Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Marie Colvin remembered in Jaffna

Tamil Net

Tamil journalists from various media organizations came together on Monday in Jaffna with civil society members and student representatives of various faculties of the Jaffna University, to pay tribute to the slain war correspondent in Syria, Marie Colvin, who had been in the island covering the conflict earlier. Paying floral tribute, the event, organized by Nimalarajan Memorial Foundation, remembered the late Marie Colvin as a Journalist Friend of Tamils. Meanwhile, remembering Marie Colvin in the diaspora, the London-based International Association of Tamil Journalists came out with a tribute last Thursday, saluting her courage, discipline and commitment to her work and to humanity.

In the memorial event held in Jaffna, Editor of Yaazh Thinakkural Mr. A. Rajeevan, President of the student union of the Vavuniyaa campus of the Jaffna University Mr. Sakthi, the Director of Media Resource and Training Centre of the Jaffna University V. Thevananth and the Jaffna reporter of Lankadeepa and Dailymirror, Mr. Parameswaran, delivered speeches. The event took place at Yaazhpaadi hotel from 3:00 p.m. to 4:30 p.m.

Professor R. Sivachanthiran of the Jaffna University and Ms. S. Rachel, a doctoral research fellow from UK, currently engaged in a field research on the political developments in the island between 2005 and 2010, also took part at the event.

Rachel who spoke at the memorial event said that the journalists from remote cities get together to honour Marie Colvin because she was a peoples' journalist and said that it was an honour for her to attend the memorial event of Marie Colvin in Jaffna.

Thinakkural Editor Rajeevan in his address said Marie Colvin, who risked her life in covering the conflict in the island, remained attached to the Eezham Tamils throughout, and it was that attachment that made her to become a key witness to the final hours in Vanni. Her contribution was significant in raising the global awareness, he said.

Marie Colvin will always remain an inspiration to the Tamil journalists, who continue their work under severe threat to press freedom, said Mr. Thevananth in his speech.

Meanwhile, in a statement issued on behalf of the London-based International Association of Tamil Jouranlists, former BBC Tamil service journalist Ms. Aanandhi Suryapirakasam said that Marie would always be fondly remembered by the Tamil community all over the world.

© Tamil Net

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Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Tamils 'face torture after UK deportation'

Sky News

The UK is due to deport up to 100 Tamils this week, despite warnings from human rights groups that they face torture from the Sri Lankan security services.

Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have both voiced their concerns over the mass deportation of Tamils, which will be the UK's third since June.

Sky News has spoken to one man who was deported from the UK last year who claims he was tortured but managed to escape and get back to Britain.

He revealed lacerations on his back and burn marks on his chest - indicating that the UK's belief he would not be mistreated was wrong.

Going by the name of Hari, he said: "I was beaten up with plastic pipes, wires and batons. I was tied to a chair and burned with cigarettes.

"My head was covered in petrol... and I lost consciousness."

As a rebel Tamil fighter, Hari says he was subject to persecution and torture at the hands of the Sri Lankan government.

Campaigners say he is one of eight recent cases that prove torture is still happening, over two years since the country's 26-year civil war came to an end.

Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch, told Sky News: "The British Government needs to be consistent.

"It claims that Sri Lanka needs to be held accountable at the Human Rights council in Geneva. But it's returning people to the possibility of torture.

"It has said that torture exists in the country, but because of its immigration policy, it doesn't want to keep asylum seekers in this country. So it's sending them back."

Protesters gathered outside the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva on Monday, demanding that the Council's 19th session discusses the situation.

Sri Lanka denies the claims, and has said men like Hari inflict the wounds on themselves in order to be accepted into countries like the UK.

But one of the Tamils scheduled to return to Sri Lanka on this latest flight told Sky that he was worried for his life.

His interpreter said: "The Sri Lankan forces have got his fingerprint, and they have his photo. They will maybe torture him, and kill him."

© Sky News

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Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Sri Lanka: Indian Ocean Naval Symposium (IONS) begins

The Island

The Indian Ocean Naval Symposium (IONS) Operational issues workshop, hosted by the Sri Lanka Navy commenced yesterday (28). Director General Operations Rear Admiral Jayantha Perera inaugurated the workshop at the Galadari Hotel.

The two day workshop conducted under the theme Enhancing Operational Efficiency through Sharing of Information and Coordination is attended by representatives from Australia, Bangladesh, France, Indonesia, India, Kenya, Kuwait, Oman, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Tanzania, Thailand, United Arab Emirates and Iran.

The hosting of the workshop in Colombo by the Sri Lanka Navy shows the commitment and importance it gives to the "IONS’. The workshop, which will focus attention on maritime security and the freedom of the sea for safe navigation, will conclude on the 29th.

© The Island

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Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Britain defends the decision to deport asylum seekers

By Charles Haviland | BBC Sinhala

Britain has questioned concerns raised by two charities which say that Sri Lankan Tamils deported from the UK are at danger of being tortured or raped.

Another charter flight returning people to the island nation, including Tamil and Sinhala failed asylum-seekers, is due to leave on Tuesday.

But Human Rights Watch and Freedom from Torture say that the flights should be suspended because some ethnic Tamils been subjected to cruel treatment after arriving.

Courts satisfied about safety

The British Foreign Office told the BBC that the government only sends people back to Sri Lanka when it and the courts are satisfied that an individual has no protection needs.

It cited a ruling from the European Court of Human Rights that not all Tamil asylum-seekers require protection. And it said there had been no substantiated allegations of mistreatment of those returned from the UK.

In effect Britain is disputing strongly-worded statements released by the US-based Human Rights Watch and the British-based Freedom from Torture.

Beaten and raped

The former said last weekend that the Sri Lankan military and police have arrested some Tamil returnees, beating them, covering them in kerosene or raping them to force them to confess involvement with the Tamil Tigers.

The organisations say that although British High Commission officials meet most returnees and give them a small assistance package, this is far from adequate protection.

Police denies accusations

And they say deportation charter flights including one due to leave on Tuesday should be suspended.

The Sri Lankan police have strongly denied the allegations levelled against them, including those of rape. But they admit that some deportees are arrested at the airport.

© BBC Sinhala

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Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Sri Lanka may see tyranny of markets to be worse than IMF, World Bank

Lanka Business Online

The pain imposed by the tyranny of markets could be much greater than adjustments caused by the International Monetary Fund or World Bank, an economist has warned.

Indrajith Coomaraswamy, an economist who has been at Sri Lanka's central bank, finance ministry and at the Commonwealth Secretariat said borrowing in commercial markets required good policy and transparent reporting.

"Now that we are exposed to the market and rating agencies even if we keep our house well, there could be exogenous shocks," Coomaraswamy told a forum in Colombo organized by the Sri Lanka Association of Exporters.

"We have to take timely action. If the oil price goes up, pass it through. If we don't we have to do more difficult actions later."

In 2011 a balance of payments crisis was triggered by high domestic credit growth and a sudden spike in borrowings by state energy firms, which did not raise prices.

Energy price deceptions became a key part of Sri Lanka's economic policy in 2004 under a policy put forward by Marxist-Nationalist Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna called 'removing the World Bank plug', which called for the lifting of a monthly fuel price adjustment formula.

The Ceylon Electricity Board, which had to generate large amounts of thermal power from the second quarter of 2011 due to failed rains also skipped raising prices in both June 2011 and January 2012, though there was a regulatory process to do so.

Sri Lanka turned to bond markets that did not impose 'conditions' ahead of time like the World Bank and IMF and rapidly ratcheted up commercial borrowings.

Borrowings now include about 2.5 billion US dollars worth rupee debt and a similar amount of dollar denominated debt.

While dollar denominated debt can only be sold to buyers with dollars, and become a problem only at maturity, a run by rupee bond holders can push the domestic currency down and cause severe tightening in credit markets.

Coomaraswamy said the pain imposed by fleeing creditors on some other countries have been much worse than the adjustments required by multilateral lenders.

In later 2008 Sri Lanka faced a severe crisis, triggered by a pullout of bond buyers and also state deficit spending.

During the current crisis Sri Lanka's rupee bond buyers usually referred to as 'hot money' have so far been cool and waited through a near 10 percent devaluation, from around 110 rupees to 120 levels against the dollar.

The rupee weakened below 122, to an all time low on Tuesday prompting state banks to sell dollars.

Coomaraswamy said the adjustments done by authorities including fuel price hikes and rate ceiling would help but there may be pain ahead for the country in the short term.

A rate hike of 50 basis points lagged the markets, he said. Analysts have said monetary policy would require further tightening with private credit growth also strong.

But analysts says foreign bond buyers can force high spending rulers to take corrective action much more than domestic ones especially in countries like Sri Lanka where the largest bond buyers are forced savings funds of private citizens who have no control over them.


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Tuesday, February 28, 2012

UK 'to deport 100 Tamils' as Sri Lanka fights UN resolution

Channel 4

A plane chartered by the British government is to deport about 100 Tamil asylum seekers to Sri Lanka, according to a human rights charity.

Human Rights Watch claims the aircraft will fly the Tamils back to the country where they could face interrogation and torture.

It claims at least eight similar flights have flown Tamils back to Colombo in recent months, and several of those deported have gone on to face serious abuse by Sri Lankan army forces.

The charity says that one Tamil alleged that during interrogation he was beaten with batons and burned with cigarettes, and had kerosene poured over his head.

It details allegations by other Tamils, some of whom claim to have been subjected to gang rape by security forces.

"The British government has an international legal obligation not to deport people who have a credible fear of torture upon return," said Brad Adams of Human Rights Watch.

"Convincing reports of arbitrary arrests and torture demand that the UK government suspend returns of rejected Tamil asylum seekers to Sri Lanka until it can fairly and thoroughly assess their individual claims based on up-to-date human rights information on Sri Lanka."

Deportation flights have continued despite an MP last year accusing the government of "painting targets on the backs" of Sri Lankan returnees.

Siobhain McDonagh, MP for Mitcham and Morden, told the Commons the British Government is complicit in the torture of Tamil civilians as it continues to deport many people seeking asylum in the UK.

"The British Government is supposed to be one of the leading forces in the Commonwealth. Yet it is not only turning a blind eye, it is sending planeload after planeload of Tamils back," she said last June.

And last September, a plane chartered by the British Government to return failed asylum seekers to Sri Lanka landed in Colombo following the failure of last-minute legal efforts to prevent it leaving.

At that time, shadow foreign secretary Douglas Alexander said he had written to foreign secretary William Hague asking for assurances that 50 Tamils returned to Sri Lanka would not be tortured.

The latest deportation came as hundreds of demonstrators, led by ruling party local government councillors, marched to the United States embassy in protest against the US decision to support a UN human rights resolution.

The US earlier announced its decision to back a resolution at the Human Rights Council in Geneva asking the Rajapaksa government to submit a time table to implement recommendations made by a government appointed commission to improve good governance, human rights and reconciliation with minority Tamils.

The Indian Ocean island nation, which ended its quarter century Tamil separatist war in May 2009, is under heavy pressure from western nations and international rights groups to investigate alleged war crimes in the final phase of the war.

© Channel 4

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Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Sri Lanka: With media gagged or threatened, no progress for freedom of information

Reporters Without Borders

Reporters Without Borders calls on all members of the Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council, which began its 19th session yesterday, to pass a resolution condemning the Sri Lankan government’s violations of freedom of information and to demand an end to threats and violence against news media and human rights defenders in Sri Lanka.

“For more than a year we have been seeing new forms of censorship and a deterioration in journalists’ ability to work although the war with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) officially ended in 2009,” Reporters Without Borders said. “Rather than wait until the Universal Periodic Review to make recommendations, the Human Rights Council’s members should adopt a resolution now urging the government to take measures to improve freedom of information.

“The number of cases of physical attacks, death threats and imprisonment may have fallen in 2010 and 2011, but the authorities continue to prevent the media from enjoying real editorial freedom and many journalists are still in exile. Sri Lankan and foreign media are still unable to cover the issue of war crimes, which will be at the centre of the Human Rights Council’s discussions during the 19th session.

“An immediate reaction is needed to the obstruction of journalists who want to cover the activities of the Lessons Learned and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) and to self-censorship on this subject for fear of reprisals. The Human Rights Council must remind the Sri Lankan government of the importance of the media’s role as a critic and urge it to respect freedom of information. We call on the government to accept constructive questions from civil society and to stop branding its critics as ‘conspirators’ and ‘LTTE accomplices’.”

January - February 2012 timeline

Journalists and media defenders have been the constant targets of violence, threats and propaganda. The censorship of websites, especially those based abroad, has increased since the beginning of 2011. The events of the past two months amply illustrate the way the government is treating journalists.

Since 25 February: Distributed Denial-of-Service Attacks (DDoS) have been disrupting web traffic of The service provider is struggling to keep the website online.

23 February: The supreme court held its third hearing on the blocking of news websites. Access to four leading independent news websites – SriLankaMirror, SriLankaGuardian, Paparacigossip9 and LankaWayNews – has been blocked since 6 November on the orders of the information ministry, which announced on 5 November that all news websites with “any content relating to Sri Lanka” needed to register with the ministry.

16 February: The defence ministry posted an article on its website accusing Journalists for Democracy in Sri Lanka (JDS), an exile organization, of “treachery and conspiracy” against the government and security forces on the eve of the Human Rights Council’s 19th session.

15 February: Prasad Purnimal Jayamanne, a freelance journalist working for the BBC’s Sinhalese service and a member of the South Asian Free Media Association (SAFMA), was attacked and badly beaten while filming a demonstration by fishermen in Chilaw, 100 km north of Colombo, in protest against the death of a fisherman at the hands of the police and the injuries sustained by others. Jayamanne had to be hospitalized.

8 February: The state-owned daily Dinamina accused the Free Media Movement of obstructing democracy and freedom in Sri Lanka, giving the country a bad image, and inciting separatism and terrorism.

26-27 January: Media minister Keheliya Rambukwella accused journalists of collaborating with the LTTE and with foreign media and NGOs in order to smear Sri Lanka’s image. He said he had a list of journalists working against the government, including the organisers of the “Black January” campaign, which was based on the fact that there were major press freedom violations every January during the past three years. They included Sunday Leader editor Lasantha Wickrematunge’s murder in January 2009 and political cartoonist Prageeth Ekneligoda’s disappearance in January 2010, which have become symbols of violence against the media and the impunity enjoyed by those responsible.

25 January (and following days): After the Alliance of Media Organizations in Sri Lanka held a “Black January” demonstration (which had to be moved to a different location because of a counter-demonstration by government supporters), some of the demonstration’s organizers were followed by unidentified individuals for several days.

10 January: The government accused the Free Media Movement of collaborating with the political opposition and organizing a campaign to get the European Union to suspend Sri Lanka’s preferential trade status under the GSP+ accord.

5 January: The start of the trial of a man accused of the April 2005 murder of journalist Dharmeratnam Sivaram was postponed by Colombo high court judge P. Surasena after the prosecutor said he was unable to proceed because six prosecution witnesses, including two policemen, had failed to show up. The judge also dissolved the jury. Sivaram was kidnapped in Colombo and his body was found near the parliament building the next day.

January (start of the month): When state-controlled Independent Television Network (ITN) broadcast footage of media freedom activists demonstrating during the September 2011 session of the UN Human Rights Council, it accused them of being LTTE members.


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Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Sri Lanka protest over UN war abuses resolution

Photo courtesy:

BBC News

Protests are being held across Sri Lanka against plans by Western nations to sponsor a UN motion calling for a probe into abuses during the civil war.

Sri Lanka's army defeated separatist Tamil Tiger rebels in May 2009 - both sides have been accused of abuses.

The UN Human Rights Council is meeting to consider a resolution into events during the closing phase of that war.

Sri Lanka's government has rejected calls for an international probe.

It has said it is outraged by support for the UN move in Geneva. Several thousand people including some religious clerics and former military officers marched through Colombo towards the US embassy.

There were also reports that demonstrators in some areas had been coerced to attend.

In the former rebel stronghold of Kilinochchi, in the north, about 500 people gathered and chanted slogans. Although a proportion of these were genuine government supporters, others had been forced to attend by masked motorcycle-riders, one source told the BBC's Charles Haviland in Colombo.

Earlier this month US officials said they would back the UN Human Rights Council resolution, due in March, urging Colombo to investigate war crimes allegations by its own forces.

The government commissioned its own investigation into the war last year and the UN resolution calls on the government to implement its recommendations. The Sri Lankan Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) cleared the military of allegations that it deliberately attacked civilians. It said that there were some violations by troops, but only at an individual level.

But another report commissioned by the UN Secretary General reached a different conclusion, saying that allegations of serious rights violations were "credible" on both sides.

Human rights groups estimate that up to 40,000 civilians were killed in the final months of the war. The government recently released its own estimate, concluding that about 9,000 people perished during that period.

© BBC News

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Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Sri Lanka’s dead and missing: the need for an accounting

By International Crisis Group

Nearly three years since the end of the war, there’s a growing need for an accounting of – and for – those killed and missing in the final months of fighting in northern Sri Lanka in 2009. Members of the UN Human Rights Council, opening its 19th session in Geneva today, should be ready to press the Sri Lankan government for real answers.

Instead of grappling with the many credible sources of information suggesting tens of thousands of civilians were killed between January and May 2009 – including the UN’s real-time data collection, international satellite imagery, and the government’s own population figures – the government is rewriting history on its own terms. In the lead up to the Human Rights Council session, the government released an “Enumeration of Vital Events” for the Northern Province. It finds the total death toll during the five bloody months of fighting in 2009 to be under 7,000 with another 2,500 missing, but it doesn’t differentiate between civilians and combatants or assign responsibility for any death to either the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) or to government forces.

These findings fall far short of the UN Secretary-General’s panel of experts’ estimate that as many as 40,000 civilians died in those last months and even higher estimates based on the government’s own prior census figures. This “enumeration” also runs counter to an important recommendation of the government’s Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) calling on the government to “conduct a professionally designed household survey covering all affected families in all parts of the island to ascertain first-hand the scale and the circumstances of death and injury to civilians, as well as damage to property during the period of the conflict”. The LLRC made this recommendation at the end of November 2011, well after the “enumeration” project was conducted from June to August 2011.

The LLRC’s report has serious shortcomings in its treatment of allegations of war crimes and crimes against humanity by government forces, but it also acknowledges important realities, including breaking with years of government claims of “zero civilian casualties” and accepting that “considerable civilian casualties had in fact occurred during the final phase of the conflict”. While it then goes to lengths to absolve the government of responsibility for those casualties, its recommendation of a professionally designed survey could help clarify the fate of the dead and missing in the north – if done credibly and independently. Unfortunately, there are no signs of such a credible and independent process emerging.

Just days after the LLRC delivered its report to the president on 20 November, his brother, Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa, delivered a speech to the “Inaugural National Conference on Reconciliation” in which he said that the government had “conducted a complete census” in the north, which was “in the process of finalisation”. He said a “questionnaire” had been used which included seven categories of dead or missing persons: “those who died of natural causes; those who died of accidents; those who left th[e] country through illegal means, particularly by boat to India or to South East Asia, and from there to the West; those who died whilst fighting as members of the LTTE; those who died as a result of being coerced to fight by the LTTE; those who died as a result of resisting the LTTE … ; [and deaths] that occurred due to military action”.

Without explaining how those categories were determined or what the government had done to avoid bias in its questionnaire and information gathering, the defence secretary concluded that “as a result of the census, we already know that the real number of dead and missing is far too small to provide any substance to the absurd allegations of genocide and war crimes that have been made against our military by the rump LTTE and their cronies”. On 8 February at an event hosted by the Swiss mission to the UN in New York, Sri Lanka’s permanent representative to the UN repeated the claim that the government has carried out “a comprehensive census in the Northern Province which will enable firm and verifiable conclusions to be derived at on issues involving disappearances, deaths, etc”.

The “enumeration” released soon after this statement doesn’t deliver the details promised. Instead it appears to be little more than another attempt to short-circuit what Sri Lanka’s people really need and what the global community – and even the LLRC – have been asking for: an independent, credible assessment of who and how many died and under what circumstances (i.e., who and what caused the deaths or disappearances).

The process by which this supposed count has happened is not at all clear, but the conditions under which any census would have been conducted in the north – an area under effective military occupation by a victorious army accused of the crimes in question – are not conducive to a fair and accurate count. The risk that the government has now politicised the department of census and statistics, as it already has politicised the police, judiciary and human rights commission, should be deeply worrying to Sri Lanka’s international partners.

As member states of the Human Rights Council prepare for the upcoming session, they should ask the government for a full explanation of how this purported census was conducted, what safeguards were in place to ensure independence, who (by name and by civilian or combatant) was killed or went missing and how, and whether UN agencies and independent civil society organisations will be allowed to verify the findings. Equally important, Council members should ask the government to reconcile its “enumeration” with the now-extensive information available suggesting that tens of thousands of civilians were killed in the final stages of the war, most as a result of government fire into heavily populated civilian areas.

The precise number and identities of all civilians killed in those last bloody months will likely never be known, especially if the government persists in its resistance to an independent, international inquiry. Nonetheless, several sources of information regarding civilian casualties need to be addressed – fully and transparently.

Sources of information suggesting civilian deaths in the tens of thousands

The UN’s real-time, on the ground survey of deaths and injuries

There are, first of all, the casualty figures gathered by the UN and humanitarian staff trapped in the fighting, which recorded 7,721 civilians killed and 18,479 injured between August 2008 and 13 May 2009, after which information collection became too difficult. These numbers were not estimates, but actual counts based on eyewitness sightings verified by two additional sources. The vast majority of those included in the UN count were killed between late January and late April 2009, before the escalation in fighting in the final three weeks.

The Secretary-General’s panel of experts noted strong grounds to believe these numbers understate actual casualties during that period. These include the conservative methodology used to collect the figures, suspected underreporting by UN agencies (in response to pressure from the Sri Lankan government), the location of many casualties in areas inaccessible to observers, and the fact that following 13 May, the number of civilian casualties likely increased significantly as many civilians died from their injuries with no functioning hospital or humanitarian facilities in the warzone to register casualties or treat the wounded.

The government, including the LLRC, has frequently dismissed these figures because the UN failed to publish them, without acknowledging that the UN raised them with the government in private discussions. The UN’s failure to speak out about its casualty estimates and the scale of the humanitarian crisis, and the government’s willingness to castigate the UN for even attempting to assess the civilian toll, are both matters of serious continuing concern.

Casualty estimates for the final week of fighting

Multiple eyewitnesses who were in the warzone during the final week estimate that thousands of civilians were killed in those days. Many describe walking past hundreds of bodies as they exited the final “no-fire zone” and seeing entire families buried in collapsed bunkers. A U.S. embassy cable on 18 May 2009, the day the government declared the war over, said a UN contact thought the LTTE’s claims of 25,000 civilians wounded or killed in the last few days were exaggerated, but that based on a 10 May shelter analysis and estimates of 70,000 to 80,000 people in the “no-fire zone” before the final assault, the number unaccounted for could be as high as 7,000 to 17,000. The UN contact also reportedly said the UN doubted the LTTE’s claims on the night of 17 May that it still had 1,000 to 2,000 cadres.

Contemporary population figures from senior government officials

There is also information from the government’s own officials working in the north suggesting that as many as 70,000 or even 140,000 civilians who were surveyed in the warzone just before or during the final months of fighting never made it to the government internment camps at the end of the war.

At least three separate figures need to be compared against the number of civilians in the camps as of late May 2009, which the government reported to be approximately 290,000. First, the former district secretary for Mullaitivu and current district secretary for Jaffna, Imelda Sukumar, testified to the LLRC on 4 November 2010 that there were 360,000 people caught in the fighting in the Puttumatalan “no-fire zone” established in February 2009.

Second, the UN panel of experts reported that her assistant, the former additional government agent (AGA) of Mullaitivu, and his staff who were in the “no-fire zone” counted some 330,000 people still trapped in the fighting in early February 2009. At that time, government figures showed that 35,000 were already in government camps. After the AGA advised officials in Colombo of the 330,000 figure, they wrote to him that the figure was “arbitrary and baseless” and that the government would be “reluctantly compelled” to discipline him for providing “wrong information to any source especially in regard to IDP figures”.

Finally, documents from the local government offices in Kilinochchi and Mullaitivu districts, dated 30 September and 1 October 2008, available here and here, show a total population of 429,000. These figures were cited in the LLRC testimony of the Catholic Bishop of Mannar, who asked for clarification as to what happened to the more than 140,000 people apparently missing given the much smaller population corralled into government camps.

Corroborating the government’s contemporary population figures

This last estimate of the number of those still unaccounted for may seem high. Indeed, the central government has long argued that local population figures were inflated under pressure from the LTTE, in order to exaggerate the humanitarian crisis and to generate greater quantities of humanitarian supplies, which the LTTE could steal. While some inflation in the figures is possible, it is unlikely to have been large enough to explain all, or even most, of the discrepancies. There is also some corroborating evidence that argues for taking seriously even large estimates of the missing and demanding a full and independent accounting.

For example, if one takes the total population figures for residents of Kilinochchi and Mullaitivu districts from the 30 September and 1 October 2008 local government documents, they match almost exactly the central government’s estimated 2008 population figures for those districts, which can still be found on the department of census and statistics website in its estimated mid-year population by sex and district, 2000-2010.

The combined total of Kilinochchi residents counted by local officials in late 2008 was 146,700 (121,900 then living in Kilinochchi and 24,800 displaced to Mullaitivu), while the central government estimate for Kilinochchi residents was 140,000 in 2006, 143,000 in 2007 and 147,000 in 2008 (and provisionally 154,000 in 2009 and 156,000 in 2010).

Similarly, the combined total for Mullaitivu residents counted by local officials in late 2008 came to 126,350 (100,600 still living in Mullaitivu and 25,745 displaced to Kilinochchi), while the central government figures for Mullaitivu show 129,000 in 2006, 132,000 in 2007 and 135,000 in 2008 (and provisionally 154,000 in 2009 and 148,000 in 2010).

Because local government officials’ figures for Kilinochchi and Mullaitivu residents in late 2008 are almost exactly what the government had officially accepted for years, the government should explain why so many fewer people ended up in government camps in mid-2009. It should also explain why its most recent “enumeration”, which says there are now only 103,717 people in Kilinochchi and only 66,526 people in Mullaitivu – a drop of over 100,000, doesn’t raise many more questions than it answers.

A UN survey in the internment camps

Another intriguing statistic can be found in a UN Survey of 100 randomly selected shelters in zone 3 of Menik Farm in early May 2009 – prior to the worst fighting of the final two weeks. This small survey found that “22 per cent of the families” interviewed “reported that an immediate family member had died”. Extending this percentage to the approximately 90,000 families who ended up in camps after the end of the war, it suggests a minimum of 18,000 killed. Sample bias and other potential problems with this survey – including the possible inclusion of some combatants or deaths in earlier stages of the war – need to be examined, yet given the timeframe (prior to the deadliest weeks) and the possibility of multiple deaths within (or complete destruction of) some families, it could in fact be a generous minimum.

Estimates of war widows and female-headed households

Finally, there are other estimates available – including from the government – that appear to be consistent with large-scale loss of life. For example, multiple sources have claimed that there are now 40,000 “war widows” in the north. In September 2010, the ministry for child development and women’s affairs said it had lists of 40,000 war widows in the north, though it reduced this number without explanation in August 2011, to only 16,936. A separate media report cites government and donor figures of 30,000 out of 110,000 households in the former warzone that are headed by women. And a survey by the Jaffna-based Center for Women and Development reportedly estimated 40,000 female-headed households in the north, half of those in Jaffna. Not all of these women would have lost their husbands in the final months of the war, nor would all those men killed have been civilians – but many would have. And to the number of non-combatant husbands killed, one would have to add the women, children and unmarried men who died in the fighting, as well as those cases where both members of a married couple – and even whole families – were killed.

What the LLRC said about civilian casualties

The LLRC reported that the scale of civilian casualties, especially from January to May 2009, was a key question for the commission. Yet it accepted what the defence ministry told it – that “an estimate of civilian deaths was not available”. At the same time, the ministry had no problem providing an estimate of LTTE deaths – 22,247 for July 2006 to May 2009, with 4,264 confirmed by name for the period January to May 2009; or an estimate of security force deaths – 5,556 for July 2006 to May 2009.

Separately, the LLRC noted that the defence ministry had estimated the total number of LTTE cadres in the north to be 21,500. Given that approximately 11,700 suspected cadres were detained for “rehabilitation” at the end of the fighting, there are serious questions as to (1) how the government reconciles its 21,500 cadre estimate with its total of 34,000 killed or detained; (2) whether the 22,247 LTTE deaths were combatant deaths; and (2) whether the 11,700 detained for “rehabilitation” were in fact combatants. Unfortunately, the LLRC did not acknowledge, let alone answer, any of these questions.

Instead, the defence ministry told the LLRC that “it would be extremely difficult, if not impossible, to distinguish between LTTE and civilian casualties”. The LLRC expressed its “regret” at the absence of any official record or post-conflict estimate of civilian casualties while at the same time concluding that “considerable civilian casualties had in fact occurred”, but placed the blame primarily on unexplained “crossfire” and on the LTTE – just as the government and military officials who testified before it did.

The LLRC’s recommendation of a professionally designed island-wide household survey regarding civilian deaths and injuries – if done independently and credibly – could make up in part for its unwillingness to challenge the government’s narrative. Such a survey could also provide all Sri Lankans more clarity regarding how many and whose lives were lost in the war, including thousands of missing soldiers and people killed or disappeared outside of the north through decades of counter insurgency operations.


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Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Sri Lankans hit by price hikes

By Amantha Perera (IPS) | Asia Times Online

First the government devalued the Sri Lankan rupee by 3% in November. Then interest rates were raised. To cap that, United States sanctions hit Iran, which meets 90% of this country's oil needs.

The government this month limited its intervention in the foreign exchange market, where it had been selling billions of dollars to prop up the local currency. February began with the rupee trading at 109 per dollar; two weeks later it had slipped to 120.

A cascading effect followed. On February 10, the price of petrol went up by 8.7%, diesel by 36% and kerosene by 49%. Soon electricity became 40% more expensive as the list of upward price revisions grew.

Prices of bread and other bakery products are likely to go up unless producers are given subsidies. Gas price increases are almost inevitable. Even doctors working in government hospitals have sought an increase in fuel allowance, threatening to go on strike. Opposition political parties and affiliated trade unions have begun to stage protests and had to be dealt with by police using tear gas and batons.

One protester from the north-western town of Chilaw, was killed on February 15 when police opened fire on a demonstration demanding fuel subsidies for fishermen. The protests will continue and become a daily routine, vowed the People's Liberation Front opposition party and its affiliated union.

A total of 11 trade unions, represented on the National Labor Advisory Council, have requested the labor ministry to order an increase in salaries of workers, especially those in the private sector.

So far, the government has taken the view that the price rises were inevitable given higher world prices of crude oil, but it has promised subsidies for those directly affected such as fishermen, taxi operators and those in the transport sector.

"It is a combination of factors working together," Srimal Abeyratne, an academic attached to the department of economics at the Colombo University, told Inter Press Service (IPS). "Prices will go up more and living standards will drop accordingly."

Abeyratne said people will try to cut down on spending wherever they can, in order to meet vital expenses.

Chanuka Wattegama, an independent policy researcher, told IPS that the manner in which price revisions are being ordered suggests an intention on the part of the government to bring down consumption.

"The fact that the price of kerosene, a commodity used largely by the poor, was raised by nearly 50% indicates that the government expects a fall in demand across all sections, not just among the rich or middle class," he said.

Wattegama said the poorest will be worst hit. "The poor will definitely suffer. Those who are just above the poverty line now will fall below it. While the richer sections can absorb the shock to some extent, the poorer cannot."

Ramasamy Ramakrishnan, 47, who works on a tea estate in the Nuwera Eliya district expects to face the shocks that Wattegama predicts. A father of five, he makes do with less than US$130 a month, the combined income that he and his wife earn on the estate, plus the odd jobs that come his way.

"I don't know what to do, where to cut from. Already we were finding it hard to make ends meet. There have been no savings for over two years," Ramakrishnan said.

Around 5% of Sri Lanka's population of little over 20 million is from the estate sector, considered among the poorest. At least 11% from that population live below the official poverty line, according to the government's census and statistics department.

The urban poor are only too aware of the tough times ahead. "What to do? The choice is between starving or cutting down on other expenses," Manel Darmalatha, a widow with three children, said.

Darmalatha makes around $90 a month. "I am not sure what I am going to do, maybe ask my eldest [daughter] to work; it will be hard," she said.

A recent study by the Colombo-based research body, the Center for Poverty Analysis (CEPA), said that the richest 10% in the country were spending on average close to $1,200 per household per month, while the poorest 10%'s monthly expense were less than $55.

CEPA said that the top 20% earns 54% of the country's income while the bottom 20% accounts for less than 5% of earnings.

Wattegama said the country's economic woes called for drastic action. "The gap [in incomes] I see as the [result of] lack of initiatives to take the masses out of poverty and giving them livelihood options, rather than providing social welfare," he said.

Abeyratne sees mismanagement of public enterprises that drain precious funds as another cause for the developing crisis.

"There is large mismanagement and waste. But the losses have to be borne either by the taxpayers or the consumers," he said.

The economist told IPS that some economic shocks like those caused by the rise in international prices are hard to avoid. "But what the policymakers can do is to adhere to better fiscal management and target relief measures more diligently."


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Monday, February 27, 2012

Marie Colvin and Sri Lanka war crimes

By Chandana Keerthi Bandara | BBC Sinhala

Her iconic figure with a black patch over the left eye reporting from global conflict zones has been seen by hundreds of thousands around the world.

Marie Colvin killed in Syria, alongside award winning photojournalist Remi Ochlik, lost her eye in Sri Lanka when shot at by the military while entering government territory after filing a report to the Sunday Times from restricted Tamil Tiger held territory in April 2001.

Paying tribute to Mylvaganam Nimalarajan, of the BBC Sinhala service, in a public event in London in 2002 Marie spoke of the dangers faced by war correspondents who lived in war torn countries but could not leave like their international colleagues.

Nimalarajan reporting the war in his native northern Jaffna to the outside world was killed in cold blood within a high security zone in 2000.

Even though she lost an eye in Sri Lanka, Marie never let the island out of her sight.

Assurances to surrender

The battle waged by the Sri Lankan military against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) widely known as Tamil Tigers was coming to a bloody end in may 2009.

As independent journalists and international organisations were barred from the northern battlefield, many international journalists had to rely on information provided by the Sri Lankan military or the LTTE.

"I feel very angry," Marie as the foreign affairs Editor of Sunday Times who was not prepared to withdraw from reporting on the war in Sri Lanka told me.

This was a day before the Sri Lankan government declared its military victory over Tamil Tigers and Marie was following the developments closely.

She was angered that senior Tamil Tiger leaders who surrendered by arrangement with a very senior United Nations official to the Sri Lankan military were killed.

On the evening of 17th May 2009 she had recieved a 'desperate phone call' from the LTTE political head Balasingham Nadesan.

"They were trying to surrender but anybody attempting to approach Sri Lankan army lines was been shot," Marie recalled what Nadesan told her.

She has then called the UN Secretary General's Chief of Staff Vijay Nambiar who she said had been assured by the Sri Lankan president that Mr Nadesan would be safe in surrendering to the Sri Lankan Army.

"They would take him under international law," she quoted Mr. Nambiar.

UN, UK and USA

The LTTE political chief Nadesan was with the head of the LTTE peace secretariat Seevaratnam Pulidevan and other injured people.

Negotiations to surrender had been 'going on for days'.

"What I find deeply, deeply distressing is that those negotiations was with the Sri Lankan government. British and Americans and United Nations, Mr. Nambiar who was in Colombo were all aware that they wanted to surrender," said Marie Colvin.

Marie was told by Mr. Nambiar, "that there would be no need for a third party to be there".

"I think, it would have been a lot better if there had been a third party there. If Mr. Nambiar in his position as UN envoy had gone to oversee, at least to witness the surrender." Marie told me.

However, according to Marie, Mr. Nambiar was given assurances by the Sri Lankan president that Mr Nadesan should hoist a white flag and he would be allowed to surrender.

This was around 'one in the morning' in Sri Lanka.

A Tamil parliamentarian from eastern Sri Lanka was also involved in the negotiations.

Chandrakanth Chandranehru of the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) who was speaking 'directly to the president and to the defence secretary' as well as the LTTE political chief has offered to witness the surrender, said Marie. However, on assurances given on the safety of the surrending Tamil Tiger leaders, MP Chandranehru stayed back.

1.06 am 18th May

According to Marie the Tamil MP was the last person to speak to Nadesan and it was minutes after the reported assurances by President Mahinda Rajapaksa to the UN special envoy.

Marie had been told by MP Chandranehru that Nadesan speaking over the phone at 1.06 in the morning on 18 May 2009 said that they were walking towards the Sri Lankan military and, "I will hoist the white flag as high as I can".

"The next thing we heard which was hours later the Sri Lankan government announcement that they have all died".

It was six days before the Sunday Times published her story under the title 'Slain Tamil chiefs were promised safety' on 24 May 2009 that Marie related this to me. Such was her generosity and the commitment to tell the story.

Sadly, I had to bide my time until Marie herself met with a violent death in another Asian battlefield where she chose not to leave and Mr. Nambiar confirmed her account to Inner City Press (ICP) in New York.

"In the middle of the night, Marie called me, the two people, I've forgotten the names, one was on the Peace Commission, they wanted to surrender. We need to get assurance, free passage. I said OK, I'll do it. I took it up with foreign minster, the defense minister and the president. They would be treated like any surrendering prisoner," ICP quoted Mr Nambiar on Saturday.

Marie lost her eye in Sri Lanka. But they couldnt take away her vision. She lost her life in Syria. But they will never be able to take away what she lived for.


Her account that later became to be known as the 'White Flag Incident' vehemently denied by the Sri Lankan government, featured prominently in a UN report which found that war crimes allegations were credible and warranted a full investigation.

The report said it found credible allegations that the Sri Lankan government 'violated the human rights of civilians and Tamil Tiger combatants'.

Furthermore, the report handed over to the UN Secretary-General on 31 March 2011called to investigate the role of the UN during the war in Sri Lanka.

"The Secretary-General should conduct a comprehensive review of actions by the United Nations system during the war in Sri Lanka and the aftermath, regarding the implementation of its humanitarian and protection mandates," the panel of experts report on accountability in Sri Lanka recommended.

Both the UN and the Sri Lankan government are yet to make their findings, if any, public.

© BBC Sinhala

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Monday, February 27, 2012

Nambiar tells Sri Lanka Government blocked him

By Matthew Russell Lee | Inner City Press

With controversy revived about Sri Lankan war crimes including the murder of surrendering prisoners, Inner City Press on February 24 asked UN official Vijay Nambiar to explain his role in these "white flag" killings, and if involved Major General Shavendra Silva should be a UN Senior Adviser on Peacekeeping.

On camera, Secretary General Ban Ki-moon's deputy spokesman insisted that Nambiar would not answer the question. Nambiar said "if necessary" he would answer afterwards.

Inner City Press followed Nambiar who began that he has "problems with you saying I am involved in the genocide." He paused and noted, "Marie Colvin was involved in the that she has passed away I would like to place on record my own" position, and "appreciation for the intrepidity with which she pursued her own vocation."

She talked to me, you know that," Nambiar said of Colvin. Inner City Press asked, hadn't Colvin urged Nambiar to go witness the surrenders?

Nambiar nodded yes. "I asked to go, twice I contacted [US diplomat] Bob Blake, the two of us were planning to go... the ICRC was not able to go by sea route. The Government refused to give us permission. There was no way we could just force our way in."

With no witnesses, those who tried to surrendered ended up dead. Inner City Press asked Nambiar why he hadn't then spoke out.

Nambiar continued with this story: "in the middle of the night, Marie called me, the two people, I've forgotten the names, one was on the Peace Commission, they wanted to surrender. We need to get assurance, free passage. I said OK, I'll do it. I took it up with foreign minster, the defense minister and the president. They would be treated like any surrendering prisoner, What happened after that, I couldn't..."

Again Inner City Press asked Nambiar, if you passed on the assurances, then were blocked from going to witness and those you assured got killed, why haven't you spoken out?

Nambiar "subsequently said they could have been shot by own people. I am not prepare to hazard any guess. Even Basil [Rajapaksa], he also said that. It was mainly Gotabaya [Rajapaksa] and the President [Mahinda Rajapaksa]."

Nambiar told Inner City Press, "I spoke with Palitha Kohona, the Foreign Secretary."

Kohona, at least in May 2010, told Inner City Press a different story. Now with Major General Shavendra Silva, about whom Nambiar did not answer, barred from participating in the UN Senior Advisory Group on Peacekeeping Operations, it has been suggested that Permanent Representative Kohona replace him.

© Inner City Press

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Monday, February 27, 2012

Our duty to Sri Lanka, and human rights


By Desmond Tutu and Mary Robinson | The Guardian

This week the UN Human Rights Council has an opportunity and a duty to help Sri Lanka advance its own efforts on accountability and reconciliation. Both are essential if a lasting peace is to be achieved. In doing so, the council will not only be serving Sri Lanka, but those worldwide who believe there are universal rights and international legal obligations we all share.

Nearly three years since the defeat of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) by the Sri Lankan government there has still been no serious domestic investigation of the many allegations of war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by both sides during the civil war's final stages. These tragic events cannot simply be ignored.

A report in April 2011 by a panel of experts appointed by the UN secretary general documented government forces' large-scale shelling in "no-fire zones" where civilians had been encouraged to gather. Government forces also shelled a UN hub and food distribution lines. The same report says the LTTE used civilians as human shields, refused to allow people to leave conflict areas and forcibly recruited adults and children as young as 14 to fight. Credible sources cited in the UN report have estimated that around 40,000 civilians may have perished in the final months of the conflict.This tremendous civilian toll covers thousands of stories of suffering and strength, the vast majority of which are untold. One verified story chronicles the experiences of a family who were forcibly displaced more than seven times in eight months between September 2008 and May 2009. They repeatedly sought shelter in government-declared "safe zones" (which were then shelled), buried five relatives, including a six-year-old girl, in unmarked graves, and saw many of their fellow civilians killed and injured.

While the Sri Lankan government's own report from its Lessons Learned and Reconciliation Commission, published last December, includes important findings on reconciliation, and represents a potentially useful opportunity to begin a national dialogue on the conflict, it is disappointing in its failure to address seriously accountability issues. The recent announcement that the army intends to investigate its own actions during the conflict is not the kind of independent inquiry that is required.

In the absence of a credible and independent investigation into what happened in Sri Lanka, the Human Rights Council has an obligation to uphold human rights law and international humanitarian law during its upcoming 2012 sessions. As the UN report said: "The conduct of the war by both sides represented a grave assault on the entire regime of international law designed to protect individual dignity during both war and peace. The victory of one side has emboldened some to believe that these rules may now be disregarded in the cause of fighting terrorism."

Against this background, and continuing reports of human rights violations by the authorities, we urge the council to support a resolution that seeks accountability for the terrible violations of international law that have taken place, and establishes mechanisms to monitor progress on the steps the government is taking on accountability. If there is insufficient progress by the government in establishing a credible accountability process in the near future, we urge council members to support the establishment of an independent investigation.

At the same time, the council should support efforts to achieve meaningful reconciliation, human rights and democratic freedom for all Sri Lankans. Their country is a beautiful jewel of an island, rich in culture, history, resources and human talent. But we fear that if nothing changes, the crimes that remain unaddressed will continue to haunt Sri Lanka's people and could ignite violence once again.

Finally we want to emphasise that Sri Lanka's recent history is an issue that concerns all of us. Whether or not the Human Rights Council is able to summon the will to act on one of the most serious cases of human rights violations to have occurred since it was founded in 2006 could have ramifications for the global standing of human rights and international humanitarian law – and for the prestige and authority of the council.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu and former Irish President Mary Robinson are members of The Elders, global leaders working for peace and human rights.

© The Guardian

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Monday, February 27, 2012

Sri Lanka Army to hold 'Defence Seminar 2012'

Colombo Page

Sri Lanka Army will hold the 'Defence Seminar-2012' with the participation of foreign experts on the post-war 5Rs - Rehabilitation, Re-integration, Re-construction, Resettlement and Reconciliation.

The three-day seminar is scheduled to be held from August 8-10 on the theme 'Towards Lasting Peace and Stability'.

Over 100 foreign delegates are expected to participate in the event that will present subject experts from foreign countries on post-war 5Rs spheres.

Issuing a statement the Army said the roles of Army troops as effective teams of peace-builders in the north and east while actively maintaining peace and stability in respective areas will be discussed at the seminar.

Former combatants, war-affected communities, political leaders, state officials, academics and other experts are to participate in these deliberations.

The Defence Seminar-2012 will provide a common platform to the Army, sister services, Police and other participants for discussion on their experiences and a multitude of other concerns and issues, the Army said.

The Army held the inaugural Defence Seminar-2011 on the theme 'Defeating Terrorism-Sri Lankan Experience' in May last year with the participation of representatives from more than 41 countries.

The Defence Seminar will be an annual event of the Sri Lanka Army.

© Colombo Page

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Monday, February 27, 2012

Sri Lanka: Fishermen leader in hiding after threats

BBC Sinhala

A Sri Lankan leader of World Forum of Fisher People (WFFP) has urged authorities to guarantee his safety following death threats after fishermen's protest against recent fuel price increase.

Herman Kumara, the Secretary General of the WFFP told BBC Sandeshaya that he noticed a group following him in a van on his arrival after attending an international conference in Rome.

"I noticed a group following me in a van with registration no 301-2865 and their attempt was to abduct me," he said from an undisclosed location where he is currently hiding.

While he managed to hide, said Mr Kumara, the group has come to his home and travelled around his hometown asking his whereabouts from his family and other people.

Fuel price increase

"If I have done anything wrong, there are legal ways of dealing with it. They could have arrested me at the airport," he said adding that he is willing to face any legal action if he has committed any office.

Herman Kumara's office has lodged a complaint about the threats at the police station in Pannala.

The fishermen leader stressed that he will continue representing the fisher community in protests against the fuel price increase as well as other related issues.

There have been violent protests in Sri Lanka a few days after the government raised the price of key household fuels by up to 50 percent.

A fisherman was killed as police confronted crowds on the west coast while teargas is being deployed at a big rally in the capital, Colombo.

Four days after sudden steep increases in the price of fuel, there is unrest and anger in much of Sri Lanka.

There have been days of protests and road blockades in the western fishing town of Chilaw, where larger boats depend on diesel whose price has jumped by 36% and smaller ones on kerosene which is now 49% more expensive.

© BBC Sinhala

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Sunday, February 26, 2012

New wave of abductions and dead bodies in Sri Lanka

Watchdog | Groundviews

In the past 5 months – October 2011 to February 2012 – there has been a disturbing rise in the number of abductions, especially in and around the capital, Colombo. Out of 29 abductions and 3 missing persons reported in media, most have not returned to their homes and families, rendering them ‘disappeared’ persons.

The manner of these abductions has sent alarm bells ringing within the Sri Lankan human rights community, recalling the twin phenomena of the ‘white van’ and the unidentified gunman’ which plagued the country in the period from 1987/1989, and which prompted two visits to the island by the UN Working Group on Enforced and Involuntary Disappearances in 1991 and 1992.

The discovery of a charred body of a man on a small street in Narahenpita, Colombo 5, on the morning of February 13 has served to heighten these concerns. There have been 10 bodies discovered in February in addition to the 7 abductions and one missing person in Jaffna who was later found dead.

Among those abducted have been social activists, businessmen and those identified by the Police as criminals and ‘underworld’ characters. Labeling abducted persons as belonging to the underworld points to a disturbing new element of ‘social cleansing’, which is being used to garner public support for these killings and to divert attention from the fact that these abductions are an expression of the collapse of the rule of law in Sri Lanka.

The abduction and killing of individuals from the so-called underworld can be in some way linked to the public altercation between ruling party MP Duminda Silva and Presidential Advisor and former MP Bharatha Lakshman Premachandra, in which the latter was shot and killed. Some of those abducted, ‘disappeared’ and killed were linked to these two individuals and were either suspects or witnesses to the shooting, which took place on October 8 during campaigning for local government elections in Colombo.

Amongst others who have been abducted are those who have in any way challenged the authorities on issues of impunity and on-going human rights violations. Lalith Kumar Weeraraj and ‘Kugan’ Muruganandan, two political activists, were abducted in Jaffna on December 9, while engaged in preparations for celebrating Human Rights Day. On February 11, Ramasamy Prabaharan, a Tamil businessman was abducted in Colombo, two days before a fundamental rights case filed by him against the Police was due to be heard. Mr Prabaharan, who was released from prison in September 2011 after two years in detention without any charges being filed against him, was challenging this arbitrary detention and torture while in custody; he had received threats asking him to withdraw the case. On February 12, Chandrapala alias Mervyn, who had been brought to Colombo’s court complex in Hulftsdorf for a bail application, was abducted in the vicinity of the Courts while being accompanied by Prison Guards. A full list of the 32 abductions which have been reported in media is attached.

Most of the abductions have taken place in broad daylight, in the capital, Colombo, and in its suburbs. 4 are from Gampaha district, close to Colombo. All 3 missing cases and 3 of the abductions have taken place in the North, with 5 in Jaffna. Of the 32 abducted and gone missing. 7 bodies were found in public places; most of them bore marks of execution. One body was found on the east coast following abduction from the Western province. 5 persons have returned home. In many cases the Police investigations are inconclusive and pending. Out of the 32, one has been identified as a woman, two are not clear and 29 have been identified as men.

© Groundviews

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Sunday, February 26, 2012

Sri Lanka: Protest against 'Western conspiracy'

BBC Sinhala

The Sri Lanka government has urged the general public to come to streets against what it called a “Western conspiracy” to topple Mahinda Rajapaksa government.

Addressing a cabinet press briefing, a group of cabinet ministers described the recent protests against the fuel price increase as an “NGO funded conspiracy” which was supported by the West.

The conspiracy was clearly visible in Negombo and Chilaw while many other affected communities accepted the subsidy offered by the government, they said.

Housing Minister Wimal Weerawansa alleged that the Western powers are planning to prosecute President Rajapaksa and the “war heroes” in the international war crimes tribunal at The Hague.

Mass protests

"Is there a government in Sri Lanka that stays in power without holding elections? Is there a military rule in Sri Lanka ?" he questioned.

The ministers were commenting on the US-led moves to discuss the alleged war crimes in Sri Lanka at the upcoming United Nations Human Rights Council sessions in Geneva.

"Then what is this issue? It is very clear that the anger against the defeat of the LTTE behind all this," said Minister Weerawansa.

Power and Energy Minister Champika Ranawaka urged not to allow those who "try to create Maldives or Mid-East in Sri Lanka," at a time the rule of law has been established in the island.

"The UNP has said that whole villages disappeared during the war. Do they have evidence, whom do they by making these allegations," Minister Ranawaka questioned.

They called upon the public to stage mass protests on 27 February in the capital, Colombo, as well as in other cities, against the "Dollar, Yen, Pound funded" conspirators.

Acting Media Minister and Cabinet spokesman Lakshman Yapa Abeywardene, and Petroleum Minister Susil Premajayanth also took part in the press briefing.

© BBC Sinhala

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Sunday, February 26, 2012

UK: Halt Deportations of Tamils to Sri Lanka

Human Rights Watch

The United Kingdom should suspend deportations of ethnic Tamil asylum seekers to Sri Lanka and immediately review its policies and information about the country’s rights situation used to assess their claims, Human Rights Watch said today. Research by Human Rights Watch has found that some returned Tamil asylum seekers from the United Kingdom have been subjected to arbitrary arrest and torture upon their return to Sri Lanka.

In recent months the British government has sent Tamil asylum seekers back to Sri Lanka on charter flights. Human Rights Watch expressed particular concern about the next scheduled deportation from the United Kingdom of about 100 Tamil asylum seekers, scheduled for February 28, 2012.

“The British government has an international legal obligation not to deport people who have a credible fear of torture upon return,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Convincing reports of arbitrary arrests and torture demand that the UK government suspend returns of rejected Tamil asylum seekers to Sri Lanka until it can fairly and thoroughly assess their individual claims based on up-to-date human rights information on Sri Lanka.”

Human Rights Watch has documented eight recent cases in which people deported to Sri Lanka have faced serious abuses. A Tamil deportee from the United Kingdom, RS (a pseudonym for security reasons), said that army soldiers in Sri Lanka arrested him on December 29, 2011. He alleged that during interrogation he was beaten with batons and burned with cigarettes, and that his head was doused with kerosene. He also said that his head was submerged in a bucket of water, that he was hung upside down, and that hot chilis were placed under his head and chest. He said that as a result of this torture, he confessed to being a member of the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), which were defeated in May 2009. He said that he paid a substantial bribe to escape from detention, and fled back to the United Kingdom, where he has applied for asylum.

DB, a Tamil deported from the United Kingdom in 2011, said that he was arrested at a Sri Lankan army checkpoint on December 10. He alleged that he was forced to strip naked and burned with cigarettes and beaten until he agreed to sign a document in Sinhala. He said the soldiers told him he had to work as an informer for the army to identify former LTTE cadres. Like RS, he said he escaped detention after a family member paid a bribe for his release, then secured false documents to return to the United Kingdom, where he has again applied for asylum status.

Another 2011 deportee, AH, alleges that he was arrested by the police Criminal Investigation Department (CID) soon after arriving in Colombo, Sri Lanka’s capital. He said that he was stripped naked and was beaten and tortured until a family member paid a bribe for his release.

Human Rights Watch has also documented cases of Tamil deportees who alleged to have been subjected to rape as a form of torture upon their return to Sri Lanka. In December 2010, CB was arrested at the Colombo airport on his return and was detained for a month by the CID. He said that during this time he was beaten with metal rods and raped four or five times by two men. As he described it, one man would hold him down while the other raped him.

BK, a Tamil woman, alleges that she was arrested at Colombo airport by the CID on her return in April 2010 and kept in detention. She says was raped by several men many times during the course of her detention. She described profuse bleeding as a result of these rapes. Both CB and BK managed to secure their release after relatives intervened to bribe the officials holding them. Both fled Sri Lanka and are seeking asylum in the United Kingdom.

Human Rights Watch has obtained medical evidence supporting each of the above claims of torture.

Asylum tribunals in the United Kingdom have recently concluded that the lack of an official identification card is not a risk factor for returnees. However, in two cases returnees alleged that they were specifically targeted because they did not possess the required IDs.

At a parliamentary debate on Sri Lanka on February 22, Foreign and Commonwealth Office Minister Alexander Burt said: “We are aware of media allegations that returnees are being abused. All have been investigated by the high commission, and no evidence has been found to substantiate any of them.”

Human Rights Watch and others have learned that returnees are met at the Colombo airport by UK embassy staff and given a document with the contact information for the embassy. British officials have stated that they do not have the capacity to monitor the safety of returnees and that returnees may fear retaliation from the Sri Lankan government if they make contact with the UK embassy.

“The United Kingdom and other countries considering the claims of Tamil asylum seekers need to recognize the reality of what may await them on return,” Adams said. “Meeting returnees at the airport and giving them a phone number has not prevented them from being wrongfully arrested and mistreated. This should come as no surprise since abuses against Tamils suspected of links to the LTTE have long been recorded in official UK documents.”

The UK Border Agency’s Operational Guidance Note on Sri Lanka, last updated in December, acknowledges that torture is widespread in Sri Lanka: “The UN Committee Against Torture (UNCAT) stated that they remain seriously concerned about the continued and consistent allegations of widespread use of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment of suspects in police custody, especially to extract confessions or information to be used in criminal proceedings. The Committee is further concerned at reports that suggest that torture and ill-treatment perpetrated by state actors, both the military and the police, have continued in many parts of the country after the conflict ended in May 2009 and is still occurring in 2011. In 2011 the UNCAT issued a scathing statement about Sri Lanka in which it called for an end to the practice.”

However, the Operational Guidance Note in section 5 on “Returns” makes no mention of Tamil ethnicity as a factor to consider.

The United Kingdom is a party to the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, which states in article 3 that no state “shall expel, return (‘refouler’) or extradite a person to another State where there are substantial grounds for believing that he would be in danger of being subjected to torture.” In making such determinations, the authorities “shall take into account all relevant considerations including, where applicable, the existence in the State concerned of a consistent pattern of gross, flagrant or mass violations of human rights.”

Human Rights Watch called for the Sri Lankan government to stop targeting Tamil returnees and end the use of torture and other ill-treatment in custody. Sri Lanka is also a party to the Convention against Torture.

“The Sri Lankan government has a long record of torture and mistreatment that has not ended with the end of the long war with the LTTE,” Adams said. “The government needs to take serious and public measures to end these cruel practices.”


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Sunday, February 26, 2012

8,000 killed in last year of Sri Lanka war: census

AFP | Yahoo! News

Nearly 8,000 people were killed in Sri Lanka's war-torn north during the government's final offensive to crush the Tamil Tiger rebels, according to Colombo's census department.

The figure is in stark contrast to estimates by international rights groups, which say up to 40,000 civilians perished in the final months of the civil war and have heavily criticised Sri Lanka's actions at the end of the conflict.

The 80-page census report said 11,172 people were reported dead in the former war zone in 2009, at the height of fighting between government forces and the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), with only 2,523 due to natural causes.

It described 7,934 deaths as being due to "extraordinary circumstances", but did not identify those responsible or whether Tiger combatants were included in the statistics.

The cause of death was "not stated" in the balance of 715 deaths, the department said.

Colombo has long maintained that its military should not be held culpable for any civilian deaths during the fighting, blaming the Tigers for using non-combatants as human shields.

But last week the military appointed a five-member panel of senior army officers to probe allegations of war crimes by its own troops in the final phase of fighting.

The census department said the highest concentration of 2009 deaths was in Kilinochchi district, where the rebels had their de facto capital, and adjoining Mullaittivu, where the final battle was fought in May of that year.

The findings were based on a census carried out between June and August last year and were dated November 2011, but only released Saturday.

Sri Lanka's rights record is expected to be discussed at a UN Human Rights Council meeting opening in Geneva next week where the US has said it will bring a resolution demanding the island probe alleged war crimes by its troops.
The United Nations has estimated that up to 100,000 people died in the conflict between 1971 and 2009.


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