Powered by Google

Recent Posts

RSS Feed Subscribe to this blog


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


Ban Ki Moon must take action on war crimes

Last June a panel of experts was appointed to advise the UN Secretary-General (UNSG) on ‘accountability issues’ in Sri Lanka. A few days ago they presented Ban Ki Moon with a report of their findings, which found that there were credible allegations of both sides committing war crimes and of the Government of Sri Lanka's culpability in summary executions, disappearances, and the deaths of tens of thousands of civilians. You can read the report here. Not surprisingly this immediately provoked the Sri Lankan government to dismiss the report as 'fundamentally flawed'. Along with the reports from the prominent human rights organizations, this much delayed UN report must be a precursor to an international investigation into allegations of war crimes committed by both sides during the final stages of the war as the report itself recommends.

As a result of the lobbying by Sri Lanka Campaign supporters and many others, we welcome the UNSG's office making the panel's report publicly available but we are dismayed that the UNSG claims he lacks the authority to order an inquiry into the mass killings without the consent of the Sri Lankan government, or a decision by an appropriate international forum of member states. Human Rights Watch has already disagreed, rightly. Having fought to establish the panel, the UN secretary general has a responsibility to finish what he started and implement the recommendations of his own report.

The report concludes that the allegations of war crimes and crimes against humanity are credible and should be subject to a full international investigation - this in light of the fact that Sri Lanka's own investigation has been widely criticized for its lack of integrity.

"The Sri Lanka Campaign had been asking for the public release of this expert report and we are relieved, not least for the sake of those who have suffered unimaginable grief that it has been released. We are concerned that there is no suggested timetable for follow up action, since prompt action to define the truth of what happened will benefit Sri Lankans and also have a wider benefit for the cause of human rights and justice throughout the world", said Edward Mortimer, Chair of the Sri Lanka Campaign. He warned that "any further delay will serve to encourage other authoritarian regimes, who are watching and learning from the 'Sri Lanka model'. Whilst the Sri Lanka Campaign welcomes the report , we urgently appeal to the UNSG and all the members of the Security Council to use their influence to implement the UN Panels recommendations."


Concerned Christians reject Cardinal's claim that UN report is a conspiracy and obstacle to reconciliation

The eagerly awaited official report on Sri Lanka from the UN Panel of Experts has been available thus far only to the Government of Sri Lanka and "someone" has leaked the report to a pro government paper. GoSL apologists have lined up a broad range of voices to challenge the report from the "spiritual" (the Catholic Cardinal of Colombo) to the surreal (children who cannot even read the report!)

There are also more independent, balanced responses and we publish here the view of a growing number of well respected concerned Christians representing the Catholic and Protestant faiths.

Is the report of the UNSG’s panel of experts a conspiracy and obstacle to reconciliation?

Group of concerned Christians
Sri Lanka , 25th April 2011

n the past few weeks, we as Christians have been reflecting on the torture, and killing of Jesus by the rulers of that time, with the complicity of their high priests. This was largely due to Jesus's efforts to stand by the poor and oppressed and bring them good news of liberation. Our reflections had been taking into account the situation in our country today and we had noted the controversy surrounding the report of the panel of experts of the UN Secretary General related to the war in Sri Lanka.

But our reflections have been hampered by the fact that the Sri Lankan government and the UNSG is not allowing us as Sri Lankan citizens to read the full report that deals with a critical and tragic part of our history. We are disappointed that after almost two weeks, and after several promises being made, the UNSG had not extended the same courtesy that he had deemed fit to extend to the Sri Lankan government (one of the parties implicated in the horrific crimes mentioned in the report) to victims whose stories are told, their families and those who risked their lives and shared their stories and information. We regret that the Sri Lankan government has even resorted to requesting the UNSG to withhold the report from Sri Lankan people. Thus, our reflections are based on the parts of the report that has been "leaked" and published in the media.

During the last phase of the war, particularly from Jan. - May 2009, and till today, religious leaders, government servants, humanitarian workers, doctors, farmers, fisher folk, housewives, teachers, traders, students etc. from the North, particularly the Vanni have been telling us about shelling, artillery fire, multi barrel rocket launchers etc. that had killed close family members, friends and others they didn't know, and caused people to lose hands, legs and other serious injuries. We had met in hospitals, detention camps and in their homes, those who survived with injuries and many who still have pieces of shells in their bodies. These people had told us about a Catholic priest and LTTE members who had surrendered to the Sri Lankan Army and were never seen again and how they saw some such surrendees shot in cold blood by the Army. We had received desperate calls, emails and messages about how the government repeatedly shelled the no fire zones that it asked civilians to take shelter, how hospitals and food distribution centres were attacked when their locations were known and clearly marked and about people being killed and injured in these places and in bunkers they had dug with bare hands. We had been told about surgeries done without anaesthesia, amputations with ordinary knives, refusal by the government to send in much needed medical supplies and food despite repeated requests. We have been told about how the LTTE took cover behind civilians to fire at the advancing Army. How the LTTE had tried to prevent civilians from fleeing the war zone and how they had shot at people when they defied the LTTE and tried to flee in desperation. We had met people including children, who had been forcibly conscripted by the LTTE and tried hard to escape and we had met parents who had their young children conscripted and tried hard to hide them. We were also told about the disappointment and frustration when international staff of humanitarian agencies left the Vanni on orders of the government despite desperate pleas and protests from the people of Vanni and how the LTTE refused to give permission for Sri Lankan staff of humanitarian agencies to leave the war zone with their families when their international counter parts left on orders of the government.

We had heard words of appreciation for the courage and dedication of the doctors that served to the end in the war zone and made desperate appeals on behalf of the suffering people and of humanitarian workers and government officials that provided life saving assistance, including ICRC staff that evacuated thousands of people who were sick and injured and ferried much needed food supplies, religious leaders that remained with people to the end and individual
soldiers of the Sri Lankan Army who had cared and helped some of the injured, sick and hungry when they escaped the LTTE and came to government controlled areas.

After the end of the war, we met families of people who disappeared from closely guarded hospitals and detention camps where internally displaced persons were detained by the government. Many people we had met have told us how they themselves or their family members were kept in detention without access to lawyers and ICRC, on allegations of being part of the LTTE. Some of them had indeed been in the LTTE, some forcibly conscripted, and others had joined voluntarily. Some had been involved in varying degrees in armed combat while others had been performing administrative and civil functions in the LTTE administration such as cooking and driving. Some of these people have told us how they were tortured, showed us scars and how they continue to suffer from these. Some complained about their family members who continue to be in detention without any charges. Others who we had met after being released, have narrated how they have been told to get permission to leave their village, had been photographed, are being visited often in their homes, had been summoned to camps and interrogated etc. Mothers recounted threats from the Army to bring back children who had gone to India after being formally released. Religious leaders have told us how the Army had prevented and even threatened them when they tried to organize religious events for civilians killed and disappeared, how monuments for dead Tamil militants were destroyed by the Army and how they were threatened when they tried to put up a simple memorial for those killed and had no burial place. Community leaders and humanitarian workers have told us about the restrictions on humanitarian assistance, freedom of assembly, freedom of association and freedom of expression in the North.

Many such stories have been shared by Vanni people, particularly families of those directly affected, during hearings of the government appointed Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) in the North. Such stories are also reflected in the submissions to the LLRC by the Catholic Bishops Conference of Sri Lanka and Church of Ceylon and Church leaders from the North such as the Catholic Bishop of Mannar and the Jaffna Diocesan Laity Council. But it is our regret that with a few exceptions such as the above, almost two years since the end of the war, we Sri Lankans have failed to tell and listen to these stories of our brothers and sisters and that most of our media have refused to publish these stories. Despite our own efforts to retell the stories people had narrated to us, it is our regret that we ourselves have not been able to do so to the extent we would have liked to.

We also recognize that many who would have liked to retell these stories have refrained from doing so out of fear of reprisals. And we salute the few individuals, groups and media that have had the courage to share some of these stories.

We also know that some concerned individuals and groups submitted their testimonies, eye witness accounts etc. to the panel of experts of the UNSG. Now, we find that these are the stories reflected and retold in the parts of the report by the panel of experts of the UNSG that had been leaked and published in the media. We fail to understand how retelling the stories of our brothers and sisters, Sri Lankan citizens, who had suffered so much and lost so much, can be a conspiracy against Sri Lanka. We recognize that different opinions exist about the motivation for this report and that there are similar or more horrific crimes that have been committed during military operations in other countries where no such reports have been issued. We also recognize that the stories told in this report appears to ignore several other stories of suffering in the context of our ethnic conflict and war, such as the Muslim community that was evicted from the North by the LTTE, those killed and injured by claymore attacks and suicide bombings in Colombo and other cities outside the North and East, those killed in riots and in carpet bombings, those in "border" villages that had been massacred etc. However, we do not see these and any other limitations or weaknesses of the report as a reason for us to reject the stories that are told. On the contrary, we hope that this will be a motivation for us to share more and more of such stories. We reject the argument that such a process of truth telling is a harassment of our country or destabilizing our country's post war recovery and on the contrary, we feel that truth telling is an essential element of post war recovery and progress.

We believe that it is left to us Sri Lankans to establish and acknowledge the truth, apologize for wrongs done, ensure justice and accountability, and through measures such as reparations, show our care and support towards those who have suffered such as families of those killed and disappeared, those who have been injured during the war and due to torture, those who continue to be detained without charges and without due process, those who had been displaced and lost properties etc. It is our contention that truth, justice and accountability, together with care and reparation for victims are essential ingredients for progress and the development of a post war Sri Lanka, along with a longer term political solution that addresses grievances of the Tamil community that led to the birth of the LTTE and full scale war.

But it is our assessment that we have been unable to make significant progress on any of the above fronts within Sri Lanka, particularly in the last two years since the end of the war. The LLRC process has not given us much confidence, though we still hope for positive outcomes, particularly the publication of its final report, conclusions and recommendations as soon as possible, which would have the potential to serve as a valuable resource for our reconciliation efforts. In this context, we believe international assistance can also be crucial in our post war rebuilding and reconciliation efforts. Thus, we find it encouraging that establishment of the truth, apology for wrongs done, justice, accountability and reparation for victims is reflected in the conclusions and recommendations of the panel of experts appointed by the UNSG.

We call on the UNSG and the government of Sri Lanka to immediately make available the report (including translations in Sinhalese and Tamil) of the UNSG's panel of experts to all Sri Lankan
citizens,. We call on all Sri Lankans and particularly religious leaders and the government to take into serious consideration the stories of our brothers and sisters contained in the report of the panel of experts of the UNSG, along with the conclusions and recommendations. Instead of the denial and rejection that seems to be happening now, we believe all of us Sri Lankans should treat this report as a resource and tool in our own efforts towards a process of reconciliation that is based on truth, justice, accountability and reparation to victims.

1. Bishop Kumara Illangasinghe

2. Rev. Sr. Deepa Fernando, H.F.

3. Rev. Sr. Helen Fernando, H.F.

4. Rev. Sr. Jesmin Fernando, H.F.

5. Rev. Fr. Ashok Stephen, omi

6. Rev. Fr. M. Sathivel

7. Rev. Fr. Nandana Manatunga

8. Rev. Fr. Jeyabalan Croos

9. Rev. Fr. Praveen Mahesan, omi

10. Rev. Fr. Rayappu Augustin

11. Rev. Fr. Rohan Dominic, cfm

12. Rev. Fr. Rohan Silva, omi

13. Rev. Fr. Sarath Iddamalgoda

14. Rev. Fr. Sherad Jayawardena

15. Rev. Fr. Terence Fernando

16. Rev. Fr. Thangarasa Jeevaraj, sj

17. Jovita Arulanantham

18. Juliana Arulanantham

19. Tirzah Suares

20. Ainslie Joseph

21. Britto Motha

22. Jude Preman

23. Nimal Perera

24. Philip Sethunga

25. Rukshan (Ruki) Fernando

For info on the Cardinals comments


Who is leaking the UN report and why?

The report on human rights abuses in Sri Lanka to Secretary General Ban Ki-moon from the UN Panel of Experts has been provided to the Government of Sri Lanka but, over a week later, still not publicly released. However, the report has been leaked to the Sri Lankan newspaper, The Island, which has published the summary and some extracts. And now there is a campaign by pro Government of Sri Lanka forces to delay/stop the publication. What’s the agenda here?

The report is exceedingly damning, accusing both sides of perpetrating war crimes. "In [the panel's] opinion there is credible evidence of the deaths of tens of thousands of civilians, it's clear that both sides appear to be responsible for war crimes, and that the Sri Lankan government was responsible for the majority of the deaths through shelling," said Former UN spokesman in Sri Lanka, Gordon Weiss. Leaked parts of the report show that the UN panel is in possession of authenticated video footage of the Sri Lankan Army executing prisoners of war. In addition photographs of dead female Tamil Tigers show "rape or sexual violence may have occurred, either prior to or after execution”.

One way to understand the intent behind the leaks is to understand who the paper, The Island, represents. The Island is considered by media observers the most chauvinistically right wing of all the English-language papers in Sri Lanka, including being vociferously anti-foreigner (whether the foreigner is represented by the UN, the BBC, or ‘threatening’ countries like Norway).

According to an informed INGO specialist: "The Island has always been extremely hawkish, even at the height of the peace process. It's occasionally critical of the government on issues of justice and impunity, but never with respect to war crimes. It's chief reporter on these issues, Shamindra Ferdinando, is very close to [Defence Minister] Gotabaya Rajapaksa and just the other day did a puff interview with the President [Mahinder Rajapaksa]. With this relationship, it's almost impossible that the Island would have published the report excerpt without the government's say-so, and it's almost certain they were given the report by someone senior in the government - not by someone in the UN."

Another commentator says it is "basically a pro-war, pro-Sinhala, anti-Tamil newspaper that tries to show a liberal side to the English-reading, non-Sinhala public." Interestingly, The Island has a Sinhalese language sister publication 'Divaina" which is said to be even more extreme. This Sinhalese paper is reliably reported not to have reproduced anything from the report, thus hiding its contents from the Sinhalese-reading audience. Both are taking every effort to whip up anti-investigation sentiment.

So who owns/runs the Island? A Tamil website has commented on this and although we have not yet been able to find corroborating evidence, their article is worth considering:


For all these reasons many experienced Sri Lankan watchers have concluded that the leaks are designed to present a confused and fragmented story to the international media (and thus reduce the coverage when the full report is released) as well as mobilise the more extreme parts of the Sinhalese community, whilst the Government can claim it has nothing to do with this. It is noteworthy that the Government of Sri Lanka has warned the UN that the report could set back reconciliation. Laughable as this argument is - coming from a regime that has done much to impede reconciliation - it is also worrying given the proven tendency of nationalist governments to catalyse anti-Tamil popular riots (notably in July 1983). That event played a major role in the growth of the Tamil Tigers. Let us hope the Government of Sri Lanka has at least learnt that lesson.

What is puzzling (and deeply worrying) is why the UN Secretary General’s office has not instituted damage control. Human rights groups and activists had been reassured that the document would be made public by now. Channel 4 first reported that it was to be released on Thursday; then the UN delayed it to allow even more time for the government of Sri Lanka to prepare its response. There has been ample time for the Island newspaper and other important Sinhalese opinion shapers - including amazingly the Catholic Cardinal of Colombo - to challenge the report, absurdly seeking to discredit all its renowned authors as biased.

Is the UN’s delay perhaps because of the threat of May Day protests outside its offices in Colombo? Or is it a desire to ensure this report does not prompt sufficient outrage to spur demands for war crimes investigations which might include the failures of senior UN staff? Media attention is key to galvanising support for justice. Sri Lanka understood the power of the media to shape international opinion: that’s why it kept all independent journalists out of the war zone. The UN, with its vast machinery of advisers, strategists and media experts, could easily draw attention to the appalling human suffering in 2009, if it wanted.

Allowing this report to die a quiet death, is allowing the last hopes of the victims of this war to die. Many who spoke to the panel were sceptical of the United Nations; they’d seen the organisation abandon them in September 2008, meekly driving out of Kilinochchi at the behest of the Sri Lankan government. They still find it hard to comprehend an international community that didn’t care about ten year old children having limbs amputated with butcher’s knives without anaesthetic. It is hard to accept that hospitals could be repeatedly and deliberately shelled or that the rebels - who operated a one family one child policy - would come back to snatch their second and third sons to fight; children who never came back. But this is why the full publication of the report is so vital:

In Sri Lanka for months the injured lay next to the dead on mats on the floor of tents with no medical equipment; if they were lucky, they might see a doctor. Family members held up the intravenous drips and untrained volunteers sorted the rush of maimed and bleeding bodies, most of them children, their tiny bodies less able to survive the flying shrapnel.

In mid-May when the Tigers finally allowed civilians to cross to army controlled areas, shell shocked women and children walked out of a charnel house, that stank of decomposing bodies and burning vehicles. Wrapped in filthy rags, the dying lay on the side of the road calling out to anyone to carry them out but few had the strength to help after months of starvation. Then to compound their misery, every single survivor was detained for months against their will in a vast, unsanitary camp, surrounded by barbed wire, a trench, sandbags and armed soldiers, fearful to speak out because people were disappearing daily.

These are memories the survivors would prefer to forget. Yet they came forward and gave witness. They hoped that if they really knew what happened in Sri Lanka’s killing fields in 2009, the international community would at last care. That is why we call on Ban Ki-moon to do the right thing and publish the report NOW!


Protecting people wherever justice, fairness, freedom and truth are denied

Amnesty International has continued to highlight the serious and on-going repression, impunity and human rights violations in Sri Lanka for several years. They have documented testimonies from thousands of people over the years and have worked tirelessly to draw the attention of the International Community to take action to bring relief and justice for Sri Lankans.

The deaths and disappearances number hundreds of thousands in Sri Lanka. But these are not faceless numbers, but individual people with lives that have been taken away and not protected by their government. AI's campaign concern is deeply linked to the individual cases they have monitored. Dr Manoharan is one such case, and he has been seeking the truth and to find justice for the death of his son in 2006. Dr Manoharan explained why the UN is his last resort and together with AI, personally presented his plea to the UN earlier this year. (1)

Over 50,000 people backed a worldwide petition launched by AI requesting the Sri Lankan government to 'Unlock the camps" – camps which held over 300,000 people behind barbed wire following the military offensive - and demanded an independent enquiry by the UN on the last 5 months of the military offensive which ended in May 2009. (2)

The imminent release of the much delayed UN panel’s report is an important step on the road to establishing what really happened in those final months of mass killings. Following receipt of the Report, the Sri Lankan Government seems to have deliberately leaked it, ahead of the UN making it public. Yolanda Foster of AI has urged the UN not only to urgently make the report public but also to act on it, unlike previous occasions when the UN has ' buried reports'. She also called on the UN to show leadership and set up an independent War Crimes enquiry. (3)

Together with other Human Rights organsiations and campaign groups, AI has repeatedly urged members to request their governments to push for this too. AI are critical of the report being released selectively to the GoSL, which is disrespectful of the many who have given input and were expecting to be treated with equal respect. Their new campaign petition "Dear UN Secretary-General, tell us what you know about Sri Lanka" calls for the immediate release of the report to the public (4)

A recent in-depth report by Channel 4 highlights the plight of people still living in a climate of fear and intimidation and with on-going grave human rights abuses (5)

Now is the moment, for the United Nations to live up to its mandate and instigate processes to reveal the truth of what happened and is continuing to happen in Sri Lanka. Act now!

For more information on the AI campaign on Sri Lanka, please see http://amnesty.org/en/appeals-for-action/dear-un-secretary-general-tell-us-what-you-know-sri-lanka

For more info on channel 4 coverage please see http://www.channel4.com/news/sri-lanka-civil-war

and http://www.channel4.com/news/catch-up/display/playlistref/160411/clipid/160411_PAB_INTRO_16_







74 year old widow fears for her life if deported to Sri Lanka

The Canadian news website, Star.com reported the following story of 74 year old widow, Sugunanayake Joseph facing deportation. The full article is republished below.

After her husband was assassinated during midnight mass at a church in Sri Lanka on Christmas Eve 2005, Canada welcomed Sugunanayake Joseph. Former foreign affairs minister Bill Graham spoke at a memorial service for her husband, Joseph Pararajasingham, a Sri Lankan MP, calling him a “man of peace.”

Five years later, the Immigration and Refugee Board has ordered the 74-year-old Toronto grandmother deported, concluding her role as a politician’s wife — supporting her late husband’s career and accompanying him to political events — amounted to membership in a designated terrorist organization.

“My husband was not a terrorist,” Joseph told the Star on Thursday. “I am also not a terrorist. He was an innocent man. A man of the people.” Joseph was also wounded in the shooting. Shortly afterward, the federal government issued a visitor’s visa so she could flee to safety in Canada, where her son and daughter are citizens. But when she made a refugee claim in 2007, the federal government alleged Joseph was inadmissible because she had been complicit in crimes against humanity and had belonged to a terrorist organization in Sri Lanka.

A refugee board hearing began in July 2009 and continued over the next two years. In a Feb. 17 decision, adjudicator Oksana Kowalyk found that by a series of associations, Joseph was, in effect, a member of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). Although neither Joseph nor her husband had formal membership in the LTTE, he was one of 22 Sri Lankan MPs who formed a coalition in 2001 known as the Tamil National Alliance, which pushed for peace negotiations between the government and the leadership of the Tamil independence movement.

The Tamil National Alliance functioned as the LTTE’s alter ego in Sri Lanka’s parliament, Kowalyk concluded in her decision. And by supporting her husband’s activities as a member of the MPs’ coalition, Joseph also furthered the LTTE’s objectives, Kowalyk found. The adjudicator based her conclusions in part on a letter from Amnesty International Canada, which described the Tamil National Alliance as a “proxy” for the LTTE. But she also ignored portions of the letter in which Amnesty International stated membership in the Tamil National Alliance could not be regarded as de facto membership in the LTTE, argues Raoul Boulakia, Joseph’s lawyer, who is asking the Federal Court to review the ruling.

In an interview Thursday, Gloria Nafziger, Amnesty Canada’s refugee coordinator and the author of the letter, said “it would be simplistic” to call the Tamil National Alliance a proxy for the LTTE. While it shared the LTTE’s desire for an independent Tamil state, the Tamil National Alliance has always advanced a platform of non-violence and is a credible political party, she said. “Having been a member of the alliance does not mean you would have been a supporter of the LTTE,” Nafziger said, adding all Tamil politicians were under pressure to associate with the LTTE and being openly critical of the party could place their lives in jeopardy.

Now Joseph worries if she is deported, she will be targeted by militants who opposed her late husband’s call for a peaceful resolution to Sri Lanka’s political strife. “I’m afraid to go back,” she said. “They shot my husband. They’ll shoot me, too.”


Make the UN Panel report on Sri Lanka publicly available

A Statement by the Asian Human Rights Commission

The UN and government of Sri Lanka must make public the contents of the panel's report to the Secretary General

The UN panel commissioned to advise the UN Secretary General on several issues relating to the period covering the end of the war with the LTTE has now submitted its report. The content of the report has not yet been published. Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have called on the UN Secretary General to publish the contents of this report.

The Sri Lankan government issued a statement in which it stated that it had received a copy of the panel's report and that it rejected the content as being 'flawed' and 'biased'. The Sri Lankan government did not mention the content of the report and on what specific issues it disagreed on.

This report was awaited globally since the appointment of the panel by the Secretary General. The appointment preceded several months of debate from all over the world on the responsibility of the UN relating to the event that occurred in Sri Lanka towards the end of the war with the LTTE. There were serious violations of human rights abuse which the government continuously denied.

What is important at this moment is the right of the people of Sri Lanka, as well as concerned persons throughout the world, to know the content of the report. For the UN to commission a report on an issue that was considered important to many people and then refuse to reveal its contents would not be acceptable. What is more important is the right of the Sri Lankan people themselves to know the content of this report. The matter concerns their nation and the lives of the people could be seriously affected by this report. The people have the right to know the contents of the report and a right to critically discuss it. The government's blanket rejection of the report will only generate more curiosity among the people as to which matters the Sri Lankan government disagrees with.

Some sections of the people may reject the findings of the report, while others some others may agree with them. Whichever conclusions the people may come to is not the issue at the moment. What is at issue is the people's right to know this report.

For the Sri Lankans perhaps this document will be the most important document from the international community in recent history. At no other time in the history of Sri Lanka has the United Nations appointed such a panel, nor has it issued a report of this nature. Different UN agencies have made reports on various issues but these cannot be compared with the political and social importance of this present report.

The Asian Human Rights Commission urges the UN Secretary General to issue this report to the global community. The AHRC also urges the Sri Lankan government to have the report published and made available to the media through its various channels. Translations of the report into Sinhala and Tamil languages are also essential. What is at stake is the ability of the people to know and debate the issues that concern their nation and their lives. This is a matter of too much importance to be ignored for whatever considerations. And there cannot be any valid reason to keep such a report out of the view of the Sri Lankan public.

# # #

About AHRC: The Asian Human Rights Commission is a regional non-governmental organisation that monitors human rights in Asia, documents violations and advocates for justice and institutional reform to ensure the protection and promotion of these rights. The Hong Kong-based group was founded in 1984.

Visit our new website with more features at www.humanrights.asia


Asian Human Rights Commission
#701A Westley Square,
48 Hoi Yuen Road, Kwun Tong, Kowloon,
Hongkong S.A.R.
Tel: +(852) - 2698-6339
Fax: +(852) - 2698-6367

URL: humanrights.asia
twitter/youtube/facebook: humanrightsasia


Ignore human rights abuses by an opressive regime if you want to holiday in Sri Lanka

A cautionary note on selecting Sri Lanka as a holiday destination by Antony Loewenstein. Antony is a journalist, author, documentarian, photographer and blogger and also an advisor to the Sri Lanka Campaign.

The original article can be viewed here and is reproduced below.

Travelling isn’t an ethics-free zone. The places we visit are imbued with political and social meaning. Tourism in repressive states should be carefully navigated to avoid giving support to the regime (as much as possible).

Sri Lanka, still in the grip of a political culture that refuses to acknowledge its massacre of Tamils and ongoing oppression of the minority, is a perfect example. I’ve covered here the countless stories in the New York Times travel section that simply ignores any human rights issues on the island and encourages Americans to visit post-war.

Now yet another piece in the Times, this time by Paul Theroux, continues this inglorious tradition:

Just a few years ago Sri Lanka emerged from a civil war, but even as the Tamil north was embattled and fighting a rear-guard action, there were tourists sunning themselves on the southern coast and touring the Buddhist stupas in Kandy. Now the war is over, and Sri Lanka can claim to be peaceful, except for the crowing of its government over the vanquishing of the Tamils. Tourists have returned in even greater numbers for the serenity and the small population. (Amazingly enough, almost the same number of people live in the Indian city of greater Mumbai than occupy the whole of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka.)

At one point Sri Lanka was on the Could Be Your Last Trip list of the traveler Robert Young Pelton.


1971: Rebellion and Repression

The Sri Lanka Guardian has posted the following article by Basil Fernando, jurist, author, poet, human rights activist, editor and advisor to the Sri Lanka Campaign.

The original article can be viewed here and is republished in full below.

“What the 1971 uprising in fact showed was a great discontent spread throughout the country, particularly among the younger generation. Large numbers of youths showed willingness to support a call for rebellion, even without any convincing theory or practical, organizational structure to convince them of the validity of the political thought and strategy of the JVP.”

April 5th has significance to Sri Lanka due to the JVP uprising of 1971. The word uprising has been used for this event by way of an exaggeration. The exaggeration came mainly from the then-government and its propaganda machinery, supported also by UNP, who were the main opposition party, in unleashing unrestrained repression to suppress whatever that was taking place. It is this massive suppression that is being justified by the use of the word ‘uprising’ for what happened in 1971.

The events of 1971 do not compare in significance in any way with the 1953 hartal, which was in fact a mass uprising in which most of the population directly or indirectly participated. That uprising came as a result of a call by several political parties, led mainly by the Lanka Samasamaja Party, as a protest against the increase of the price of rationed rice by the UNP government, whose Minister of Finance was JR Jayawardene. The 1953 uprising virtually shattered the political arrangements of the country and the impact of this great event has not yet been properly grasped. As compared to this, what happened in 1971 was a few activities by groups of young rebels who were loosely organized and who believed in taking up arms against the state. However, between the idea of making an armed uprising and the actual performance, there was a vast gap. Perhaps that was due to the exposure of the attempts to make hand bombs in a few places. The government, which was alerted, immediately went into action, granting license to kill anyone who was suspected of having any kind of a connection with the JVP.

In the first days that followed there were large numbers of killings after arrest and the usual conservative figure that is mentioned is around 10,000. Some even give the figure as 21,000. Due to the intervention of many persons, the government was persuaded to declare an amnesty for those who surrendered. Literally thousands of young persons surrendered, mostly at the encouragement of parents who just wanted to ensure that they would be kept alive.

At the inquiry before the Criminal Justice Commission, the Attorney-General stated in court that the existence of the uprising will be taken as a presumption, and that therefore there was no need to prove the existence of an uprising. The defence did not challenge this position. Perhaps it was to the advantage of the JVP leaders to appear as leaders of a great uprising. Some of the JVP leaders cashed in on this, comparing themselves to the heroes of the 1918 and 1948 rebellions.

What the 1971 uprising in fact showed was a great discontent spread throughout the country, particularly among the younger generation. Large numbers of youths showed willingness to support a call for rebellion, even without any convincing theory or practical, organizational structure to convince them of the validity of the political thought and strategy of the JVP. In fact, there was hardly any kind of political thought, going by the famous five lessons and the lengthy answers given by the JVP leader Rohana Wijeweera during the interrogation relating to the April 5th events. That long document that consisted of his statement to the Criminal Investigation Division showed enormous confusion about a strategy for Sri Lanka, but also about the history of revolutionary movements, and particularly about Marxist thought and history.

The repression of the JVP in 1971 had its impact felt on the political events that were to follow later. All who took to arms in the south and in the north and the east expected the worst by way of repression and therefore were themselves willing to take to the most brutal forms of violence. The nature of the violence that took place in the 1980’s and after in Sri Lanka can only be fathomed by understanding the nature of the repression that was unleashed in 1971.

The greatest advantage of 1971 fell on the United National Party and its leader, JR Jayawardene. This party had had an ignominious defeat in 1970, when the coalition parties won a massive electoral victory with more than 2/3 majority in parliament. This was to be reversed in 1978, when the United National Party won over 80% of seats in the parliament. One of the major reasons for that victory was the political confusion that followed the 1971 April events.

JR Jayawardene, one of whose main ambitions in life was to crush the labour movement in Sri Lanka, utilized this event to maximum use by supporting the coalition government to take whatever repressive action without posing any limits as an opposition party. He saw that his aims would be best served at this point by supporting the coalition government rather than by opposing it.

With the easy victory won in 1978, JR Jayawardene proceeded to displace the basic democratic system itself by giving himself powers and legally destabilizing the system of checks and balances. It can be said that the greatest beneficiary of the 1971 events was JR Jayawardene. His political scheme was to displace the country’s rule of law system and the notion of the separation of powers. When such a drastic change was proposed in form of 1978 constitution there was hardly any serious discussion within the country. The nation is still trapped by this political scheme and all attempts to escape from it have failed. Subsequently, JR Jayawardene’s own party fell victim to Jayawardene’s scheme.

The way the repressive forces within Sri Lanka used the 1971 April events needs far closer study and analysis.


Making barons out of robbers – issues of good governance

The Sri Lanka Guardian have provided the following reflection on governance in Sri Lanka http://www.srilankaguardian.org/2011/04/making-barons-out-of-robbers-issues-of.html

"If you remember, when you came into power you said, about opening up the economy, that you saw no harm in letting the robber barons come. Now you are trying to make barons out of robbers."
(April 02, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) Two days ago, Sam Wijesinha, former Secretary-General of Parliament, had reportedly given a talk at the Open University of Sri Lanka on the subject of good governance. In his own inimitable style, he had made many anecdotal references to issues of governance in the past. Understandably, he was careful not to refer to the present. The above quote is also from him, but it was stated not at the Open University lecture but in a conversation he had with a journalist many years ago. Wijesinha had made that remark to the then President J R Jayewardene over some other issue. We quote that remark because of its relevance to our present time.
In an essay he wrote in the nineteen eighties on parliamentary government in Sri Lanka and which he later published in a collection, Sam Wijesinha quoted Paul Johnson, the British conservative journalist and writer: ‘The former colonies became the prey for the great human scourge of the 20th century – the professional politician. If decolonisation possessed an ethical principle, it was that political forms were ultimate standards of value and the true criteria of statehood. Every adult, even if he or she is an illiterate living in a remote village, is capable of holding an opinion about the future of the society to which they belong.’ Wijesinha adds that people do not put a government in power but in office. It is the electorate that should be thought of as the repository of parliamentary government in Sri Lanka. It is the electorate that should be nursed, nurtured, developed and trusted. It is the electorate that should be at the helm of our destiny. He warned that people’s revolutions are born from the course of events and are not artificially created. It is the fundamental duty of the professional politician to guide the course of events and the future of society so as to preclude the need for violent change. His vision has to extend beyond the confines of his electorate and beyond the shell of parliament to explore fresh methods of political decision-making at local, regional and national levels. He has to learn that political thinking does not consist of deciding on the conclusion first and then finding good arguments afterwards.
Wijesinha’s reflections in his essay are a fine definition of the principles underlying good governance. They are also reflected in a report put out some years ago by the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP). The report stated that good governance should embody processes that are ‘participatory, consensus oriented, accountable, transparent, responsive, effective and efficient, equitable and inclusive, and (which follow) the rule of law.’ The report went on to state that good governance ‘assures that corruption is minimised, the views of minorities are taken into account, and that the voices of the most vulnerable in society are heard in decision-making. It is also responsive to the present and future needs of society.’
Issues of governance in Sri Lanka
There are today several people’s revolts taking place in many countries of Africa and Middle East. Some like in Tunisia and Egypt have already toppled governments and some like in Yemen are on the verge of toppling others. Asia has has also seen successful people’s revolts as in Philippines. In Sri Lanka today, it is necessary for the political leaders and their advisors to adopt the processes of good governance if we are to prevent the need for violence. They need to ensure a more participatory form of governance, seeking consensus where the voices of the most vulnerable and the most affected in society are heard in decision-making. As Wijesinha said, they must avoid, deciding on the conclusion first and finding arguments for it later.
This is what happened with the building in the Negombo Lagoon of a platform for the landing of sea-planes for the benefit of tourists. This is what is happening now with the eviction of the urban poor from their homes in Slave Island and Kollupitiya. The vulnerable in society need to have their voices heard and their concerns treated with respect. Shangri-las, casino bars and comfort lodges a la Madame Jeena may be considered necessary to bring in the tourist and foreign exchange, even if some of the promoters are robber barons. But let us not make barons out of robbers.
The Hambantota Port
Transparency is another key element in good governance. People, particularly those affected by any decision, have a right to be kept informed of the thinking and reasoning behind decisions. Hambantota, the home district of President Rajapaksa, has seen the establishment of an international sports stadium and an international sea port. There are also plans to establish an international airport. Here again, as Wijesinha pointed out, the President’s vision has to extend beyond his narrow home base. The decision to embark on these three massive projects should have been preceded by a feasibility study of the best location for each of them, given certain criteria at a national level. That would have been the only way to ensure that what was paramount was the national interest. .
These concerns also now arise as a result of reports that Lloyds Underwriters have been unwilling to provide marine insurance cover for ships calling at the Hambantota Port. It is claimed that the concerns of underwriters are about the depth of the harbour, the strength of the breakwater to withstand strong waves and the rock formations at the entrance to the harbour. The Sri Lanka Ports Authority has issued a statement rejecting ‘misleading reports’ and assuming full responsibility for the safety of the Port for the purposes for which it was built and for safeguarding the reputation of the Port and the national interest. But sadly the statement does not address the specific concerns raised in the ‘misleading reports’. Their report cites thousands having witnessed ships entering the Port in November at the time of the opening. The ships (Sri Lankan naval/merchant vessels?) entering the Port in November does little to re-assure a sceptical public. It may be that the Port is still not fully operational and further dredging is required to increase the depth of the Port and further civil engineering work is required. If so, the Ports Authority needs to come clean, to be more transparent, and let the public know the real situation and what steps have been or are being taken to ensure the safety of the Port. The public will understand if the opening was pre-mature and was done for political reasons. That is the way of politicians. But this is a national venture and the public need to be re-assured that any concerns raised in the original feasibility study and any concerns being raised now are being handled with professionalism.
It is reported that the Kirinda Fisheries Harbour has not been successful because its location was not selected for professional reasons. Only time will tell about the success of having sited the sea port and the sports stadium, both built at a huge cost, at Hambantota. We trust that the location of the new international airport will even at this late stage receive professional re-evaluation. The site has already been changed once and, from a long term point of view, it is better to write-off the amount already spent rather than continue spending a colossal amount on an unsuitable location. Statesmanship requires a vision not only extending beyond a parochial mindset but also a willingness change course when required.
The Rule of Law
On another aspect of good governance, a group of concerned citizens recently addressed the question of the recent appointments to the Human Rights Commission. The question of the suitability of the appointments raises the broader issue of having the appointments vetted by a Constitutional Council as under the 17th amendment. There are uncomplimentary stories about one of the appointees engaging in unprofessional practices. But the issue of the appointment of a former Inspector General of Police, even with his impressive professional record as a policeman, is a valid concern, even despite the spirited defence of his appointment by another former IGP. He would have been suitable for another Commission but not for a Human Rights Commission. There are many complaints that a citizen, particularly the poor in rural areas, does not receive the justice that is their due at Police Stations. In fact, the Asian Human Rights Commission reports violations by the Police almost on a daily basis – often the arrest and torture of innocent persons by the Police at the behest of politicians or the powerful in the village. The poor victim gets nowhere with complaints unless they are taken up by an independent body. Justice must not only be done and but also seen to be done. That is why it is best to avoid former Police officers to serve in the Human Rights Commission. They have served well in the past in bodies like the Bribery Commission where their expertise and professionalism has been useful.