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29/06/2011

500 Days since the Disappearance of Mr. Pattani Razeek! - Still No Police Investigation

Statement by Sri Lankan Civil Society Activists
27th June 2011

On 25th June 2011 we marked 500 days since the disappearance of Mr. Pattani Razeek, a Sri Lankan Human Rights Defender, Managing Trustee of the Community Trust Fund (CTF) in Puttalam and Executive Committee Member of the Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA).

On February 11, 2010, Mr. Razeek travelled to Polonnaruwa with CTF staff, where he met with a group of persons parked near the Jumma Mosque in Kaduruwela. Mr. Razeek was last seen getting into a van with those persons, having informed his colleagues that he was travelling to the Eastern town of Valaichchenai. Mr. Razeek has not been seen or heard from since. Shortly afterwards, Mr. Razeek’s family received a few calls from Mr. Razeek’s mobile phone number, demanding large amounts of money to secure his release. Then the calls stopped.

The family and CTF lodged several complaints with the local police following Mr. Razeek’s disappearance. The police filed a B report to the Puttalam Magistrate Court, on February 16 2010, naming Mr. Shahabdeen Nowshaadh, a former CTF employee, as the chief suspect in Mr. Razeek’s disappearance. The police have evidence linking Nowshaadh to several ransom calls made to Mr. Razeek’s family, on Mr. Razeek’s mobile number, after his disappearance. However, for over a year, the police have made no attempt to apprehend and question Nowshaadh regarding Mr. Razeek’s disappearance. Mr. Razeek’s family believes that the failure to take action against Nowshaad is connected to his close association with an influential government Minister from the area. In his anticipatory bail application to the Puttalam Magistrates Court in June 2010, Nowshaadh claimed to be associated with Industries and Commerce Minister Rishad Bathiudeen, submitting that his arrest would cause irreparable harm to the Minister’s reputation and work.

As human rights defenders and members of civil society in Sri Lanka, we are outraged at the failure of the authorities to take Shahabdeen Nowshaadh into custody or even question him. We are deeply concerned about the lack of progress in investigations into Mr. Razeek’s disappearance as a whole, especially in view of allegations of political interference in the process.

It is interesting to note that, after almost 2 years of neglect, in the past week there has been some response to the Razeek family’s complaint to the National Human Rights Commission as well as information sent to them that the investigation has been handed over to the CID. We hope that these measures are not purely cosmetic.

These changes have occurred in a context in which management of the CTF, of which Mr. Razeek was a founding member and managing trustee, has been taken over by the Ministry of Defence on June 16 2011. An Interim Board of Management, including a senior military officer, has been appointed to manage the organization pending inquiry. We have no indication of the grounds on which such drastic action has been taken against the organization.

In keeping with commitments for the protection of human rights defenders and the freedom of association in Sri Lanka, we call for a credible investigation, free from political interference, into Mr. Razeek’s disappearance, including the swift apprehension of the chief suspect, as well as for guarantees of safety for Mr. Razeek’s family and community leaders in Puttalam who are campaigning on the family’s behalf.

Ven. Welimuwapathane Piyarathna Thero, Bishop Kumara Illangasinghe, Rt. Rev. Dr. Rayappu Joseph, Catholic Bishop of Mannar, Rev. Fr. Nandana Manathunga, Director, Human Rights Office, Kandy, JC Weliamuna, Attorney-at-Law, Dr. Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu, Executive Director, Centre for Policy Alternatives, Dr. Nimalka Fernando, Mothers and Daughters of Lanka, Sunila Abeysekera, Executive Director, INFORM Human Rights Documentation Centre, Sudarshana Gunawardana, Attorney-at-Law, Executive Director, Rights Now Collective for Democracy, Ruki Fernando, Director, Rights Now Collective for Democracy, Mano Ganesan, Leader of Democratic Peoples Front, Convener of Civil Monitoring Commission, President of Democratic Worker's Congress, Siritunga Jayasuriya, Leader of the United Socialist Party and 50 others.

28/06/2011

On the Record - a benefit for the Sri Lanka Campaign for Peace and Justice

On 21st July the Sri Lanka Campaign for Peace and Justice is holding a benefit performance of the play "On the Record" followed by a drinks reception.

If you've seen the recent Channel 4 documentary "The Killing Fields" you will know some of the human rights issues facing Sri Lanka. By coming to our benefit evening you can support our work in highlighting abuse of Sri Lankan journalists and others, meet members of our team, enjoy Sri Lankan refreshments, and be among the first to see the play.

On The Record circumnavigates the globe to bring you true stories of six independent journalists, all linked by their determination to shed light on the truth.

Cast: Nathalie Armin, Paul Bhattacharjee, Michelle Bonnard, Kika Markham,Selva Rasalingham and Trevor White
Video Designer Ian William Galloway
Sound Designer David McSeveney
Lighting Designer Anna Watson

You can get tickets here.

Arcola Theatre
24 Ashwin Street,
London,
E8 3DL
www.arcolatheatre.com
020 7503 1646
Tickets: £25, £15 concessions (under-18, students, unwaged and interns, members of YPHR)

If you can't come please consider donating the price of a ticket by clicking here.

20/06/2011

How the US "war on terror" supported Rajapaksa

The following is a discussion on the context in which the Sri Lankan government were able to prosecute a brutal war with allegation of war crimes. The original article was published here and is republished in full below.

"We strongly condemn terrorism in all its forms and manifestations, committed by whomever, wherever and for whatever purposes, as it constitutes one of one of the most serious threat to international peace and security", this UN resolution was adopted in 2005 and set international background in which the Sri Lankan civil war was fought.

Following the diffusion of the Channel 4 documentary on the Sri Lankan civil war, the UK called for the Sri Lankan government to launch an investigation following allegations of war crimes. However, looking back on the conflict, it becomes clear that the horror that slowly unfolded in Sri Lanka only became possible because of the silence that surrounded it. In the last phase of the civil war, which was the most violent and brutal, there was almost no reporting in the mainstream international press of what was really taking place there.

Looking at the different statement made by the former Foreign minister Lakshman Kadirgamar it looks as though the Sri Lankan government extensively used the propaganda of "the war on terror" as a cover up, by insisting on the need to defend democracy while civilians were getting caught up in the war and killed on a daily basis.

"The whole problem here is not between the Tamil people and the Sinhala people or the Muslim people. They still very much live in harmony and don't forget a large number of Tamil people live in the Western Province and the Central province and elsewhere, they get on perfectly well with their brothers and sisters of other communities. This is not a people's problem at all. it is not a civil war..." Lakshman Kadirgamar, fthe ormer foreign minister of Sri Lanka said about the war.

At the UN in 2005, following the adoption of the new resolution, the Sri Lankan minister declared: "There can be no questions that terror in all its manifestation must be fought relentlessly and globally. Gone are the days when a country affected by terror as my country has been for decades, can be told by the international community: we are sorry about what's happening in your land but there is nothing we can do to help because we have no laws to combat terror".

While the government insisted its aim was only to defeat the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), a group listed as a terrorist organisation in 32 countries, and is even classified as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist (SDGT), organisation by the U.S since 2001, reports emerging form the island were completely different. Many accused the government of working on the principle that every Tamil is a terrorist unless he or she can prove otherwise. During the war, civilian areas, hospitals and shelters were being bombed and the whole country quickly turned into a war zone.

Meanwhile, while the international media were covering the establishment of several "welfare villages" to house displaced Tamils in Vavuniya and Mannar districts, civilians were instead calling them concentration camps.

At the time, Mangala Samaraveera, a former foreign minister, told the Telegraph: "A few months ago the government started registering all Tamils in Colombo on the grounds that they could be a security threat, but this could be exploited for other purposes, like the Nazis in the 1930s. They're basically going to label the whole civilian Tamil population as potential terrorists."

The Sri Lanka government never hid its objective to "wipe out" the LTTE, which it considers as a terrorist organisation, and surely it rapidly understood that the international context surrounding the war as an asset.

With the US and more generally the West going on a crackdown against terrorism, killing in the name of security was legitimate. At the time, states throughout the world were encouraged to fight off terrorist groups in order to bring about a "better and a safer world." The problem however with the war on terror, was that it gave far too much power to the governments; it enabled an increase of state sovereignty but diminished the need for accountability at the same time.

In 2008, during a meeting between former Sril Lankan Prime Minister Ratnasiri Wickremanayake and his Israeli counterpart Ehud Olmert, the two leaders discussed, terrorism and the common threats their countries both faced. The press widely reported at the time that Mr Olmert told his the Sri Lankan politician: "Do not give in to terrorism because it will only bring destruction to your country. Terrorism must be fought; one must not capitulate to it", which was then not seen as a cause for concern.

Mr Olmert's position was not controversial at the time, especially since fighting terrorism was the new crusade, one in which innocent people will have to die in the name of peace. That is exactly what happened in Sri Lanka and it becomes then clear why the International community did not react more harshly toward the Sri Lankan government. The war on terror served as a justification for the invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan, two countries which ten years latter are still shattered and fractured, with a rather bleak future. It seems that it has, under the eyes of the International community, also been used as a cover up for a conflict that was nothing more than a racist war.

17/06/2011

Sri Lanka’s Killing Fields

On Tuesday evening, just after 11pm British Time, the UK's Channel 4 showed some of the most horrific footage it has ever broadcast. The footage is part of an hour-long documentary, ‘Sri Lanka’s Killing Fields’ which looks at some of the horrific war crimes that were committed on both sides in the last few weeks of the war in Sri Lanka in 2009. The programme is available for the next 5 days via 4OD to viewers anywhere in the world. 

This is a difficult program to watch, featuring graphic scenes of violence and suffering. But the Sri Lanka Campaign thanks Channel 4 for its tireless work seeking out the video footage of this ‘war without witness.’ The director of the film describes one scene where, despite heavy shelling, an unknown Tamil civilian cameraman keeps on filming. A terrified woman screams at him to shelter in a bunker, asking ‘ What are you going to do with that video? They are killing us.’ But without this civilian footage, and other footage taken as sick war trophies by government troops, Sri Lanka’s horrors may well have gone unchallenged.

This film reveals the full scale of Sri Lanka’s hell on earth. The unending trauma of the makeshift hospital shelled and uprooted several times until finally the staff have to give up and abandon their patients. Government soldiers who veer between throwing female bodies around like meat to ogling bodies they have just mutilated. The surrendering combatant whose last human contact is a kick in the head. The screaming children watching as their mother bleeds to death as they stay rooted in a bunker, during shelling of the ludicrously named ‘no fire zone’.

There has been a huge response to the film, with over 800,000 viewers tuning in on Tuesday evening and questions asked during Wednesday’s Prime Minister’s Questions. So the film is keeping the issue of war crimes in Sri Lanka on the global agenda. But despite this footage and the recent UN Panel of Experts report showing that there are credible allegations that both the Government of Sri Lanka and the LTTE committed serious war crimes, there has been no serious attempt to bring the criminals on either side to justice - or even to fully investigate what happened. In place of any tribunal, Channel 4 have been the ones collecting, investigating and processing the evidence of war crimes.

This process is doubly important as some of the perpetrators are still in positions of authority, and some of the crimes are still taking place - nearly 4,000 people are being held in camps to which the international community has no access.

The Government of Sri Lanka insists that the footage is fake. But in fact it is genuine, in all its horror: 5 forensic experts commissioned by the UN's High Commissioner for Human Rights have testified that they believe the footage to be authentic.

Now it is the responsibility of the international community to harness the power and horror of this film, to act and demand a war crimes investigation from the UN. For there are global repercussions from the way Sri Lanka’s government is held accountable for its actions. As the film’s director states ‘if the UN fails yet again, the message to every tyrant and repressive government will be clear: if you want to kill your own people with impunity, you will probably get away with it.’

TAKE ACTION with the Sri Lanka Campaign

16/06/2011

On the Record - a benefit for the Sri Lanka Campaign for Peace and Justice

If you are in London on the 21st July please join us for "On the Record" followed by a few words from a special guest, a delicious piece of Sri Lankan cake and a glass of wine at the Arcola Theatre in Dalston. Tickets and further details will be available here http://www.arcolatheatre.com from June 16th.

On the Record circumnavigates the globe to bring you true stories of six courageous journalists, linked by their determination to shed light on the truth. By coming to our benefit evening you can support our work in highlighting abuse of Sri Lanka journalists and others, meet members of our team, and be among the first to see the play.

15/06/2011

C4 reports plight of Sri Lankans facing deportation

The original article can be accessed here and has been republished in full below.

As Channel 4 broadcasts a harrowing documentary about atrocities at the end of Sri Lanka's civil war, we learn of at least 40 Sri Lankans who are being deported back into danger from the UK.

The Channel 4 documentary, Sri Lanka's Killing Fields, features devastating video evidence of horrific war crimes committed by both the Sri Lankan Government and the Tamil Tigers in the final weeks of Sri Lanka's civil war, in 2009.

And it did not end there. Channel 4 News recently obtained evidence from within Sri Lanka's "closed off" corner, showing evidence of ongoing repression and abuse in the country.

Now we can reveal that Sri Lankans who fled to the UK for safety are being forced back into Sri Lanka - and into danger.

At least 40 asylum seekers, the majority of whom are Tamil, are being deported from the UK on a charter flight in two days' time.

This is despite the Home Office's own report on Sri Lanka, published in April, which says that "despite the end of the fighting, there continued to be human rights violations in 2010, including disappearances and extra-judicial killings, arbitrary arrests and a restriction on political space for free expression".

At the end of the 2009 war, the Sri Lankan Government defeated the Tamil Tiger organisation. Fresh footage in the Channel 4 documentary reveals new evidence of Sri Lanka executions committed during the war, on top of many other similar videos.

However, it was not just the Tamil Tigers who were defeated. Up to 40,000 Sri Lankan civilians are also believed to have died, many of whom were Tamil, and others fled - including to the UK as well as other countries. Some have returned - the picture below shows some Tamils on their return trip after being denied asylum in Australia in 2010.

But human rights organisations believe Tamils are still in fear of their lives in Sri Lanka - particularly those with any links to the Tigers. Some of those seeking asylum in the UK could now be forced back by the UK Government after having their applications denied.

The Home Office has refused to confirm the existence of the deportation flight, but Channel 4 News has obtained a copy of one of the deportation orders: flight number PVT 030 to Sri Lanka, on Thursday.

Sam Zarifi, Asia Programme Director at Amnesty International, told Channel 4 News: "It is known that rejected asylum seekers have been detained and tortured.

"If the UK authorities were to rely on assurances drawn from the reported experiences of people returned to Sri Lanka over a year ago, that would not take into account the intervening increased hostility expressed by the Sri Lankan Government, in response to calls for an inquiry into war crimes committed at the end of the civil war.

"In such a climate, we would be alarmed if returns were being considered without an adequate assessment of the current threats to the safety of individuals, in a contemporary Sri Lanka, where tensions run high."

But a UK Border Agency spokesperson said: "Returns to Sri Lanka will only be undertaken if we are satisfied that the individual has no protection needs. The improving political and security situation in Sri Lanka has meant it is safe to remove people there."

Fear for their lives

However, those facing deportation told us they are terrified of what could happen to them if they are sent back - and worry they are in an even worse position following actions by the Home Office.

Five of the people on the deportation list for Thursday allege that they have had incriminating paperwork supplied by the Home Office to the Sri Lankan authorities tainting them with association with the Tigers. One has already tried to commit suicide to avoid what could happen to him in Sri Lanka.

He told us he feels his confidentiality has been breached by the Home Office and his already fragile safety has been put further at risk.

Amnesty International's Mr Zarifi added: "If people are being returned to Sri Lanka, who are known or are suspected to be Tamils associated with the LTTE, the possibility of reprisals from the authorities are of course a concern."

The Home Office denied passing the paperwork to the Sri Lankans and said that one of the five cases was under review.

13/06/2011

Lawyers for Democracy urge government to stop violent repression

Lawyers for Democracy (LfD) in a statement yesterday said it was shocked at the violence meted out to protesters at the Katunayake Free Trade Zone (FTZ) and called for an immediate halt to such violent practices and an independent investigation as to what transpired.

The use of force was against workers who challenged the government’s decision to introduce a contentious pension scheme, which is objected widely by trade unions, political parties and many other groups.. The incident at the FTZ with hundreds of peaceful protesters being hospitalised sends an alarming signal, particularly when the police had used live ammunition on protesters. One worker had succumbed to injuries. The position of the police that the crowd attempted to enter a police station is contradicted by TV footage shown on private TV channels which in fact show that the unarmed protesters were ruthlessly attacked and provoked by the police themselves. This is the newest development where the defence establishment has used maximum force to suppress any peaceful protest in Sri Lanka. In the recent time, we also observed the armed thugs attacking peaceful protesters, with impunity, even in the vicinity of the highest court of the country.

The right to support or criticise the views of the government is fundamental in a functioning democracy and every citizen should be able to enjoy this right. “Stifling the peaceful expression of legitimate dissent today can only result, inexorably, in the catastrophic explosion of violence some other day. (Justice Mark Fernando in Amaratunga v. Sirimal)”. We note from the well established jurisprudence on peaceful expression of political dissent that the freedom of association and expression does not allow governments to make criminal peaceful protests or dissenting views.. The most recent conduct of the government brings us to the fundamental principles of constitutional freedom which requires the police to act with restraint even in the case of unruly behavior. Use of live ammunition against peaceful protesters is seen today only in failed or authoritarian States, where the police and governmental action is not accountable and law enforcement can easily be manipulated with impunity. It is extremely important and timely for the government to demonstrate their commitment to respecting the rights of all citizens of Sri Lanka.

We therefore urge the government to act with restraint when dealing with protesters and to respect the right of citizens to peacefully express their political views.

Lawyers of Democracy (LfD) is a representative body of legal practitioners and include Lal Wijenayaka, Chandra Kumarage, K.S.Ratnavale, V. Sumanthiran, Sudath Nethesinghe, L. Jothikumar, Ranjit Wijekoon, Sujeewa Lal Dahanayake, J.C.Weliamuna and Sudarshana Gunawardena

07/06/2011

Strong campaigning resulted in poor turnout for "Defeating Terrorism, the Sri Lanka Experience"

The Government of Sri Lanka's showpiece seminar "Defeating Terrorism, the Sri Lanka Experience" ended this weekend. Yet far from being the validation of the Government of Sri Lanka (GoSL)'s tactics that the government had hoped, the event demonstrated how unacceptable the wider world finds the methods employed in Sri Lanka.

The GoSL had invited over 50 states at an event designed by the GoSL to showcase "the Sri Lankan approach" to fighting insurgency. Yet far from employing the unique strategy advertised on its website, the GoSL resorted to brutal scorched-earth tactics and a complete disregard for civilian life. Their opponents, the LTTE, also committed widespread human rights abuses.In the two years since the war ended the GoSL has made little progress towards reconciliation and Sri Lanka remains a police state where dissidents are disappeared, human rights ignored and the rule of law suspended.

Following a strong campaign by several international Human Rights Groups the USA, Japan, Australia, UK, France and Switzerland all pulled out of attending the conference.

On Wednesday the 25th of May the Sri Lanka Campaign for peace and justice then organised a massive telephone lobby of the countries that had not yet pulled out of the conference. The Canadian Ministry of Defence was inundated with calls as Sri Lanka Campaign supporters blocked switchboards in to register their dismay at the idea of other states ostensibly learning from Sri Lanka's war conduct, and to urge them not to legitimise the regime. 47 other defence ministries around the world were also targeted.

At 9pm that evening (Canadian time) Canada pulled out of the conference. In the end only mid level committee members from the remaining nations attended amidst reports that Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa had pulled out of the event due to its reduced stature, and soldiers had been brought in to fill the empty seats. The Army Chief of Senegal was the only senior military figure in attendance.

If you would like to take part in similar actions in the future please get in touch using our contact page, and we will make sure you are added to our supporters' database.

05/06/2011

Sri Lanka's judiciary further compromised by appointment of conflicted, inexperienced chief justice

Lanka Independent has published the following article, the original can be accessed here.

“All the four Judges of the Court were on the bench. Wright… had been raised to this high place over the heads of many abler and learned men solely on account of his unscrupulous servility. Allibone was a Papist, and owed his situation to that dispensing power, the legality of which was now in question. Holloway had hitherto been a serviceable tool of the government. Even Powell, whose character for honesty stood high, had borne a part in some proceedings which it is impossible to defend… The government had required from its law officers services so odious and disgraceful that all the ablest jurists and advocates of the Tory party had, one after the other, refused to comply, and had been dismissed from their employments.” - Lord Macaulay, from The History of England: The King’s Bench in 1688 under James II, at the trial of the Seven Bishops.

Dr. Shirani Bandaranayake was sworn in as the new Chief Justice of Sri Lanka on 18 May 2011. While some remained silent most local media outlets published news items and features supporting her appointment. Certainly none were willing to do their jobs as journalists. I phoned a couple of editors and inquired of them, “are you forgetting the past? Why do you ignore the blatant conflict of interest issue here because of her husband’s position in a government job. Why do you not focus on the wider issues of rule of law and independence of the judiciary?

It was easy for the local media to gloss over the real issues as Shirani Bandaranayake would, on May 8, become the first woman Chief Justice of Sri Lanka. And it was convenient for the media to focus on this positive aspect rather than grapple with the more uncomfortable and more dangerous issue of a country descending into democratic failure.

Of course, she is the first female Chief Justice in Sri Lanka. But her upward trajectory to this place in history was alarmingly and unnaturally swift. Shirani Bandaranayake moved through the judicial system faster than anyone else and her career from the position of a Supreme Court judge to finally the Chief Justice of Sri Lanka last month to which high position she was appointed by President Rajapakse is not without controversy.

She was never a Judge at any level of the court system in Sri Lanka, she had gone into academia and had never practiced as a lawyer either until she was controversially appointed to the Supreme Court by then President Chandrika Bandaranaike in October 1996. There were fierce protests at that time from lawyers and judges alike but it was a time when the Sri Lankan democratic landscape though faltering was not as debilitated as it is today and limited though it was their was still room for dissent.

Newspapers such as Ravaya where I worked at the time explained her appointment as a blatant political appointment. Before she was appointed to the Supreme Court she was the Associate professor of Law in the University of Colombo and she studied and worked under then Minister of Justice professor GL Peries (now the Minister of External Affairs)

It was interpreted as a political appointment in order to keep the judiciary on a leash. Chandrika’s advisors who supported devolution interpreted it as the “need for pro devolution judges on the bench”. This was a time the government had put forward a power sharing devolution package as part of a political settlement with the Tamil Tigers. But it was clearly a political appointment and a part of the systematic politicisation of the judiciary. Her appointment was even legally challenged by a group of lawyers but the Supreme Court was to dismiss the case.

While Shirani Bandarayake sat on the bench of Sri Lanka’s apex court, her husband Pradeep Kariyawasam was a man working in the marketing field.

Her husband and the conflict of interest

In June 2009 following a Supreme Court order to the Treasury Secretary to appoint a board of directors to the Sri Lanka Insurance Corporation(SLIC) after the government took it over, President Rajapakse who is also the Minister of the Finance, was to appoint to this new SLIC Board none other than Shirani Bandaranayake’s husband Pradeep Kariyawasam. Not only that he also made Kariyawasam the chairman. And here in lies the rub.

The names proposed by President Rajapakse for the new board of directors for the Sri Lanka Insurance Corporation was to receive Supreme Court approval after the list was presented to court by Deputy Solicitor General Sanjaya Rajaratnam on 26 June 2009 on behalf of the Treasury Secretary. But Kariyawasam’s good fortune didn’t end there. He was again appointed to the Lanka Hospitals Corporation PLC as a member of its Board of Directors along with Defence Secretary and Presidential sibling Gotabhaya Rajapakse who was Board Chairman.

But that’s not all. On 15 May 2010 Pradeep Kariyawasam was also appointed the new Chairman of National Savings Bank by President Rajapakse which controls assets worth Sri lankan Rupees 424,994,303,000/-

It is not a secret that Sri Lankan government institutions have been spending millions of rupees to ruling party election campaigns and government propaganda projects. The Sri Lankan government officials are quick to boast that Sri Lanka has “one of the best judiciaries in the world” because so few judges have ever been found guilty of corruption.

When Sri Lanka’s Permanent Representative to the UN in New York Palitha Kohona was interviewed by channel 4 in UK about war crimes he said; “ the government has just appointed a Commission of Inquiry to go in to this type of allegation, ……… Sri Lanka has a history of a very highly respected judicial system. To suggest anybody from outside can do a better job is simply ……. colonialist”. This boast does not stand up to scrutiny if one analyses the pathetically feeble investigative history of the Sri Lankan Judiciary.

I am reminded of my own experience with President Rajapakse, then Minster of Fisheries. When Chandrika Bandaranaike appointed Sarath Silva as the Chief Justice I asked Mahinda Rajapakse “ why are you supporting this kind of political appointment?”

He then pointed to his wedding photo hanging on the wall and said “ look at this. This is Sarath’s son”. Sarath Silva’s son was the pageboy at Mahinda Rajapakse’s wedding.

What made that friendship?

Ironically Chandrika Kumaratunge’s own political appointee was to turn against her in favour of her would be heir. By Friday, 26 August 2005, Chief Justice Sarath Silva ruled that President Kumaratunga must step down from the presidency by December, even though she argued she had another year in her term.

In 2005 a series of in depth investigative articles by senior investigative journalist Sonali Samarasinghe on the Helping Hambantota scandal where Tsunami funds received by President Rajapakse were being siphoned off into a private bank account controlled by him was published in the Sunday Leader newspaper of which Lasantha Wickrematunge was editor in chief. Based on these articles the opposition UNP made a complaint to the Police and to the Bribery Commission and Rajapakse was to be arrested.

Before any action could be taken on the complaint, Prime Minister and Presidential candidate, Mahinda Rajapakse quickly filed a fundamental rights application. Sarath Silva not surprisingly gave a decision in favour of Rajapakse and also stated in his judgement that he cannot act on the basis of newspaper reports.

However after he retired from the bench Sarath Silva confessed at a seminar in March 2010 titled “Law, Democracy and the Country’s future” at the Jayawardena Centre, that “Rajapakse filed a fundamental rights application and…..I took the stand not whether the complaint was true or false… but that it was politically motivated. If we had not taken such a decision …..If the President had been remanded on the Tsunami fraud allegations, he would never have been able to contest elections”,Silva added.

It is important to note that following the investigations by journalist Sonali Samarasinghe the President was compelled to even return some of the moneys from his private account back to the donors. Therefore it was not a question of whether the allegations were true or false but that there was in fact political motivation. The motivation however came from the Supreme Court Bench rather than from the journalist.

Sarath Silva at the seminar also said that, ‘The Govt. media is today charging that all my decisions were wrong. If that is so , even my decision in favor of the President is wrong , and he is a fraudster.’

Like all chief justices since President J.R. Jayawardene’s 1978 Constitution, Shirani Bandaranayake’s too was a direct appointment by the President. That then is not the point. What however is, is that none of the other spouses of previous judges have accepted political appointments themselves.

The Chief Justice is automatically the Chairperson of the Sri Lankan Judicial Services Commission. This means that, effectively, she is the boss. While much of the work is delegated to others, it is the Chairperson who is ultimately responsible for the “corporate culture” in the operations of any organization. This is how organizations operate on a psychological level. The leader sets the tone.

The relationship between the Chief Justice of Sri Lanka and her spouse cannot be private. But when that spouse holds key positions in government institutions that is conflict of interest.

And conflict of interest is corruption.

uvindu@lankaindependent.com

02/06/2011

Open letter to his excellency Mr Ban Ki Moon E

SECRETARY-GENERAL
UNITED NATIONS
NEW YORK, NY 10017

Dear Secretary-General,

On behalf of the Sri Lanka Campaign for Peace and Justice, I write to express our appreciation for your perseverance in convening the Panel of Experts to advise you on accountability issues in Sri Lanka, and to ask that you do all that is within your power to ensure that the Panel's recommendations are implemented.

We believe that the Panel did a commendable job within a relatively short time and under difficult circumstances. Its report demonstrates clearly that there are "credible allegations" that both sides committed serious war crimes and crimes against humanity during the final stages of the civil war, and makes a persuasive case for an independent international mechanism to investigate these allegations. It also reveals with clarity the blatant attempts by the Government of Sri Lanka (GoSL) to avoid dealing with the allegations. GoSL methods include setting up a flawed and toothless domestic Lessons Learned and Reconciliation Commission, carrying out a campaign of denial abroad, and silencing dissenters at home.

The GoSL will no doubt continue to try to prevent the Panel's recommendations from being implemented. It will also continue to market its appalling conduct as a model for defeating terrorism, as demonstrated by its attempt to host an international seminar on this topic for foreign militaries next week. Behind the scenes, the GoSL will seek to invoke solidarity amongst the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) by disingenuously presenting the Panel's report as an assault on its sovereignty.

We therefore urge you to do all that is in your power – including by working with the Human Rights Council and the Security Council – to push for the implementation of the Panel's recommendations. In particular, we urge you to make the Panel's call for an independent mechanism a high priority since, without it, little if any real accountability will be achieved.

We urge you, as a first step, to submit the report formally to the Human Rights Council, with a letter of transmission requesting a process for implementing its recommendations. The letter could suggest that the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights be required to consult with relevant Special Procedure mandate holders and then report back to the Human Rights Council on proposed working procedures and an organisational structure for an effective international institutional mechanism that would address the three concurrent functions for the mechanism that are set out in its report. A second step that we would ask you to consider is to propose that the Security Council be briefed by the Panel of Experts and by relevant UN Special Rapporteurs.

The powerful statement in favour of the Panel's recommendations by the African National Congress, South Africa’s governing party, reproduced below as an appendix, demonstrates that support for such steps would not come from Western Member States alone. The ANC knows from experience the damage that ethnic conflict and repressive structures of government can bring, and that a lasting peace requires truth as well as reconciliation.

Should the United Nations permit Sri Lanka's unlawful and morally unjustifiable approach to accountability to prevail, it would be endorsing the deeply troubling trend in recent years to sacrifice human rights on the altar of counter-terrorism -- an approach that is ultimately counter-productive. A peace built on denial of truth and continuing abuse of human rights simply will not last.

We very much hope that you will continue to show leadership by rejecting impunity and pursuing accountability – in Sri Lanka and in all other cases crying out for truth, justice and sustainable reconciliation.

Yours sincerely,
Edward Mortimer,
Chair, Advisory Council,
Sri Lanka Campaign for Peace and Justice
Grayston House 28 Charles Sq, London, N1 6HT

01/06/2011

Sri Lanka's military turn on striking workers

A Statement by the Asian Human Rights Commission
June 1, 2011

SRI LANKA: Who gave the orders to use live bullets on protesters at Katunayake?

The government of Sri Lanka has announced the appointment of a one-man commission to inquire into the shooting at Katunayake on May 30, where, according to reports over 200 persons were injured when police opened fire against demonstrators using live ammunition. About 20 workers are reported to have been critically wounded and are being treated at hospitals. The protests were part of an Island-wide campaign against a proposed law endangering the provident fund of the workers of the private sector. In the aftermath of the shooting the government announced that the bill will not be presented to the parliament.

The use of live ammunition has come under public condemnation, even from some of the government ministers. The one-man commission of inquiry was appointed in answer to such criticism.

However, the mandate of the one-man commission is not clear. The basic questions that any public inquiry must resolve are:

- Who gave the orders to use live ammunition against the protestors?
- What is the top most authority that authorized such use?
- Who was the highest ranking officer on the ground who gave the orders to use live ammunition?
- Were the protestors warned prior to the police opening fire and were warning shots fired before deadly force was used.
- How many rounds of ammunition were expended and by whom?
- Was it the intention of the authorities to use of such deadly force in order to bring the protest to an end and was it pre-planned?

As for the top most authority that authorized the use of live ammunition it is most likely that the orders came from the Secretary of the Ministry of Defense or someone working under him. Further, it is also unlikely that such a shooting would take place without the knowledge, if not the tacit consent of the Inspector General of police.

Will the one man commission have the power and the will to investigate this matter in order to meet the requirements of the rule law?

Will there be a forensic inquiry into all aspects of the shooting, for example an examination of all the weapons used during the incident? What are the means available for the one-man commissioner to conduct such an inquiry in terms of the requirements of criminal law?

These are just a few of the questions that need to be answered if the inquiry is to be credible and genuine and not just another white wash.

# # #

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.


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