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

30/06/2010

Sri Lankan authoritarianism, in all its ugly glory, on full display

Even veteran Sri Lanka experts were shocked by the recent BBC HardTalk interview of Sri Lankan Defence Secretary Gothabhaya Rajapaksa. The interview demonstrated how far this once democratic country has slipped into de facto dictatorship. With most local democratic voices silenced by fear combined with the complicity of the international community's weak response, there has clearly been an almost complete breakdown of democratic conventions and processes. Should the protection of basic rights, rule of law and social justice for minorities based on a whim and only if it pleases those in power to allow these things to happen?

Dr. Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu, a well respected scholar and head of the Centre for Policy Alternatives in Sri Lanka which is involved in public policy implementation aimed at good governance and safeguarding of democracy and human rights commented on this interview on www.groundviews.org on 21/06/10:

Many readers may have seen if not read about Defence Secretary Gothabhaya Rajapaksa's interview with Stephen Sackur of the BBC HardTalk programme in which he calls Sarath Fonseka a liar and threatens to hang him for his position on a war crimes investigation. Local opinion, not surprisingly, given the current political context, has been divided on the propriety of Mr Rajapaksa's outburst and the damage it could do to the image of the regime and of the country internationally. There are the shocked and perturbed, albeit mostly in private, on the one hand and on the other, the hallelujah chorus of the apparatchiks. According to them, Mr Rajapaksa showed Sackur what's what and saw off the smug arrogant, hostile occidental propagandist with panache!

My concern here is to inquire into what this interview and the response to it tells us about the state of governance in our country, post -war and once more on the verge of constitutional reform.

Let us be clear at the outset as to what we are inquiring into - an interview given by a public servant in which he delivers threats and accusations against a former army commander and defeated presidential candidate who is currently in detention and who is - and this is important - a Member of Parliament. The public servant is the defence secretary and an architect of the historic military defeat of the LTTE. He is also a former army officer and of course, this is important too, the president's brother. Furthermore - this is important as well - the public servant's minister is the president, his brother.

Were such an event to have occurred in India, the world's largest democracy or in Britain from where our parliamentary traditions and conventions of governance hail, the public servant would have had to resign and if he did not, he would have been sacked. Were the latter action not taken, the government of the day would be in jeopardy. Public opinion and the media would bay for its blood. The rationale for all of this being that in functioning democracies, public servants are not supposed to make policy pronouncements of their own, voice their personal opinions to the international or local media or make statements that are tantamount to the grossest interference in an issue, which is the subject of an ongoing judicial process.

Was Mr Rajapaksa merely expressing government policy, the policy of his brother, his minister and president? Or, since no action has been taken, is it the case that this a case, not of Yes Minister but of Yes Secretary?

It is indeed sad that Mr Fonseka apart, members of parliament have not seen it fit to raise what is surely a privilege issue. A secretary to a ministry has in effect called a MP a liar and traitor on international television and pronounced that he should be hanged. It is also sad that there has been little comment or observation of the insight this affords us on the state of governance in the land. Is Gothabaya Rajapaksa a one man deterrent to discussion and dissent - the lifeblood of democracy? Does one decisive military victory and two thumping electoral mandates to his brother and by extension his family, give him the licence to mouth off maliciously in flagrant violation of the dignity and propriety of the office he holds?

Given the impending revocation of the Seventeenth Amendment and the jettisoning of the Constitutional Council and independent commissions it provides for and the removal of the term limit on the presidency, the structure of power and government in the country will be shoved further away from the structure of power and government that characterizes democratic governance. Those who railed against the executive presidency and promised loudly to abolish it are to entrench it instead and with it no doubt, the arbitrariness and caprice of a monarchy and dynastic rule.

The nature of the regime and its rule are profiled by the defence secretary's vituperative interview, the priorities for constitutional reform in the current context of limbo between the post war situation we are in and the post-conflict one we should aspire to and the reported appointment of who is now frequently referred to as the First Son, 24 year old fresher MP Namal Rajapaksa to head the District Development Committee for Kilinochchi! More Crown Prince perhaps than First Son, being given war ravaged Killi to dabble in development? Is there a precedent here of Killinochchi becoming the local Duchy of Cornwall.

The gratitude and appreciation of the citizenry for the defeat of the LTTE and expressed in two thumping mandates for the Rajapaksa family should not blind the citizenry to the dangers of authoritarianism and the corrosion of governance. Nor should we allow fear to silence protest and resistance to this and then wallow in regret for our complicity and appeasement at a later, god forbid, much later date. Whoever rules, whoever governs and for how long is not the issue. There must always be, as a basic minimum, checks and balances, the rule of law, due process, best practices and standards adhered to, rights protected and duties fulfilled.

And public servants should be public servants, irrespective of who their siblings are. Or else they should go and if they do not, they should be sacked. This is surely the way of a functioning democracy.


http://www.groundviews.org/2010/06/21/hard-talk/

The latest Commission of Inquiry in Sri Lanka: Another Exercise in Deception

A highly respected Sri Lankan Muslim Senior Civil Servant, MCM Iqbal - one of the secretaries of the first Provincial Council of the Western Province - sees through the deception in the recently announced Commission of Inquiry. He should know based on his experience as Secretary to two previous inquiries, neither of which were allowed to do what they were set up to do.

Those who say 'let's give the Government of Sri Lanka (GoSL) a chance to run their own inquiry' yet also like to think of themselves as defenders of human rights and democracy should listen to what Mr Iqbal has to say. These defenders of the GoSL proposal are at risk of failing to learn from highly relevant previous experience. And that is the last thing that Sri Lanka needs people of good will to do:


MCM Iqbal's review:

Louise Arbour of the International Crisis Group is reported to have said during an interview in the BBC that the government violated the laws of war by blurring the line between combatants and civilians, and that its killings of civilians were not accidents. Perhaps in response to this, speaking to the BBC Tamil Service recently, the Sri Lanka’s Ambassador to the United Nations, Dr. Palitha Kohona is reported to have said that the commission on Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation set up recently by the government is sufficient to investigate the allegations of humanitarian standards and human rights violations during the war.

Let us therefore have a look at some of the commissions of inquiry appointed by the governments in the past to check how effective they have been to understand the veracity of the statement made by Dr. Kohana with regard to the current commission. It is common knowledge that several commissions of inquiry had been appointed from time to time to inquire into disappearances of persons and other serious human rights violations in Sri Lanka. I do not intend to go into matters relating to all these commissions now. Instead, as a sample, I propose to deal with the two Commissions of Inquiries into Disappearances to which I was the Secretary and the Commission of Inquiry into Certain Serious Human Rights Violations in the recent past where I was an adviser to the International Independent Group of Eminent Persons (IIGEP). The IIGEP had been invited by President Rajapakse, to dispel the fear expressed widely at that time, on the efficacy of such commissions. He wanted give credibility to that commission by asking the IIGEP to ensure that the investigations and inquiries conducted by that Commission are in keeping with internationally accepted norms and standards.

Commissions of Inquiry in Sri Lanka, are appointed in terms of the provisions of the Commissions of Inquiry Act. This Act provides for the President to appoint such Commissions whenever he thinks there is a need to find out more information on any matter of national interest and direct such Commission to inquire or investigate and report to him on matters set out in the Mandate given to such commissions. In other words, their inquiries should be strictly confined to the terms of reference. It is mandatory for the Commission to submit the report to the President and not to make its contents public.

In 1994 three such commissions known as Zonal Commissions on Disappearances of Persons, were appointed to inquire into and report on disappearances of persons after 1st January, 1988 , while another was appointed in 1998, known as the All Island Commission on Disappearances, to inquire only into the complaints received by the Zonal Commissions and remain un-inquired. These Commissions handed over their Reports in September 1997 and May, 2000, respectively.

These Commissions, inter alia, reported that they came across evidence that several torture chambers managed by the police and the military existed in different parts of Sri Lanka during the relevant period. Many persons who had been taken to be caused to be disappeared had been tortured in these chambers to elicit information from them. A few of them had escaped. They appeared before the Commission and gave evidence on the gruesome manner in which they and others who are no more, had been tortured. They even gave the names of the persons who had been managing these torture chambers.

It was the same in the case of more than ten mass graves in the in various parts of the country. Information about them had been made available to these Commissions by persons who knew about them. These graves have still not been disturbed. All that the Commissions could do in respect of these torture chambers and the mass graves was to list the locations of the torture chambers and the mass graves in their Reports and make a recommendation that the President should take further action to investigate into them. They could not investigate into these because their mandates did not authorize them to do so. Up-to-date no action whatsoever had been taken on this recommendation about the torture chambers and mass graves. Instead, some of those who were alleged to have been responsible for these, are still in service having received promotions in their respective services. Others have retired without having to face any consequence on their dastardly criminal actions.

The same is true with regard to the recommendations made to take disciplinary action against several police and military personnel whose misconduct during the performance of their duties came to light during the investigations. There was evidence of their violation of departmental rules and regulations in dealing with complaints of disappearances, detention of persons taken into custody, destruction of Police information books relating to the relevant period, in spite of a directive by the Inspector General of Police to preserve these books and make them available for investigation by the Commissions.

As stated earlier, these Commissions were mandated to inquire only into complaints of disappearances that occurred after 1st January, 1988. This resulted in a large number of disappearances of persons that occurred prior to that being excluded from being inquired into.

Similarly, the Commission that was appointed in 1998 had a specific limitation debarring it from inquiring into any new complaints but was authorized to deal only with those complaints which had been received by the Commissions appointed in 1994 and remain un- inquired. Consequently this Commission could not inquire into about 12,000 new complaints received by this Commission. This number included complaints of about 600 persons from the North who had disappeared following the military operation in 1996 called ‘Riviresa’ after which the government took control of the Jaffna Peninsula from the LTTE, and about 7000 complaints of persons who had gone missing in the Batticaloa District during the relevant period.

To cap it all, the manner in which action was taken against those police and security forces personnel and others against whom the Commission reported that there is credible material indicative of their responsibility for the disappearances, is a sad reflection on the sincerity of the successive governments in dealing with perpetrators of such incidents. This only helped to perpetuate the culture of impunity which had, by this time, pervaded into the police and security forces personnel. Consequently the families of the victims of disappearances are yet to receive justice being meted out to them though nearly 20 years have lapsed since most of these incidents had occurred while many of them who had given evidence on the alleged perpetrators live in frustration seeing them still in service after having caused the disappearance of their loved ones.

A Report of the International Commission of Jurists reveals that “The lack of state accountability for human rights violations in Sri Lanka crosses ethnic divides, all governments and political parties. Neither the regular criminal justice system nor commissions of inquiry have been able to satisfy the state’s obligation to its citizens.”

It appears that the only useful purpose served by these Commissions was to help successive governments to know who and who in the police and security services are experienced and competent in effectively carrying out disappearances of persons, so that those in these governments who required their services could use them when the need arose. It is perhaps such persons are the ones behind the disappearances that continue even today, and are often conveniently blamed to be acts of unknown persons.

Another matter that needs to be remembered is that the Commissions of Inquiry Act does not place any obligation on the part of the President to make public the findings of any Commission of Inquiry. There are reports of several commissions appointed in the past that have never been published. Others have been published only in parts. It is the sole discretion of the President to publish the whole or any part of the Report if he so desires or not publish them at all. It may not be known to many that a special report was called by the then President Chandrika Bandaranayake into the killing of a prominent politician in a hilly district, allegedly by another who had contested him. The Commission concerned did an exhaustive investigation and reported that there was enough evidence against the alleged person who was at that time a prominent Member of Parliament. Yet no action was taken against him. The wife of the person who was killed was later made a minister and the matter ended there. No action whatsoever was taken on this Report which was never published !

Similarly, When a prominent Muslim leader was killed following a helicopter crash, to stem the allegation that he had in fact been murdered the then government appointed a commission to inquire into the circumstances of his death. That Commission conducted extensive investigations and submitted its report. That report was never published but the wife of the deceased was later made a Minister and a large amount of money had been paid to her and her siblings as compensation. The matter ended there.

Journalistic ethics prevents me from mentioning the names of the persons concerned but these facts cannot be denied by those concerned.

Commissions of Inquiry were initially appointed to appease pressure from human rights organizations or the people, to end systematic violations of their rights. But successive governments have followed a pattern of subverting them. In fact, the non-implementation of the many recommendations of these Commissions on the need to deal with the perpetrators swiftly and effectively, promoted the culture of impunity prevailing among the police and the security forces personnel to become galvanized. What is more, the Commissions spared no efforts in making well considered recommendations on the steps to be taken to prevent the incidence of disappearances of persons in the future. These recommendations are gathering dust in the archives of the President.

Let me now deal with the Commission appointed in year 2007 to inquire into serious human rights violations such as the killing of five university students in Trincomalee, the killing of seventeen employees of and NGO in Muttur, bombing of a children’s home in Sencholai in the Mullaitivu District, etc. The series of such high profile incidents that took place during that period resulted in a public outcry for the government to end such incidents. President Rajapakse decided to appoint a commission to inquire into such incidents to contain the surging pressure on him from various quarters. Given the past experience on what happened to the disappearances commissions and many others, both the local and international human rights organizations expressed their reservations on the outcome and efficacy of the Commission proposed by the government. Consequently, the President himself came out with a suggestion that he was prepared to invite a few International Independent Group of Eminent Persons (IIGEP) who could be tasked to ensure that the proposed Commission conducts its investigations and inquiries in keeping with international norms and standards and does not end up the way the other commissions in the past had ended.

The Commission of 2007 was created with seven members. A few days after the commencement of the proceedings of this Commission the IIGEP found that the services of a representative of the Attorney General (AG) was being availed of by this Commission to lead the evidence in respect of the cases the Commission was mandated to deal with. Former Chief Justice of India – the late Justice Bhagawathy who headed the IIGEP had to point out to Justice Udalagama who was the President of the Commission, and later to the President himself of the impropriety of the AG leading the evidence of witnesses during the proceedings of the Commission which was inquiring into the propriety of the investigations already carried out by the police. Both the President and the head of the Commission persisted on insisting that the AG should be there and that he is an independent official. Haggling over this issue went on for some time. IIGEP was told that they being foreigners, did not understand the nuances of the laws in Sri Lanka and the independence of the AG. Subsequently IIGEP had to obtain the opinion of two eminent retired judges of renown, on the question of the independence of the AG and the justification for the involvement of the AG in the proceedings of the Commission. They gave a well-considered written opinion to the IIGEP, confirming that the Attorney-General is not an independent official and that the role played by the AG in the proceedings of the Commission was a conflict of interest as the AG’s representative had advised the original investigations in the cases which had been mandated for inquiry by the Commission. Even though this was pointed out, the AG’s representative continued his role in the Commission and eroded the Commission’s real and perceived independence. Incidentally, this particular AG who has now retired has been appointed as the Chairman of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission.

In view of the high profile nature of the cases the Commission was inquiring into, witnesses to the incidents were hesitant to come before the Commission and give evidence for fear of reprisals. Though the IIGEP insisted on the need for a law to protect witnesses coming before the Commission, the government failed to take meaningful and effective steps to provide protection for the witnesses.

Eventually the IIGEP had to abort its mission stating that they (I quote), found there a lack of political and institutional will on the part of the Government to pursue with vigour the cases under review by the Commission, with the intention of identifying the perpetrators or at least uncovering the systemic failures and obstructions to justice that rendered the original investigations in to these cases ineffective.

Ultimately the term of the Commission which was mandated to inquire into 15 high profiles cases was not extended even though inquires in the cases concerned had not been completed. That Commission then ceased to exist, confirming the suspicion that the government was not even at the outset, keen on investigating into the serious human rights violations concerned. A report this Commission is said to have handed over to the President, has never been made public.

From the disclosures I have made so far about what happened to the Commissions referred to, it would be clear that in Sri Lanka, successive governments had been appointing Commissions not with the honest intention of finding out what actually happened and to mete out justice to the victims, but with the intention of deceiving the people concerned and the international community. Commissions have always helped governments to divert pressure on the government regarding the relevant issues.

The commissions appointed so far, have failed to address the serious questions that have been affecting Sri Lanka in the conflicts in the recent past. These commissions have been condemned by international organizations as well as by local human rights groups who have published extensive reports and analysis on the workings of these commissions. Amnesty International has called the work of these Commissions as “Twenty Years of Make Believe” in a report analyzing the work of these commissions. The International Commission of Jurists has published a work on this subject entitled “Families of the Disappeared, Still Waiting for Justice”. The reports of these organizations only confirm the fact of the ineffectiveness of these Commissions.

There isn’t a single commission appointed by the government so far whose report or findings had been taken seriously and steps taken to implement their recommendations. In fact, all such commissions have only been exercises of denial of state responsibility, in instances when they had been mandated to look into violations of human rights.

The recently appointed ‘Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission’ in connection with the incidents relating to the conflict, is bound to be another attempt at deception by the government which has now become well known for adopting such dubious tactics. As stated earlier this Commission is headed by the former Attorney General who crossed swords with IIGEP when he was in service and was well known for his pro-government views. His personal links to the President since their youthful days are also known. Another key member of this Commission is the former representative of Sri Lanka at the UN where he had been vehemently defending the government’s blood bath in the beaches of Mullaitivu during the war. It is widely alleged that the President’s brother, the Defence Secretary who claims to have managed the war, had committed violations of the rules of war and is responsible for the death of large number of civilians. In the circumstances how can one expect this commission to conduct its proceedings without any bias ?

It is obvious from the very beginning that this Commission is going to be another in the series of deceptive commissions appointed so far, and would suffer the same fate as most of the other Commissions. To cap it all, the President was heard to say at an interview Al Jazeera has had with him recently, that he was not going to punish any of his soldiers who fought the war valiantly to defeat the LTTE ! This statement is a pointer to the Commission not to find any military personnel guilty of any violation of the rules of war or even the human rights of the victims of war. Isn’t that statement of the President enough to expose the dubious intention of the President in appointing this Commission ?

[Editors note: The author was one of the secretaries of the first Provincial Council of the Western Province. We also encourage you to read Still waiting for justice in Sri Lanka by the author, published in March 2010, which also deals with Commissions of Inquiry in Sri Lanka.]

http://www.groundviews.org/2010/05/29/the-latest-commission-of-inquiry-in-sri-lanka-another-exercise-in-deception/

Why Sri Lanka has "end of war" but no prospect of reconciliation

The Anglican Bishop of Colombo says what everyone knows - that "reconciliation eludes us today because the immediate wounds of war have not been substantially addressed" and accountability is missing. (1)

Accountability is a dirty word in Sri Lanka. More than that, when spoken about it brings out aggressive reactions from those in power. Those who know they are guilty clearly want to hide their crimes. But even those who had no direct part don the armour of arrogance and rhetoric in a bit to avoid learning.

It's probably too much to ask the guilty to learn. But this second group should - unless they want their children and their children's children to inherent a violent dysfunctional country.

Who could they learn from? What about Bishop Humper who was a key mediator between the Government of Sierra Leone and the rebels, and went on to lead the Truth & Reconciliation process. He was recently asked about the role of a Special independent inquiry into war crimes and the Truth & Reconciliation Commission (TRC): "Which of these was more important?" Bishop Humper was categorical in his response "Both are a must. The TRC helps the people to find a voice for their stories to be heard, the Special investigation into war crimes is essential because some people are more accountable and have to be held accountable. They have to know that they cannot get away scot-free".

The Government of Sri Lanka is far away from learning any lessons. Indeed, it is so defensive that it has even said it will deny entry to the UN Panel of Experts who only have the authority to advise the UN Secretary General. (2)

Back to the Bishop of Colombo's concerns. He speaks of the growing militarization of the previous war zone, the many messages that the winners distrust the losers, how political power today has become a quest for personal financial gain and all whilst the rest of the country endures "a sub-human quality of life".

But his most powerful statement relates to the lack of any constructive intention by those at the top of the government: "The crux of the reconciliation crisis however is the inability or refusal to substantially draw the minorities into the task of governance and nation building. For this to happen there should be a shift in attitude. The minorities cannot continue to be sidelined as peripheral communities dependent on goodwill decisions taken at the centre or with little to offer the nation. The alarmingly conspicuous absence of all national languages and cultures at national events as well as the fast diminishing number of minority community representatives as national advisers, consultants and senior bureaucrats, apart from tokenism, makes the point. The sooner that competent persons from minority communities are included in all departments of national life, very specially our shared political future, the sooner reconciliation will be within our reach."

He also speaks boldly about the human rights violations, as "The investigation of disappearances and deaths of a large number of civilians, including media personnel, is another step that will enhance reconciliation. The identification of sites of death or burial, so that last rites can be performed should be part of this work. This will help relatives come to terms with the truth, the past and grief. It is when the deepest longings of those who grieve have been heard, that reconciliation spreads."

Whilst the Govt. of Sri Lanka promotes a triumphalist victory parade, what Bishop Duleep suggests is a "Day of National mourning," to garner "national energy to demonstrate that war must never be repeated". That is clearly a forlorn hope as even inter-religious memorial services were banned.

At some point soon, the Church will need to decide if it has any chance to remaining authentic to its beliefs or be subdued by the domination System that now controls Sri Lanka. The Buddhist Mahanayakes who tried to organise a national conference were threatened into silence. (3) Life may be impermanent but it is human to want to hold on to the trappings of power a bit longer. And the Christians in Sri Lanka? Will they follow the non-violent civil disobedience teachings of their founder? Or will they also find an accommodation with power in their softly-softly approach?

Are Bishop Duleep's words - an indication that the tide may be turning to Christian acting true to the social justice mandate and that true faith may yet triumph over power? (4) The words are strong but actions speak much stronger than words.

Christians need to train for non-violence because now is the time for action, not just sermons. This is a message for Bishop Duleep and all other leaders of the Christian churches - Catholic, Anglican and Evangelical. But remember, in his time Jesus wasn't an appointed leader and his followers certainly had no official roles. So this is also a message to the many Sri Lankans inside the country and outside who claim Christianity as their faith...you too as followers can make a difference.

(1)http://asiacms.blogspot.com/2010/06/bishop-of-colombos-statement-on-post.html

(2) http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/south_asia/10405996.stm

[3] http://www.thesundayleader.lk/2010/02/21/“mahanayakes-threatened-with-temple-bomb-attack”-—-prelate/

[4] http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0385487525/walterwinkswebsi

29/06/2010

Going to Sri Lanka this summer?

Now the war is over, many Sri Lankans living abroad have started to visit Sri Lanka again. For some it is the first trip 'home' in several years and for others its been a decade or even longer.


But what about the thousands of IDPs in Sri Lanka? When will they be able to return 'home'? (Not just the IDPs from the recent war but the thousands of Tamil and Muslim IDPs created since the early 80's). For most of these people, going home isn't an option for a variety of reasons including; detainment in camps, the appropriation of their land for 'high security zones' and 'special economic zones', the resettlement of Army personnel and their families into their lands. In addition the heavy military and para military occupation of the north and east makes return an unappealing prospect.


How would you feel if you were in their position? Maybe you have been personally affected by one or more these issues? If you feel strongly about these injustices then you could use your trip to Sri Lanka to do some informal research into the situation faced by ordinary people. On your return, you could share your findings with your extended family and community. If you are able you could contact the media / advocacy groups with the stories you have collected - personal testimonies can be a powerful way of exposing difficult issues. Also, the SLC would welcome your findings (written and photo) however small /large. Send an email to Srilankapeacecampaign@googlemail.com


As a starting point these are some of the issues you may decide to investigate during your trip.


1. Impact of the war on young people and children
- visit schools and orphanages and ask the children about thier concerns and hopes


2. Changing demography of the north and east
- ask local people you meet to give you example they know of


3. Destruction of religious and cultural sites (and the building of new ones)
- speak with local people and take photographs if possible


Even if you dont find out anything that could be reported on your return, the time you spend talking and listening to people will be appreciated. Remember that many people's primary aim at this stage is to cope with basic survival needs and you may find that you are able to help financially or emotionally. Of course there will be deeper stories that may take more time to uncover and many people will not be comfortable sharing that information with strangers, but known people and members of the extended family may be willing to share more.


It may be useful to ask yourself the question.. "In what small way can my trip to Sri Lanka help towards advocating for dignity of the people who are oppressed?" The best approach is based on genuine interest and sensitivity to the persons situation. Some of the questions to consider:


1)What is the most pressing physical need? ...see if you can meet it, or log it to pass onto/ report it to advocacy/help groups,
2)What is their story of the conflict?
3)What is the the truth, as they see it?
4) What will heal their pain?
5)What does justice mean for them?
6)What is their hope?
7)What acts beyond charity will fix the problems?


If you feel uncomfortable talking to a range of people why not find a family that you can 'twin' with - you may decide to provide them with some assistance or simply write to them from time to time.

28/06/2010

ASIA: Asian governments need to change policing based on the use of torture

As the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture is commemorated on the 26th June the Asian governments need to face up to their failure to honour their obligations to eliminate the use of torture in their countries. The use of torture is endemic in Asia and the reason for this is that the policing systems still use torture as the main method of investigation into crime. The extent to which torture is used is scandalously high and the time to stop it is clearly now.

Policing in many Asian countries is still very cruel, primitive and also inefficient and corrupt. The extent of the governments' failure is reflected in the widespread use of torture and their unwillingness to deal with this problem. The nature of the policing systems is very much linked to the kind of political systems that still prevail in Asia. These political systems have made possible the abuse of power and corruption and the local policing systems are used as instruments to facilitate such abuses and corruption.

The use of torture by the police contributes to prevent the development of democratically based political parties. Internal democracy within the parties is prevented by powerful politicians who aspire to power more for personal gain rather than in the service of any national objectives. Internal forces of repression prevent a healthy competitive spirit through which proper political leadership can emerge within these parties. The ruling parties also use the police as an instrument to suppress other political parties from emerging. In this manner the internal democratic process is seriously disturbed by the use of coercion in favour of a few powerful persons. As a result national institutions, vital to ensuring accountability and transparency, are prevented from being developed.

Bad policing based on the constant use of torture and coercion contributes to violence within societies. The chief beneficiaries of bad policing systems are those engaged in organised crime. In many countries direct links are visible between the police and the organised gangs. The emergence of the underground forces disturbs the peace within society and complaints of insecurity are constantly heard from most of the countries.

The fear of the police has so deepened in society that women openly complain that they will not dare to go to a police station even if they have to face some problems which requires the intervention of the police. The fear of rape and sexual harassment by the police has developed to such an extent that women in Asian societies openly express the view that the police are a socially unfriendly agency. During the months of May and June of this year the Asian Human Rights Commission interviewed women from several Asian countries and they unanimously expressed the view that policing in their countries has emerged as an agency which has a negative influence on society.

Bad policing with their power to use coercion and the manipulation of their powers of arrest and detention has reached such levels that many societies cannot make any progress towards democracy or rule of law without first dealing with serious police reforms. Radical police reforms remain the primary requirement of social stability and the prevention of violence.

Unfortunately the use of propaganda relating to the elimination of terrorism has also been used in order to further enhance the possibilities of the misuse of police powers. Under the pretext of anti terrorism even the limited achievement relating to the development of rule of law systems have been undermined. Through extensive powers acquired by anti terrorism laws the powers of arrest and detention are being misused in high proportion. Such abuse is accompanied by extrajudicial killings, by either death in custody or through forced disappearances. Serious crimes are being committed in the name of anti terrorism and as a result impunity has become widespread. The citizen is powerless under these circumstances.

Bad policing and abuse of power through anti terrorism laws has become a major threat to the independence of the judiciary. The judiciary in many countries is powerless when investigations are subverted and when the law enforcement agencies themselves engaged in serious crimes. Recent studies show the manner in which even legal remedies like habeas corpus actions have become ineffective in the face of massive violations by law enforcement agencies.

A theory is now gaining ground that the use of overwhelming power is the only solution to terrorism. Sri Lanka's experience in the suppression of the LTTE is now being used as a kind of model or example on how to deal with terrorism. The safeguards developed to protect individual rights are even being ridiculed as impractical or counterproductive. Ideological support for the use of naked power and the justification for impunity is being promoted.

All these tendencies are only contributing to create insecurities in society and for unscrupulous politicians to abuse power for their own purposes.

The Asian Human Rights Commission calls on the societies of all Asian countries to take serious note of this dangerous situation. In recent years civil society organisations themselves have compromised with these negative developments and as a result contributed to this situation. Today civil society is challenged by these threatening developments and it is time that civil society faced up to this challenge.

The elimination of torture-based policing and all kinds of justifications for the unscrupulous use of power need to be stopped. This is the issue that needs to be reflected upon by civil society as well as the governments on the occasion of the International Day in Support of Torture Victims. Unless the negative developments mentioned above are seriously dealt with the number of torture victims will only increase. The Asia Human Rights Commission also calls upon the United Nations and the international community to deal with this situation without ambiguity and delay.

Kindly see the statements by women of several Asian countries who have called for the end of bad policing and the use of torture. These may be seen at:
http://www.ahrchk.net/statements/search.php?searchstring=women

24/06/2010

Rajan Hoole

Rajan Hoole is one of the unusual figures in Sri Lankan politics. Supporters of the LTTE view him with great suspicion as he and the organisation he has helped to build - the University Teachers for Human Rights (Jaffna) has been was as critical about the LTTE as it was about the Government of Sri Lanka. In terms of balanced and detailed assessments of human rights abuse in Sri Lanka, few do better. So his views on the debate about a domestic versus an international inquiry are worth noting.


Human rights activists like Rajan Hoole welcome some form of international pressure on Sri Lanka “to ensure that the truth of what innocent civilians suffered as the result of the actions and designs of both sides is placed on public record”. In his own words:

“The very fact that an international war crimes tribunal is widely discussed, should make each one of us ask why this virtual reprimand? It is of no use blaming the rest of the world or the LTTE. It is a by-product of this country’s post independence political legacy. It is a statement of the fact that the country drove itself into creeping anarchy by repeatedly spurning opportunities to put its house in order.

“Unfortunately, the latest commission to go into Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation underlines the problem of credibility. The earlier commission that drew much attention was the one appointed by the president to go into several cases of impunity, including the ACF (Action Contre la Faim) killings. That too was an opportunity mislaid.

The ACF hearing was largely directed under the former attorney general, the chairman of the new commission. That commission never revealed the truth. An extract from its leaked alleged report, contrary to the best indications, blamed the LTTE and in our (UTHR-J) documentation we have shown that the AG’s role was to suppress the truth. A study of the ACF case and how the state behaved would reveal most of the lessons important for the Sinhalese.

“UTHR-J documentation reveals frankly the LTTE’s culpability for turning several opportunities for peace into very destructive wars. There is a crying need for the Tamils to make a frank assessment of the LTTE’s legacy and put it behind us. But this new commission is not the place where Tamils could speak frankly with a good conscience, against the well-founded suspicion that, like in the ACF case, it would not do them justice and instead all they say would be misused to shift the blame from the state.

“I feel hesitant to talk about an international war crimes tribunal. But for any reconciliation the truth must be placed firmly on record and we must be grateful for any international effort to this end–humbly acknowledging that we have failed and have shown no real desire to succeed. We are the cause of making our sovereignty an object of ridicule.

“International norms and measures to deal with questions of justice came through recognition of past collective failures involving several nation states–nothing aimed at us. If we recognise that the future of this planet is our collective responsibility, we should have the courage and foresight to use international mechanisms for our own good. Xenophobic abuse would only confirm us in our perdition.”

http://transcurrents.com/tc/2010/06/no_international_war_crimes_in.html#more

23/06/2010

Campaign Adviser Chibli Mallat says Obama's new Security Strategy is disappointing and lists Sri Lanka as illustrative

In a world where human rights is often used in a partisan way, Chibli Mallat, the internationally respected lawyer is known for his unbiased approach to human rights. He is best known for legal actions on behalf of the victims of Qaddafi and Saddam Hussein, and for winning the case of Victims of Sabra and Shatila v Ariel Sharon et al under the law of universal jurisdiction in Belgium in February 2003, before a change in Belgian law removed the jurisdiction of the court. He has also spoken out about the Bush doctrine and its violent approach to "regime change" in Iraq. Until recently, senior law adviser for the University of Utah Global Justice Project: Iraq. His comments about the new Obama doctrine are therefore worth careful note. Mallat is on record as saying: 'It takes at least a generation to establish democracy and the rulers in the Middle East are all ruthless dinosaurs. But we’d better start now!' Sri Lankans of goodwill, regardless of their ethnic groups and political persuasions, should take note.

http://www.dailystar.com.lb/article.asp?edition_id=10&categ_id=30&article_id=115497#axzz0rOMtn7F3

Sri Lanka should break silence on Tamil youth in their captive

The Tamil Information Centre is the voice of moderate Tamils in the diaspora. Their press release highlights the real issues facing Tamil youths still held captive. It is in stark contrast to the recent public relations excercise to arrange mass marriages as a good enough response to this ongoing human rights abuse.


PRESS RELEASE
15 June 2010


Sri Lanka should break silence on Tamil youth in their captive

The Tamil Information Centre (TIC) has called on Sri Lankan government to break its silence over the details of 12,000 Tamil youths in its custody.

A year on, the TIC has also called on the human rights community and, in particular, the Sri Lanka diaspora and groups, to focus their efforts to insist on the government of Sri Lanka to release the details of the detainees who have been held incommunicado detention. The government, continues to deny, refuse to confirm and actively conceals information about the fate or whereabouts of the detainees. Incommunicado detention violates rights of detainees that are essential to a fair trial, such as the right of effective access to a lawyer of one’s choice.

Families are unable to visit their relatives who are detained, and medical care are withheld as a means of putting pressure on detainees.

The Red Cross complains that it has had access only some of these youth. In an attempt to appease the popular anger among Tamils over their treatment, the government has released a few dozens of these youth in recent months.

The ICRC is mandated by the international community, under the Geneva Conventions, to visit prisoners of war to verify whether they are being treated according to relevant international standards, has no access to these detainees.

Prolonged incommunicado detention contributes greatly to the likelihood of detainees being tortured or ill-treated. One of the effects of the current State of Emergency in Sri Lanka has been the application of longer terms of custody and thus an increased risk of torture, disappearances or extrajudicial executions.

Diverse and complementary action is required to abolish incommunicado detention and clear guidelines should be introduced to ensure that all detainees have immediate access to independent legal counsel.

The TIC has been receiving several appeals from parents and spouses who are desperately looking for the whereabouts of their children and husbands. "Please help! We want to know what happened to our dear ones. If they were killed, let the government confirm they were killed, we will console ourselves," were their cries.
We urge you to stand with

Tamil Information Centre

E-mail: admin.tic@sangu.org

22/06/2010

Campaign Adviser Adele Barker: The Lives of Books

On the wall in my study is an index card with a quote on it from Michael Ondaatje's The English Patient. "We are communal histories, communal books," it says. I carry those sentiments into the classroom with me five times a week at the university where I teach, as I try to communicate to my students why stories matter, why books matter, and why, by God, we should all read. Sometimes I am so busy proselytizing the virtues of literature that I forget to look inside and ask myself "Why does my own writing matter?" I write because I love writing and because I think it changes lives--sometimes in ways that we can't possibly anticipate. I suppose our books are, in this sense, like our children. We send them into the world, and they do things that we never intended them to do, things that are sometimes confounding, often improbable and even heart stopping. They make their way in the world totally independent of us. Maybe that is ultimately what a book launch is all about.

Having said this, I've also had moments of real doubt over the past four years about whether writing has the power to change anything. I have spent the past eight years of my life writing about Sri Lanka, a country that has been at war with itself for thirty plus years. I lived there with my son in 2001-2002 and then returned after the 2004 tsunami. In the fall of 2005, a cease-fire hung in the balance, and it became possible finally to get up to the Tamil north. I felt that I really needed the Tamil perspective on this war for the book I was writing. In Jaffna I stayed in a makeshift guest house where I was the lone guest on a street where every house had either been destroyed or abandoned. I spent my days talking to students, to people who were part of demining operations, to people whose children had been forcibly recruited by the Tamil Tigers, and to people who had suffered war loss compounded by tsunami loss. And at night I came back to the guest house and wrote about them. I struggled with what I was doing up there as a writer. The people in Jaffna didn't need me sitting at my computer; they needed aid and they needed for this war to be over, the very things I could not give them. Was I using these people, I wondered, as nothing more than material for my book?

This past December I returned to Jaffna. The war had been over for a good half year. I carried my book with me and presented copies to my friends who had helped me in 2005-2006. They thanked me, bowed and went back to the business of rebuilding shattered lives in a shattered city. I spoke to a priest who singlehandedly was operating a counseling center for literally hundreds of war survivors. I met seventy-five young women, all students, who, in the final days of the conflict, had gotten caught in the fighting and had lost everything. Many could not even access their emotions to talk about their pain. They didn't need my book; they needed counselors, doctors, money, de-miners. And they needed their families back again.

One day this past March I was contacted by an organization called IMHO (International Medical Health Organization). They were having their annual convention in Boston. Would I come and speak to them? They sent me a preliminary program. This was clearly a convention of Sri Lankan Tamil doctors, most now practicing in the U.S, some in the U.K., with a few still in Sri Lanka. What could a writer say to these doctors, I asked myself, but I went because I was impressed by the sort of work they were doing. In the Hilton Hotel in Woburn, Massachusetts, I sat for two days and listened to presentations. Doctors who already had successful and busy lives over here had set up orphanages in the war-torn areas of Sri Lanka. One doctor was operating clinics in the northwest where he was training survivors to make prosthetics for other survivors. Some of the doctors were engaged in rebuilding clinics. Most of them had left their country years ago because of the civil war. They had been schooled abroad and stayed abroad and raised their families over here. But their Tamil identity had remained strong. They were doing what they were doing because these were their people.

That Saturday I stood in front of the doctors and spoke about what I had seen and experienced in the north. There were many in the audience who had not been back for years, quite possibly for political reasons. I read a few passages from my book. One was about a young woman whom I had met in Jaffna. This is what she had said to me:

"There would be a vacant house or a piece of property next door and someone would move in, either the government forces or the Tigers. They would be using it as a storage area for arms or whatever. So we knew we couldn't stay, and we moved on to the next place. Finally we decided to shift ourselves out to Delft Island off the northeast coast here. It's the place with the wild ponies. So we went there, thinking we would be safe. Then the government forces attacked it. I think I am still feeling the trauma of this. I don't know if I will ever be able to settle and have a home. War and homelessness have been the norm ever since I was born."

...The young woman who had moved so many times recounted what it was like trying to get schooling throughout all this. She told me that for her entire education up to the university she did her homework in the faint illumination of a wick soaked in coconut oil and then lit in a small clay pot. One sees row upon row of these small, delicate vessels, lighting the entrances to kovils and temples. They diffuse a soft light appropriate for meditation and prayer, but reading by them is out of the question.

"This is all the oil we could afford," she explained. "My eyes are ruined. My brother was trying to study for his A levels during all of this. There was only one light in the city at night and that was the street lamp outside the International Red Cross. I guess they had a generator. My brother went there every night with his books and sat on the street underneath that lamp to study for the exams. He passed; he did very well. But this was our norm. I missed my childhood."

We all dined together on South Asian food that night. I looked at the women in their sarees, the Tamil children whose lives were so thoroughly Americanized and the doctors who were still deeply tied to the country many had left long ago. People came up and spoke to me about my book. It had touched them in ways that I was not quite prepared for. But it was a conversation with one woman in particular that crystallized something for me. "I had forgotten about the little wicks soaked in coconut oil," she told me. "I have been gone from there so long I had no memory of them anymore. Thank you for bringing back my childhood."

I left the conference still wishing I had the skills to do something concrete--that I could speak Tamil, that I had been trained in medicine or in social work. But there are also moments that renew in us what we knew all along, the conviction that writing matters. I thought about what Ondaatje had written. He was right; we are all "communal histories, communal books."

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Adele Barker, who was awarded a Ucross Fellowship for her work on her latest book, Not Quite Paradise: An American Sojourn in Sri Lanka, has taught at the universities of Arizona and Washington. She is the author and editor of five books on Russian literature and cultural life. In 2001-2002 she received a Fulbright Senior Scholar grant to teach and write in Sri Lanka. After the tsunami she returned to the island where she traveled to the areas most devastated by the waves and by the thirty year old civil war between the Tamil Tigers and the central Sinhalese government.

http://www.guernicamag.com/blog/1787/adele_barker_the_lives_of_book/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed:+Guernica/Blog+(Guernica+/+Blog)

16/06/2010

"Why don't you go and see for yourself?"‏

Many Sri Lankans (including large numbers of Tamils) from outside Sri Lanka and Colombo have gone to Jaffna and come back saying that things are much better than they thought they would be and that "we should work with the Government now". When challenged, they often retort: "you should go and see for yourself", a refrain also used by the Government of Sri Lanka spokesmen and their supporters.

Well, this is what one Sinhalese human rights activist did! But rather than just make a short trip, he spent a lot of time and made a lot of effort to find out what is really happening, looking well beyond Jaffna which is more or less the limit for Tamil tourists.

http://www.groundviews.org/2010/05/26/vanni-in-the-year-after-war-tears-of-despair-and-fear/

It’s a long report but very moving one because it so understated and balanced. Please take the time to read it - if nothing else, we should know what is happening to the survivors. The messages are in stark contrast to the views expressed by these tourists, who seem to have come away with rather a superficial perspective.

Isn’t it rather amazing that a Sinhala human rights activist is willing to put himself at risk to stand up for the the equality of “the other side”? The "benefits" to this human rights defender of describing the many injustices that even journalists don't want to cover is greater personal risk at this time of self-censorship - Sri Lanka today is not a place where “normal” people dare to talk about human rights violations. On the other hand, the benefits to Tamil tourists of their rose-tinted view doesn’t need much explanation.

Moreover, he is not alone. Also attached is a shorter commentary by a university student, again Sinhalese.

These examples raise an intriguing question - might the hope for the long-suffering Tamils in Northern Sri Lanka come more from such dedicated Sinhalese, rather than Tamil tourists? Of course not all Tamil tourists are complicit/complacent and not all Sinhalese visitors are saints! So this leads us to wonder, post war, is there actually a new divide emerging in Sri Lanka which has nothing to do with ethnicity namely TWRC (Those Who Really Care) and TWDC (Those Who Don't Care)?

Please pass this article to any Sri Lankans who have been or are considering going to Sri Lanka in the hope that we can encourage them to care and engage deeply. When people ignore the suffering of their own countrymen and women, it is not surprising the world turns the other way too.

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Letter written by a Sinhalese University student

I am a university student. In university, I have been having frequent discussions with some of my Tamil colleagues and based on these conversations, I thought of writing this blog.

Today there are large number of people from the South who visit the North as tourists. They are bringing about a tremendous burden on the people of the north. For instance, they are even using vacant lands as toilets, because the north does not have adequate facilities to accommodate them .

Furthermore, this increase in tourism has attracted increased numbers of traders to the north from other parts of the country. They too do not have sufficient accommodation facilities and end up polluting the environment. But I’m actually not writing about that.

I have noted that many of the Sinhalese people who travel to the north have no clue about Tamil culture and ways of life. For instance, Tamils consider the wells in their temples as sacred places. They do not bathe or wash clothes in those wells. But the southern tourists do it all the time and the Tamils seeing this are devastated. Due to their lack of cultural sensitivities, these southern tourists commit many such mistakes which do not hold well with traditional Tamil people.

Actually, the Sinhalese people hold their temples in high regards. Recently, singer Akon was booted from Sri Lanka for desecrating a Buddhist statue. But no action is taken for the humiliation of Tamil religious venues.

We also notice that soldiers serving in Jaffna have their relatives and friends visiting them. On such occasions, the soldiers approach the home owners of Jaffna and ask them if they can host these groups of people. Because they are soldiers, the civilians can’t say no. On the contrary, if a solider is serving in Kandy, he will not be in a position to ask a Kandy homeowner to host his visiting relatives. That will never happen. But it happens in Jaffna.

Just two days before writing this, one of my Tamil friends told me soldiers approached his aging parents in Jaffna and requested them to host a group of visiting friends in their home. My Tamil friend is deeply disturbed by this. He is hesitant to take legal action and he also feels raising this issue will once again disturb the peace between Tamils and Sinhalese people. But he is nevertheless very unhappy at this development. I am urging people who read this to take some action. They can educate travelers to the north, ask them to not go there if they cannot find suitable paid accommodation.

We can’t do anything about what happened in the past. But we certainly can take action to build bridges of friendship and understanding

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15/06/2010

Will Sri Lanka ever be like Singapore?

Sri Lankan’s are often heard to say “We could have been more advanced than Singapore” if not for the politicians, if not for the corruption, if not for the British, if not for the LTTE , if not for the this and that…


So what does the founder of Singapore, Lee Kwan Yew, a true pioneer of the Asian economic miracle, have to say about the current choices facing Sri Lanka?


In his opinion, Sri Lanka “is not a happy, united country” and he is not optimistic about its post-war direction.


“The present President of Sri Lanka believes he has settled the problem; his Tamil Tigers are killed and that is that.” And in a rather controversial assessment by an Asian and global superstar, Lee Kwan Yew refers to the Sri Lankan President’s ideology: “I’ve read his speeches and I knew he was a Sinhalese extremist. I cannot change his mind”.


This is damning criticism indeed given the attempt by Rajapaksa clan and their apologists to hide behind the “Asian values” argument, as if that could be an excuse for gross human rights abuse and war crimes.


The crux of the issue for Lee Kwan Yew is that “the Tamils deserve more respect than the Sinhalese have given them”. And he is not alone in talking about the importance of respect


Some other former world leaders, who are members of an elite group called The Elders, have also focused on “respect” which is the polar opposite to the collective punishment approach which has underpinned the Rajapaksa clan strategy for several years.


At their recent meeting, the Elders again highlighted their concerns about Sri Lanka. In the words of former President of Ireland, Mary Robinson: “My friends Desmond Tutu and Lakhdar Brahimi have written about the urgent need to build trust in Sri Lanka; respect for minorities, human rights and the rule of law are the only way to secure lasting peace. They have also called for an independent, international inquiry into violations of humanitarian law by both parties to the conflict.”


Back to Lee, what does he think “respect” means in practice? Sadly he didn’t answer the interviewer-author’s question direct. But Prof Tom Plate - who has been highly critical of the Tamil Tigers in the past - concludes in conversation with Lee that “your system of government is much softer, consensual and intelligent, whereas what the Sinhalese in Sri Lanka are doing is a caricature of an LKY who never existed."


If Sri Lankans - and those who are taking an investment punt on this new “post war economy” - really want to know how Sri Lanka can become “better than Singapore” - they would be well advised to stop playing the usual blame game and read the book carefully. Today, this is a pipe dream - the World Economic Forum ranks Singapore 3rd and Sri Lanka 77th - and with the seeds of never-ending conflict being sown each and every day, it will remain so.


http://transcurrents.com/tc/2010/05/mahinda_rajapakse_is_a_sinhale.html

http://theelders.org/e/12/index.html

http://www.weforum.org/pdf/GCR09/GCR20092010fullrankings.pdf

12/06/2010

Double standards - Malaysia rivals US for who is worse!

The Malaysian government seems to be rather upset about what has happened in Gaza.

Perdana, the website of the peace organisation,set up by the Malaysian Government shows the depth of feeling (1) and there have also been public protests (2).

Indeed, the Malaysians are part of the international UN Special Committee to Investigate Israeli Practices Affecting the Human Rights of the Palestinian People - the other countries being Sri Lanka (we jest not!) and Senegal (3)

In parallel, however, Dr Mahathir Mohamad - the former Prime Minister of Malaysia - has travelled to Sri Lanka to encourage the government and business leaders. And in a detailed interview, he has argued that the human rights probe in Sri Lanka should be internal as it is "an internal matter" (4).

Dr Mahathir goes on to explain why President Rajapaksa doesn’t need to worry about being called a Sinhalese extremist - presumably a reference to the judgement that Lee Kuan Yew, the first Prime Minister of Singapore, made about Rajapaksa (5).

According to Mahathir, "if you work for your people you will eventually be exonerated". Clearly, he doesn't think of Tamils or human rights defenders or independent journalists as Sri Lankan people.

But these double standards will also backfire on the Palestinians.(6) If Malaysia wants to be taken seriously on the international stage, now would be a good time for its government to start acting with more consistency or it will become simply the mirror image of what it accuses the US of being.

[1] http://www.perdana4peace.org/

[2] http://www.channelnewsasia.com/stories/afp_asiapacific/view/1060324/1/.html

[3] http://www.lankanewspapers.com/news/2010/6/57169.html

[4] http://www.dailymirror.lk/print/index.php/opinion1/12658.html

[5] http://www.thesundayleader.lk/2010/06/06/book-review-2/

[6] http://www.malaysiakini.com/letters/133512

10/06/2010

Sri Lanka - A woman speaks out against bad policing and torture

Inoma Karunathilaka has been involved in civil society organizations and women's organizations for several years. She has been an active member in helping torture victims. Now she is studying psychology.

She made following comments on the issue of policing in Sri Lanka

What do you think about the policing system in your country?

First of all I would like to say I have no trust about our policing system. This is one of the most corrupt institutions in Sri Lanka. The main point is that many of them don’t know how to behave and they don’t know the discipline at all. Especially women cannot go to the police station alone. The policemen try to cheat them. They are trying to manipulate the women and to misuse them. Most of the poor Sri Lankan women and girls have faced many problems and some of them were abused by the police officers.

I have visited several police stations for an official purpose, and personally what I felt was that they had respect for the dress. If they feel that these persons came from an affluent background then they will treat them well, otherwise they will treat the people like dogs. Here I would say one thing. There are some good police officers too, but their voices have no power because they are very few in number.

I have many friends who work in the police. Most of them studied with me at the University and did the Human Rights Diploma. They are also not happy with the system. One inspector of police (IP) told me that they receive very low salaries and because of this, most of the police officers take bribes as they face financial difficulties. We cannot justify this because we are all human. We cannot say that they are right or wrong. The root of the problem is with the system. Furthermore, most of the senior police officers used junior officers as a weapon, and due to fear and respect for the senior officers, they do what they are told. One senior police officer told me that he would advise his sons, daughters and even enemies not to seek a job with the police.

The Sri Lankan police system should be changed. There should be a good disciplinary system. This change should be initiated from the top, a top to bottom reform, not from bottom to top. When the top level changes and when they respect the rules and regulations, the lower levels would also follow suit. Our country should learn from other countries the way of how they overcome the problem of corruption. Personally I think they should get the ways and techniques from the Independent Commission against Corruption (ICAC) in Hong Kong. There were some top officials who participated in the training programme at the ICAC with us. After the programme they told me that the ICAC is a good system but could not be implemented in our country due to the financial situation. The authorities should be concerned about this and they should try to do what they can, otherwise the situation would be worse.

What do you think about the use of torture?

There is no right for any person to torture or to take the lives of others. Life is the most spiritual and holy sacrament. God had sent us to this world to do a mission and to collect merits. But unfortunately our police officers do not know the value of life. They misuse the power given by their profession. They use torture as a weapon to take evidence, or to get credits from their senior officers. A distressing situation is that most of the junior police officers don’t even know about the torture act. Traditional methods should be changed. Especially the civilians’ mentality should also be changed. Most of the civilians believe that the police should use torture and give punishments. In this situation, the media has a big role to play. If the media play their roles well, it helps people to think twice and change their way of thinking. Torture is not a good method. It put people’s lives in agony, not only a person’s life but the whole society.

Recently, we heard a lot of depressing stories about police torture which occurred in our country. When the police officers wear their uniform, they think they are powerful and they do not respect the rules. A main reason for them not respecting the rules is because most of the police officers are not educated. When the police officers are stressful, dispersed or suffering from mental illness, they release their pressure or emotions on the people. They are release their anger by torturing the suspects or the innocent people. The sad thing is that some of their mentality is very low and they torture and abuse the young children too. I think the police recruiting system and its training system should be changed. Police officers would then have a calm and pure mentality. However, the final responsibility goes to the government. The government has the responsibility to change the system.

What are your views on the public relations of the police?

Public relations depended on the person. The people see the police as a dangerous animal because of their acts. They regarded the police in a negative point of view. As the people don’t have the clear mentality about the police system, they don’t trust them at all. Here is a good example illustrating the relationship between the police and the people. When there is a road accident, people would punish the driver and burn the vehicle as they do not trust the police. People know that if the owner or the driver of the vehicle is a powerful and influential person, the police will take their sides. This is the mistrust built up by the police officers. Therefore the relationship between police and the civilians are very poor.

If you have a problem would you go to a police station to get help?

This is a hard question. Honestly speaking if I have a personal problem I would think twice before going to the police station. It is only when there is no other alternative I will go there because the Sri Lankan police is not a safe place for anybody.

I have gone to the police station many times due to some official purposes but I never went alone. I always contacted my friends and got their help as there might be situations when a female goes alone. If a female goes to the police station alone most of the police officers would go around asking many unwanted questions. Another issue is the way the police officers talk. Sometimes fear would automatically build up because of the way the police ask questions. Most of the poor women face problems due to this fear. Police officers know how to make use of the situation and they get the upper hand. All these situations occur due to loop holes in the system and the poor mentality of the police officers.

Is there a domestic violence law in your country and what is your opinion of it?

There are domestic violence laws and charter in Sri Lanka. The Women’s Charter on December 1992 by the office of the State Minister for Women’s affairs and it was approved by the government of Sri Lanka on 3rd March 1993. It clearly mentioned about the "Right to Protection from the Gender-based violence" and it included domestic violence as well. Later in 2005, the government has passed the Act No. 34 in 2005 which was based on domestic violence. Usually the laws and regulations are written on the books. However, according to my knowledge it was not properly implemented in Sri Lanka. Some women organization work and fight against domestic violence and try to implement laws, but unfortunately not a lot of civilians are aware of these laws. Also they fear going to the police to make even a simple complaint. A police friend of mine once told me, "The police station is not a place to solve family problems. If somebody goes to the police due to domestic violence or family problems, they will never come together". Furthermore he explained to me that there should be a system to give advice or counseling for the families in the police, but there is no such system in our policing system. Very recently I have read some news saying that in every police station, there is a separate unit for the women’s and children issues, but I have no idea about their functioning.

Another issue is about the great influence from our cultural. Our culture taught us that the society is male-centered and women have to protect the family under any circumstances. But sad thing is that very few families practice the democratic family values. All the others especially families in the rural areas and plantation sectors are male dominated. A lot of women and children had suffered from domestic violence and violent behaviors by their fathers and husbands daily, but they would not come forward due to cultural barriers, or because their children’s lack of knowledge about their rights. Women from the middle class and upper class are smarter and they would go directly to courts and divorce. However I don’t know how to justify this. When comparing with the past nowadays the divorce rates are very high.

We cannot rely on the laws only because these laws cannot protect the people, and because they are not being implemented properly. Court delays are another problem. The court delay directly affects the system. This helps to take the grant for the perpetrators, police and also for the lawyers. This is the reality in our society.

My personal opinion is that people should know the values of the family, especially those who have children. All the rules and laws are there, but there should also be a system to solve family problems as well. The authorities should find the cause for domestic violence and should give a proper solution for them, and the government has the big role to play.

# # #

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

http://www.ahrchk.net/statements/mainfile.php/2010statements/2598/

07/06/2010

What drives the international response to Sri Lanka - duplicity, complicity, or "just" short-sightedness?

The US Government is not alone in acting like an ostrich, burying its head in the sand and ignoring what has happened and continues to happen in Sri Lanka. Many members of the UN Human Rights Council played a similar role in May 2009 (1) and have yet to acknowledge their mistake. But unlike those members, the USA - indeed Secretary Clinton herself - spoke at that time of the "untold suffering" of civilians at the hands of the Sri Lankan government.(2)

Now the Sri Lankan government seems to have persuaded Mrs Clinton to make a volte farce and accept its proposal for a domestic inquiry into what happened in the last months of the war. (3) This despite very credible reports from the International Crisis Group, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and many others, documenting how the government committed war crimes on a huge scale. With painstaking effort, these groups have put figures and details on this "untold suffering" but for Mrs Clinton - or more accurately some of her key advisers - it remains conveniently "untold".

Of course, it's obvious that perpetrators of war crimes would have to be totally stupid or completely mad to propose a process that could find themselves guilty. But the case against a domestic inquiry in Sri Lanka's case is even stronger than this generic, common sense argument. According to Amnesty International, there have been 20 years of "make believe" commissions of inquiry which have had little, if any, value. (4) You could say these commissions have become an important Sri Lankan export, designed to soothe the troubled brow of squeamish outsiders.

And this is not just Amnesty's judgement. According to the highly respected international law scholar Philip Alston, U.N. special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, "I believe there is no realistic prospect this internal initiative will give serious meaningful consideration to very significant violations that exist," adding that Sri Lankan domestic inquiries since 1977 had "all failed".(5) Alston, like Navi Pillay, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, are two of the handful of senior UN officials who have come out of the whole debacle with their personal reputations intact. Both are leading the rearguard campaign for an independent inquiry, a campaign which Ban Ki-moon has avoided supporting- another ostrich?

Now a very brave local expert has added his voice to the debate. M.C.M Iqbal is the well respected Sri Lankan civil servant who was Secretary to two Commissions of Inquiry into Disappearances in Sri Lanka. He explains clearly why the latest proposal cannot be anything other than an exercise in wasting time, diffusing pressure and protecting war criminals. (6)

The supreme irony, of course, is that having effectively endorsed yet another facet of the "Sri Lanka model" for neutralizing troublesome groups - i.e. allow the state terrorists to investigate themselves after they have done the dirty deeds - both the UN Human RIghts Council and the US Administration are now caught with their proverbial pants down.

Why shouldn't Israel have the same right?

The stupidity of this idea is as clear as should be the stupidity of allowing the Sri Lankans to investigate their war crimes. If the USA, the UN Secretary General and the democratic members of the UN Human Rights Council don't want to go down in history as the facilitators of the "Sri Lankan model", now's the time for them to show more integrity and consistency. Later may be too late for many people in many countries and it may even be too late for stopping a new norm in state sponsored terrorism and illegal warfare. (7)





[1] Timesonline http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/comment/columnists/guest_contributors/article6390626.ece


[2] Reuters http://www.reuters.com/article/idUSWBT011095


[3] US Govt http://www.america.gov/st/texttrans-english/2010/May/20100528153614ptellivremos0.5893976.html?CP.rss=true


[4] Amenesty International http://www.amnesty.org/en/library/info/ASA37/005/2009/en



[5) Reliefweb http://www.reliefweb.int/rw/rwb.nsf/db900SID/MUMA-86543T?OpenDocument&RSS20=02-P


[6] Groundviews http://www.groundviews.org/2010/03/23/still-waiting-for-justice-in-sri-lanka/


[7] According to the International Crisis Group, the following countries are exploring the “Sri Lanka model”; Burma, Colombia, India, Israel, Myanmar, Nepal, Pakistan, the Philippines, and Thailand.See Foreign policy http://turtlebay.foreignpolicy.com/posts/2010/05/24/is_the_un_complicit_in_sri_lankan_war_crimes

Sri Lanka - A Tourism Concern

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. It is no wonder that holidaymakers are once again pouring into this south Asian island, off the coast of India.

After almost three decades of conflict with the rebel group Liberation Tigers of Tamil Elam (LTTE, although more popularly known as the Tamil Tigers), the Sri Lankan government declared an end to the civil war on 19 May 2009. But many tourists do not know that Sri Lanka is now rated the fourth most dangerous place in the world for journalists by Reporters San Frontiérs, higher even than in 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 fifteen journalists are believed to have been killed 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 official end of the civil war, journalists continue to be killed, physically assaulted, abducted, and harassed by both government personnel and members of para-military groups for attempting to report the truth.

On 31 August 2009, a Sri Lankan court sentenced Tamil journalist Jayaprakash Sittampalam (J S) Tissainayagam to twenty years’ hard labour for causing ‘communal disharmony’. Human Rights groups believed that he had been targeted for his earlier reporting on the civil war. Following an international outcry, that included President Obama expressing concern during an address to mark 2009 World Press Freedom Day, Tissa received a presidential pardon exactly a year later on 3 May 2010. His release proves that international pressure can make a difference in Sri Lanka and ethical tourists can play a part in this.

According to Amnesty there has been a further clampdown on dissent since the presidential election concluded on 26 January 2010. This has included arrests, death threats against several prominent newspaper editors, and the intimidation of independent web-based media. On the day of the elections, a political cartoonist and opposition journalist, Prageeth Eknaligoda, disappeared. According to Reporters Sans Frontiéres, he was abducted as he left the office of the Lanka-e-News website, his place of work, and has remained missing ever since despite an ongoing police investigation.

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 and 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 LTTE 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 LTTE 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 the country. So visitors are often unaware of a very different world outside the resorts where ordinary Sri Lankan citizens continue to have their basic human rights trampled upon, sometimes involving violence and torture. But tourists have a voice and the freedom to act on their return. They can make a difference.


When deciding whether to visit Sri Lanka or not, you need to weigh up these arguments:

• Tourism helps to normalise the repressive actions of the current government. Development of the tourism industry in Sri Lanka may actually create greater inequality rather than helping ordinary citizens.

• Isolation from informed tourists allows the government a free rein to continue with its violations. Responsible tourism supports the ordinary people and helps to expose the country to outside influences.

What you can do:

• Join the Sri Lanka Campaign for Peace & Justice which works for a peaceful resolution in the country: http://www.srilankacampaign.org

• Some Sri Lankans encourage responsible tourism as a means of seeing what is happening in their country. Once there, try to meet with one of the credible local and international NGOs who are working with the 100,000 plus civilian detainees still in large and small camps who lack access to food, water and basic services. The government has made it very difficult for international NGOs to work effectively. Representatives from Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have been prevented from visiting the country.

• You can make donations to local charities whilst there - the Sri Lanka Campaign site has suggestions.

• If you want to help political prisoners in Sri Lanka, human rights organisations like Amnesty (www.amnesty.org), Human Rights Watch (http://en.rsf.org) and Reporters Sans Frontiéres (www.rsf.org) monitor the situation on a daily basis and have advice regarding what you can do on their websites.

• On your return, write a letter of appeal or send a postcard to the Sri Lankan embassy in your country calling on the Sri Lankan government to respect the human rights and freedom of expression of all its citizens.

By Lucy Popescu

Lucy Popescu is the author of The Good Tourist (Arcadia Books)

http://www.tourismconcern.org.uk/index.php?mact=News,cntnt01,detail,0&cntnt01articleid=176&cntnt01returnid=72

03/06/2010

Is the U.N. complicit in Sri Lankan war crimes?

Louise Arbour, the head of the International Crisis Group, called for an internal review of the U.N.'s conduct during Sri Lanka's bloody 2009 civil war, telling Turtle Bay that the organization's abandonment of national staff in a conflict zone and its failure to speak up more forcefully about abuses made it "close to complicit" in government atrocities.

Arbour said the United Nations compromised its principles for a lofty goal: to preserve the ability of aid workers to provide humanitarian assistance to those in desperate need of it. But she faulted the U.N.'s acceptance of "absolutely unacceptable" visa limitations on international staff and the U.N.'s decision to withdraw foreign staff from the northern Sri Lanka province of Vanni in September 2008, on the eve of government forces' final offensive against the rebel Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, leaving behind "very exposed" local Sri Lankan employees.

Her organization also cited one case from June 2009 in which the United Nations "was slow to react" to the abduction and torture of two U.N. national staff members who were detained on suspicion of collaborating with the Tamil Tigers, and "made no serious protest at their mistreatment."

"The U.N. should look at how it behaved in the whole episode," said Arbour, a former U.N. war crimes prosecutor and U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights. "I think it's a very sobering moment where the United Nations should reexamine the price it is willing to pay to maintain humanitarian access."

In a press conference Monday, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon responded angrily to suggestions that the U.N. shared responsibility for the violence. "I totally reject those allegations." He said he would move forward with the establishment of a panel of advisors to counsel him on how to hold perpetrators accountable for crimes during the decisive final months of the decades-long war.

Arbour's remarks follow the release last week of a report by her organization alleging that the Sri Lankan military may have killed more than 30,000 civilians during its 2009 military conquest of the country's Tamil rebels. The report also alleges that the Tamil Tigers, one of the world's most brutal insurgent movements, also committed massive war crimes, forcing hundreds of thousands of civilians to serve as human shields, and murdering those who sought to flee to safety.

Arbour called for an independent investigation into war crimes by both government forces and the Tamil Tigers, warning that lingering bitterness fueled by the conflict will serve as an inspiration to future insurgents. She also faulted the U.N. Security Council for failing to use its powers to constrain Sri Lanka, and the Human Rights Council for issuing a statement praising the government at the end of the conflict for defeating one of the world's most ruthless insurgencies.

"U.N. agencies allowed themselves to be bullied by the government and accepted a reduced role in protecting civilians, most notably with their quick acceptance of the government's September 2008 order to remove all staff from the Vanni," the ICG report stated. "The Human Rights Council chose not to defend humanitarian law, but instead passed a resolution praising the conduct of the government. All of this has eroded further the standing of the U.N. in Sri Lanka and elsewhere."

Arbour's views hold particular weight at the United Nations, where she served in Ban's cabinet and worked alongside many of the officials she is now criticizing. Her remarks echoed her contribution to a 1990s debate on the U.N.'s role in war crimes in Bosnia and Rwanda.

The U.N. is "not a gigantic evil machine but I think there were probably some who made judgment calls that were overly cautious or prudent," Arbour said. "My own suspicion, knowing some of the players in the environment, is it's always for a good reason. It's always not to aggravate the government or make sure they can stay in the game as long as possible. That's exactly why it's so important to look at the facts and start asking are we getting to a point where we are almost complicit with the government in our desire to maintain the delivery of services."

For Arbour, the Sri Lankan war constitutes a defining moment for the United Nations and for Secretary-General Ban, who has faced criticism from rights groups for failing to push earlier for an outside investigation into possible war crimes during the conflict. Arbour said while she welcomed Ban's plan's to set to a panel of experts to explore how perpetrators might be held accountable, she wished he had done so immediately after the conflict.

She also criticized Ban for meeting with President Mahinda Rajapaksa of Sri Lanka and failing to press for an independent investigation. Ban traveled to Sri Lanka after the conflict ended and signed an agreement with the Sri Lankan leader that placed responsibility for ensuring accountability for war crimes with the Sri Lankan government. The deal was struck just as the U.N.'s high commissioner for human rights, Navi Pillay, was pressing the Human Rights Council to establish an independent inquiry into war crimes in Sri Lanka.

"The fact that the secretary-general went and stood with the president at the very end of the war when some of us had been for months screaming about what was happening in Sri Lanka -- I don't want to say it was disappointing," Arbour said. "Well, let's put it this way: I would have preferred an immediate call for accountability. I wish that what we're talking about now was a conversation that had taken place this time last year, immediately after the conflict."

U.N. officials defended Ban's response to the crisis, saying he publicly urged, and worked tirelessly to persuade, Rajapaska and the insurgents to observe a pause in fighting to allow the release of hundreds of thousands of civilians trapped between the warring camps. They say that the U.N. is frequently required to rely on local staff to deliver assistance as a last resort, noting that they have done so in Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia and other conflict zones.

"The U.N. actually supplied the people with humanitarian assistance, at great risk to its staff," said Nicholas Haysom, Ban's political advisor. "There are times when, on grounds of safety, you have to make tough calls about whether and when to remove international staff, or even national staff, and yet how to continue to deliver humanitarian aid, and we've had to do this in Afghanistan and Pakistan."

Haysom said that Ban was among the "most vocal" leaders in the international community raising the alarm about events unfolding in Sri Lanka. "He was one of the first to do so."

U.N. diplomats and observers said that Ban was raising concerns about the violence, both publicly and privately, but admitted that his heavy reliance on quiet diplomacy had little impact on Sri Lanka's behavior.

"He put a spotlight on what was happening in Sri Lanka," said John Sawers, who was then Britain's U.N. ambassador. "So it's not perfect in Sri Lanka; far too many civilians got killed and there is still an outstanding problem with the civilians in the [Internally Displaced Persons] camps. But I believe Ban's engagement made the situation less bad than it would otherwise have been."

Hasyom said the secretary-general has little power to enforce his views on a sovereign government, particularly when he doesn't have the full backing of the Security Council. "If the council is not backing you, you only have so much independent leverage or power."

Arbour said that the failure to confront the excesses of the Sri Lankan conflict now may lead to further abuses later. The so-called Sri Lanka option -- brutal military counterinsurgency combined with a total disregard for the laws of wars or international condemnation -- has been gaining currency in countries faced with threats from insurgencies or militants. Her agency cited reports that the Sri Lanka option has seeped into the political debates in countries dealing with militants or insurgents, including Burma, Colombia, India, Israel, Myanmar, Nepal, Pakistan, the Philippines, and Thailand.

"I understand the rationale," Arbour said, referring to the U.N. decision to maintain its humanitarian operations in the face of compromises. "It's the only way we're going to get humanitarian deliveries," said Arbour, noting that Sri Lanka should prompt a full reevaluation of U.N. humanitarian policies. "But there must come a point where you really have to ask: Are you now paying a price that is so high that you become almost complicit in terrible actions by governments?"

http://turtlebay.foreignpolicy.com/posts/2010/05/24/is_the_un_complicit_in_sri_lankan_war_crimes