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

29/10/2009

HRW says Govt proposal for a domestic inquiry into abuses is a "smokescreen"

UN Secretary-General Should Establish International Investigation

(New York) - The Sri Lankan government's proposal to create a committee of experts to examine allegations of laws-of-war violations during the conflict between the government and the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) is an attempt to avoid an independent international inquiry, Human Rights Watch said today.

The government made its proposal in response to a report by the US State Department, published on October 22, 2009, that detailed hundreds of incidents of alleged laws-of-war violations in Sri Lanka from January through May. According to conservative UN estimates, 7,000 civilians were killed and more than 13,000 injured during that period, the final months of fighting.

"The government is once again creating a smokescreen inquiry to avoid accountability for abuses," said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. "Only an independent international investigation will uncover the truth about this brutal war and ensure justice for the victims. The UN and US should not play along with the government's pretense that it will conduct its own investigation."
Human Rights Watch urged the United Nations secretary-general, Ban Ki-moon, to establish an independent international investigation into alleged laws-of-war violations in Sri Lanka. The United States, the EU and other international actors should emphasize to the Sri Lankan government that because of its proposed committee's lack of independence and the failure of past government commissions, a government inquiry is unacceptable as a substitute for an independent international investigation.

The current political climate, in which the government frequently persecutes critics, branding them LTTE supporters, makes a credible and impartial domestic investigation unlikely, Human Rights Watch said.

On May 23, soon after the end of the fighting, the Sri Lankan president, Mahinda Rajapaksa, and Secretary-General Ban issued a joint statement that promised there would be credible national investigations. The government had taken no steps to open an investigation until the State Department report was released.

The UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights issued a statement on October 23 calling for an independent international investigation, which Human Rights Watch supported. A spokesperson for the office told reporters: "We still believe that something like the Gaza fact-finding mission is certainly warranted given the widespread concerns about the conduct of the war in Sri Lanka."

On October 26, President Rajapaksa announced that he would appoint a committee of experts to "examine carefully" allegations of violations of the laws of war during the final stages of the 26-year-long armed conflict.

On October 27, the European Union, during its foreign ministers' meeting in Luxembourg, repeated its call for an independent inquiry into violations of international humanitarian and human right law.

Since independence in 1948, Sri Lanka has established nine presidential commissions and various other bodies tasked with investigating allegations of human rights violations. None of the commissions have produced significant results, either in providing new information or leading to prosecutions.

The most recent Presidential Commission of Inquiry, appointed in November 2006, to investigate serious cases of alleged human rights abuses was a complete failure. A group of international experts, appointed to ensure the investigation was being conducted according to international norms and standards, resigned in 2008 because it had "not been able to conclude...that the proceedings of the Commission have been transparent or have satisfied basic international norms and standards." The experts included: Justice P.N. Bhagwati (India); Bernard Kouchner (France); Prof. Sir Nigel Rodley (UK), Prof. Yozo Yokota (Japan); and Kamal Hussein (Bangladesh).

In June 2009, Rajapaksa dissolved the Commission of Inquiry, even though it had conducted investigations in just seven of its 16 mandated major human rights cases. The president has not published the report.

Among the cases it investigated was the August 2006 execution-style killing of 17 Sri Lankan aid workers for the Paris-based humanitarian agency Action Contre la Faim. Despite strong evidence of involvement by government security forces in the killings, leaked findings of the commission exonerated the Sri Lankan army and navy on the basis of limited testimony from witnesses.

Earlier this year the UN Human Rights Council mandated an international fact-finding mission into abuses during the recent Gaza conflict. On October 16, Secretary-General Ban ordered an international commission of inquiry into human rights violations in Guinea after approximately 150 people were killed during anti-government demonstrations.
Although the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and other senior UN officials have called for an international investigation in Sri Lanka, Secretary-General Ban has refrained from making such a call. Inexplicably, the US State Department has indicated support for the Sri Lankan government's committee of experts.

"The government's committee is merely an effort to buy time and hope the world will forget the bloodbath that civilians suffered at the end of the war," Adams said. "Pretending that this is a serious attempt to investigate would betray the memory of the victims of war crimes and other abuses."

For more information on the need for an international investigation in Sri Lanka,
please see:

. "Sri Lanka: US War Crimes Report Details Extensive Abuses" (October 2009
news release) http://www.hrw.org/en/news/2009/10/22/sri-lanka-us-warcrimes-
report-details-extensive-abuses

. "Sri Lanka: Execution Video Shows Need for International Inquiry" (August
2009 news release) http://www.hrw.org/en/news/2009/08/26/sri-lankaexecution-
video-shows-need-international-inquiry

. "Sri Lanka: Adopt International Inquiry for Aid Worker Killings" (August 2009
news release) http://www.hrw.org/en/news/2009/08/03/sri-lanka-adoptinternational-
inquiry-aid-worker-killings

28/10/2009

EU says it like it is in Sri Lanka

The EU Council has adopted the following conclusions:

"1. The EU has continued to keep the situation in Sri Lanka under close attention and, as stated before, wishes to engage with the Government of Sri Lanka in a meaningful dialogue towards a new relationship in which both sides seek to cooperate to resolve progressively the principal issues of concern. These include ensuring that the internally displaced persons (IDP), of whom there are believed to be more than a quarter of a million detained in closed camps have freedom of movement, are able to return to their homes without delay, that conditions inside the camps should fully comply with international standards, and that the Government of Sri Lanka and all communities in Sri Lanka make concrete efforts to overcome the divisions of the past and to move on to genuine reconciliation. Without such reconciliation, there can be no return to long-term security or prosperity.

2. The EU is particularly concerned by the continuing humanitarian crisis and the unacceptable situation for the IDPs still detained in closed camps. Indiscriminate detention of IDPs in Sri Lanka is a clear violation of international law. There is an urgent need for all IDPs remaining in the camps to be granted freedom of movement as well as full and unimpeded access to them by humanitarian actors, including for registration purposes, in order to provide humanitarian aid and protection. The IDP camps must be transferred to civilian authority. The EU urges the Government of Sri Lanka to ensure that conditions in the camps in all respects are in accordance with internationally accepted standards. Overcrowding and lack of possibility to ensure the health and safety of the IDPs continues to be a source of serious concern. The monsoon season lends particular urgency to the situation.

3. The EU stresses the right to voluntary, safe and dignified return for all IDPs. It is the responsibility of the Government to ensure that the human rights and other constitutional rights of the IDPs are fully respected. All IDPs should be able to leave the camps when they wish and it should be possible for those who are able to find refuge with families and friends, or who are able to return to their homes in areas where demining is not required, to do so immediately. It is particularly important to ensure that people, and especially children, in the camps are reunited with their families. It is not acceptable that a proportion of those IDPs who have been able to return have not in fact been allowed to go back to their homes but have been placed in new camps which are also closed. The EU supports the call of the UN Emergency Relief Coordinator for the government to present an overall plan for the IDP return process, which should be transparent and coherent, and based on the above fundamental humanitarian principles. The EU welcomes reports of a recent increased rate of return of IDPs and hopes this will continue.

4. The EU welcomes the recent high level visits of the UN to Sri Lanka. It expresses its support for strengthened UN involvement in Sri Lanka, including as regards its coordination, protection and advocacy role.

5. As part of a dialogue, the EU stands ready to support projects for the return of IDPs. However, for such projects to be successful, it is important that they be carried out under certain conditions. These include freedom of movement for returnees, close cooperation with civilian local authorities to ensure that the returnees have sustainable livelihoods, and government support for those organisations who are implementing the projects, including the delivery of visas and unimpeded access. The EU underlines that support for reconstruction and development in the East and the North shall be based on progress in fulfillment of the above.

6. It is essential to put an end to impunity and to all human rights violations. The EU remains seriously concerned with continuing reports of abductions, disappearances and extra-judicial killings. The EU is also gravely concerned about reports on severe harassment of journalists, restrictions on freedom of the press and freedom of expression in Sri Lanka. The EU urges the government to move as soon as possible towards lifting the Emergency Regulations and limiting the special powers conferred by the Prevention of Terrorism Act. Likewise, the EU repeats its call for possible violations of international humanitarian law and human rights law by all actors to be subject to independent and credible inquiry. The EU believes that accountability is integral to the process of reconciliation.

The Council notes that the Commission recently completed its report into whether Sri Lanka has implemented three UN human rights conventions, which is required in the context of GSP+, and concluded that they have not been effectively implemented. The EU will decide what further steps to take in accordance with the GSP+ regulation. In parallel, the EU will maintain a dialogue with Sri Lanka on the steps necessary to address the problems highlighted by the Commission's investigation, in order to effectively implement the conventions.

7. Genuine reconciliation requires an inclusive political process, which addresses the legitimate concerns of all communities in Sri Lanka. In this respect, the EU stands ready to support the Government and all other actors in Sri Lanka in their efforts to move forward with such a process immediately."


http://www.eu-un.europa.eu/articles/fr/article_9153_fr.htm

27/10/2009

Campaign Adviser Prof Craig Scott asks if Pres Rajapaksa has the courage to walk his magnanimity talk

The Sri Lankan government's 'magnanimity deficit' (see my article of October 13th for Global Brief) in the aftermath of the war with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) is creating a high risk that a renewed violent struggle could emerge. But Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa may yet have time to change course, thereby making good on some of his own publicly stated (and, we must assume, sincerely felt) hopes for his country. In the wake of the Nobel Peace Prize for US President Barack Obama, this may be an unusually propitious moment for Rajapaksa to recalibrate. There is a post-Prize window of opportunity for Obama to engage President Rajapaksa in a way that both helps to bring a sustainable peace to Sri Lanka, and even has the knock-on effect of creating momentum for pursuit of a settlement in the Middle East, where peace-making capital remains in short supply. Key will be Obama's ability to appeal to Rajapaksa's own sense of being a man of history who can be recognized as such on the world stage - a broader stage than that of the admiring Burmese generals who received Rajapaksa as model conqueror in his first post-war trip abroad.

The violence and depth of suffering in over 30 years of conflict in Sri Lanka were generated by a combination of factors. Nationalistic aspirations on the part of the minority Tamil population (concentrated in the northern tip of the island) were warped by appropriation of the struggle of the Tamil people by a ruthless LTTE. Especially in recent years, brutal state militarism has combined with majority ethnic (Sinhalese) and religious (Buddhist) chauvinism to emphasize the singularity of the Sri Lankan 'nation' in ways that have exacerbated the exclusion felt by many Tamils - highlighting the persistent failure of the Sri Lankan state to accord meaningful regional autonomy in the areas in which the Tamil people are concentrated.

The war ended with extensive civilian deaths and injuries produced by the resoluteness and ferocity of the government military strategy, combined with LTTE use of civilian populations as shields, and children as military conscripts. The government abjured appeals from around the world to adopt a more humane and less humiliating approach to the war. General Sarath Fonseka, the head of the Sri Lankan army during the final onslaught, reportedly stated publicly on July 10th that he had disregarded higher orders to respect surrender by LTTE combatants: "Our soldiers have seen in life the kind of destruction carried out by those people before they decided to come carrying a white flag. Therefore, they carried out their duties. We destroyed anyone connected with the LTTE. That is how we won the war."

With the end of the war in mid-May, almost 300,000 civilians found themselves in wretched conditions in detention camps that had been set up during the war to handle internally displaced persons (IDPs). One purpose of the camps was to allow the government to weed out LTTE members assumed still to be hiding in the civilians' midst. Almost half a year has passed, and, according to UK Foreign Secretary David Miliband, in a statement to the House of Commons on October 14th, some 253,000 still remain in the camps. The mid-October to December monsoon season is imminent. Unexpected rains last August already showed how ill-equipped the camps are to handle many weeks of non-stop rains. Considering the conditions in the camps, six months of enclosure has reached the point of constituting inhumane treatment, as prohibited by Article 3 of the Fourth Geneva Convention (on protection of civilians in civil war). Meanwhile, as Miliband also emphasized last week, Britain is "also concerned that there is no independent visibility of the process by which over 11,000 IDPs have been identified as suspected LTTE cadres and moved to separate camps and that the UN and International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) have had no access to them since July."

Dire as the situation of the detainees may be, the future of constitutional arrangements in Sri Lanka is the single most important factor for a sustainable peace. The world diplomatic community certainly sees it this way. After the battlefield defeat of the LTTE, there was a remarkable world consensus on the need for Sri Lankan-state and Sinhalese-majoritarian magnanimity by way of some form of constitutional federalism or devolution of power to the Tamil people - again, at least where territorially concentrated in the north. On May 18th, UK Prime Minister Brown called President Rajapaksa to stress the need to be "magnanimous in victory." Foreign Secretary Miliband recalled this plea on October 14th, adding that "one of the prerequisites for a lasting peace in Sri Lanka is a political settlement that fully takes into account the legitimate grievances and aspirations of all communities."

Rajapaksa has himself linked the idea of magnanimity and associated virtues to what seems a 'mini-Marshall Plan' for the economic and social development of Tamil areas, as well as to his overall vision for Sri Lanka. For example, immediately following the war, Sri Lankan diplomatic missions around the world posted and circulated a statement by President Rajapaksa that included the following sentiment: "[T]he celebration of this victory, as deep[ly] as it is felt, should be expressed with magnanimity and friendship towards all." And in his major address to Parliament on May 19th, he opened his speech by speaking in Tamil (not the majority language of Sinhala, his own mother tongue) to convey such sentiments as: "Protecting the Tamil speaking people of this country is my responsibility. That is my duty. All the people of this country should live in safety without fear and suspicion. All should live with equal rights."

President Rajapaksa's variant of magnanimity is embedded in his frequently invoked 'liberal' vision of a Sri Lanka without minorities (in the sense of collectivities with minority identities). In Rajapaksa's Sri Lanka, only individuals exist and have rights, and us/them dynamics revolve around the division between those who share his one-nation-of-individuals ideas and those who do not: "We removed the word minorities from our vocabulary three years ago. No longer are the Tamils, Muslims, Burghers, Malays and any others minorities. There are only two peoples in this country. One is the people that love this country. The other comprises the small groups that have no love for the land of their birth. Those who do not love the country are now a lesser group."

One must understand how the dual invocation of national unity and individualism in passages like this generates two risks. One is the risk that oneness becomes a stand-in for a country and system in which the sublimation of group aspirations - the very crux of the conflict - allows majoritarian culture and religious precepts to dominate the oneness. The other is the way in which a friend/enemy discourse fuses with a history of security-based rationales for harsh and often brutal treatment of those "lesser" people who are deemed to "not love the country."

Close observers despair, fearing that Rajapaksa cannot be persuaded to become a visionary peacemaker - not only war-winner. The Financial Timese ditorialized on August 15th that Sri Lanka's "precarious identity as a mix of ethnic and linguistic, cultural and religious influences is in danger of being swept away by a triumphalist wave of Sinhalese chauvinism..." Concludes the FT: "[U]nless the Sinhala majority shows magnanimity and gives the Tamils control over their lives, their cause will surely reignite from the embers of this war."

Rajapaksa does not seem to be on the same page as either most Tamil leaders or many in the international community. In a July interview with The Hindu, a respected national newspaper in India, Rajapaksa stated bluntly: "No way for federalism in this country." In another interview, he also stated flatly that the north of Sri Lanka could not have a model of governance different from that prevailing in the rest of the country: "The whole country must have a system. You can't have one system for the North and one for the East." At the same time, President Rajapaksa seems to be leaving on the table a renovation of the Provincial Council system introduced into the Sri Lankan Constitution some 20 years ago by the 13th Amendment - a system much criticized for being under a combination of de jure and de facto control of the central government. Rajapaksa hints that, should he win an expected Presidential election early in 2010, he would seek to combine provincial governance with national governance in a new way (that some are calling his 'Second Chamber' scheme).

Whatever Rajapaksa has in mind, he appears to hold that ethnicity may not be the basis for provincial government. Yet, it is important to see that his vision - or, more precisely, his professed vision - is not that of the Sinhalese chauvinism that is part of his political support base. Rather, his vision may actually contain the kernels of a cosmopolitanism that could ultimately make Sri Lanka a more harmonious society, and even a showcase for ever-interacting identities in a globalizing world. If his rhetoric is to be taken at face value, he appears to see a pluralist mixite as a combined inter-communal and civic basis for Sri Lankan nationhood: "For reconciliation to happen, there must be a mix [of ethnicities]. Here the Sinhalese, the Tamils, and Muslims intermarry. In my own family, there have been mixed marriages: Sinhalese with Tamils, Sinhalese with Muslims. This is Sri Lankan society."

Although many Tamils understandably suspect that the Rajapaksa vision is insincere, there may be reason for the world community to seek to encourage a meeting of the magnanimity expected of President Rajapaksa with a similar magnanimity on the part of Tamil leadership. Were Rajapaksa to be 'heard' as being open to a true civic nationalism, a similar civic nationalism could be presented in future constitutional negotiations as also the foundation for any governance in the Tamil-majority north. On that basis, Rajapaksa might reconsider his seemingly resolute opposition to federalism. The fact that Rajapaksa learned Tamil, the fact that Tamils are members of his own extended family, and the fact that his government has required all newly hired employees of the Sri Lanka public service to know not only Sinhala, but also Tamil - all these are perhaps signs that there may be a foundation for a noble compromise to emerge from future constitutional design processes.
Magnanimity at the macro level of a future constitutional peace needs to be preceded by a combination of magnanimity and justice at the level of the immediate challenges to President Rajapaksa's credibility. If these challenges remain unresolved, there will be diminished prospects for the kind of openness of spirit and willingness to compromise upon which future political arrangements will depend.

President Rajapaksa needs to change course if he cares for history's verdict. Camps with claimed LTTE cadres need to be opened fully to the International Committee of the Red Cross. Intimidation extending to disappearances and killings of journalists, witnesses (including doctors who witnessed the warfare) and critics must cease. Those who committed war crimes during the war - on both sides - must be held accountable.
As for the 250,000 remaining civilian detainees, the situation is more complex. Despite almost half a year having passed, the conditions in the IDP camps remain wholly inadequate, especially as the monsoons begin to sweep in. From the perspective of the detainees' liberty, the first instinct is to say that all of them need to be released, even if this means ending any remaining screening for members of the LTTE. However, the Government of Sri Lanka has also not yet prepared the way for the return of detainees to their home areas (in terms of infrastructure, demining and adequate resettlement funds for each family or individual). Yet, the government appears to be starting to transfer people from Manik Farms, according to very recent on-the-ground reports. This seems intended to make good on the recent statement of President Rajapaksa that 58,000 would soon be moved from the main Manik Farms camps, and to respond to economic pressures from both the EU and India. However, it appears so far that the bulk are heading for other camps or even transit shelters - with, we can expect, even less access to UN and humanitarian agencies than has been the case at Manik Farms.

Faced with this Hobson's choice, produced by the government's delays in addressing the situation properly, and intersecting with the demands of the international community, President Rajapaksa cannot simply dump people and present this as an acceptable release. Normal legal rules and moral expectations for the treatment of IDPs cannot be circumvented in a hasty dispersal process. Rajapaksa must accept that he has to 'wear' the situation that he has failed so far to address properly. The only moral choice available to him would appear to be a fourfold plan of action: end any further screening for LTTE members, so as to allow any people who want to leave, and can show they have friends or family in safe areas with whom they can stay, to depart from the camps; mobilize the compassion of all Sri Lankans to volunteer to temporarily host other detainees with no friends and family to receive them; mobilize all national and international resources to make Manik Farms as monsoon-worthy as possible, and fully accessible to UN and other humanitarian agencies - for the many who will necessarily remain unreleased; and act with both urgency and efficiency to make detainees' home areas ready to receive them without further unreasonable delay.

Craig Scott is Professor of Law, Osgoode Hall Law School, and Director of the Nathanson Centre on Transnational Human Rights, Crime and Security, York University (Toronto). He is also a member of the Council of Advisors to the Campaign for Peace and Justice in Sri Lanka.

http://globalbrief.ca/blog/2009/10/26/magnanimity-in-our-time-%e2%80%93-ii/

26/10/2009

Campaign Chair and former FT leader writer Edward Mortimer rebuts FT op-ed on Sri Lanka and GSP+

Sri Lanka has flagrantly ignored international agreements
Published: October 26 2009
From Mr Edward Mortimer.
Sir, Your argument for extending Sri Lanka's "GSP+" access to the European Union market is plausible but specious ("Tigers and trade", editorial October 21). There might be a good case for extending this concession to all developing-country imports, but no one is suggesting that. As things stand, Sri Lanka is one of only 15 countries in the world to receive this treatment, and the only one in Asia. This discriminates unfairly against imports from other Asian countries.
GSP+ was accorded to Sri Lanka in 2005 on a wave of international sympathy after the tsunami. It was, as you say, conditional on ratification and implementation of 27 international agreements. The EU now has to decide whether to extend the deal, in the face of a damning independent report, commissioned by the EU itself, which shows that Sri Lanka has flagrantly ignored many of these conditions, including notably those that cover basic human rights.
Nor is it only, as you suggest, a matter of "human rights abuses committed ... in the course of the conflict with the Tamil Tiger rebels". That conflict ended five months ago, with a total victory for the government. Yet so far from being magnanimous in victory, the government has until now held more than 250,000 civilians in insanitary internment camps, currently threatened with monsoon flooding, while an unknown number of alleged combatants are held elsewhere, out of sight of the media, Red Cross and other humanitarian agencies. Wartime promises that Tamil grievances would be peacefully redressed once hostilities were ended have not been fulfilled. Instead an atmosphere of racist triumphalism has been encouraged.
"Sri Lanka is not Burma", you write. Perhaps not, but it seems some of its leaders would like it to be. Burma was the first foreign country visited by President Mahendra Rajapaksa after his victory over the Tigers last May, and his own government website reported that one of his aims was to advise the Burmese generals on how to defeat their own ethnic insurgents, learning from Sri Lanka's methods.
If the EU does not resist this repressive contagion, who will?
Edward Mortimer,
Chair, Advisory Council,
Sri Lanka Peace and Justice Campaign

http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/f8298966-c1ce-11de-b86b-00144feab49a.html

23/10/2009

Rudd gets barrage of criticism from fellow Australians

Mr Rudd must be a bit surprised to be criticised from fellow Australians on the left and right for what he said about Sri Lankan refugees. But really the question is not about him - it is about ordinary, decent Labor voters.

Speaking on behalf of Australian development and aid NGOs, Marc Purcell, Director of the Australian Council for International Development, says: "The [Australian] Government needs to tackle the problem of why people are fleeing at its source... [It] needs to step up its dialogue with the Sri Lankan Government to urgently get these camps closed."

Labor MP Michael Danby has described the phase "illegal immigration" - a phrase that Rudd has used this phrase on several occasions - as unbalanced and hysterical in this context.

Another surprise were pro-refugee comments from Paul Howes, who heads one of the nation's biggest and most conservative unions.

Revd Tim Costello, a former national president of the Baptist Union of Australia, said: "...where Dietrich Bonhoeffer got into real trouble was not attacking the Nazi government, it was defending Jewish refugees. That's actually the real lesson, the moral lesson from Bonhoeffer." (Mr Rudd has said Bonhoeffer is his hero.)

Journalist and film-maker, Bob Ellis writes in the Sydney Morning Herald to warn Rudd against worsening "our image as racist tormentors of desperate children before the civilised world."

But most interesting is Laurie Oakes, one of the most influential political journalists in Australia and weekly columnist for the Daily Telegraph. In an article entitled "Rudd needs to talk tough to Sri Lanka" Oakes says it like it is:

"We've heard Kevin Rudd promising tough action to stop asylum seekers coming to Australia by boat. We've heard him condemn people smugglers as vermin. What we have not heard from the prime minister is any criticism of the Sri Lankan Government for creating a situation which drives ethnic Tamils into the arms of smugglers in the first place."

"The best way to stop Tamils fleeing Sri Lanka and paying people smugglers to get them to Australia is to make things more tolerable in their own country. But has Rudd heavied the government in Colombo? Not so as you'd notice. Easier by far - and electorally much more advantageous - to thunder on about taking a hard line on illegal immigration. Former Liberal prime minister Malcolm Fraser accuses the coalition of "scratching the redneck nerve" by attempting to exploit the recent increase in boat arrivals. But Rudd is scratching the same nerve."

Oakes knows what he is talking about. The Murdoch owned Telegraph is known for its stridently right wing views. It appeals to the conservative working class - the Howard battlers (cf the Reagan Democrats) - that Rudd seeks to impress. So his next comment is particularly noteworthy:

"It is unlikely the asylum seeker issue has anything like the same potency that made it such an effective political weapon for John Howard in 2001. Back then it resonated powerfully because of the September 11 attacks in the US, combined with instability in the region. As Paul Kelly writes in his book The March Of Patriots, "The boats were framed in an 'invasion' context, resisted by the Australian Navy as the world contemplated the smouldering ruins of New York. For Australians, there were two paradigms on display: Muslims as terrorists and Muslims as asylum seekers." The context is different now."

Oakes is - rightly - scathing about Mr Rudd's claim that he has done what he can:

"The Government denies it has failed to exert real pressure on Colombo. The official line is that "Australia and the international community continue to watch closely". That will have them shaking in their boots. Foreign Minister Stephen Smith, we are told, has spoken to his Sri Lankan counterpart six times this year about ensuring the protection of civilians and the need for reconciliation. Smith also had a word to Sri Lanka's President Mahinda Rajapaksa in Egypt in July. But everyone knows that Rudd drives foreign affairs. If he considers an issue to be important, he takes it over.
When Australia wanted that boatload of Tamils intercepted, it was Rudd - not Smith - who called Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono. If Rudd picked up the phone to the Sri Lankan President, too, and did a bit of tub-thumping, it might make a difference. But it seems he'd rather beat the anti-asylum seeker drum."

So what could Mr Rudd have done that he hasn't done?

As a signatory to the 1977 Additional Protocols to the Geneva Conventions - which states that "The presence within the civilian population of individuals who do not come within the definition of civilians does not deprive the population of its civilian character" (Article 50) - he could have challenged the Government of Sri Lanka about its indiscriminate shelling of civilians.

He could have sent Sri Lanka a warning signal by abstaining on the IMF loan (as did the USA and UK). And it could be making clear he will act when the vote on the 2nd tranche comes up.

He could have backed the call by UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, for an independent investigation into alleged war crimes by both sides, and could have said in public that he is holding President Rajapaksa to his promise - made to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon - that Sri Lanka would take measures to address the violations of international humanitarian and human rights law.

Today, Mr Rudd could be calling the camps what they are - internment camps (as Navi Pillay and the UK Government have done).

Rather than deal with Sri Lanka as primarily an immigration problem - a bit like dealing with a terrorist attack as if it were a health and safety challenge - he could have defined this as a foreign policy crisis requiring joined up action.

And he could have told the Sri Lankan government it expects to see the people it claims are LTTE combatants charged in accordance with international standards and ensure that family members and humanitarian agencies - in particular the ICRC - have immediate access.

Most importantly, he could be using Australia's influence - within the Commonwealth and with China, for example - to get a faster resolution to this crisis.

It is clear Mr Rudd has committed himself to being tough on the symptoms of war crimes and major human rights abuse - ie the people who are able to escape. So why on earth isn't he also tough on the causes of such an exodus? In so doing he could use one stone to kill three birds: gain the respect of "Howard battlers", retain the support of concerned Labour supporters and look good on the international stage. Of course it's easier to pick an easy fight with progressives within his party. Perhaps he thinks it looks good. But what did this approach deliver for Tony Blair and the UK Labour Party in the long term?

With the Indians and even the UN talking tough, and with the new Japanese government reviewing its options, Mr Rudd is looking as if he is behind the curve and part of the problem. What a waste of talent, especially for a man who prides himself on his diplomatic skills.

But the real question in all of this is for Labor supporters: will they stand by and just let this happen?

We get the leaders we deserve and Mr Rudd could really do with more courageous followers right now. Mr Rudd isn't a bad man - indeed he defines himself as a committed Christian. In fact, Mr Rudd is just doing what many world leaders have done - turned their face to what is happening and sought to substitute platitudes for real action. At least that we can thank him for making it so obvious!

That is why he needs to be challenged by those who have some influence over him. And that is also why Mr Rudd warrants international attention.

http://www.abc.net.au/pm/content/2009/s2719301.htm

http://www.news.com.au/adelaidenow/story/0,22606,26232781-5006301,00.html

http://www.smh.com.au/national/ugly-politics-blasted-out-of-water-20091021-h92b.html

http://www.news.com.au/story/0,27574,26221927-5007146,00.html

http://www.crikey.com.au/2009/10/20/asylum-seekers-territorial-security-versus-electoral-suicide/

http://www.bkconnection.com/ProdDetails.asp?ID=157675247X

http://blogs.abc.net.au/offair/chris-uhlmann/



21/10/2009

Sri Lanka: Government Breaks Promises That Displaced Can Go Home

245,000 Held in Camps Should Be Released Immediately

(New York, October 19, 2009) - The Sri Lankan government's recent statements that it aims to return only 100,000 of the original 273,000 displaced civilians confined to camps by the end of 2009 breaks a promise to camp residents and the international community, Human Rights Watch said today. In May, the government announced that 80 percent of the displaced people would be able to return home by the end of the year.

Since the end of the fighting in May, the government has released or returned fewer than 27,000 people, leaving about 245,000 civilians in the camps.

"Enough is enough," said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. "It is well past time to release civilians detained in the camps. Sri Lanka's international friends should tell the government that they will not accept any more broken promises."

The Sri Lankan government has used its promises of rapid return (usually called "resettlement" by the government) to stave off international criticism over its treatment of ethnic Tamil civilians displaced by war. The displaced Tamils have been held in detention camps, which the government euphemistically calls "welfare centers," where they are deprived of their liberty and freedom of movement, in violation of international law.

Human Rights Watch has repeatedly called for all civilians in the camps to be allowed to leave, even if security conditions do not permit them to return home immediately. Most could live with relatives or host families. Those who have nowhere to go could choose to stay in the camps, but this should be voluntary. For those who did stay, conditions would be improved because the camps would be less crowded. The United Nations, the United States, the European Union, and India have all called on the government to release civilians detained in camps as soon as possible.

The government has in its most recent statements dramatically decreased the number of people it says will be allowed to leave the detention camps by the end of 2009:

. On May 7, the official government news portal of Sri Lanka, www.news.lk, announced that "[t]he Government plans to resettle over 80 percent of the displaced families in the North before the end of this year."
. Meeting with United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on May 23, Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa said, "The Government was already working on a plan to resettle most of the IDPs [internally displaced persons] within 180 days."
. In a July 16 letter of intent to the International Monetary Fund, which awarded Sri Lanka a US$2.6 billion loan, the government said that it "aims to resettle 70-80 percent of IDPs by the end of the year."
. On October 6, however, Deputy Finance Minister Sarath Amunugama, attending the annual meetings of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund in Istanbul, said that, "Sri Lanka may resettle 100,000 people from camps by the end of the year."
. On October 16, Resettlement and Disaster Relief Services Minister Rishard Bathiudeen said, "Our plan is to resettle around 100,000 persons by the end of this year."

These recent statements suggest that only about 37 percent of the original camp population would be freed from the camps by the end of 2009.

The Sri Lankan government has also made a number of statements about imminent releases of displaced persons from camps that proved to be untrue:

. On August 29, the government news portal announced: "Plans are afoot to resettle nearly fifty thousand persons now living in welfare camps shortly in their homes in Jaffna."
. In an official statement released on September 3, Northern Province Governor G.A Chandrasiri said: "All arrangements are in place to resettle 30,000 Internal Displaced Persons (IDPs) in 35 villages in Vavuniya District."
. On September 24, Minister of Mass Media and Information Anura Priryadarshana Yapa said: "The resettlement process of persons temporary [sic] accommodated at welfare camps in Vavuniya is in full swing and as of today, the Government has resettled 40,000 civilians in their place of origin."
. On September 25, the Ministry of Defense announced that active preparation is under way for "resettlement of an estimated number of one lakh [100,000] of displayed [sic] civilians by mid-October."

According to the UN, the government had returned only 13,502 displaced persons to their place of origin and released another 13,336 to host families and elders' homes as of October 9.

The media reported that on October 14, the Sri Lankan government promised a delegation of local parliamentarians from India that it will release 58,000 internally displaced persons from camps in the next two weeks.

"The Sri Lankan government is playing games with the lives and hopes of those displaced by the country's armed conflict," said Adams. "Its failure to address the genuine grievances of the Tamil community is disastrous for the country."

For more Human Rights Watch reporting on the situation of the IDPs in Sri Lanka, please visit the following:
. "Sri Lanka: Tensions Mount as Camp Conditions Deteriorate" (October 2009 news release), at:
http://www.hrw.org/en/news/2009/10/09/sri-lanka-tensions-mount-camp-conditions-deteriorate
. "Sri Lanka: World Leaders Should Demand End to Detention Camps" (September 2009 news release), at:
http://www.hrw.org/en/news/2009/09/22/sri-lanka-world-leaders-should-demand-end-detention-camps
. "Sri Lanka: Floods Threaten Camp Detainees" (August 2009 news release), at: http://www.hrw.org/en/news/2009/08/17/sri-lanka-floods-threaten-camp-detaineesFor more information, please contact:
In New York, James Ross (English): +1-212-216-1251; or +1-646-898-5487 (mobile)
In London, Brad Adams (English): +44-20-7713-2767; or +44-7908-728-333 (mobile)

19/10/2009

Three leading US human rights advocates have joined forces to urge UN and World leaders to act to stop the imminent catastrophe in Sri Lanka

Press Release--------------------------

Three leading US human rights advocates have joined forces to urge UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, President Obama and other world leaders to put an immediate end to an imminent humanitarian catastrophe in Sri Lanka.

Prof. Noam Chomsky, Professor Rajan Menon and Professor Michael Grodin are the latest prominent world figures to lend their support to the Sri Lanka Campaign for Peace & Justice.

The three award-winning professors come from very different academic and professional backgrounds but are united in calling world leaders to act.

Announcing his support, Dr Grodin said: "At the Nuremberg Trials following the Nazi Holocaust, Justice Robert Jackson exclaimed 'The wrongs which we seek to condemn and punish have been so calculated, so malignant, and so devastating, that civilization cannot tolerate their being ignored because it cannot survive their being repeated' These words echo and reverberate as we witness the crimes against humanity perpetrated in Sri Lanka."

According to Professor Menon: "Now is the time to settle the civil conflict in Sri Lanka, which has consumed thousands of life and brought severe misery to countless others. In the short term, access should be provided to the UN and international relief agencies to deal with the humanitarian problems facing refugees and lists of detainees should be made available. In the long run, economic development in the war torn areas must proceed hand in hand with political measures aimed at reconciliation and empowerment."

And Professor Chomsky added: "The fate of Tamils in Sri Lanka has been a shocking story of mounting horrors. It would be unconscionable to stand by in silence as the remnants face still more torture and disaster. Every effort must be expended to bring this tragedy to an end while there is still time."

Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, the International Crisis Group - all of whom have in the past criticised the LTTE - have also called for immediate action to deal with the imminent crisis affecting at least 50,000 children.

The Sri Lanka Campaign is chaired by Edward Mortimer, journalist and former Communications Director to Kofi Annan. Other members of the Advisory Council include Lakhdar Brahimi (a former high level UN envoy and member of the Elders - an independent group of global leaders, brought together by Nelson Mandela, to address difficult global challenges), Brahma Chellaney (a senior Indian foreign policy adviser), Charles Glass (the internationally renowned journalist) and Chibli Mallat (the Lebanese legal specialist) and Bianca Jagger (prominent human rights advocate, a member of the Executive Directors Leadership Council of Amnesty International USA, and a Council of Europe Goodwill Ambassador).

Professors Chomsky, Menon and Grodin and the Sri Lanka Campaign for Peace & Justice call on the international community and the Government of Sri Lanka to take the following actions immediately to alleviate this humanitarian catastrophe:

1. The UN, international Red Cross and voluntary agencies must be given full and unrestricted access to care for and protect the civilians in the camps, and help them return to wherever in their own country they choose to live. Meanwhile, these civilians should have their right to freedom of movement restored in time to escape the devastation that the monsoon will otherwise bring.

2. A list of all those still alive and in custody (in internment camps or elsewhere) should be published, so that families can stop searching for loved ones who are dead.

3. Those who continue to be detained as alleged LTTE combatants must be treated in accordance with the Geneva Conventions, and urgently given access to legal representation. ICRC should be given immediate access.

4. Accountability processes must be established to ensure that international aid is not diverted to purposes other than those for which it was given.

5. The Sri Lankan Government should allow conflict reconciliation specialists unhindered access to help rebuild lives and communities.

6. Sri Lanka should request or accept a full UN investigation into war crimes committed by all parties during the war

7. The UN Secretary General should appoint a Special Envoy to Sri Lanka.

Noam Chomsky is a linguist, philosopher, cognitive scientist, political activist, author and lecturer. He is Professor Emeritus of linguistics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and considered to be one of the fathers of modern linguistics. The New York Times has called him "Arguably the most important intellectual alive." Beginning with his opposition to the Vietnam War, Chomsky has also established himself as a prominent critic of US foreign and domestic policy. Chomsky has lectured at many universities, and is the recipient of numerous honorary degrees and awards. He has written and lectured widely on linguistics, philosophy, intellectual history, contemporary issues, international affairs and U.S. foreign policy. He is a prolific writer and his new book is Hopes and Prospects (2009).

Michael Grodin is an internationally renowned medical specialist in the relationship of health & human rights, medicine & the holocaust, bioethics, and the philosophy of psychiatry & psychoanalysis
. He has won numerous awards for his book and has edited or co-edited 5 books. He is Professor of Health Law, Bioethics and Human Rights (Boston University School of Public Health), Professor of Socio-Medical Sciences and Community Medicine and Psychiatry (Boston University School of Medicine) and the Medical Ethicist at Boston Medical Center, Co-Founder of Global Lawyers and Physicians, and Co-Director of the Boston Center for Refugee Health and Human Rights,

Rajan Menon is the Monroe J. Rathbone Professor of International Relations at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania and, in August 2010, will become the Spitzer Professor in Political Science at the City College of New York/City University of New York. He has authored or edited five books and more than 60 articles in leading academic journals and edited volumes. He writes often for the Los Angeles Times and has also written opinion pieces for Newsweek, the International Herald Tribune, Financial Times, washingtonpost.com, Christian Science Monitor, and the Chicago Tribune. He has been a commentator on the BBC, Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, Australian Broadcasting Corporation, CNN, and National Public Radio.

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For more information about the campaign, see www.srilankacampaign.org
For interviews please email srilankapeacecampaign@googlemail.com stating "Media" in the "Subject" box and which Adviser you would like to speak to, or if it is a general enquiry.

16/10/2009

Mr Rudd -you were elected because you weren't Mr Howard!

The Australian Government says it enjoys 'warm' bilateral relations with Sri Lanka.

Does this mean that Mr Rudd's Government has used the good relationship between the two countries to make sure Colombo hears a clear "let the near quarter of a million people in the camps go"? After all, even the mild mannered UN has now called for this.

According to TamilNet, the answer is no. It quotes senior Australian officials as saying "Australia is reluctant to call for a closure of these camps and release of the innocent IDPs as soon as possible".

Rather, it turns out that the Government is using Australian tax dollars to pay for leading ad agency, Saatchi and Saatchi, to help scare off potential asylum seekers to Australia.

Using state of the art "social control" tactics, the campaign uses "street drama to take its message directly to the people. Actors will play people smugglers, and warn locals their efforts to escape from Sri Lanka will end in disappointment."

9news reports that Catholic Churches are also being targeted, with literature and pamphlets being distributed around parishes warning asylum seekers they will not be welcome in Australia. The push has been dubbed the "Stay the Bloody Hell Away" campaign by media, in reference to Tourism Australia's much-maligned "Where the Bloody Hell Are You?" campaign.

Saatchi and Saatchi can be expected to do something clever, creative and certainly not cheap. But how effective will this campaign be?

The people most likely to escape out of Sri Lanka are the 270,000 Tamils now rotting away in the internment camps after having survived the horrors of an intense military onslaught between the Tamil Tigers and Government of Sri Lanka. Will Saatchi and Saatchi street artists be granted permission to enter the camps and entertain the prisoners?

Regardless, for the 280,000 languising in the what is fast becoming semi-permanent camps - there is no end in sight. They know they are at risk of disease and/or arbitrary interrogation and so no amount of street theatre is going to stop them from taking any opportunity to be smuggled out of the camps and the country.

Sadly, this is not the first time Australia has made calculated attempts to try to deal with the symptoms of the Sri Lankan crisis, rather than the cause.

Advisor to the Sri Lankan Campaign for Peace and Justice and former diplomat Bruce Haigh says : "instead of offering humanitarian assistance to those in the camps, it sent the deputy chief of the navy, Rear Admiral David Thomas, to Colombo in June 2009 to urge that young Tamils be prevented from coming to Australia. His plea amounted to an endorsement of the continued detention of Tamils in appalling conditions. Kevin Rudd supports this position and said as much in an interview with Greg Cary on ABC Brisbane on July 1, 2009".

And this same priority drives action in Australia. Pamela Curr, who works with the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre in Melbourne recently narrated the fate bestowed by Australian on two Sri Lankan men. According to Ms Curr: “On Sunday October 4, I was asked to ring the three Sri Lankan men in the Perth Immigration Detention Centre. They asked me to them to help them. They said that they were afraid to go back to Sri Lanka because they had heard from the family members of (2 others) who had been deported a few days earlier. They were told that (they) were not released from the airport and that the families did not know where the men were held."

Despite appeals the men were sent back, one "was removed in handcuffs with no shoes or shirt". Sadly the story is quite predictable: "(they) have been beaten and charged with people smuggling. They are being sent to Negombo Prison which has a deplorable human rights record."

Conservative estimates are that the number of Sri Lankan boat arrivals in Australia is in the hundreds. And it can be assured thousands more are part of the one million illegal immigrants waiting in Malaysia (and Indonesia and Thailand) to make the harrowing and dangerous journey in a rickety old boat to Australia.

A few weeks ago 114 Sri Lankans waiting for a passage to Australia were arrested in Malaysia. As Australia lawyer David Manne told SBS "It is one thing to intercept someone in another country and to assist another country, or cooperate with another country like Malaysia to do that, but what happens to that person? That's the question that hangs heavily. What then happens to that person?"

So far, Mr Rudd is following closely in the footsteps of what his predecessor, John Howard, would have done

As Bruce Haigh says about the most recent of these actions: "Sending these [255] people back to Indonesia is to condemn them to a debilitating existence on top of the effect and memory of the horrors they sought to escape. They will be warehoused in Indonesia, a country that is not a signatory to the UN Convention on Refugees, for up to 10 years under conditions that will lead most to suffer mental deterioration."

But Mr Rudd says he is inspired by German Lutheran priest, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who was executed by the Nazis weeks for his (small) part in the plot to assassinate Hitler. Bonhoeffer was actually arrested for helping Jews escape. Leave aside his stated beliefs, Rudd is also a skilled diplomat. If he wanted to, he could use his country's influence with India, Japan and China to put pressure on the Government of Sri Lanka to deal with the 270,000+ people-the size of the population of Canberra-in an honorable way. And then to make sure Tamils are treated as equals in Sir Lanka.

Trying to put fingers in dykes isn't the answer and as the "Sri Lanka model" is exploited to other countries-because other dictators think they can also get away with it-this focusing symptoms will become even less useful. The bottom line is that cozying up to totalitarian regimes didn't work with Suharto and its wont work this time either, Mr Rudd.

http://www.tamilnet.com/art.html?catid=13&artid=30071
http://news.ninemsn.com.au/world/871952/ad-gurus-hired-to-deter-refugees
http://www.abc.net.au/news/stories/2008/02/07/2157268.htm
http://abc.com.au/unleashed/stories/s2674750.htm
http://www.sbs.com.au/dateline/story/transcript/id/600182/n/Malaysia-s-Crackdown
http://www.theage.com.au/opinion/politics/the-tamils-are-fleeing-because-no-one-will-ease-their-plight-20091015-gz38.html
http://www.crikey.com.au/2009/04/23/rudds-hero-was-a-people-smuggler/

15/10/2009

UK Government make major statement on SL

Foreign Secretary David Miliband, together with Douglas Alexander, the
Secretary of State for International Development, commented on the UK's
engagement in Sri Lanka during a statement to the House of Commons on
Tuesday 13 October.


I, together with my Rt Hon Friend the Secretary of State for
International Development (Douglas Alexander), would like to inform the
House about the Government's ongoing active engagement in Sri Lanka
following the end of the conflict almost five months ago between the
Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and the government of Sri Lanka.

When I visited Sri Lanka with French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner
in April our three areas of focus were to: urge the Government and LTTE
to minimise the humanitarian impact of the then ongoing hostilities and
to improve conditions for Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs); to call
for a strengthening of the rule of law to address human rights concerns;
and to encourage urgent action on setting out a political process to
address the grievances of minorities. I will cover each of these in turn.

In summary, as I explained to Foreign Minister Bogollogama in New York
at the end of last month, we remain deeply concerned about the
situation, not least but not only because of the forthcoming monsoon.
Lives are at stake but so is the long term health of Sri Lanka.

*Humanitarian Situation*

The last stage of fighting created almost 300,000 IDPs, the majority of
whom were moved to camps in the north of Sri Lanka, near Vavuniya.
Approximately 253,000 still remain inside IDP camps. The latest UN
figures of 28 September show that only 7000 people have returned to
their place of origin and a further 8000 vulnerable IDPs have been
released to host families.

I can report some improvement since my Honourable Friend the
Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for International Development
(Mike Foster), my Right Honourable Friend the Member for Kilmarnock and
Loudoun (Des Browne) and I visited the camps in three separate visits in
late April/early May. Sanitation facilities have improved and
malnutrition cases have decreased markedly. Access for humanitarian
agencies is better but remains ad-hoc and there is scope for further
improvements.

The IDPs continue to have inadequate access to health care and following
a drop in the river level delivery of adequate water has been
problematic in recent weeks. Unusually heavy rains during August
demonstrated that the camps are ill-equipped for the sustained heavy
rains expected from mid-October to December during the monsoon season.

We are concerned over the lack of freedom of movement for the IDP
population because of the nature of the 'closed' camps and over the
ongoing separation of families and the heavy military oversight of the
camps. We are also concerned that there is no independent visibility of
the process by which over 11,000 IDPs have been identified as suspected
LTTE cadres and moved to separate camps and that the UN and
International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) have had no access to
them since July.

The seriousness in which we continue to hold the humanitarian situation
was demonstrated by the visit last week of my Honourable Friend the
Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Department for
International Development. He visited areas of the former conflict zone,
IDP camps and centres for the rehabilitation of former child combatants.
He saw for himself the conditions for civilians inside the camps and
ongoing contingency preparations for the monsoon.

Since September 2008, the Government has allocated £12.5 million of
humanitarian aid to Sri Lanka. In the final stages of the war we used
our funding to help the ICRC and the UN to deliver critical humanitarian
assistance to civilians trapped in the conflict zone and to ensure
facilities in IDP camps met minimum standards.

Following the end of the conflict we have continued to support critical
work inside the IDP camps, for example funding UN agencies to vaccinate
children against polio and measles and to provide emergency drainage in
an attempt to minimise the impact of the forthcoming monsoon rains.

However, in recent months we have increasingly focused our support on
activities designed to facilitate the speedy return of civilians to
their home areas. For example, we have funded the International
Organisation for Migration (IOM) to provide temporary identity cards to
IDPs and transport for those returning to their homes and funded the
Mines Advisory Group (MAG) to demine civilian areas of the former
conflict zone. All of the UK's humanitarian funding continues to be
channelled through neutral and impartial humanitarian aid agencies to
help those who need it most.

My honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for
International Development used his visit to highlight our concern about
the lack of progress on returning IDPs to their homes and to urge the
Sri Lankan government to meet its own target of returning the majority
of IDPs by the end of the year. He further encouraged the Sri Lankan
government to release IDPs who have already been screened. He made clear
that it was not acceptable to transfer IDPs from one closed camp to
another in a different part of the country, as has happened in some cases.

Freedom of movement for the IDP population is critical if a humanitarian
crisis is to be averted in the IDP camps when the monsoon rains fall.
The humanitarian gains made in the IDP camps risk being lost from the
resulting deterioration in water and sanitation facilities and
consequent effect on health indicators. We are working with others to
press for freedom of movement to be restored to the IDPs.

During his visit, my honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary
of State for International Development confirmed that once the critical
monsoon season is over we will only fund life-saving emergency
interventions in the existing 'closed' camps and that we will not
support people simply being transferred from the existing 'closed' camps
to new 'closed' camps. £4.8 million of UK funding remains available to
help the Sri Lankan government in the process of recovery from the
conflict in the areas of de-mining, support to enable the return of the
IDPs to their places of origin and to help them recover their livelihoods.

We continue to support multilateral engagement in Sri Lanka. The UN has
a key role in focusing international concern; co-ordinating the
international humanitarian response; and providing advice and support to
the government to help heal the rifts that divide Sri Lanka's
communities. We welcome the involvement by UN agencies on the ground in
Sri Lanka and the ongoing senior level engagement that has included
visits to Sri Lanka since the end of the war by UN Secretary-General Ban
Ki-moon, Lynn Pascoe the Under Secretary General for Political Affairs
and Walter Kaelin, the UN's Special Representative for the human rights
of IDPs. The UN's experience and expertise in working in post-conflict
environments is widely acknowledged and I urge the Sri Lankan government
to engage constructively with all levels of the UN.

At the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the UK took the decision in
July not to support the Stand-By Arrangement for Sri Lanka. Whilst we
acknowledged the need to help Sri Lanka avoid a damaging balance of
payments crisis that would have disproportionately affected the poorest
and most vulnerable members of society, we judged that the risks of a
default had diminished and that the humanitarian and political
situations posed risks to implementation of the programme. The programme
was passed by the IMF Board and we will now turn our attention to
monitoring the programme's implementation through a robust review process.

*Human Rights *

The wider human rights situation in Sri Lanka remains very worrying
following the end of the conflict. Although reduced, reports of
extra-judicial killings, abductions, disappearances and intimidation
have continued. Media and civil society organisations who are critical
of the government remain at particular risk and continue to be the
victims of anonymous death threats and, in some cases, violent attack.

The recent sentencing of a journalist, Tissainayagam, to twenty years
imprisonment sent a very negative message about media freedom in Sri
Lanka. A culture of impunity continues, with no progress towards
identifying the individuals behind recent high profile human rights
abuses, such as the murder in January of Lasantha Wickrematunge, a
leading newspaper editor.

We welcome the fact that in two recent cases, the alleged abduction of a
university student and the killing of two youths in southern Sri Lanka,
the government has ordered investigations into alleged police
involvement and action is being taken through the Sri Lankan courts. The
Sri Lankan government continues to retain extraordinary emergency powers
which limit the fundamental democratic freedoms of its citizens. With
the LTTE defeated and a substantially reduced terrorist threat we hope
to see the Emergency Regulations lifted soon.

In our bilateral contacts we have encouraged the government of Sri Lanka
to tackle the culture of impunity in Sri Lanka. In this light we welcome
the investigations and subsequent legal action against police officers
involved in alleged abuses and encourage the government to take similar
action in all cases where such allegations are made. We have also been
active in working with the EU to call for an improvement in human rights
in Sri Lanka.

An improvement is important too in the context of the investigation by
the EU Commission looking at whether Sri Lanka should continue to
benefit from the EU trade scheme, GSP+ which is dependent on the
implementation of a number of human rights-related conventions. We have
consistently encouraged the Sri Lankan government to engage
constructively with the Commission.

*Political Settlement*

At the end of May the Sri Lankan President issued a joint statement with
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon recognising the need to work 'towards a
lasting political solution ....fundamental to ensuring long-term
socio-economic development', and to take measures 'to address possible
violations of international humanitarian law during the conflict.'

The government of Sri Lanka has stated its intention to begin a process
of political reform and reconciliation after elections which are
expected in the first half of 2010. They have made some welcome moves to
reach out to minority communities in the interim. For example, the
President recently opened a dialogue with the Tamil National Alliance,
the principal grouping of Tamil politicians inside Sri Lanka, and for
the first time in over 25 years the police force have begun a
recruitment process in Jaffna, a majority Tamil area in northern Sri Lanka.

The government has publicly recognised that the Tamil Diaspora can play
a positive role in helping shape the future direction of Sri Lanka. I
encourage the government to continue with, and to broaden, its initial
contacts with representatives of the Diaspora. We are concerned that the
government has yet to make clear how it intends to address concerns that
both sides may have been responsible for violations of international
humanitarian law during the conflict.

The UK has consistently maintained that one of the prerequisites for
lasting peace in Sri Lanka is a political settlement that fully takes
into account the legitimate grievances and aspirations of all
communities. When the my right hon Friend the Prime Minister spoke to
President Rajapakse on 18 May he urged him to be magnanimous in victory.
On the same day I pressed Foreign Minister Bogollogama to seize the
historic opportunity - and duty - to lay the foundations for the
peaceful, secure and prosperous Sri Lanka that we all want to see.

Despite some recent welcome developments the government needs to show
greater urgency in making clear its plans for future political reforms
if it is serious about wanting to win the confidence of Tamils, Muslims
and other communities in Sri Lanka. We hope to see an inclusive, genuine
political process initiated as soon as possible.
We have consistently called for a credible process of accountability,
most recently during the visit to the UK of the Sri Lankan Attorney
General and Justice Permanent Secretary in early October and the visit
of the Sri Lankan Justice Minister in September.

Addressing accountability could play an integral role in the process of
reconciliation and will be essential in creating conditions for a
sustainable end to the conflict. The recent broadcast of mobile phone
footage purporting to show members of the Sri Lankan military summarily
executing Tamils underlines the importance of lifting the fog of
uncertainty surrounding events of the final months of fighting when
independent observers had no access to the conflict zone.

The Government remains actively involved in working for a peaceful Sri
Lanka. We have urged the Sri Lankan government, in a number of direct
contacts, to make greater progress on improving conditions inside the
camps, on returning IDPs to their homes and on working for reconciliation.

We urge that freedom of movement be returned to IDPs, and highlight the
urgency of doing so before the monsoon. We also encourage swifter
progress on the development of an inclusive political process to address
minority concerns and for an improvement in the rule of law, including
accountability for possible violations of international humanitarian
law, as both would be essential for a sustainable end to the conflict.

We continue to work with other international partners, such as the US
and India, the EU and the UN. My right hon Friend the Prime Minister's
Special Envoy for Sri Lanka, my right hon Friend the Member for
Kilmarnock and Loudoun, visited Washington and the UN (in New York and
Geneva) in September to exchange views on Sri Lanka with other partners
and will be writing to hon Members this week to inform them of his visits.

The final death toll of the 25-year conflict may never be known, but it
is likely that over 100,000 Sri Lankans of all communities died over the
course of the conflict. The Sri Lankan government needs to steer the
country away from the violence that has troubled the country for so long
and towards long-term peace, security and prosperity for all its
citizens. The Government will continue to work with the Sri Lankan
government and with other partners to help bring this about.

09/10/2009

Neither Sri Lanka nor Israel should have impunity in their 'wars on terror'

Article in the Daily Star , By Antony Loewenstein, advisor to the Sri Lanka Campaign for Peace and Justice---------Israel's war against the Gazan people in December and January devastated the tiny Strip, killing over 1,400 people, a majority of whom were civilians. The Western powers, including America, England and Australia, backed Israel's battle against Hamas and shared its belief that destruction of the Islamist group would benefit their interests.

More than six months later, however, the political realities in the region remain virtually unchanged, with Hamas still in control of Gaza, Israel and Egypt imposing an inhumane siege on the area and Israel regularly launching military strikes against "terrorist" targets.

During my visit there in July, I found many of the 1.5 million Palestinians desperate for a normal life, something denied to them for decades due to Israeli occupation and irregular bombardment.

The recent UN released report on Gaza, investigated by distinguished South African Justice Richard Goldstone, found overwhelming evidence that both Israel and Hamas committed war crimes during the conflict and should be held to account in an international tribunal. Goldstone stressed that the culture of impunity endemic in the Middle East must end the targeting of civilians and their infrastructure and the lack of international will to fully investigate the atrocities carried out in the name of "defeating terrorism."

Goldstone told US magazine Tikkun that, "the powerful are protected because of their power. But it's not prejudice it’s politics. They use their power to protect themselves." Israel and US are determined that the former never face justice for its crimes.

Compare the international outcry over the Gaza massacre to the relative silence toward Sri Lanka's war against the Tamil people in 2008 and 2009. Conservative estimates place the death roll at over 20,000 people, perhaps as high as 50,000. The Colombo regime dismissed all attempts to cease its military operations, negotiate with the Tamil Tigers or allow the transfer of hundreds of thousands of civilians to safety. Today, close to 300,000 Tamils are trapped in government-imposed camps, surrounded by barbed wire and unable to leave.

The International Crisis Group told the European Parliament in early October that "such restrictions on freedom in the absence of due process are a violation of both national and international law."

Sri Lanka was fighting its own "war on terror" with the Israeli playbook. Ban all independent media from the war zone, demonize human rights groups as sympathetic to terrorists, dismiss all questioning of tactics as giving in to terrorism and support the doctrine of overwhelming fire-power. Like Israel, Sri Lanka won the battle, but will inevitably lose the war.

Israel has battled Palestinian nationalists for decades and remains unable to destroy the spirit of the people. Independence for the Palestinian people will come one day. Despite extensive media coverage and global sympathy for their cause, the Palestinians are today still stateless and under occupation. But their plight is far better understood than the Tamils.


Israel's ambassador to Britain, Ron Prosor, wrote in the London Times in late September that the "farcical' United States Human Rights Council, tasked to investigate the Gaza massacre, should not examine Israel because, it 'did its utmost to direct Palestinian civilians out of harm's way." Every human rights group in the world has evidence to prove the fallacy of this argument. Israel should be treated like any other country calling itself a democracy and not excused because of its bellicose tactics in the global arena.

A growing number of Jewish groups are joining this call, unafraid of being labelled anti-Semitic or self-hating and simply believing in equitable justice. An initiative I co-founded, Independent Australian Jewish Voices, is part of this conversation, regularly working with Palestinians over our shared concerns.

Proser demanded to know why the UN wasn't investigating the "300,000 Tamil civilians currently languishing in Sri Lanka." It's a fair question, except his ideal outcome would be impunity for Western states fighting their own "war on terror." In this worldview, it's only developing or Third World nations worthy of sanction.

Sadly, the vast majority of Muslim and Middle East countries, except Bosnia, voted with Sri Lanka in the UN Human Rights Council in May to support its war against the Tamil people. The idea of non-democratic nations backing a brutal regime isn't new; defeating "terrorism" is a language democracies and dictatorships both share. The fact that the UN is a flawed body doesn't prevent it from conducting important work in the field of human rights and abuse prevention.

Sri Lanka doesn't enjoy favored nation status like Israel but it should face a thorough examination of its conduct during the war. Many states, such as Israel and China, have no desire to discover the truth behind the conflict because they provided arms to the Sri Lankan government. Israel is reportedly protecting Sri Lanka from any American pressure against its actions. But obstacles to international justice should not preclude their commencement. Crimes in Congo, Sierra Leone, Cambodia and the former Yugoslavia were thoroughly investigated by legal bodies, even if the final outcomes were not perfect.

It is time for the Sri Lanka leaders to understand that destroying a terrorist infrastructure without political and social assistance to the vanquished is doomed to failure. The Sri Lankan government will need to be convinced that normal relations with the world will not be possible until its crimes against the Tamils are acknowledged.

Peace with justice demands nothing less.


Antony Loewenstein is an Australian journalist, author of 'My Israel Question' and "The Blogging Revolution." He sits on the Advisory Council of the Sri Lanka Campaign for Peace and Justice.

08/10/2009

Sri Lanka is ducking human rights issues

To The Editor of The Times
From Mr. Julian Filochowski, John Battle, MP, Edward Mortimer, Professor Andrew Rigby, Clare Short, MP--------------------------------------------------------------

Sir, Since your report on September 15 ("EU sanctions on Sri Lanka to hit 'cheap' clothing over human rights abuses"), diplomats in Colombo have been quoted (Reuters, Sept 29) as saying that the EU is likely to let Sri Lanka keep its "GSP Plus" concession, while recommending it be revoked if the country does not improve its human rights record. Meanwhile, on October 1, Sri Lanka's Ambassador told the Human Rights Sub Committee of the European Parliament that his country will not respond to the "damning" human rights report (which concluded, as your correspondent said, "that the island no longer qualified for GSP Plus") but "will instead continue to engage on the issues of concern with the European Commission".

Clearly there is a lot of "spin" going on here. The government hopes it can bounce the EU into extending the concession simply by promising to keep talking, without directly addressing the very serious issues raised in the report. The Commission, which is due to discuss the matter next week (October 15), must not fall for this transparent gambit.

It is now five years since the EU granted GSP Plus terms to Sri Lanka - the only country in Asia and one of only 15 in the world that enjoys this unilateral trade concession - in the wake of the Indian Ocean tsunami. During those five years, the country has moved further and further from the rule of law, and the rights of its people have steadily deteriorated.

In order to renew GSP Plus, Sri Lanka has to show it has ratified and implemented 27 international conventions on core human rights, labour rights, the environment and good governance. The report, commissioned specifically by the EU to assess implementation, details the country's systematic failure to protect human rights, including freedom of expression, and to adhere to basic humanitarian standards. Journalists, writers, academics, political and human rights activists have been assassinated, imprisoned or forced into exile; the UN is prevented from fulfilling its humanitarian protection mandate; the International Committee of the Red Cross is not allowed into some of the camps where 280,000 civilians are being detained; and Amnesty International is not even allowed into the country.

It would be a flagrant abuse of the GSP Plus facility if the Commission were to extend it under these conditions.

Yours,

04/10/2009

Ban Ki-moon hopes Govt of Sri Lanka has finally got the message

Ban Ki-moon, UN Secretary-General, was challenged about Sri Lanka by FRANCE 24 jounalist Philippe Bolopion. Here are the highlights of the interview.

PB: We've talked to a few people about how you are handling your job and here is what Ken Roth, the executive director of Human Rights Watch, said. He said, and I quote him, that you were "so eager to meet with tyrants that you give up all leverage and get nothing in return." Is that fair?

BKM: I think there is quite a misunderstanding and misconceptions in such kind of assessment. I have been meeting almost all the leaders, including those quite difficult leadership people. I have been very straight and direct to all those in... When it comes to universally accepted principles, human rights, and basic rights of many vulnerable people, whose rights and whose wellbeing must be protected by the leaders, the first and primary responsibility rests with the leaders of that country. That is why I have been urging them to take necessary action. I have been vocal and there should be no misunderstanding on my commitment.

PB: Let's look into it, actually. For example, you went to Sri Lanka right after the war, when the Tamil Tigers' rebellion was defeated by the government, and many people felt that your trip, in a way, was used by the Sri Lankan regime, that they saw it as part of a victory dance.. And it's true that, several months after you went there, you still have something like 300,000 people, Tamils, who are still in what people call 'detention camps'. Most of what the president told you at the time has not come true. Do you feel that he played you, in a way?

BKM: I was the first leader in Sri Lanka . I was the first leader to visit Myanmar , the two places nobody visited or nobody could visit. I made a strong case, first, on internally displaced persons. Those 300,000 people must be returned to their homes without further delay.. And their human rights... And humanitarian assistance should be given without any delay or any conditions and restrictions. That's what I am doing. I have despatched my Undersecretary General Lynn Pascoe. He got assurance from President Rajapaksa, just recently, that all 300,000 displaced persons will be returned to their homes by the end of January next year. This is a great encouragement. Now I got his commitment and it is a matter of his integrity. And his trust is at stake if he doesn't keep his promise. Now, on the case...

PB: I'm sorry to interrupt you but, do you feel that President Rajapaksa is stringing you along, saying he is going to do all these things and never delivering on them?

BKM: In Sharm El Sheikh, on the margins of a non-allied summit meeting last July, I made a very strong case to President Rajapaksa: "You must keep your promise". Last week, I spoke over the telephone, I wrote my letter. That is why I have sent my envoy...

PB: Are you not starting to wonder though, Sir, whether the quiet diplomatic roads - whether your approach - is really working? Because these people are making promises but they seem to almost never deliver. Don't you need to start speaking out against them?

BKM: What you describe as my diplomatic style, as "quiet diplomacy", is just one part, one aspect, of my whole diplomatic capacity. It is necessary... In some cases, you have to have a very direct, open diplomacy, but sometimes there's a quiet diplomacy. Behind the scenes diplomacy can be more effective. I am combining all these aspects of diplomacy. This is what I have been doing during the last four decades. So there should be no misconception...

The UN Secretary General may be reassured by these new promises and this new timetable but the monsoon will happen in less than two weeks and that's the only deadline that matters to the people in the camps. That's why this Campaign, Amnesty International and many others want the UN SG to give one simple message to the Government: Unlock the camps! NOW!

For the video see:
http://www.france24.com/en/20090922-ban-ki-moon-secretary-general-united-nations-france-24-interview-criticism

Important new statement from the International Crisis Group

Testimony by Andrew Stroehlein, International Crisis Group's Communications Director, to the European Parliament Subcommittee on Human Rights, 1 October 2009.


--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Thank you, Madam Chair, for offering Crisis Group the opportunity to present our assessment of the situation in Sri Lanka today.



Since the end of the war and the defeat of the terrorist Tamil Tigers, the government of Sri Lanka has been imprisoning without charge over a quarter of a million ethnic Tamils displaced by the conflict. The state has locked them in internment camps in the north of the country. The camps are surrounded by barbed wire, and as an incident just this past weekend in Vavuniya demonstrates, the Sri Lankan army will shoot at anyone who tries to escape.



Such restrictions on freedom in the absence of due process are a violation of both national and international law.



Conditions in the camps are poor and deteriorating. They are overcrowded, with medical facilities, access to clean water and sanitation all woefully inadequate. These conditions are expected to worsen dramatically with the onset of monsoon season. The military is preventing humanitarian organisations, including the UN and International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), from undertaking effective monitoring and protection in the camps.



The government has made numerous promises to release those held in the main camps, but these are little more than attempts to deliberately mislead the international community. Very little has come of any of Colombo's pledges. The worst kind of duplicity was seen just a few weeks ago, when the government announced it had released 10,000 displaced persons. In fact, we know at least 3,300 people had been moved from an internment camp to another detention facility. (UNHCR press release, 29 September 2009).



Here are the numbers as we understand them today (as of 15 September, UNHCR with government figures). Of the estimated 289,000 internally displaced Tamils at the end of the war, some 10,000 are held in detention centres on suspicion of having links to the Tamil Tigers, about 5,000 have managed to buy their way out of the camps by paying off the right people, and only 6,000 have been resettled. Those in the main camps in the north number about 264,000.



The ICRC has not been able to visit the main camps in the north since July, and they have never been able to visit those in detention facilities who are accused of working with or for the Tigers.



The government claims two reasons for continuing to imprison over a quarter of a million internally displaced persons (IDPs), but neither argument holds up. First, they say demining must occur before people can be allowed back, but this is a nonsense, as tens of thousands could be released immediately to live with host families now living in towns and villages free of mines.



Second, the government claims to be conducting a screening process to weed out Tamil Tigers from the 264,000 in the internment camps. But no one can tell you how this process is proceeding. The government itself will not say how many people have already been through the screening process, the ICRC has not been able to monitor any screening at all, and when you ask people in the camps themselves, no one seems to know much about any such process. In any case, if the government has been conducting a screening process for four months now, why hasn't it been releasing those people who have passed the test?



We see the government is now promising "day passes" in one limited area (Mannar but not Vavuniya nor Trincomalee, where the bulk of the IDPs are) so IDPs can leave the camp, but we have yet to see this working in practice. It seems a strange idea in any case: if these people are allowed to go out for the day, then they surely have passed the screening process, so why aren't they allowed out all the time?



The fact is, all talk of release dates and resettlement schedules is nonsense. As the UN Secretary-General's Representative on the Human Rights of Internally Displaced Persons, Walter Kaelin, made clear on Tuesday, saying:



"It is imperative to immediately take all measures necessary to decongest the overcrowded camps in Northern Sri Lanka with their difficult and risky living conditions. The IDPs should be allowed to leave these camps voluntarily and in freedom, safety and dignity to their homes. If this is not possible in the near future, the displaced must be allowed to stay with host families or in open transit sites. This is particularly important as the monsoon season is approaching."



Also on Tuesday, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon himself warned of the dangers of Sri Lanka's current policy, noting that the government risked creating "bitterness" if it failed to rapidly resettle Tamil refugees. Indeed, the harsh conditions in the camps are already sparking unrest, as we saw in Vavuniya at the weekend. But also in the longer term, the government's policy of imprisoning so many Tamil citizens without cause is only sowing the seeds of discontent that will grow into Sri Lanka's next violent conflict.



These are precisely the warnings the International Crisis Group has been giving and exactly the solutions we've been calling for for months, and we are glad to see them accepted and supported at the very highest international levels. There is now no credible international voice saying anything else, and the Sri Lankan government has run out of excuses for continuing to keep these hundreds of thousands of innocent people prisoner.

The European Union and its member states have limited direct influence over the government of Sri Lanka, but working with our international partners, there are steps to take. The EU and its member states should:



1) speak publicly, clearly and often about the need for the displaced to have freedom of movement immediately.



2) officially demand access to the camps for all humanitarian agencies and the media.



3) work to ensure that any disarmament, demobilisation and rehabilitation/reintegration (DDR) programs are ONLY conducted with ICRC involvement and a clear legal framework. (Currently, the UK Department for International Development, DFID, and the International Organization for Migration, IOM, are funding DDR projects in which the ICRC plays no part, and no legal regime governs the process.)



4) press the UN to put a binding time limit on its phased assistance to the camps. These should not become long-term facilities.



5) oppose further disbursement of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) loan due later this month until the government of Sri Lanka meets the commitments on resettlement it made in its July Letter of Intent a letter to the IMF (sent by the Sri Lankan Ministry of Finance and Planning to the IMF on 16 July 2009), which included a pledge to resettle 70-80% of IDPs by the end of this year (Point 10).



In general, no donors should fund any substantial development work until there is a clear plan, with cross-ethnic consultation and some restoration of democratic rights. We must ensure international monies are not used to fund unfair and destabilising political arrangements that set the stage for the island's next violent ethnic conflict.



http://www.crisisgroup.org/home/index.cfm?id=6335&l=1