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

25/02/2010

Aitzaz Ahsan joins council of Advisers

The Council of Advisers is delighted to welcome Aitzaz Ahsan, the first Pakistani member. Mindful of the dreadful situation in which Pakistan found itself – and the bravery of many legal professionals not least Mr Ahsan – the Council hopes this encourage lawyers within Sri Lanka to do all they can to safeguard the basis of a just and civil society.

Not only did he defend scores of political prisoners during the period military dictatorship, but as leader of the Lawyers’ Movement he sustained the hugely popular and non-violent movement which culminated in the restoration of democracy and the reinstatement of the independent judiciary.

He is the only attorney to have represented both the former Prime Ministers of Pakistan: Ms. Benazir Bhutto and Mr. Nawaz Sharif showing it is sometimes possible to straddle intense political divides. And he successfully defended the Chief Justice of Pakistan, Mr Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry against charges filed by General Musharraf. And at the other end of the spectrum, he is presently counsel, in the Supreme Court, for a victim of the gang-rape allegedly sanctioned by a village council.

His concerns also go beyond Pakistan and Mr Ahsan is no stranger to lobbying the international community on behalf of other endangered Asian societies, as he did with regards to Burma in 1997 when he went to the UN along with President Kim Dae Jung (Korea) and Dr. Kamal Hussain (former Foreign Minister, Bangladesh)

Why has he stood up for Sri Lankans now?

As Mr Ahsan himself says: "Pakistan's lawyers drew enormous strength and comfort from the support they received from the outside world over the course of their struggle for the rule of law and the restoration of an independent judiciary. Today, we have a similar, but even greater, obligation to the people of Sri Lanka to demand that the human rights of ALL citizens are protected, and that international human rights laws and norms are strictly adhered to in the treatment of all people detained since the end of the country's civil war."

Council of Advisers gains its 2nd Sri Lankan member

The Council of Advisers is delighted to welcome its second Sri Lankan member, the leading human rights advocate Basil Fernando.Basil has been the Executive Director of the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) and the Asian Legal Resource Centre (ALRC) since 1994 but has been active on human rights and social action since youth.

Asked why he has decided to support this project, he was typically straight-forward: "I support this campaign on the basis that justice is a critical human issue. And what we face in Sri Lanka is a fundamental problem of justice affecting all Sri Lankans. The utter collapse of the basic rule of law in Sri Lanka and the human rights crisis that has resulted is one of the worst situations we are now facing in the world. I have a feeling that the world still does not realize the extent of the crisis in Sri Lanka. If I can in some way contribute to bringing about that realization and, in consequence help to develop countermeasures that are proportionate to the problem I would be very glad to do so. I wish to underline, that what I see in Sri Lanka is a total crisis – of democracy, rule of law and human rights affecting ALL – not just minorities only".

And his is a view that cannot be easily dismissed.

A graduate of the Faculty of Law of the University of Ceylon in 1972, Basil has worked at the Supreme Court of Sri Lanka for nine years and more recently, he has held senior posts in the UN system. This includes working for the United Nation High Commissioner for Refugees as Counsel for Vietnamese refugees in Hong Kong and in Cambodia where he served as the Senior United Nations Human Rights Officer-In-Charge of the Investigation Unit under the UN Transitional Authority, and the Officer-In-Charge and the Chief of the Legal Assistance at the Cambodia Office of United Nations Center for Human Rights. He is also author and editor of several books on human rights and legal reform issues, and has contributed many articles to academic journals and the media, aside from being Chief Editor of Human Rights SOLIDARITY and Article 2. For all his work over many decades, he was awarded the Kuwanju (Korea) Human Rights prize for 2001.

For details of the Asian Human Rights Commission publications on Sri Lanka see http://www.srilankahr.net/ and for his most recent articles on Sri Lanka see http://www.article2.org/ and http://www.article2.org/mainfile.php/0804/363/

Highly regarded Norwegian film maker, Beate Arnestad, joins the Campaign’s Council of Advisers

Ms Arnestad lived in Sri Lanka and made a quite remarkable film “My Daughter the Terrorist”. She and producer Morten Daae won the Best Norwegian TV Documentary award at the 2009 Gullruten (the Norwegian equivalent of the Emmy Awards). In her acceptance speech she talks spoke about events in May 2009. More recently, she was interviewed for CNN’s Amanpour programme. In that blog she says something particularly important: “The World has an obligation to expose the slaughter of civilians in large numbers for political reasons by Governments. We have a responsibility to pressure such governments to stop such behaviour.” In joining and supporting this Campaign, Ms Arnestad is showing she means what she says.

14/02/2010

UN Human Rights Experts Focus on Secret Detention & Campaign Advisor Calls for Spotlight on 10,000+ LTTE-associated Detainees

Twelve UN Human Rights Council Experts Issue
Joint Report on Secret Detention around the World:


Craig Scott, Professor of Law,
Osgoode Hall Law School, Toronto;
Member, Board of Advisors, Sri Lanka Campaign for Peace and Justice

In the United Nations human rights system, various experts are provided with mandates for human rights investigation and monitoring within a system of "special procedures." These mandates are maintained by the UN Human Rights Council, a body made up of approximately UN member states elected by all other states within the UN. It is to the Human Rights Council that these "special procedure" mandate-holders report.

On occasion, on matters of special concern that relate to more than one mandate, the experts will collaborate in issuing a report together. Such was the case two weeks ago when an advance copy of a 220-page Joint study on global practices in relation to secret detention in the context of countering terrorism (UN Doc. A/HRC/13/42, 26 January 2010) was released as part of a joint effort by four special procedures: the Special Rapporteur on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms while Countering Terrorism (Professor Martin Scheinin of Finland); the Special Rapporteur on Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (Professor Manfred Nowak of Austria), the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (five experts from Norway, Chile, Pakistan, Russia, and Senegal), and the Working Group on Enforced and Involuntary Disappearances (five experts form Mexico, France, Croatia, Lebanon and South Africa).

The report is noteworthy for bringing together overview information on the use of secret detention as a 'tool' in counter-terrorism, as both an historical and a contemporary practice. The experience across all continents from the Americas to Europe to Africa to Asia is digested, whether one if talking about the Dirty Wars of Chile, Argentina, Uruguay or Brazil under their dictatorships, or CIA detention facilities in Afghanistan and Iraq, or the contemporary network of states providing "proxy detention sites" for the United States since the advent of the post-9/11 so-called "war on terror" - countries that include Syria, Egypt, Uzbekistan, Pakistan, Jordan, Morocco, Ethiopia and Djibouti. While there are gaps - such as a failure to discuss the transfer of detainees by NATO forces in Afghanistan to Afghan authorities, notably the National Directorate of Security (NDS), and the subsequent inability of some countries, such as Canada, to trace what happened to many of those transferred detainees - the Joint Report is on the whole an important record of a practice that violates core human rights and a reminder that, absent vigorous scrutiny and effective protest, it is a practice that continues to this day.

For anyone who has followed methods used over the years in Sri Lanka both directly related to the conflict against the Tamil Tigers and more generally as part of a pattern of repression of political and social dissent, it is not surprising that Sri Lanka receives substantial coverage in the Joint Report. While there is nothing new here for those who have followed the wealth of credible reports from credible actors on Sri Lanka over the years, the Joint Report is very important as an authoritative verdict by no fewer than 12 UN Human Rights Council "special procedures" experts (from 12 different countries) that Sri Lanka belongs on a list of serious human rights violators, whatever denials the Sri Lankan government may be skilled in claiming and whatever success the government regularly has in marshalling diplomatic support to block official condemnations by political bodies such as the Human Rights Council or the Commonwealth.

In terms of the seriousness and breadth of human rights violations, it is crucial for the reader to be aware that "secret detention" is not a discrete form of human rights violation but, rather, is connected to a web of violations of such rights as the rights not to be arbitrarily deprived of liberty, various fair trial rights, prohibitions on torture and other forms of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, and the right to life itself. It is also a practice that produces violations of the law of armed conflict, extending to war crimes in some circumstances, and that also, if certain thresholds are crossed, can generate crimes against humanity. (See paragraphs 17-56 where the Joint Report looks at secret detention in terms of these interconnected human rights and in terms of the interaction between international human rights law and the international humanitarian law of armed conflict).

The sections of the Joint Report that deal specifically with Sri Lanka are found at paragraphs 82, 167, and 197 to 201. After a brief historical overview (paragraph 82), Sri Lanka is included with six other countries in East and Southeast Asia - the others being China, India, Islamic Republic of Iran, Nepal, Pakistan, and the Philippines - that have used or use secret detention in the contemporary period and "where anti-terrorist rhetoric is invoked to justify detention" (para. 167). What follows are extended extracts from those paragraphs; indeed, they are reproduced almost in their entirety given that the Joint Report itself has distilled problems to their very essence. In reading these passages, the reader should bear in mind that the Joint Report deals with many countries and that references to any given country will necessarily therefore be fairly brief; also, general references in the Joint Report are often substantiated with references to various reports by each of the special procedures at earlier points in time.

(para 82, referencing the historical use of secret detention) In Sri Lanka, the protracted conflict between the Government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) has perpetuated the use of secret detention. In general, Sri Lankan army officials, dressed either in military uniform or civilian clothes, would arrest ethnic Tamils and hold them in secret places of detention for a week or longer...The detainees were often interrogated under torture, the purpose of which was to make them confess their involvement with the LTTE. In 1992, the Government adopted a law giving more power to the armed forces and authorizing the use of secret detention camps. Although the emergency regulations issued subsequently in June 1993 outlawed secret detention, there were reliable reports indicating that people continued to be held in undisclosed places where torture was practised, and no action was taken against the perpetrators.

(para. 1970 (Regarding Sri Lanka), United Nations human rights mechanisms and non-governmental organizations have expressed serious concerns with regard to abductions by police and military personnel, detention at undisclosed locations, and enforced disappearances. As to the latter, the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial executions stated in the report on his December 2005 visit to Sri Lanka that he "was very disturbed to receive reports (…) which appeared to indicate a re-emergence of the pattern of enforced and involuntary disappearances that has so wracked Sri Lanka in the past." He specifically referred to complaints of Tamil youths being picked up by white vans, allegedly with involvement by the security forces.

In its 2008 report to the Human Rights Council, the Working Group on Enforced and Involuntary Disappearances remarked that it 'remains gravely concerned at the increase in reported cases of enforced disappearances in the country". Specific cases of Tamil men, possibly suspected of links to the LTTE, reportedly taken to undisclosed places of detention by security forces in a white van without number plate and since then disappeared, have been brought to the attention of the Government by Special Procedures and by non-governmental organizations without receiving a response. The Tamileela Makkal Viduthalai Pulikal (TMVP)-Karuna group, a break-away faction of the LTTE supported by the Government, was also reported to be responsible for abductions of LTTE representatives and civilians in the area around Trincomalee.

(para 198) In its concluding observations on Sri Lanka, the (United Nations) Human Rights Committee (which oversees the implementation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights) expressed its regret regarding impunity for abductions and secret detentions:"the majority of prosecutions initiated against police officers or members of the armed forces on charges of abduction and unlawful confinement, as well as on charges of torture, have been inconclusive due to lack of satisfactory evidence and unavailability of witnesses, despite a number of acknowledged instances of abduction and/or unlawful confinement and/or torture, and only very few police or army officers have been found guilty and punished." The Human Rights Committee also "note(d) with concern reports that victims of human rights violations feel intimidated from bringing complaints or have been subjected to intimidation and/or threats, thereby discouraging them from pursuing appropriate avenues to obtain an effective remedy".

(para 199) While the conduct of the security forces in "white van" abduction cases is most likely unlawful and criminal also under the law of Sri Lanka, the Special Rapporteur on torture and the International Commission of Jurists have drawn attention to the far reaching powers of arrest and detention anti-terrorism laws and ordinances bestow upon the Sri Lankan security forces. Under the Emergency (Miscellaneous Provisions and Powers) Regulation No. 1 of 2005 ("EMPPR 2005'), persons "acting in any manner prejudicial to the national security or the maintenance of public order" may be arrested and held in detention for up to one year, without access to judicial review by an independent body. Persons may be similarly detained up to 18 months under the Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Act of 1979 ("PTA") or indefinitely pending trial. Persons can be held in irregular and unpublicized places of detention, outside of a regular police station, recognised detention centre, penal institution or prison. Detainees can be moved from place to place during interrogation, and denied prompt access to a lawyer, family members or authority competent to challenge the legitimacy of detention. Section 15(A)(1) of the PTA, for instance, enables the Secretary to the Minister of Defence to order that persons held on remand should be "kept in the custody of any authority, in such place and subject to such conditions as may be determined by him". As a result of his visit to Sri Lanka in November 2007, the Special Rapporteur on torture concluded "that torture has become a routine practice in the context of counter-terrorism operations, both by the police and the armed forces."

(para 200, outlining the various denials by the Government of Sri Lanka that any human rights violations have been committed) Responding to questions raised during the Universal Periodic Review process (within the UN Human Rights Council) in May 2008, Sri Lanka's Attorney General stated that..."it is not the policy of the State to adopt and enforce extraordinary measures that are outside the framework of the law."...As to allegations of a pattern of disappearances, the Government was studying credible reports to identify the magnitude of the problem and the possible identities of perpetrators. The Attorney General assured the Human Rights Council that "(i)t is not the policy of the State to illegally and surreptitiously arrest persons and detain them in undisclosed locations".

(para 201, dealing with the period since the end of the war) In recent months, since the Government announced victory over the LTTE in May 2009, reports have drawn attention to the detention of more than 10,000 persons on suspicion of having been involved with the LTTE. Human Rights Watch reported that it "documented several cases in which individuals were taken into custody without regard to the protection provided under Sri Lankan law. In many cases, the authorities have not informed family members about the whereabouts of the detained, leaving them in secret, incommunicado detention or possible enforced disappearance". The International Committee of the Red Cross was reportedly barred from the main detention camps for displaced persons. Amnesty International expressed the same concern about an estimated 10,000 to 12,000 individuals suspected of ties to the LTTE who are or have been detained incommunicado in irregular detention facilities operated by the Sri Lankan security forces and affiliated paramilitary groups since May 2009.

Quite obviously, as tensions mount again in Sri Lanka after the recent elections and the repressive tactics that the President of Sri Lanka now seems willing to undertake in order to deepen his hold on power, there is reason to be fearful that Sri Lanka's use of secret detention will not just continue but will grow, as will the battery of human rights violations associated with the practice.

All Sri Lankans are potentially at risk. At the same time, we cannot forget the 10,000-plus detainees "suspected of ties to the LTTE." Whatever some of them may have done in the course of involvement with the LTTE or in the course of warfare, nothing justifies torture or even 'lesser' forms of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment. Secret detention, without regular access of both the International Committee of the Red Cross and UN human rights monitors, is a breeding ground for such abuse and for the final act of disappearance (extrajudicial execution) of numberless nameless individuals. The world cannot become focused on the next general crisis in Sri Lanka to the extent it forgets about the question of secret detentions. Equally, the UN Human Rights Council experts within the special procedures system must immediately follow up the above very brief paragraph on the post-war detainees in the Joint Report with concentrated and persistent efforts to shed the light of external scrutiny on the government of Sri Lanka in an effort to secure effective access of trained monitors who can help ensure that future torture and executions - assuming, as I do, that such torture and executions may well already have occurred - are made much less likely.



UN report: http://www.reliefweb.int/rw/rwb.nsf/db900sid/MYAI-8244JY?OpenDocument

Nathanson Centre web address: http://www.osgoode.yorku.ca/nathanson

Transnational Legal Theory web address: http://www.hartjournals.co.uk/TLT

12/02/2010

Who is the blame for Sri Lanka? Look in the mirror...

In a hard hitting challenge to many, UK journalist Chaminda Jayanetti says: "Most oppressed people have no choice in their oppression. They did not ask for it - it was forced on them. Many give their lives trying to escape.

Sri Lanka is different. It has chosen this path. Many Sri Lankans can often be heard blaming their country’s ills on others - Norwegian negotiators, Indian politicians, Tamil terrorists, British colonialists. But when one day they wake to find they are ruled by a dictator they cannot get rid of, they will have no-one to blame but themselves."

http://www.thesamosa.co.uk/index.php/comment-and-analysis/politics/246-sri-lankas-self-signed-death-warrant.html

10/02/2010

Sri Lankans' insensitivity to violence

BASIL FERNANDO _Column: Burning Points, UPI Asia Online -HONG KONG, China, February 5, 2010.

The disappearance of Pregeeth Ekanaliyagoda, a political analyst, journalist and visual designer attached to Lanka E News; the arrest of Chandana Sirimalwatta, editor of the Lanka newspaper, and the assassination of Chandaradasa Naiwadu, the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna party Urban Council member at Ambalangoda, are among the acts of violence reported during the election for the executive president in Sri Lanka last month.

All of these people supported the opposition campaign of retired army commander General Sarath Fonseka. The government has made no attempt to investigate any of these incidents, or any other acts of violence.

The issue of election violence was raised at a press conference organized by the commissioner for elections this week. His explanation was that since the adoption of the 1978 Constitution this type of election politics has been normal, and that even in future elections a similar pattern of violence will continue.

The three people named above are intellectuals that represent different points of view and dared to express their opinions even in the midst of a very intense political battle. It is sad to see the suppression of voices that rise against a climate of violence and demoralization and try to develop a discourse on politics by expressing their own views for the consideration of the electorate. The case of the journalist and political analyst Ekanaliyagoda clearly demonstrates the kind of violence used against the voices of reason.

Ekanaliyagoda wrote several articles in Lanka E News in the months prior to the election on Jan. 26. He tried to engage his readers in a public debate on election issues. In November 2009 he wrote an article entitled, "Sarath? Mahinda? Or us?" in which he tried to demonstrate that the election was not about incumbent President Mahinda Rajapakse and Fonseka.

Ekanaliyagoda tried to highlight that the election was about the people and tried to reason out what was at stake for them and the best ways of serving their interests through the election. He tried to raise the discussion beyond personalities to issues that concern people.

He brought up the issue of dictatorship; some people had expressed concerns that Fonseka, as a former military general, could turn into a dictator if he came to power. Ekanaliyagoda did not dismiss the argument lightly. He cited political experiences from around the world to discuss the issue of dictatorship. He spoke of two types of dictatorship: one where the military establishes a direct dictatorship and the other where an elected government through democratic means adopts the practices of a dictatorship. The issue for the people, he said, was to avoid the actual practice of dictatorship.

By examining dictatorships in Burma, Iran, Indonesia, Libya, Sudan and Somalia, he highlighted some of the practices of dictatorial regimes. He identified the following: the lack of respect for public opinion and the law, lack of respect for the Parliament and the judiciary and lack of space for people to express and organize themselves as trade unions and other organizations that further the interests of people and the freedom of civil society.

Having identified the factors as common experiences in countries that are ruled by a dictatorship, whether they are brought about by the military or by governments initially elected democratically, he pointed out that all the features of a repressive society are present in Sri Lanka.

He pointed out that there is no respect for public opinion or the law within the country. He further pointed out the absence of space for parliamentary democracy, and went on to enumerate the repression against people who engage in furthering the interests of trade unions, opposition political parties, civil society organizations and human rights work.

Thus he returned to the original question of what was at stake for the people. He argued that these practices should be defeated and freedom brought back to the people, giving them space to participate in political life, enjoy media freedom and engage in resolving social problems.

In this manner he distinguished between military dictatorships and democracy, not purely by those who claim to be democrats but on the basis of policies they advocate and the policies presently needed for society. As an analyst and an intellectual, he was trying to engage society in an intelligent discourse on issues they should try and resolve through the election.

He concluded his article by stating that Sri Lanka does not need a wretched dictatorship like Burma and other countries that have similar regimes, nor does it need policies like those suggested under the "Mahinda Chintanaya" - Rajapakse's vision.

In an article last December, Ekanaliyagoda discussed a television advertisement that stated that people should vote for the "sensitive leader" Mahinda Rajapakse. In his article Ekanaliyagoda analyzed the meaning of "sensitive leader."

First he elaborated on the concept of sensitivity and insensitivity in political life in terms of the sufferings of the people. He began with the issue of the 2006 tsunami, which affected Sri Lanka badly, and pointed out that during that time one of the most saddening aspects was that there were people willing to steal from victims. He said that exhibiting such a tendency during a very tragic time pointed to a tremendous insensitivity to suffering, which had become part of the Sri Lankan psyche.

He saw the capacity to rob people during a natural calamity as an exhibition of tremendous moral breakdown in Sri Lankan society. He went on to discuss serious illnesses such as dengue fever, swine flu and other epidemics that affect the young. Accompanying such tragedies he said were fraudulent means and attempts to earn commissions from the sale of medicines and other basic needs of the people.

These too are manifestations of an enormous moral breakdown in society, which is also reflected in the behavior of ministers and others who engage in such practices on behalf of the government. Dealing with such questions of insensitivity was very much needed in the country.

Ekanaliyagoda also discussed news items that appear often of suspects killed in custody under the pretext that while taking police to show where they stashed their loot, they attacked the police, who then killed them in self defense. Such blatant police violence and society's tolerance of it was a clear manifestation of insensitivity, he said.

He then went on to examine the killings of media personnel on orders from those in power and the government's fake condemnations of such killings without taking any steps to ensure justice was done. Mentioning the assassination of the well-known journalist Lasantha Wickrematunge, he commented that the behavior toward the media and critics is almost like that of Caligula in the Roman Empire. Journalists are killed or assaulted in broad daylight or otherwise intimidated – and this was not a climate of sensitivity.

Despite complaints and media intervention, no credible action has been taken by the government to investigate Ekanaliyagoda's disappearance.

(Basil Fernando is director of the Asian Human Rights Commission based in Hong Kong. He is a Sri Lankan lawyer who has also been a senior U.N. human rights officer in Cambodia. He has published several books and written extensively on human rights issues in Asia.

His blog can be read at http://srilanka-lawlessness.com.) http://www.upiasia.com/Human_Rights/2010/02/05/sri_lankans_insensitivity_to_violence/2485/

09/02/2010

A Statement by a group of Bishops: Post Presidential Election Realities

Regardless of how they voted, many Sri Lankans strongly disapproved of three trends during the campaigning. These were:

*continuous personal slander, provoked by undue media publicity. As the norms of vigorous and healthy democratic debate were disregarded this way, the people were denied an objective understanding of the real issues.

* The wilful violation of electoral laws which sadly demonstrated that might is right. The Election Commissioner's public confession amply endorsed this.

*The unprecedented amount of money spent on the campaigning. This raises ethical questions of leadership qualities in a country striving to eliminate poverty and bring justice to the IDPs.

Our political leaders can still rectify these trends by setting self-imposed codes of conduct, especially as we approach a general election. A voter preference for those who demonstrate this change will result in a welcome transformation of our political culture. Such a change will endorse the sovereignty of the people.

Promotions, transfers, termination of services and the resignations of some Military, Police and Public Services personnel send worrying messages about rewards and punishments for certain styles of political behaviour. Competency in public officials is to be appreciated and those who have done their duty well, need to be commended. But administrative changes, immediately after a public event that requires the impartiality of all officials, undermines good governance.

We should take serious note of the majority who did not vote in some Tamils areas. The lack of transport deprived thousands of IDPs from voting. The behaviour of those who could but did not vote may indicate a lack of confidence in an electoral contest between two primary candidates, which offered little in terms of the problems faced by Tamils. Their silence may be seen as a clear message that their expectations were not being addressed.

It is bad practice when elections are followed with the intimidation and harassment of candidates, their supporters and those in the media who have freely expressed their views. The total lack of information regarding journalist, Mr. Eknaligoda, missing since two days before the election, is a most disturbing case in point. The Police have an immediate responsibility to investigate and prevent such happenings. The President, and all political, civil society and religious leaders are called to set the standards in healing tensions and ensuring justice and protection for all.

From here we need to collectively address the pressing priorities of ; political devolution, good governance, media freedom, economic development, the application of equal rights for the vulnerable, the total independence of the judiciary and poverty alleviation, faced by our country. We urge the President, the Cabinet and the Opposition to work towards these goals with purpose and commitment. The test of a campaign is the urgency and priority given to the needs of all the people by all candidates when the campaigning ends. None who contests has the right or the luxury to continue with personal hurts, personal glory or personal agendas.

With the assurance of our prayers for all.

The Most Revd Dr Thomas Savundaranayagam, Roman Catholic Bishop of Jaffna
The Most Revd Dr Kingsley Swampillai, Roman Catholic Bishop of Trinco/Batticaloa
The Most Revd Dr Rayappu Joseph, Roman Catholic Bishop of Mannar
The Rt Revd Kumara Illangasinghe, Anglican Vicar General of Kurunegala
The Rt Revd Duleep de Chickera, Anglican Bishop of Colombo
The Most Revd Dr Norbert Andradi, Roman Catholic Bishop of Anuradhapura.

04/02/2010

Public response to Ru Freeman, author and attendee at the Galle Literary Festival

We at the Sri Lanka Peace and Justice Campaign are delighted that Ms Freeman has started a public discussion about the role of visitors to Sri Lanka in general, and writers and artists in particular, given the situation in Sri Lanka. But we are saddened that in her public response (http://rufreeman.com/2010/01/the-morning-after) to our letter, which she describes as "unsubstantiated", she has made unsubstantiated claims about the Campaign and the briefing document we provided.

So far from being unsubstantiated, the briefing document about the current state of play on a number of issues in Sri Lanka, which the Campaign sent to her and the other writers attending the Galle Festival, was rigorously researched and foot-noted with two pages of references. It used a range of sources including the UN, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and reports for which the Sri Lankan government had itself provided data and interviews.

Nor were we "telling people what to say". On the contrary, we said clearly that people should feel free to focus on what they cared about most. Unlike Ms Freeman, many of those attending the Festival from outside Sri Lanka have had no previous connection to the island. It was for their benefit that we provided some basic information about the country to which they were headed, including an overview of the events of the past year.

Equally clearly, we said what they choose to do with these facts was for each individual to decide. But several of them have already come back to us saying they were not really aware of the situation in Sri Lanka, and that they are pleased we have got in touch. They do not see our intervention as a threat to the Festival. Rather, they received the letter in the spirit in which it was sent - a spirit of open debate and sharing of knowledge, which we understand, is the spirit of the Festival itself.

We were astonished to see Ms Freeman paint such a rosy picture of the election process on the very day when even the government's media machine could not paint over the farce of the opposition candidate's possible disqualification/arrest immediately after the election. And we only wish the human rights abuses and injustices mentioned in our document were, as she chose to call them, mere "cautionary tales of doom and gloom". Sadly, these things have happened and are still happening. She revealingly glosses over the remaining thousands of civilians in the internment camps, Sri Lanka’s ranking for press freedom that puts it as the lowest democracy in the world and the call by senior UN officials for a war crimes inquiry into actions by both sides. This was all contained in our briefing document, and Ms Freeman provided no evidence to counter these facts.

Rather, she describes the Campaign as a group of "ignorant individuals who want to keep enjoying their NGO junkets on our beautiful island and trivializing our tragedies by turning our complexity into sound bites for your rabid 24/7 news." In fact, this Campaign is led by a distinguished international team of advisors who undertake this work in a purely voluntary capacity. Whether one agrees with the Campaign objectives is another matter. And the Campaign volunteers come from a huge range of ethnicities, including Tamils and Singhalese. We do not raise funds or send people on 'junkets' or even to literary festivals. To suggest that we do is not just an unsubstantiated allegation but deeply offensive and wholly incorrect.

The briefing - which is attached so readers can make up their own mind - concluded with two questions:

1. In parallel with wealth creation, can the creative arts help tap into another form of development, a social development that sees Sri Lanka move beyond the decades of ethnic violence and human rights abuses to a more harmonious future?

2. Will the organisers and past and future attendees of the Galle Festival be creative, concerned and brave enough to help make this positive scenario happen?

Instead of answering these perfectly reasonable questions, Ms Freeman contented herself with intoning Mahinda Rajapaksa's slogan 'api wenuwen api' ('us for ourselves') which is at best, vacuous and at worst, deeply worrying. If there is one thing that can be said about Sri Lanka with certainty it is that blind adherence to dogma has befuddled too many Sri Lankans of all groups and made a just and lasting settlement in that much troubled country far more difficult than it needs to be.

Sadly, Ms Freeman would not appear to be alone. In the words of a respected Sinhalese analyst, Tisaranee Gunasekara, who has been consistently anti-LTTE: "So the bald truth is that Mahinda Rajapakse won the Presidential election not because of rigging but because a majority of the Sinhala people, intoxicated by war-euphoria, opted for a leader who had kept and promised to keep Tamils in 'their place'." http://www.asiantribune.com/news/2010/01/31/election-results

Surely, it is not too late to hope that a writer as gifted as Ms Freeman, would rather show compassion to the many thousands of Sri Lankans who have suffered bereavement, injury or loss of livelihood as a result of the war, and especially those who are even now languishing behind barbed wire, deprived of basic human freedoms, separated from their families, and intimidated by gun-toting soldiers and para-militaries?

Briefing for tourists on Sri Lanka: Idyllic Island, Pariah State or Both?

03/02/2010

Does India have as little influence with Sri Lanka as is commonly said?

It is often said - by Indian decision-makers and others - that the Indian Government lacks influence with the Government of Sri Lanka. At this time of great risk to journalists and human rights activists in Sri Lanka, let alone to the Tamil detainees, the following commentary is important. It comes from the former head of intelligence of the Indian Peace Keeping Force in Sri Lanka.

The paragraphs highlighted are particularly noteworthy and it makes a clear case for the Indian Government to do much more than it has done. As India seeks to join the UN Security Council and more generally, to be considered a reliable member of the international world order, the challenge is also one for Indian civil society, which has also largely adopted a bystander mentality. Awful and as inexcusable as the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi was, what is the logic of making innocent civilians also suffer and allowing a neighbouring country to drift into elected dictatorship? Many commentators have called Sri Lanka "India's Vietnam" and so far at least, India is failing this test.


Sri Lanka: Rajapaksa's Victory & After

Col R.Hariharan, C3S Paper No.440 dated January 28, 2010
This article is a summary of answers to questions put by various national and international print and electronic media on January 27, 2010.

President Mahinda Rajapaksa has won a second term as President of Sri Lanka with a handsome margin. Did you expect this victory? Would you take it as peoples' recognition of his leadership role in the victory against the Tamil Tigers?

Of course President Rajapaksa's rise in popularity was mainly due to his contribution in designing and orchestrating the actions of the entire government to achieve military victory. While he provided the canvass for the victory, it was Fonseka who led the campaign and made it a reality . So both gained public acclaim after the military victory. According to one assessment the popularity of Rajapaksa and Fonseka on this count was in the ratio of 60:40 respectively.

Many of us had forecast a victory for the President by a narrow margin. In fact he was expected to scrape through. So winning by over 58% plus majority was indeed a surprise. This is a sizeable increase over the 50.3% majority he secured in the 2005 election. Actually a popular poll prediction in the early days of election ring said he would win by 62% and nobody was prepared to believe that. On the other hand, another pollster on January 21 had forecast a lead of 12% for Fonseka. So much for poll predictions.

However, it is too early to carry out a detailed analysis of the polling patterns. We need more inputs to do that. But it is clear that majority of Tamils in the north did not vote and the President was elected by overwhelming Sinhala support.

Do you think the President's victory came by fair means? How did he achieve it?

Stuffing of ballot boxes is not an uncommon phenomenon in South Asia and in particular in Sri Lanka. Probably there were such cases in this election also. The detailed reports of monitors would surface in due course, I presume.

But there was considerable misuse of state media by the ruling coalition; and government servants campaigned openly against the opposition candidate. The Election Commissioner was so disgusted at the utter disregard shown to his directions that he decided to retire from office before the next parliamentary poll in April. Even while announcing the results of the election, the Elections Commissioner said that though he tried his level best to ensure the polls were conducted in a free and fair manner, it was "largely out of his control to manage, especially in areas like Puttalam, Anuradhapura and Matale."

In spite of all this, it would be unfair to the voters to trivialise the overwhelming mandate Rajapaksa has secured as solely due to electoral malpractices.

I think President's victory came about because of overwhelming Sinhala majority support, and large scale abstention of Tamil voters of Northern Province, just as it happened in the 2005 presidential poll. Many Tamils in Vanni have not been able to get back to their normal life savagely destroyed by the war. Many believed there was nothing much to choose between the two main candidates. In their eyes probably both the candidates lacked credibility particularly on the Tamil issue. Though theTamil National Alliance (TNA) had supported General Fonseka, it could influence only those who voted, but not the majority who stayed away from voting. In the end only around 19% of them voted. As a whole it has exposed the lack of credibility of Tamil political class among the public.

At the same time the ruling coalition had generally created a climate of fear and suspicion in the country before the election. There was intimidation, high handedness and muzzling of opposition media. By January 24 there were over 900 incidents of election related misconduct. Five people were killed. In this kind of environment the explosion of a few bombs in Jaffna in the early hours of Election Day probably came as a final straw for the voters not to stir out of their houses.

Rajapaksa's overwhelming support came from Southern Sinhala voters particularly in rural areas. Apparently, Fonseka had not been able to make a dent in this vote bank. Even Mrs Chandrika Kumaratunga's belated show of solidarity with Fonseka had only symbolic effect.

General Fonseka had alleged that the troops had surrounded the hotel where he was staying and it was part of a plot to kill him. What are your comments?

"Politics of revenge" became the order of the day in Sri Lanka ever since the ambitious General fell out with the President and his brothers. Its pitch increased when he decided to contest the presidential poll. The General has since moved out of the hotel to his house. The government had said the troops were out there "to protect the opposition leaders" (from whom?) and the search was carried out to apprehend deserters holed up in the hotel. This is hardly a credible story as police can to carry out these tasks.

The General's accusation of a plot to kill him needs to be substantiated. The allegation was probably a manifestation of the confrontational politics. Presumably, the aggressive act of massing of troops was a continuation of pressure tactics used against Fonseka starting with allegations of corruption and nepotism. The General's statement also could be to enrol international sympathy for his plight and uncertain future after his defeat.

The General Fonseka led the army to victory in the Eelam War under President Rajapaksa. Despite this he appears to be daggers drawn with the President. What was most important reason for his relationship with the President going wrong?

Basically, the General was an ambitious person. He felt the President had not given the recognition he deserved for his contribution to the military victory that eluded Sri Lanka for 26 years. After the General became the CDS, he spoke of a grandiose vision of building 300,000-strong army. His talk of building a huge and powerful army, when even the 200,000-strong army was becoming redundant after the war, made political classes uneasy.

The President apparently felt uncomfortable in handling him and sidelined him from the mainstream of decision making. This process of "downsizing" reached its low point when he was appointed Secretary of Sports Ministry.

The differences between the President and the General came out in the open and culminated in the fight for presidency. And the opposition parties desperately looking for a suitable candidate to oppose the President, they found a useful foil in Fonseka.

What was India's equation with the two candidates?

Over the years, President Rajapaksa has built a strong relationship at various levels of Indian leadership. He is quick to acknowledge India's help and appreciates the political limitations of India in supporting him during the Eelam War. Even though India had harped on activating the 13th amendment to the Constitution on provincial autonomy, it chose to ignore when the President deferred action on it and went to war. India had consistently supported Sri Lanka under his leadership in international forums even on some of the critical issues like human rights violations.

On the other hand, Fonseka was an unknown quantity to Indian leadership. The UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe, who is on a good wicket with Indian leaders, had tried to plead for India's support to the General. Apparently, India was not comfortable with the idea. When he was the army commander, General Fonseka's pronouncements had smacked of Sinhala nationalism and support to him would at best be controversial.

Moreover, India considered Rajapaksa a safe bet, as it probably expected him to come on top in the election. So probably India favoured his victory although it stand on the subject was never made public.

President Rajapaksa has been elected with a sizeable majority votes for a second term. Do you expect him to be dictatorial in his second term? Will he use the majority Sinhala support he enjoys to crush the Tamils?

I agree there are instances where presidents repeatedly given a democratic mandate tended to be dictatorial. And the executive presidency gives considerable leeway for the president to be dictatorial. But Sri Lanka has an enlightened political class and strong civil society which had become vocal during the election. It had always opposed such tendencies as was seen during the Jayawardane regime. So it would not be easy for the President to behave like a dictator.

Rajapaksa is a seasoned politician who uses existing political instruments to get his writ through. He has demonstrated this a number of times say by splitting political parties in his favour, buying time on the Tamil issue etc.

Tamils are a sizeable minority who can make a difference between the winner and the loser in national elections. So over the years, all major parties have tried to cultivate a Tamil lobby. So I do not expect the revival of vintage anti-Tamil attitude of rabid Sinhala nationalism as a major political force. Already Rajapaksa enjoys huge Sinhala support and he will gain no political advantage by "road rolling" Tamils and their concerns.

There is also the lingering India factor in Sri Lanka, however reluctant India might be to acknowledge it. Rajapaksa knows that across the Palk Straits, Sri Lanka Tamils enjoy considerable empathy and emotional support. This has already been tested during the war. And Tamil Nadu has a big clout in New Delhi in the ruling coalition. So Rajapaksa would always keep India at the back of his mind while dealing with the Tamil issue. India is also likely to come under considerable pressure to bring up the issue with Rajapaksa as Tamil Nadu gets ready for the 2011 assembly polls.

Overall, although the election mandate has boosted Rajapaksa's power, I expect the President to show a nuanced approach during his second term. However, he could be encouraged by those around him to deviate from this path when pressure builds up against him internally or externally.

It had been reported that the U.S. favoured Fonseka in the presidential poll. What are your comments?

It is true the U.S. had been quite unhappy with the Rajapaksa regime on two counts: its indifference to the U.S. concerns over gross human rights violations, and its contacts with the anti-US club - Venezuela, Iran, Cuba, Myanmar etc. Moreover, considerable anti-U.S. feelings were whipped up in the closing stages of war when the U.S. wanted to extricate the beleaguered Tamil Tigers.

Countries do act at times in strange ways but I do not believe the U.S. ever seriously considered supporting Fonseka, despite its frosty relations with Rajapaksa. I am sure the U.S. is realistic enough to know of Rajapaksa's strengths as demonstrated in his success against the Tamil Tigers. I am sure this was the reason for Senator John F. Kerry led Senate Foreign Relations Committee's call for friendlier relations between the U.S. and Sri Lanka in December 2009. Moreover, the U.S. does consult India on key issues relating to Sri Lanka. And India's lack of enthusiasm for a regime change in Sri Lanka would have definitely discouraged the U.S. from any thought of favouring Fonseka.

When Mrs Indira Gandhi was Prime Minister she reacted strongly to America's planned foray into Sri Lanka. China has already made an entry into Sri Lanka. As Sri Lanka is in a 1987-like situation now, do you expect Rajapaksa to slowly marginalise Indian influence in the island to accommodate the Chinese?

The Cold War scene of Mrs Gandhi's time does not exist anymore. The world and this region have changed considerably along with international power equations. China is poised to become a global power; it has become the financier to boost up America's sagging economy. Its economic influence is spreading the world over and in support its military reach is also growing. This is the reality.

And the Chinese influence in Sri Lanka is a part of this reality. And Sri Lanka would need China's economic support to build its war ravaged economy as much as it needs India's support. In spite of this, Sri Lanka had carefully tried to balance the relationship. In fact, it offered the Hambantota project to India first; it went to China only after India failed to respond. On the other hand as China's foot print increases in Sri Lanka, India's security concerns would also increase. And India should constantly keep a watch on Chinese activity in Sri Lanka, regardless of its nature.

At the same time, India has also become an important economic power and militarily a strong regional player. It is building its strategic security relationship with the U.S. This is likely to grow in the coming years. As the U.S. sees India as a factor to balance the Chinese power projection in this region, despite India's reluctance to acknowledge it. So India of today is not the same as it was in 1987.

Sri Lanka-India relations are closer than ever before. It has a fairly successful free trade agreement with India. Indian capital flow to Sri Lanka is poised to increase and this would boost employment and economic opportunities for Sri Lanka. There is considerable similarity of perception on many international issues between the two countries. So it is doubtful whether Rajapaksa would gain any major advantage by enlarging his relationship with China at the cost of India. In fact, it would be strategically risky for him to do so as India is physically too close to Sri Lanka. This is an advantage that China does not enjoy.

The President is politically savvy enough to understand these nuances of the Sri Lanka, India and China triangular relationship. He would probably try to reap maximum advantage for his country from India using the China card.

The writer, Col. R Hariharan is a retired Military Intelligence specialist on South Asia and served as the head of intelligence of the Indian Peace Keeping Force in Sri Lanka 1987-90.He is associated with the South Asia Analysis Group and the Chennai Centre for China Studies. Blog: www.colhariharan.org E-mail: colhari@yahoo.com

02/02/2010

Sri Lanka: End Indefinite Detention of Tamil Tiger Suspects

Incommunicado 'Rehabilitation' Raises Fears of Torture and Enforced Disappearances.

Human Rights Watch(New York, February 2, 2010) - The Sri Lankan government should end its indefinite arbitrary detention of more than 11,000 people held in so-called rehabilitation centers and release those not being prosecuted, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today.

The 30-page report, "Legal Limbo: The Uncertain Fate of Detained LTTE Suspects in Sri Lanka," is based on interviews with the detainees' relatives, humanitarian workers, and human rights advocates, among others. The Sri Lankan government has routinely violated the fundamental rights of the detainees, Human Rights Watch found. The government contends that the 11,000 detainees are former fighters or supporters of the defeated Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).

"The government has been keeping 11,000 people in a legal limbo for months," said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. 'It's time to identify who presents a genuine security threat and to release the rest."

The government has denied detainees the right to be informed of specific reasons for their arrest, to challenge the lawfulness of the detention before an independent judicial authority, and to have access to legal counsel and family members, Human Rights Watch said. It is unclear whether any have been formally charged with crimes or what acts they are accused of committing that led the government to detain them.

While the government has the right and responsibility to protect public safety, it also has to do so in a lawful manner that respects basics rights, Human Rights Watch said.

During the final months of the 26-year-long conflict between the Sri Lankan government and the LTTE, which ended with the defeat of the LTTE in May 2009, the government confined nearly 300,000 people displaced by the conflict in what the government called "welfare camps" in the north. Since early 2008 virtually all civilians fleeing the fighting had been confined in these camps. At checkpoints and in the camps, the authorities separated the more than 11,000 individuals with suspected ties to the LTTE and sent them to "rehabilitation centers." More than 550 children were among those transferred to these centers.

While the government contends that many of those being held have surrendered to rehabilitation voluntarily, the lack of access to the detainees by humanitarian agencies and other independent monitors makes it difficult to know how many surrendered, how many of this group did so voluntarily, and how many were arrested.

The lack of transparency in the process and of information about the fate and whereabouts of some of the detainees raises concerns about possible torture or mistreatment in custody, and the possibility that some may have been forcibly disappeared, Human Rights Watch said. As documented by Human Rights Watch in a 2008 report, "Recurring Nightmare: State Responsibility for 'Disappearances' and Abductions in Sri Lanka," enforced disappearances have been a longstanding problem in Sri Lanka, and thousands of people remain unaccounted for.

In an illustrative case, the army detained 32-year-old Jeganathan on May 15, 2009, after he crossed into government-controlled areas with his wife, Aanathi, and their one-year-old son. The military insisted that Aanathi continue to the camp and she heard nothing about her husband for several weeks. "I lost all hope,' Aanathi told Human Rights Watch. "I thought that I would never see him again."

A relative of Aanathi eventually located Jeganathan in one of the rehabilitation centers, and Aanathi has been able to visit him on occasion. Months after he was detained, the government has not informed him how long he is supposed to stay in the center. He has not had access to a lawyer and he has not been able to contest his detention before a court. During Aanathi's last visit to see her husband he told her that the authorities continue to interrogate him and that they had started beating some of the other "surrendees."

The Sri Lankan government has asked international donors to provide financial support for the "rehabilitation centers." Human Rights Watch said that donors should not support the centers unless and until the rights of the detainees are fully respected.

"In the absence of due process guarantees, support for these centers is support for the government's illegal detention policy," said Adams. "No donor should be associated with that."

To read 'Legal Limbo: The Uncertain Fate of Detained LTTE Suspects in Sri Lanka," please visit: http://www.hrw.org/node/88033

To read the March 2008 Human Rights Watch report, "Recurring Nightmare: State Responsibility for 'Disappearances' and Abductions in Sri Lanka," please visit:
http://www.hrw.org/en/reports/2008/08/27/recurring-nightmare

For more information on internally displaced persons and arbitrary detention in Sri Lanka, please see:

“Sri Lanka: Free All Unlawfully Detained,” http://www.hrw.org/en/news/2009/11/24/sri-lanka-free-all-unlawfully-detained

“Sri Lanka: Free Civilians From Detention Camps,” http://www.hrw.org/en/news/2009/07/28/sri-lanka-free-civilians-detention-camps


For more information, please contact:
In London, Brad Adams (English): +44-20-7713-2767; or +44-7908-728-333 (mobile)
In New York, James Ross (English): +1-646-898-5487 (mobile)
In Mumbai, Meenakshi Ganguly (Hindi, Bengali, English): +91-98-200-36032 (mobile)
In New York, Anna Neistat (English, Russian): +1-917-362-6981 (mobile)

COMMONWEALTH JOURNALIST ASSOCIATION CONDEMNS TREATMENT OF JOURNALISTS IN SRI LANKA

February 1, 2010,
The Commonwealth Journalists Association (CJA) is deeply concerned at the disappearance of Sri Lankan journalist Prageeth Eknaligoda and appalled that Sri Lanka's 'democratic' government continues to persecute journalists for committing the 'sin' of criticizing the ruling party.

We stand together with Sri Lankan media groups that have justifiably condemned the forced suspension of a pro-opposition newspaper, Lanka, and the arrest of its editor and the apparent shutting down -however temporarily of lankaenews.com , the website to which Prageeth contributes.

The ugly and oppressive actions make a joke of President Mahinda Rajapaksan's offer to host the next Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting - an offer that was wisely shelved, though not yet rejected,by Commonwealth leaders at their Trinidad and Tobago summit.

"The Sri Lankan leadership appears to have only a slim grasp on the concept of democracy," said CJA President Hassan Shahriar. "So let me, as a representative of journalists across the Commonwealth, state the obvious: Any government that subjects its independent news media to such violent and arbitrary actions has no right to call itself democratic. Sri Lanka
doesn't even come close to adhering to the most basic principles of the Commonwealth or, for that matter, of basic human rights."

Shahriar urged Commonwealth leaders to use all the influence at their disposal to reverse this 'vicious" trend.

"A government that has zero tolerance for criticism is a government that lusts for power for power's sake," he added. "If Sri Lanka's efforts to ingratiate itself with the Commonwealth are to be taken remotely seriously, then Commonwealth leaders need to speak as one in condemning this appalling state of affairs.'

Shahriar also sent heartfelt wishes to Prageeth Eknaligoda's wife Sandhya and the couple's two sons.

"We can only imagine the agony you and your family are suffering," he said. 'Everyone in the Commonwealth journalists family are praying for your husband's safe return.'

In urging the Commonwealth to pressure the Sri Lankan government on the issue of press freedom and the safety of journalists, the CJA president also endorsed the following statement from five Sri Lankan media groups - SLWJA, FMETU, SLMMF, SLTJA and FMM.

"These incidents show clearly that media suppression is on the increase in post election period. These developments will hamper any informed discussion on the aftermaths of presidential election and the malpractices reported. The result will be the violation of people's right to information. This in turn will seriously limit people's ability to make informed judgments on political developments. We would like to reiterate that in the light of the parliamentary election due in few months time, it is all the more necessary to re establish our peoples right to information without delay by making the media environment free.

In this context, considering that press freedom as the expression of people's right to information and freedom of speech, we, the five media organizations in Sri Lanka earnestly urge a ll democratic forces in the country, diplomatic corps in Sri Lanka, United Nations, International human rights, press freedom and journalists safety organizations to use their good offices to ensure that government of Sri Lanka stop the media suppression and create a free and democratic post election environment. ."


For further information contact Bryan Cantley, CJA Executive
Director at cantleyb@commonwealthjournalists.com .
This has also been posted on the CJA website at www.commonwealthjournalists.com .

Tamil "IDP's" disenfranchised in election process

Two Sri Lankan electoral monitoring groups have expressed grave doubts about the fairness of the election with respect to Tamils in the North.

The Centre for Monitoring Election Violence (CMEV) has listed a catalogue of means by which Tamil "IDP's" were deprived of their democratic right to vote.

In their post-election briefing paper, they show that "IDP's" in different areas faced very different hurdles. In Vavuniya, for example, 55% were able to cast their vote but only 8% were able to vote in Mullaitivu district. This was compounded by very different turnouts - 22% in the Jaffna district but only 3.5% in Killinochchi. This blows apart the argument that Tamils, once again, chose not to vote in this election

CMEV highlights the many practical obstacles to voting - insufficient identity documents, numerous security checks, authorities failing to organise transport in areas where there is no real freedom of movement as well as explosions on the day. CMEV had raised many of these concerns with government officials but this did not prevent the problem from occurring.

Highlighting how explosions during the course of election day further resulted in fear and had an additional deterrent effect of voter turnout, CMEV is clear that the GoSL has "compromised the integrity of the electoral process in the north" and it goes on to say, "It is especially regrettable given the imperatives of reconciliation and national unity in this our first post war election".

The report ends by focusing on the next election,'we strongly urge the Election Commissioner to take the necessary steps to prevent this from occurring in the forthcoming General Election."

Despite its very rigorous work, CMEV stops short of 'calling for a redpoll of the north in this presidential election because we are not in possession of the exact figure of effective disenfranchisement."

As has happened with many of the atrocities in north Sri Lanka, local and international NGOs and UN agencies have responded to the absence of definitive proof - and who can believe the GoSL does not actively intend this outcome? - by backing down and compromising.

In a country where most people are too frightened to do anything at all other than worry about personal interests, CMEV's approach may be the very most that can be expected. But might this diplomatic approach also help to legitimate today's wrong doing at the expense of hoping for better times one day in the future?

The second election monitoring network, Intellectuals for Human Rights (IfHR) is less well known and doesn't show such a rigorous. extensive process. But its conclusions are more explicit. The " Presidential Election is not free and fair" it concludes.

"Misusing of state properties, four murders, the huge propaganda campaign conducted by the state media in favor of one candidate, biasedness of the police" are among main reasons for their conclusion, according to their chief executive, Professor Uditha Gunasekara.

What is clear is that the result in the North and East is the opposite of the rest of rest of the country. This is an uncomfortable fact that many would like to hide from. It has, however, been noted by even President Rajapaksa who tried to cover this up by saying he is also president of those who didn't vote for him. What he avoided saying is what he will actually do which reflects the views of all those who profoundly disagree with him.

At a time of huge repression of dissent by the opposition and the media, these electoral monitoring conclusions - the rigor of the CMEV process and the blunt conclusions of IfHR statements - offer yet more evidence of what this Campaign has said ever since we started. Sri Lanka is slipping into an elected dictatorship. That significant parts of Sinhalese society support this, either for chauvinstic reasons or because they have been indoctrinated to do so - and probably an unholy mix of the two - is even more worrying. But it is no reason to accept it as a fait accomplis. One can expect demonstrations and other shows of non-violent protest (assuming they are allowed) in SL, providing evidence that many will now work hard to hold this corrupt system to higher standards of accountability. This Campaign will do nothing less.

CMEV reference
http://cmev.wordpress.com/2010/01/26/cmev-briefing-inability-of-authorities-to-address-the-voter-rights-of-idps-and-others-in-the-north/

IfHR reference
http://news.nidahasa.com/news.php?go=fullnews&newsid=965

01/02/2010

Australia rolls out the welcome mat for war criminal retirees

Antony Loewenstein, Advisor to Sri Lanka Campaign for Peace and Justice writes in leading Australian magazine "Crikey".

The news that defeated Sri Lankan presidential candidate and former army chief Sarath Fonseka may claim temporary asylum in Australia due to fears for his life is the latest saga in the country's ongoing tragedy.

Foreign Minister Stephen Smith denies that Australian officials in Colombo ever received an approach by Fonseka and the man himself now denies seeking asylum.

The International Crisis Group late last week said that Fonseka could justifiably be concerned for his personal safety due to incumbent Mahinda Rajapakse's brutal dictatorship that tolerates no real dissent.

Fonseka’s party's offices have been raided in Colombo and many of his supporters arrested. He now threatens to make information public that highlights the murky world of disappearances and murders over past years. Journalists have been particularly vulnerable.

But this is not the typical story of an election loser. Fonseka is front and centre of serious allegations of war crimes and crimes against humanity committed during the regime's 2009 military defeat of the Tamil Tigers.

He fled America in November last year before US officials could interview him over alleged war crimes and by year's end he had accused Sri Lanka's defence minister, Gotabhaya Rajapakse, the President's brother, of ordering the killing of surrendering Tiger rebels in May.

The People's Tribunal on Sri Lanka, held by distinguished judges and witnesses in Dublin in January, found Sri Lanka was guilty of "war crimes" but charges of 'genocide' would have to be investigated further.

I have spoken to several individuals who were in the combat zone in the final months of last year's war and they have detailed the government's deliberate shelling and bombing of civilians and infrastructure, including hospitals. Human Rights Watch has demanded international accountability for countless violations.

Jake Lynch, director of Sydney University's Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies, has documented Canberra's 'official hand-wringing... accompanied by a notable pusillanimity" when faced with Sri Lanka's crimes. Trade has trumped human rights time and time again.

For Australia to even consider Fonseka's potential application for asylum would be a grave breach of international law, with serious charges in desperate need of investigation.

Sadly, it would also be unsurprising in the context of Australia's history of welcoming war criminals and those accused of genocide.

Successive Australian governments, from both sides of politics, have dragged their heels in seriously pursuing the accused. An ABC TV 7.30 Report from 1999 named three suspected war criminals, including Latvians Konrad Kalejs, Carlos Ozols and Heinrich Wagner, allegedly involved in an Ukranian death squad during World War Two.

"Any suggestion that we're half-hearted about pursuing this matter (prosecuting Nazi war criminals), I frankly find quite offensive," said then Justice Minister Amanda Vanstone. Yet the Howard government failed as miserably as all governments before them. The current circus over suspected Hungarian war criminal Charles Zentai is only compounding the problem.

In his book War Criminals Welcome (Black Inc, 2001), Mark Aarons reveals the litany of suspected murderers allowed to live free in Australia. Former fighters in the Soviet-controlled Afghan army who executed members of the Mujahadeen, Serbian paramilitary units, Rwandan and Croat killers and Nazi suspects all thrived here due to government "indifference".

"I think it's the only crime in Australian law," Aarons told ABC TV's Lateline in 2001, "where journalists and the communities affected by the crime are expected to produce the evidence and to conduct the investigations."

This is exactly what happened when an East Timorese woman recognised in 2008 a World Youth Day pilgrim as Gui Campos, a member of the Indonesian military's Intelligence Task Force in East Timor during the 1990s and accused torturer during Indonesia's occupation.

The Lowy Institute released a report last year that highlighted the systemic failures in pursuing war criminals. The conclusion was grim and almost pleaded for the Rudd government to take its global responsibilities seriously, if for no other reason than to, "demonstrate its credentials as a good international citizen in the context of its bid to win a UN Security Council seat."

Discussing an application from Sareth Fonseka should not allow Australian officials to forget the other prominent Sri Lankan figure on suspicion of war crimes. Dr Palitha Kohona, a dual Sri Lankan/Australian citizen and current Sri Lankan UN representative in New York, is alleged to have negotiated the surrender of senior Tamil Tigers in the closing days of the war (the Tigers were allegedly shot in cold blood). His public comments on the matter have varied widely. He called in May 2009 the aerial bombardment of civilians justified then changed his mind a few weeks later.

Again, an Australian citizen is accused of serious war crimes; ANU Professor of International Law Don Rothwell has said the information warrants a preliminary investigation and yet authorities have remained silent.

Of course, the issue of investigating war crimes should not be solely directed at leaders and officials in developing countries. The international legal system remains fundamentally deficient due to the highly selective nature of its usual mandate. Why, for example, aren't there serious questions asked when senior Israeli ministers visit Australia, some of whom are accused by the UN Goldstone Report of committing war crimes in Gaza?

The aftermath of Sri Lanka's recently disputed election puts even more pressure on Canberra to take its global responsibilities seriously. Failing to do so would simply add another chapter in the already dismal history of Australia allowing sanctuary to killers, brutes and generals.

They don't deserve a relaxing retirement.

Antony Loewenstein is a Sydney journalist and author of My Israel Question and The Blogging Revolution.

Protecting Democracy Post-Election: An end to political violence and revenge

Centre for Policy Alternatives, Sri lanka, 30th January 2010:

A series of recent events connected to the presidential election last week give rise to extremely serious concerns about the state of democracy in Sri Lanka today. The campaign period, the election and its aftermath were marred by unprecedented disregard for the Constitution and the law, resulting in not only violence and large-scale abuse of public resources, but also in setting a number of disquieting precedents with regard to the respect for constitutional authority and democratic values.

The Centre for Policy Alternatives (CPA) and the Centre for Monitoring Election Violence (CMEV) together with other civil society organisations have previously pointed out concerns regarding the conduct of the Telecommunications Regulatory Commission (TRC), the extreme partisanship of the government-controlled media institutions, the appointment and withdrawal of the Competent Authority for the Sri Lanka Rupavahini Corporation (SLRC) and the Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation (SLBC), the general disregard on the part of government institutions for the authority and directives of the Elections Commissioner (in particular the Police Department), and even the authority of the Supreme Court.

More broadly, however, the acrimonious conclusion of the election and its aftermath pose several vital questions and concerns. Despite less than ideal conditions in previous elections, we have never witnessed a situation in which the main opposition challenger was besieged by the military in a hotel on election night and continues to experience harassment by the authorities. The government has justified its actions on the basis of vague, unsubstantiated and largely unconvincing allegations against the main opposition candidate, retired General Sarath Fonseka, including claims that he was attempting to stage a coup, that assassinations and incarceration of prominent political figures was contemplated, that he was harbouring deserters, and that he was divulging state secrets.

If the government has reason to suspect anyone of instigating such action, the appropriate response is to let the law enforcement authorities deal with it according to the law. The manner in which General Fonseka has been treated however suggests different motives exuding a perception of political persecution and revenge. Unnecessary and vindictive, such measures risk political capital and the goodwill of citizens as well as Sri Lanka's international image.

General Fonseka has alleged irregularities with regard to the ballot counting process, including the chasing away of opposition counting agents by identifiable ruling party personalities in some districts. It is his right as a candidate to petition the Supreme Court with such claims, and thereafter his responsibility to substantiate them. It is best that the courts are left to resolve this matter according to procedure established by law. It is in the interests of democracy that the President and the government demonstrate magnanimity in victory, and that a defeated candidate who received the support of approximately 40% of the citizens of this country is not subject to a sustained campaign of vilification and harassment.

Meanwhile, a critical situation has arisen with regard to media freedom and the physical safety of journalists, including assaults, disappearances, verbal threats delivered by senior officials such as the Defence Secretary, interrogations and arrests, orders to deport foreign correspondents, sealing of newspapers, and the blocking of news websites without apparent legal basis.

It is telling that journalists who have been targeted are perceived to be those critical of the government, while at the same time, publicly funded government controlled media have become unapologetic propaganda apparatus of the ruling party (a new development in this regard is the phenomenon of unsolicited text messages purporting to be from the President). Assaults on media freedom have been a major blemish on the record of President Rajapakse's first term, and he has a responsibility to address this as a matter of priority in the post-war second term he has won overwhelmingly.

The President has won re-election with a mandate for post-war reconstruction, national reconciliation and economic development. The necessary backdrop for all this is his commitment to the values of democracy and constitutional government, and the respect for the limitations on his power and the authority of his government that are imposed by the Rule of Law and other democratic principles. It is in the President's interest, for the legitimacy of his administration as well as our post-war future, to provide the leadership essential to ensuring that democracy is protected, the Constitution and the Rule of Law is respected, fundamental human rights are upheld, and that the temptations of political persecution and victimisation are firmly resisted.

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