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

31/08/2012

Religious tension in Mannar

Mannar is a district in the north west of Sri Lanka. The area is almost entirely linguistically Tamil but has always been religiously diverse - with traditionally sizable Christian, and Muslim populations (amongst the largest and most concentrated such groups in Sri Lanka) as well as many who identify as Hindu.

In October 1990 the LTTE ethnically cleansed all Muslim residents from the parts of Mannar they controlled. In addition many people of all religions were displaced by both sides in the course of the civil war, or were forceably displaced by the Sri Lankan army to make way for military bases or on spurious security grounds. As a result, and as displaced citizens of all religions return to their former homes, land issues and fishing rights in Sri Lanka are hugely contentious and - unless carefully managed by the government - can easily spill over into communal tension.

To say that the Government of Sri Lanka has not carefully managed the process would be an understatement. We previously wrote about how the Government had been successfully taken to court for establishing a land commission designed to favour the military. Furthermore communal tensions have been stirred up by Rishard Bathiudeen - a Government minister of Muslim faith with no particular role in events (he is the Minister for Industry) but who increasingly views Mannar as his personal fiefdom. Recently Rishard allegedly instigated an assault on a Magistrate's court in Mannar while it was in session. The session in question had determined that fishing rights for a certain area were to be awarded to a Christian group over a Muslim one.

However while the Government of Sri Lanka is being less than helpful, Sri Lankan civil society - in particular local Women's groups - have been trying to calm community tensions. One group formed the Citizens Commission on the Expulsion of Muslims from the Northern Province - a grassroots attempt by Sri Lankan Muslim organisations to address community concerns. They released a report into the situation of Mannar's Muslims earlier this month.

Additionally 203 women of Uppukulum village have made a statement to the Human Rights Commission of the UN (the body that assesses individual cases of rights violations). This Muslim village has undergone appalling harassment as a result of their legal struggle for fishing rights. They have also been tarred with the brush of Rishard Bathiudeen; as it was their village that was at the centre of the court case which led to the attack on the courthouse. Indeed many of the villagers were peacefully demonstrating their cause outside the Mannar courthouse when the incident occurred - but the villagers credibly claim they had no responsibility for the assault.

Harassment of these villagers has included:
  • Use of teargas to disperse the crowd
  • The police beating women and young girls present in the crowd
  • 13 villagers being arbitrarily arrested and detained - including a 17 year old boy who had played no part in the demonstration
  • Heavy handed searches of the villages and a further six arbitrary arrests. Policing has been so heavy handed that almost all the village's men have now fled.
  • Surrounding of the village by police at all times
  • Continuous intimidation and harassment of the remaining women and children.
Meanwhile the Citizens Commission on the Expulsion of Muslims from the Northern Province has just released a statement in which they address some misunderstandings surrounding the report and call for a reasonable negotiated settlement between the communities. To quote the last two paragraphs of the statement:
The solutions to problems faced by the people in Mannar -- both Muslim and Tamil -- with regards to resettlement need to be attended to by giving due importance to the difficulties of both communities. The Muslims’ right to return should not be reduced to a critique of the political machinations of one representative or to a question of competition over resources for resettlement. There has to be sufficient thought, attention and resources devoted to finding solutions that reflect a minimum standard of acceptance by all affected communities. 
It is possible that vested interests may subvert the amicable resolution of the fisher communities’ problems for their benefit. In the past we have seen that resource-distribution conflicts have been exacerbated into inter ethnic conflicts, we urge that the leadership of both communities learn from past experiences, and approach this with a deeper understanding and sensitivity towards the peaceful co-existence of Tamil and Muslim communities.

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22/08/2012

Sooka and Sheeran join Sri Lanka Campaign

We have today named two new members of their advisory council: Scott Sheeran and Yasmin Sooka.

As our chair, Edward Mortimer said, "It is really fantastic to welcome Yasmin and Scott to our advisory council. That we can attract such impressive people from all parts of the world is a testament, both to their desire for a better world, and to the severity of the problems we face. We are now truly a global campaign."

Yasmin Sooka is the Executive Director of the Foundation for Human Rights in South Africa. She is one of three co-authors of the April 2011 Panel of Experts' report on Sri Lanka done at the request of UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon.

Prior to joining the Foundation, she was a member of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa, serving first for three years as Deputy Chair to the Human Rights Violations Committee and then as the chair of the committee. She authored the final report of the TRC. During 2002 and 2004 she was appointed by the UN as an international commissioner for the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Sierra Leone.

She has consulted and assisted the governments of Ghana, Nepal, Afghanistan, Burundi, and Liberia in setting up truth commissions. Yasmin also serves on The Board of Trustee’s for Black Sash Trust, International Coalition of Historic Site Museums of Conscience, is Executive member for Niwano Peace Foundation as well as Advisory member for Leuven Centre for Global Governance Studies and Institute for International Law.

Scott Sheeran is a Senior Lecturer, and Co-Director of the LLM in International Human Rights Law, at the School of Law and Human Rights Centre, University of Essex. He is co-editor with Professor Sir Nigel Rodley of the forthcoming Routledge Handbook on International Human Rights Law.

Scott’s prior experience includes a number of years in the New Zealand Foreign Service, including a three-year posting as the Legal Adviser at the New Zealand Permanent Mission to the United Nations in New York. During this time, Scott was appointed Vice-Chair of the UN Sixth (Legal) Committee of the General Assembly, and was a member of the Bureau of the International Criminal Court (ICC) Assembly of State Parties.

Scott was also previously a legal counsel in a constitutional law firm in New Zealand and a consultant for The Boston Consulting Group. Scott has a Master of Laws (International law) from the University of Cambridge, and was a UNITAR Fellow at Columbia Law School.

This was Yasmin's comment on joining the campaign:
"Reconciliation in Sri Lanka can only be built on Truth, Justice and accountability. To date the Sri Lankan Government (GoSL) has failed to address the issues raised in the report of the Secretary General's Panel of Experts as well as to implement the recommendations of its own Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC). The March 2012 UN Resolution tabled by the United States -- on a probe of war crimes committed in the final months of the Sri Lankan civil war in 2009 asks the Sri Lankan government to explain how it will address alleged violations of international humanitarian law and how it will implement recommendations of an internal inquiry into the war.
"Sri Lanka’s report to the Universal Periodic Review of human rights in November 2012 is expected to include the progress made in implementing the LLRC’s recommendations.
"Reports of continued intimidation of media and human rights defenders amid extrajudicial killings, continued disappearances, abductions and deteriorating rule of law make the Sri Lanka Campaign’s objectives more urgent. 
"I fully endorse the Campaign’s emphasis on the critical need for humanitarian relief and rehabilitation, an end to human rights violations and the culture of impunity and a repeal of draconian anti-terror regulations and a lasting peace based on justice and reconciliation. 
"I believe that unless allegations of war crimes are addressed through a truth seeking mechanism and/or an independent commission or criminal investigation which places victims at the centre of the process, reconciliation will continue to elude Sri Lanka."
And this was Scott's:
"The deaths and suffering in the last few months of the war described by the UN Secretary-General’s Panel of Experts are both saddening and tragic. These sorts of events can only happen in a society that has carried a burden of differences and difficulties for some time. Without true accountability and reconciliation, the challenge of which is not to be underestimated, there will be further conflict and suffering. Only in a free and fair democracy with the rule of law, can the human rights of all Sri Lankans – including the Tamil, Muslim and other minorities – be truly respected."
The Advisory council is a volunteer body of influential figures that provide advice and guidance to the campaign. They come from all walks of life and regions of the world and support the Campaign's three main objectives: effective humanitarian relief, human rights for all and a lasting peace in Sri Lanka based on justice and reconciliation. Our Advisors use their links with the media and with other opinion-formers to push forward the campaign demands, as well as providing a sounding board for the Campaign's work. A full biography of all members of the advisory council can be found here.

09/08/2012

Flag day

We need new tactics if the plight of the Tamil people is to get the attention it deserves

Sinhalese mob burn Tamil cars, homes, and business
in Colombo, July 1983
A few weeks ago the twenty ninth anniversary of the events of Black July passed – a sombre anniversary for all Tamils. On the 23rd of July 1983 the Tamil Tigers, the LTTE, ambushed a military convoy killing 13 soldiers. In the following week, Sinhalese mobs ran rampage through the cities, killing up to 3,000 Tamils and burning so many homes and businesses that a staggering 150,000 Tamils were displaced. The face of parts of Sri Lanka was changed forever with Tamil areas of Colombo, such as Borella, being all but ethnically cleansed.

Yet as these tragic events were mourned once again, a debate started up as to how best to commemorate the dead, and how – more generally – the Tamil community outside of Sri Lanka can best highlight the plight of Sri Lanka’s Tamils and get their point across. This debate was about a flag: teeth, claws and crossed bayonets; a tiger jumping through a sun of bullets. Originally created by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), the ‘tiger flag’, minus the group’s insignia, continues to be used by those who aspire to a homeland for Sri Lankan Tamils, and more widely by those wishing to draw attention to the suffering, past and ongoing, of the Tamil people.

There is a well understood meaning of the LTTE flag for those within the Tamil community. It is a symbol of resistance to oppression and an important part of Tamil identity, not least because the tiger has strong symbolic links to Tamil mythology. What is not well understood though is the meaning and associations it has outside the Tamil community. Many Tamils argue that to link the flag to terrorism is to grossly misrepresent its status and meaning, and point out that the national flag of Sri Lanka (which depicts a lion, a symbol of Sinhalese ethnicity, holding a sword) has at least equally violent and ethnocentric overtones. But this point has proved difficult to get across to many.

There is an argument that the tiger should be re-appropriated, perhaps in a version that doesn’t include arms or bullets. The tiger features in Hindu mythology, as the companion of the goddess Kali, and in ancient Tamil art and temple sculptures. Wouldn’t featuring some kind of tiger, differently represented, be reclaiming this ancient Tamil symbol? Perhaps, but it has also been argued that the tiger itself at the present time is still too closely associated with the LTTE. Any tiger that appeared on any protest material would almost inevitably be confused with the LTTE version.

Here is the experience of one person, growing up in Colombo:
All my life, I have been taught to see the tiger as a symbol of fear. Every bomb, every assassination, every death, whether of Tamils or non-Tamils, was blamed on the ‘Tigers’. Power cuts, bread shortages, road-blocks – all down to the Tigers. And people were only too willing to add ordinary Tamils to the equation, regardless of whether they supported the LTTE, or Eelam, or not. Were they all Tigers? Yes, I was told, Tigers or Tiger supporters. In due course, anyone who questioned the government’s actions, Tamil, Sinhalese, foreign, was called a Tiger.

Why is the government cracking down on the media and rights groups? Because of the Tigers. Even reprisal attacks were laid at their door. I remember being asked to throw away my Frosties t-shirt after a blast in Pettah market killed over a hundred people, lest Tony the Tiger proved too inflammatory. Tiger = terrorist. Such is the power of propaganda.
The flag of Tamil Eelam - designated as such
in 1990 by the de facto Government of Tamil Eelam
which operated in LTTE held areas
Virtually everyone who has ever voiced concern about Sri Lanka’s Tamils has attracted the label, often purely by displaying empathy. But why is the LTTE such a “toxic brand”? After all it the emergence of an armed Tamil resistance movement was hardly surprising. After decades of fruitless political campaigning, the marginalised Tamil people did not see many options for themselves. But even for the LTTE there was a line between freedom fighter and terrorist, and to determine whether this line was crossed, one question is how the movement treated the very people it claimed to represent.

Fear and coercion were a significant facet of LTTE rule. It killed rival groups, politicians, journalists and others who refused to condone its methods. It demanded that each family give one of its members, often a child, to its armed campaign. It used torture, extortion and terror tactics against Tamils under its control. It operated a strict pass system that prevented families from moving to safer places. As the United Nations panel of experts’ report attests, during the final stages of the war the LTTE refused to let civilians flee, firing on those who tried to and using others as human shields. The evidence strongly suggests that it was the Government of Sri Lanka who killed the vast majority of the 40,000 civilians who died in those horrific weeks in 2009, but the LTTE did play a part in putting them in harm’s way.

Here is just one of the critical passages in the UN report regarding the LTTE:
Despite grave danger in the conflict zone, the LTTE refused civilians permission to leave, using them as hostages, at times even using their presence as a strategic human buffer between themselves and the advancing Sri Lanka Army. It implemented a policy of forced recruitment throughout the war, but in the final stages greatly intensified its recruitment of people of all ages, including children as young as fourteen. The LTTE forced civilians to dig trenches and other emplacements for its own defences, thereby contributing to blurring the distinction between combatants and civilians and exposing civilians to additional harm. All of this was done in a quest to pursue a war that was clearly lost; many civilians were sacrificed on the altar of the LTTE cause and its efforts to preserve its senior leadership.

From February 2009 onwards, the LTTE started point-blank shooting of civilians who attempted to escape the conflict zone, significantly adding to the death toll in the final stages of the war. It also fired artillery in proximity to large groups of internally displaced persons (IDPs) and fired from, or stored military equipment near, IDPs or civilian installations such as hospitals. Throughout the final stages of the war, the LTTE continued its policy of suicide attacks outside the conflict zone.
The flag of the LTTE - although many assert to
the contrary,
it bears a strong resemblance
to the Eelam flag. The resemblance has only
increased over the last decade as, in
homage to the Eelam flag, red started
to be increasingly used as a
background colour on the LTTE flag.
In short, the LTTE oppressed the Tamil people that it was meant to be liberating. And it colluded with those it was supposed to be fighting, including the regime that eventually defeated it. In 2005, a secret deal between the LTTE and then-presidential candidate Mahinda Rajapaksa saw the group gain money and political appointments in return for enforcing a Tamil boycott of the election (most Tamils would likely have voted for Rajapaksa's opponent – a man who was no saint, but who wished to continue peace talks and avoid the all-out war that followed). Moreover there is evidence that the Government of Sri Lanka and the LTTE worked together throughout the late eighties against the Indian Peacekeeping Force. Finally, of course, we now witness senior LTTE commanders such as Karuna, Pillayan, the Masters, and KP working openly with the Government of Sri Lanka and peddling a “forgive and forget” attitude to atrocities. This may suit both the Government and the LTTE - but not the Tamil people.

It is still not surprising that many Tamils supported the LTTE. After all, no politician’s promises, no diplomatic efforts or NGO campaigns have managed to secure their rights or end their suffering. The Tigers put the plight of the Tamil people on the map, nationally and internationally, and offered them hope. Ultimately though, the LTTE failed the people too.

However, at the level of promoting change, this flag issue is ultimately not about the justness of the LTTE’s actions and methods, nor is it about the roles and hypocrisy of others who have so much to answer for. The issue is the fundamental problem with the tiger as a symbol – it may work for some, but it is deeply divisive at a time when unity in the face of a concerted Governmental campaign to cover up atrocities is so important. It alienates many who would otherwise add weight to the Tamil cause. This is what a Sinhalese Sri Lankan living in the UK said,
In 2009, I was horrified by the news seeping out through Sri Lanka's media ban: thousands dead and displaced, civilians deliberately targeted, attacks on hospitals, aid agencies expelled. A total disregard for human life by a government hell-bent on all-out war. And no action from the international community. I wanted to shout. I wanted to go out and join those protesting in London’s Parliament Square. But the tiger flags stopped me.

I know it wasn’t a rational decision. It reflects, in large part, the shame I feel on behalf of the Sinhalese people who have at worst supported and at best tolerated the slaughter and subjugation of their compatriots. And I realise that many Tamils would baulk at the idea of changing a long-standing symbol of their struggle simply because others find it hard to deal with.

But, like beauty, violence is in the eye of the beholder. The fault may well lie with us, but when a symbol begins to overshadow your message, generate negative publicity and put people off, you need to let it go. Every moment spent explaining what the tiger flag doesn’t represent is time that should be spent making people realise that the end of the war has not brought justice or restitution to Tamils in Sri Lanka, and that what has happened in the country is nothing short of a slow-motion genocide.
It is not just Sinhalese people that the flag alienates: Tamils who lost loved ones to the LTTE, Tamils who were part of other groups the LTTE destroyed, Muslims the LTTE ethnically cleansed from the north, and – most importantly – the international community, view the flag with distrust. The weeks at the end of the Sri Lankan civil war rank as one of the worst civilian atrocities of the new millennium, possibly the worst since Rwanda in 1994. Yet ithey attract a mere fraction of the attention given to conflicts such as the one in Syria, where - so far at least – fewer people have been killed. Furthermore, Sri Lanka ranks is the fourth most dangerous country in the world to be a journalist, a place where 30 people can disappear in a month, and yet the world largely views it as a nice place for a beach holiday, a stable democracy, a venue for high profile arts and sports jamborees, and a good place to hold Commonwealth summits.

There are geopolitical reasons for this, and the fact that the international community colluded with the Government of Sri Lanka in getting rid of the LTTE also plays a role, but in large part it is because the facts are still not known, and the Government of Sri Lanka has been effective in defining the victims unsympathetically – and the LTTE and the Tiger flag have been a huge help to it. For some time, the LTTE has been listed in the West as a terrorist organization – by the European Union, the US, Canada, Australia and others. And so it was that many people blithely thought Sri Lanka was dealing with a terrorism problem caused by a restless minority – a narrative which other oppressive states have been happy to support.

Furthermore, the LTTE and tiger flag issue is not just about correcting perceptions and getting a fair hearing for Tamils. It is also about building effective relationships with partners working on Sri Lanka issues. The Tamil diaspora, national and international NGOs, civil society and foreign governments and politicians all effectively working together is exactly what the Sri Lankan Government does not want. And it won’t happen without a degree of trust, which regrettably is currently absent. The LTTE and the tiger flag drive a significant wedge between the Tamil diaspora and these other potential partners, who at present all make efforts to keep the diaspora at a safe distance. Rightly or wrongly, they are often afraid that the Sri Lankan Government will succeed in tarring them as LTTE and terrorist sympathizers. The Secretary-General’s Panel of Experts report emphasized the diaspora’s “unconditional support of the LTTE” and the “further obstacle” when “they fail to acknowledge rights violations committed by the LTTE and its role in the humanitarian disaster in the Vanni”.

The Orange revolution, Ukraine
Sadly, no matter how hard people try to explain the history and genesis of the LTTE and the tiger flag, it’s not really possible to change their damaging association with ‘terrorism’ and violence. For too long, successive Sri Lankan governments have justified their murderous activities by equating Tamils with the Tigers and with terrorism. For too long, ignorant people in Sri Lanka and abroad have been happy to accept this demonisation. And for too long, Tamils have been denied the chance to define themselves. Instead of clinging to a symbol that plays into the hands of the government, instead of flying a flag that lets others dismiss them, Tamils should use tactics of protest that work for them, not against them.

Gene Sharp, the non violence resistance guru, is one of the most respected experts on the politics of dissent. Few people are as feared and hated by tyrants and dictators as he. In his book “from dictatorship to democracy” he outlines a blueprint for how nonviolent protest can overthrow an oppressive regime – and a key component is colour.

Dissidents in Iran use green to defy the government
The precise colour is immaterial, and it is not the purpose of this article to suggest a replacement for the Eelam flag. But a colour, or other neutral symbol for a protest, is unifying, open to interpretation, and welcoming to outside sympathisers in a way the tiger can no longer be.

Colour brands acts of defiance. It allows people to show their dissent, and that they are not afraid of the Government, in a way which is clear and unmistakeable; it gives protestors an identity and a unity of purpose. Examples span a rainbow, from the Blue Revolution in Kuwait supporting women’s rights, to the Green Revolution in Iran in 2009, and to numerous colour revolutions in post-soviet nations.

It may seem crass to talk about the ‘branding’ of opposition to oppressive regimes. But in today’s media-saturated world, how a protest is branded and ‘sold’ to the international community, the press and the public is vital in garnering attention and, eventually, action.

Simple and effective; protestors in Hyderabad
 use the black flag in a demonstration
calling for a separate Telangana state
Unfortunately, perceptions matter a lot for achieving change, including obtaining the understanding, support and cooperation of those who can help bring about that change. There are many who hold the LTTE flag as a lodestar and uniting force for the Tamil people. The problem is that the flag is central to what divides the Tamil people and their cause from the hearts of others. This is a representational battle the Sri Lankan government is keen to win - and at the moment, the tiger is on their side.

This article was written collectively by people of Tamil, Sinhalese and neither ethnicity living both inside and outside Sri Lanka. Agree, disagree? What flags do you think should be flown on demonstrations about Sri Lanka? We welcome debate. Email us on info@srilankacampaign.org, write on our Facebook wall, or tweet us at @SLCampaign

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05/08/2012

Pattani Razeek - alleged killers walk free

A key suspect held in connection with the the abduction and killing of human rights defender Pattani Razeek was released last week during a hearing at the Polonnaruwa Magistrate courts. Forum Asia have released a statement condemning the decision.

Pattani Razeek was a human rights defender and a leading member of a number of regional NGO networks. He was the managing trustee of the Community Trust Fund and an executive committee member of the Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development. He disappeared on February 11 2010, near a mosque in Polonaruwa, in the north central province of Sri Lanka.

A well known member within the community, his abduction and discovery of his body caused widespread anger and grief. On the day of his funeral, shops were closed in Puttalam and other nearby towns, with black and white flags displayed throughout the town and banners condemning his abduction. About 5,000- 7,000 people attended the funeral.

During the period of his disappearance, his family and colleagues received calls demanding a ransom of Rs.20 million be paid, and they received a parcel containing items such as Mr. Razeek’s spectacles, keys, watch and driving license..

For over a year following Razeek’s disappearance the police made little progress in investigating the case, despite several leads, while Community Trust Fund members and Muslim community leaders faced threats to drop the case into his abduction.

Amid calls from international bodies such as the United Nations Human Rights division, Observatory to Protect Human Rights Defenders and Amnesty International, in July 2011,a glimmer of hope appeared a year later when the chief suspect, Shahadbeen Nowshaadh, was arrested despite being identified by police a year earlier, in May/June 2010. Nowshaadh is a former CTF employee, who police linked to Razeek’s disappearance through phone calls. Mushdeen, the second suspect, was arrested a few days after Nowshaadh’s arrest.

The information they provided led to the discovery of Razeek’s body, and its subsequent exhumation. The body was found inside a half built abandoned house belonging to Mushdeen’s aunt. It had been wrapped in a sheet and buried 4 and a half feet deep in a pit.

However, after this flurry of activity, proceedings on the case halted again. For several months the police failed to submit a post mortem report on the case, while the lawyer for Razeek’s family was not given access to the report.

Last week, Nawshaad was released during a hearing at the Polonnaruwa Magistrate courts, and Musdeen is out on bail.

It is not clear whether the Police asked to release Nawshaad or whether the order had come from Attorney General’s department.

Razeek’s family and the Puttalam Mosque committee suspect that Nawshaad may have been released because of influence from Minister Rishard Bathiudeen, who at the time headed the Resettlement Ministry, and with whom Nawshaad had admitted to be being closely associated with. Rishard Bathiudeen has been in the news recently for allegedly leading an assault on a courthouse.

Furthermore, human rights groups point out that there has been a failure to properly investigate the role of Mustafa Nihamath, a former CTF Trustee General, who is currently employed the World Food Program in Colombo. Riskhan, Razeek’s son, had written a statement in which he stated that he believed Nihamath to be responsible for his father’s killing. The Community Trust Fund was taken over by the Defence Ministry in June 2011, and human rights group believe the CTF inquiry and subsequent takeover are not independent of Mr. Razeek’s case.

At an inquiry in September 2011, the family was informed that there was insufficient evident to arrest or question Nihamath in connection withRazeek’s abduction and killing, stating that several witnesses put forward by the family had refused to make statements to the police. Yet Riskhan told the police that CTF staff had not been questioned by the police despite their willingness to make statements. At Razeek’s funeral, thousands of people chanted slogans calling for the arrest of Bathiudeen and Nihamath.

There have been attempts to divert attention from key issues related to Razeek’s killing through anonymous emails and documents sent to local and international groups, alleging that Razeek and the CTF were corrupt and questioning whether he was a human rights defender. In October 2010, SRM Irshad, parliamentary secretary to MP Bathiudeen, made a public statement accusing Razeek of being an intermediary through whom funds were transferred to the LTTE during the war. It was at this speech that he claimed that Razeek was being held in custody of the Ministry of Defence, but the claim was not investigated.

The release of this key suspect last week highlights the recurring themes in Sri Lankan law and order – impunity, corruption and intimidation – and show that very little has changed since Razeek was taken away in one of Sri Lanka’s now notorious ‘white vans’ two years ago.

Yet, the case is one of the few examples of disappearances where there is actually credible to convict criminals, because of the arrest of key suspects and the discovery of the body. Yet police and state reluctance to properly carry out procedures have cast a shadow over this process, making it increasingly difficult to uncover the truth of what happened to Razeek, and making it more probable that the state was involved in the abduction.

Razeek’s case mirrors the plight of thousands of disappearances that have not been investigated, from high profile human rights defenders and journalists such as Sunday Leader editor, Lasantha Wickrematunge and cartoonist Prageeth Ekneligoda , to ordinary civilians whose family are unlikely to ever know their fate.

Despite a semblance of normality that Sri Lanka is trying to portray to the world and to its burgeoning number of tourists, little has changed within it.

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03/08/2012

Let's make Britain and America practice what they preach

In just a few days time, delegates from 19 countries, including the UK and USA, will take part in a public relations stunt organised by the brutal autocrat Gotabhaya (Gota) Rajapaksa, Sri Lanka's Defence Minister.

Unless you stop them.

Click here to take action.

Last year the Sri Lankan military organised a series of seminars designed to help whitewash their reputation and promote the "Sri Lanka model" of purely military responses to internal strife. And last year we ran campaigns to prevent these events from turning into the PR coups the Sri Lankan military were hoping for.

It is not too late, twice now nations have pulled out at the very very last minute

Previously various countries - including Canada, the UK and South Africa - pulled out under pressure, sending a powerful message that human rights violations will not be tolerated. It also hugely embarrassed the Sri Lankan military and Gotabhaya himself, weakening their position within the country.

This year, the Sri Lankan Army is planning another conference, from 8-12 August, giving Gota the chance to hold court in front of at least 19 countries including the UK and USA, at a session misleadingly called "towards lasting peace and stability".

Click here to stop that happening.

We know from history, from Gota's involvement, and from the way this is being presented in the Sri Lankan media that this is not a legitimate attempt to address issues. It is a cynical PR exercise designed to whitewash the Army's reputation, cement its ownership of the reconciliation process, and promote the government's highly flawed reconciliation plan to an international audience. Gota himself badly needs good publicity: he last made headlines for ordering a commercial plane to pick up a puppy from Switzerland, then threatening the journalist asking about this farcical abuse of power.

Don't let them get away with it.

Twice now your outcry has caused nations to pull out of these PR stunts at the last minute. Please help us make it a third.

We only have a few days to take action. Click here now and forward this to others who care about Sri Lanka.