Saturday, April 07, 2012

Latest victims of a heinous trend: Abduction of political activists

WATCHDOG | Groundviews

Political activists and leaders of the People’s Struggle Movement in Sri Lanka, Mr. Premakumar Gunaratnam[1] and Ms. Dimithu Attygalle[2] disappeared on 6th April 2012. Prior to their disappearance both activists had been preparing for the first convention of the Frontline Socialist Party, a party formed by a dissident group from the opposition party, Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP – meaning People’s Liberation Front). FSP party members had received credible information that both activists were under intense Government surveillance, shortly before their disappearance. There is currently no information regarding their fate or whereabouts.

Mr. Gunaratnam was a key leader of the People’s Struggle Movement (PSM) and Ms. Attygalle was the Secretary for Women’s and International affairs of the organization, which was a forerunner to the Frontline Socialist Party (FSP).

Mr. Gunaratnam had been instrumental in forming the FSP which was due to be launched officially on 9th April 2012 and he was expected to be appointed as its head. The PSM has campaigned actively since its formation against the systemic violation of human rights by this Government including, disappearances, extra-judicial killings, illegal detentions and militarization in the North.

Details of Disappearance

Mr. Gunaratnam is believed to have been abducted from his temporary residence at No.29/1, Gemunu Mawatha, Kiribathgoda (Gampaha district), on 6th April. He was last seen by a party member who dropped Mr. Gunaratnam at his residence in Kiribathgoda at around 5 pm on 6th April following a party meeting. At around 11 pm that day, Mr. Gunaratnam spoke to the same party member and asked to be picked up from his residence at 5 am the following day (7th April). Mr. Gunaratnam has not been seen or heard from since.

The party member who arrived at Mr. Gunaratnam’s residence at around 4.30 am the following day (7th April), found that the air had been let out of all four tyres in Mr. Gunaratnam’s vehicle (No. NWKE 9457). On further examination he found that the door locks had been broken. Mr. Gunaratnam could not be found and was not contactable on his mobile phone. A neighbor had told police that 4 or 5 armed men had come to the house at around 4.30am on the morning of 7th April and instructed her to shut off lights and stay indoors. When she had looked out around 5.15am, she had seen nothing unusual.

According to party members, Mr. Gunaratnam’s mobile number (+94-71-3519722) was ringing till around 8 am on 7th April but was not answered. The phone is currently disconnected or unreachable. The GPS coordinates of Mr. Gunaratnam’s mobile phone indicate that the phone was in the Thalawathugoda area on 7th April morning. However there is no further evidence regarding his whereabouts.

Ms. Attygalle was last seen by a party leader who dropped her at the Kottawa bus stand (Colombo District) at around 6pm on 6th April. Ms. Attygalle confirmed that she was going to her residence at 32/14/7, High level road, Henawatte, Meegoda (Colombo district). However Ms. Attygalle did not answer her mobile phone (+94-77-0325567) the following morning though it had been ringing till about 11am. It had been confirmed that Mr. Attygalle had not arrived home on 6th April.

Police complaints/action taken

On 7th April 2012, Mr. Ajith Kumara, Member of Parliament, filed a complaint with the Police Head Quarters in Colombo regarding Mr. Gunaratnam’s disappearance, recorded under CIB I 105/19. MP Ajith Kumara also filed a separate complaint with the police head quarters regarding Ms. Attygalle’s disappearance recorded under CIB I 105/20, on 7th April.

Mr. Gunaratnam’s sister-in-law, Dr. Nandani Somaratne, also filed a complaint with the Pilliyandala Police (Colombo district) on 7th April, recorded under CIB 306/133.

Mr. Duminda Nagamuwa, a party leader, filed complaint number CIB I 11/135 with the Kottawa Police on 7th April regarding the disappearance of Ms. Attygalle.

The Australian High Commission in Colombo has been informed of the disappearance as Mr. Gunaratnam is an Australian citizen. The media, diplomatic community and human rights groups have been informed about the disappearances.

Police spokesperson told media said neither of the two had been taken in for questioning or arrested by the Police.

Prior to their abduction, Mr. Gunaratnam and Ms. Attygalle were engaged in intense negotiations in preparation for the first party convention on 9th April 2012. Party members had received credible information that Mr. Gunaratnam was under intense surveillance by the Government during this period. As a safety precaution Mr. Gunaratnam and Ms. Attygalle always informed party members of their whereabouts and never switched off their mobile phones.

FSP party members believe that Mr. Gunaratnam and Ms. Attygalle have been abducted by forces linked with the Government since the party has campaigned actively against human rights abuses by the Government, particularly against the Tamil minority in the North.

PSM activists have suffered threats, attacks, intimidation and surveillance due to their work. PSM activists Lalith Weeraraj and Kugan Muruganandan were abducted on 9th December 2011 in Jaffna and have not been seen or heard from since [3]. Lalith Weeraraj was repeatedly threatened by police and military prior to his abduction and ordered to stop his work in the North. There has been no information or credible investigation into their disappearance despite widespread protests, local and international campaigns and a habeas corpus petition before the Court of Appeal in Sri Lanka. The families of both men have also suffered threats, harassment and surveillance following their abduction.

Media reports indicate that there have been twenty nine disappearances in Sri Lanka between February and March 2012 and a total of fifty six disappearances over the past six months [4]. There have been repeated incidents of threats, harassment, attacks and intimidation against HRDs and activists travelling to/working in the North apart from the systematic attacks against national level HRDs and journalists during the Human Rights Council Sessions in Geneva in March 2012.

[1] Mr. Gunaratnam had studied at Kegalle St. Mary’s College, Pinnawala central College and Peradeniya University. His brother, Ranjitham Gunaratnam, who was a Poliburo member of the People’s Liberation Front (JVP – the party from which the new party Frontline Socialist Party broke away) and was assassinated by the government in 1989. After the repression of the JVP in late 1980s, Mr. Gunaratnam played a key role in reforming an reviving the party.

[2] Ms. Attygalle had studied at Bandarawela Central College and at Teachers Training College. She has been an activist of the People’s Liberation Front (JVP ) since 1988 and became the National Organizer of the Socialist Women’s Union.



© Groundviews

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Saturday, April 07, 2012


Daily Mirror Online

JVP dissident leader Premakumar Gunarathnam and member of the dissident arm Dimuthu Attigala have been arrested early this morning, the JVP dissidents said. The dissident leader of the JVP was arrested in Kiribathgoda while Attigala had been arrested in Thalawathugoda, a spokesman of the media unit of the Progressive Socialist Party said.

Speaking to the Daily Mirror, frontline member of the JVP dissident group Pubudu Jayagoda said that the arrest was made by the state defense establishment. “ The arrest was made by the countries security forces but they have been denying this. We will take all possible legal measures against the arrest. We are now in the process of lodging a complaint at the IGP’s office” he said.

Addressing a press conference held today in this regard Senadheera Gunathilake a member of the newly formed party said that the arrest was preceded by intimidation. “There was a meeting that was held last night, this morning when one of our comrades visited the house in which Gunarathnam was staying at around 4 in the morning he had seen that the tire of the vehicle Gunarathnam was supposed to travel was deflated. Later when he went in, he saw the backdoor of the house Gunarathnam was staying in broken and some of his belongings kept in the room being disrupted” he said.

When contacted the Police said they were unaware of the arrest.

© Daily Mirror

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Saturday, April 07, 2012

Talk of 'traitors'

By Namini Wijedasa | Himal South Asian

Unfazed by UN resolution, Rajapaksa government leans on patriotism and allies.

A stubby man in an open-necked shirt stands against the backdrop of a Buddhist temple in Kelaniya, on the outskirts of the Sri Lankan capital Colombo, waving a thick forefinger threateningly in the air. Mervyn Silva, the minister of public relations, growls that traitors should be executed as in the times of ancient kings.

Only days before, Silva also volunteered to break the limbs of Sri Lankan journalists living in exile. He claimed they had campaigned for the US-led resolution initiative in the UN Human Rights Council urging the Mahinda Rajapaksa government to take steps for reconciliation and accountability for war crimes. This time the ‘traitors’ were members of civil society who help to sustain international focus on human rights issues.

Other ministers distanced themselves and the government of President Mahinda Rajapaksa from Silva’s murderous rhetoric. But tellingly, neither his Sri Lanka Freedom Party (of which President Rajapaksa is leader) nor the government has disciplined him. They well know that this 'traitor talk' sells among the public.

Thousands of civilians died in a bloody climax that ended 30 years of brutal war with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), and human rights activists have been demanding accountability for war crimes alleged to have been committed by government forces. But the Sri Lankan government insists that such demands are lopsided – given that there is not equal censure of the murderous Tigers – and asks the international community to help rebuild the country instead.

Eager to deflect attention from thorny bread-and-butter issues, the government has whipped up patriotic fervour among the public. For weeks preceding the resolution, ministers implied that their heroic president would be hauled up before an international war crimes tribunal. In fact, that was never on the cards.

They also accused the US and its allies of trying to topple the regime. As crowds continually gathered outside Western diplomatic missions, shouting slogans and brandishing angry placards, the government egged them on.

One minister called for a boycott of all US products including Google, Coca Cola and McDonalds. Another from a Sinhala Buddhist nationalist party even warned there would be communal unrest if the resolution went through. It didn’t happen. The protests fizzled out. But the nationalistic rhetoric, though less savage than Silva’s, continues. It appears now that Colombo’s mutinous response to international “meddling” will also remain constant.

The most telling sign of this is Sri Lanka’s belligerent response to the resolution. Among other things, the initiative urges the government to implement the recommendations of a presidential commission of inquiry that tried, albeit ineffectually, to unravel the confusion of the war’s final stages.

The Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) also offered other proposals to solve longstanding ethnic grievances. For instance, it called for devolution of power, rapid demilitarisation of the North and East where large numbers of minority Tamils live, restoration of law and order, introduction of legislation guaranteeing right to information, payment of reparations to those affected by war, protection of language rights and so on.

Instead of conceding that carrying out such measures would benefit all Sri Lankans, the government is arguing that the UN resolution is non-binding. Worryingly, it has also strongly hinted that the recommendations of its own commission will now fall by the wayside. Nimal Siripala de Silva, a senior minister, said on 26 March that the commission had gone beyond its mandate.

“The government will not treat it as the Dhammapada (Buddhist scripture) or the Bible,” he asserted, at a press conference. “The government will take the final decision on it only after considering the best interest of the future of the people and the country.”

'Element of balance'

Given that Sri Lanka narrowly defines the resolution as a hostile move, India, which voted in favour of the resolution after initially saying it would oppose the initiative, is now pushing a conciliatory tone with her Southern neighbour.

G L Peiris, Sri Lanka’s external affairs minister, called the Indian decision “a shock”. What’s worse, he said, was that the Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh announced two-and-a-half days before the crucial session that his country was “inclined to vote” for the resolution. Singh’s statement was distributed among members of the council.

Peiris insisted that this drastically altered the arithmetic. (The resolution was passed on 22 March with 24 countries voting in favour and 15 against). Many countries (he didn’t say which) that would have voted against the resolution then either supported it or abstained. Basil Rajapaksa, the powerful economic affairs minister and the president’s brother, expressed disappointment in India. “We had a lot of hope in them because we genuinely thought they will support us,” he said, in a telephone conversation.

Rajapaksa admitted, however, that the decision may have been forced on India by its coalition partners from Tamil Nadu. A senior member of Colombo’s own delegation had revealed early on that the Indians would back his government’s position. Major political parties in Tamil Nadu then furiously lobbied the Manmohan Singh government to change its decision, which it did after weeks of dogged pressure.

Singh’s government, however, knows that while the US can afford to crack the whip, India must maintain the peace in its backyard. So Singh wrote to President Rajapaksa on 24 March, reminding him of how India and its people had supported Sri Lanka during the latter's struggle against terrorism.

But Singh also emphasised the need for genuine post-war reconciliation and for a political solution that would address, in particular, the grievances of minority Tamils. These are issues Sri Lanka does not like being reminded about by international actors.

Referring to the resolution, Singh pointed out that “we spared no effort and were successful in introducing an element of balance in the language of the resolution”. Indeed, it was India that negotiated with the US to dilute an initiative which many critics said was already too weak.

The original draft called on the Sri Lankan government to accept advice and technical assistance from the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in dealing with, among other things, accountability. The amended version encourages that office to provide such cooperation “in consultation with, and with the concurrence of, the Government of Sri Lanka”. It also no longer requires Sri Lanka to “accept” such assistance.

Despite this nth minute intervention – which India said made the resolution less intrusive – Sri Lanka is reticent with gratitude. Peiris is sending around thank-you notes to countries that abstained or voted against the resolution, including China, Russia and Cuba. News reports say India is not a recipient.

Nevertheless, ties between India and Sri Lanka run too long and too deep to be irreparably damaged by this setback. Peiris called it a “rich and radiant relationship” that had survived “stronger and greater shocks in the past than this”. It was time to move on, he stressed. On the contrary, Sri Lanka’s shaky political relationship with the West is likely to worsen.

Several Western diplomats have recently admitted in press interviews that their governments have differences of opinion with the Sri Lankan regime, particularly on the need for accountability. Diplomatic sources warn that continuing to delay on reconciliation and accountability issues will mean harsher action on Sri Lanka in future. If domestic mechanisms are not functioning – or if the government is incapable of or unwilling to execute these functions – that is a basis for international mechanisms to take over, explained one official, requesting anonymity. More resolutions, he warned, may be in the offing.

Perhaps this is why Sri Lanka is undertaking a major redeployment of its diplomatic missions abroad. The ministry of external affairs has confirmed that they will phase out several offices in Europe and open new ones in Latin America, Asia and Africa. Sri Lanka, it appears, is going where the votes are. While Europe and the US remain its largest trading partners, countries in other geopolitical blocs are easier to win over in international fora.

After winning a difficult battle at home, it would seem that Sri Lanka is gearing up for a war of another kind.

Namini Wijedasa is a senior freelance journalist based in Colombo.

© Himal

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Saturday, April 07, 2012

Horrible rise of disappearances in post-war Sri Lanka continues unabated

Watchdog | Groundviews

Disappearances in Sri Lanka from Oct. 2011 – March 2012 (based on media reports)

Twenty nine disappearances (including an attempted abduction) have been reported in Sri Lankan media between February and March 2012. There have been fifteen in March and fourteen in February. This brings the total number of disappearances reported in the last six months to fifty six.

Nineteen cases were reported while the sessions of the UN Human Rights Council were in progress in Geneva from the 27th of February to the 23rd of March 2012.

Out of the twenty nine disappearances in February-March 2012, sixteen of the twenty nine (16/29) appear to have occurred in the Colombo district while eight have been reported from the Northern Province (8/29). Five of those reported from the North are said to be ex-LTTE cadres who had been detained, released from detainment and then abducted. There are also three from the indigenous Wannilaye Aetto (Veddah) community.

Amongst the twenty nine 29 are also two school girls (one of whom escaped) and one university student, businessmen, a Government politician and relatives of politicians and individuals reportedly to be members of underworld gangs. Twenty four have been reported as abductions and five are reported as “missing”. Out of the persons who are reported as “missing” are three people from the Veddah community and two people from Jaffna. It was reported that one of the people missing in Jaffna was found dead.

Media reports had presented startling facts about involvement of the government in some of the abductions in March 2012. On 10th March, Mr. Ravindra Udayashantha, a government politician who is the Chairman of Kolonnawa Pradeshiya Sabawa (local government body in the Colombo district), was saved from being abducted when his political supporters intervened. The abductors were apprehended by the supporters, were positively identified as being from the Army and handed over to the Police. The number of the vehicle involved in the abduction, the names of the alleged abductors, their photos and even a video clip have been published. However, the abductors were released from police custody afterwards.

On the 26th of March 2012, former Western provincial councilor Mr. Sagara Senaratne, brother-in-law of Minister Jeevan Kumaratunga was released within hours of being abducted after the abductors had got “a call” while he was still in the van that he had been abducted in. The driver of Mr. Sagara was a eyewitness to the abduction and it appears that “the call” given to abductors to release Mr. Sagara had come after Mr. Sagara’s driver informed Minister Kumaratunga, who in turn had informed President Mahinda Rajapakse and Defense Secretary Gotabaya Rajapakse. Mr. Sagara had claimed that he would not be alive if not for the intervention of the Minister, the President and the Defense Secretary. It is not clear how the Rajapakse brothers and Minister Kumaratunga were able to ensure the release of Mr. Sagara even as he was being taken away by the abductors, without even the involvement of the Police.

In February 2012, Mr. Nethiyas Chandrapala was abducted outside the main court complex in Colombo. Also, in February 2012 Mr. Ramasamy Prabhakaran, a former detainee who had been severely tortured before being released as innocent was abducted two days before the case he had filed against senior police officers was to be taken up in the Supreme Court.

When will we see an end to disappearances in Sri Lanka?

© Groundviews

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