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

29/08/2010

Free but not yet safe

The focus on release figures for Sri Lanka’s displaced obscures the real picture

Sri Lanka’s news outlets have made much of UN Resident Coordinator Neil Buhne’s remarks at an event commemorating World Humanitarian Day in Sri Lanka last week. [1] ‘90% internally displaced persons (IDPs) resettled in North’, ‘Government to meet self-imposed resettlement target’, ‘Resettlement at final stage’.[2]

These headlines add to the growing chorus of ‘good news’ stories emerging from Sri Lanka, on tourism, economic development and – with the Government’s Lessons Learnt & Reconciliation Commission now underway – progress on a sustainable peace. But these stories convey a dangerously one-sided impression.

Yes, the Commission has begun hearings but it has no plans to investigate the final bloody months of civil war and, given the abysmal record of previous domestic inquiries, it is highly unlikely those airing grievances will see justice done. The vehement rejection of an international investigation and the violent protests – including the ridiculous ‘fast-to-death’ stunt of a cabinet minister[3] – in response to a UN advisory panel on ‘accountability issues’ in Sri Lanka are also not reassuring signs.

Yes, the IMF has issued an upbeat assessment of Sri Lanka’s economy, praising the government for reducing the country’s deficit, increasing taxes and cutting spending.[4] But at what cost to the people? Many staples are already beyond the reach of the ordinary citizen. According to the latest data from the Government’s Department of Census and Statistics, the average urban worker takes home 19,237 rupees a month – if she buys a kilo of fish, of cinnamon and of maldive fish in the market, nearly 15% of her wage will be gone.[5]

And yes, more people are travelling to Sri Lanka – this July saw a spike of 51% over last July in British tourists – but the rapid re-development of land, especially up North, is causing grave concern among Tamil war survivors, who fear that their land is being usurped. Coupled with other building projects (many of which have already been handed to firms with ties to the ruling elite or to contractors from China) and the continued imposition of no-entry security zones, their fears are understandable.[6]

The focus on IDP returns is, however, the most damaging. The figure of 90% implies that the humanitarian crisis is now over. Chandra Fernando, a presidential advisor on north and east development, has said that the country has made significant progress in resettling IDPs when compared to what most other conflict-affected countries have achieved in a similar timeframe.[7] Given the dismal the situation one year ago – when the majority of the 300,000 IDPs were still languishing camps, trapped, with limited freedom of movement and restricted access to aid supplies, relief workers and their families – the increased pace of release is of course an improvement. But for a displaced person, release is just the first step.

According to the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre[8], which publishes figures from a range of sources – government, UN agencies and NGOs, at the end of July 2010 some 83,000 displaced persons were staying with host families; just under 40,000 were in emergency sites awaiting return to their homes; and 3,000 were in transit camps. Many of them cannot go home because the area is riddled with landmines. Others have travelled back to realise that their land is still located in a no-entry security zone. And even those who have returned face enormous difficulties in finding food, shelter, employment and basic services.[9] It will take years for them to rebuild their homes and their lives. The 38,000 who remain in camps should also not be forgotten, as indeed those being held in indefinite secret detention.

Initially, some 11,000 people were kept in separate facilities on suspicion of LTTE involvement. They have had no access to the International Committee of the Red Cross, and the secrecy surrounding their treatment has raised serious concerns about torture and other breaches of Article 3 of the Third Geneva Convention, which applies to civil armed conflict and which Sri Lanka has ratified[10]. Their legal status is not internationally recognised so UN agencies – which need a clear mandate – are not able to help. None of the inmates are thought to have been charged. Earlier this month the Government quietly freed about 3,000 of the most vulnerable. Sri Lankan Rehabilitation Commissioner Brigadier Ranasinghe was quoted as saying that children, ill and disabled people, pregnant women, minor offenders and those who had been acquitted by courts were among those released. [11][12] (It can only be assumed that he is referring to old court rulings as no trials appear to have taken place recently.)

The UN Refugee Agency has repeatedly stressed that the release of IDPs must be safe and dignified. The overwhelming focus of the international community on numbers in camps and Government targets, though well-meaning, has certainly contributed to the desperate situation in which tens of thousands of displaced persons now find themselves.[13][14] This has been exacerbated by a conspiracy of silence: by those who want to help and only reveal half the picture to secure access;[15] by those who are unwilling to act and find it easier to go along with the official line;[16] and, of course, by those who seek to legitimise the Government’s propaganda for whatever reason.[17][18] The ongoing plight of the displaced, meanwhile, continues to set back the larger objective of promoting a sustainable peace and reconciliation in the country.

[1] http://www.dailymirror.lk/print/index.php/news/front-image/19047-90-idps-resettled-in-north-says-un.html

[2] http://www.defence.lk/new.asp?fname=20100821_06

[3] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/10534923

[4] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-11064346

[5] http://www.statistics.gov.lk/home.asp

[6] http://www.economist.com/node/16847146?story_id=16847146

[7] http://www.defence.lk/new.asp?fname=20100821_06

[8] http://www.internal-displacement.org/idmc/website/countries.nsf/%28httpEnvelopes%29/7E8CFF727BBFB54DC12576B3002DEBD9?OpenDocument#44.2.1

[9] http://www.sundaytimes.lk/100808/News/nws_14.html

[10] http://www.hrw.org/en/news/2010/01/29/sri-lanka-end-indefinite-detention-tamil-tiger-suspects

[11] http://www.colombopage.com/archive_10B/Jul30_1280497962KA.php

[12] http://www.asiantribune.com/news/2010/08/05/post-%E2%80%93-war-challenge-sri-lanka-dismantling-ltte-overseas-and-rebuilding-sri-lankan-i

[13] http://www.irinnews.org/Report.aspx?ReportId=86371

[14] http://www.irinnews.org/Report.aspx?ReportId=89342

[15] http://www.lankaweb.com/news/items/2010/07/07/unhcr-marks-progress-in-sri-lanka-refugee-protection-no-longer-necessary-scaling-back-operations-in-batticaloa/

[16] http://www.state.gov/secretary/rm/2010/05/142354.htm

[17] http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/2010/aug/03/london-public-relations-reputation-laundering

[18] http://www.srilankaguardian.org/2010/08/sri-lankas-experience-and-its-lessons.html

28/08/2010

The Elders have provided leadership .... Now we need to respond

Following their unusually robust and public criticism not only of the Government of Sri Lanka but also the international community for the way it has dealt with the gross human rights violations and humanitarian suffering in Sri Lanka (see their statement released earlier this month [1] ), The Elders have re-asserted this message in the below email communication sent out to their public supporters.

The reference to the ‘many’ positive messages is indeed encouraging as it demonstrates that key influencers within the international community agree with the stance that The Elders have taken in placing responsibility on the international community, particularly China, India, Japan and the United States and those non-aligned group of countries to firmly and publicly address the alarming conduct of the GoSL.

The Elders’ voice was a very welcome to the few but bold voices calling for true justice and reconciliation in Sri Lanka and such is their credibility that even the Government of Sri Lanka, well known for its aggressive and bullying response to even the mildest form of criticism, largely stayed silent.

Ordinary people like us must now support the Elders. Together we can get all the institutions that have any influence over events in Sri Lanka to be more accountable for what they are doing - and sadly in many case, not doing. By themselves, the Elders can't make a miracle happen - it is up to all of us to respond to their leadership.

To this end, we encourage you to engage with people who you can influence, to seek their feedback on The Elders’ stance and what they agree or disagree with and most importantly, to find out what they are willing to do to help push forward this agenda. One thing that all institutions could do is agree to provide, in confidence, any information they may have to the UN panel of experts and in make their support for this panel known in public.

Specifically, if you are a financial supporter of the NGO that happens to be working in Sri Lanka, then write to the Director of that NGO along these lines. And everyone can write to their elected representative. And if you know Sri Lankans and non Sri Lankans who are saying "things aren't so bad", you can use the Elders statement with them to. As always, a personal letter written in your own style is what will have most impact.

Please send us information about what responses you get. This will be very useful in making sure we get the action we need from these opinion-shapers, organisations and institutions.

Statement from Martti Ahtisaari

“We have recently voiced our concerns about Sri Lanka’s approach to human rights and the government’s clampdown on domestic critics, which we believe deserves a far tougher response from the international community.

We share the relief of the Sri Lankan people that the country’s 30-year civil war has ended and we acknowledge that there have been some positive signs of progress since the end of the conflict in 2009.

However, peace is fragile; if Sri Lanka is to achieve lasting stability, the government needs to show a much greater commitment to achieving meaningful reconciliation.

We have received many messages thanking us for our statement - and some criticism. It is clear from your comments that a great deal of fear and suspicion remains in Sri Lanka, despite the end of the war. This can only be overcome through greater freedom of information and reporting, greater accountability by both parties to the conflict and by more contact between Sri Lanka’s communities to help build trust and understanding.

I should add that we never expect our views to be met with universal approval – and we hope that you will continue to share your thoughts with us and The Elders’ team.”

[1] The Elders statement on Sri Lanka was released on 3rd August 2010
http://www.theelders.org/media/mediareleases/sri-lankas-disturbing-actions-met-by-deafening-global-silence

23/08/2010

How many beatings does an opposition MP need to learn a lesson?

An article by Basil Fernando (an SLC advisor), published by the Asian Human Rights Commission, August 20, 2010

The beating of an opposition Member of Parliament by officers of the Galle police raises one important question: how many times do you have to beat an MP before he learns his lesson?

The politicians of the present generation are not good learners. They certainly are not the type that learns by reading; nobody ever asks them how many books they have read. Let us just leave that out.

Do they learn by seeing and hearing? Let us take the immediate example. An MP got beaten up by the police. Well, everyone who goes to a police station, unless he is carrying a bribe, gets beaten up at the police station. That is more or less the actual situation, with perhaps a few exceptions. So the MP, who was an opposition MP, should have known that the police do not like opposition MPs and he was, in fact, going to a dangerous place. He should have known better.

He did not know that or had forgotten that, perhaps because he was a little proud and thought the policemen would respect a Member of Parliament. That was an absolutely foolish thought. The police do not even know the meaning of the word 'respect'. They only know FEAR. They do not actually respect government MPs, but they do fear them. Governments MPs can have them transferred or sacked. Opposition MPs cannot do that, so there is no reason to fear opposition MPs.

Furthermore, it was incredibly foolish for this MP to expect that the policemen would enforce the law against the government. There is, in fact, nobody in Sri Lanka that can enforce the law against the government. Not now at any rate. The law is used only to punish opponents of the government. Surely, the MP should have learnt that lesson by watching what happened to the commander of Sri Lanka's armed forces, Sarath Fonseka. Everybody with any authority is eager to enforce the law against him.

These are things that any person with eyes and ears know so therefore, the MP must be having some problem with both. Hence, he had to get a beating to learn his lesson.

There are ways the opposition MPs can get police to FEAR THEM! The ways to do that is as follows:

Step One--Understand the nature of Sri Lankan policing. It is an institution that has no independence and is servile.

Step Two: Open your mouth and begin to say just that about the police--Tell people loudly about their real nature--Then the people will come to know that MPs know as much as they do. As a result of this the people and opposition MPs will have something in common then. ONCE THE POLICE SEE THAT OPPOSITION MPs ARE WINNING THE HEARTS OF THE PEOPLE THE POLICE WILL FEAR THEM!

Step Three--Support every victim of torture. Tell the victims that opposition MPs want to record every case of torture, all the details and every day; that they will expose police torture to the parliament and the public. IF THEY DO THAT, IN NO TIME THESE MPs WILL KNOW HOW MUCH POWER THEY CAN HAVE.

That is the way to learn a lesson from a beating. That is the way to also pay back in kind.

# # #

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.

21/08/2010

GoSL is now ready to discuss GSP+ again! What can the international community learn?

Several Western Sri Lanka experts – academic, NGO and foreign ministry officials –
argued against trying to use the "stick" of GSP+. In fact there is a widely held belief
(excuse?) that "the West mustn't push too much or we lose influence".

The news that the Government of Sri Lanka (GoSL) wants to reopen talks on GSP+ is
good reason for a fundamental review of this prevalent and disempowering attitude.

The reality is not that western influence doesn't work, but rather that it hasn't been
applied in a serious or strategic way.

Specifically, pressure has rarely been coordinated. The US and Japan – and also India,
the leading non-western democracy, and the one with by the greatest influence in Sri
Lanka - have often wanted to be perceived by the GoSL as "more reasonable" than the
EU. And the internal stakeholders who the GoSL have to take with them haven't been
engaged, so they haven't understood that it is the intransigence of the GoSL that is to
blame.

The EU went a long way in the right direction – and the role of the former UK
government was a key factor – despite ferocious lobbying by GoSL aided by its PR
agency Bell Pottinger and friends in various parliaments.

What needs to happen now is that the EU needs to stand firm on the 15 named
issues (see article below) and reaffirm its full commitment to its position as
agreed in February.1 This, of course, includes the new UK government, parts
of which have strong links with not only Bell Pottinger but also the GoSL2.

The GoSL's latest position – that it should have to meet only the conditions that were
agreed when GSP+ was first granted in 2005 – is wholly unconvincing. When the
preferential trading arrangements were granted, it was on the basis that a whole raft
of international instruments, including some key human rights ones, would be ratified
and implemented. A thorough investigation found that these conditions had not been
fulfilled, and there is now no way that they could be unless the GoSL takes action
to halt and redress the large-scale and unpunished human rights violations that have
occurred since 2005.

This is not to say that the EU has done everything right – its approach to the May
2009 UN Human Rights Council debate was shambolic – but it has done better than
the USA, India and Japan. Those three powers have avoided using their influence for
a mix of reasons including inattention, inertia/habit/sloppy thinking, cronyism, naïve
belief that it will be easier to influence the government if one does not criticize if in
public, and rivalry – both among themselves and with other powers, notably China.

The first, inattention, is understandable given that “AfPak” is giving diplomatic teams
working on South Asia so much else to do. But their exclusive focus on that dossier

is very dangerous since it effectively encourages other governments to adopt the “Sri
Lanka model” for dealing with their separatist movements.

The second reason - inertia/sloppy thinking - is a consequence of the habit,
established over decades, of taking the side of the GoSL against the LTTE. Whether
this was right or wrong is irrelevant now since the LTTE has been eliminated. In this
new context, the on-going bias in the GoSL’s favour has become a major obstacle to
even basic levels of justice, and hence to real reconciliation. And rivalry – whether
motivated by ill-thought-out strategic considerations or short-term business interests –
is simply immoral given the costs borne by the innocent civilians of Sri Lanka.

External powers – and especially the three in question – owe it to the innocent
civilians who have survived the war, and to future generations of Sri Lankans, not to
mention the tens of thousands of civilians who have died, to raise their game and do
so quickly. The EU can and must continue to show them what this means in practice,
and that is why the EU must stand firm on the 15 conditions for resumption of GSP+.
Put simply, GSP+ is not a “right” the Rajapaksa regime can demand, and it is high
time the regime understood that it cannot bribe and bully everyone into silence.

19/08/2010

Exceptional collapse in the policing system of Sri Lanka revealed by the assault of MPs inside a police station

An article by Rasika Sanjeewa Weerawickrama published by the Asian Human Rights Commission

It is an alarming eye opener but yet just another incident experienced by many Sri Lankans in their day to day life that shows the reality of the practice of policing in Sri Lanka. While three members of parliament (MPs) and a Provincial Council member went to make a complaint at the Headquarters Police Station of Galle two of the MPs were assaulted and put into a cell. The police then filed fabricated cases against them. Sadly there is nothing unusual about this. However, it does show the inability of the Sri Lankan police and their unwillingness to implement the rule of law in the country.

Presently in many reported incidents it has become an institution that breaks the law, engaging in many illegal activities for the ruling regime and harasses civilians and even state officers who try to carry out their duties in accordance to the law.

This case was reported in parliament as follow (translated from the original Sinhala):

According to MP Vijitha Herath, former Cabinet Minister and the secretary of the Democratic National Alliance it was revealed that when he went to make a complaint to the police station one Police Constable (PC) first held his neck and pushed him and then a few other police officers also joined in and started to strike his head, chest and face.

First, Vijitha Herath, Ajith Kumara and Arjuna Ranathunga, all members of parliament, went to the Headquarters Police Station of Galle to lodge a complaint against the police for the baton charge and tear gas attack on peaceful protesters in Galle calling for the release of DNA leader, General (Retired) Sarath Fonseka. They had gone to the police station at around 5pm. First they met with Superintendent of Police (SP) Sisira Kumara, and complained about the case. Then they proceeded to the place where complaints are recorded. The officer on duty was Inspector of Police (IP) Ariyasena. He has told them that there are not enough officers to record the complaint. Then MPs Kumara and Herath went back to SP Sisira Kumara to inform him of the situation.

However, a Police Constable would not allow them to enter the SP's room. MP Herath informed the PC that he was a Member of Parliament and that he wanted to make a complaint to the SP. Then without warning the PC grabbed his neck and pushed him back. Then suddenly IP Dias and some other officers who were there started to assault his head, chest and face with blows. This whole incident was witnessed by SP Sisira Kumara and the Officer in Charge (OIC) of the station, Kiriella. Neither of them made any attempt to intervene and stop the assault.

Following the order of the SP the OIC ordered the police officers who were there to lock up two of the three MPs and the Provincial Council Member Nalin Hewage in a cell. They then introduced a fabricated charge of assaulting police officers against all of them. In this instance, as is common in Sri Lanka the complainants become the accused in the very case that they were attempting to report.

The victims are persons no less than members of parliament. If it has come to the situation were the police are torturing MPs in this manner then what chance does the average citizen of the country have? So the question is, what will happen to them? This is a terrible situation and they are seeking the special intervention from the Speaker of the parliament for this situation.


Analysis reveals the deterioration of the Sri Lanka policing system

Refusing to record complaints and not maintaining official records

One of the primary and most important duties of any police officer under criminal law, especially under the provisions of the Criminal Procedure Code of Sri Lanka, is the recording of complaints and maintaining records of investigations. It is the responsibility of the police to accept the complaints of any person who wishes to make one. Simply put, if the police officers refuse to accept this duty which is a most fundamental part of their responsibilities that means they break the law of the country and engage in a violation of the Constitution of the Republic. All state officers are sworn to respect and fulfill the Constitution and protect the fundamental rights of the citizen. All state officers are obligated to treat citizens equally according to the constitution. They cannot simply ignore that statutory duty.

The act of making a complaint forms the very start of the entire process of the criminal proceedings. Finally it is the basis for the criminal justice system. The practice of refusing to record a complaint cannot be simply ignore as this practice has been a regular feature in all the police stations of the country for many decades. The failure to record complaints is one of the main reasons behind the prevailing impunity in the country. The difficulty to make a complaint demoralises and disgusts the citizen making him distrust the country's policing and judicial systems. This is how the criminal justice system has deteriorated into to the point of abysmal lawlessness.

Disrespecting the law by senior state officers and disappearance of Command Responsibility within the system

The state sector is organised by orders. It runs on the orders coming from the superior officers down to the junior officers. Diligent supervision by the higher officers will always make the system perfect. It is the same theory behind the Sri Lankan policing system as well. From the very beginning the British have intentionally integrated all these invariable traditions of policing into this system. The Departmental Orders have been framed with all these procedures to be followed by the seniors down to the very lower ranking officers.

In this particular incident the legal duty of the officer in charge was vested with his superior officers. When the MPs were assaulted and the officers refused to accept their complaint and then locked them up in the station, finally bringing fabricated charges against them, all this happened with the full knowledge and consent of one of the most senior ranking officers of the district. This is that the way the police as an institution is run today.

The senior officers are not only supposed to guide their juniors but should also take responsibility for their alleged violations. That is the whole concept of Command Responsibility. In this particular incident everyone from the senior to the junior officer has all broken the law. What then is the responsibility of the Inspector General of Police as the head of the one of the most important institutions of the country?

Filling fabricated charges against innocent persons

The most dangerous practice that is revealed by this incident is of the police filing fabricated charges. The MPs went to make a complaint against the police officers. But they filed case against the MPs on same incident. They didn’t accept the complaint against police offers. Irrespective of the identity of the culprit or the relationship of the culprit to the ruling regime it is the duty of the police to accept the complaint. One of the basic fundamentals of the system is that a crime, regardless of whether it has been committed by an individual or a group is considered to have been done against the whole society. So it is the duty of the state to prosecute the criminals instead of the whole society. It is a sacred duty in order to guarantee the well being of mankind. To execute that obligation of the state, civilised nations have established law enforcement agencies under the state, those being the police, the prosecuting organs like the Attorney General's Department and the Judiciary. It is in this setup that the police are accountable to fulfill that obligation of the state.

In this particular case when they arrested only two MPs, the remaining MP, Arjuna Ranathunga asked the officers as to why, if they were arresting the others, why they were not arresting him as well. The answer of the senior police officers was that they were not instructed by 'higher authorities' to arrest him but only the others. He openly revealed this comment to the media.

However, several days later MP Arjuna Ranathunga was informed that he also has been made party to the same case for aiding and abetting the other MPs. This makes whole policing system into a joke. The incident happened and was witnessed by the same police officers. When it happened he was informed that there was no need to arrest him but then several days later he is given notice to appear for the same case. This reveals how police proceedings are manipulated to suit their own interests or at least those of the persons giving the instructions. Working in accordance with the law no longer appears to be part of their responsibilities.

Torturing, arresting, detaining and fabricating criminal cases against innocents to make their masters happy

Presently the JVP and the DNA seem to be the major political opponents of the ruling regime. In this particular situation the police file cases to punish political opponent of the regime to please them. The police, in practice, use the law and their authority to harass the public. This is a serious abuse of authority if not a criminal offence by state officers. The police misuse their sacred obligations and duties. It reveals the actual reality for anyone who thinks rationally. First they were arrested and detained to accomplish the orders given by their superiors and not on the suspicion of committing a crime. It seriously violates the law of the country.

It is seen repeatedly that the policing system of Sri Lanka is no longer able to execute its duties to the public in accordance with the laws of the country and the rules and regulations of the its own department. They are no longer able to respect the rule of law or treat people equally and without bias. We have witnessed this in thousands of individual cases that we have continually engaged in for well over a decade. Our long struggle has been to uphold the supremacy of the law and see that the country is ruled by the rule of law and not by the whims of individuals. We have written, argued and asked for necessary reforms in the policing system of Sri Lanka in order to make it a better institution. We have lobbied the local and international organisations to make necessary interventions with the government to allow the police all the avenues that will bring modern day necessities.

We have observed and categorically emphasised the extent to which this policing system has deteriorated. We have given ample examples to prove that it is not an error with a particular officer and it is not a problem that arises and is passed from different administrations in the department. It is a prolong problem and has existed from the time of post independence. Several commissions appointed for police reforms also have clearly identified these defects with the system and have made lengthy recommendations to the different governments which have never been implemented.

A corrupt police is a necessity to all the ruling regimes

The ugly truth behind all this is that a corrupt policing system has benefited all the ruling parties of the country in order to suppress the general public and political opponents. On several occasions this has included the extrajudicial killings of thousands of young people after arrest and detention at police stations island-wide. The police as an institution of the state have deteriorated up to that extent.

This was the start of the destruction of the independency of the judiciary as well. Sri Lanka as a common law country has an adversarial system in the administration of criminal justice system. The police have an unalienable role to play in this system. The whole system of investigations was vested with the police at the same time that the duty to maintain the law and order of the country was vested in it.

The police are now using their official duties such as arresting, detaining criminal suspects, reporting crimes to the courts, conducting searches in criminal investigations, seeking arrest and search warrants from courts and executing them, conducting raids for drugs and offensive weapons for their own benefit and for that of their masters.

The corruption and abuse of power by the officers runs from simply demanding bribes by traffic police officers to cases involving millions of Rupees in illegal businesses, murders and smuggling.

Sadly the intellectuals, professionals and lawmakers all remain silent. It is the whole system of policing that has been sacrificed due to this silence. Now the country has reached the point where it is exceedingly difficult to have criminals convicted in courts of law. That conviction rate for many years now is 4%.

On many occasions the Supreme Court, the country's highest judicial body has clearly noted and announced that the police are repeatedly misusing their powers and violating the constitutional guarantees of the citizens. On many occasions police officers themselves have been caught committing crimes. This, more than anything else shows the depth to which the police has deteriorated.

Failed attempts of the legislature to reform the Police

On two occasions the legislature as a whole has taken positive steps to make this institution correct and take it to the correct path. The first step was in late nineties under president Chandrika Kumaratunga's parliament passed an act that restricted the Executive President of the country from dismissing the Inspector General of Police (IGP) and the Attorney General (AG) on his or her discretion. Prior to that the situation was that if the IGP or the AG were engaged in serious investigations or prosecutions that might go against the wishes of the ruling regime the Executive President could simply dismiss any of them with his unchallenged authority. This new act restricted the president's involvement and stabilized the two most important positions.

The second occasion was the passing of the 17th Amendment to the Constitution. In that the legislature intended to make the police more independent. They wanted to protect the police from political interference. However, it failed due to constitutional discrepancies.

It is important to note that under the Westminster parliamentarian system the lawmakers, the members of parliament are privileged and if there is an arrest of a MP it is the duty of the arresting officers to inform the Speaker of the Parliament. Furthermore the Parliament (Powers and Privileges) Act No: 05 of 1978 also give special protection for the MPs. But in this particular incident several senior police officers have treating the MPs in this way neglecting the law of the country.

Here in this particular incident we have to pay our attention to understanding the events surrounding the incident. How, who and why these officers were so empowered as to be able to break the law with impunity is the question. Who had the authority to give such illegal assurance? That assurance could only have come from the ruling regime. The violators know full well that they ruling regime is behind him.
How is it possible for state officers with this mindset to protect the law of the country? Can they protect the rule of law of the county? Can they maintain the law and order? This is finally what we have to ask ourselves.


About the Author:
Rasika Sanjeewa Weerawickrama LLB, LLM is a Sri Lankan Attorney-at-Law.

The views shared in this article do not necessarily reflect those of the AHRC, and the AHRC takes no responsibility for them.

# # #

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.

17/08/2010

An uncomfortable peace in Sri Lanka: The time of triumphalism

Le Monde Diplomatique published the following article http://mondediplo.com/2010/08/05srilanka

The full text is below

An uncomfortable peace in Sri Lanka: The time of triumphalism
Cédric Gouverneu

Mahinda Rajapaksa, strengthened by military victory over the Tamil Tigers, easily won the 2010 Sri Lanka elections. But his government's authoritarianism is frightening the Sinhalese - and the Tamils are afraid of colonisation by the Sinhalese majority
by Cédric Gouverneur

The last bastions of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) began falling one by one from March 2008. The Sri Lankan army imprisoned in camps almost 300,000 Tamil civilians who had been living under the guerrillas' strict authority. The Menic Farm site in Vavuniya district in the north held up to 228,000 people. Ten months after the Tigers' defeat, 70,000 refugees were still behind barbed wire, waiting for permission to return to their villages. The army let me visit a camp, called a "transitory well-being village".

At the entrance, dominating the lines of shacks, was a six metre-tall portrait of President Mahinda Rajapaksa, his arms raised in a gesture of triumph. The camp commander justified the mass detention of Tamils: "We had to separate the terrorists from the civilian population they had taken hostage. Of course, repatriation takes time. But we can't send people back to their homes before the area has been properly cleared of landmines." The few NGOs allowed to operate in the camps put the hardships into perspective: "The army was overwhelmed by the number of civilians living with the Tigers, when they expected to manage 100,000," said a Western aid worker. "In spite of everything, during coordination meetings between UN agencies, NGOs and non-commissioned officers, it became clear that the military was doing the best it could. I've seen more chaotic UN refugee camps."

Even so, there remains the discriminatory principle of interning civilians en masse because of their ethnic origins. The government in Colombo would never have subjected the Sinhalese to this treatment.

In the company of a major, and two Tamils apparently meant to report our conversations, we walked through the vast camp with a medical centre, schools, stalls, banks and post office meant to alleviate the loss of liberty. At times, detainees are given temporary exit passes. After months of trying to survive under fire, the people we met seemed relieved that the worst was over. They were alive, had food and medical care, and were getting ready to rebuild their lives. Our tour left its guide rails when a group got carried away, despite black looks from our "informers": "We've had enough! How long do we have to stay here? Our homes have been pillaged. Why are we still here when others have been set free? What is the UN doing?" With the general election campaign in full swing, they criticised the lack of democracy in the camps: "Only candidates who support the president have the right to come here."

There were few young men at Menic Farm. Many were behind bars, suspected of belonging to the LTTE. The government has detained between 11,000 and 13,000 presumed guerrillas. "They are categorised according to their degree of involvement," said Rajiva Wijesinha, a former secretary of state. "About a thousand will be prosecuted." While most Tigers surrendered, others were denounced by Tamils disgusted with the fighters' hardline stance. When defeat was inevitable, said escapees, "they were recruiting up to two children from each family. They even shot at people trying to escape to zones controlled by the army".

I visited a nearby detention and rehabilitation centre for former child soldiers. Under army guard, and with Tamil teachers from the surrounding area, these boys and girls were learning a trade after years on the front. Shivanesh was 13 when the LTTE forcibly recruited him. Now 17, criss-crossed with scars, he said: "I killed soldiers, and I was wounded. My battalion was almost all children. When the army surrounded us, when our leaders were killed, we all surrendered." Shivanesh had no regrets about his surrender: "The Tigers stole my life. They cut me off from my family, stopped me going to school, taught me to kill. The army is teaching me a trade and allows my parents to come visit. I'm learning IT. Soon, I'll go home and rejoin my relatives."

Need for information
The government's efforts at rehabilitating them were laudable, but seem only to help a minority of child soldiers. An independent source who was allowed to visit LTTE detainees condemned the lack of information: "The government does not supply any list of names. The families are kept in the dark: nobody knows exactly who is detained, or where, or why. In a country where summary executions are commonplace, this is cause for worry." The International Red Cross has been refused access to the prisoners.

The Wanni region, further north, was recaptured by the army in 2009, after being under Tiger control for two decades. Since then, it has been in total military lockdown; foreign media have so far been kept away. The A9 road across the area is marked by a bunker every 100 metres and its surroundings have been razed, to prevent ambushes. Here and there, a road sign showing a skull warns of landmines. Armed military are everywhere. The few civilians mostly live in tents, not far from their ruined houses.

We shared the road with dozens of buses full of Sinhalese tourists, encouraged by the government to visit the north, which had for so long been inaccessible. Kilinochchi, the Tigers' former "capital", where their "ministries" had been established, was unrecognisable: not a single building still stood. Even the water tower had not survived the fighting; lying on its side, riddled by shell fragments, the imposing construction was now the target of Sinhalese tourists armed with cameras. Buddhist monks and families posed at this scene of desolation, then climbed back into their buses decorated with the Sri Lankan flag and posters glorifying the president and his "army of heroes". Apart from a monument to the dead, the only new building in Kilinochchi is a Buddhist temple that the army quickly erected, to the great displeasure of the Tamil Hindu and Christian populations.

This triumphalism has exasperated Tamils recently liberated from Menic Farm. In mourning and without news of their loved ones, they survive on international aid: "We went through hell, and they come to taunt us," Nayan (not his real name) complained. Nayan, who is close to the Tigers, escaped the final offensive around Mullaittivu, where the army subjected the LTTE - and the thousands of civilians they forced ahead of them - to non-stop shelling. "The Tigers fought to the last bullet. And then they bit into the cyanide capsules that they wore around their necks. It was raining shells. My mother died in front of me, and I was wounded myself," he said, showing scars on his arm and calf. "I appreciate that since the shelling, the army has behaved well towards civilians. They want to win our hearts and minds."

But they did not change Nayan's convictions. "I lived for years under the Tiger government. I liked it a lot. There was order, work, social services, social justice." Like many LTTE sympathisers, Nayan refused to believe in the death of their leader, Vellupilai Prabhakaran, though it was confirmed by DNA tests: "On television they showed the body of a man with a moustache who looked like him." He maintained that the Tigers had "fallen back". "We had five helicopters, 35 long-range guns. Where are they? The LTTE are hiding them, they'll reappear."

Most Sinhalese savoured the victory and were relieved not to live in fear of suicide bombings any more. Many had professional relationships or friendships with their Tamil fellow citizens - despite things unsaid - and summed up the conflict as a "war on terrorism". They truly believe the media's line that their army freed the Tamils from the clutches of a criminal organisation. The Tigers' defeat closed the debate. The island will be able to live in peace and harmony, attracting investors and tourists after a parenthesis of a quarter century. Sri Lanka hopes to welcome 2.5 million tourists in 2016, five times more than today. Hotel groups covet the splendid bay at Trincomalee, a former LTTE fiefdom.

This over-optimistic vision forgets that Tamil irredentism did not start with the LTTE's bombs but three decades earlier, when Colombo took repressive measures against its minority (1). Barbed wire at Menic Farm strengthens the Tamils' conviction that they are being treated like second-class citizens. Despite the Tigers' totalitarianism, acts of violence and child soldiers, many Tamils are still ambivalent. "People say to me, at least with the Tigers we had a voice," said Shanti Satchithanandam, who heads the Tamil NGO Viluthu and was a victim of the Tigers. "They believed that the LTTE, despite their shortcomings, were fighting in their name. Their defeat has left them shocked and voiceless."

The LTTE contributed to the current representational vacuum by systematically killing any Tamil politician who might have become a rival. And in addition, the Tamil National Alliance (TNA), notoriously close to the Tigers, has imploded. Many of its dignitaries had only joined the party to avoid being assassinated by the LTTE. They have since recovered their autonomy and ran in the general elections under various banners - sometimes even supported by the government, overjoyed at being able to divide the Tamils. The TNA, unable to admit the new reality, still dreamed in its political manifesto of a "federal structure for the north and east" that the conquering Sinhalese lion is hardly likely to grant. "Our ambitions are modest," said Mavay Senathiraja, a TNA candidate. "We will negotiate with the government, try to obtain the support of the international community by mobilising the diaspora (2). If our demands are not heard, we will launch a campaign of civil disobedience," he declared, in a poignant admission of powerlessness.

"The Tamils have lost all hope," an old militant said. "If I was younger, I'd go into exile. Thirty years of political struggle [from the 1950s to the beginning of the 1980s] have failed. Thirty years of armed struggle have recently failed. Negotiations haven't got us anywhere, neither has the fighting. We'll have to resign ourselves to living in a Buddhist Sinhalese country, under military occupation. Because the army is settling in for the long term in the north and east. Look at Jaffna: the town fell over 20 years ago and there are still just as many soldiers patrolling its streets."

The Jaffna peninsula, at the northernmost point, has been a high security zone (HSZ) since it was taken by the army in 1996. At the entrance to the historical capital of Sri Lankan Tamils, there was a huge billboard in English between two bunkers studded with machine guns: "One country, one nation." Jaffna has been in ruins since the 1990s, having been taken and retaken by the LTTE, rival Tamil groups, the Indian expeditionary corps (1987-90) and the army. There was not a single work site to indicate that reconstruction might have begun. "The situation is improving," a UN official said. "The curfew has been lifted, fishermen are once again allowed to go out on the ocean, identity checks are less numerous." But the peninsula still lives in fear. It is under military surveillance as well as under the thumb of the Eelam People's Democratic Party (EPDP), a Tamil militia that went over to the government in 1987. In the last stages of the conflict, between 2006 and 2009, perhaps several hundred people were assassinated or "disappeared", according to human rights activists. "It would seem that the EPDP wanted revenge on the LTTE," a government source told me. The organisation's leader, Douglas Devananda, has good reason to hate the Tigers, having escaped 13 assassination attempts. Unable to reach him, the LTTE killed his female companion instead.

Questions unanswered
Even though the last murder attributed to pro-government militias dates to the end of 2008, nobody dared answer my questions. Only the Tamil Catholic bishop, Monsignor Thomas Sandernayan, protected by his social status, agreed to bear witness: "In August 2006, Father Jim Brown disappeared with his chauffeur on the island of Kayts, off Jaffna." Shortly before, an officer had issued death threats against the Tamil priest, accusing him of being in league with the guerrilla fighters. "We demanded an investigation. But the investigators sent by the government don't speak Tamil. And the army refuses to cooperate."

Off the island of Kayts, thousands of Sinhalese tourists gathered on the little island of Nainativu. They were on a pilgrimage to the temple of Nagadipa, which Buddha is reported to have visited. Marines helped the pilgrims climb aboard the overloaded boats, and revived those that the heat had exhausted. An officer proudly said, "Yesterday, we received 10,500 people." An orange-robed monk from the south of the country was delighted. "The Tamil terrorists had destroyed this temple. The army has just rebuilt it. After all these years, Buddhism is finally back on this soil." Many Sri Lankan monks are politically on the far right and believe the country belongs to the Buddhist Sinhalese alone. Monks running in the general election have posed with soldiers for their campaign posters. In this context, Tamils, Hindu and Christian, interpret the influx of Buddhist pilgrims to Nainativu as a "colonial" activity.

This perception of colonisation was also present in the east, where Sinhalese, Tamils and the Muslim minority (7% of Sri Lankans) live side by side and sometimes clash. In Ampara district, thousands of Muslim farmers have had their land confiscated for "archaeological excavations". According to Myown Mustapha, the former minister of higher education, the seizure of land at the expense of his fellow Muslims has been "orchestrated by Buddhist extremists who have infiltrated the president's entourage". Farid, a farmer, said: "Monks planted a stele in my fields, then told me it was a historic site and said I didn't have the right to touch it any more." His fields have lain fallow ever since. He knew that the authorities were on the side of the monks. Here, as in the north, the idea of a state governed by the rule of law is an abstraction: the forces of law and order are backed by the strong arms of the "Karuna faction". Vinayagamoorthy Muralidharan, known as Karuna, is the former regional chief of the LTTE, who defected in 2004. Like Devananda, he has been given a ministerial post as a reward (3).

In Colombo, there are no Tamil paramilitaries to reduce opponents to silence. Instead, "white vans" without number plates go out at night to seize people. The vans pass police checkpoints without any problem. Prageeth Eknaligoda, a newspaper cartoonist, "disappeared" after leaving his office on 24 January 2010. On 8 January 2009, Lasantha Wickrematunge, the editor-in-chief of the Sunday Leader, known for his acerbic editorials, was gunned down in the street. "They killed Lasantha, a cousin of ex-president Kumaratunga, in broad daylight and before witnesses," I was told. "Now we know that they can kill anyone." Aid workers, lawyers and journalists receive death threats calling them traitors, and henchmen of the Tigers. "Journalists are free to practise their profession here," said Thana Balasingam, director of the Tamil daily newspaper Thinakkural (Daily Voice). "But killers of journalists are also free to practise."

Since being re-elected on 26 January, Rajapaksa has tightened his hold on his opponents and the independent media. His unfortunate rival for the presidency, the former chief of staff Sarath Fonseka, has been in prison since February awaiting court-martial. This ruthlessness has shocked people, although they had few illusions about Fonseka's democratic convictions. "The president accused Fonseka of preparing a coup," said a human rights activist who has received death threats. "But he carried out the coup." Soldiers were omnipresent and Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, the much-dreaded defence minister and brother of the president, seemed omnipotent.

The president has succeeded where his predecessors failed: he has eradicated the LTTE, one of the most formidable guerrilla forces on the planet. This success is due to the assistance of China, which is anxious to form an alliance with Sri Lanka - strategically located on its oil supply routes and facing its great rival India. Worried by this alliance, the US is said to have supported Fonseka's candidacy in secret.

According to observers, a key feature of the military victory was the lack of respect for human rights (UN experts were denied entry to investigate in June). India, convinced that the LTTE would parley only to gain time, ended up supporting this total war - albeit secretly, because of the large Tamil population in India (4).

With Maoist (Naxalite) attacks in India increasing (75 policemen killed in an ambush in Chhattisgarh on 6 April, 148 civilian casualties aboard a sabotaged train in West Bengal on 28 May), the Sri Lankan government has offered its neighbour its counter-insurrection "expertise" (5).

The Rajapaksa government is pushing triumphalism to extremes. The new 1,000-rupee note shows the president on the front and, on the back, soldiers planting the nation's flag, like the US marines on Iwo Jima in 1945. This fervour augurs badly for reconciliation: "The Sinhalese now consider the north to be conquered territory," said Jehan Perera, a Sinhalese intellectual. "During the fighting, they were afraid of the Tigers. At the time of the ceasefire, a relationship between equals had formed between Sinhalese and Tamils. Now we see a relationship of winner and loser."

No political concession is planned. "The council of the western province just has a walk-on part," said Somasundram Pushparajah, an independent Tamil representative, whose life has also been threatened. "If the government gave the provinces real power, the ethnic problem would be solved." The presidency reckons that rebuilding the conflict zones will satisfy the minority. But, as the bishop of Jaffna pointed out, "Tamils will never accept centralised government-led economic development over which they have no control." That the man in charge of the reconstruction programme is Basil Rajapaksa, another brother of the president, only worsens the situation.

The Tigers' defeat "opened the possibility of a pluralist democracy that respects everyone's rights," said Jehan Perera. "But we are going in the opposite direction - the Malaysian way - towards an authoritarian regime, a restricted democracy, where rights will be subordinated to economic growth."

Thirty years of civil war
1815 The British finish colonising Ceylon. They unite the island, previously divided into three kingdoms - two Sinhalese, one Tamil.
1948 Independence. The Tamil minority (18%), pampered by the colonial power, finds itself once again under the rule of the Sinhalese majority (74%), which imposes its language and gives precedence to its religion, Buddhism.
1956 The Tamils, discriminated against, demand autonomy for the north and east.
22 May 1972 Ceylon becomes the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka.
July 1983 Anti-Tamil pogroms. Thousands of Tamils join the resistance. The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), led by Velupillai Prabhakaran, impose themselves by executing their rivals.
1987-1990 Indo-Sri Lankan accord: the Indian army confronts the LTTE in Jaffna, the Sri Lankan government puts down an extreme leftwing insurrection in the south.
1991 LTTE assassinate the Indian prime minister Rajiv Gandhi.
1996 The army retakes Jaffna.
1997-2001 A series of victories for the LTTE, who control the north and large areas of the east.
February 2002 Ceasefire agreed under Norwegian mediation.
April 2003 The LTTE withdraw from the peace talks.
March 2004 The Tigers' leader in the east, "Colonel Karuna", defects.
November 2005 Mahinda Rajapaksa elected president. He promises to crush the LTTE.
April 2006 Generalised fighting.
September 2007 The army, having retaken the east with Karuna's help, goes on the offensive in the north.
2 January 2009 Kilinochchi, the LTTE's former "capital", falls.
20 May 2009 The war officially ends after Prabhakaran is killed and the LTTE are crushed around Mullaittivu. The final offensive allegedly caused 8,500 to 20,000 casualties. About 300,000 Tamil civilians are detained in camps controlled by the army.
December 2009 Rival candidates President Rajapaksa and the former chief of staff, Sarath Fonseka, dispute the election results.
26 January 2010 Rajapaksa is re-elected president, Fonseka court-martialled.
Translated by Tom Genrich

Cédric Gouverneur is a journalist

(1) See the series of articles by Padraig Colman in Diplomatic Channels on Le Monde diplomatique's English website. See also Eric Paul Meyer, "Defeating the Tigers won't solve the problem", Le Monde diplomatique, English edition, March 2009.
(2) More than 1.5 million Tamils live in exile, especially in Northern Europe and Canada. This diaspora ensured the LTTE's financial autonomy through its contributions, whether voluntary or enforced.
(3) See Anuradha Herath, "The Saga of Colonel Karuna", The Huffington Post, 8 July 2009.
(4) See "Lessons from the war in Sri Lanka", Indian Defence Review, September 2009.
(5) See Cédric Gouverneur, "India's undeclared war", Le Monde diplomatique, English edition, December 2007.
© Le Monde diplomatique

16/08/2010

The Decision of the Military Tribunal Against General Fonseka Ugly but Not Surprising

The Asian Human Rights Commission released the following statement on August 14th.
http://www.ahrchk.net/statements/mainfile.php/2010statements/2737

The full statement is below.

A military tribunal made its decision against General Fonseka finding him guilty of the charge of being engaged in politics while being in the military service. Tribunal made the decision without respect to due process and principles of fair trial.

Handpicked “judges” were previous subordinates of the general who have been subjected to punishments by him. Objection on the basis of bias was made but the tribunal rejected the objection. Tribunal refused to grant the request of lawyers of accused to have the trial on dates convenient to them. Tribunal hurriedly pronounced the pre-planned decision. Tribunal made no attempt to make the decision appear to be fair.

Police brutally attacked a peaceful demonstration demanding justice for the general and arrested two members of parliament who went to make a complaint. The police officers informed that the arrests were made on orders from above.

Political trials orchestrated on orders of presidential palace is now a very much a part of Sri Lankan experience. Moscow Trials types of political mockeries are regularly taking place now.

Asian Human Rights Commission has documented to collapse of rule of law system in meticulous detail and warned about these situations over several years.

Justice is no longer possible within Sri Lanka. Judgment against general justifies the demand for an international tribunal.

# # #

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.

13/08/2010

Where is Prageeth?

Two hundred days have passed since Sri Lankan journalist Prageeth Ekneligoda disappeared. Prageeth, who regularly contributed to LankaeNews web site, went missing 24th January 2010. Prageeth is a political analyst and a cartoonist known for his outspoken views critical of the government of Sri Lanka.

Since Prageeth’s disappearance his wife, along with media rights and human rights groups, has continuously urged the government of Sri Lanka to reveal his whereabouts. The Cartoonists Rights Network International acknowledged her relentless campaign by bestowing a Special Recognition award for her spirited challenge to the Sri Lankan government to account for her disappeared husband.

While the police and other authorities have failed in providing any information that leads to finding Prageeth, they haven’t taken any steps to counter or investigate freely circulated disinformation that he is in hiding. Whatever took place on the night of 24th January 2010, it is the duty of Sri Lanka’s government, led by President Mahinda Rajapaksa, to find where Prageeth is and inform his wife Sandya and the world. The inability to do so inevitably affirms Sandya’s repeated assertion that she holds the government of Sri Lanka responsible for the disappearance of her husband.

Therefore, on the 12th of August 2010, the International Day of Solidarity for Prageeth, standing beside Sandya, we, the undersigned organizations and individuals, call upon the government of Sri Lanka to fulfil our reasonable demand.

Find journalist Prageeth Ekneligoda and give him back to us!

Cartoonists Rights Network International

Committee to Protect Journalists

International Media Support

Journalists for Democracy in Sri Lanka

Media Legal Defence Initiative

Reporters Without Borders

The International Federation of Journalists

http://en.rsf.org/sri-lanka-where-is-prageeth-10-08-2010,38113.html

Interview with Basil Fernando on torture in Sri Lanka

An interview with Basil Fernando (advisor of the Srilanka Campaign for Peace and Justice) given to Asia Human Rights Commission (Burma).

How is Torture practiced in Sri Lanka?( Basil Fernando interview)

In Sri Lanka, torture is the usual constant practice. Torture is practiced in Sri Lanka all the time, in all police stations and during military operations. It is the usual constant practice. They use torture because torture is easy and cheap if you want to get a confession quickly. Because the criminal system is so badly organized, an ordinary Constable can torture a person, but cannot conduct an investigation. Investigative technique requires training, time, patience and many other skills. If you want to do things economically, then you use torture. That is their raison d’etre.

If there is an insurgency, people may be tortured who are thought to be members of a questionable organization. However, if one is a prominent political figure they will not be tortured because of status and money. So, it comes down to the fact that ordinary, poor people are tortured. In the course of an ordinary criminal investigation of stealing or robbery, the police mostly use torture to get whatever they want.

Torture in police stations, in military compounds and in detention centers is done in secret, without witnesses. Then they can deny the fact when somebody dies in custody. Excuses might be given that the person died of a heart attack or he hung himself at the police station because according to the law, torture is forbidden. And we have a law which says that torture is a crime punishable by 7 years imprisonment. So torture is a crime. Since you cannot commit a crime openly, you torture people where only police or military people are present. This is their process whereby there is no evidence or complaints, because where does the person go who was tortured?

Officially, they can complain to higher police authorities, to human rights commissions, to police commissions, to lawyers, to the courts, even the Supreme Court. Under the fundamental rights umbrella, they can file a petition with the Supreme Court. The fact is that none of these things ultimately result in any real solutions. So, most people don’t complain because at the end of the day there is no point in doing so. At the beginning they may want to voice their complaints, but get discouraged because it brings on more troubles. For instance, someone will come and say things or offer you some money. In the end, large numbers of people don’t take the trouble to complain because it is useless. They don’t have faith in the police. They know that if you go to the police, there is no point. The higher officer will not enquire into the case, and most certainly will take no action against the ordinary policeman, but rather will take their side. He will try to do a cover- up, making people loathe to go to higher officers and complain, although they have the legal right to do so.
T
he Human Rights Commission has also done nothing to solve this problem. They go to the Courts in some cases but it takes several years to hear a case. And should the court give a judgment it is not honored by everybody. So in the end, you get nothing. Formally speaking, you have the right to make a complaint. But there is no real system to do so and get the complaint investigated. If the government is not supposed to do torture, they can make things very simple .They must budget appropriate monies to ensure more properly trained, professional people to investigate crimes. Otherwise, police officers will continue to torture.
So, how can the same government which allows the police to commit torture, also take legal action against them? This is the contradiction. Legally they can, speaking they can, but practically government cannot do both. If the government permits police officers to torture, they cannot take a firm standard against those officers who torture.

These two things cannot go together. Common sense tells us that the Sri Lankan situation is not different from many other Asia countries such as Thailand or the Philippines where a proper policing system is not in operation. Police, who investigate crime according to a standard, develop ways and make professional enquires. But we, we have a physically beaten-up style where police do not do these things. This is a high-level industry that is tolerated. Everybody depends on the system. If you don’t and allow an opposition party to get too much power, then you use the police to beat them up at various stages. As a result people will not take to protesting. Torture is used for stopping such things as: protests, organizing political parties, people talking in the public and to intimidate people. They rule by intimidation. They rule by creating fear. That is why torture is everywhere.

What do the Sri Lanka Human Rights organizations do for the victims of torture?

They do their best. They collect information to get people to talk. What else can they do if there are no legal remedies? And when the people are willing to talk, publicize it. Send it to the government even though they know nothing will happen, send it to the newspapers and send it to the internet. They can do urgent appeals and write reports. But, first they get it in the press, so as to generate a great deal of publicity. Some of them also help the torture victims by facilitating psychological and physical treatment and protection. They also aid them in filing many cases or finding cases. None of this ends up in good results however. About all they can do is to get information and publicize.

According to your experience, what is the most difficult area in which to work in your country?

Everywhere is difficult .You need the law, you need the system and the system is broken down everywhere in the country. And of course, it is worse in places where there has been civil war. In the north-east, where there has been civil conflict, there is nothing and the military are everywhere. These people are in the worst position. But, generally, every place is like that.

Are people tortured by the police afraid to make a complaint?

If they complain, who is going to look after the complaint? The police will come back and beat them because they complain. They are merely trying to make a protest about their troubles. Therefore, they will be beaten to create more difficulties for them, because basically the people are afraid of being tortured.

How does the Human Rights Organization encourage these people?

If a woman is raped, you don’t have to encourage talking. She will talk because she is angry. You don’t need to encourage, you only need to listen. There are enough people to listen. Everywhere people are talking about it. People know that it is wrong but people cannot do anything officially about it. But people complain to each other. People complain to their family, their neighbors and people talk. What the human rights group and the others can do is listen, record what they are saying, get it published and get it discussed. But you don’t have to encourage them because people are already very angry. The Human Rights Organization will send them to the government. That’s all they can do. There are many places that people know where somebody will listen to them. So they go to these places and say this is what happened to me.

So they have small town officers, in a small place where it is known what has happened to you. If you go there, you can file a complaint. You can say what you want and the people know what you are saying. They will type up the complaint and officially send it to official channels. They will get it published in the newspaper and other places. And finally they will send it to the international human rights organization. That is what a HR organization does.

What are the difficulties for those who work in the field in Sri Lanka?

The difficulty is the legal system is not used. The Legal system doesn’t help the victim or the legal system for that matter. They both suffer the same problem. If the Legal system is good these things don’t happen. The police are not good, the courts are not good and the government only respects vested money interests. These are the main difficulties. Added to that, government knows that some HR organizations are helping people and the people are therefore stronger. As a result, they try to discourage the Human Rights Defender. In the last analysis, the problem is that there is no system in place that protects both people and the legal system itself.

An additional something

The thing is, everybody knows that torture exists in every part of Asia. People know this but people don’t talk it over. It is not the victim’s problem. People in general as well as the popular media should talk about what they really know .They should stop being hypocrites. Everybody knows what is happening. The real problem is the bigger media outlets, the larger civil society, organizations, and women’s organizations. There are numerous human rights organizations. They know what is happening, but they don’t talk about it enough. Brutality abounds.

The police are brutal, society is brutal and very often people are also brutal. If men have problems at home, they may beat their wives because they know the police will not do anything about it. So torture problems, domestic violence, violence against woman are all related. People should put things together, that is, if the State is brutal, you cannot make the general society civilized. There is no point in trying to punish only the husband because it is the society that is brutalized. You can see everywhere where torture has been used. In the schools, the teacher will use punishment against the child as they think this is the way to discipline students. So, police use torture, schools use physical punishment, husbands beat their wives, all part of a violent society. Sri Lanka is a very violent society.

http://ahrcburmese.blogspot.com/2010/08/interview-with-basil-fernando.html

Forced into fighting and still missing

The Government of Sri Lanka said they were liberating Tamils from the LTTE. This is one of the many empty promises that it has made, as this article about the Tamil youth who were abducted by the LTTE and now detained (or worse) by the Government. Even today there is no list of who is alive and who has died. And all basic international norms for the treatment of prisoners of war - such as access to these people by ICRC - have been eroded.

KILINOCHCHI, 10 August 2010 (IRIN) - Parvathi Kumar has no idea whether her son is in detention, or worse. He was abducted by the Tamil Tigers in January 2009, and she has not heard from him in more than a year.

"We really do not have any information about him," said the 59-year-old from Mullaitivu, a small town on the northeastern coast of Sri Lanka. "I suffer every day thinking about my son. Please bring him back to me."

Kumar fears her son, who was forced into battle, is now among many thousands in military custody even though the war has ended. She has no idea where he is, or if he is still alive.

The government maintains it is working to reunite detainees with their families, but activists say it is virtually impossible to find their relatives because of the lack of information about who is detained or where they are being held.

"One main problem and controversy is the secretive and conflicting figures different government officials give about the number being detained," said Ruki Fernando, head of the Human Rights in Conflict Programme at the Law and Trust Society.

"Most appear to be detained around Vavuniya, but this is not clear. I've heard of other places."

As many as 11,000 former Liberation Tamil Tiger Eelam (LTTE) fighters were detained initially but 6,900 remain in detention - including 600 who will either face charges or "long-term rehabilitation", according to Rajiva Wijesinha, a member of parliament from the country's ruling United People's Freedom Alliance coalition.

Rights activists say information about the detained has not been made public, and there is no central list specifying where people are being detained.

However, Wijesinha said the government had compiled lists of names from families and ensured that all those in rehabilitation centres had access to family.

"We [the government] have faced all sorts of allegations, but it was agreed that a system is needed, not to deal with the allegations, but to assuage the worries of parents," Wijesinha told IRIN by email.

"Most of them were forced into combat by the LTTE, and their studies, etc, were disrupted. It is essential to equip them with skills that will enable them to move back into being normal members of society."


Photo: Udara Soysa/IRIN
Thousands of former fighters remain in detention
He said they were being given training "in select vocations", such as primary-school teaching and driving.

Detention concerns

International human rights organizations are very concerned about the continued detention of alleged LTTE members and reports of alleged mistreatment.

Detainees have not been permitted to challenge their detentions in court and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) does not have access to them.

Although an increasing number of families has gained access to relatives detained by authorities for "rehabilitation", some have not had any contact, Amnesty International said.

The watchdog group said many families had not been informed of prisoner transfers.

Meenakshi Ganguly, a Human Rights Watch (HRW) spokesman, said it was concerned that these combatants had no access to lawyers and that there had been no legal process to review the detention.

"The international community, including donors, should also demand that ICRC [gain] access to the detention camps," Ganguly said.

Lack of contact

The difficulties of resettling after a civil war have not helped. People attempting to leave displacement camps to return to their home villages voiced fears that they would face even greater obstacles maintaining contact with detained relatives, according to Amnesty.

Wijesinha says the government was collecting names from families to help confirm whether their relatives were alive.

"The relative paucity of queries thus far suggests that numbers floated about regarding deaths are exaggerated, but obviously it is in everyone's interests to clarify uncertainties," Wijesinha said.

Uncertainty is what one mother, Allagamma Sivam, finds hard to bear. She says her son was kidnapped by the Tamil Tigers in August 2000 and forced to fight against the government. But even though the war ended more than a year ago, her son, now 34, is still missing.

"My husband died in a shell attack in 2008, and my son was my only hope to live," said Sivam, a 53-year-old teacher from Anandrapuram, in the northern Kilinochchi District.

http://www.irinnews.org/Report.aspx?ReportId=90117

09/08/2010

SRI LANKA: The state of denial and the descent to silliness

For several decades now the Sri Lankan people have been exposed to extraordinary acts of separation, large scale forced disappearances, extrajudicial killings, torture, illegal arrest and detention. This and large scale displacement of people from their homes by way of internal displacement or by leaving the country altogether and the disappearance of even elementary forms of protection available to people within the legal and social sphere are among the many issues that have caused massive forms of trauma in the population as a whole.

The response of the state to such problems has been one of denial. It denies that there were large scale disappearances; it denies the attacks on the civil and political rights of people at every possible level.

It denies the large scale dislocations which have displaced people from their places where they have been living all their lives and many other forms of suffering that has caused trauma to the people. GOSL denies the need for investigations into any of these problems and any need to find the truth about what has taken place. In essence it denies the need to grieve and mourn over the losses that have been caused to the people. In doing so the GOSL denies that the people live in a state of trauma and psychological distress.

To carry out this denial process massive propaganda machinery has been put in place. This propaganda machinery constantly constructs various activities in order to create an appearance of normalcy and even triumphalism. To people suffering from trauma the GOSL offers a message of triumphalism and wants them to believe that they are not a traumatised people but a victorious people. This massive contrast from the reality and the false situation that is being constructed by propaganda is crisis in which the people are caught up all the time.

Decent to Silliness

The GoSL's denial of the people's trauma and the prevention of opportunities of grief have created conditions in which society produces many acts of blatant silliness. Unable to recover their rational process, unable to deal with its own emotional distress society has been led into a descent into silliness. The following are examples of silliness within the society:

A Minister ties a civil servant to a tree

A minister publically and in front of the media, tied a civil servant to a tree as punishment for being absent at a meeting. The minister, with rope in hand, standing in front of a crowd and talking to this man before tying him to the tree has all been photographed by a number of media persons. The bystanders stood by passively behind the minister, watching this scene unfold. Only one person, a woman, came forward to protest this action and she was reprimanded by the minister who threatened her with the same punishment.

This incident was extensively covered by the media and a senior minister of the government, the Minister for Health was questioned by the media as to what action the government would take against the blatant misconduct of the minister. His reply was that no complaint had been received and GOSL would only look into the matter when this happened. That the lack of a complaint is the cause for the lack of an investigation has become a familiar excuse by the government for not conducting inquiries into serious acts of violence. The people do not make complaints due to their fear of possible repercussions and this is used as the excuse for the failure to conduct investigations. That is the type of silliness that the entire establishment has descended to and the people see spectacles of such silliness every day.

The Comic 'satyagraha'

A few weeks earlier another minister staged a 'satyagraha', a hunger-strike-unto-death, in an effort to force the Secretary General of the United Nations to withdraw the panel that he had appointed to advise him on the course of action he should take relating to the alleged acts of violence by the military that took place in Sri Lanka in the latter part of the conflict with the LTTE that ended in May 2009. This minister staged the satyagraha in front of the United Nations headquarters in Colombo and this was done with the blessings of the government. The UN acted promptly and closed down the premises and called its senior staff member for consultations in New York with the Secretary General. The incident caused serious diplomatic problems. At that stage the president of Sri Lanka intervened, gave the minister a glass of water and asked him to stop his hunger strike.

This entire drama was telecast and huge media coverage lasted for several days. Then, for several days after this small groups gathered outside the UN headquarters in Geneva to continue the action. The whole episode ended tragic-comically and it was yet another example of the descent into silliness that is taking place in the country.

Bar Council's Resolution

Again, this week the Bar Council of Sri Lanka passed a resolution which condemned the action of the UN Secretary General in the strongest possible terms virtually demonstrating that a group of persons acting under the influence of the existing regime is manipulating the proceedings within the Bar Association itself. For a long time now the legal system, the rule of law system and the very place of the lawyers has been lost in the country but there have been no protests by the Bar Association on any of these matters. When a member wrote to the President of the Bar Association reminding him of a draft law submitted by the association on the contempt of court law, the president's reply was that he could not recall submitting such a draft but would take some action to find out about it.

On two occasions the Supreme Court has punished persons under the contempt of court legislation and such actions have been declared by the United Nations Human Rights Committee as violations of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights to which Sri Lanka is a state party.

In one of these cases a man was sentenced to one year of rigorous imprisonment for talking loudly in court. None of these actions brought any kind of official protest from within the Bar Association. When the legal system is dismantled and the very survival of the legal profession in the country is threatened the Bar Association remains silent. The Bar Association also remained silent on the issue of a judge being accused of rape and sexual molestation of a girl who has not been subjected to arrest and criminal investigation. However, on a politically charged issue it makes statements. The descent of the professional bodies to such an extent of silliness is itself a demonstration of what is taking place in Sri Lanka.

The Flight of domestic workers abroad

Women working as domestic workers are having a tough time. Women stranded at Riyadh, Saudi Arabia are an example. A Few hundred women who have fled from the harassment of employers to a camp provided by the Sri Lankan consulate tell a woeful tale of troubles. Many in the camp have nothing except the clothes they were wearing at the time of fleeing. Though they make complains to authorities at the consulate hardly any action is taken, not even as to getting their salaries. Women complain of been taken away against their will. According to one woman who spoke from the camp to the BBC Sinhala Service, about five dead women had been returned to the camp premises recently. Such sufferings are ignored by the authorities. The government needs foreign exchange for payment of debts and this mostly come from Sri Lankan women working abroad as domestic slaves. The complaints of these women are not of much concern to the government.

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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/2722/

06/08/2010

A to Z of “Response-Ability” for Sri Lanka: The role of India

Continuing the series of who is “response-able” for events in Sri Lanka, this blog considers the role of the Indian Government and also Indian Civil Society.


Is India really a responsible power?

David Cameron's praise for India does not take into account its abject failings in Sri Lanka.

As David Cameron's remarks about Pakistan 'looking both ways' caused a furore this week, many have accused him of looking too much in one direction – positioning himself squarely against Israel's 'prison camp' in Gaza (1), siding with Turkey over its EU accession (2) and championing India as Britain's key partner in the subcontinent. Calling India a 'beacon to our world', he praised its economic power and tradition of democratic secularism.(3) Cameron also gushed over its role in Afghanistan, saying 'India matters to the world because it is not only a rising power but a responsible power as well'.(4) But if Pakistan can be chastised for looking both ways on terrorism, then surely India deserves censure for turning a blind eye against war crimes and human rights abuses in Sri Lanka.

Over a year after Sri Lanka's brutal armed conflict against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) came to an end, credible reports of war crimes and human rights violations continue to surface. A damning report issued by the International Crisis Group earlier this year cited evidence of the Sri Lankan army shelling hospitals.(5) It also put the civilian death toll during the final months of the conflict at over 30,000 (6) – a figure hard to confirm in light of Sri Lanka's continuing restrictions on media and humanitarian organisations. This week alone, it was reported that NGOs were withdrawing from the Vanni as a result of tightened restrictions (7) and that a TV/radio station was attacked in Colombo.(8)

The humanitarian situation also remains dire. Though the majority of the 300,000 civilians originally displaced by last year's hostilities have now been released, just a fraction have been able to return to their original homes and most are struggling to survive. In addition to the 40,000 war survivors still languishing in displacement camps, more than 10,000 alleged insurgents (including children) are being held without charge or access to legal representatives.(9) In short, the Government of Sri Lanka has failed to keep its promises of proper relief and rehabilitation, and has done little to promote reconciliation or justice for victims.

Throughout, India has quietly supported the Sri Lankan government, in military, financial and diplomatic terms. For years India secretly provided the Sri Lankan army with helicopters and small arms.(10) The Indian navy is said to have played a critical role in destroying the Tigers' naval capacity.(11) And there was full intelligence cooperation, including passing on the names of Sri Lankan human rights defenders meeting in India for security reasons.(12)

After the end of the conflict, the Indian government led the international push back against the call for a war crimes inquiry and worked behind the scenes to ensure that the UN Human Rights Council overturned a condemnatory resolution(13) and actually congratulated Sri Lanka on its conduct. It also lobbied hard for Sri Lanka's IMF loan.(14) Tellingly, India was the first country that Sri Lanka trusted to provide de-mining specialists just after the conflict ended.(15) Why? Could it have been because it was confident that these loyal personnel would not report on the mass graves that have since been documented?

So why would India, with its 60 million-strong Tamil population, act this way? The answer lies partly in the past. The humiliating deployment to Sri Lanka of the Indian Peacekeeping Force in the 1980s and the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi by the LTTE soured India's support for the separatists and demonstrated its military weakness (some have said the Sri Lanka was India's 'Vietnam').(16) Equally important, of course, is India's wish to send a strong message to its own plethora of separatist movements.

Most pertinent, though, is China's growing influence in the region. By becoming Sri Lanka's biggest military and aid donor, not to mention investor, China has been able to add the island – strategically important as a oil route – to its 'string of pearls', the chain of military bases guarding its oil supply and exports.(17) After getting its hands burnt by Burma, India has been keen to keep Sri Lanka on side to regain the 'geopolitical edge' – a situation that the Sri Lankan government has happily exploited.

China's role in South Asia and other parts of the world is not just a worry to India. Last year, a US Senate Foreign Relations Committee report argued against alienating the Sri Lankan government because of its growing ties with China.(18) But if India wants its global aspirations as the world's biggest democracy to be taken seriously, it must prove that it can be foil to China's authoritarian capitalist foreign policy. If India truly wants to be a responsible world power, it must start by correcting its abject failings in its own backyard.
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1 http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2010/jul/27/david-cameron-israel-gaza-comments

2 http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-10767768

3 http://www.fco.gov.uk/en/news/latest-news/?view=PressR&id=22613066

4 Ibid;

5 International Crisis Group, War Crimes in Sri Lanka – Asia report No. 191, (17th May 2010), p. i

6 Ibid; p. 5

7 http://www.tamilnet.com/art.html?catid=13&artid=32281

8 http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-south-asia-10813574

9 http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/10122772

10 http://news.rediff.com/slide-show/2009/aug/20/slide-show-1-how-india-helped-lanka-destroy-the-ltte.htm

11 Ibid;

12 Ibid;

13 http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/world/asia/article6361091.ece

14 http://www.horizon-demining.com/80more.pdf

15 http://www.srilankaguardian.org/2010/05/bollywoods-dance-on-tamil-graveyard.html

16 http://www.pakdef.info/pids/pids2/research/ipkf.html

17 http://www.economist.com/node/16542629

18 US Senate Committee, Recharting US strategy after the war, Dec 2009, pp. 2-3. Download here: [http://foreign.senate.gov/search/?q=sri+lanka&as_sitesearch=http://foreign.senate.gov/reports&x=16&y=15

03/08/2010

The Elders seek to break 'global silence' on Sri Lanka

In a damning statement released today, The Elders http://www.theelders.org/ condemn the 'deafening global silence' on Sri Lanka. With no real progress on reconciliation and government critics experiencing 'terrifying' persecution, The Elders call for a tougher response by the international community lest other states are encouraged to act in a similar way.

Read the entire statement, including The Elders' recommendations and quotes from Kofi Annan, Desmond Tutu, Lakhdar Brahimi, Marti Ahtisaari and Mary Robinson, at: http://www.theelders.org/media/mediareleases/sri-lankas-disturbing-actions-met-by-deafening-global-silence

SRI LANKA: Human rights organizations should urgently address the Contempt of Court issue

In times of serious repression such as the situation that Sri Lanka is faced with now, the courts are the citizen’s last resort. If the citizens are intimidated from seeking redress from the courts the people lose even that last resort. Therefore, protecting the people rights to have access to court is of great importance. There have been attempts to misuse contempt of court proceedings to intimidate citizens; the most famous incident being the case of Michael Anthony Emmanuel (Tony) Fernando. Under these circumstances to fight against such intimidation and demand the speedy enactment of laws to prevent the recurrence of that situation is of the greatest importance. The human rights movement should make this a priority among their concerns.

The absence of a law relating to contempt to court has remained a matter of concern in Sri Lanka. Due to serious anxieties arising from the problems created by this absence, the Bar association of Sri Lanka appointed a committee to draft a law relating to this matter. This committee completed its task and a draft law was submitted to the parliament. However, despite all efforts taken in this regard, no action has been taken by the government to bring this draft law to the parliament.

Meanwhile, the United Nations Human Rights Committee (UNHRC) has expressed its view on two Communications filed by two Sri Lankan citizens and recommended to the government to take speedy action to enact a law relating to contempt of court and to prevent future violations of citizens' rights by abuse of proceedings under contempt of court charges. However, the government of Sri Lanka has yet to comply with the recommendations of the UNHRC.

There is much fear among the litigants and lawyers who have been subjected to unnecessary problems similar to the ones faced by the two authors of these Communications to the UNHRC. There are also fears of a similar nature among journalists who report on court cases and commentators on legal matters. Such fears have a chilling effect on the legal process as well as freedom of expression.

Therefore, there is an urgent need to bring about legislation on contempt of court, similar to those already adopted in India and many other nations.

The Asian Human Rights Commission urges you to sign this petition and support the campaign for bringing about speedy legislation on the contempt of court law in Sri Lanka.

See the Online petition at: http://campaigns.ahrchk.net/contemptofcourt/



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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.