel needed to transport food which are also going up, McKerrow said.

Thus, there is a need to boost the agricultural sector in such a way so as to protect people who find themselves at the mercy of inflation and other economic vagaries, including even the global stock markets, which bring to bear on the production of food and its prices, McKerrow added.

Tissa Abeywickrema, director general of the local Red Cross movement said it seemed that the global volatility of food prices is here to stay and the era of cheap food, seems to be over.

Foreign delegates said that while 85 per cent of the poorest class of men in Sri Lanka received three meals a day, a lesser percentage of women also received three meals a day.

The FAO representative, Dr. D.S. Kuruppuarachchi said that while the country was near self-sufficient in rice, food prices across the board remained high, often keeping such commodities out of the reach of even the middle income levels.

Dr. Kuruppuarachchi thought aloud that the matter of high price was not acute in Sri Lanka as in some other parts of the world. The World Disaster Report is an annual feature of ht eInternational Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies and was launched simultaneously in Sri Lanka and the world over.

Levels of nutrition differ

One way of bringing down prices of grain was to improve production. The government had recently introduced heavy taxes on the importation of green gram and other grains to encourage local production, Dr. Kuruppuarachchi said.

Head of Nutrition, Ministry of Health, Prof. Ramani Jayatillake said that the nutritional levels of people in different parts of the country differed. The people in the island’s coastal regions had access to fish and coconut. Further inland, paddy cultivation was a main provider of food. In the dry zone, the slash and burn method was going out of use. Estate nutrition was low, the people adopting food habits different to people in other sectors.

Foreign delegates present said that 1.5 billion people in the world lacked vitamins and minerals and while malnourished and overweight percentages were on the rise globally, the same is true of Sri Lanka. But the problem is avoidable.

© Lakbima News

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Tuesday, November 08, 2011

The horror of child abuse in Sri Lanka

By Lakshman Indranath Keerthisinghe | The Sunday Leader

‘Life’s aspirations come in the guise of children’ - Fireflies by Rabindranath Tagore

This column dedicated to the notion of making Sri Lanka the Wonder of Asia today turns the spotlight on the horror of child abuse, which affects the aspirations of Sri Lankan society to be free of child abuse.

According to the definition of the United Nations’ Convention on the Rights of the Child, a child is “a human being below the age of 18 years unless under the law applicable to the child. Child abuse or maltreatment constitutes all forms of physical and/or emotional ill treatment, sexual abuse, neglect or negligent treatment or commercial or other exploitation, resulting in actual or potential harm to the child’s health, survival, development or dignity in the context of a relationship of responsibility, trust or power. Vulnerable children face five principal types of risk: sexual abuse, emotional abuse, institutional abuse, physical neglect, and non-organic failure to thrive.

It is our collective responsibility to nurture them, protect them from social evils and provide them with a safe and peaceful environment to grow up in. Early childhood development determines the future of a child’s life and must therefore be given serious attention.

A UNICEF report states that more than 300,000 children have been deployed in battle fields worldwide, despite international conventions created to protect children. The report further noted that in the North-Eastern Province, of Sri Lanka, it is estimated that 2,000 children have been involved in the armed conflict as child soldiers and face difficulties readapting to ordinary life. But other children, not directly involved in the conflict, have also been affected by the war in multiple ways. Many are suffering from traumatic stress due to shocking past events and present living conditions. They are faced with the physical destruction of homes, schools, and hospitals, and are constantly at risk as they live in a heavily mined region.

In Sri Lanka more than 25 percent of cases heard in courts are child abuse cases, revealed a study conducted by the Rehabilitation and Prison Reforms Ministry. A notable feature is that the majority of children were victimized by their blood relatives. According to the study 51 percent of court cases in Embilipitiya are on child abuse, 32.7 percent in the Badulla district, 24 percent in Kegalle, 45.27 percent in Polonnaruwa, 40.17 percent in Ratnapura, 38.60 percent in Kandy, and 33.16 percent in Anuradhapura. Apart from this situation, a large number of children are involved in some form of economic activity or child labour in Sri Lanka. According to the National Survey on Child Labour nearly 26 per cent children living in Sri Lanka are engaged in an economic activity while not attending school or any other educational institution. It is reported in the survey that 52 percent (475,531) of all working children are less than 15 years of age. A majority of the children engaged in economic activities are boys (62.3 percent). Furthermore, 95 percent of all working children reside in rural areas.

The report by UNICEF titled The State of the World’s Children 2009 indicates that in Sri Lanka, there is a preliminary estimate of approximately 5,000 children, who have been trafficked internally and currently find themselves in some of the worst forms of child labour, including being conscripted to fight in conflict situations and involved in commercial sex tourism.

The National Child Protection Authority was created as the first governmental organization dedicated to work to secure the rights of children in Sri Lanka. The NCPA has taken several measures to protect Sri Lankan children from various abuses so far. The ‘Child Line’ hotline service was introduced by the NCPA, aimed at eradicating child abuse through the defence of helpless children.With the sudden increase in the number of child abuse cases in Sri Lanka, the NCPA has appointed a special sub-committee to inquire into the rise in child abuse cases. According to the NCPA, the sub-committee will determine the causes of child abuse in the country and will find ways to minimize such incidents. NCPA Chairperson Anoma Dissanayake has said that the sub-committee will be open to ideas and opinions from the public on issues related to child abuse. It has been reported that (among other abuses) cases of rape involving children at the hands of close relatives have increased.

The effects of child sexual abuse can include physical injury to the child, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety and the propensity to further victimization in adulthood, among other problems. Sexual abuse by a family member is a form of incest, and can result in more serious and long-term psychological trauma, especially in the case of parental incest.

Children are the future leaders of the nation. Society has to protect them and help develop their skills. In pursuance this effort, Leader Publications Ltd., with the sponsorship of the Sampath Bank conducted an islandwide essay competition for school children and awarded prizes for the best essays written in English and Sinhala. The first prize was Rs.100,000, the second prize was Rs 75,000 and the third prize was Rs 50,000 for winners in each language, thus encouraging and developing the writing skills of our children. Other institutions in our corporate and banking sectors can do a great service to our children by engaging in similar endeavours.

Let me conclude in lighter vein by relating an episode connected with the arrival of children in this world.

Three men were waiting patiently outside the labour ward of the city hospital. A nurse came out and informed the first man that he had become the father of twins.”Twins!” he exclaimed “How about that? I work for the double mint chewing gum company.”A little later the nurse came out and told the second man that he had become the father of triplets. “Triplets,” he said. “What a coincidence I work for the 3M Organization!”

The third man stood up ashen faced and muttered, “I need some fresh air, I WORK FOR 7 UP.”

© The Sunday Leader

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Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Sri Lanka: Urgent need to prosecute security agents involved in torture

Amnesty International

Sri Lanka is not credibly investigating torture, Amnesty International said on the eve of a review by the UN Committee Against Torture into the country.

In its briefing to the UN committee, Amnesty International, working closely with Sri Lankan human rights defenders, documented a persistent pattern of torture of detainees and a culture of impunity in Sri Lanka.

“There is no longer an independently functioning unit investigating torture allegations levelled against the security forces, which calls into question Sri Lanka’s commitment to ending this abhorrent practice,” said Yolanda Foster, Amnesty International’s Sri Lanka expert.

“It’s not enough to have legislation if you have no effective means of implementing it. Although Sri Lanka has a law against torture, in effect it is treated as little more than a piece of paper, as Sri Lankan colleagues have pointed out,” she said.

During the first 14 years of the anti-torture legislation, only three prosecutions were reportedly made under the Special Investigation Unit of the police, which has since been sidelined.

In 2008, the government said that in the previous four years, there had been 42 indictments against 90 people as a result of investigations into allegations of torture. An additional 31 torture cases were sent to the police to start action in the Magistrate’s Court. Most of these cases, however, never went to trial.

Torture is carried out by police, inmates and prison guards. Detainees are also routinely tortured and beaten by military personnel and paramilitary units working with government forces, such as the army and navy.

Women’s rights activists have repeatedly expressed concern to Amnesty International that gender-based violence, including violence amounting to torture is not taken seriously by Sri Lankan authorities. Sexual violence is highly under-reported and where it is reported, poorly investigated, the activists say.

Enforced disappearances continue to be reported, and bodies of victims of extrajudicial killings have shown evidence of torture.

Individuals detained on suspicion of links to the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), have also been victims of torture. Sri Lankan detainees have been held arbitrarily for prolonged periods, sometimes years, without charge. Many have been arrested and detained on suspicion of links to the LTTE pending investigation and interrogation by Sri Lanka’s intelligence and security forces, or for “rehabilitation.” People alleged to be involved with the LTTE are rarely brought to trial. Most of these detainees are eventually released for lack of evidence.

Criminal suspects are also subjected to torture. In October 2011, Lalith Susantha, a suspect arrested in connection with the death of a policeman drowned in Bolgada Lake near Colombo, after police officers allegedly took him by boat to an island in the lake to reveal the location of weapons used in the murder.

“Sri Lanka must immediately begin a complete overhaul of its criminal justice system and guarantee prompt and fair investigation of any allegations of torture,” said Yolanda Foster.

“Prosecutions of security agents suspected of torture must be carried out as a matter of urgency,” she added.

© Amnesty International

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Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Sri Lanka awards a new project to CATIC

By Charles Haviland | BBC Sinhala

Sri Lanka has awarded a business contract to a Chinese state-owned defence contractor, just days after a hotel deal with the same company collapsed.

The deal came as reports said the company, China National Aero Technology Import and Export Corporation or CATIC, might have been planning to sue the Sri Lankan government.

The Chinese state-owned CATIC is an exporter of military planes to Sri Lanka but also has other interests.

It is now secured a 90 million-dollar contract to relocate and develop a university department near the capital.

The cabinet approved the deal just nine days after the government withdrew a contract for the same company to build a luxury city hotel complex worth 500 million dollars on prime seafront land.

Hotel project

It hurriedly rescinded an agreement to sell the land outright, saying that in fact only leases were acceptable – despite an adjacent land sale to the Hong Kong-based Shangri-La hotel group having gone through.

The government now appears anxious to placate the Chinese conglomerate at a time when Chinese loans are funding many big building projects here including roads, railways, a port and an airport.

The main opposition party campaigned hard against the sale of the seafront land, and alleges that someone must be benefiting from the deals with Chinese firms.

The government accuses the opposition of discouraging investment.

But the Sri Lanka-based Sunday Times newspaper has accused the government of making business decisions “without any rational thought”, saying that as a result, no one is rushing to invest in Sri Lanka.

Meanwhile, government supporters have stormed and occupied the sugar factory in Sevanagala which is owned by an opposition politician but which the government has vowed to nationalise under a controversial new bill.

© BBC Sinhala

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Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Sri Lanka still holds on to archaic anti-gay law

By Ranga Jayasuriya | Lakbima News

Sri Lanka is among 41 countries out of 54 member nations of the Commonwealth that impose discriminatory laws against homosexuals. British Prime Minister David Cameron has warned that countries that discriminate minorities, including homosexuals would stand to lose British aid unless they make the necessary reforms to such laws.

Would Sri Lanka lose finances through British aid? Not much. After all, British aid to Sri Lanka has been minuscule in recent years. The Department for International Development (DFID) which controls Britain’s £ 7 .46 billion aid budget ended its bilateral programmes in the country after Sri Lanka graduated to a middle income nation in 2005.

The total UK donor assistance received by Sri Lanka for the period of 2008-2009 was £ 3.5 million, inconsequential compared to Chinese aid, which amounted to $1.2 billion in 2009 alone.

The Department for International Development continues to fund a conflict prevention programme in Sri Lanka during 2010- 2011 at a cost of £ 2 million.

There had been a slight increase in British humanitarian assistance since the end of the war in May 2009. Britain committed £13.5 million for a ‘crash’ return programme of the IDPs, which again, is largely symbolic and dwarfed by India’s $ 500 million donor package to help rebuilding and resettlement in the North- East.

Research into the efficacy of economic sanctions to make policy changes in states reveal that they work well when used against friends – and fail when used against enemy nations, which explains why UN sanctions against Saddam Hussein’s Iraq turned to be ineffective. Sanctions imposed bilaterally are effective only when the nation that was slapped with sanctions is economically dependent on the other. As far as the extent of British economic aid is concerned, Britain doesn’t wield a carrot big enough to compel Sri Lanka to reform its archaic law that criminalizes homosexuality.

Homosexuality is illegal in Sri Lanka under Section 365A of the Penal Code and technically punishable by a jail term of up to 10 years.

Observation hit the nail

Until 1995, the law, a vestige of colonial sodomy law was applicable only for men. However, the Chandrika Kumaratunga government amended the law to gender neutralize, thereby criminalizing both men and women. And we had openly gay cabinet ministers at that time who exerted influence in the Kumaratunga administration. They could have repealed the law; instead they opted to continue with it.

However, despite the existence of the law, there had been no prosecution of homosexuals reported from Sri Lanka in 50 years.

Richard Ammon, a foreigner writing to Global Gays, a gay information website, sums up his impression about the status of homosexuals in Sri Lanka:

“To be sure, many LGBT citizens live in closeted misery but more recently voices of equality and respect have become louder. Being traditionally Buddhist there is little fear of overt homophobic violence yet archaic colonialist anti-gay laws still apply.”

He opines: “In actuality, the ease or distress of lesbigay people in Sri Lanka is very much a function of their class. Although there is little overt class distinction in this country compared to India’s sharp castes, in Sri Lanka, money, education and family status do matter. These create distinct qualities of life for queer folks as well in this island nation of 20 million people.”

The extent of homophobia in the Sri Lankan society is often disputed. Ammon’s observations, in fact, hit the nail. While Sri Lanka was “liberal” enough to have an openly gay foreign minister and not so open prime ministers in the recent past, the country may not be equally congenial to gays and lesbians of the lower segments of the society, who are routinely harassed and discriminated against at the hands of law enforcement agencies and employers, et al.

Media also culpable of promoting homophobia

There is a relatively active gay and lesbian scene confined to Colombo’s upper class, which organize regular events and conduct networking for its members. However, grassroots activism is limited, owning to the conservative nature of society.

Sometimes, the media itself is culpable of promoting homophobia. Recently, a local Sinhala language weekly newspaper published a series of bigoted articles which bordered hate crime, and implicitly encouraged violence against homosexuals.

In the political front, there is an acknowledgement that the archaic sodomy law needs to be repealed. But, who will bell the cat is the question. There are monks, Catholic Church and conservative political organizations which could spoil any move to repeal the colonial law. Stakes would be high, should the opponents of gay rights played the morality card, which could strike a cord in the conservative local populace. (That’s not a dilemma confined to this part of the world. Homosexuals in the US military had to put up with a ludicrous “ Don’t ask, Don’t tell” policy until Barack Obama repealed it this year.)

Sherman de Rose, the executive director of Companions on a Journey, earlier told this newspaper that the issue of decriminalizing homosexuality has not been recently pursued by gay rights activists.

“I have met (Presidents) Mahinda Rajapaksa, Chandrika Kumaratunga, (Prime Minister) Ranil Wickremesinghe. This issue didn’t come up. But all these political leaders accepted that we were part of this country and we should have equal respect that other people have.”

“We don’t want special laws, or to be victimized because of our sexual orientation. We want to live just like all other citizens in this country do,” he said.

Recently, prime minister D.M Jayaratna offered to talk to gay rights campaigners who demanded equal rights after a New Delhi High Court knocked down a similar colonial-era law to decriminalize consensual homosexual sex.

The legal prosecution of homosexuals because of their sexual orientation is unheard of Sri Lanka. However, Equal Ground, a non profit organization which campaigns for human and political rights for the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) community in Sri Lanka, earlier reported that a Sri Lankan who sought asylum in the US based on gender discrimination in his home country has been granted asylum there. Equal Grounds, quoted an email set by a person identified as Sam (a pseudonym), who said: “I am very happy to inform you that I was granted my gay asylum in the USA. As I know, I am the 3rd person who was granted gay asylum in USA.”

Decriminalizing homosexuality is not in the priority list of the Sri Lankan political establishment which is faced with a worse existential threat, i.e. allegations of war crimes, alleged to have been committed in the final phase of the conflict.

But, a liberal homosexual law, if enacted, could partly help rebrand the country’s image as an open and accommodating place for all communities. That would, in fact, better position Sri Lanka to fight allegations of human rights violations, and also help our leaders to travel abroad with that much more respect.

Lakbima News

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