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30/01/2010

Reporters san Frontiere urge Pres Rajapaksa to halt post-election crackdown on media

Reporters Without Borders, 29 January 2010 .

Two days after he was declared the winner of this week's election, Reporters Without Borders appealed today to President Mahinda Rajapaksa to put a stop to arrests and intimidation of journalists working for privately-owned and foreign media."This wave of post-election violence could cast a lasting stain on the start of President Rajapaksa's second term and bodes ill for the political climate during the coming years," said Reporters Without Borders, which highlighted an increase in election violence and censorship in countries such as Iran and Tunisia in its latest press freedom roundup.

Reporters Without Borders also reminds the president of the statements in support of press freedom that he has made on many occasions, including a meeting with a Reporters Without Borders representative in October 2008. "It is quite normal for journalists and privately-owned media to side with a candidate before and during a democratic election but it is unacceptable for them to be the victims of reprisals once the elections are over," the press freedom organisation added.

Police and unidentified groups have been targeting the media, especially media that supported the leading opposition candidate, Gen. Sarath Fonseka, ever since the announcement of the result, which some opposition sectors including Fonseka are disputing.

Sri Lanka's five main journalists' organisations have issued a joint statement condemning the "post-election media suppression."

The following serious press freedom violations have been reported:

1. Police today arrested Chandana Sirimalwatta , the editor of Lanka , a newspaper that supports the JVP opposition party, after he responded to a summons for questioning about an article published on 26 January. The president's brother, defence minister Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, threatened to burn the newspaper down a few days ago.

2. Plain-clothes men using a car with the license plate 32/ 84 32 placed seals yesterday evening over the entrance to the office of the Lankaenews website. Men searched the office earlier in the day. The website itself has been rendered inaccessible for the past few days by the state telecommunications company Sri Lanka Telecom.

3. In an interview for the Colombo-based Daily Mirror newspaper yesterday, Tamil government minister Douglas Devananda threatened the Jaffna-based newspaper Uthayan with unspecified reprisals.

4. Reporter Karin Wenger of the Swiss public radio station DRS is facing possible deportation on 1 February following the withdrawal of her press accreditation. "I had a visa and accreditation that were valid for the election," she told Reporters Without Borders. "I think this decision is linked to the questions I asked an official during a news conference after the results were announced." A presidential adviser referred to her insultingly as a "white face."

5. Ravi Abewikrama , a reporter with state radio broadcaster SLBC was attacked yesterday by one of the station's officials for criticising the biased election coverage imposed by the head of the station.

6. Soldiers took up position on 26 January around and inside the buildings that house two privately-owned TV stations, Sirasa and Swarnavahini , in Colombo.

7. Soldiers roughed up photographers working for foreign news agencies when they tried to attend a news conference given by Gen. Fonseka yesterday. One was forced to delete the photos on his camera's memory card. Soldiers also prevented journalists from working freely near a hotel being used by Fonseka the previous day.

Reporters Without Borders finally also urges President Rajapaksa to assign more police officers to the search for political reporter and cartoonist Prageeth Eknaligoda , who has been missing since 24 January. His family has had no news of him since that date.

Vincent Brossel Asia-Pacific Desk Reporters Without Borders 33 1 44 83 84 70 asia@rsf.org

English: http://www.rsf.org/spip.php?page=article&id_article=36251

En français :  http://www.rsf.org/Appel-au-president-Mahinda.html

28/01/2010

Sri Lanka: Time for Accountability/Human Rights Watch

UN Secretary-General Should Work for Independent International Investigation.
January 27, 2010

(New York) - United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and key international actors should take steps to bring accountability for Sri Lanka's grave human rights violations so that the thousands of victims will not continue to be denied justice during President Mahinda Rajapaksa's second term, Human Rights Watch said today.

The human rights situation in Sri Lanka deteriorated markedly during Rajapaksa's first term, and he failed to hold perpetrators accountable. During the final months of the 26-year-long war with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), which ended with the defeat of the LTTE in May 2009, both government and LTTE forces committed numerous serious violations of international humanitarian law, in which more than 7,000 civilians died in what the UN called a "bloodbath."

"The human rights situation in Sri Lanka plummeted to new depths on Rajapaksa's watch," said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. "The president deftly played a false conflict between rights and the fight against terrorism in his first term. But with the war over, the UN and other international actors should loudly insist on justice for victims."

Rajapaksa was elected to a second term on January 26, 2010, in a hotly contested election in which his former army chief, retired Gen. Sarath Fonseka, was the runner-up. Although election day was relatively peaceful, according to election monitors, the campaign was marked by hundreds of incidents of violence in which at least four people were killed.

During and after the war, Rajapaksa's government confined nearly 300,000 internally displaced persons to large detention camps, where they were deprived of their liberty and freedom of movement in violation of international law. The government has separated more than 11,000 LTTE suspects from their families at checkpoints and in the camps, denying them due process, such as right to legal counsel and the right to have a court review their detention.

Threats and attacks against outspoken and critical civil society figures increased, and the government used anti-terror laws and emergency regulations against peaceful critics, further diminishing the space for public debate. The hostile, sometimes deadly, media environment drove dozens of journalists into exile.

Enforced disappearances and abductions, a longstanding and widespread problem in Sri Lanka, sharply increased in 2006, when military operations between the government and the LTTE intensified following the collapse of the 2002 ceasefire. In 2006 and 2007, the UN Working Group on Enforced and Involuntary Disappearances recorded more new "disappearance" cases from Sri Lanka than from any other country in the world.

Politically motivated killings during Rajapaksa's first term also remain unresolved, including the extrajudicial executions of five students in Trincomalee in January 2006 and of 17 aid workers with Action Contre la Faim in Mutur in August 2006.

Rajapaksa took no effective steps to bring accountability for human rights violations, Human Rights Watch said. In July 2009, Rajapaksa disbanded, before it could complete its work, a presidential commission of inquiry created in 2006 to investigate 16 cases of grave human rights violations. In April 2008, the International Independent Group of Eminent Persons (IIGEP) had withdrawn from monitoring the commission 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 vast majority of the hundreds of new "disappearances" and politically motivated killings from the past few years have never been seriously investigated, and none of the perpetrators have been punished.

In May 2009 Rajapaksa promised Ban that the Sri Lankan government would investigate allegations of human rights and laws-of-war violations during the war's final months. No such investigation has taken place. Instead, the government has set up a team of lawyers to respond to allegations about rights violations in reports by the US State Department and the UN special envoy on extrajudicial executions.

Because of the government's failure to investigate serious human rights abuses, Human Rights Watch has long called for an independent international investigation into abuses by all parties to the conflict. Thus far, the secretary-general's office has stated that Ban was "considering" establishing a committee of experts to "assist the government" of Sri Lanka to look at evidence that its soldiers committed war crimes last year.

"The various investigatory bodies set up by President Rajapaksa have spent more energy trying to deflect serious inquiries into abuses than actually conducting them," Adams said. "Ban and key governments should not fall for the same trick again and instead should call for an independent international investigation. The ball is now in Ban's court."

http://www.hrw.org/en/news/2010/01/27/sri-lanka-president-s-new-term-time-accountability

27/01/2010

SRI LANKA: Urgent Appeal to the government of Sri Lanka and the United Nations to prevent the escalation of violence

A Statement by the Asian Human Rights Commission

The common candidate for several opposition parties, retired general Sarath Fonseka, has made an appeal to the President of Sri Lanka to ensure security for him through the Inspector General of Police. This has been published through several media channels. The retired general has also stated that there is a plot to arrest and assassinate him. There are also fears expressed by several sources that in the event of army officers forcibly trying to arrest persons inside the Cinnamon Lakeside Hotel where Fonseka is being held at the moment, there can be a conflict which may lead to serious injuries. Fears have also been expressed that a ploy may be used under the pretext of arresting him to create the impression of a conflict as a cause for possible injuries to him.

There are also many reports of the arrest of others who were associated with the general. Already there has been one bomb blast in which two persons are said to have been killed including an 80-year-old monk. Several others were injured. There are also rumours of possible disturbances which may escalate into violence.

The Asian Human Rights Commission is earnestly urging the President and the government of Sri Lanka to take all possible measures to ensure the safety for this candidate of the presidential election and all others that may be facing dangerous situations at the moment. At all times it is the duty of the government of the country to ensure the safety of all and particularly for those who have engaged in the lawful exercise of their public functions with the view to play their role in the political life of the country.

The AHRC also urges the Secretary General of the United Nations, the High Commissioner for Human Rights and all other human rights agencies of the United Nations to act before it is too late to ensure the safety of everyone and peace in the country. It is the duty of the international community to ensure that the further escalation of violence does not take place in this much troubled island which has suffered due to long years of civil war.

# # #

About AHRC: The Asian Human Rights Commission is a regional non-governmental organisation monitoring and lobbying human rights issues in Asia. The Hong Kong-based group was founded in 1984.


Posted on 2010-01-27

http://www.ahrchk.net/statements/mainfile.php/2010statements/2386

Peace & Justice for the Tamils

"Peace is not the absence of war", Martin Luther King told us: "it is the presence of justice". King's legacy transmitted itself directly into the mantra of African-American activists, outraged over the beating, by LA police officers, of the black motorist, Rodney King, in 1991: "No justice, no peace", they chanted. It's an important answer to a familiar question: what is peace? Of course, another, equally tricky question nestles within it, like matryoshka dolls: what is justice?

A Reverend Mpbambami told the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission a story about two friends, Peter and John, who fell out when Peter stole John's bicycle. Later, Peter said to John: "Let's talk about reconciliation". John's reply resonates still: "We cannot talk about reconciliation until my bicycle is back".

It so happens that providing bicycles is the aim of a significant 'people-to-people' aid effort, now underway here in Sydney, to bring relief to the Tamil people of Sri Lanka, where they are used for the simple but vital job of transporting fish to market; but in Peter and John's story, the machine is more important for its symbolic value, of course. It captures the sense of restitution that is a precursor to the willingness to live in peace.

In the Sri Lankan case, an unofficial court, set up in Dublin and conducted by the Milan-based Permanent People's Tribunal, has just delivered its verdict: the Sri Lanka Government is guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity. The tribunal also concluded that the charge of genocide warrants further investigations. Eye-witnesses included several escapees from the final week of the Sri Lankan offensive in the Mullaitivu 'No Fire Zone', at the end of the civil war in May last year, where more than 20,000 Tamil civilians were allegedly slaughtered by Sri Lanka Army (SLA) using heavy weapons on them.

This chimes not only with evidence provided by outsiders, but also allegations that have been exchanged between candidates in the Sri Lankan election, due to be held shortly. A top aide to President Mahinda Rajapakse disclosed recently that Colombo ordered a halt to the use of heavy weapons only in April, two months after a UN envoy was promised that such armaments would not be used.

Former foreign minister and key opposition leader Mangala Samaraweera seized on the disclosure by the aide, Lalith Weeratunga, who said the use of heavy weapons was eventually stopped as part of a political deal with the Indian government.
The disclosure "indicates that despite claims to the contrary, both to the public of this country and to (the) UN.. in February 2009, in fact the government had sanctioned the use of heavy weapons until April, when the Indian general election was in full swing," Samaraweera said in a statement.

Even the man in charge of last year's offensive, General Sareth Fonseka, who is now challenging Rajapaksa for the presidency, said the orders to execute surrendering Tamil Tiger leaders in the final days of the war had come directly from the defence secretary, Gotabaya Rajapaksa, the President's powerful brother. The general later claimed to have mis-spoken, but, in the words of Peter Bouckaert of Human Rights Watch, "it is difficult to imagine what he meant to say instead".

At the time, as HRW raised the alarm over the abuses being meted out to civilians, it was denounced, by the Sri Lankan government and its supporters overseas, as biased. Amnesty International was biased. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, the South African judge, Navi Pillay, had it all wrong. Foreign journalists were being duped. And so on.

At our public event called at the University of Sydney last August, to discuss Sri Lanka's ongoing human rights emergency, we played a report by the UK's Channel Four News, featuring a video smuggled out of the country in which stripped Tamil prisoners appear to be shot dead in cold blood by Sri Lankan soldiers. This footage, captured by a mobile phone, was labelled a fake, with government supporters producing elaborate calculations purportedly showing that the gap between the audio of gunshots, and them apparently hitting the prisoners, did not correspond with the laws of physics.

Philip Alston, the UN Special Rapporteur on extra-judicial killings, made the obvious point: there is no feasible way to simulate the response of the body to the impact of a bullet, shown clearly in the footage. It must be genuine. It's a welcome and, it must be said, overdue sign of resolve from the UN. The valuable Inner City Press revealed recently that Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon had taken no action, in response to the unfolding evidence of war crimes, since last September, when he accepted Sri Lankan assurances that they would be the subject of a full inquiry. Like the earlier assurance that heavy weapons would no longer be used, that has turned out to be predictably worthless.

So there are growing calls for specific allegations against members of the Sri Lankan government to be properly investigated, with a view to preferring charges in a court that actually has power of action, not merely of iteration; and that is, to be sure, one component of justice. But it is not the only one.

The eminent peace researcher and field worker, John Paul Lederach, defines justice as: "the pursuit of restoration, of rectifying wrongs, of creating right relationships based on equity and fairness. Pursuing justice involves advocacy for those harmed, for open acknowledgement of the wrongs committed, and for making things right". That is not to say that justice must entail punishment, since that seldom results in restitution or reconciliation. The challenge, according to Lederach, is "to pursue justice in ways that respect people, and (at the same time) to achieve restoration of relationships based on recognizing and amending injustices".

The crucial point is that new sets of arrangements, new structures and new processes must be created to make things right, if people who have suffered injustice are to be able to feel a decisive break with the past. What Lederach calls a "justice gap" arises when people see no prospect of bringing about changes to process and structure other than by attempting the violent overthrow of the existing ones. If violence is to be avoided, then effective non-violent means must be contrived, to accomplish the same goals, or something reasonably close to them. A similar sense is captured in the preamble to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, with its call on "every individual and every organ of society" to uphold them, lest people "be compelled to have recourse, as a last resort, to rebellion against tyranny and oppression".

It's political justice, then, that the Tamils of Sri Lanka really need: an opportunity to create new structures and processes of their own, as the only means to safeguard their human rights. "Tyranny and oppression" are an accurate description of their treatment down the years: unless internationals help to them to attain political means of achieving justice, they will be partly to blame for any renewed upsurge of "rebellion".

In this respect, Australia, in particular, must now shift its stance, and start doing its bit. The European Union is withholding trade concessions - vital to Sri Lanka's textiles industry - over human rights abuses, and the International Monetary Fund delayed part of a major loans package. The IMF does not formally build in human rights conditionality but, at the meeting of its Executive Board to approve the package, the US and UK took the unusual step of announcing that they had abstained in protest. Australia, of course, voted in favour. The initial call for an independent, international investigation into war crimes allegations was originally made by Judge Pillay last May: unlike many other countries, Australia has never endorsed it.

Tamil representatives were told last year by officials in the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade that Australia's policy was for a unitary Sri Lanka: an unhelpful attempt to second-guess the outcome of any eventual negotiations over the Tamils' right to self-determination. This, indeed, is typical of the lopsidedness in the international response to the conflict over recent years, accentuated by applying the orthodoxy of the so-called 'war on terrorism': an approach that the Sri Lankans then instrumentalised to justify any and all depredations in pursuit of their military victory over the Tamil Tiger rebels.

Perhaps the best thing to do with any investigation into war crimes allegations is to produce criminal charges against a few 'symbolic' individuals, which can then be treated as a commodity 'tradeable' for real moves towards political justice. This principle applied in South Africa: those accused of complicity in abduction, torture and even murder could avoid arraignment if they were prepared to come to the TRC, show contrition and supply information as to the fate of the many who - as in Sri Lanka - simply 'disappeared'. It worked, up to a point at least, because it was in the context of a decisive shift in political structures and processes.

More recently, the International Crisis Group recommended holding indictments from the International Criminal Court over the heads of members of the Sudanese government, so the only way they could get out from under them was to agree a meaningful political settlement for Darfur. So it's the kind of 'linkage' that is not unprecedented in such matters.

In a crowning irony, the Tamils have turned out to be the crucial 'swing' constituency in the presidential election, with rival candidates vying to promise them a better deal in Sri Lanka's existing political system. At the same time, there is no satisfactory access for internationals to political detainees - the thousands of alleged rebels who are being held as prisoners of war - and an ongoing clampdown on free expression that has seen journalists and NGO workers intimidated, abducted, tortured and, in some cases, killed.

The progress that has come about - freeing hundreds of thousands of Tamils illegally detained, for months after the end of the war, in squalid internment camps - is attributable to international pressure. It's time for Australia to join in the effort to exert it. Justice demands nothing less.
_____________________

Jake Lynch is Associate Professor and Director of the Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies at the University of Sydney, and co-convener of its Sri Lanka Human Rights Project. Jake Lynch is Adviser to the Sri Lanka Campaign for Peace & Justice.

http://www.transcend.org/tms/article_detail.php?article_id=2512

26/01/2010

"All-out propaganda and intimidation in run-up to presidential election" says Reporters Without Borders

Tension surrounds today's presidential election, especially for the press, which has had to face many obstacles. Use of the state media to support President Mahinda Rajapaksa's campaign for another term has been accompanied by harassment and violence against privately-owned opposition media, culminating in the 24 January abduction of political reporter Prageeth Eknaligoda. Reporters Without Borders appeals to both sides to make every effort to avoid an Iran-style scenario in which the challenging of a questionable election result leads to a cycle of demonstrations and repression in which the press would clearly be one of the victims.

Monitoring of state TV stations Rupavahini and ITN by Reporters Without Borders shows they have been abused by the president and his aides to a rarely-seen degree to promote his campaign.

More than 96.7 per cent of the 1,539 minutes (about 25 hours) of news programmes monitored on these two stations was given over to the activities of the incumbent and his followers. Less than 3.3 per cent was accorded to the opposition, including Gen. Sarath Fonseka, the leading opposition candidate. The two stations were monitored for the seven days ending 24 January.

Rupavahini and ITN were mobilised during this period - and even after the official end of the campaign - with the aim of eclipsing Gen. Fonseka's campaign. On 24 January, for example, two days before the poll, both stations carried a two-hour live broadcast of a religious ceremony in which President Rajapaksa was participating.

Although a crucial day, the opposition got no air-time at all on 24 January, while the president and his supporters got a total of 47 minutes and 45 seconds on Rupavahini and 101 minutes and 45 seconds on ITN. During ITN's 6 p.m. Tamil-language news programme, for example, the president and his political allies, especially his Tamil allies, got 13 minutes and 10 seconds while the opposition, which is backed by the Tamil National Alliance, was totally ignored.

ITN's Sinahalese-language news programme at 7 p.m. accorded 4 minutes and 50 seconds to the president and 6 minutes and 10 seconds to his government while completing ignoring the 20 other candidates.

"Such an imbalance in the coverage of the candidates seriously undermines the democratic credibility of this presidential election, the first since the end of the civil war," Reporters Without Borders said. "It was hoped the government would do better than this, but it failed to resist the temptation of exploiting the state media. We urge the international community, especially the electoral observation missions, to clearly denounce these abuses in their reports."

Although security concerns may be valid, Reporters Without Borders is astonished that the government has declared the Rupavahini and Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation buildings "high security areas" on election day and the day after. Gen. Devapriya Abeysinghe, SLBC's associated director, has obtained full government powers and has requisitioned a limited number of employees for the two days.

Reporters Without Borders has learned of several incidents in addition to journalist Prageeth Eknaligoda's abduction (http://www.rsf.org/spip.php?page=article&id_article=36196). The Criminal Investigation Department, for example, asked for warrants to search the headquarters of Wijeya Newspapers, publishing the Daily Mirror, on the grounds that the company had printed "defamatory" posters and other material. A Colombo court rejected the request yesterday.

A bus carrying journalists to cover an event in which Gen. Fonseka was participating on 24 January was blocked for several hours by military police at Kiribathgoda (near Colombo). The police took down their names and addresses.

The Colombo home of Tiran Alles, a leading opposition member and editor of the now-closed Sinhalese-language weekly Mawbima, was bombed on 22 January. In June 2007, after being accused by President Rajapaksa and his brother, defence minister Gotabaya Rajapaksa, of being a Tamil Tiger spokesman, Alles was detained for two weeks. Mawbima, which at the time was one of the country's few critical publications, was forced to close due to economic pressure.

Finally, in the northern city of Jaffna, a newspaper editor speaking on condition of anonymity told Reporters Without Borders that the pressure has increased there, especially from pro-Rajapaksa groups. Government minister Dougla Devananda told a political meeting that all Jaffna was under his control "except Uthayan," referring to a Tamil newspaper that has repeatedly been the target of violence in the past. Uthayan's police protection was withdrawn for several hours on 22 January for unexplained reasons.

Five people have been killed in the course of more than 300 serious incidents of electoral violence in Sri Lanka since December.

Article in English: http://www.rsf.org/All-out-propaganda-and.html
Article in French: http://www.rsf.org/Propagande-a-outrance-et.html

Vincent Brossel
Asia-Pacific Desk
Reporters Without Borders
33 1 44 83 84 70
asia@rsf.org

An Appeal to the Two Key Candidates Contesting the Presidential Elections by the Friday Forum

18th January 2010.

Dear President Mahinda Rajapaksa, Dear General Sarath Fonseka,
An Appeal to the Two Key Candidates Contesting the Presidential Elections.

We write this letter on behalf of the Friday Forum, which is an informal gathering of concerned citizens who have voluntarily come together to deliberate and make representations on vital issues of national concern. The Forum includes a considerable number of elder citizens who have served the country with distinction in various capacities.

This letter is addressed to you both, the two major candidates contesting the first national election as the country emerges from a devastating war. Having carefully examined your manifestos, we write to appeal to you to demonstrate vision and leadership to address the most pressing issue in the sixty-odd years of our country's independent history. While you both contributed to winning the recent war, you should be aware of the dangers of losing the peace. We note with distress a major lacuna in both manifestos. Neither manifesto adequately addresses the basic rights of many communities living in Sri Lanka, and particularly the Tamils, Muslims and Up-Country Tamils and other minorities. Their long standing grievances and aspirations are not given due attention. Nor have you articulated a credible process of restructuring our state and writing our constitution to ultimately arrive at a plural and cohesive society, where all our people feel they can with equality and justice participate in national life.

The failure to address this issue of great historical and national importance does not bode well for the future of our country. We may be condemned to the scourge of community tensions and a divided society for many more years to come unless sincere and meaningful political guarantees are made at this moment. We, therefore, urge you even at this late hour to present the contours of such political proposals. We trust that you both have given extensive consideration to this most pressing issue facing the country.

In our opinion, the various debates and the numerous proposals on aspects of our constitution, our state and our society are sufficiently rich for you to put forward an informed set of political proposals for public consideration. We must not lose this historic opportunity.

We wish to emphasise that this is no mere plea on behalf of minority groups. Those of us of the majority community, for the sake of our own sense of self respect and self worth, most earnestly need and desire to live in a society based on justice and equity for all Sri Lankans.

Please reflect on this appeal made by a non-partisan group of concerned citizens on this issue of national concern.
Yours sincerely,

Jayantha Dhanapala
On behalf of the Group of Concerned Citizens
Mr. Jayantha Dhanapala, Rev Prof. Bellanwila Wimalaratne Thero, Archbishop Oswald Gomis, Bishop de Chickera, Rev. Dr. Leopold Ratnasekera, Ms. Jezima Ismail, Professor Savithri Goonasekera, Mr. Justice Vigneswaran, Mr. Neelakandan K, Mr. Godfrey Gunatilleke, Prof. W D Lakshman, Mr. Ranjit Fernando, Ms. Sithie Tiruchelvam, Mr. J.C. Weliamuna, Dr.A.C.Visvalingam, Ms Manouri Muthetuwegama, Mr. Namel Weeramuni, Prof.Gananath Obeysekere, Prof.Arjuna Aluwihara, Dr. Anura Ekanayake, Mr. Mahen Dayananda, Dr. Deepika Udagama, Dr Jayampathy Wickramaratne, Mr. Suresh de Mel, Mr. Prashan de Viser, Mr. Ahilan Kadirgamar, Dr. Ms. N. Selvy Thiruchandran, Mr. R. Surendran PC, C. Jayaratne.

22/01/2010

Why the media prefer natural disasters

Andrew Stroehlein,Communications Director for the International Crisis Group, the conflict resolution organisation, where he promotes responsible coverage of current and potential conflicts and helps draw attention to forgotten wars around the world.

"If only Sri Lanka last year could have got a tenth of the media attention Haiti's now getting", lamented my friend who was working in Colombo at the time, "the public pressure might have saved so many lives." While no one would ever argue with the amount of press Haiti is deservedly receiving right now, it's easy to see his point. The international media respond very differently to the victims of natural disasters and the victims of wars.

Last year's brutal end to the long-running conflict in Sri Lanka produced tens of thousands of innocent dead and injured in its final few months, as government forces shelled areas with trapped civilians, and Tamil Tiger rebels prevented them from fleeing. Hundreds of thousands of survivors were then put into appalling government-run internment camps, from which they were not allowed to leave. This all garnered significant media attention at the very end of the fighting, but it never at any point had anything near the scale of media interest Haiti's earthquake is getting today.

And it's not just the Sri Lankan war that has been under-reported. The numbers out of Somalia right now are hugely disturbing: UNHCR says 63,000 people have been displaced by fighting since the start of this year. That's 3,000 per day on top of the 1.5 million already displaced and the half million living as refugees as a result of the conflict.

While you'll find that information if you look for it, the victims of Somalia's conflict will never get the attention Haiti's victims are now rightfully receiving. Nor have the victims of other forgotten wars. In recent years, think DR Congo, Southern Thailand, or Nepal just to name three others.

Of course, there are some mundane reasons for Haiti getting more attention than those other crises. An earthquake happens all at once, so the number of victims is immediately and shockingly huge. Haiti is close to the US and its media machine, which though massive is often unwilling to take the time or spend the money to go very far abroad, particularly as they've been shedding foreign correspondents right and left, with serious consequences for news coverage and policy making. And, of course, journalists can actually work in Haiti right now, whereas government restrictions and the lack of security on the ground have made some war zones, like Sri Lanka and Somalia, far less easy to access.

But I think there's another reason that goes deeper than this: natural disasters get treated very differently from wars because their victims are seen differently, particularly by newspaper editors and other mass media gatekeepers who are making the decisions about what subjects to cover. The victims of earthquakes, hurricanes and tsunamis are perceived as 100% blameless, while the victims of wars do not enjoy such absolute status. For natural disasters, the attitude is simply, "this is tragic for these people", but with war, the feeling is clearly "this is tragic for these people but..."

And the "buts" are several...

"But it's political...", for example. "Political", or sometimes "complicated", means we might get angry letters from readers or we risk alienating part of our viewership if we show the victims of this conflict. The striving for editorial balance and trying to avoid being seen to take sides -- even the victims' side -- leads to the absurd notion that murderers and the murdered somehow deserve equal time.

"But these people have had a hand in their own fate", is another excuse. The idea is that the victims of war have to some degree brought this disaster upon themselves -- by electing or not ousting nasty leaders that get them into such a mess, or by allowing themselves to fall for the propaganda of the warmongers, or by their own "ancient ethnic hatreds". As if anything the average person might have done or thought would justify the complete savagery they experience in war...

In blaming war's victims in this way, are we really any different from the lunatics like Pat Robertson who blame Haitians for their own fate today? Every sensible person finds it easy to loathe the US television preacher's comment that Haiti's people made a pact with the devil and therefore are reaping what they sowed in this earthquake. The mainstream media are rightly full of scorn for such backward, hateful statements.

But when it comes to war's victims, are we much better? Our willingness to blame those who are suffering in violent conflicts and our acceptance of the fact that they get less media attention would seem to suggest not.


Journalist Andrew Stroehlein is Communications Director for the International Crisis Group, the conflict resolution organisation, where he promotes responsible coverage of current and potential conflicts and helps draw attention to forgotten wars around the world.This article was originally written for his personal blog at Reuters AlertNet: www.coveringcrisis.com

20/01/2010

Sri Lanka: Time for a New Start; A Human Rights Agenda for Sri Lanka's Presidential Candidates

AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL, PRESS RELEASE,18 January 2010

Amnesty International calls on all candidates standing in Sri Lanka's Presidential elections on January 26th to end widespread human rights violations and the culture of impunity that continues to plague the country.

On Monday, the organization issued a 10-point Human Rights Agenda for all candidates.

"Candidates should commit to restoring respect for basic rights, like life and liberty, ending arbitrary arrests and detention, enforced disappearances and torture, and to restoring respect for freedom of expression", said Yolanda Foster, Amnesty International's Sri Lanka specialist. "In the longer run, what's needed is to rebuild Sri Lanka's institutions so that they can protect efficiently and without discrimination. That’s the only way to restore public faith in the justice system."

More than 20 candidates are standing in the elections with President Mahinda Rajapaksa, and his former Army Commander and Chief of Defence Staff, retired General Sarath Fonseka the main contenders. Both have taken credit for the military victory over the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in May, while at the same time attempting to evade blame for grave violations of human rights and humanitarian law.

Thousands of people died in the last phase of the war when government forces fired artillery into areas densely populated with civilians. The LTTE used civilians as human shields, opened fire on and killed civilians who attempted to escape. Survivors were forcibly confined for months to displacement camps guarded by the Sri Lankan military. The government relaxed restrictions on freedom of movement in December, but in the camps or outside, these civilians need assistance and protection.

"As the Sri Lankan people contend with the most recent abuses committed by both sides of the recent conflict, the reality is that they have been haunted by injustice and impunity for years", said Yolanda Foster. "Accounting for the conduct of combatants and their superiors during the fighting is crucial, but accounting for the past is only part of the challenge. This election could be an opportunity to improve the human rights of millions of people, but this can only happen if the authorities make a real commitment to respect rights and enact reforms".

"Immediate steps can be taken to improve human rights protection. The government must repeal emergency laws like the Prevention of Terrorism Act. Journalists like J.S Tissanaiyagam have been wrongly imprisoned under these regulations while hundreds of prisoners held without charge or trial are simply forgotten".

More than 11,000 people are currently held without charge by the army in school buildings and other ad hoc detention camps in northern Sri Lanka. The army suspects they are LTTE members who fled the conflict zone along with civilians; there are hundreds of other suspected LTTE members detained without charge in jails and lock-ups elsewhere in the country.

The authorities must stop using irregular places of detention and must end the dangerous practice of incommunicado detention, which increases the likelihood of torture and enforced disappearances, of which Amnesty International has received reports.

"There is a long history of enforced disappearances and torture is widespread across Sri Lanka, especially in the north and east of the country and in the capital Colombo. Amnesty International calls on candidates to commit to ending these practices and to bring national laws into accordance with international standards," said Yolanda Foster.
Amnesty International urged all candidates to commit to ending grave violations against people expressing dissenting views, including human rights activists, lawyers and journalists.

"Sri Lanka is one of the most dangerous places in the world for journalists to work with 15 journalists being killed since 2004, and many others going into hiding and fearing for their lives. Lawyers and human rights activists have been threatened and attacked. People have lost faith in the justice system and there has been a chilling effect on freedom of expression and association in the country" said Yolanda Foster.

"People in Sri Lanka are tired of the rule of the gun and long for the rule of law. Sri Lanka needs to make a fresh start and end impunity for violations of human rights and humanitarian law. It's time for the government to turn their promises into real action and act now on human rights abuses," said Yolanda Foster.

Background
About 100,000 people who fled the northern war zone remain in camps, dependent on the government for shelter and relief. Many more are in the early stages of attempted return or resettlement and continue to require protection and humanitarian assistance. Ensuring protection, assistance and respect for the rights of Sri Lanka's displaced and newly resettled survivors of war remains an urgent priority.

Journalists and human rights defenders have been denied access to camps housing displaced persons and have been prevented from monitoring and reporting on conditions faced by survivors and documenting their experiences in the war zone.

Displaced people must have the right to freedom of movement, liberty and security of person, the right to health, education and to adequate standards of living.

SRI LANKA: Electoral violence and the sovereignty of the people

An Article by the Asian Human Rights Commission, Basil Fernando, January 19, 2010.

Four people have now been killed due to election violence during this presidential campaign. This campaign is for electing the highest political officer in the nation. The very fact that the election for the highest political officer for the nation has become one beset with continuous violence and killings itself is perhaps a crystal clear indication of the level of absurdity to which the political system of Sri Lanka has fallen.

Ever since the executive presidential system was introduced elections have been marked by intense violence. Somehow winning the election has become the goal of the contest which in the real sense is not a contest at all. To get to the office that has no limits to its power the path has been set that also has no limits at all in terms of violence or anything else recognised within a civil society.

What is this election for and what kind of political office that requires this kind of violence are questions that any rational person should ask themselves. However, there seems to be no room for any kind of rational discourse in the ethos of this election.

In a democracy an election is the expression of the political will of the people. The Sri Lankan Constitution is based on the idea of the sovereignty of the people. Therefore it would have been quite normal to expect that it is the sovereign people that become visible during the period of an election. However, it is not the sovereignty of the people that is seen in the streets of Sri Lanka during an election campaign. It is actions that are done to intimidate the people and actions that are done to keep the people at home when some others decide the fate of an election that is made visible during this time.

What then is this very notion of the sovereignty of the people? Some kind of a mockery is written into the Constitution itself where a sovereign people are made to elect, in an atmosphere of violence and intimidation, another sovereign that has no limits to its power. A monstrosity that is borne of a violent election will in the course of time devour all the rights and resources of the people. This, in Sri Lanka, is called the sovereignty of the people.

The notion of the sovereignty of the people was born in struggles of the people against the sovereigns who held all power and who controlled all wealth to the detriment of the people. The people rose in revolt and took the power in their hands and developed the ways of ruling where a sovereign, in the way it was understood in the past, would not have existed anymore.

The new sovereignty which called itself the sovereignty of the people meant that all persons are subjected to the same rules and laws. No one is above these rules and laws. Thus, the sovereignty of the people, in essence, meant the supremacy of the law and the rule of law. The sovereignty of the people meant the absence of the sovereignty of the monarchs and the lords.

However, in Sri Lanka the sovereignty of the people has come to mean the election of an executive president who is above the law and who could control the people without any constitutional restraints, without the restraint of the parliament, without the restraints of the judiciary and without the restraint of the popular will. The present presidential election reflects the very absurdity on which the entire system of politics is based on in Sri Lanka.

The sovereignty of the people means that the political will of the people will prevail on all issues relating to their society and their lives. That means that the popular will must prevail over the manner in which the Nation’s resources are used and managed. After all, the popular will has very little meaning if the resources of the nation, which in modern circumstances mean the financial and material resources which belong to the nation, if such resources are not under the control of the people. The Sri Lankan political system does not give any room for the popular will of the people to prevail on the issue of the management of the resources of the nation.

In the management of the resources of the nation for the benefit of the people some of the most primary requirements would be that the people’s right to food, health and education are given priority. Beggars cannot claim themselves to be sovereigns. The people who cannot make claims for proper medical care cannot claim themselves to be sovereigns. The people who do not have even a say in the way in which the basic rules relating to arrest, detention and the manner in which trials are conducted cannot claim themselves to be sovereign.

In Sri Lanka today, the people do not have any of these rights. Somebody who is called the Executive President holds sovereignty over all these matters. The president has the privilege of deciding whether the people should die of dengue fever or by swine flu. The president also decides through his minions whether a person should remain without bail and for how long.

The president also decides who should be killed by extrajudicial means. The president can practically deny the right of fair trial to people by delaying the entire process, though denial of resources for the proper judicial process and by denying any other facility such for example as even the right of the lawyers to function in an independent fashion. Such is the way the sovereignty of the people is exercised in the country.

Under these circumstances it is no surprise that more people are being killed in the process of the election of a sovereign. And that more inconvenience is caused to the people in order to force their votes out of their hands so that the sovereign elects himself by his own means of power rather than by popular will.

About AHRC: The Asian Human Rights Commission is a regional non-governmental organisation monitoring and lobbying human rights issues in Asia. The Hong Kong-based group was founded in 1984.

19/01/2010

SRI LANKA: The crisis of the Electoral Commission

An Article by the Asian Human Rights Commission, Basil Fernando, January 16, 2010.

The groups engaged in monitoring the election have reported flagrant violations of election laws, the illegal use of state assets and the use of violence. They have noted that in Sri Lanka today the collapse of the electoral system on an unprecedented scale is taking place. The election commissioner's own comments about the absence of cooperation between him and the government have also been very widely reported.

None of these observations would come as a surprise to anyone who has been an observer of the constitutional process in Sri Lanka. The collapse of public institutions has taken place over a long period of time and the debate on the 17th amendment to the constitution is merely a reflection of the extent of this collapse. The source of the collapse is the very nature of the constitutional arrangement in the 1978 Constitution, which has placed all power in the hands of a single person who holds the office of the Executive President.

The collapse of all public institutions, including the electoral process, is the necessary result of the political process initiated through the introduction of the executive presidential system. The existence of the executive presidential system in Sri Lanka and any form of democratic government, or even a rational government, are incompatible.

In the years to come, when the actual impact of the 1978 constitution is reviewed in a reasonable manner it will become obvious that what is usually spoken of as the known history of Sri Lanka, in recent decades, needs to be re-written.

The very nature of the conflict with the minorities, which is now easily spoken of as a conflict with the LTTE and a matter of dealing with terrorism, would reveal itself as rather a process of disintegration of the state through the operation of the executive presidential system which necessitated a situation of unrest within society. This was achieved both in the south, as well as in the north and east, by various conflicts, which prevailed. The escalation of some local conflicts into intense violence and into huge military conflicts was in fact a process which may not have taken place, if not for the existent of the executive presidential system.

In understanding violence in Sri Lanka as well as the resulting anarchy that is today experienced, the role played by the first Executive President of Sri Lanka, mostly for his own survival, needs to be more carefully and minutely documented than has been done up until now.

Knowing very well that the absolute power that he took upon himself would be challenged by many forces that were within Sri Lankan society, President Jayewardene diverted what may have become political challenges to his rule into all kinds of violence throughout the country by igniting these conflicts and pushing them to a point of no return from a democratic point of view. When one conflict was not sufficient he then ignited more and each of these conflicts, in their own terms, had dialectics of their own. Thus the dialectics of violence, initiated by the head of the state itself, penetrated into all corners of the country until the discourse became one of arms and violence.

With that igniting of conflicts and the use of the propaganda machinery by the state, the interpretation of virtually every problem within Sri Lanka took a different turn to what the real problems were. The need to re-interpret all these events in a more rational manner is now felt more than ever if the democratic process is to regain root In Sri Lanka.

Re-establishment of the authority of public institutions, including that of the election commissioner, and the regaining of the constitutional process within a system that effectively recognizes the separation of powers principles, would require understanding of the recent problems in a different manner.

The loss of the separation of powers within Sri Lanka is the root cause of the instability of public institutions in Sri Lanka, including that of the election commissioner. This loss is mostly felt in the area of the independence of the judiciary. The judiciary today is a destabilized institution which has been undermined severely from every point of view by many kinds of politicizations that have taken place in Sri Lanka.

Thus, today the country is facing critical times in every area. However, none of these problems could be resolved without dealing with the issue of the executive presidential system, which needs to be displaced as the first step towards the beginning of even the possibility of stability within the country. That process of re-establishment will also require re-interpretation of recent history from that same point of view.

http://www.ahrchk.net/statements/mainfile.php/2009statements/2371/

About AHRC: The Asian Human Rights Commission is a regional non-governmental organisation monitoring and lobbying human rights issues in Asia. The Hong Kong-based group was founded in 1984.

15/01/2010

J.S Tissainayagam- Statement from the Sri Lanka Campaign for Peace & Justice

The Sri Lanka Campaign for Peace and Justice welcomes the awarding of bail to Tamil journalist J.S Tissainayagam, who has been serving a 20 year gaol term for writing articles critical of the government. Bail means that Mr Tissainayagam can rejoin his family, access appropriate medical care and prepare for his appeal.

Whilst the granting of bail is a positive step, the very sentencing of Mr Tissainayagam was and remains a gross miscarriage of justice which reflects the extent to which freedom of speech and dissent has become politicised in Sri Lanka . The Campaign therefore joins Amnesty International in calling for the quashing of the charges against him.

Mr Tissainayagam's sentence was the harshest given to a Sri Lankan journalist in recent years under the draconian Prevention of Terrorism Act. He was found guilty of "causing communal disharmony" - widely seen as a politically motivated charge - and was acknowledged by US President Barack Obama as an "emblematic example" of reporters jailed for their work.

As an "emblem" therefore, the case of Mr Tissainayagam is a reflection of the perilous state of human rights and civil liberties in Sri Lanka.

. For media workers like Mr Tissainayagam, in the past four years there have been at least 34 cases of murder and even more instances of abduction and assaults, with much of the violence state-sponsored. An investigation by the International Press Freedom Mission found that "in all the cases of attacks against the media and assassinations of reporters there are few serious investigations by the authorities and none of the killers are ever brought to trial," The minimal progress made by investigators upon the first anniversary of the assassination of prominent editor Lasantha Wickramatunge would appear to bear out this fact.

. For civil society, Sri Lanka is still a country in which thousands of its Tamil citizens are indefinitely incarcerated by the military. Many of the civilians purportedly 'released' from internment camps are now housed in army-run 'transit-centres' and prevented from returning to their homes. Widespread disappearances and abductions still keep the local population in a state of fear, while the continuing state of emergency places the security forces above the rule of law.

. The upcoming elections also demonstrate the way in which corruption, thuggery and politically-motivated violence have permeated all levels of Sri Lankan society. The Centre for Monitoring Election Violence has reported 316 Incidents of election-related violence from 23 November to January 10 alone.

Such an environment does not bode well for Sri Lanka's transition from heavy militarisation to liberal democratic governance. Nor does it offer much hope that the political rights of the Tamil minority will be addressed, which is crucial if Sri Lanka is to progress after decades of war and civil strife. It is therefore essential that all actors involved in Sri Lanka-related advocacy - NGOs, donors, and the international community at large - continue to forcefully engage for reform and progress around human rights. Mr. Tissainayagam's release was achieved only by a concerted and coordinated effort.

Only similar efforts, but on a larger scale, will lead to genuine change in Sri Lanka.

11/01/2010

Sri Lanka: A Bitter Peace

Asia Briefing N'99.


Since the decisive military victory over the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), Sri Lanka has made little progress in reconstructing its battered democratic institutions or establishing conditions for a stable peace. Eight months later, the post-war policies of President Mahinda Rajapaksa have deepened rather than resolved the grievances that generated and sustained LTTE militancy. While the LTTE's defeat and the end of its control over Tamil political life are historic and welcome changes, the victory over Tamil militancy will remain fragile unless Sinhalese-dominated political parties make strong moves towards a more inclusive and democratic state. The emergence of retired General Sarath Fonseka to challenge Rajapaksa in the 26 January presidential election has opened new space to challenge repressive government policies. But neither has offered credible proposals for political reforms that would address the marginalisation of Tamils and other minorities. Whoever wins, donor governments and international institutions should use their development assistance to support reforms designed to protect the democratic rights of all of Sri Lanka's citizens and ethnic communities.

The government's internment of more than a quarter million Tamils displaced from the Northern Province - some for more than six months - was further humiliation for a population brutalised by months of ferocious fighting. The return by the end of 2009 of most of the displaced to their home districts, and the increased freedom of movement for the nearly 100,000 still in military-run camps, are important steps forward. However, the resettlement process has failed to meet international standards for safe and dignified returns. There has been little or no consultation with the displaced and no independent monitoring; many returns have been to areas not cleared of mines and unexploded ordnance; inadequate financial resources have been provided for those returning home; and the military continues to control people's movements. These and other concerns also apply to the estimated 80,000 Muslims forcibly expelled from the north by the LTTE in 1990, some of whom have begun to return to their homes.

The UN and donor governments should insist more strongly that all resettlement is done according to established guiding principles. Donors should end assistance to any camps where full freedom of movement is not allowed and condition additional aid on an effective monitoring role for UN agencies and NGO partners. India, Japan, Western donors, the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank should tie additional development assistance to an inclusive and consultative planning process for the reconstruction of the north. Access by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) to the more than 12,000 Tamils held in irregular detention centres on suspicion of ties to the LTTE is also essential.

The government's approach to the development and reconstruction of the north and east is contributing to minority fears and alienation. Government plans remain unclear, with local communities and political leaders not consulted and even donors not informed of overall reconstruction plans. Strong military influence over policies, tight military control over the population and restrictions on local and international NGOs increase the risk of land conflicts, with the strong possibility of demographic changes that would dilute the Tamil character of the north. No real space has been given to Tamil and Muslim political or community leaders in the north and very little in the east.

The Rajapaksa government has initiated no political reforms to address Tamil and other minorities' concerns. The government-sponsored All Party Representative Committee (APRC) designed to craft constitutional reforms has in effect ended with no sign of an alternative process. Tamil and Muslim parties remain weak and divided, although recent encouraging initiatives to develop a common platform and build trust among Tamil-speaking parties deserve support. Inside and outside Sri Lanka, many Tamils remain angry at the lack of accounting or justice for the thousands of civilians killed in the final months of the war. Most of the million-strong diaspora is still committed to a separate state and many would be willing to support renewed violence.

The brutal nature of the conflict, especially in its closing months, has undermined Sri Lanka's democratic institutions and governance. All ethnic communities are suffering from the collapse of the rule of law. Disappearances and political killings associated with the government's counter-insurgency campaign have been greatly reduced since the end of the war. Impunity for abuses by state officials continues, however, and fear and self-censorship among civil society activists and political dissidents remain widespread. Rajapaksa's government continues to maintain and use the Prevention of Terrorism Act and Emergency Regulations to weaken its political opposition.

The campaign of retired General Sarath Fonseka has put the Rajapaksas on the defensive and united a long-dormant opposition. Alleging corruption and other abuses of power by the Rajapaksa family, Fonseka and the parties supporting him promise major reforms, including the end of emergency rule and the abolition of the Executive Presidency itself. However, Fonseka's candidacy suffers from contradictions and poses grave risks. Promises made to Tamil parties to restore civilian control over land policies and the resettlement process in the north threaten to put Fonseka at odds with his allies in the military and run directly counter to Fonseka's consistently Sinhala nationalist policies over the course of his career. The numerous allegations that General Fonseka was involved in attacks on journalists and other human rights violations undermine his calls for reforms and an end to impunity. It remains an open question whether the ideologically diverse set of parties that have endorsed Fonseka will be able to work together or influence his policies should he win.

International actors need to press for accountability for abuses by both sides during the war as well as challenge the government's post-war policies. Numerous states with insurgencies have begun to look at Sri Lanka as a model. India and Western governments may yet come to regret giving Sri Lanka the green light – and even assisting it - to fight a "war on terror" prior to the government agreeing to political reforms or showing any commitment to the rule of law, constitutional norms or respect for human rights. The precedent can and should be challenged. Donors should condition further development assistance on governance reforms designed to curb impunity and make government accountable to citizens of all communities. This could eventually help open the space for Tamil and Muslim political leaders to organise effectively now that the LTTE is no longer there to control their agenda.

http://www.crisisgroup.org/home/index.cfm?id=6462&l=1

07/01/2010

Past year confirms government responsibility of Lasantha Wikrematunge assassination - JDS

8th January marks the first anniversary of the assassination of Lasantha Wikrematunge, the senior journalist and founding editor of "The Sunday Leader" newspaper. Lasantha Wikrematunge was on his way to his office when four motorcyclists wearing black followed him for several miles before gunning him down during the morning hours on a busy road in a Colombo suburb - apparently without any fear of being apprehended. By committing this horrendous crime in broad day-light and leaving the scene 'miraculously' without being stopped at any of the security road blocks in Colombo, the assassins proved two important facts: first, that they were well experienced killers and the second, that they had a 'special' capability to evade detection.

Lasantha Wikrematunge sacrificed his life for his treasured ideals - that is the practice of fearless critical journalism. All political and social forces of the country condemned the assassination and promised to bring culprits to justice.

But long before he was killed, Lasantha frequently received threats against his outspoken criticism of government. Reflecting his awareness about the growing threats, he wrote in his last note to his newspaper that "(i)n all these cases, I have reason to believe the attacks were inspired by the government. When finally I am killed, it will be the government that kills me." No one else other than Lasantha Wikrematunge could have made a better judgement on who was behind those threats. But so far government has done nothing to absolve itself from this serious accusation other than by staging a pseudo arrest to hoodwink the country.

As things stand now, this cowardly assassination which shocked the country and became a fatal blow to media freedom in Sri Lanka will remain as another unresolved killing, reflecting the deep rooted and well preserved culture of impunity. The inability of the police to submit an investigation report to the court even after 26 hearings and after one full year had elapsed clearly shows the Sri Lankan Government's intention of covering up the murder. The efforts of the Government during the past year to drag investigations deliberately without making any significant breakthrough has reconfirmed Lasantha Wikrematunge's fateful prediction that 'it will be the government that kills him'.

But one year after the death of Lasantha, instead of apprehending the killers who murdered him and many other journalists, their tragic fate has been turned into a mere political slogan simply to be used for propaganda purposes in hostile election campaigns. For example, the person who held the highest office in Sri Lanka's military has repeatedly claimed on political platforms, that he is aware of the identities of the perpetrators in the killings and committed the atrocities against journalists. He even went further to implicate the Defence Secretary as the person responsible for many such crimes. On the other hand, the Defence Secretary himself has publicly claimed that he knows the identity of those who attacked the media and intimidated the journalists.

All these statements amount to evidence that all these parties are withholding information. Apart from that it provides ample proof that Lasanthas' killing and other atrocities were in fact carried out by parties attached to the government. Therefore, both the Army Commander and the Defence Secretary should be held responsible for their statements, and must be forced to divulge the information, since they have openly proclaimed their knowledge of the identity of the responsible parties. The plight of the media and the danger that Sri Lankan media workers face should not be allowed to be made part of any political propaganda by either by those in power or those who aspire to be in power. We strongly believe that initiating such an investigation will enable those others who feel apprehensive of divulging information in an atmosphere with no witness protection mechanism to come forward.

We, Journalists for Democracy in Sri Lanka, reiterate strongly the words of Lasantha Wikrematunge at his first death anniversary which falls on this day. We feel that this will be the judgement of our peoples' conscience as well. The burden of proving the contrary is with the Government of Sri Lanka. So far the Government of Sri Lanka has failed in this challenge issued by fallen journalist Lasantha Wikramatunge.

History has written its judgement. Regardless of newly found electoral divisions, the Government of Sri Lanka should bear the responsibility of the murder of Lasantha Wikrematunge.

Executive Committee
Journalists for Democracy in Sri Lanka
08th January 2010

http://jdsrilanka.blogspot.com/2010/01/past-year-confirms-government.html