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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Sunday, February 26, 2012

Sri Lanka: Unslayable ghosts

The Economist

Bury the past. Those killed nearly three years ago in the last, savage days of Sri Lanka’s civil war will never return. Foreign and local critics who harp on about horrors are doing down a fragile country. “Any sensible person will realise the advantage our people got. Today there is no more killing, fighting. It is peaceful, people are free.”

So argues Gotabaya Rajapaksa, Sri Lanka’s defiant and powerful defence secretary (and brother to the president, Mahinda Rajapaksa). But for the first time since the end of the war in 2009, the Sri Lankan government may be forced to answer for its actions to the United Nations’ human-rights council. This week, a Sri Lankan delegation arrived in Geneva, for a council session starting on February 27th. America (with European support) is expected to propose a resolution, calling for the government to report on both how it is fostering better ties with Tamils and its inquiries into possible war crimes.

At the moment, the government is unrepentant. “Go by the facts”, advises Mr Rajapaksa. “Nobody can categorise [the crushing of the separatist rebel army which itself had committed atrocities] as a genocide.” He dismisses televised footage of Sri Lankan soldiers executing several naked prisoners as a fake (see picture). Briefly angry, he dares any relative who recognises a victim to speak out: “Bring me any person.” Did he order civilians or prisoners killed? “Nobody can say zero [deaths occurred], but there was no policy.”

The Rajapaksa defence will be repeated at length in the coming months. The terms of the dispute will probably be determined by a government-backed inquiry into the war’s end, called the Lessons Learned and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC). Mr Rajapaksa says some LLRC proposals may have merit. He promises, for example, “military boards” to look into its timid suggestions of army wrongdoing. But the expected Western-backed proposal may also try to use the LLRC to put pressure on the government by asking for other recommendations to be implemented. These include liberal things like letting the national anthem be sung in Tamil (as well as Sinhala), ensuring press freedom, reducing the clout of the army, putting the police under civilian control, cracking down on paramilitary groups that harass Tamils, resolving land disputes and asking if at least individual soldiers committed crimes.

Outsiders need to speak up, since many locals seem increasingly cowed. “The fear psychosis is more than before,” laments Mangala Samaraweera, an ex-foreign minister who defected to the opposition. One critic describes in bitter detail how a relative was recently shot dead by a close ally of the defence secretary, while out campaigning. The past few months have seen cases of abduction, torture and disappearance at the hands of thugs travelling in white vans.

Official claims of peace and freedom hardly ring true, at least among Tamils. Some of them talk of occupation. R. Sampanthan, an ageing leader of the Tamil National Alliance, scoffs at suggestions of ethnic reconciliation and claims that mass graves are hidden in “high-security zones” in the north. Testimony from mothers and widows in the north-east leads him to believe that government soldiers killed 10,000 opponents at the end of (or even after) the war. Over 1,000 Tamil fighters who surrendered are missing, he says.

Sri Lanka’s stance is that the rights council in Geneva has no business poking its nose into this. Along with a motley club of Cuba, Pakistan, Russia, Algeria and China it is backing a counter-resolution criticising Western funding of the council. Another presidential brother and leading minister, Basil Rajapaksa, claims that it is the outsiders who are causing tension. He says criticism “has made us more nervous. If we were not pressurised we would do more than this” for reconciliation.

Americans and Europeans think the opposite is true. Sri Lanka undertook its LLRC inquiry partly because an investigation was being launched by the UN secretary-general, Ban Ki-moon. Many moderates, even in government, want friendlier ties with Europe—still easily the island’s biggest trading partner—and the West generally. Warm relations with India, too, rest in part on reconciliation with the Tamils. Even the Rajapaksas are anxious that next year’s Commonwealth heads of government meeting, in Colombo, should not be overwhelmed by a row over abuses. Maybe a tacit deal is possible: if the Rajapaksas show proper reconciliation efforts and beef up democracy, outsiders may talk less about the horrors at the end of the war.

© The Economist

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