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

27/09/2012

Tensions in Tamil Nadu - apology

Dear friends. If you saw a post from us earlier entitled "tensions in Tamil Nadu" please disregard it. It is inaccurate and does not strike the right tone. It was submitted for publication and rejected. It was then posted in error and has now been removed. Our apologies.

We will be writing a post about the situation in Tamil Nadu in due course.

20/09/2012

Towards Lasting Peace and Stability 2012 – Shame as UK attends Sri Lankan whitewash

The 8th August saw the beginning of a three day defence seminar held in Sri Lanka which explored the end of the war and how the Sri Lankan government sought to rebuild and reconcile the country. What the seminar failed to address however was any of the allegations of war crimes levelled against the army and government.
The theme of the title itself illustrates the extent that the Sri Lankan’s government is attempting to whitewash the army’s record on brutality and human rights abuses. It seems that much of the seminar and its news coverage served as a PR exercise for the army and Gotabhaya Rajapaska, who is accused of war crimes during the civil war. The question of the army’s “overbearing presence” in the Northern provinces was brought up by one audience member who noted the incompatibility between what was being said during the seminar and reports coming out of the Northern region. This was brushed aside by the speaker with a brief, insubstantial answer referring to security requirements.
As this was all to be expected from the Sri Lankan government we asked you to write to your governments and ask them to boycott the seminar in recognition of the serious allegation levelled at the army. Your response was overwhelming. In just four days you sent:
  • 507 emails to the American government urging them not to attend
  • 468 emails to the British government urging them not to attend
  • and a total of 416 emails to the other 17 nations allegedly attending urging them not to attend.
Unfortunately, despite such a fantastic response to our campaign none of the 19 countries pulled out of the seminar. This however does not in any way diminish your excellent efforts. It is deeply disappointing that all the countries chose to attend, as their presence serves to further legitimise the actions of the Sri Lankan government.
Although it is undeniably disappointing that neither the British nor American governments were dissuaded from attending the seminar it is worth remembering that such email campaigns have been successful in the past. Therefore we must build on this experience so that the international community is pressured even more into recognising the heinous war crimes the Sri Lankan government still has to answer for.

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16/09/2012

Australia sends back Tamil refugees amid torture claims

Australia has followed the UK’s suit by sending back Tamil refugees back to Sri Lanka. This is in spite of evidence that repatriated Tamils are being tortured in Sri Lanka.

In July, the Australian government deported Tamil refugee Dayan Anthony back to Sri Lanka, which may form the start of a worrying trend. The Australian Repatriation Co-Ordination Centre has also been sharing information with the Sri Lankan government about boats smuggling Tamils out of Sri Lanka which has led to their repatriation.

This has prompted a great deal of anti-asylum seeker coverage of the story in the Australian media. Amanda Hodge, writing for The Australian, has been particularly guilty of this one-sided reporting, as she glosses over the dangerous situation in Sri Lanka, stating that “there are no clear reasons” for Tamils to want to flee Sri Lanka after the war. Instead she suggests that this exodus is merely down to economic reasons, as a way to discredit any the justified concerns over their well-being in the north-eastern region. It is clear from her article that she is embedded with the Sri Lankan navy. Given the strong accusations of war crimes levelled against the navy it is highly reasonable to question Ms Hodge’s point of view. The fact that the Sri Lankan Ministry of Defence decided to press release the article themselves illustrates how much the article can be viewed as totally biased propaganda.

Admittedly The Australian did carry this opinion editorial by Phil Lynch which highlights how Australia is compromising its reputation for human rights by helping Sri Lanka repatriate Tamil refugees. He points out the global concerns over Sri Lanka’s use of torture, citing evidence from the UN committee against torture, Human Rights Watch and the US State Department report on Sri Lanka. We were sent a press release about an asylum seeker who has suffered such torture in Sri Lanka. Hari was sent back to Sri Lanka by the UK who now claims he was beaten with electrical wire and suspended upside down by chains on return. 

Such an extensive exploration of the human rights abuses and evidence of torture is a necessary part of the conversation on Australia’s immigration policy however it is one which is sorely lacking in most of Australia’s coverage. Although it is good to see SBS interview Dr. Paikiasothy-Saravanamuttu of the Alternative Policy Centre who explained the fears of Tamils of the militarisation of the north-eastern region of the island the reporter attempt to downplay the troubles in the country is troubling. So much so, in fact, that an open letter from a small group of Australian journalists was sent to SBS complaining about their failure to describe the terrible conditions are for Sri Lankan Tamils back home.

The decision of the Australian government to send Sri Lankan Tamils back is disappointing, as is the right-wing, anti-asylum seeker coverage from the Australian media. The few voices from the Australian media and Sri Lankan civil society speaking up about the real dangers Sri Lankan Tamils face upon repatriation are encouraging but it will take more voices speaking up for the Sri Lankan Tamils sent back before Australia and the UK review their immigration policies on Tamil asylum seekers.

10/09/2012

Review: "Sri Lanka’s Ethnic Conflict: How Eelam War IV was Won" By Major General Ashok K. Mehta

“Sri Lanka chose a military solution to solve its ethnic conflict. Few liberal democracies would loathe doing what Sri Lanka did. The Sri Lankan government used the global war on terror to convert an ethnic/insurgency conflict into a war on terrorism where the threat can be eliminated without question so the root causes and grievances are overlooked.”
These were the comments by Major General Ashok Mehta at the Securing Asia 2012 conference which took place last month in London. His comments are again reiterated in his paper ‘Sri Lanka’s Ethnic Conflict: How Eelam War IV’ (pdf), in which he states upon observation of the Sri Lankan model:
"It follows a policy of minimum force applied in good faith, with the use of heavy weapons and air force almost always avoided.”
This paper is one of the most recent and complete account on the Sri Lankan civil war. However it is notable also in what it leaves out. The Major General, Ashok Mehta was the former General Officer Commanding in the Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) from 1987 to 1990. Yet, perhaps unsurprisingly, the multiple allegations of war crimes, extra judicial killings and the deliberate targeting of civilians by the IPKF are not mentioned.
His piece is similar in tone to Sashikumar's piece in the Indian Defence review. According to Major General Mehta, the turning point of the conflict was the failed assassination attempt in 2006 on General Sarath Fonseka and Defence Secretary Gothabaya Rajapaksa, President Rajapaksa’s brother. President Rajapaksa believed that as long as the LTTE existed, Sri Lanka would never know peace. He goes on to argue that military coercion rarely works and comes with a heavy cost, and that it does not guarantee that an enduring political solution will result from it. He was also keen to emphasise that although there are lessons to be learnt from Sri Lanka’s military success, this could not be replicated in India as he believes bringing insurgents to the political negotiating table to being the only long-term solution. He also believes that China’s support of Sri Lanka was crucial in India’s decision to support the Rajapaksa administration. In other words India supported Sri Lanka because they felt they had to, not because they thought it was right.
Mehta argues that the LTTE believed that there would have been foreign intervention and had repeatedly refused to negotiate with the Sri Lankan Government. When Sri Lanka denied the media access to the conflict areas, the tigers used it to their advantage to demonise the Sri Lankan Army in the eyes of the international media. Maj. Gen Mehta’s account of the Liberation of the East and the Northern Offensive is informative but he focuses on the final battle from a largely military perspective - without going deeply into the political context and the human tragedy that was unfolding. He concludes the chapter by stating that:
"The cost of victory ignored the international approbation, charges of genocide and war crimes and a humanitarian catastrophe.”
But he too doesn't dwell long on these issues. He does however emphasise from the beginning that the “cause that led to the insurgency has been brushed aside” and that the “root of the problem has not been addressed”. According to Dr SinhaRaja Tammita-Delgoda:
“Major General Mehta’s final analysis is incisive and sobering. This reviewer cannot but agree with his opinion that although Sri Lanka has set a new paradigm on the use of force, it was only done so at a huge diplomatic price.”
The Major Gen. provides a comprehensive overview of the conflict, detailing the history of events from the outbreak of the conflict right up to its conclusion. Major General Mehta’s paper sets the stage by going through the historical background and proceeding through the different stages of the conflict step by step and scrutinising everything methodically.
However although it is a good informative piece, he fails to elaborate the mindset of the Sri Lankan Government and the IPKF during the Indo-Lanka Accord and how differently was the war fought since his IPKF days. The paper relies heavily on secondary information despite the Major General’s vast experience and it seems like his account was written from the viewpoint of an academic rather than a military official who was present during the crucial stages of the war. This is of course somewhat convenient as it allows him to sidestep awkward questions of complicity and culpability in war crimes. However it also leaves the paper, and the speech, somewhat poorer - making the piece more a narrative of events rather than an analysis of how we can avoid repeating them.

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95 days from closing down

 
Thanks to your generous support we have come so far in these last three years.

We've beaten the Government of Sri Lanka time and again, we've run a number of groundbreaking campaigns, we've told stories that would otherwise never seen the light of day, and above all we have given people hope.

But sadly the nature of our work makes it difficult to attract funding. We are firecely independent, and we are not willing to compromise on our objectives. That means that virtually all our funding has to come from individual donations. In other words from people like you.

You have been so generous in bringing us this far. But unfortunately we are struggling to make ends meet.

Our current calculations are that, unless something changes, we will run out of money and have to close our doors on the 14th of December at 9PM.

I don't want to let that happen. That's why I, Edward Mortimer, and a number of our advisers - including Adele Barker, Antony Loewensten, Scott Sheeran and a number of others are dipping into our own pockets to help fund the campaign.

But it won't be enough without your help.

Please join us, and help the Sri Lanka Campaign live to fight another day, by donating via our website.
And please do pass this on to your friends,

04/09/2012

Sri Lanka: “The world left us to die”

This is an invitation to the launch of Frances Harrison's new book "Still counting the dead".

Date: Friday October 5th 2012.
Time: 1800-2000.
Amnesty International UK
The Human Rights Action Centre
17-25 New Inn Yard 
London EC2A 3EA

In the spring of 2009 Londoners saw thousands of British Tamils protesting daily in Parliament Square, calling on the world to intervene in the civil war in Sri Lanka. We now know a lot more about those first five months of 2009, in which up to forty thousand people perished in the most appalling conditions. Dying mothers screamed to feed their starving babies milk one last time as a last gesture of love. There was no time for funerals as the shells crashed down – almost everyone remembers talking to someone one minute and seeing them dead the next.

A new book, Still Counting the Dead, (published Oct 4 2012 by Portobello Books) by former BBC Correspondent, Frances Harrison, relates the stories of the survivors in sobering, shattering detail. Years later many are still fearful to speak out about what they witnessed, concerned their families back home could be targeted. There will be a reading from the book and explanation about two spin-off projects - a stage drama by Ice and Fire and an ambitious interactive graphic novel project by Benjamin Dix.

The horror of what occurred in 2009 raises questions about whether the catastrophe was preventable. Who is to blame for the lack of intervention in 2009 and the slow progress towards justice now?

For the first time, Norwegian peace mediator, Erik Solheim will discuss his role in trying to broker a Tamil Tiger surrender at the height of the crisis in 2009. It’s gradually emerged that Norway was involved in months of secret talks with different representatives of the rebel group and the government, aimed at averting mass bloodshed. Looking forward, Alan Keenan, Sri Lanka project director at the International Crisis Group, will assess the prospects for accountability and post-war reconciliation, including through the ongoing process at the UN Human Rights Council at Geneva.

Tickets for this non-profit event are £10 in advance. The Sri Lanka Campaign for Peace and Justice are administering the ticketing of the event via EventBrite.

Eventbrite - Sri Lanka: “The world left us to die”

NB. Copies of Still Counting the Dead will be on sale at the venue, or can be purchased on Amazon here. Tickets are limited to four per credit card. Subsequent purchases on the same credit card will be rejected.




03/09/2012

Amnesty International's India Campaign

Amnesty International India has launched its 'Justice in Sri Lanka' campaign, urging the government of India to acknowledge and address the human rights situation in Sri Lanka.


Maintaining goodwill and supply routes with India is of immense importance to the economy of Sri Lanka. The neighbouring countries enjoy the benefits of a successful free trade agreement, and Indian capital flow to Sri Lanka promises to boost employment and economic opportunities in the recovering nation.

Throughout and since the war, India has tacitly supported the Sri Lankan government on all fronts, having distanced itself from the LTTE separatists, and congratulated Sri Lanka on its response to this ‘terrorist’ movement. India seemingly took an about turn in its stance on the matter in March this year, when it supported an American sponsored resolution at the United Nations Human Rights Council that condemned the government of Sri Lanka for failing to comply with their obligations to international human rights, with reference to the report produced by the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission of Sri Lanka.

Amnesty India has recently re-launched operations from Bangalore. Country director Ananthapadmanabhan Guruswamy hopes that the organisation’s presence will encourage India “to emerge as a genuine human rights champion at the global stage.” Despite the existence of widespread human rights violations across the subcontinent, Guruswamy remains optimistic that “people in India have been and will continue to stand up for what is right, and bring about positive change.” India is home to a population of 60 million Tamils and the Indian government is uniquely poised to make an effective stand against a regime that would continue discriminate against its sizable Tamil community.

Three years after the end of its devastating armed conflict, Sri Lanka is still home to mass human rights abuses. Its police and armed forces continue to violate the rights of Sri Lankans, whilst the government has failed to address allegations of war crimes committed on both sides of the bloody civil war, as well as breaking promises to promote reconciliation and recovery for victims of the conflict. Amnesty International India is promoting a new type of campaign, with an aim to harness people power in the country to force the government’s hand into taking real action against the repressive regime of a neighbouring state.

You can support the campaign by signing this petition, one way to do so is by giving a missed call to (+91) 080 6700 6666.

You can view AI India’s facebook page here: http://www.facebook.com/AIIndia
You can also tweet about the campaign, AI India are promoting the hashtag: #JusticeinSriLanka
And their website is here.