Monday, January 16, 2012

Sri Lanka: War panel report a 'fatal contradiction' says Tamil National Alliance

Read the full response

BBC Sinhala

The main Tamil political party in Sri Lanka says the report of the government appointed war panel has failed to win the confidence of the Tamil community.

The report of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) also reveals “a fatal contradiction,” said the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) in its first response to the report.

“On the one hand, the LLRC unquestioningly accepts the narrative provided by the security forces –that they carefully and meticulously planned each attack,” said the detailed response issued by the TNA on Sunday.

The LLRC in its report has admitted that civilian casualties did occur, contradicting initial government statements of “zero civilian casualties,” as a result of military operations.

International investigation

"On the other hand, the Commission concludes that the civilian deaths, which did in fact occur, were unintentional and resulted in from an unprecedented situation where no other choice was possible.”

Saying that the panel “falls dramatically short” of international standards on accountability, the TNA points out that it did not have a proper witness protection programme.

It also accuses the LLRC of failing to call for “crucial evidence” taken by Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV), videos of aerial attacks by the military and military log books.

"Such vital evidence points towards a systematic attempt on the part of the government to prevent food from reaching the starving population of the Vanni," it said.

The TNA is also highly critical of the “vague” recommendations by the panel in terms of devolution of power and says the views recently expressed by President Mahinda Rajapaksa regarding the 13 amendment to the constitution reiterates fears of Tamils that the government is "not genuine" in finding a political solution.

Sri Lanka's major Tamil party, however, says it welcomes some positive recommendations including disengaging the military from civilian activities.

But the need for an accountability process that meets international standards is the need of the hour, according to the TNA.

TNA parliamentarian MA Sumanthiran told BBC Sandeshaya that the party calls for an international investigation into Sri Lanka's conflict as the war panel has failed to address the accountability issues.

© BBC Sinhala

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Monday, January 16, 2012

Impunity in north, east, south and west

By Kishali Pinto Jayawardene | The Sunday Times

The continuing failure of Sri Lanka's institutions of justice is well demonstrated in the most recent Views of the Geneva based United Nations Human Rights Committee (UN Committee) calling upon the Sri Lankan State to effectively investigate and prosecute the murderers of a small time businessman in Negombo after he, his wife and their two children had been repeatedly intimidated and threatened by police officers whom they had angered. The Committee was responding to an Individual Communication filed by the deceased's wife Pathmini Peiris.

It is necessary first to give some background to this discussion. Under the shrewd direction of then Foreign Affairs Minister the late Lakshman Kadirgamar, Sri Lanka was a frontrunner in the South Asian subcontinent in acceding to the First Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights in the late 1990's. This was a deliberate policy decision meant to signal to the world that Sri Lanka had nothing to hide and that constructive criticism, if it is for the betterment of its own citizens, would be gladly accepted.

Shrewd foreign affairs policy at one time

The Protocol allows persons subject to the jurisdiction of that State to bring an individual communication before the UN Committee alleging a violation of Covenant rights provided that domestic remedies have been exhausted and the matter is not before any other international procedure.

The Committee, (unlike in the case of the United Nations Human Rights Council), is comprised of jurists having no loyalty towards a particular country or state policy but who are selected on the basis of their proven professional and legal competence.

Threats to the domestic judiciary

Interestingly, the Individual Communications procedure was actually not resorted to very much initially. Despite all its turbulence during 1998 and most of 1999, the country's judiciary was, by and large, acknowledged as having the capacity and the independence to respond to allegations of rights violations, even if this meant antagonizing the executive. It was only after then Attorney General Sarath Silva was appointed to the office of Chief Justice by former President Chandrika Kumaratunge in late 1999, heralding what became the veritable twilight of the independence of Sri Lanka's judiciary, that more and more Individual Communications gradually came to be filed in Geneva.

During the years that followed, the Committee handed down more than eleven Views recommending reform of laws as well as urging the judiciary to better balance its constitutional role. Some of these non binding opinions scrutinized direct decisions of the then Chief Justice in respect of the procedure and sentencing in cases of contempt and the arbitrary and intemperate dismissals of lower court judges by the Judicial Service Commission.

None of these Views were implemented by the various governments in power, including during the brief period of the United National Front administration. Even a most salutary recommendation to enact a Contempt of Court Act was ignored.

The Committee's Views were in response to various pleas filed by, among others, a parliamentarian, a journalist, several detainees, a lay teacher of English convicted of contempt of court by the Supreme Court, a judicial officer and several victims of torture. Apart from the successful applications, there were many others which were rejected on procedural grounds as well as applications which were dismissed on their merits.

Unsurprisingly, a Divisional Bench of the Supreme Court presided over by the retired Chief Justice Sarath Silva ruled in the Singarasa Case (2006), that the Views of the Committee had no force or effect in Sri Lanka. The Court also held, quite contestably, that Sri Lanka's very accession to the Protocol was unconstitutional. This was based on an assumption that the UN Committee exercises judicial power within Sri Lanka's territorial boundaries which however, was patently not the case. In any event and in consequence, the far sighted policy reasoning which had led Sri Lanka to accede to the Protocol was wholly negated.

Factual context to latest Communication of Views

But the filing of individual applications before the Committee did not cease as a result of the Singarasa decision. Increasingly the applications had a monotonous tone to them, with the common thread being the general impunity afforded to perpetrators, whether in North, East, South or West (broadly speaking). Pathmini Pieris's complaint filed on 6th February 2009 was distinctly in line with this trend. She and her deceased husband had run foul of police officers of the Negombo police station including a Headquarters Inspector and a Senior Superintendent of Police. A complaint had been filed by them accusing a senior police officer of bribery at the then functional National Police Commission, the Human Rights Commission and the Bribery Commission but no action followed.

Angered police officers meanwhile repeatedly threatened, intimidated and asked them to withdraw the complaint. The applicant's husband was told in no uncertain terms that he would be killed if he persisted in the complaint. At one point, on a routine visit to the police station, the husband, wife and ten year old son were mercilessly kicked and assaulted with obscene behavior being directed towards the daughter. Again, the complaints had no impact.

In desperation, they decided to file a fundamental rights case in the Supreme Court in 2007 which was still pending at the time that the individual communication was filed before the Committee. Thereafter the intensity of the threats increased and in late September 2008, the applicant's husband was shot at point blank range when they were sitting inside their lorry at Dalupotha Junction. He was declared dead on arrival at the hospital.

State under a duty to investigate and prosecute

In concluding the complaint in favour of the applicant (October 26th 2011), the Committee observed that the State was under a strict duty to effectively investigate and prosecute in all cases of violations of life, regardless of who the alleged perpetrators are. Despite several pleas for witness protection, no action had been taken by state authorities. No effective investigation was done. It was opined that the facts before it 'reveal that the death of the author's husband must be held attributable to the State party itself'. In concluding that there had been multiple violations of Covenant rights, the State was asked to bring the perpetrators of the murder to justice or find itself in breach of the Covenant.

But inevitably this Communication, like all the others, would be ignored, no doubt. However, whether the call stems from international juristic bodies, our own judicial institutions, fact finding processes such as the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) or general public opinion, the message to the government is clear and consistent. It must abide by its constitutional and statutory duty to ensure that Sri Lanka's justice institutions effectively investigate and prosecute violations of the law. Until this duty is met, this outcry will certainly persist to our detriment.

© The Sunday Times

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Monday, January 16, 2012

Sri Lanka: New wave of student protests

By Dinesh De Alwis | University World News

Buddhist student monks have joined thousands of other university students in a new wave of protests to hit Sri Lanka in recent weeks, forcing the temporary closure of at least two major universities this week and widespread disruption of classes.

Student monks at the seminary Buddha Shrawaka Bhikku University in North Central province staged a protest on 11 January, adding to a spate of demonstrations in universities that involved thousands of students in different parts of the country.

Notably, there have been protests at Sri Jayewardenepura University in Colombo and Rajarata University in North Central province. Both have been closed by the authorities since 8 January to stem the unrest.

Student activists claim that the protests were provoked by the government in order to push a controversial private universities bill through parliament, taking advantage of university closures as students would be unable to gather for large protests.

Sri Lanka's Marxist JVP (Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna) party agreed, saying that the government had deliberately sowed disruption. In a statement this week, the JVP accused the government of trying to "create an environment that was conducive to the establishment of private universities by creating a crisis in state universities".

Higher Education Ministry Secretary Sunil Jayantha Nawaratne insisted that the government was trying to resolve the crisis. He said a special committee had been appointed that would "find the root causes and suggest the solutions to continue studies without problems".

Higher Education Minister SB Dissanayake is scheduled to meet officials and students of Sri Jayewardenepura University by 14 January to discuss measures to reopen the university as soon as possible.

On Tuesday a magistrate's court ordered police to remove all students from Sri Jayewardenepura's premises. The students, who had been protesting there since the closing of the institution on 8 January, left peacefully.

However, in another escalation parents began protests on Wednesday in front of Rajarata University calling for its reopening by the authorities.

Student anger is still simmering over the bill, which they say heralds the end of free higher education in the country. Students arrested during protests over the bill last year and in 2010 are still awaiting trial.

In the latest wave of unrest, students are among other things demanding the lifting of suspensions on the more than 100 students arrested since November for alleged involvement in protests and taking part in banned student unions.

The ministry outlawed 33 student unions including eight major student councils in December, ostensibly for so-called 'ragging' or ritual bullying of new students, which is forbidden.

Although students have been restive for two months, the latest eruption was sparked by a bomb blast at Sri Jayewardenepura University carried out by an unidentified group on 5 January, which damaged the symbolically significant Student Heroes Memorial statue dedicated to students killed in previous uprisings.

Angry students, demanding the removal of Vice-chancellor NLA Karunarathne, claimed that he and other officials were behind the attack and called on them to admit responsibility.

"The vice-chancellor and his supporters carried out the blast," Buddhist monk student leader Kamburugamuwe Gnanissara Thero claimed, expressing a widely-held but unproven view among students. "They say this statue is not important. No one has been arrested yet for the attack," he said.

The JVP has said people "with a political agenda" have been given leadership positions in some state universities.

The influential Inter University Student Federation, which is affiliated to the JVP, also laid the blame for the bombing at the door of the authorities. Convener Sanjeewa Bandara told University World News: "The vice-chancellor said several days ago that the statue should be removed. We will continue our fight till the V-C steps down."

While the government blames the JVP for seeding dissent in universities, where it still has a following, unrest has grown outside the main JVP strongholds.

Last week the ministry announced that student monks about to begin studies at two Buddhist colleges, Homagama Pali and the Buddhasravaka Dharma faculty at Anuradhapura, would join other students in so-called 'leadership training' carried out at military facilities and opposed by students.

Some 500 students are to begin studies at the two Buddhist universities.


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Monday, January 16, 2012

Sri Lanka: Lasantha's killers still at large

By R. K. Radhakrishnan | The Hindu

Three years after the day-light murder of Lasantha Wickrematunge, editor of Sunday Leader newspaper, “there has been virtually no investigation into this crime,'' his wife has alleged. She wants an international investigation into the murder.

Wickrematunge was gunned down when he was on his way to work on January 8, 2009. Seventeen army personnel and a few others were taken into custody, but the case did not progress much beyond that. All of them were let off.

In a statement issued from New York to the media here, his wife, Sonali Samarasinghe, Journalist-in-Residence at the City University of New York, alleged that in the 36 months since the killing, “police had earlier succeeded in taking into custody five mobile phones, which on the day Lasantha was killed, moved in the same pattern as his phone.

Police say the phones that passed through 11 cellular phone towers that day have not been used before or since the day of the killing. However, they have not been disconnected either.

According to police, one of the five phones appears to have been used to monitor and control the entire operation. A track path of the calls made between the five telephones indicates that they communicated regularly with each other, constantly calling one particular mobile.”

She said:

“In October 2011, the only suspect remaining in custody, Pitchai Jesudasan, mysteriously died.

“As we remember Lasantha and his work and other journalists and activists around the world who have paid the supreme price in the line of duty, I call upon the international community to urge Sri Lanka's government to hold a proper independent investigation into Lasantha's murder, to bring back the rule of law.”

© The Hindu

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