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


Interview with Edward Mortimer, Chair of the Sri Lanka Campaign Advisory Council

The Sri Lanka Campaign for Peace & Justice is launching a series of interviews to mark the first anniversary of the end of nearly three decades of armed conflict in the country. We wish to pay tribute to the countless victims who have suffered as a result of Sri Lanka's brutal civil war, and to draw attention to the serious ongoing humanitarian and human rights crises.

To kick off the series, we have interviewed Edward Mortimer, Senior Vice-President and Chief Programme Officer at the Salzburg Global Seminar and Chair of the Sri Lanka Campaign Advisory Council.

From 1998 to 2006 Edward served as chief speechwriter and (from 2001) as director of communications to UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan. He has spent much of his career as a journalist, first with The Times of London, where he developed an expertise in Middle East affairs, and later with the Financial Times, where from 1987 to 1998 he was the main commentator and columnist on foreign affairs.

1) Speaking personally, why did you choose to get involved with the Sri Lanka Campaign?

I was contacted last year by an old friend who said he feared that something like genocide was happening in Sri Lanka. Having been involved in efforts to rebuild the UN’s reputation after the disasters of Rwanda and Srebrenica, I felt I had to at least look into the situation – especially as my good friend and former colleague Lakhdar Brahimi had publicly warned of "a slaughter waiting to happen".

I got the strong feeling that the international community was doing much less than it could, partly because the media were being excluded and censored, but also because many governments had decided that the Tamil Tigers – a very unpleasant and violent insurgency group – had to be eradicated, and were not disposed to be squeamish about the casualties involved.

In other words, they went along with the collective punishment of the entire Tamil population for the crimes of the LTTE, in flagrant violation of all the humanitarian and human rights principles to which they had subscribed.

2) There are already many human rights groups and other NGOs working on Sri Lanka. Why did you feel that a new organisation was needed?

There are several excellent groups which deal with Sri Lanka in the context of a global mission. I really want to congratulate Amnesty International , for example, on the work it has done on Sri Lanka over many, many years, and also the International Crisis Group on its excellent recent report.

But, as with other conflicts that are convenient for the international community to forget or ignore - Burma, Sudan, Tibet - these groups find it helpful to have a dedicated voice on Sri Lanka, day in day out. Of course, there are also groups trying to do behind-the-scenes peace-building, and that too can be very important. But all my experience - as a journalist and having worked at the UN - is that this quiet diplomacy works best when there is pressure on the parties.

In Sri Lanka, there is no real pressure on the Government of Sri Lanka (GoSL) - the victors - because they have wiped out or jailed their opponents. So someone has to play the hard cop. We set up the Sri Lanka Campaign to have this specialist role - putting pressure on those who can put pressure on GoSL but also collaborating closely with those already working on the country in the hope that we can add value.

3) Given the brutality of the past thirty years, and the ruthless conduct of both the LTTE and successive Sri Lankan governments, shouldn't we be celebrating the country's first year without armed conflict?

One year on, the situation remains desperate for thousands of people. Over 80,000 civilians are still languishing in camps, and many of those who have 'returned home' came back to rubble and poverty, with little hope for the future, not to mention food and basic services.

The bombing may have stopped, but attacks on independent journalists and human rights defenders haven't. Collective punishment and the structural violence experienced by Tamils in the north and east of the country haven't stopped.

And despite its claims and the commissions it has announced, the GoSL has done nothing tangible to bring about justice for victims.

4) How would you assess the UN's record in Sri Lanka?

After the tragedies of Rwanda and Srebrenica, there was a lot of soul-searching within the UN, not least by Kofi Annan, who was head of UN peacekeeping before he was appointed Secretary-General. He commissioned an independent inquiry into the UN's conduct in Rwanda, chaired by a former prime minister of Sweden, which was very tough on the UN Secretariat. In addition Annan himself produced, at the request of the General Assembly, a very honest report on the 1995 Srebrenica massacre in Bosnia, which acknowledged that the UN's determination to be impartial had been distorted into a culture of neutralism and passivity and failure to confront the most blatant and systematic violations of human rights.

He tried to remedy these failings both by commissioning the Brahimi Report (2000), which provided for more "robust" UN peacekeeping and said the Secretariat should "tell the Security Council what it needs to know, not what it wants to hear", and by warning the Security Council that it must be willing to confront gross violations such as happened in Rwanda and Kosovo, or else others would usurp its authority (Ditchley Foundation Lecture, 1998 and address to the General Assembly, September 1999).

This led to the formulation of the "Responsibility to Protect" (R2P) doctrine, eventually adopted by UN Member States at the World Summit in 2005 , in whose Outcome Document states recognised their individual responsibility to protect their peoples against genocide, ethnic cleansing, war crimes and crimes against humanity, and their collective responsibility to take action, through the Security Council, when any state manifestly failed to protect its own peoples against those crimes.

But the UN's record in Darfur, in Zimbabwe and in Sri Lanka does, I fear, leave one wondering how serious the world's leaders were when they adopted that document. In Sri Lanka in 2009 particularly, despite early calls from the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and the Secretary-General himself, the UN failed to move either the GoSL or the international community to prevent the massive bloodshed during the final stages of the war against the LTTE.

The Security Council was actually holding sessions on civilians in armed conflict in November 2009 and January 2010 when the situation in Sri Lanka was rapidly deteriorating, but although the country was mentioned, it never made it on to the Council's actual agenda, as China and Russia argued that it was a domestic affair.

The Human Rights Council's treatment of Sri Lanka was even more appalling - instead of condemning the flagrant disregard for humanitarian and human rights law, it ended up congratulating the GoSL on its despicable behaviour. Many members of the Human Council - from the global 'north' and 'south' alike - said they were influenced by the GoSL's promise to set up a credible domestic mechanism to establish accountability. One year later this promise has clearly not been kept, and they should be asked to look into the matter again.

The two councils are, of course, political bodies made up of states so they must take the blame for this, but top UN officials certainly could have done more in applying moral pressure.

By participating in stage-managed visits to 'show' camps and providing aid to GoSL-run projects, the UN has been accused of propping up the internment camps and legitimising the government’s actions. While UN agencies have been doing vital work on the ground - in very difficult circumstances - the Secretariat should have intensified efforts to press for justice and reconciliation. The Secretariat also did not adequately defend UN staff - those working on the ground who faced intimidation, attacks and expulsion, as well as special rapporteurs and representatives, like Philip Alston and Radhika Coomaraswamy, who have reaped harsh censure for venturing criticism.

5) You have always been a champion of the 'the responsibility to protect' (R2P). You could say that the recent events in Sri Lanka, and the failure of the international community to respond to them, have made a mockery of that whole project. Is R2P dead and buried now?

Let's remember what R2P is - the responsibility of each sovereign state to protect its populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity, and the responsibility of all states collectively to take action if a state is unable or unwilling to do so. And let's remember why states agreed to it - the shame of having allowed Rwanda and Srebrenica to happen. Yes, Sri Lanka has damaged it. So have Western powers, and Russia, by interpreting it speciously and selectively in an attempt to justify their actions in Iraq and Georgia, while failing to protect the Palestinian population in Gaza.

But this should not surprise us. In history, and perhaps especially in international law, it is all too often at best one-and-a-half steps forward, and one step back. But that's no excuse for giving up. We cannot resign ourselves – and I believe the people of the world will not resign themselves - to letting Rwanda, Darfur and Sri Lanka remain the norm of international behaviour.

6) So what can be done to make the international community care more about what has happened and is happening in Sri Lanka?

There is a lot more that could be done, but we need to work differently. Currently the Sri Lankan government is portraying itself as the plucky non-aligned, developing country that is standing up to the West and/or the North – the imperialists and neo-colonialists. Sadly this works well today in the theatre of the UN, and of international diplomacy. But many of the countries whose governments have been supporting Sri Lanka are democracies - India, Brazil, South Africa and many smaller countries in the global South. So it's to public opinion and civil society in those countries that we need to take the argument. Do any of these countries have a national debate before they vote at the UN, or before they supply aid and investment to Sri Lanka? They should do, and the peoples of those countries should insist on it.

7) What more could the UN and the international community do?

There should be a proper international inquiry into war crimes committed by both sides. And countries such as the US should not be so quick to welcome the GoSL's 'Commission into Lessons Learnt'. But also, and separately, the Secretary-General should appoint a credible, full-time special envoy, to handle the whole range of issues in Sri Lanka with which the UN is, or should be, concerned.

Perhaps the most urgent of these is the need to secure immediate and regular access for the ICRC to the 10,000 or so people still being held - without charge, let alone trial - on suspicion of being combatants, members or collaborators of the LTTE. The lack of access to these people, combined with Sri Lanka's long history of torture and other abuses, can only make one fear the worst. It is a classic human rights issue and as such should be a very high priority for the UN. It’s also very important that international and local NGOs be allowed to provide the services that survivors need, including psychosocial support – which the Sri Lankan government has cruelly prevented up to now.

Sri Lanka is a test case for the international community. The failure to prevent what has happened there, and to respond adequately once it did happen, casts serious doubt on the effectiveness of the current international human rights and humanitarian regimes. Even worse, we are told that other countries (such as Burma and Thailand) have indicated they might wish to adopt the 'Sri Lanka option'
i.e. unrestrained military action with scant regard for civilian life as a means to deal with insurgencies and other violent groups. All those with moral authority, particularly in Asia and other parts of the developing world, should take a firm stand NOW against this insidious doctrine.

8) And finally, what can we as concerned members of the public do?

Sign the Sri Lanka Campaign petition, calling on the UN Secretary-General to act. Ban Ki-moon has thus far been too timid on Sri Lanka and he is much more likely to act if he knows he has support from around the world. So it’s important that it does come from around the world, not just from the Tamil diaspora in a few countries whom the GoSL can easily dismiss, however unfairly, as mouthpieces or paymasters of the LTTE.

That doesn't mean letting national governments off the hook. Some are very important: the US, the EU countries, India and Japan, but also countries like Brazil and South Africa that have hitherto supported the Sri Lankan government. So ask your friends in those countries to sign up too.

And if you are thinking of going on holiday to Sri Lanka, ask yourself: can you really relax and enjoy yourself in a country, even a "tropical paradise island", where so many people are so cruelly treated? If the answer is that you are not going just to relax but because you want to learn more about the country and its people, fine - but in that case do try to help the local actors who are working with the survivors.

Above all, don't play the game of denial. Talk about the issue to anyone and everyone, especially Sri Lankans. Those who have suffered will be deeply touched that you care. And those who are in denial will be challenged, which is all to the good. There are extremist cultural, religious and political attitudes in Sri Lanka which need to be challenged. Now, surely, is the time for Sri Lanka to do away with the racism and oppression that have driven the violence for so long.

Oppression and brutality don't cease to be wrong just because oppressors and victims have the same skin colour. They should be opposed in all cases, and I cannot accept that saying so makes you a "Western imperialist". It's simply a matter of refusing to stand by and watch other people being treated in a way you couldn't bear to be treated yourself.

Has the war finished?

The bombing has surely stopped. But for Tamils in the North and independent journalists and human rights defenders in the South the attacks continue. MCM Iqbal, the widely respected former secretary to two of Sri Lanka’s “truth commissions” has listed the current forms of "collective punishment" MCM

One needs to remember that the war has left behind a large number of victims who have been rendered destitute. An estimate says that there are nearly 50,000 war widows languishing without anyone to care, either for them or their siblings. In the North nearly 5000 men have been maimed during the war. About 11,000 to 15,000 youth are detained as LTTE suspects without their next of kin being informed. 250 university students are also in custody. Even the Members of Parliament are not allowed to visit them. The names of those detained are not made public. Many grieving Tamils have no way of finding out if their loved ones are dead or alive. These are all citizens of Sri Lanka. It is the responsibility of the State to inform the next of kin of those detained, that they are under detention.

MCM Iqbal was appointed to secretary to two presidential inquiry panels into the 30,000 or more forced disappearances that took place in the late 1980s and early ’90s. The findings of the inquiries have not been fully released and the corrective actions proposed igored. Read his recent article on the challenge and opportunity facing President Rajapaksa:


Whitewash at the White House

This depressing speech by Hillary Clinton speaks for itself. It stands in stark contrast to the pre-election rhetoric of Barrack Obama "When genocide is happening, when ethnic cleansing is happening somewhere around the world and we stand idly by, that diminishes us."

President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton, you are both clearly diminished. As Time noted even back in 2009, "Obama failing Sri Lanka test".


The question is will US civil society - and particular US human rights groups collude with this stance? Or will they - as they did with Sudan and Burma - push the Administration to show more backbone?

Campaign Advisor, Aitzaz Ahsan: 'Reclaiming a Paradise'

Tuesday, 18 May 2010 13:42
On the first anniversary of the end of Sri Lanka's civil war, Pakistani lawyer, politician and human rights activist Aitzaz Ahsan writes on why the ongoing abuses in Sri Lanka should concern Pakistanis and all South Asians.

Although it is clichéd to begin with that proverbial view from an aeroplane, landing at the airport, that indeed was my first view of Sri Lanka: lush green forests and long white beaches gently sloping into the dark blue waters of the Indian Ocean.

I was going to Colombo to observe a trial on behalf of the Law Asia Foundation. Certain officers of the Sri Lankan police were to be tried for atrocities against the Tamil population in the Batticaloa region. The trial was a sombre proceeding, conducted with the highest judicial propriety.

That was the year 1987.

There was more that engaged me besides the trial during the week I was in Sri Lanka. As my wife and I walked the streets and the beaches, ate at restaurants and deliberately lost our way in the back allies of Colombo, we realised the true beauty of the capital – its plurality.

Bells of Hindu and Buddhist temples chimed, while across the street, mosque minarets and church spires competed with each other to touch the clouds. There was a sublime serenity to it. An atmosphere of tolerance and peaceful co-existence pervaded all around. Everyone was friendly, helpful and outgoing.

It was indeed a paradise on earth. It was a nation at peace with itself and with the world. The Tamil Tiger insurgency was then a distant occurrence confined mostly to the northern Jaffna region.

Yet the most valuable interaction I had was that with a former judge of the Supreme Appellate Court of Sri Lanka, Justice TW Rajaratnam. He had retired from the Supreme Court and was writing a book on the trial and execution of Pakistan’s former Prime Minister, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto.

Short, stocky, bald, Hindu by persuasion and well into his 70s, the judge was passionately interested in a tragedy enacted in a far and distant land, Pakistan. We had long discussions at his home and in restaurants. His book, Judiciary in Crisis? The Trial of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, became the most authentic analysis of the evidence and the mistrial.

Why should a retired Sri Lankan judge be interested in a Pakistani tragedy, I wondered. My own commitment to justice and human rights had taught me that these values were universal. The Sri Lankan judge only reinforced my belief.

And that is the precise reason why the state of human rights in Sri Lanka today should be of interest to every Pakistani, indeed every South Asian. These values are indeed universal and of common concern to all humanity.

Pakistan was itself created in the image of its founder, barrister Muhammad Ali Jinnah. Jinnah was a pluralist who believed in non-violence and constitutionalism. He prescribed for his state and its people peaceful co-existence and equality of all citizens.

On the eve of Pakistan’s birth in August 1947, Jinnah said: “Therefore, we must learn a lesson from this. You are free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques or any other place of worship in Pakistan. You may belong to any religion, caste or creed, this has nothing to do with the business of the State …. Now I think that we should keep that in front of us as our ideal and you will find in course of time, Hindu would cease to be Hindu and Muslim would cease to be Muslims, not in the religious sense because that is the personal faith of each individual, but in the political sense, as citizens of the State.”

By the time I visited Sri Lanka again, the war had come to Colombo. In fact my second visit was a consequence of this; President Ranasinghe Premadasa had been killed by a suicide bomb in May 1993. I, as a Federal Minister, accompanied the Prime Minister of Pakistan to the late President’s last rites.

That war, having lasted more than 25 years, was declared over with the Sri Lankan government’s victory in May 2009. But the pain and tragedy of the conflict has not ended. A report submitted to the United Nations recounts the violations of citizens’ basic human rights by the Sri Lankan government and its agencies. These include enforced and involuntary disappearance, impunity for abduction and secret detention, as well as the imprisonment of more than 10,000 people on suspicion of having been involved with the Tamil Tigers in what can best be described as concentration camps.

The UN experts are not the only ones who have observed human rights violations. Human Rights Watch says it has documented several cases in which individuals were taken into custody without regard to the protections 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. Other reports indicate orders to summarily execute surrendering Tamil Tigers leaders.

Meantime wide-ranging and discriminatory emergency regulations that gave the military and intelligence vast powers of arrest, entry and confiscation of property remain in force. Sri Lanka’s government is also delaying the implementation of the 13th Amendment to the constitution, which would entail the devolution of powers to the provincial tiers. Colombo fears that this would empower the Tamil grassroots. The implementation process has thus slowed.

Sri Lanka is again a veritable paradise in the making. But to fulfil this, it has to celebrate and derive strength from its plurality. It has to reach out to its minorities and give them equal opportunities and freedoms without discrimination on the basis of ethnicity, race or religion. That, alone, can ensure it lasting peace.

When I was there in 1987, before the conflict had embraced all of Sri Lanka, it was a paradise, where Buddhists, Christians, Hindus, Muslims and people of all ethnicities could co-exist without discrimination or fear. That paradise was lost in war. And that paradise needs to be regained in peace. That is a lesson for all multiethnic and plural states in the region.

Aitzaz Ahsan is one of Pakistan's leading attorneys, having represented Benazir Bhutto, Nawaz Sharif and Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry during his career. He is a human rights activist and a founder of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, and also serves on the advisory council of the Sri Lanka Campaign for Peace & Justice. He is a member of the Pakistan People's Party.



"Negative Memory Bulldozed in Sri Lanka"

A March post on Culture in Peril, titled "Remembering to Remember at Holocaust Museums," discussed the topic of memory and its crucial role in effecting proper negotiation of tragic negative events. I wrote,

The key premise of this blog post: museum exhibits dedicated to past tragedies, particularly human induced atrocities such as The Holocaust, are important vehicles in the formation of collective memory and facilitate the consumption of trauma/loss in a way that provides society with a cathartic release from grief. Simply put, memorials to 'negative heritage' allow society to remember to remember.

Culture in Peril asks readers to recall this previous post in light of recent cultural heritage developments occurring in Sri Lanka, that is, the government-sanctioned destruction of all LTTE [Tamil Tiger] landmarks. According to Tourism Ministry Secretary George Michael, “The official government policy is not to highlight former LTTE landmarks for tourism purposes. The government has already begun to clear some LTTE landmarks in line with the government’s view that terrorism, the LTTE and the violence which affected the public during the war should be forgotten.” Newly-elected President Mahinda Majapakse's UPFA government has consequently begun bulldozing LTTE cemetaries, homes of former LTTE leaders, and memorials erected by the LTTE. In their place the government plans to build hotels and resorts to promote tourism in the country's Northern Province.

While I support the decision to develop these once war-torn areas as new tourist destinations, thus empowering Sri Lanka's economy, ultimately I condemn the UPFA's egregious efforts to eradicate all tangible remnants of the decades-long civil war. This conflict has only just ended--May 17, 2010 marks the one-year anniversary of the Tamil Tigers' defeat--and vivid memories (nightmares?) of it are no doubt fresh in the minds of people who have witnessed the indescribable horrors firsthand. These living victims of the war require a means of reconciliation and confirmation of their experiences. Eliminating LTTE landmarks is not proper grief counseling; it is shunning the negative heritage that remains today. Malathi de Alwis, a Sri Lankan journalist writing in The Guardian, remarks,

The primary response to the war we endured should not be bulldozings and demolitions and exhortations to forget, but rather to ensure that we never again descend into that hellish abyss. To do this, we need to reflect on the circumstances that led to this war and make sure we do not repeat the mistakes made in previous decades.

In this case it is not beneficial to advance touristic opportunity to spite the collective memory of the Sri Lankan people. As I mentioned, the people of Sri Lanka--Tamil or otherwise--are living victims of the tragedy. They are relatives, friends, and even enemies of those who perished. Deconstructing the cultural landscape and ensuring that the LTTE is entirely forgotten by erecting "victory" monuments is a callous way to honor and memorialize those who have ties to this event. The suggestion is to maintain the former sites of LTTE presence because they are "repositories of memory, suffering and grief, and often help to translate the unthinkable to the thinkable." In any event, though these sites were once appropriated as a form of Tamil nationalism, instead they now can act as conciliatory landmarks of the LTTE's former power, reminders of the tragedy and indicators of the government's triumph.

We can also ponder the repercussions of this cultural heritage destruction as it pertains to the Tamils. Johnathan Steele notes, "If [President] Rajapakse treats Tamils as a conquered enemy, who have to be corralled in camps and whose land has to be split up and occupied, he will sow the seeds for new militancy in the generation to come."

Clearly, the treatment of (negative) memory has significant social, economic, and political ramifications. Cultural heritage of past tragedies, even recent ones, need not always have negative connotations. We must consider how this heritage can be appropriated for good purposes as well--like fomenting collective memory to prevent these events from recurring. (Indeed, is it possible for the former LTTE landmarks to serve as tourist destinations without encouraging Tamil nationalism?)

Culture in Peril asks readers to think about a global cultural landscape without a Fort Sumter, a Normandy Beach, or Gorée Island.
Posted by Nicholas Merkelson at 2:03 PM
Labels: memory, negative heritage, Sri Lanka



What Sri Lanka tourists wont see - author of "The Good Tourist" speaks out

It’s now a tourist hotspot, but Sri Lanka is still a very dangerous place for reporters,

by Lucy Popescu.

May 19 marked the first anniversary of the end of Sri Lanka’s long civil war. In the past year, there has been frenzied activity to rebuild the country’s tourist industry. Astonishingly, the New York Times has made Sri Lanka its number one holiday destination for 2010. The travel brochures rhapsodise about the country’s natural splendours, stunning beaches and cultural heritage. Holidaymakers are once again pouring into this south Asian island, off the coast of India.

After almost three decades of conflict with the rebel Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (popularly known as the Tamil Tigers), the Sri Lankan government declared military victory last May.

But many tourists do not know that Sri Lanka is now rated the fourth most dangerous place in the world for journalists, higher even than Afghanistan. The new peace in Sri Lanka has come at a high cost to freedom of expression and the human rights of its citizens.

More than 15 journalists are believed to have been killed since 2006. These include Lasantha Wickramatunga, editor of the Sunday Leader newspaper, who was murdered on January 8 2009 as he drove to work. Wickramatunga was widely known for his criticism of corruption, government policies and the civil war, and he had received several threats to his life. Just days before his death, chillingly he penned an article predicting his murder. It serves to summarise the threat facing all dissident writers in Sri Lanka:

“I hope my assassination will be seen not as a defeat of freedom but an inspiration for those who survive to step up their efforts. People often ask me why I take such risks and tell me it is a matter of time before I am bumped off. Of course, I know that: it is inevitable. But if we do not speak out now, there will be no one left to speak for those who cannot, whether they be ethnic minorities, the disadvantaged or the persecuted.”

No one has been brought to justice for his murder.

According to Amnesty, despite the official end to the civil war, just for attempting to report the truth, journalists continue to be killed, physically assaulted, abducted, and harassed by both government personnel and members of paramilitary groups aligned with the state.

Newspapers have been seized and burned, newspaper offices have been vandalised and printing equipment destroyed.

On August 31 last year, a Sri Lankan court sentenced Tamil journalist Jayaprakash Sittampalam (JS) Tissainayagam to 20 years hard labour for causing “communal disharmony”. Human rights groups believe that he was targeted for his earlier reporting on the conflict between government forces and the Tamil Tigers. After an international outcry, which included President Barack Obama expressing concern during an address to mark 2009 World Press Freedom Day, Tissa received a presidential pardon exactly a year later on May 3 2010. His release proves that external pressure can make a difference in Sri Lanka and the international community can play a part in this.

Emergency regulations, issued by the President, involve far-reaching and vaguely defined “terrorism” offences that have been used to silence critical voices. The authorities frequently misuse the Prevention of Terrorism Act and emergency regulations to prosecute journalists like Tissa in violation of their right to freedom of opinion and expression.

According to Amnesty, there has been a further clampdown on dissent since the presidential election concluded on January 26 2010. This has included arrests, death threats against several prominent newspaper editors, harassment of trade unionists and state employees who supported the opposition, and the intimidation of independent internet-based media.

On the day of the elections, a political cartoonist and opposition journalist, Prageeth Eknaligoda, disappeared. According to Reporters sans Frontiéres (RSF), he was abducted as he left the office of the Lanka-e-News website, his place of work, and has been missing since then. The police investigation has yielded nothing.

Many journalists and NGOs have wanted to report on the internment camps in Sri Lanka. There are almost 100,000 civilians still detained in these camps. But only pro-government NGOs have been allowed to work in many of the smaller camps. As a consequence, the outside world remains largely ignorant of the real conditions for the detainees.

In the rush to smooth the way for tourism, the government has started to bulldoze various Tamil Tiger landmark sites, including cemeteries and the homes of Velupillai Prabhakaran and other Tamil Tigers leaders. The Thileepan memorial near the Nallur temple was also defaced, apparently with the collusion of the Sri Lankan army. In a move sure to enflame local tensions, the authorities propose replacing the homes of Tamil Tigers leaders with hotels and resorts.

Many tourists never leave their hotel and most Sri Lankans are too frightened to speak about what is going on in their country. So visitors are unaware of the very different world outside the resorts where ordinary Sri Lankan citizens continue to have their basic human rights trampled on, sometimes involving violence and torture. If civil unrest erupts again, another humanitarian crisis is just waiting to happen.

What you can do
To find out more about Sri Lanka and how you can help visit www.srilankacampaign.org.

Urge the United Nations Secretary General to push for an independent inquiry into war crimes on both sides and appoint a special envoy for Sri Lanka; to ensure that all those held in camps are treated in line with international standards; and to press the government to protect human rights and promote peace and reconciliation.

Amnesty (www.amnesty.org) publishes regular reports on the human rights situation in Sri Lanka.

RSF (www.rsf.org) is monitoring the disappearance of Prageeth Eknaligoda and reports on attacks against the media.



The hidden psychosocial distress in Sri Lanka - yet another form of collective punishment for Tamils?

By Nina de la Preugne.

The flow of words stopped suddenly and her voice was replaced by quiet sobs. The thought of her son, who went missing around November in the infamous Manik Farm ‘displacement camp’, always raises uncontrollable emotions in Pavitra. Until a few months ago, she was not too worried. She thought they would be reunited as they left the camp.

But back in the Vanni area of northern Sri Lanka, the gravity of the situation hit her. “I think I will never see him again. Like my dead nephew.”

Sashi, 25, is another mother struggling with the consequences of the conflict: “I lost my foot and fingers due to the shelling. It is only in January that I received proper treatment for my injuries, in the Vavunyia hospital. My husband was inside the LTTE controlled area and to protect himself from being forcefully enrolled by the LTTE, he got married to someone else. I don’t know where he is and I have to take care of my three children by myself”.

In the psychiatric department of the general hospital in the northern city of Jaffna, the number of patients has started to increase exponentially, mirroring a mindset that has shifted from relief at the end of Sri Lanka’s civil war, to hopelessness.

“Over the years, there had been an escalation of violence. Little by little we learnt to deal with worse situations, to deal with displacements, murders and so on. People just had to deal with the present situation, it’s the instinct of survival – it does not leave space for understanding but just for action,” said a doctor at the hospital.

Today, back on their land, with a certain stability brought to their lives and no direct physical threat, former internally displaced persons (IDPs) and survivors of the war are able to make sense of the past. The survival mechanism that had prevented displaced Tamils from meaningful reflection on their experience at the peak of the war has given way to depression as they have no choice but to face the memories of traumatic events – the loss of family, of limbs, of their previous life.

“My husband had two motorbikes, a board engine, a net and his own shop. Now we are starting from zero. We have no money, no equipment to go fishing, no livelihood and no one to help us,” said a 50-year-old woman in Vanni. “There are many cases of mental disorders in the area. Many men have started to drink. We used to have families, houses, properties... When I think about that it makes me cry.”

Her husband described symptoms of acute stress disorder, a serious condition that can lead to Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder: “When I see dead bodies I get faint and often fall unconscious. I also get a pain on my side and it almost paralyses me.”

Such cases of acute stress reaction or disorder have multiplied in the last two months according to local doctors, but the means to handle the situation are severely restricted.

“There are only two psychiatrists for the entire Jaffna and Vanni area, it is not enough and this will affect the future of the area because people will not be able to move on,” said the doctor at Jaffna general hospital.

A NGO worker agreed that little had been done to meet the psycho-social needs of the displaced population: “I am not sure the government recognises the importance of the situation. There is a lot of grief, of anger too. NGOs and aid agencies underestimated the issue as well.”

Such a mindset has repercussions on almost every aspect of daily life. At Jaffna University, formerly one of the most prestigious universities in South Asia, the 6,000 students were all affected by the war. Many have been disabled, traumatised, displaced. They lost family members, husbands and friends.

The consequences of having such an affected student population are often difficult to manage for the academic staff, and cases of suicides and violence are widespread. Disabled students, war widows, orphans, and displaced students have to be accommodated one way or another by the university but resources, adequate infrastructure and staff numbers are lacking. They have not been provided by the governing authorities, despite the obvious urgency of the situation.

“The university has problems getting things done at the moment. The government stopped funding us during the war because of the security situation, but now that the war is over there is no excuse. We expect mass-scale development programmes from the government, helping us materially, psychologically, and leading to reconciliation,” said a teacher at the university.

Reconciliation. The word brings a heated debate every time it is mentioned. What it stands for varies widely across communities and classes. Although the government has declared reconciliation to be part of its agenda, its understanding of the term seems to be limited to the economic development of the area – the beneficiaries of which are uncertain – and preventing the formation of a new terrorist movement.

As a result, suspicion towards the Tamil minority, and towards helping the Tamil minority, is high. Administrative barriers such as the Presidential Task Force, a bureau that screens every programme before it can be implemented by NGOs in the North, slow down initiatives, and support reaches the population with difficulties.

“Every time Tamil people bring a problem to the Sinhalese authorities, there is suspicion of dissent. Reconciliation activities should start from the Sinhalese side. They did not live through the same hardships as Tamils and do not understand or know. They should make the initial effort,” said the university teacher.

The militarisation of the area is another consequence of this underlying suspicion. Despite the end of the war a year ago and the dismantling of the separatist LTTE, the ratio of soldiers to citizens in the area is overwhelming. Driving through the Vanni, one loses count of the number of checkpoints along the route to the Jaffna peninsula at the northernmost tip of the island. There, the impression of being on a military base is reinforced by the soldiers, bunkers and signs welcoming you to regiments’ buildings at every street corner.

In Jaffna and the former LTTE base of Kilinochchi, expensive looking monuments have been erected to celebrate the glory of the Sri Lankan soldiers who won the war, regardless of the more urgent needs of the thousands who still live in precarious shelters.

“We feel conquered, invaded,” said a middle-aged Tamil man working at Jaffna general hospital. “The monuments for soldiers carry a very strong and bizarre message. There is a feeling of subjection and humiliation. What about the thousands of people who died in the conflict? Who will build monuments to their memory?”

The impression of being relegated to second class citizens, added to uncertainty about their future, reinforces the Tamil community’s despair brought by the trauma of the past year.

Conflict resolution studies have found that compassion, acknowledgment of suffering and sympathy for those who endure it are the building blocks for meaningful dialogue and reconciliation. The Sinhalese community had its share of pain and loss during the 25 years of war, but it is for the winner to show magnanimity.

Many Tamil families were hugely affected by the last stage of the war and the strong feeling of alienation is only enhanced by the lack of respect and trust showed to them by the Sinhalese authorities.

Colombo is making a crucial mistake about the Tamil minority’s intentions for the future. With no serious leadership and the desire to reconstruct their lives, there is no platform for a new terrorist movement to arise.

“Tamils have lived through the conflict, they know the kind of horrors it can bring. Therefore, most Tamils are ready for the process of reconciliation. All they ask for is respect and a good life. They are worried about their families,” said another teacher at Jaffna University.

While suffering and loss can be found within both communities, the last two years have put the Tamil population through great trauma. Those feelings, if not handled properly by the government, will rekindle Tamil aspirations for an independent Eelam and fuel violent movements in the vein of the LTTE further down the line.

Throughout history, the respect and care shown by the conqueror towards its new subjects has ensured the success or the failure of their assimilation. The Colombo government has got off on the wrong foot.

Due to fear of repercussions, most people were only willing to speak on condition of anonymity. Travelling beyond Vavunyia in the north of Sri Lanka is still forbidden for foreigners without an MoD clearance. Ministry of Defence officials told the reporter that clearance is required in order to prevent journalists from “reporting bad things on what is happening in Jaffna and Vanni”. As a result, the author decided not to pursue the MoD clearance, and did not ask MoD officials for their response to comments in the article.


Amnesty International: Call on UN to investigate Sri Lanka rights violations

18th May 2010 . Today marks the first anniversary of the end of the conflict in Sri Lanka. In response to the impunity that continues to exist, Amnesty International has launched a web petition calling for the United Nation to establish an independent international investigation into crimes alleged to have been committed during the conflict as a first step towards international justice.

Links to the petition, a web-video and more details of the action are available from the www.amnesty.org homepage or alternatively, you can access it directly at:



Human Rights Watch says to Ban Ki-moon: Don’t Cave to Sri Lanka on Inquiry

Even prior to the end of Sri Lanka's armed conflict in May 2009, Human Rights Watch has called upon the United Nations to establish an independent international investigation into violations of international humanitarian law by both Sri Lankan government forces and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. This Q & A addresses various issues relating to accountability for crimes in violation of international law.


For more than 25 years the government of Sri Lanka was involved in an armed conflict with the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). This conflict was marked by numerous human rights abuses by both sides, which Human Rights Watch has long reported on. A ceasefire that began in February 2002 effectively ended with the resumption of major military operations in mid-2006. The LTTE forces slowly retreated to an enclave in the northeast coast of the island, forcing large numbers of ethnic Tamil civilians along with them. Starting in January 2009, fighting in the enclave intensified, with the LTTE using the civilian population as human shields and government forces firing heavy artillery indiscriminately into populated areas. The government forces continued their advance, finally cornering the LTTE, including its top leadership, into a tiny strip of land on the coast. On May 18, the fighting ended with the LTTE's defeat and most of the LTTE leadership killed.

The government's prohibition on the media, human rights groups, and most humanitarian agencies from the conflict area sharply reduced information on the situation at the time. However, Human Rights Watch and others have since gathered first-hand accounts and photographs from Sri Lankans trapped in the war zone, which paint a grim picture of death from combat, malnutrition, and inadequate medical care. Civilians paid an especially heavy price in this conflict, particularly during the last five months from January to May 2009. It is unclear how many people died during these months, but the UN has conservatively estimated that at least 7,000 civilians died and 13,000 were injured. Human Rights Watch has investigated a range of alleged serious violations of international humanitarian law (the laws of war) committed by Sri Lanka and the LTTE since the beginning of 2009. Abuses by government forces included: the indiscriminate use of weapons such as heavy artillery in densely populated areas, including declared No Fire Zones; repeated shelling of civilians, hospitals, and humanitarian facilities; enforced disappearances of suspected LTTE fighters; and extrajudicial executions. Abuses by LTTE forces included: using civilians as human shields or otherwise placing them at unnecessary risk; deliberately firing on civilians seeking to flee the conflict zone; and the use of child soldiers.

All parties to an armed conflict-both states and non-state armed groups-are responsible for complying with the requirements of international humanitarian law. That is, each party must respect and ensure respect for the laws of war by its armed forces and other persons or groups acting on its orders or under its direction or control. This obligation does not depend on reciprocity-parties to a conflict must respect the requirements whether or not the opposing side abides by it. It also does not depend on the reason for which the respective parties go to war, whether by a state ("fighting terrorism") or an armed group ("ethnic homeland"). And all parties to an armed conflict must be held to the same standards, regardless of any disparity in the harm caused by alleged violations.

A party to an armed conflict is responsible for serious violations of the laws of war committed by its armed forces and persons or entities acting under its authority, direction, or control. That responsibility, whether by a state or non-state actor, entails a requirement to make full reparations for the loss or injury caused; reparations can take the form of restitution (reestablishment of the prior situation), compensation (financial payment), or satisfaction (such as a formal apology or other action) to another state, entity, or individuals. As discussed below, states also have an obligation to hold accountable individuals under their control who are responsible for serious violations of the laws of war.

What international law applies to the armed conflict in Sri Lanka?

The armed conflict between Sri Lanka and the LTTE is governed by international treaties and the rules of customary international humanitarian law. Customary humanitarian law, based on established state practice, binds all parties to an armed conflict, whether states such as Sri Lanka or non-state armed groups such as the LTTE, and concerns the conduct of hostilities. Relevant treaty law includes Common Article 3 to the Geneva Conventions of 1949, which sets forth minimum standards for the treatment of persons within a party's control.

Why is accountability important?

Holding individuals accountable for serious violations of the laws of war is important because it may deter future violations, promote respect for the law, and provide avenues of redress for the victims. Armed forces that hold offending individuals accountable under these laws promote discipline and professionalism within their forces, maintain responsible command, and improve relations with the civilian population. States and non-state armed groups that fail to establish such accountability undermine their standing in conflict areas and globally, and increase the likelihood of international action being taken against them. Such accountability is also necessary for the victims of laws of war violations and their families who seek justice for their plight.

What are the obligations of states generally to ensure respect for the laws of war?

All states, whether or not a party to the conflict, have a responsibility under the Geneva Conventions of 1949 to exert their influence, to the degree possible, to stop violations of international humanitarian law. Such action can be taken unilaterally or as part of multilateral measures, such as collectively imposed sanctions against a state, an armed group, or certain individuals.

Who is primarily responsible for ensuring accountability of individuals who have committed laws-of-war violations?

Ensuring justice for serious violations is, in the first instance, the responsibility of the states whose nationals are implicated in the violations. States have an obligation to investigate serious violations that implicate members of their forces or other persons under their jurisdiction. The state must ensure that military or domestic courts or other institutions impartially investigate whether serious violations occurred, identifying, and prosecuting the individuals responsible for those violations in accordance with international fair-trial standards, and imposing punishments on individuals found guilty that are commensurate with their deeds.

While non-state armed groups do not have the same legal obligation to prosecute violators of the laws of war within their ranks, they are nonetheless responsible for ensuring compliance with the laws of war and have a responsibility when they do conduct trials to do so in accordance with international fair trial standards.

When are violations of international humanitarian law considered war crimes?

Individuals who commit serious violations of international humanitarian law with criminal intent-that is, intentionally or recklessly-are responsible for war crimes. War crimes include a wide array of offenses, among them deliberate, indiscriminate, and disproportionate attacks harming civilians, using human shields, and committing torture, enforced disappearances and summary executions. Individuals also may be held criminally liable for attempting to commit a war crime, as well as assisting in, facilitating, or aiding and abetting a war crime.

Responsibility also may fall on persons who plan or instigate the commission of a war crime. Commanders and civilian leaders may be prosecuted for war crimes as a matter of command responsibility when they knew or should have known about the commission of war crimes and took insufficient measures to prevent them or punish those responsible.

Is the Sri Lankan government meeting its obligation to investigate allegations of laws-of-war violations?

All too often, states whose citizens are implicated in serious violations in the laws of war lack the will or capacity to investigate and prosecute these crimes. Human Rights Watch has reported on this failure in a number of contexts, for instance with respect to Ethiopian forces in Somalia, US forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, Israeli forces in Gaza, and Russian forces in Chechnya.

In the year since the conflict ended the Sri Lankan government has failed to undertake any meaningful investigation of laws-of-war violations. It has established two ad hoc inquiries, but both lack the mandate to conduct proper investigations.

In response to an October US State Department report detailing hundreds of allegations of laws-of-war violations, the Sri Lankan government established a committee of experts to examine the allegations contained in the report. The committee has missed two deadlines, and in April 2010, the chairman of the committee conceded that they have no investigatory powers, which has hampered the inquiry.

Faced with increasing criticism over the lack of investigation, President Mahinda Rajapaksa appointed a second ad hoc inquiry since the end of the conflict, an eight-member commission of inquiry called the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC), on May 17, 2010. Tasked with examining the failure of the 2002 ceasefire and the "sequence of events" thereafter, the commission does not have the mandate to investigate alleged violations of the laws of war.

The mandate of the LLRC also suffers from shortcomings that have plagued the work of previous Sri Lankan commissions (see below) and make it unlikely that the commission will be able to accomplish its limited mandate. For example, there is no proper victims and witness protection program in place, which will make people critical of the government reluctant to give testimony.

The appointment of Chitta Ranjan de Silva as chairman also raises questions whether the commission will be able to objectively accomplish its mandate. De Silva previously served as attorney general and he has been criticized for his interference with the 2006 Presidential Commission of Inquiry (see below).

Is it possible for victims, civil society, and media in Sri Lanka to demand that Sri Lanka meets its obligation to investigate these allegations?

Throughout the decades-long conflict, successive Sri Lankan governments and the LTTE have both attacked civil society actors and media critical of their actions. With the renewal of major military operations in 2006, media and civil society came under increased pressure. Several journalists critical of the government and the LTTE were killed, subjected to enforced disappearances, threatened or assaulted.

Attacks on and intimidation of government critics have continued since the conflict ended. In August 2009, the government prosecuted a journalist critical of the government; after a trial in which questionable evidence was introduced, he was sentenced to 20 years in prison for his journalistic activities. Although he has been paroled and the government has recently said that he will be pardoned, the conviction sent a strong signal to other journalists and civil society activists. As a result, dozens of journalists and civil society activists have the left Sri Lanka in the last couple years, undermining Sri Lanka's once vibrant civil society.

Sri Lankan authorities insist that government forces conducted a "civilian rescue operation" during the last months of the conflict. High-ranking government officials, including President Rajapaksa, have on several occasions stated that government forces did not commit any violations and that no civilians died at the hands of government forces. This narrative of the conflict's final months became an important part of President Rajapaksa's successful re-election bid in January 2009.

As a result, it is particularly risky in Sri Lanka to allege that government forces committed laws-of-war violations or that high-ranking officials were implicated in war crimes. On May 6, Sri Lanka's defense secretary, Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, said in an interview that anybody who cooperates with the international community to undermine the sovereignty of Sri Lanka is a traitor and deserves capital punishment. It was apparent that the comment was directed towards retired General Sarath Fonseka, who during his campaign for president against Rajapaksa said that he would be willing to testify about war crimes committed during the conflict. The Sri Lankan authorities have filed criminal charges against Fonseka accusing him of inciting unrest when he accused Gotabhaya Rajapaksa of committing war crimes. In another example of the government's intolerance of any challenges to the official narrative of the war, Sri Lankan security forces prevented residents of the northern city of Jaffna from gathering to commemorate the victims of the war on the first anniversary of its end, May 18, 2010.

Have Sri Lanka and the LTTE met their past obligations to hold accountable individuals responsible for serious violations of the laws of war?

Sri Lanka's long civil war has been characterized by a climate of impunity for perpetrators of serious human rights violations. Very few members of the security forces have been prosecuted, let alone successfully convicted, for horrendous crimes. In response to domestic and international criticism, the Sri Lankan government has over the years established various special commissions to investigate allegations of abuses. These include, among others, eight separate presidential commissions of inquiry established between 1991 and 1998 specifically devoted to investigating enforced disappearances; a commission of inquiry into the alleged establishment and maintenance of an unlawful detention and torture facility in 1995; a commission of inquiry into the killing of 27 Tamil inmates of the Bindunuwewa Rehabilitation Centre on in October 2000; and in 2001, the Presidential Truth Commission on Ethnic Violence covering events of 1981-1984. The Sri Lankan Human Rights Commission also appointed a special committee to investigate reported enforced disappearances in Jaffna between 1990 and 1998. These Commissions investigated tens of thousands of complaints. The "disappearance" commissions alone received nearly 30,000 complaints (including some duplicates) and recorded evidence in over 20,000 of these cases; another 16,305 cases remain uninvestigated. They identified thousands of alleged perpetrators and recommended legal action, along with reparations to victims and legal reforms to prevent future violations.

Reports of most of these commissions were published, and although some families received monetary compensation, most recommendations made by these commissions were never implemented. There were few prosecutions of those named in the reports, and even fewer convictions. Hundreds of security personnel indicted as result of commission findings were returned to active duty by the Inspector General of Police in 2001.

During President Rajapaksa's first term there was a surge in abuses by both government security forces and the LTTE, including laws of war violations such as the murder of 17 aid workers in August 2006, which created pressure to set up new investigatory bodies. In November 2006, Rajapaksa established with much fanfare the Presidential Commission of Inquiry, which was tasked with examining 16 high-profile cases that implicated both sides. As with previous commissions, however, the commission was a failure. A group of international experts, appointed to ensure the investigation was being conducted according to international norms and standards, resigned in 2008 because it had "not been able to conclude...that the proceedings of the Commission have been transparent or have satisfied basic international norms and standards." The international experts cited the inappropriate role of the attorney general in the work of the commission, the lack of a victim and witness protection program and lack of political will to investigate the cases among the reasons for their resignation.

In June 2009, Rajapaksa dissolved the Presidential Commission of Inquiry, even though it had conducted investigations in just 7 of its 16 mandated cases. The president has not published its report.

What other mechanisms are available when states fail to investigate these violations?

Historically, states that failed to conduct investigations into serious violations of the laws of war compounded the problem of impunity by invoking the principle of sovereignty when any other authority sought to examine the matter. However, significant and important advances over the past two decades in international criminal law have made the prospect of accountability more of a reality, even in the absence of willingness on the part of states to ensure such accountability.

The treaty creating the International Criminal Court (ICC), which was adopted in 1998 and went into effect in 2002, empowers the court to investigate and prosecute individuals alleged to be responsible for war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide when states are unwilling or are unable to do so. The ICC can undertake a criminal investigation and prosecution if the suspected perpetrators are citizens of a state that is party to the ICC treaty, if the alleged violations are committed in the territory of a state that is party to the ICC treaty, or if a state that is not a party to the treaty asks the ICC to become involved in violations committed on its territory. Sri Lanka is not a party to the ICC. However, the ICC can assume jurisdiction if the UN Security Council refers a situation to the court, as it did in 2005 when it referred the situation of Darfur to the court even though Sudan had not ratified the ICC treaty. Security Council action, as in all cases, depends on a positive vote by nine of the 15 council members and no negative vote, or veto, by any of the five permanent members.

As discussed below, the UN Security Council, the UN Human Rights Council and the UN secretary-general could also set up international investigation into alleged laws-of-war violations and recommend whether criminal investigation and prosecution of certain persons would be appropriate.

Certain categories of grave crimes in violation of international law, such as war crimes and torture, are also subject to universal jurisdiction, meaning that any state may authorize a tribunal to try offenders. Certain treaties, such as the Geneva Conventions and the Convention Against Torture, require states parties to undertake a criminal investigation and, if warranted, prosecution of suspected offenders who are under that state's jurisdiction, even if temporarily-that is, even if the crime has been committed by a foreign national against another foreign national, in a foreign country. The concept of universal jurisdiction enables states to fulfill this responsibility. It also enables states to try those responsible for other crimes, such as genocide or crimes against humanity.

Can the UN investigate alleged laws of war violations committed during the conflict in Sri Lanka?

Given the poor record of Sri Lanka with regard to conducting impartial and timely investigations into serious violations of the laws of war by its security forces, Human Rights Watch has long called upon the UN to establish an independent international investigation into alleged violations by all sides in connection with the fighting in the Vanni.

Such an investigation could be authorized by the UN Security Council, the UN Human Rights Council, or by the UN secretary-general. The Security Council has authorized similar investigations with respect to other conflicts, such as in Darfur or the former Yugoslavia. The Darfur commission led to the above-mentioned referral to the ICC; the Yugoslav one led to the establishment of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. Reports prepared by these commissions, made up of international experts, included fact-finding on abuses and recommendations to ensure accountability.

Under the UN Charter, the Security Council has the greatest stature and authority to establish an investigative mechanism. Given that the Security Council has not previously addressed matters related to accountability in Sri Lanka, it may be necessary to explore other avenues to justice.

The UN Human Rights Council has previously authorized similar investigations, such as the independent international fact-finding mission to Gaza. To date, the Human Rights Council has shown little interest in promoting accountability for serious violations of international human rights and humanitarian law in Sri Lanka, despite the widespread abuses.

Just days after the conflict ended, in May 2009, President Rajapaksa promised UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon that this government would address allegations of laws-of-war violations. One year later the government has failed to honor that promise.

On March 5, 2010, Secretary-General Ban told President Rajapaksa that he intended to establish a Panel of Experts to advise him on next steps for accountability in Sri Lanka. The Sri Lankan government responded with a concerted campaign to discourage Ban from carrying out his plans. More than two months later, Ban had yet to appoint the advisory panel.

The UN secretary-general has created international investigations on previous occasions, such as the commission of inquiry that investigated the September 2009 massacre in Guinea.

Could another international tribunal investigate and prosecute individuals implicated in serious crimes committed in Sri Lanka?

Other existing international or mixed international/national criminal tribunals - including those established to prosecute crimes committed in Cambodia, Lebanon, the former Yugoslavia, Rwanda, and Sierra Leone-have no jurisdiction over crimes committed in Sri Lanka. Their mandates are limited to certain crimes in particular geographic areas by UN Security Council resolution or by agreement between the United Nations and the country where the crimes were committed. Were the Security Council to undertake prosecutions by a tribunal outside of the ICC, it would have to establish a new ad hoc court.

Could the International Court of Justice play a role?

The International Court of Justice has the authority only to adjudicate disputes between states, and only with the consent of the governments involved. It may also give advisory opinions on legal questions requested by the UN General Assembly or the Security Council, and on activity-related legal questions from authorized UN organs and agencies, such as the World Health Organization. The International Court of Justice has no jurisdiction to investigate or prosecute individuals.

Can persons suspected of serious violations of the laws of war be prosecuted in other countries?

National courts can and should play a role in combating impunity for grave violations of international human rights and humanitarian law. In the case of certain high-level Sri Lankan officials such as Defense Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, US courts have jurisdiction over certain offenses because they have dual citizenship with the United States. US courts might also have jurisdiction over Sarath Fonseka, the former army chief who is a US permanent resident, for certain offenses.

National courts can play a role even where there is no direct link to the alleged crime. The "grave breaches" provisions of the Geneva Conventions as well as the Convention against Torture mandate the exercise of universal jurisdiction. "Universal jurisdiction" refers to the competence of a national court to try a person suspected of a serious international crime such as war crimes, crimes against humanity, torture, or genocide.

Many countries have laws that would permit them to exercise universal jurisdiction and prosecute such serious crimes. The practice has lagged behind the laws, out of concern about the potential politicization of the authority as well as issues of resources required to conduct such investigations and prosecutions. There has been a steady rise in the number of cases prosecuted under universal jurisdiction laws in the past decade, particularly in Western Europe. The successful prosecution in national courts-including in France, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Spain, Belgium, and Norway-of international crimes committed in countries as varied as Mauritania, Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda, and Bosnia and Herzegovina shows that universal jurisdiction is becoming a reality. Universal jurisdiction also is gradually becoming assimilated into the functioning of criminal law systems in some countries.

Isn't there a double standard when it comes to international justice, with prosecutions only of individuals from states with less political clout?Many people have criticized the UN Security Council for focusing its international justice efforts on African and Arab parties. Perpetrators of serious crimes in violation of international law should be held to account irrespective of nationality. Nevertheless, the objective landscape of international justice has been uneven. States, often acting through the UN Security Council, have decided when to establish international criminal tribunals and what mandates to provide. Political considerations have been a factor, and the scope of the institutions they have created has not matched the extent of grave crimes committed. Despite this selectivity, these institutions have contributed to establishing accountability at least in respect to the conflicts that fall within their mandate. That is the right thing to do because a victim of a serious violation of the laws of war should not be told she will be denied her day in court simply because another victim's plight was ignored. That said, Human Rights Watch strives to extend accountability efforts for the worst crimes wherever they occur.



Minority Rights Group International:Sri Lanka's minorities need justice, security and lasting peace

One year since the war in Sri Lanka ended the situation for ethnic minority Tamils and Muslims remains of concern as communities in the former war-torn areas await justice, security and an opportunity to participate in reconstruction and development of their homeland, Minority Rights Group International says.

While the Sri Lankan government is championing economic development in the country's former war-torn north and east, including major road and tourism projects, local communities who have been disempowered by war remain marginalised and excluded from the development process.

'For the first time in nearly three decades minorities in the north and east can live without the fear and insecurity of war. This has to now progress into proper security and human rights guarantees and lead to a lasting peace,' says Chris Chapman, MRG's Head of Conflict Prevention says.

'This is an historic opportunity for the new Sri Lankan government to address the grievances of minorities in the country. They should not hesitate to take up the challenge,' Chapman added.

Last month, President Mahinda Rajapakshe's United Peoples Freedom Alliance party won national elections with a huge majority. Rajapakshe has the support of the majority Sinhala community and is in a commanding position to offer minority rights guarantees, to Tamils and Muslims, MRG says.

After his own victory in the Presidential election in January 2010 and his party's victory in parliamentary elections, Rajapakshe has taken some positive steps to improve the situation of minorities. He has cut back emergency regulations in the country that were resulting in arrests and detentions of Tamils.

It is still unknown how many people died in the last stages of the war but estimates are over 20,000. The government says the figure is much lower. In many cases the deaths have not been accounted for, families have not been compensated and without death certificates family members are unable to claim land and other rights.

The President has appointed a 8-member commission to look into lessons learnt from the conflict and post-conflict reconciliation, but its exact mandate is vague and unclear. MRG welcomes the Sri Lankan government decision to investigate this issue but is concerned about the impartiality of such a commission.

'The mandate of the commission appears to be more about investigating the need to go to war than whether international laws were broken in the course of the war, particularly at the latter stages of the fighting,' Chapman says.

'There are a lot of people in Sri Lanka who want justice and accountability but the commission appointed by the government is very unlikely to fulfil the country's current need for reconciliation,' he adds.

MRG says that any investigation into issues of war-crimes should meet international standards and should be broadened to look at crimes committed against all communities - Tamils, Sinhalese and Muslims.

Whilst in the last six months there have been efforts to speedily resettle large numbers of those displaced in the latter stages of the war some 70,000 people remain in camps. As the displacement crisis has shifted out of the international agenda, aid to these people has considerably dropped. There are also over 300,000 long-term displaced including Muslims, who have been in displaced camps for close to two decades.

There is no clear direction given by the government on the resettlement of the older displaced groups. There are also concerns that the resettlement process that is taking place is not happening according to international standards and financial support to families going back home is limited.

'In some areas people lack basic facilities like toilets. Children have to walk miles to get to a school and there are no medical services nearby. There are very limited employment opportunities ,' Chapman says.

MRG is also concerned about the high level of militarisation in the north and east. Civilian administration is dominated by military officials or former military officials.
Land rights are posing a major problem in the north and east. Lands belonging to minority groups have been encroached upon by each of the other communities, designated by the military as High Security Zones (HSZ), or are being claimed for development purposes.

Many Tamils and Muslims also fear that the government will settle the majority Sinhala community in lands formerly occupied by minorities. There have been recent cases recorded by local human rights groups of lands owned by members of minority communities taken over by the central government without proper consultation and with no compensation.

The government is spearheading major development campaigns in the former war-torn areas, led mainly by former military figures from the majority Sinhala community.

'It is imperative that local communities are part of any development work that takes place in their traditional homelands. The people have the local knowledge and should enjoy the basic right to have a say in matters that affect them, and the right to development,' Chapman adds.

MRG also urges the government to restart negotiations with minority political parties on offering a political autonomy and power sharing package giving minorities the ability to govern the areas they live in.


To the government of Sri Lanka (GoSL):

• The GoSL should make a policy statement recognizing and valuing ethnic and religious diversity in the country.

• The GoSL should begin immediate and inclusive consultations with all political parties and political representatives of all communities in order to agree a political settlement that addresses the root causes of the conflict and is acceptable to all communities in Sri Lanka, and includes full legal protections of minority rights and prohibition of discrimination, with mechanisms to enforce these rights; equitable distribution of resources to support services in minority communities; and mechanisms to ensure minorities can participate in decision-making affecting their communities.

• The GoSL should work together with civil society to develop a justice and reconciliation mechanism to account for atrocities committed by successive Sri Lankan governments and the LTTE throughout the 30 year conflict. This mechanism should look at how all three communities, including Muslims, have been affected by the conflict and ways in which they can receive justice.

*The GoSL should make public their economic development plans for the north and east. Communities in the area should be fully consulted on these plans, and community activists and minority political and business representatives should be part of the task forces appointed to plan and implement the development projects.

• Recognising that recommendations above must be a participatory and consultative process and could take time, the GoSL should set out a reasonable timeframe for implementation. In the interim, the GoSL should implement fully the 13th and 17th amendments to the Sri Lankan constitution. The 13th amendment aims to devolve power to regional units, while the 17th amendment requires the appointment of a Constitutional Council that subsequently has power to appoint several bodies including the National Police Commission and the Human Rights Commission.

• The GoSL, in consultation with the UN, INGOs, civil society activists and minority political parties, should come up with a comprehensive plan for the voluntary return or resettlement of all IDPs, including Muslims. Where there are insurmountable obstacles to return, properties of an equal value and quality should be offered. All communities must be treated with fairness. The GoSL should declare a realistic and achievable date by which all IDPs can be returned or resettled, and should work towards meeting that target.

• The GoSL should develop a plan for providing assistance to the various categories of persons who have been released from camps and returned, in line with the UN Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement.

• The GoSL should work with the UN, international agencies, INGOs and NGOs to do a full assessment of families who have been separated, and to account for people sent to 'rehabilitation' and 'detention' camps. Measures should be taken with urgency to reunite separated families.

• The GoSL should declare the number of Tamils arrested and detained from the camps. Detention centres should be open to the ICRC and the UN. The government should adhere to international due process standards when arresting and detaining IDPs.

• The UN Independent Expert on Minority Issues should be granted an invitation by the GoSL to visit the country in order to report to the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) on the situation of minorities in Sri Lanka.

Farah Mihlar
Media Officer and Sri Lanka Programme Coordinator
Minority RIghts Group International
54, Commercial Street
London E1 6LT
T: 00442074224205 or 00442074224200 (ext -303)
M: 00447870596863


One year on: Sri Lanka Campaign reports

It's been a tragic year for Sri Lankans inside and outside the country, and one year after the end of the conflict, tens of thousands of innocent civilians are still suffering.

- 82,000 people - children, women, the elderly - are languishing in squalid camps
- many of those who have 'returned home' came back to rubble and poverty
- while the shelling has stopped, attacks on lawyers, journalists and aid workers haven't
- more than 10,000 alleged insurgents, including former child soldiers are held in camps where torture has been documented
- and despite its claims and commissions, the ruling regime has done nothing to bring about justice for victims or promote reconciliation

Please act now! Sign our new urgent action petition to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

We are asking all Campaign supporters to help us urgently call for a credible, independent and effective war crimes investigation.

The Government of Sri Lanka is keen to pacify the international community by setting up its own 'Commission into Lessons Learnt''. Let's remind Mr Ban that no Sri Lankan inquiry has ever yielded results and that gross human rights abuses still occur every day.

Once you've signed, please forward the link to others by email or share through your Facebook page.

There can be no lasting peace without justice.

The Sri Lanka Campaign team

The Sri Lanka Campaign for Peace & Justice is a global non-partisan movement calling for justice, rights and reconciliation in Sri Lanka.

While the situation remains desperate, the Campaign has made progress on specific goals, such as giving a voice to human rights defenders in Sri Lanka and lobbying for suspension of the EU's preferential trade agreement with the country.

We are now gearing up to re-launch the Campaign as a long-term initiative. For this, we need your ongoing support!

To find out more, visit http:


Peace poem for Sri Lanka

It's time for Sinhalese, Muslims and Tamils to share a just peace.
It's time to respect human lives in the land called Sri Lanka.
It's time for healing to begin in wounded souls.
It's time to end 50+ years of conflict, oppression and fear.
It's time for a just solution

It's time for equal rights.
It's time to stop discrimination, segregation and restrictions on movement.
It's time for those who put up barbed wire fences to build them on their own property.
It's time to stop bulldozing one community's homes and building homes for the other community.
It's time to do away with double standards.

It's time for Sri Lankan citizens to have freedom of speech
It's time for the International community to implement 60 years of United Nations resolutions.
It's time for Sri Lankan government to deliver on equality to the people
It's time for those who represent the Tamil, Muslim and Sinhala people to all be involved in making peace.
It's time for people who have been displaced for years to regain their rights and a permanent home.
It's time to assist all who have suffered by the war
It's time for truth telling

It's time for foreigners who visit Sri Lanka to be aware of the ethics and issues
It's time to see refugee camps and the released in their despair.
It's time for people living this nightmare to feel new solidarity from a watching world.
It's time to name the shame of collective punishment and to end it in all its forms.
It's time to be revolted by violence against civilians and for civilians on both sides to be safe.
It's time to give those accused a fair trial.
It's time for all parties to obey International humanitarian and Human rights law.

It's time to honour all who have suffered.
It's time to learn from past wrongs.
It's time to understand pent-up anger and begin to set things right.
It's time for those with blood on their hands to acknowledge what they have done.
It's time to seek forgiveness between communities and to repair a broken land together.
It's time to move forward as human beings who are all made in the image of God.

All who are able to speak truth to power must speak it.
All who would break the silence surrounding injustice must break it.
All who have something to give for peace must give it.
For all communities in Sri Lanka and for a troubled world,
It's time for Peace.

Adapted for Sri Lanka based on a poem written for World Week for Peace in Palestine Israel 29 May - 4 June 2010


International Crisis Group - "War crimes in Sri Lanka"

Key highlights of the briefing given by ICG on it’s report “War crimes in Sri Lanka”.

The powerful report, citing witness testimony, satellite images, documents and other evidence, calls for a wide-reaching international investiagation into atrocities against civilians committed by the Sri Lankna goverment in the last in the last months of its war against the Tamil Tiger insurgency.

The report states there is "reasonable grounds to believe the Sri Lankan security forces committed war crimes with top government and military leaders potentially responsible. There is evidence of war crimes committed by the LTTE and its leaders as well, but most of them were killed and will never face justice. An international inquiry into alleged crimes is essential given the absence of political will or capacity for genuine domestic investigations, the need for an accounting to address the grievances that drive conflict in Sri Lanka, and the potential of other governments adopting the Sri Lankan model of counter-insurgency in their own internal conflicts."

ICG believes the narrative used by GoSL - casing their offensive as a "war on terrorism" - resulted in the international community turning a blind eye and giving the GoSL a mandate to end the "insurgency", irrespective of the collateral damage and absolute violation of International Laws.

The report:

- Presents overwhelming evidence gathered to support the need for an independent enquiry into war crimes committed by both sides.

- Questions the role played by the UN. Silence was the price of access. But what happens when silence verges on complicity with gross human rights abuse and war crimes?

- Reminds readers of the strong evidence that there is very little political will in Sri Lanka to ensure a credible process. Thus, as with past commissions of enquiry by the government, this one will also fail.

- Highlights how Sri Lanka will never have true peace or stability till its citizens & diaspora get a fair and credible account of the wrongs done by both parties.

- Warns that the "Sri Lanka option" (the use overwhelming military force, disregard international and humanitarian law, avoid media exposure so gaining the freedom to kill the insurgents with any level of civilian casualities ) is fast becoming a model for others to follow.

In an apparent bid to pre-empt the ICG and another congressionally mandated US report next month, Sri Lanka announced today it would allow another inquiry by a newly formed "lessons learnt and reconciliation commission".

Speaking in London, Louise Arbour, ICG president and a former chief prosecutor of the international tribunals for Yugoslavia and Rwanda, held out little hope that the new inquiry would be adequate or impartial. Arbour dismissed out of hand the government's assertion that no civilians had been killed, and said only an independent outside investigation would suffice.

To read - ICG report on "War Crimes in Sri Lanka"


Freedom of expression in Sri Lanka: PEN asks writers to focus on Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka is now rated the 4th most dangerous place in the world for journalists. More than fifteen journalists are believed to have been killed there since 2006. These include Lasantha Wickramatunga, the editor of the Sunday Leader newspaper, who was murdered on 8 January 2009 as he drove to work. Wickramatunga was widely known for his criticisms of corruption, governmental policies and the civil war.

Despite the end of the conflict, journalists continue to be killed, physically assaulted, abducted, and harassed by both government personnel and members of armed groups for attempting to report the truth. Newspapers have been seized and burned, newspaper offices have been vandalised and printing equipment destroyed.

PEN sent appeals on behalf of Tamil journalist Jayaprakash Sittampalam (JS) Tissainayagam, sentenced to twenty years' hard labour for his reporting on the war, accused of causing 'communal disharmony' Tissa received a presidential pardon on 3 May 2010 proving that external pressure can make a difference in Sri Lanka.

Since the presidential election concluded on 26 January 2010, there has been a further clampdown on dissent. This has included arrests, death threats against several prominent newspaper editors and intimidation of independent web-based media. On the day of the elections, political cartoonist and opposition journalist, Prageeth Eknaligoda, was abducted as he left his office and has been missing ever since.

The outside world remains largely ignorant of the violations of free expression in Sri Lanka.

We urge PEN members to visit http://www.srilankacampaign.org and add your name to the petition. Please write about the Sri Lanka campaign, send regular appeals and keep others informed about the government's suppression of free speech in Sri Lanka.

For more information on the case of Prageeth Eknaligoda who has been missing since January and to send appeals, please click here.

Published: May 12, 2010


Peace does not happen by itself: the need for the individual conscience

In response to Roma Tearne's article about the on-going significance of the burning of the Jaffna Library, some people have contacted us with their own moving accounts of what this means for them and what they think should be done. Here is one which we thought you would like to read

Food for thought: Elmo Jayawardena's library project
In a Sunday Island article ('Peace begins with me', 15 November 2009), Elmo Jayawardena sketches his effort to open libraries, stretching from the North and along the Eastern sea coast. Given the major problems presently pressing upon the Island, some might wonder whether there aren’t more important and urgent matters that demand available resources and energy.

For instance, Marxism emphasizes the basics of life: food for our very survival, clothes on the body (as society expects and the weather demands), and shelter from the elements. Isn't it, therefore, more important to attend to necessities, to build homes and hospitals, repair the war-devastated environment, enable cultivation to resume, than indulge in the luxury of libraries? An initial answer would be that the one does not deny the other: it is not a matter of "either or" but of "and".

It is not easy to statistically establish the value and importance of books, being an area that does not lend itself to quantification. A not uncommon reply to the question, "What are you doing/" is "Nothing. Reading": to read is to be doing nothing. There is bodily hunger; then we are urged to "hunger and thirst for righteousness", that is, to lead a good, virtuous, life. Another form of hunger is the "hunger" to read - reading in order to know, and for the pleasure of knowing.

When I taught at an African university, I placed books on reserve (they could be read in the Library, but not borrowed and taken home) before mentioning them to students: so eager were some that they would leave the lecture-hall and rush to get the books. In Stefan Zweig's novella, Chess (original title, Schachnovelle), a man is imprisoned and tortured. The torture does not take the Abu Ghraib form; there is no "extraordinary rendition" to sites where horror and agonising pain, perhaps death, await the victim: the man is simply denied anything to read, not even a scrap of printed paper. Given the nature of that particular prisoner, to be "starved" of anything to read was a very effective form of torture.

Throughout history, rulers and governments have attacked libraries and books. The Qin Dynasty of China (221-206 BCE) burnt books and buried scholars. Centuries later, Pol Pot of Cambodia and Pierre Mulele of Zaire behaved on similar lines. (For the latter, see Naipaul’s novel, A Bend in the River.) The famous library at Alexandria was sacked more than once.

I would suggest that libraries, given their value and the regard in which they are held, can be seen almost as sites of the secular sacred. Those who burn books and destroy libraries are barbarians. (It can be argued that barbarians are "innocent" in that they are ignorant of the value of what they destroy: deliberate destruction, perpetrated with intent and full knowledge, is a far worse evil.)

In his 1821 play, Almansor, Heinrich Heine (German, Jew) wrote, "There where they burn books, they will also, at the end, burn human beings." ("Dort, wo man Bücher verbrennt, verbrennt man auch am Ende Menschen.") Heine had in mind the burning of the Moslem holy book, The Qur'an, by the Spanish Catholic Inquisition but, a little more than a hundred years later, on 10 May 1933, his own books were among the thousands burnt in Nazi Germany by university students and others. It was followed by the mass gassing and incineration of the Jews. To burn a library is not only to burn books which are the source of knowledge, but to heap humiliation on a people, to seek to destroy their spirit and self-esteem. In August 1992, Serbian forces, intent on the obscenity of "ethnic cleansing", attacked the Bosnian library. On 31 May 1981, the Jaffna Library was attacked and burnt by the army and police. (Most books can be replaced but original works on palm leaves are lost to posterity.) Two years later, during the pogrom of 1983, Tamils were burnt alive in homes, in cars and on the street in a horrible attestation of the veracity of Heine's observation.

It is difficult to over-estimate the value of reading and, therefore, of books and libraries. The 'Fall of Constantinople' (1453) was followed by the departure of scholars to Italy, carrying with them ancient Greek works long lost to, and forgotten by, Europe. This exodus is regarded as one of the factors contributing to the European Renaissance that followed.

During the years when the United States was a slave society, it was forbidden to bring literacy to slaves. (The economy of a slave society depends on slavery, while that of a slave-owning society does not.) Slave-owners were aware that reading leads to knowledge, and knowledge to independent thought. This fact was long recognised by those wielding religious power, and "jealous" (possessive) of that power and elite status: hence the chanting or saying of prayers in dead languages such as Pali and Latin. The Catholic Church resisted attempts to translate the Bible into vernacular languages.

Discouraging women from reading (if not actually denying them formal education) was in order to maintain male domination. Nor is this entirely a matter of history, as the attitude and practice of the Taliban shows. During the years of British rule, some of the "natives" were taught basic reading and writing in order to help the imperial machine function: thus far but no further. So it was that, at independence, many an African country did not have a university, and no more than a handful of graduates to help run the country.

Seen in the context of the above, the value of Elmo Jayawardena's efforts becomes clearer: reading helps the individual to grow, think independently, and realize her or his potential. Recently, I wrote to Arjuna Hulugalle of the Mahatma Gandhi Center about a friend who, many years ago on the streets of Colombo, said he never gave alms to a beggar because there were far too many of them. The attitude (or was it an easy excuse/) was one of, "If I can’t help all, I will help none." Similarly, it is understandable if some Sri Lankans, like Prince Hamlet (Act 1, Scene V), recognize that things are seriously wrong with the world (the Island) but don’t see how they can be put right.

Daunted by the many and major issues bedeviling Sri Lanka, they turn their face away and content themselves with their private lives, its problems and preoccupations, pleasures and distractions. Returning to the alms-giving analogy, Jayawardena's attitude seems to be that if he has helped even a few children to a meal (books), then he has, indeed, helped a few "starving" children to a meal.

I would make a distinction between idealists and practical idealists, that is, those who, in however large or small a way, attempt to work towards, if not realizing, then approximating to, their ideal. At the end of Albert Camus' novel, The Plague, it is suggested that, on balance, there are more things to admire in humankind than to despise and deplore. Some of us, at certain times, may feel inclined to doubt the proposition, but the practical idealism and courage of a few individuals inhibit its total rejection. Plague is a virulent and highly infectious disease: if not combated and eradicated, the whole community is endangered. The plague (compounded of "racism", lack of ethics in political and public life, criminality and cynicism) rages in Sri Lanka, but there are individuals and groups "stubbornly" (in a positive sense) working to cure and cleanse the Island.

"Peace" is not merely the absence of war but the presence of harmony. In its turn, harmony is the product of equality and inclusion, the possession of rights and the enjoyment of freedoms. True peace means harmony, and harmony is the fruit of justice. Jayawardena's "Peace begins with me" reminds us that peace does not happen by itself: it must be made to happen. Since The Plague is an existential work, it is well to remind ourselves that existentialism argues that each and every one of us is compelled to accept individual responsibility: there is no excuse, no escape. "Peace begins with me" (Jayawardena).

Elmo Jayawardena's work of building libraries and providing books; making available food for the mind; helping children to grow and develop, deserves our support. Those familiar with the chapel at STC Gurutalawa will readily recognise the following as the words of St Francis of Assisi:
Where there is hatred,
let me sow love;
where there is darkness, light...
for it is in giving that we receive.