Powered by Google

Recent Posts

RSS Feed Subscribe to this blog

Blog

These blog postings do not necessarily represent the views of all members of the Advisory Council.

02/09/2014

2014 Summer Appeal

The Sri Lanka Campaign needs your help. We need to raise money this month to continue our work.

Why now? For three years your donations have kept our organisation afloat. In that time we have changed beyond all recognition from a tiny band of volunteers and well-wishers into the organisation you see today. Within the next few months we hope to achieve financial sustainability, but in the meantime, we need your help to survive.

We provide ridiculously good value for money. Against the millions spent by the Sri Lankan government on lobbying firms and on flying their diplomats around the world, we require only a few thousand pounds to carry out our work. In the past 9 months alone we have:
  • Helped secure a UN Human Rights Council mandated international investigation into war crimes in Sri Lanka [1].
  • Published a major opinion-forming report establishing allegations of ongoing crimes against humanity in the North of the Sri Lanka [2].
  • Commissioned a report using cutting-edge satellite image analysis to challenge the Sri Lankan army’s lies about how stolen land in the North is being used [3].
  • Helped secure the release of detained human rights activist Ruki Fernando and Fr Praveen, and launched an international solidarity campaign with jailed mother of the disappeared Jeyakumari Balendran [4].
  • Launched a major campaign [5] around the Sexual Violence Conference forcing the Foreign Secretary to commit to taking action on Sri Lankan asylum seekers [6].
Without your generous support, we would simply not be able to claim these achievements. Each pound you contribute helps us to bring Sri Lankans closer to a future where human rights are respected. And because we run on such a small budget, each pound really does make the world of difference.

Click here to give £10 - and keep our website online for another month

Click here to give £50 - the cost of launching the letter writing campaign for Jeyakumari Balendran

Click here to give £250 - and make a major contribution to one of our larger campaigns (such as our work on sexual violence)

The suggested donations for the Summer Appeal are £10, £50, and £250, but please feel free to give as much or as little as you can afford. You can make this donation as a one-off, or alternately, you can help us campaign even more effectively by setting up a regular monthly donation. Giving is easy, quick, safe, and anonymous. Just click here to see all the options for giving.

Thank you so much again for your continued support. You make our work possible.

The Sri Lanka Campaign

(Please share this link with five friends today).

1 http://blog.srilankacampaign.org/2014/03/a-step-closer-to-peace-and-justice.html

2 http://blog.srilankacampaign.org/2014/05/our-crimes-against-humanity-report-now.html

3 http://blog.srilankacampaign.org/2014/08/arial-photographs-show-that-high.html

4 http://blog.srilankacampaign.org/2014/03/ruki-fernando-and-fr-praveen-released.html, also see http://www.internationalpolicydigest.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/1407532883544.pdf and http://www.srilankacampaign.org/takeaction.htm

5 http://blog.srilankacampaign.org/2014/06/the-sexual-violence-conference-and-sri.html

6 http://blog.srilankacampaign.org/2014/06/thank-you.html

21/08/2014

Satellite images show that the High Security Zone is not being used as intended

Last year we ran a campaign around the Government of Sri Lanka's seizure of land belonging to Tamil families forced from their homes by the civil war. Over 7,000 acres of land - potentially up to $2 billion worth at current prices - was seized in the Northern and Eastern provinces using land acquisition notices which gave little justification for the seizures. The vast majority of this land, 6,381 acres of it, is contained within the Valikamam High Security Zone in the northern Jaffna peninsula.

Over 2,000 displaced people complained through the Sri Lankan courts but their cases are yet to be heard. They continue to be denied access to their land - indeed no one can enter the ring of checkpoints surrounding the zone without the army's permission. Meanwhile, research continued to cast doubt on the validity of the Sri Lankan Government's seizure. In particular, while the Government claims it needed the land for a "public purpose" all the evidence appeared to point to the land being put to commercial use. The Government openly touted a hotel they opened on the land, while local reports suggested that a yogurt factory had been built and that the abandoned cement factory was to be brought back into use. All of these ventures, built on judicially stolen land, were to be run by and for the army.

Questions were also asked as to what possible public purpose could require such a large amount of land. Even with the Sri Lankan Government's incredibly high level of militarisation in the north of the country it seemed inconceivable that they would need a base of this size. Many thousands of Tamil families were seemingly being kept from their homes just so the Sri Lankan Army could have a few extra thousand acres to play with.

It was for this reason that we asked the Geospatial Technologies and Human Rights Project of the American Association for the Advancement of  Science to acquire and analyse high resolution satellite images of the Valikamam High Security Zone to determine precisely what use the land was being put to. You can access their report here and the map below summarises their main findings.


Stolen land

The analysis found that that the majority of the land does not seem to be used for public facilities, with much of it devoted to farming or commercial use. They generously estimated that 7.77 square kilometres (around 30% of the total 25.8 square kilometre site) was being put to "institutional use" and therefore could potentially have some sort of public purpose. The remaining area, covering 18 square kilometres and the former homes of thousands of displaced people, would thus appear to have simply been stolen for private gain.

Figure 11 from the report. The High Security Zone with areas put to a potentially institutional use outlined in green

Commercial use

Other uses the land had been put to seemed to be commercial in nature with much of the land seemingly used for farming. In addition, there were indications of a number of new building developments being completed or underway:
  • Around 2,150 new buildings were built across 6.5 square kilometres in the western portion of the zone up to and obscuring the zone's border. These buildings were seemingly small houses (with an average size of around 35-81 square meters) and don't seem to be part of a military base.
  • New buildings associated with the Thalsevana holiday resort are visible, as are a number of developments around the site.
  • Three other new developments, seemingly commercial (or at least non-institutional), are visible. They are pictured below. One appears to be associated with the redevelopment of the Keerimalai temple, while the other two - one in a quarry - are of unknown purpose.
  • Many of the original houses in the High Security Zone have fallen into disrepair or been reclaimed by the vegetation. However, due to the significant number of new buildings being built in the western part of the zone, the total number of buildings has gone up from 3,200 to around 4,700 - the vast majority of them (76%) seemingly non-institutional in nature.
Three new seemingly commercial developments, the middle one appears to be associated with Keerimalai temple

Militarisation: but still no excuse for a base of this size

The evidence would also seem to suggest that the Sri Lankan army’s troops are far more geographically dispersed across the Northern Province than the Sri Lankan Government have been leading the wider world to believe. Contrary to the line that troops are increasingly being moved out of the civilian areas and consolidated into the HSZ, the images are consistent with evidence elsewhere that the army continues to have a pervasive presence in civilian life in the north.

Even if we take the government’s claim that there are only 13,200 soldiers in the Northern Province at face value - and civil society sources have pointed out that the figure is in reality probably far higher – the images appear to show that there is simply not the housing capacity within the HSZ to accommodate this number, thereby corroborating previous arguments that a base of this size cannot be justified.

Although 374 new institutional buildings have been constructed, 310 have been destroyed. And while most of the buildings built have been larger than the ones they have replaced, very few look like barracks or indeed residential buildings of any sort. With a total number of buildings in institutional areas of 1137 it appears the total residential capacity of the Valikamam High Security Zone as a military base is in the low thousands at most.

Even if we were to take the generous position of assuming that every structure within the High Security Zone is used to house soldiers there are only 4,700 buildings in total and most are small houses of between 30 and 80 square meters. It seems unlikely that the total residential capacity of the area is close to 10,000 - let alone in excess of it.

It would therefore appear that the Sri Lankan Army has at least several thousand troops, and in all probability tens of thousands of troops, deployed in the Northern Province but based outside of the HSZ. Indeed it would appear that much of the Sri Lankan Army’s military presence in the Northern Province is based outside of the HSZ. This would explain why the Sri Lankan Army has been simultaneously attempting to formalise its occupation of 18 other plots of land within the Northern Province.

This geographic spread suggests a desire for the Sri Lankan Army’s militarisation of the Northern Province to be visible to the local population, and not hidden away within the High Security Zone. It suggests that the Army is still keen to ensure that it's military are an obvious and active presence within the day to day life of Sri Lanka's northern Tamils across the Northern Province - a form of military occupation which, combined as it is with systemic human rights abuses, we believe constitutes an ongoing crime against humanity.

Take action

Because of the lack of information many more people may well not be aware that the Government is plotting to take their land. Many people who left Sri Lanka still own land there, and that too could well be seized by the Government without their knowledge. For this reason we have created this map, to share information about the land which is to be seized:
  • If you own land in the north of Sri Lanka, or know anybody that does, please take a moment to look at this map and forward it on, the more people who are aware of what is taking place the better.
  • If you think you might be affected by any of these land seizures, or if you have any more precise information about the location of the land, photographs of the land, or who might own it then please get in touch.
  • More land notices are being issued all the time and we will update the map as we get them. If you know of any more land seizures please do get in touch and pass on the details. If you can send us a copy of the notice (in any language) so much the better.
Note: When using the map please be aware that the location of the items on the map are approximate in many instances. We have indicated if and how accurate we believe the location to be, but please use the land notice itself only to determine the true location of any piece of land.

The map can be accessed here, and is embedded below. Please share the link far and wide.


Click here to see AAAS' full report

Labels: ,

18/08/2014

Don't forget Jeyakumari. Write to her today.

Five months ago, a mother of the disappeared - Jeyakumari Balendran - was arrested and jailed amid a renewed government crackdown on dissent in the run up to Human Rights Council session in March. You may remember our campaign and our director's recent report.

Since then Jeyakumari has remained behind bars. Held under draconian anti-terror legislation that allows individuals to be detained for up to 18 months without charge, to this very day not a shred of credible evidence has been produced by the government to substantiate the allegation against her - that she was involved aiding and abetting the purported LTTE revivalist ‘Gobi’, whose apparent death in April removed even the illusion of a reason to continue to detain her.

Whilst her ongoing detention by the government continues to send a chilling message to Sri Lankan human rights defenders that their activism may be punished with impunity, on a more personal level, we remain deeply concerned for Jeyakumari’s mental wellbeing and physical safety. Not only is the Boosa detention facility in which she is held notorious for its use torture, but there are eyewitness witness reports that she (and others) have been physically abused by officials.

So we need your help. We want you to send a message of hope to Jeyakumari, by sending her a physical letter with a few short words of solidarity. By doing this, we hope to do three key things:

1) Offer some small comfort to Jeyakumari who is being held away from her family (including her 13 year old daughter) and who lives in fear for her future safety and access to a fair process.

2) Protect Jeyakumari from coming to further physical harm in detention by alerting her prison guards to the fact that the world is watching.

3) Remind the government that it cannot lock up activists with impunity, and to show solidarity with other the human rights defenders that their actions are designed to intimidate.

Writing your Letter 

In writing your letter, which could be a card or postcard, we would advise that you keep your message as personal as possible and to avoid making political statements or comments relating to the specifics of her case which could risk putting her in further danger. The letter should be seen for what it is, as a personal message of support and not part of an organised campaign (for this reason we have not included a suggested text). Because English is not Jeyakumari’s first language, we would also recommend (unless you are writing in Tamil) keeping it as short and as visual as possible. For example:



We would also advise that you print and include this short note in Tamil which helps briefly explain what the letter is for[1]. You can download this as a PDF here:

அன்புள்ள திருமதி பாலேந்திரன்,

குற்றச்சாட்டு நிரூபிக்கப்படாமல் நீங்கள் தொடர்ச்சியாக தடுத்து வைக்கப்பட்டுள்ளமைக்கு எதிரான சர்வதேச ஒருமைப்பாட்டு பிரச்சாரத்தின் ஒரு பகுதியாக இந்த கடிதம் உங்களுக்கு அனுப்பி வைக்கப்பட்டுள்து.

இந்த மடல், நீங்கள் நலமாக இருக்க வேண்டும் என்பதை மனதிற்கொள்வதோடு, உங்களுக்கான ஆதரவையும் வெளிப்படுத்தி எழுதப்படுகிறது.

இத் தருணத்தில், நீங்கள் நம்பிக்கையுடனும், நலத்துடனும், பாதுகாப்புடனும் இருக்க பிரார்திக்கிறோம்.

அன்புடன்,

இலங்கையில் சமாதானத்துக்கும் நீதிக்குமான நண்பர்கள்

Sending your Letter

Please address your letter to:

Mrs Jeyakumari Balendran,
Boossa Terrorist Investigation Unit, Racecourse Rd
Boossa
Southern Province
80270
Sri Lanka

An average sized greetings card or letter (under 60 grams) to Sri Lanka will cost £2.15 (or 3 x 2nd class + 1 x 1st class UK stamps) from the UK. But larger cards or folded A4 letters may cost slightly more. If in doubt, please consult the Royal Mail price finder or enquire with your nation’s post office.

Sharing your Letter

To get an idea of how many people have joined our campaign, and to encourage others to do the same, we would really appreciate it if you could Tweet us using the hashtag #FreeJeyakumari, message us on Facebook, or send us an email with a picture of your card or letter. Or if you would prefer to remain anonymous, just drop us a line and let us know that you have been part of it.

Writing a letter takes only a few minutes, costs little, and means a lot. Please send one today.



1 - English translation:

Dear Mrs Balendran,

This letter has been sent to you as a message of solidarity against your ongoing detention without charge. It contains a message wishing you well and expressing support for you. We wish you hope, comfort and safety during this time.

Best wishes,

15/08/2014

Mob storms meeting of relatives of the disappeared - pt 3

This is the last part a three part series on the incidents surrounding the storming of a meeting in Colombo by a mob of Government supporters last Tuesday. In part one we provided a narrative of events with some photos and footage from the scene. In part two we analysed these events, and in this part we will talk about its aftermath and the reactions from both sides.

Several statements were issued in the wake of the incident. The US embassy statement accused the local police of supporting the mob and the protesters of being intent only on intimidating and silencing those in attendance. The embassies of Great Britain, France, Germany and Switzerland later followed suit with a fairly bland statement.

The Lawyers’ Collective in Sri Lanka’s statement and the Centre for Policy Alternatives’ condemnation the incident both lamented in particular the continued impunity enjoyed by government supporters.

Meanwhile at a press conference the following day, Ven. Angulugalle Siri Jinananda Thera of the DMPFF claimed full responsibility for the disruption of the meeting and then went on to make a series of unfounded allegations and outright lies. The press conference (in Sinhala) can be seen here:


And you can read a full translation in English here.

Here were some of his most outrageous statements, often made while pointing to a photograph of the activist in question.
  • That all the families from North were “Mahaveerar” (i.e. “Great heroes” - usually referring to the families of deceased LTTE members). This is false. Several of the families present claimed that their relatives were not part of the LTTE. Others said their relatives were in the LTTE, but had disappeared after surrendering.
  • That each family was paid two hundred thousand Rupees to give evidence. This is entirely false; unsurprisingly no evidence has been produced to substantiate this claim.
  • That Nimalka Fernando and Brito Fernando are seeking to undermine Sri Lanka’s sovereignty. The day before he had said that these people should be hanged. Nimalka Fernando and Brito Fernando have both been activists for the cause of human rights and peace for many years. Nimalka Fernando herself has provided the most articulate explanation of how this work is the exact opposite of treason.
  • That Ruki Fernando had recently given protection to LTTE cadres who were spearheading the re-emergence of the LTTE in the country. This is an entirely false rewriting of the story of how Ruki Fernando was arrested earlier in the year in relation to his human rights work. This is discussed at length in our campaign director’s recent paper.
  • That Fr. M. Sathivel is homeless and has been excommunicated, that he tried to assault some of the monks who came to CSR and that he was mainly responsible for the situation becoming heated. The video in part 1 of our blog series clearly shows this not to be the case. No evidence has been presented to substantiate the outlandish assertions against Fr Sathivel personally.
  • That the Peratugami political party (whose representative Pubudu Jagoda was at CSR), has, from its inception been pro-LTTE and pro-Tamil diaspora. The PSP is a largely Sinhalese leftist political party that has its origins in the Sinhalese Nationalist Marxist JVP.
  • That Bishop Rajappu Joseph (referred to as the Archbishop of Mannar) has supported the LTTE for decades, and that he and his assistant Fr. Sebamalei were involved in coordinating these events and sending people to attend them. No evidence has been produced to substantiate this claim. Bishop Joseph is one of the leaders of Tamil Civil Society, while Fr Sebemalei is a human rights activist and priest who has come under attack before.
  • That the lawyer J. C. Weliamuna is a traitor to his profession. J.C. Weiliamuna is a reputable human rights lawyer, the convener of Lawyers for Democracy, a member of the Sri Lankan Bar Association, and the Sri Lanka director of the respected international NGO Transparency International. Despite an attack on his home in 2010, in which a hand grenade was thrown into his house, he continues to fight for the rights of all Sri Lankans. In no way does this constitute treason.
  • That US Embassy money and vehicles were being used to transport these families from the North to Colombo. This is entirely false; unsurprisingly no evidence has been produced to substantiate this claim.
  • That the testimonies of families was immediately communicated to US and Geneva via Skype. Not only is this untrue but it is patently absurd. Anyone who has attempted to use Skype will know how technically unsuitable it is for large public meetings of this kind. Moreover, few would be reckless enough to use Skype as a means of transferring sensitive evidence to investigative procedures and it is doubtful if evidence submitted this way would be admissible.
  • That the mob didn’t break into or disrupt the meeting and that they approached the organizers peacefully to make an appeal to them before they responded angrily. Again video footage in part one clearly shows this not to be the case.
As discussed in part two of our blog, many of these lies are fairly dangerous, while the choice of those targeted demonstrates a concerted effort to target prominent and outspoken human rights activists, and in particular those looking to make links between Colombo and grassroots victims and relatives groups in the North.