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27/11/2009

The Elders call on Sri Lankan government to protect rights of civilians displaced by conflict: donors also have vital role to play

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE Thursday, 26 November 2009

The Elders - a group of eminent global leaders brought together by Nelson Mandela - have made a direct appeal to the President of Sri Lanka to protect the rights of civilians displaced after the government's defeat of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in May.

Six months since the end of the war, the Elders have written to President Rajapaksa to say they are "deeply worried" about the humanitarian situation faced by the largely Tamil civilian population who fled fighting in the north of the country, and warn that this could squander hopes for national reconciliation.

Chair of The Elders, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, signed the letter on behalf of his fellow Elders,Martti Ahtisaari, Kofi Annan, Ela Bhatt, Lakhdar Brahimi, Gro Brundtland, Fernando Henrique Cardoso, Jimmy Carter, Graca Machel and Mary Robinson.

The Elders say in their letter to the President that the continued confinement of
approximately 135,000 internally displaced people is a "clear violation of international law" and that these people are being denied basic human rights, including the right to liberty and freedom of movement.The Elders welcome
the government's announcement that those still confined in closed camps will now be given the freedom to move in and out of the camps until they are able to return to their homes. The Elders also call for humanitarian agencies to be granted the unimpeded access to the camps required to conduct critical humanitarian and human rights work such as providing health care, legal aid, and helping to reunite families.

While the number of people released from government-run camps has increased in recent weeks, and the government has pledged to release the remaining 135,000 by the end of January, the Elders also relayed their serious concerns about the way in which the Sri Lankan government is attempting to meet its resettlement objectives. They are particularly concerned that the UNHCR, the International Committee of the Red Cross and national and international NGOs have had too limited a role in monitoring the movement of people, and have not had access to all the areas where people have been returned.

Equally worrying are reports that some of those released have been placed in new, closed camps in their district of origin by local authorities. Some are reported to be facing further screening to determine whether they have any links to the LTTE.Donors have vital role to play.

The Elders have also written to Sri Lanka's major donors, regional governments, international financial institutions, the UN Secretary-General and heads of relevant UN agencies, asking them to use their influence with the Sri Lankan government to ensure that basic conditions for equitable, inclusive and "conflict sensitive" development are put in place in the northern and eastern regions of the country.

The international community could also contribute towards the long-term stability of Sri Lanka by encouraging a credible war crimes investigation process; the disbanding of pro-government militias; a reduced role in decision-making by (and spending on) the military; the opening of space for minority parties and opposition parties; allowing the media and NGOs to operate freely; and meaningful consultation with affected populations in the north and east.

With presidential elections expected in January, donors should also use their influence to encourage the government of Sri Lanka to commit to basic democratic governance and prudent economic policy.

Elders' chair, Archbishop Desmond Tutu said: "No sustainable peace is possible without trust. Having won a military victory, the Sri Lankan government must not squander its gains. It has an obligation to serve all Sri Lanka's citizens - including the Tamil and other minority communities.

"Sri Lanka needs wise, far-sighted and determined leadership to help end the divisions of the past and achieve genuine reconciliation, peace and dignity, to the benefit of all of Sri Lanka's people."

Former UN envoy and member of The Elders, Lakhdar Brahimi, said:"While we welcome the government's recent efforts to accelerate the return of displaced people after the end of this brutal war, the returns must be conducted in a way that does not undermine prospects for a durable peace.

"Donors have a vital role to play in pressing the Sri Lankan government to not only get people out of the camps, but to do so in a way that will enhance, not undermine, stability."

Their fellow Elder and former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson said: "The basic human right to move freely must be respected. Innocent people should not be detained indefinitely in closed camps. To do so is a violation of international law. The opportunity must not be lost to establish a lasting framework that protects and enhances the human rights of all Sri Lankans."

NOTES TO EDITORS:

The Elders are an independent group of global
leaders, brought together by Nelson Mandela, who offer their
collective influence and experience to support peace building, help
address major causes of human suffering, and promote the shared
interests of humanity. ( www.theElders.org )

The Elders are Martti Ahtisaari, Kofi Annan, Ela
Bhatt, Lakhdar Brahimi, Gro Brundtland, Fernando Henrique Cardoso,
Jimmy Carter, Graca Machel, Mary Robinson and Desmond Tutu (Chair).
Nelson Mandela and Aung San Suu Kyi are honorary Elders.

The Elders wrote to the governments of Australia,
Belgium, Canada, China, Denmark, France, Germany, India, Indonesia,
Ireland, Japan, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Spain, Sweden,
Switzerland, United Kingdom, United States, as well as the European
Commissioner for Development and Humanitarian Aid, the President of
the World Bank, the Managing Director of the IMF, the President
of the Asian Development Bank, the UN Secretary-General, the
Commonwealth Secretary-General, the Secretary-General of ASEAN, the
Chair of the Non-Aligned Movement, the UN High Commissioner for
Refugees, the UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and
Emergency Relief Coordinator and the UNDP Administrator.

Media Contact: Laura Dickinson media@theElders.org +44 (0)207 031
1713
The Elders

THE ELDERS / ABOUT THE ELDERS / MEDIA / CONNECT
The Elders Foundation, PO BOX 60837, London W6 6GS
Company limited by
guarantee. Registered in England and Wales, Reg. No. 6317151.
Registered charity in England and Wales, Reg. No. 1132397.

25/11/2009

Campaign calls on new EU Foreign Minister to demonstrate EU leadership over humanitarian crisis in Sri Lanka

Welcoming Baroness Ashton's appointment as the new EU "foreign minister", the Sri Lanka Campaign for Peace & Justice (SLCPJ) today released a statement - signed by an international group of eminent Advisers - calling on her to ensure that the EU stays true to its principles and continues to show leadership over the humanitarian crisis in Sri Lanka.

Commenting on the growing debate about Sri Lanka, Edward Mortimer, the Chair of the Campaign said, "It is clear that the EU's reluctance to extend Sri Lanka's highly privileged "GSP+" access to its market, combined with the recent US State Department report and growing criticisms from NGOs such as Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and others, is having an impact on President Rajapaksa and his advisers"

"But the Government of Sri Lanka (GoSL) continues to mete out unjust treatment to those who have suffered huge trauma and are now stricken by poverty and trapped in overflowing and/or inadequate detention centres, cut off from the support that NGOs and UN are willing to provide but banned from giving. The inhumanity is staggering and hard to reconcile with our personal impressions of Sri Lanka gained from acquaintance with wonderful and humane individuals from all parts of the Island"

"The SLCPJ therefore calls on the EU to continue to insist on the release and re-settlement of the internees in keeping with international standards and by the target dates set by the GoSL; and to require that the GoSL set out clear plans about how this timetable will be met"

"Nor can we forget that some 12,000 people alleged to have fought with, or otherwise been associated with, the LTTE are being held in separate camps. We know that the Sri Lankan authorities have engaged in various forms of mistreatment of prisoners, including torture, during detention and ensuing interrogations. So there is every reason to fear that basic human rights, as well as basic norms of humane treatment under international humanitarian law, are not being respected. Until the Government of Sri Lanka allows the International Committee of the Red Cross, as well as international human rights monitors, to have access to these people, the international community must assume the worst is happening, and must not condone it"

"Baroness Ashton now has an opportunity to ensure that the EU takes the lead in putting innocent civilians ahead of commercial interests or geopolitical manoeuvring. Anything less would be a serious failure of EU foreign policy at the very moment when everyone is looking to her to give it a fresh start. This is why we firmly believe that Baroness Ashton and the EU will hold firm to these principles, and act accordingly in response to the situation in Sri Lanka."

The SLCJP also makes specific demands of, amongst others, the Government of India, the Commonwealth and the UN Secretary General. For details of the full statement see http://www.srilankacampaign.org/theconflict.htm

ENDS

For more information / enquiries contact srilankapeacecampaign@googlemail.com with "MEDIA" in the subject box

23/11/2009

Statement from the Advisers, Sri Lanka Campaign for Peace & Justice

It is just over 10 weeks since we launched the Campaign. In that time, pressure on the Sri Lanka Government (GoSL) - from this Campaign and from many other directions - has helped to keep alive the issue of the Tamil internees (a more accurate phrase than "internally displaced persons"). It has led to modest steps by the GoSL to release some of those held, and now the announcement by the President's brother, Mr. Basil Rajapaksa, that those held in the special internment camps "will be allowed out for short periods from next month" (BBC News, 21 November).

We welcome the November 21 announcement, but consider that it does not go nearly far enough. Why, six months after the end of the civil war, should people not charged with any crime be allowed out only "for a day or two at a time?"(BBC News, 21 November) They should be freed, pure and simple.

More important, perhaps, is Mr. Rajapaksa's reiteration of the government's recent pledge to resettle those displaced by the end of January. We hope that this pledge, unlike earlier promises, will be fulfilled, and we urge the international community to maintain and indeed to step up its pressure to that end. We remind the international community that the government had originally promised resettlement of all people in the camps within 180 days of the date of the promise, which should have been this week. The end of January will be a full two months after the original promised date.

To convince the world that this time it is serious, the GoSL should be asked to put in place and make known a detailed plan for meeting its own revised deadline in order to ensure that people are "resettled" in places of their own choosing, with full respect for their dignity and basic human rights, which has not been the case with those 'released' from the camps up to now (see below). It is vital that UN agencies and international NGOs be given full access to the areas where resettlement takes place, and also to the internment camps as long as people are still being held there.

It should also be noted that the November 21 announcement affects only the civilian detainees who have not been detained as Tamil Tiger (LTTE) suspects. In addition to these, some 12,000 people alleged or suspected to have fought with, or otherwise been associated with, the LTTE are being held in separate camps. Given the long-standing, well-known and well-documented capacity and willingness of Sri Lankan authorities to engage in various forms of mistreatment of prisoners, including torture, during detention and ensuing interrogations, there is every reason to be worried whether basic human rights, as well as basic norms of humane treatment under international humanitarian law, are being respected. The International Committee of the Red Cross, as well as international human rights monitors, must be given full and ongoing access to all detainees.

The best estimate of the current situation is that:

- Between 135,000 and 150,000 people are still imprisoned in the main internment camps. Independent observers have very restricted access, so it is not known how the monsoon has affected the health and living conditions of the internees.

- A detailed and careful report from a coalition of NGOs and INGOs, the Colombo-based Internally Displaced Persons Protection Working Group (IDP PWG), makes it clear that the release of approximately 100,000 from the main internment camps does not mean these persons have returned to their homes or even home communities. Some remain in closed transit camps; some are in various kinds of institutions; some are with host families; some are in war-damaged structures that effectively serve as smaller, secondary camps. In general, there is a lack of transport and infrastructure support services and, according to credible reports, many of these still-displaced persons do not enjoy freedom of movement.

The IDP PWG states, by way of overall assessment: "There is a great degree of confusion as to whether IDPs who have been moved have actually returned or remain in displacement, particularly due to the lack of information to humanitarian actors on the current location of 'releases' and 'returnees.' The lack of information and clarity about the current categories of movements means the potential to monitor protection issues and promote durable solutions to displacement is seriously weakened. Moreover, it is difficult for humanitarian agencies and other actors to assess the type of assistance required." The available evidence indicates that the GoSL is either ignoring or inconsistently applying the basic norms in the UN Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement.

- Approximately 12,000 suspected LTTE combatants are still being held and interrogated (or worse) with no external scrutiny.

These actions are all in violation of Sri Lanka's obligations under a number of rules of international humanitarian law, including common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions, which requires it to prevent inhumane, degrading, or humiliating treatment. Also being violated are a range of obligations under customary international human rights law and customary international humanitarian law including those pertaining to prolonged arbitrary detention, freedom of movement, core social and economic rights (such as those relating to housing, nutrition, and health), and, in the case of the suspected LTTE combatants, the prevention of torture, extra-judicial executions and other violence (including sexual) to the person.

The GoSL's explanation of why progress is so slow has not been convincing, especially when it is set against their original target of releasing everyone by the end of the year. For example, it has been known for a very long time that areas in the North and East of the island are heavily mined and thus the recent focus on demining is welcome but far too late. Moreover, the reasoning that some areas are safe for returnees but not safe for NGOs is hard to fathom.

More worryingly, we have heard reports that 'deTamilisation' is being carried out in the areas to which they should be returning. The GoSL must allow independent observers and journalists to check the claim made recently in the Sri Lankan parliament by Suresh Premachandran, one of the elected representatives of the Tamil community, that buildings of cultural importance to Tamils which have been demolished in Kilinochchi and Mullaitivu districts are being replaced with large military bases, Buddhist temples and administration buildings. As the media have been denied access to these areas and in view of satellite reports of drastic cleaning up operations, one can only assume the GoSL has something to hide.

We conclude that the GoSL is trying to do just enough to satisfy the international community, in order to retain its privileged ("GSP+") access to the EU market, gain further IMF funding and avoid further pressure. We also conclude that the actions of the GoSL bear no relation to the various statements made by President Rajapaksa following the end of hostilities, in which he promised to act with compassion, move forward in a spirit of reconciliation, and ensure that all Sri Lankans, including of course the Tamil population, can live 'in safety without fear and suspicion" (Parliamentary address, May 19, 2009). Instead we note that a growing number of informed commentators - most recently the Director of the Asian Human Rights Commission, himself a Sinhalese - describe the country as a de facto dictatorship.

The reality today is that the most basic rights, not only of those still detained in the camps but of the Tamil population as a whole, are being brushed aside. To continue to accept this is to accept a renewed wave of Tamil emigration and to ensure further conflict in the future.

We therefore call on:
- The GoSL to allow international human rights observers into all parts of all camps, as well as the areas where people are being resettled.

- The GoSL to allow those still in the camps full free movement in and out whilst permanent solutions are developed, and to allow all NGOs, local and international, unhindered access to these innocent people who, after enduring months of trauma, need much physical and psycho-social healthcare.

- The GoSL to put in place and make known a detailed plan for meeting its revised end-of-January deadline for closing the main camps, in order to ensure that people are "resettled" in places of their own choosing, with full respect for their dignity and basic human rights.

- The GoSL and the UN to abide, rigorously and consistently, by the UN Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement in order to promote return to people's home areas and homes in safety and dignity.

- The UN Secretary General (UNSG), and his representatives, to continue to press for all those held in camps to be treated in line with international standards, to correct unexplained breaks with normal practice (e.g. replacement of UN agencies with other agencies such as the International Organization for Migration) and, in particular, to make ICRC access to all detention centres a non-negotiable demand.

- Given the need for tight coordination of all UN agencies and for pressure to be sustained on a daily basis, we again call on the UN Secretary-General to appoint - with all urgency - a Special Envoy for Sri Lanka.

- The Government of India to use its forthcoming talks with the GoSL to express much stronger concern about the conditions in the camps, the failure to respect international standards and the likelihood of further unrest.

- All donor countries, all those countries that supported the GoSL at the UN Human Rights Council in May 2009, and members of the Commonwealth to express these same concerns.

In addition, we congratulate Baroness Ashton on her appointment as High Representative of the European Union for Foreign and Security Policy, and urge her to stand by her recommendation, made in her previous capacity as Trade Commissioner, that Sri Lanka's "GSP+" status should not be renewed so long as the GoSL has not conformed to the agreed conditions, especially those concerning human rights. We further call on all EU member states and the European Commission to stand firm on these conditions, and to evaluate any deal with the GoSL in terms of how it improves the basic human rights of those who are illegally detained.

In years to come, we will not be able to say that we did not know what was happening. Or that it was nothing to do with us. Now that the fighting has stopped, people who have lived through so much violence and lost so much deserve at the least to be able to go home, resettle in their communities and play their part in building a new and peaceful Sri Lanka. As well, the right not to be tortured, as well as other core human rights, apply to all human beings, regardless of their proven or suspected past conduct; as such, the situation of the 12,000 suspected LTTE detainees cannot be ignored and their conditions of detention must be rigorously monitored.

20/11/2009

AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL:SRI LANKA: OPEN LETTER TO HEADS OF GOVERNMENT ATTENDING THE COMMONWEALTH HEADS OF GOVERNMENT MEETING, NOVEMBER 23-26 2009

19 November 2009

Dear Heads of Government
On the occasion of the forthcoming meeting of Commonwealth Heads of Government, Amnesty International would like to draw your attention to recent developments in Sri Lanka, and urge you to raise concerns regarding the human rights situation in that country with your Sri Lankan counterparts. In particular, we wish to alert you to continuing serious problems affecting the safety and dignity of Sri Lankans displaced by armed conflict. We also ask you to support our calls for greater accountability for abuses of human rights and humanitarian law suffered by Sri Lankan civilians.

Releases from Sri Lanka's camps for internally displaced persons have accelerated, but six months after the end of the war, Sri Lanka continues to confine people who fled fighting in closed displacement camps in uncomfortable and sometimes hazardous conditions. Camp shelters have deteriorated as Sri Lanka has entered the rainy season, and the UN reports that funds for shelter repair are running out. Amnesty International has a global campaign, "Unlock the Camps", (see http://www.amnesty.org/en/news-and-updates/news/unlock-camps-sri-lanka-20090807), calling on the Sri Lankan government to end its policy of forcibly confining people to camps, which amounts to arbitrary detention.

RESTRICTIONS ON FREEDOM OF MOVEMENT
Some 150,000 people displaced by war and living in government camps in Northern Sri Lanka are denied their basic human rights including liberty and freedom of movement. The camps remain military in nature. The military controls all decision-making related to management of the camps and the fate of displaced people in those camps; the military severely restricts the residents from leaving the premises even to seek medical care, and denies the displaced population basic legal safeguards.

While the government has widely publicised recent releases from the camps, Amnesty International has received reports that displaced people have been subjected to rescreening by local authorities to determine whether they had links to the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). There are also reports that some people who have been released, have been denied necessary documents to ensure that they are safe from re-arrest.

The government has not alerted displaced people about impending releases or conditions in their places of origin that would enable them to make plans about their futures. Nor has the government given the displaced people clear information about their rights and obligations, their legal status or procedures for tracing family members. Displaced people have been given no voice in decisions regarding their release, return or resettlement. There is inadequate monitoring of the conditions of release, and of alleged return or resettlement.

The Sri Lankan government has prevented humanitarian organizations from talking to displaced persons, and obstructed their ability to conduct crucial human rights protections activities, such as providing legal aid or assisting with family reunification.

CONCERNS ABOUT SCREENING AND PROTECTION OF THE DISPLACED
The Sri Lankan government has legitimate security concerns, and there is a need to bring to justice members of both the LTTE and the Sri Lankan armed forces who engaged in abuse of civilians. Sri Lanka's displaced civilians suffered enormous physical danger and material deprivation during the war. As discussed below, both sides were accused of humanitarian law violations against these civilians, who were forced to remain at risk in the conflict zone by the LTTE, which used them as human shields against the approaching army. Adults and children were subjected to forced conscription.

Amnesty International stresses the need to ensure that in all cases, accountability is pursued through proper legal processes. Since the war ended in May 2009, many thousands of people detained in camps have been subjected to 'screening' by the security forces in an attempt to root out LTTE members. An estimated 12,000 people (including children) suspected of links to the LTTE have been arrested, separated from the general displaced population and detained by the authorities in irregular detention facilities, such as vacated school buildings. Amnesty International has received repeated, credible reports from humanitarian workers about the lack of transparency and accountability in the screening process, which is conducted outside of any legal framework and the increased dangers to detainees when they are held incommunicado. While screening is appropriate to ensure that LTTE combatants are not housed with the general camp population, proper procedures should be followed, and the screening process must not be used as an excuse for collective punishment.

The government denies independent monitors access to sites in the north housing adult LTTE suspects. Detainees have not been charged with any offense, and have been denied legal counsel and due process. Many are held incommunicado. UNICEF has access to former child soldiers detained in specialized "rehabilitation" camps for children, but there remains a need to verify that no children remain in facilities with adult detainees.

WAR CRIMES ALLEGATIONS AND ACCOUNTABILITY
Sri Lanka has recently emerged from more than twenty-five years of armed conflict between government forces and the LTTE. In the course of fighting, both sides violated humanitarian law. The LTTE forcibly conscripted adults and children, and forced civilians to travel with its retreating forces and to serve as a buffer against the approaching Sri Lankan army. Thousands of these civilians died when government forces fired artillery into areas densely populated with civilians who were forced to remain at risk in the conflict zone. The LTTE reportedly fired at and killed civilians who attempted to escape.

Impunity for violations of human rights and humanitarian law has been the rule rather than the exception in Sri Lanka. On 26 October, the Sri Lankan government announced the appointment of a committee of experts to investigate alleged humanitarian law violations committed during the war. The Sri Lankan government has a poor record of providing genuine accountability through similar mechanisms: it has often appointed ad hoc Commissions of Inquiry in the past when it received adverse publicity for serious violations of human rights, but none of these has advanced justice. The President's most recent proposal appears to be yet another attempt to deflect attention from repeated calls for an independent international investigation - calls supported by Amnesty International and many other international and domestic human rights organizations, and strengthened by the recently released report of the US Department of State's Office of War Crimes.

ATTACKS ON CRITICS AND CONTINUED RELIANCE ON SPECIAL SECURITY LEGISLATION
The Sri Lankan government continues to justify its abusive policies and silencing of dissent, under the pretext of countering the threat of terrorism. Special security legislation, such as the Prevention of Terrorism Act, and the Public Security Ordinance and its accompanying emergency regulations (intended for states of national emergency, but imposed almost continuously for decades), remains in place and grants extraordinary powers to the authorities to arbitrarily arrest and detain individuals almost indefinitely.

In September 2009, journalist J.S. Tissainayagam was sentenced to twenty years rigorous imprisonment under the Prevention of Terrorism Act for writing articles that criticized the Sri Lankan government's treatment of Tamil civilians during military operations in the East.

In addition to these restrictive laws and regulations, there is a pattern of regular threats and unchecked attacks against journalists (15 have been killed because of their reporting since 2004 and at least 11 have fled the country between June 2008 and June 2009), lawyers, witnesses against state forces, and human rights defenders by unidentified attackers presumed to have links to the state. The cumulative effect has eroded public faith in the justice system, and has also had a chilling effect on freedom of expression and association.

TIME TO ACT NOW
Your government could make a valuable contribution to improving the situation for Sri Lanka's war displaced and other Sri Lankans by raising these critical issues with your Sri Lankan counterparts during the course of the Commonwealth Heads of State Meeting and in subsequent communications.

Amnesty International welcomes your upcoming meeting as an important opportunity to urge the government of Sri Lanka to address, in particular, these urgent concerns:

- Restore the rights of Sri Lanka's displaced people to liberty and freedom of movement, ensuring that those held in Sri Lankan displacement camps are there voluntarily;

- Ensure independent access to, and monitoring of camps housing internally displaced people to protect them against human rights abuse, and ensure that their humanitarian needs are being met;

- Institute a consultative process with displaced people that allows them to make informed and voluntary decisions about return and resettlement;

- End arbitrary detention; ensuring that all "screening" and detention practices associated with the displaced population are transparent, and are carried out in accordance with legal safeguards and international human rights standards.
Individuals affiliated with the LTTE arrested and accused of crimes, should be charged with legitimate offences, are tried and prosecuted in accordance with the law and without recourse to the death penalty;

- Ensure accountability for abuses to guarantee effective investigations, due process and swift prosecution of all perpetrators, including those enjoying political influence and high social status;

- End reliance on legislation intended for emergencies that curtail enjoyment of basic rights and freedoms and subvert due process.

To accomplish the needed reforms and improvements, an independent field monitoring presence is required with a strong mandate to conduct investigations and assist the national institutions to deliver justice in relation to grave violations of human rights. To ensure independence, such a body must be empowered by an international mandate, not a presidential mandate.

AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL INTERNATIONAL SECRETARIAT
Peter Benenson House, 1 Easton Street
London WC1X 0DW, United Kingdom
T: +44 (0)20 7413 5500 F: +44 (0)20 7956 1157
E: amnestyis@amnesty.org W: www.amnesty.org

19/11/2009

What "release" means for Tamil civilians

The following report has come from reliable and trusted sources, who, for reasons of their own safety and those of others, have asked to remain anonymous

Last week a group of us got very rare access to some of the resettled areas in Mannar and Mullaitheevu. I also visited the different zones in Manik Farm (used to be called Manikkam Pannai). As we get to Vavuniya something that strikes me was the number of vehicles (buses and lorries) moving about with IOM stickers. IOM is the only agency that is allowed to shuttle the IDPs from Manik Farm to either to Vavuniya Urban Council (UC) ground or to the resettlement areas or to yet another transit center for further screening.

We reached Vavuniya around 10.30 pm on Saturday. It was raining heavily and we witnessed IDPs, who have been brought from Manik Farm to be sent to their homes, taking shelter in Vavuniya UC ground (a transitional centre) under the stadium roof. My Vavuniya colleague got excited every time he saw either Ceylon transport services buses with IOM stickers or some bundled up stuff or gunny bags on the road side. He was anxious to introduce us to newly released IDPs. But it was not easy for us to talk to any of them since they were heavily guarded by the military. We could only talk to the ones who were released sometime back and are living with their relatives (host families) in Vavuniya. I met about 13 released IDPs mostly women and they have all had at least one family member either killed during the war (or before) or have disappeared in various screening process. Only two women were able to lodge complaints with ICRC. One woman had seen her sister (a former LTTE combatant) only once in Vavuniya Pambai Madhu rehabilitation centre and when she visited the centre a second time she was told that her sister had been transferred and the officer in charge there did not give her any details. Another women's husband was taken when she was in Zone 04 in Manik Farm and she is five months pregnant and has three kids. At the time of our meeting she wanted to move to her original home which is Vattakachchi (Killinochchi) but since she has come to live with her relations in Vavuniya on her own will, she fears that she will not be able to go back home through the government resettlement program that now considers only IDPs living in Manik Farm.


In Thunukkai (Mullaitheevu) one of the positive aspects I noticed was that people still have a standing house. Many returnees appreciated the fact that they have come back to their original homes from the barbed wire camp. However their freedom of movement is still in question. IDPs living in Manik Farm are given special ID cards and their movement, even after the return, has been carefully monitored. When we visited Thunukkai there were 1,200 families that have been resettled and they have been given Rs. 5,000 cash and dry ration for a few months. We were told that Rs. 20,000 will be deposited to their bank account by the divisional secretariat office. When we further probed the government assistance given to these returnees we were told that this relief of Rs. 25,000 comes through UNHCR rehabilitation program through resettlement ministry and the dry ration is provided by World Food Program through Divisional Secretariat. It is vital here to highlight that this Rs. 25,000 bench-mark of resettlement allowance was fixed in 2001 as the resettlement incentive by the North East Community Organization for Restoration Development (NECORD) program funded by Asian Development Bank to put up a temporary huts for returning IDPs when there was a little relaxation of war in the north. Despite inflation eight years later same amount was given to IDPs. From the information we gathered it is clear that all the direct assistances to the IDPs so far have come either from UN agencies or IOM. We were also told by Mannar NGOs that they are not allowed to do any resettlement and relief work until they get special approval from the Presidential Task Force. However we noticed that the local NGOs are undertaking relief work in Manik Farm.


IDPs we met in Zone 4, 6 and 7 said that they will not leave the camps unless they are taken to their original homes and that they have heard a lot about sufferings of people who have opted to go and live with their relatives. I have visited Manik Farm twice before but this time I felt people approached us boldly irrespective of being watched. I also noticed it was women who most often narrated their stories and they repeatedly told us that the only thing they want is to go back to their original homes and do not want to live in any transitional shelters. For them it is either Manik Farm or their homes. There were many complaints of inmates (mostly young men) being taken away for investigation and not returned back. A group of women wrote down the names of men who went missing and told us to check in the rehabilitation centres in Vavuniya. They also told us that there are 14 such centres in the vicinity. A local NGO representative told me not to take the list since we will get into trouble at the exit point of the camp. When I inquired about complaining the disappearance and arbitrary arrest cases to international agencies I was told that even ICRC did not have access to Manik Farm and the detention (rehabilitation) centres since July.


On our entry to Mannar we experienced a unique security system that I have not seen in the decade of my work in the north and east. All our national identity cards were taken at the Navy check point at the entrance of Mannar Island and a temporary pass (laminated ones!) were given to us. Apparently this is applicable only to non-resident of Mannar Island and the pass indicates the number of days one wants to stay in the Island. We were asked the address of our stay there and the reason for coming to the island. At the check point we witnessed people trying to explain reason for their stay in Mannar Island and the military not understanding it properly. We witnessed a woman who overstayed and was unable obtained her ID card back due to her pass being connected to the number of days that was given by her at the time of entry. A colleague of mine had to intervene and sort out the problem. The officers knew few Tamil words but when it came to things that are not so routine they could not understand the cases and the reasons. A woman was shouted at in Sinhala in front of us for not checking her pass promptly even though it was the officer's mistake of issuing her the wrong pass.


When we reached our contact in Mannar we were told none of the government officers would want to talk to us since there has been some recent incident that has created tension between the civil administrators and the military man in command. We were given a copy of a letter (dated 28th July 2009) sent by Mannar Government Agent (GA) to all the NGOs and INGOs including the UN. The summery of the letter is that any organization that is involved in resettlement and development work in the north has to get approval from the Presidential Task Force (PTF), any ongoing programs of development and resettlement should be stopped with immediate effect, proper approval should be sought and the approval copy has to be sent to the GA with the program plan and report. We were told that there were some instances where this rule was not strictly adhered and the competent authority (the military commander in charge of resettlement in Mannar) has warned the government officers of favoring the NGOs and INGOs. This came as a major issue when we met with many local NGO representatives and they looked absolutely puzzled and expressed their hopeless position of not being able to assist IDPs who are in desperate need of basic assistance. Even though they have the resource to help these returnees and IDPs who are living with relatives, local NGOs are barred from helping them. A pregnant woman walked into the church premises where we were having the meeting and told us "when we were in Manik Farm at least we got something to eat and now we are forced to starve here". She asked us how long we thought that their relations can feed them and why no one is helping them. We spoke informally to some south-based organizations and UN staff members who have obtained PTF approval to work in Mannar with IDPs. They told us that there is no statistics on IDPs who are living with host families therefore they don't know the whereabouts of these IDPs and are unable undertake any relief activities targeting them. Local NGOs and religious bodies have some resources and much needed expertise while the IDPs and host families are approaching them. However they are unable to undertake any visible or systematic steps to provide assistance yet to these neglected but released IDPs.


We also visited Musali (south of Mannar Main land) and Adamban (north of Mannr main land) where resettlements have been taking place. In Musali 651 Tamil families and over 700 Muslim families have returned. We visited the villages of Veppenkulum, Pariya Pottkurny, Musali village and Manakkulum, Bandaraweli, Kulangkulum mostly inhabited by Muslims who have returned mainly from Puttalum. We saw people putting up 16x12 square feet temporary huts using the 15 tin sheets, some logs and a building toolkit provided by IOM. They have to cut tree branches and use the logs to erect these huts and then Rs. 5000 and 5 bags of cement will be given to lay the floor. We saw bags of cement in front of few huts. These huts don't have any walls around and we noticed old cloths, palmyrah leaves and sarees being used to create some private space. Musali resettlement officially started in April 2009 and these IDPs have returned in July and August and they are still living in these open huts. Women complained that since they don't have a toilet or private place to bath they have to go to the jungle in the night despite the fear of being harmed by snakes and elephants. The only solid concrete structure one could see is the new military barracks built in between these villages. Children have to walk many miles to get to school and we did not see any hospital in the vicinity. We were told that they have to go to Murungan hospital which is an hour drive from the resettlement villages we visited. A good road has been constructed for about 6km but all of a sudden it stops. Then the road gets bad to worse and muddy at the end we give up our three-wheeler and walked. Apparently the road was constructed when the first model resettlement was done in Saveriyarpuram on 30th April 2009. Government official web site (http://www.priu.gov.lk/) claims 90% of the Musali population being resettled and Rs. 800 million being allocated.


On our way back to Mannar we saw a group of IDPs being screened in the Kallimodai camp (one of the first internment camp that was set up to detain fleeing Vanni Tamil youth from LTTE recruitment but other Vanni IDPs were also placed there by the authorities). We stopped at a nearby shop in Kallimodai and had an opportunity to talk to someone connected to the buses that were stationed opposite to Kallimodai camp. What we heard was appalling. We were told that there were two Tamil speaking persons in civilian cloths screening the people. We asked whether any of the IOM officers were present at the scene since the convoy of buses and lorries had IOM stickers. With a funny grin on his face the guy replied "No". Latter we saw a young woman refusing to get on to the bus and others consoling her and helping her to get in. The guy turned and told us "you know why IOM officers are not here!" When I narrated this story to a local NGO worker she said that IDPs have been screened at different points and they have got complaints that people are being abducted or detained at these points.


Adampan is yet another new resettlement area in the north of mainland Mannar. But unlike Thunukkai these places (south and north of mainland Mannar) have not been inhabited by people for a very long time and we hardly saw any inhabitable buildings. People were put in public buildings which too were surrounded by jungle and did not have proper roof. Few of them were in tents and others were taking shelter under the trees (during our four day stay in Mannar there was heavy rain in the evenings). There were landmine sign along the Uyilankulum Road that took us to Adampan and we saw de-miners from MAG and FSD in action. We also saw children walking to Karukkakulum School which has been renovated to a functional level. Once again we saw IOM tin-sheets and building toolkits and returnees trying to erect their 16x12 huts. We saw many single women with infants on their hand and few kids running around. They looked lost as to what was happening around them. There was one mother who was standing on top of these piled up tin-sheets and trying to tie a knot onto the near by tree branch with a long piece of cloth to make a cradle for her baby so that she can venture into the jungle to gather some materials for her hut. With many families not having their able men and women who have being either killed during the war (or before), or being forcibly taken and detained, return to these IDPs is not as pleasant as one would want to see. We also witnessed many families reduced to women, very young children and old people. Without any basic facilities (proper shelter, hospitals, transport, schools, drinking water, electricity and access to any form of livelihood activities) and basic right to freedom of movement, one has to wonder what it means to these IDPs to come back home.

06/11/2009

Overwhelming vote by US Congress tells Sri Lanka Govt "you must do better"

On 4th November, the US House of Representatives urged Sri Lanka's government to guarantee the safety and quick release of some 300,000 Tamils and other war-displaced people currently held in camps. 1

By an astonishing 421 "for" (and only 1 vote "against"), Congress approved a non-binding resolution that calls on the authorities in Colombo to help the populations of widely condemned, tightly guarded camps return to their homes.

The measure urges Sri Lanka's government to turn over the operation of the camps to civilians, and allow day-to-day access to the camps for the Red Cross, NGOs, and others who care for internally displaced people (IDPs).

It also calls on the government to allow an independent assessment of charges of large numbers of deaths, rampant disease, poor sanitation and poor health care in the camps and a plan to remedy the issues.

How this non-binding resolution will influence the Obama Administration is yet unclear but this, combined with the US State Dept report on gross human rights violations, is a major set back for the Government of Sri Lanka which is said to be retaining leading lobbyists to influence US lawmakers. 2

1. http://jdsrilanka.blogspot.com/2009/11/us-house-pressures-sri-lanka-on-camps.html
2. http://amlawdaily.typepad.com/amlawdaily/2009/11/patton-boggs-sri-lanka.html

05/11/2009

Catholic Archbishop becomes a lobbyist for the Govt of Sri Lanka?

Senior Catholic figures, including the Archbishop of Colombo, are in Europe to lobby in favour of Sri Lankan Government. Their joint goal is to retain GSP+.

The statement released below is a direct rebutal of the actions of these religious elites. Written by priests from several denominations and including several Sinhalese, their words provide the more authentic voice of what real Christians who are close to those who are suffering have to say.


Clergy Campaign for GSP+ in Sri Lanka

We the undersigned a group of clergymen from Sri Lanka of the Catholic, Anglican and Methodist Churches would like to present before you our views on the issue of the GSP+ and the involvement of the clergymen in the same.

It is reported that a group of Sri Lankan senior clergymen is touring the major cities in Europe in support of their government's request for the extension of GSP+ facility. Obviously the facility if denied could cause immense economic hardships to the people here.

The warning of withdrawal was given to the government on the ground of serious violations of human rights for which the government is directly responsible. It is well known that the respect for human rights is one of the essential aspects agreed upon between the two countries when the GSP+ contract was signed.

But, the occurrence of human rights violations every day in Sri Lanka is a fact. The most recent incident was the attack by a police constable, on some flimsy reason, on a mentally retarded youth, beaten by a pole while in the sea until he drowned.

The violations that have taken place among the Tamils in the North particularly among the 250000 IDPS are already well known. Incidents of human rights violations such as disappearances, abductions and death threats happen not only in the North but also in the South. There are series incidents of journalists being attacked or gunned down. Many have left the country for fear of death. Most of these crimes are either not investigated or are subjected to cursory probes from statutory authorities. Such violations could not occur in a country where good governance prevails.

Those working in the garment sector will be among those worst affected by withdrawal of GSP+ but even now those workers in the garment sector do not receive a living wage and they are made to do overtime against their wish. The living conditions of these workers are appalling.

Despite numerous labour issues affecting their freedom, the workers are not being allowed the right to organize unions.

Strangely the clergymen who intervene to defend the human rights record of the government, have done almost nothing to defend the rights of the victims who suffer from the failures of this present government.

Therefore it is responsibility of the Church both in Sri Lanka and outside to bring influence on the government of Sri Lanka to guarantee respect for human rights, protection and security to all people.

Sadly the Church in Sri Lanka has been quite silent on such issues of crucial importance in terms of security to human life, but it has rushed quickly to the aid of the government. It is difficult to understand what their agenda can be? We hope you'll take the opportunity of the visit of these faith leaders to Europe to ask them what they are doing to promote and implement Sri Lanka's obligations under the various international conventions on civil and political rights which the Government here only honours in the breach.

We call for honest and supportive trade between nations allowing us all to live a decent standard of living but this should not be at the expense of our human rights. GSP+ has brought us neither!

Thanking you,

Yours sincerely,

04/11/2009

The boomerang of violence affects all of Sri Lanka

One of the common features of deep-rooted conflicts - when even the middle class, media, police and others who should know better come to support the strategy of peace through greater and greater violence - is that it surely but steadily erodes the moral fibre of society.

So perhaps no one should be surprised by the story that a child, believed to be "mentally retarded" (he threw stones at passing vehicles) and with a Tamil name, was filmed and watched by many as he drowned.

http://www.groundviews.org/2009/10/31/we-the-spectator-state/

But what else can happen to a society that has supported, justified or just tried to blank out the reality of human rights abuse on a vast scale, war crimes, collective punishment and ethnic re-engineering? If the moral fibre stayed strong, this wouldnt be possible - so its erosion is a necessary pre-requisite.

And so violence outside the north and east becomes the norm. So Lasantha Wickramatunga was perfectly right to quote Martin Niemoller who warned the Germans of why Nazism was not only wrong but also a threat to all Germans.

But there is another way to see this type of event - namely to use the frame of "by-standers". It is a less moralistic frame and one that lends itself to being of practical help to those who want to stop the epidemic which is now sweeping Sri Lanka (but also other countries in lesser ways).

At the core of the bystander frame is the view that power rests with the majority who choose to sit on the fence and do nothing. These people assume some else is responsible. This is not unique to countries like Sri Lanka. Indeed there is a famous US murder in the 1960s where many neighbours watched the prolonged killing of an unarmed woman by an assailant who returned several times.

http://www.learntoquestion.com/resources/database/archives/000749.html

Sri Lanka has now become a bystander society. That is what should worry all its citizens, whatever ethnic group. The prospects for their children are not good and no amount of economic wealth can insulate them from such a dysfunctional world. Indeed, bystander mindsets also erodes business success.

Bystander behaviour is context dependent. NY today is less violent than it was in the '60s. Changing the context is what individuals and organisations must work on before Sri Lanka becomes a failed state from the bottom up as well as top down.

Who is best placed to challenge the epidemic of bystander behaviour? It is UN agencies, international NGOs, religious communities and international businesses. If they don't, they and their reputation will suffer the most.

The good news is that if they do chose to act, a new "tipping point" can be created.