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

23/12/2011

Lessons learned?

The Government of Sri Lanka's long awaited investigation into the end of the civil war, the Lessons Learned and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC), is finally out. At a first read it appeared to be the whitewash we all feared and subsequent detailed study has not changed that view. Amnesty International,theInternational Crisis Group, Human Rights Watch, Freedom from torture, Sri Lankan commentators, the US state department and a former secretary of two presidential commissions of enquiry have all pointed out that, while the report does acknowledge that the government's lie that no civilians were harmed is no longer believable, it fails to provide any effective or independent mechanism for dealing with the allegations.

In a humiliating blow for the Sri Lankan government, the LLRCs release spurred a senior former military officer to speak out against the Rajapaksa regime, saying that Sri Lankan army commanders were ordered by the country’s leaders to assassinate surrendering Tamils. The confession, made by a former major general, marks the highest ranking person to assert that atrocities against members of the LTTE and civilians were sanctioned by the government.

The unnamed major general gave a sworn deputation in secret which was shown to the British Daily Telegraph. In it he states that he was informed that Gotabaya Rajapaksa, the defence secretary, passed on “some instructions to a field commander to get rid of those LTTE cadres [who] are surrendering without adhering to normal procedures”. The general confirmed that killing Tamil Tigers who had been captured or surrendered became “standard operating procedure” as the army closed in on the last of the LTTE fighters.

The Sri Lankan government have lambasted the claims in typical fashion. saying: “We categorically deny these malicious allegations”, and the claims are unlikely to force a confession out of the government as to their conduct during the war. However, the testimony, from such a high-ranking former member of the military increases the momentum for a war crimes prosecution.

Furthermore, his statement directly contradicts the LLRC. Although the LLRC admitted that some allegations of civilian abuses by security forces may have occurred and needed to be investigated further, it suggested that these acts could only have resulted from soldiers who were not following orders, thus purging the army and the government of any responsibility.

The report contains few surprises. The Rajapaksa regime mantra on civilian deaths has changed slightly; now it is no longer believable that there were ‘zero-civilian’ casualties, the report suggests that some civilians may have died due to military operations. However, it insists that these deaths were caused by "crossfire", despite the existence of a United Nations report accusing the government of deliberately shelling civilian areas.

The report states that in regards to the shelling of hospitals, ‘the material placed before the Commission points to a somewhat confused picture as to the precise nature of the events’. The Sri Lankan government created that confusion - by preventing independent witnesses such as journalists or NGOs from entering the area - so that the conflict became a war without witness.

The government now hopes that this report, with its rhetoric about the future, will placate international demands for reconciliation. However, by uncritically accepting the Government's rhetoric that these deaths were the result of crossfire and all rights violations the result of the actions of a few rogue individuals, the report does victims of abuse by both sides a disservice.

Ban Ki-Moon, UN Secretary General, has been weak in his response, saying that he hopes the government will ‘move forward on its commitments to deal with accountability concerns’. We know this will not happen. The history of Sri Lanka is littered with reports such as the LLRC; they have always failed to prevent further cycles of bloodletting. It is up to the international community to make both sides face up to their actions, and so end the madness.


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18/12/2011

Please join Amnesty's urgent action over two missing journalists

URGENT ACTION

FEARS FOR MISSING SRI LANKAN ACTIVISTS

Sri Lankan political activist s Lalith Kumara Weeraraju and Kugan Muruganandan have been missing since 9 December . They were arranging a press conference for the following day to publicize a protest . Lalith Kumara Weeraraju ’s family received a phone call saying that he hadbeen killed.

Lalith Kumara Weeraraju and Kugan Muruganandan were last seen leaving Kugan Muruganandan’s residence in Avarangal, Jaffna, northern Sri Lanka, on 9 December. There were preparing a press conference to be held on 10 December, World Human Rights Day, which aimed to publicize a protest planned for the same day. The protest included parents and relatives of people missing since the end of armed conflict in Sri Lanka in 2009, and was to focus on denouncing human rights violations against Tamil civilians by the Sri Lankan military and calling for the release of detainees held without charge since the end of the war.

According to family members, the two men left the house on a motorbike bearing the license number NP GT 7852 at around 5:00pm on 9 December. Family members say they later received an anonymous phone call saying that Lalith Kumara Weeraraju had been killed. A missing persons complaint was lodged with the Jaffna Police, who denied they are holding the two men in custody.

Lalith Kumara Weeraraju has previously received threats warning him against involvement in politics in Jaffna, particularly during recent elections. He was also attacked and injured during a demonstration in Jaffna town on 14 November 2010, and was arrested and interrogated by the army in early 2011.

Human rights defenders say the Sri Lankan army and police attempted to block some 50 people from southern Sri Lanka attempting to join the demonstration, including members of the Civil Monitoring Committee, a voluntary human rights organization. The protest at the Jaffna bus stand went ahead on 10 December despite the obstacles.

Please write immediately in English or your own language:

Expressing concern for the safety and wellbeing of Lalith Kumara Weeraraju and Kugan Muruganandan;

Calling on the Sri Lankan authorities to order an immediate and impartial investigation to establish the whereabouts of Lalith Kumara Weeraraju and Kugan Muruganandan;

Calling on the Sri Lankan authorities to ensure that human rights defenders are able to carry out their legitimate human rights work without fear of harassment or intimidation

P LEASE SEND APPEALS BEFORE 24 JANUARY 2012 TO :

His Excellency the President

Mahinda Rajapaksa

Presidential Secretariat

Colombo 1, Sri Lanka

Fax: +94 11 244 6657

Email: lalith@icta.lk

Salutation: Your Excellency

Inspector General of Police

N K Illangakoon

New Secretariat Colombo 1

Sri Lanka

Fax: +94 11 244 0440

Email: igp@police.lk

Salutation: Dear Inspector General

Defence Secretary

Gotabhaya Rajapaksa

Ministry Of Defence and urban development

15/5, Baladaksha Mawatha,

Colombo 03, Sri Lanka

Fax: +94 11 254 1529

Email: secdef@sltnet.lk

Salutation: Dear Defence Secretary

Also send copies to diplomatic representatives accredited to your country.

Please check with your section office if sending appeals after the above date.

URGENT ACTION

FEARS FOR MISSING SRI LANKAN ACTIVISTS

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION

Harassment, intimidation and attacks against human rights defenders and others who expose abuses in Sri Lanka are common. Many victims of human rights abuses feel an increased sense of insecurity as there is a lack of credible domestic mechanisms for filing and investigating complaints.

Name: Lalith Kumara Weeraraju and Kugan Muruganandan

Gender m/f: Both male

UA: 358/11 Index: ASA 37/018/2011 Issue Date: 13 December 2011

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16/12/2011

Whitewash

Commenting on the release of the Govenment's Lessons Learned And Reconcillaition Comission report Fred Carver, Campaign Director for the Sri Lanka Campaign for peace and justice, said "On a first read it's the whitewash we all feared but sadly had come to expect.

"Given the LLRC's flawed methodology we should not be surprised that it is a flawed report. The 388 pages of waffle, denial, and justification seem designed purely to sever the chain of responsibility leading to the President and senior members of the regime - a task in which the report fails given the grievous nature of the allegations. Amidst the dozens of recommendations there are few that survive close scrutiny and none which stand any chance of leading to an effective investigation given the institutions charged with delivering them. Victims of the serious rights abuses committed by both sides will feel let down."

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09/12/2011

Demographic Engineering by the Government of Sri Lanka: Is this Eugenics?

"This systematic pattern of authority-sanctioned coerced sterilizations may amount to an intentional destruction ... of the Tamil estate population." - Home for Human Rights

Whilst it is easy to suggest that the plight of the Tamils of the North and East of Sri Lanka deserves the most attention in light of the bloody end to the civil war, such a generalization is misleading and dangerous. No community in Sri Lanka is free from strife and this attitude can lead to us creating "forgotten people" such as the Central Hill Tamils.

This 800,000 strong community predominately work in the tea plantations in the middle of the island. Originating from Southern India, these Tamil speaking people are discriminated against by many within the Sinhalese majority community who class them as Tamils, yet are also subject to similar treatment by "Sri Lankan" Tamils; largely because they overwhelmingly belong to lower castes, and also because all sides have been guilty of believing the lie that Hill Tamils are "more Indian than Sri Lankan". This attitude, unchanged despite the 150+ years that Hill Tamils have lived in Sri Lanka, was one of the reasons they were denied citizenship until the 1990s, and the vote until 2002.

Such prejudice is not the worst of the matter however. The most distressing occurrence endured by the Hill Tamils and tea Plantation workers is that of non-consensual sterilization by virtue of governmental pressure to stop reproduction under the umbrella of "family planning."

Consensual sterilization is not merely a question of offer and acceptance alone. Rather, consent is only valid if the pre-requisites of the offer are fulfilled; such as adequate knowledge of the sterilization process, its implications and consequences. As education among the Central Hill Tamils is below average and there is often a language barrier, it is the responsibility of the doctor to provide sound guidance regarding the life changing process. According to reports by Home for Human Rights (HfHR) however, doctors do not do this, nor do they adequately brief the patients on their rights and the procedures governing sterilization before performing the operation.

Instead, as reported to HfHR by patients, many are subject to inappropriate pressure and over 80% are offered a small lump sump payment (typically around 500 rupees - a tiny amount of money, but not if you are on the bread line) in compensation for loss of their reproductive capacity, seemingly as part of a government policy to restrict the growth of this particular population. In most legal systems, acceptance of such a bargain would not qualify as informed consent, and indeed the practice contravenes international human rights law, which makes plain that governments must uphold the highest attainable standard of health for their citizens.

But what makes it much worse in this case is that it has to all appearances been adopted as part of a "politically motivated demographic control project". Since 1996, the Central Hill Tamil population has dropped annually by 5%, compared to a growth of 14% for the country overall.

In stark contrast, the Government has introduced a scheme in which police and army officers are encouraged to have a third child, with a payment of 100, 000 Sri Lankan rupees. According to President Rajapaksa, “giving police families cash for having a third child is the mark of a "caring society”. Of course those benefiting from this scheme and their families are likely to be loyal to the Government, and almost all would be of Sinhalese origin. Civil society activist Herman Kumara argues that this incentive aims primarily to “socially militarise” the nation. One might go even further and say that, taken together, these two schemes amount to a policy of eugenics.

This post takes information from a report by Home for Human Rights

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08/12/2011

The Committee Against torture's damning response

The concluding observations of the Committee Against Torture (CAT) have officially been released to the public by the UN Human Rights division – and they do not make for comfortable reading for the Rajapaska regime.

Committee Experts, Ms. Felice Gaer and Mr. Alessio Bruni, drew attention to numerous reports of torture and ill-treatment in Sri Lanka throughout the numerous sessions; most notably the unaccounted disappearance of 5,000 people, the discovery of torture-detention centres throughout the island and the pending cases of Sri Lankan soldiers who faced allegations of rape and sexual violence against women during the aftermath of the Civil War.

Throughout the concluding report, which did acknowledge the ‘new circumstances’ that prevailed after the end of a Civil War that had consumed the country for nearly thirty years, the Committee emphasised that there must be no tolerance of torture. And while it noted the Sri Lankan Government’s reformation of a handful of protocols, they remained seriously concerned about continued and consistent allegations of widespread use of torture and ill-treatment.

They also expressed further concern at reports that suggested torture and ill-treatment still remains to be used as a tool by both the Sri Lankan military and police today, especially to extract confessions or information to be used in criminal proceedings, including acts that took place after the Military Conflict ended in May 2009.

They also had a damning judgement of Sri Lanka’s domestic accountability mechanisms, stating that the CAT “remains concerned about the prevailing climate of impunity in the State party and the apparent failure to investigate promptly and impartially whenever there is reasonable ground to believe that an act of torture has been committed” and that it “regrets the apparent limited mandate of the [government run accountability process] LLRC and its alleged lack of independence”.

We have long drawn the link between the current human rights abuses prevalent in Sri Lanka and the failure to establish proper accountability mechanisms following the events in the last few weeks of the war. CAT is not the first UN mandated body to confirm this link - the Panel of Experts report discussed it at length – but in light of Ban Ki Moon and the Human Rights Council’s continued failure to implement the findings of that report, such a strong statement from a UN body is significant.

It also begs the question, if even UN institutions doubt the credibility of the LLRC, then why are Governments around the world still hoping its much delayed publication will bring substantive process; and why are they continuing to delay action until it is published?

The concluding observations of the Committee Against Torture are damning. They show how little faith one should have in domestic accountability mechanisms in Sri Lanka and how, sadly, Sri Lanka needs independent international help if it is to return to the straight and narrow.

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07/12/2011

A fight in parliament

Only weeks after the shoot-out between politicians Bharatha Lakshman Premachandra and Duminda Silva that left Premachandra dead, another altercation took place on Monday the 21st, this time within the seat of power.

(Original photo courtesy of AP via MSNBC)

Members of Sri Lanka’s ruling party, the United People’s Freedom Alliance, attacked the opposition who were protesting inside parliament about President Rajapaksa’s budget. Punches were thrown in front of the President.

According to reports, members of the United National Party - no strangers to human rights abuses themselves during their own time in power - tried to hold up placards saying “shame” on the House floor in protest of the proposed budget, which they said did not contain enough measures to help people who were struggling economically. They were then surrounded by lawmakers who punched them, grabbing their placards.

Since the incident, Chamal Rajapaksa, speaker of Sri Lankan parliament and eldest of the Rajapaksa brothers (who include the President, the defence secretary and the Minister for Economic Development), has appointed a committee to investigate. However, like other investigations run by the government (such as the discredited Lessons Learned and Reconciliation Commission) the probe is likely to pay lip-service to objectivity and free the government of any blame

"Speaker Chamal Rajapaksa has ordered to initiate an investigation into the unacceptable behavior exhibited by some MPs in the House during the budget speech by President Mahinda Rajapaksa," Maithripala Sirisena, health minister and secretary of the the largest party in the governing coalition, the SLFP, said on Wednesday.

Sirisena condemned the opposition MPs' behaviour at a media conference and denounced their actions of bringing in placards and posters and disrupting the budget speech. He accused the opposition party of instigating an incident to create a display for invited foreign diplomats in the gallery.

"It was their premeditated plan to disrupt the presentation of the budget," the Minister has said.

The consensus among the SLFP is that they were the wronged party, forced to engage in violence by the provocative behaviour of the opposition. Yet the right to protest is an essential component of any democracy, and the UNP MPs were protesting in a peaceful manner.

This incident is a fitting symbol of the state of the country. Those at the heart of power are engaged in violence and ruthless suppression.

After the incident, opposition leader Ranil Wickremesinghe told reporters: “Today our Parliament became a symbol of lawlessness...What wrong did we commit?”That same question could be asked by the thousands of minority groups who have been subjected to brutality, violence and displacement by this government, and before them by the LTTE and UNP, the scores of journalists who have been murdered and the dozens of others who have been chased out of the country.

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