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

31/10/2012

The Universal Periodic Review - a Twitter guide

Tomorrow, the 1st of November, between 2:30 and 6pm, Geneva time (so at 9:30 in New York, 13:30 in London, 19:00 in Colombo & Delhi) Sri Lanka will undergo its second Universal Periodic Review.

This four yearly process allows the Human Rights Council to investigate structural failings with respect to human rights in every country in the world in turn. It is now Sri Lanka's turn. It is an entirely separate process from the Human Rights Council's censure and potential investigation into Sri Lanka for the failures of its accountability processes.

It can be watched live here.

The Government of Sri Lanka will present their case, then member states will have their chance to question them. The system is ill thought out almost to the point of farce in that, as 99 countries have asked to speak, each will only be able to do so for 72 seconds. Some countries, have taken the opportunity to ask questions in advance and these, and all other documentation, are available on the UPR website.

There is no opportunity to human rights organisations to speak at all, but 45 have made written submissions, all of which are available here. They contain some really interesting information.

After the debate a report will be written up and presented via a one hour debate on the 5th of November. At this point accredited human rights organisations do get to talk - but only for a combined total of 20 minutes.

So its an important process, but one from which we are almost completely excluded. For this reason we, and a number of other organisations will be using twitter and facebook to make sure the world knows what is happening.

Before, during, and after the session we, along with other organisations will be tweeting to the official #UPR14 hashtag, and to a newly created hashtag #UPRLKA

The following individuals and organisations will be taking part:

Action Contre la Faim – France: @ACF_France, @ChetcutiPauline, @adegroux , facebook
Amnesty India: @AIIndia, facebook
Centre for Policy Alternatives: @CPASL, facebook
Groundviews: @groundviews, facebook
Committee to Protect Journalists: @cpjasia, @pressfreedom, @goodwitch917, facebook
Frances Harrison: @francesharris0n
Freedom from Torture: @FreefromTorture, facebook
Human Rights Watch: @jayshreebajoria, @mg2411, @ks7s, facebook, facebook South Asia and others
International Crisis Group: @akeenan23, facebook
Minority Rights Group: @MinorityRights, @Maggranna, facebook
Pen International: @pen_int, @Dejiridoo, facebook
American PEN: @PENamerican, facebook
English PEN: @englishpen, facebook
Reporters Without Borders: @RSF_RWB, facebook
US:·The Sri Lanka Campaign for Peace and Justice: @SLcampaign, facebook
Benjamin Dix, author of "the Vanni": @TheVanni2012, facebook

So if you are on twitter please do join in, by tweeting your own observations on proceedings or simply by retweeting what we say. Remember the two hashtags #UPR14 and #UPRLKA.

And why not tweet to prominent twitter accounts asking them to join in? Or challenge the Government of Sri Lanka directly:

@EmbassyofSL is the twitter account of the Sri Lankan embassy in Washington DC
@bundeljayse is the twitter account of Bandula Jayasekara, the Sri Lankan Government spokesperson
@KaruOnline is the twitter account of Karu Jayasuriya MP, an MP with the opposition UNP (themselves no stranger to human rights violations)

Other useful accounts to follow:
@Dinoukc - Dinouk Colombage, journalist, Sunday Leader
@melguna - Mel Gunasekara, journalist, formerly with AFP
@cfhaviland - Charles Haviland, journalist, BBC
@dinidu - Dinidu de Alwis, journalist
@Nirmanusan - Nirmanusan, Researcher
@RKKrishnan - R.K.Radhakrishnan, Foreign Correspondent for The Hindu.

If you'd like to read more

Here are a few of our highlights from the various submissions, but they are all worth a read:

Amnesty International wrote a comprehensive dossier on the human rights situation in the country
Frontline Defenders wrote about the Governments attacks on Human Rights Defenders
Thirty one Sri Lankan organisations and twenty six Sri Lankan individuals have written a powerful joint submission on the true state of Sri Lanka
The Women’s Action Network and Centre Human Rights and Development have written movingly on the plight of women in the north
Action Contre la Faim In coalition with SPEAK Human Rights & Environmental Initiative have written about the failure of the Government of Sri Lanka to do anything about the worst atrocity ever committed against humanitarian aid workers.

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24/10/2012

Almost there! With your help the Sri Lanka Campaign will live to fight another day.

Thank you! Thanks to your generosity we raised almost exactly £3,500. In addition the Network for Social Change came through with a £5,000 grant.

Together that means we have the money to keep going until at least April. And with the amount of people making regular contributions increasing all the time every day we can continue is a day closer to financial security.

So we are going to be making one last big push - then we will be funded for five months*

Lets see if we can reach £10,000 in the next two weeks - we're almost there!

Please drop by our site and make a secure, anonymous donation - whatever you can afford.

Every penny helps:
  • £3.30 will keep us going for another hour 
  • £30 will keep us going for another working day
  • £560 keep us going for another week
Or thinking about it another way
  • £2 a month will provide a mobile phone for an independent journalist in Sri Lanka.
  • £5 a month pays for an internet connection so we can keep in touch with human rights defenders in fear for their lives.
  • £10 a month keeps our website online.
  • £500 will fly a Sri Lankan human rights defender to the UK.
So please give what you can - and together we can keep fighting.

Please do forward this to your friends and family. We have found this to be very effective in the past. Stick the text above into an email to them, use the share button below, or use twitter, reddit, or facebook to spread the word.

* We will still need more money to secure our long term future. Regular donations are the key to securing our financial future. If you have a UK bank account please do set up a direct debit using the links on this page.

23/10/2012

The exhaustion of living in fear

This piece was written by a young British student who conducted a gap year placement with a Sri Lankan broadsheet some time ago. Little has changed since.

“What you have to remember is that journalism is a crusade.” This comment, offered to me in my final days with my newspaper by a senior member of editorial staff, is an uneasy truth for Sri Lankan journalists. The war in Sri Lanka is not over and the journalists I met are still fighting.

I worked with journalists who are forced to write under pseudonyms, regularly receive threats and knowingly sacrifice their lives for a story. Sri Lanka is a country stained by its turbulent history, and it is not political apathy but the inherent threat to personal and family safety, that secures the president Mahinda Rajapaksa his unbridled power.

There was a physical and psychological divide in the office I worked. An elder generation of war fatigued males and a fresh dynasty of young journalists who were still studying at University. One young journalist was balancing their job time between two university degrees. These younger voices don’t always get a hearing.

As a journalist if you cross the line you risk never getting back behind it. An editor’s loyalty to their staff and conscience makes criticism a complex and delicate balancing act. It was widely accepted that the political system was in disarray. Not one journalist I spoke to denied this truth, but the risk of abduction and abuse often outweighs the merits of telling a story that doesn’t want to be heard.

The young team on the paper told me they were unlikely to continue in the industry after university. New careers were being sought and secured during the months I spent in that office. Journalism is not the cut throat competitive industry it is here. Veterans of the industry implored me to tell my country of their profession's persecution.

One political reporter I sat next to in the office was cosy with certain members of parliament. I was told that MPs were all fully aware of the illegitimacy of their Government, but that the President has a file on each member of his Cabinet, containing information that would strip them of their position if they spoke out. There exists a system of mutual cooperation between members of Parliament and certain journalists. Self-preservation and promotion take precedence.

Members of staff on the newspaper had repeatedly received death threats, harassment and phone calls. One confessed he had his hair torn out by government troops. I talked to the colleagues of outspoken journalists who had been shot and killed on their way to work. I met with journalists who had risked their lives smuggling information to the UN, aid agencies or the international press during the war. Uncomfortable questions put journalists’ lives in uncomfortable positions.

As an idealist and as an aspiring journalist, I initially struggled to understand why there were journalists who refused to speak out. What I had failed to grasp was that Sri Lanka and Sri Lankans were tired and exhausted by war. If there is food on your table and your family is safe it’s invariably easier to let the President do what he wants. Those journalists that do speak are quickly suppressed or simply seem to slip off the agenda. In Sri Lanka it is fear and fatigue that continue to silence dissent.

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22/10/2012

Still counting the dead

Our chair, Edward Mortimer, recently wrote this review for Global magazine:

Still Counting the Dead
Frances Harrison


The enormity of what happened in Sri Lanka in 2009 is still far from being generally known or appreciated around the world. A conflict pitting Buddhists against Hindus, with the latter as the underdog, doesn’t fit into any of the main paradigms which motivate and polarise activists, media or indeed governments in the wider “international community” – east v west, north v south, Muslim v Judeo-Christian, etc. Even many of those who almost routinely rush to the defence of ethnic minorities are reluctant to do so in this case for fear of being associated with the Tamil Tigers – one of the best armed and most ruthless of separatist groups in recent world history. And there is also the sense that it’s a conflict which, however unpleasant, at least is now over, and one should not risk reviving it by raking over old grievances. So the outside world continues to treat Sri Lanka’s government with respect, and at next year’s CHOGM, held in the lavish resort that used to be his home village, President Rajapaksa is to be enthroned as two-year chairman of the Commonwealth.

All this makes Frances Harrison’s book very important, and very timely. A former BBC correspondent in Sri Lanka, she makes the full horror of the last months of the war almost unbearably real, by allowing a series of individual survivors to tell their stories. Each of them describes living through an unimaginable hell on earth, as tens – probably hundreds – of thousands of people were crowded into an ever-shrinking strip of land controlled by the Tigers, with shells raining down on them at all times of day and night; men, women and children blown to pieces at every moment; makeshift hospitals repeatedly targeted and struggling to perform surgery often without anaesthetic; the whole landscape filled with dead bodies or body parts as well as the excrement of the living; and eventual surrender followed by lengthy detention, abuse, and in many cases torture, rape or both. (And Harrison reveals, almost in passing, that much of the Sri Lankan army’s equipment, including armoured vehicles, aircraft components and semi-automatic pistols, was supplied by Britain.)

These witnesses come from the minority who have since been able to bribe and smuggle their way out of the country, utterly traumatized and still not daring to give their real names. Inside today’s “peaceful” Sri Lanka no one would dare tell such stories to a journalist, even if promised anonymity. The defeat of the Tigers might have given an enlightened government the chance to embark on a real process of national reconciliation, which would have to have included an honest reckoning of crimes committed by both sides, Alas, there is little sign of that.

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In addition to the book, Frances has designed a website where many of the stories can be explored via an interactive map and timeline.

Frances' book is available via Portabello books in the UK, House of Anasi in Canada, and Penguin India in India. In December 2012 a Tamil language translation will be published by Kalachuvadu Publications. A Sinhalese language translation will hopefully shortly be made available online for free and distributed by various websites including this one.

The easiest way to buy the book is from the UK or Canadian Amazon.com website. By using the links below to do so, 5% of proceeds will go to the Sri Lanka Campaign for Peace and Justice. 

If you are in the UK you can order the book here

If you are in Canada you can order the book here

10/10/2012

Justice for the Muttur 17 #justiceformuttur

ACF staff mourn the sixth anniversary of the massacre
On the 4th of August 2006 the worst crime ever committed against humanitarian aid workers took place. Seventeen workers for ACF (Action against hunger) were executed and their killers have never been brought to justice.

Click here to sign the petition to change that. 

So little is known about the Muttur killings. The workers were helping local people rebuild their lives in the aftermath of the 2004 tsunami and were not involved in political work. There was seemingly no motive for their execution. Both the Sri Lankan Army and the LTTE were active in the area, as were various paramilitary groups such as Col Karuna's TMVP. But no side has claimed responsibility for the massacre.

In the six years since the massacre took place the Government of Sri Lanka has made no attempt to investigate the killings and has colluded in the obstruction of justice and the destruction of evidence.

Whilst this is shocking it is scarcely surprising when you consider how the Government of Sri Lanka has successfully avoided investigating the 40,000+ civilians who were killed in the course of the final stages of Sri Lanka's civil war.

But it cannot be allowed to continue. And now a powerful coalition has formed to demand justice for the Muttur 17. ACF (Action against hunger) have become one of the first humanitarian NGOs to speak out about what took place and to demand justice from the international community. They have been joined by Avaaz and by a number of other NGOs such as ourselves. They are also targeting the United Nations human rights council at the right time, as they will soon gather to discuss Sri Lanka's human rights record as part of the Universal Periodic Review.

So please join the campaign, and sign this petition today. 

Want to do more to spread the word?

04/10/2012

Open Letter to the Commonwealth Secretary-General

We, and several other NGOs, wrote the following letter to the Secretary-General of the Commonwealth on the 21st September:

Dear Secretary-General,

When Commonwealth countries announced at the 2011 Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in Australia that Sri Lanka could host CHOGM 2013, they agreed to actively promote and uphold the fundamental values and principles of the Commonwealth, including human rights and the rule of law. We therefore urge you to press for adequate and satisfactory human rights progress in Sri Lanka by CHOGM 2013. We believe that the failure of the Commonwealth and its members to do so would be contrary to the Commonwealth’s values and principles, and undermine its credibility.

It has come to our attention through the media that you have called for Canada to forego its human rights related objections and fully participate in the CHOGM 2013 in Sri Lanka – where you reportedly saw no deficit in the spirit of democracy. If true, such a call to drop human rights concerns is unprecedented in Commonwealth history.

We draw your attention to grave human rights violations in Sri Lanka that have been internationally recognised and reports of ongoing human rights violations that are regularly highlighted. Despite Sri Lanka’s repeated denial, these serious and persistent violations have been widely documented by the UN Secretary General’s Panel of Experts on Sri Lanka in 2011. They also led to a UN Human Rights Council resolution on the country earlier this year. In fact on the same day your statement was reported, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights named Sri Lanka as one of 16 countries in the world that have gone unpunished for intimidation and reprisals against critics.

Even by the relatively lower standards of recommendations made by Sri Lanka’s own Commission of Inquiry on Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation (LLRC), little or no progress has been made. Within the country, most mechanisms set up to comply with international and domestic standards are more cosmetic than real.

In the light of serious international criticism of Sri Lanka over its human rights record, the absence of convincing evidence on Sri Lanka’s willingness to work with international human rights concerns and the absence of any publicly known Commonwealth benchmarks for progress in Sri Lanka ahead of CHOGM, we are surprised at the Commonwealth Secretariat’s willingness to canvass Heads of Governments to participate in CHOGM 2013.

We urge the Commonwealth Secretariat to require that Sri Lanka must demonstrate the 'spirit of democracy' with practical steps to tackle patent gaps in human rights, democracy and governance which have repeatedly attracted international concern.

The Commonwealth Secretariat must lay down benchmarks of discernable, quantifiable and measurable steps that the government of Sri Lanka must take before it can hope to host a CHOGM that has the wholehearted participation of both Heads of Governments and civil society. We believe such benchmarks must at a minimum lead the government of Sri Lanka to:

1. Fully restore the rule of law;

2. Lift restrictions on the enjoyment of all fundamental freedoms for all people within its borders ;

3. Restore Constitutional provisions that guarantee separation of powers and re-instate the independence of the three branches of government;

4. Restore the independence of government institutions such as the Sri Lanka Human Rights Commission and ensure meaningful domestic implementation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights;

5. Repeal or amend laws, including the Prevention of Terrorism Act, that do not conform to international human rights standards,

6. Institute effective mechanisms to protect journalists, civil society groups and human rights defenders who work for the promotion and protection of human rights;

7. Allow full and credible international investigations into all allegations concerning violations of international humanitarian law in the country; and

8. Fulfil all recommendations directed to it by the UN Secretary-General’s Panel of Experts and those recommendations of its own LLRC that are consistent with the recommendations of the UN Panel.

In the context of the ongoing Commonwealth reform process, only such principled action by the Commonwealth Secretariat will be indicative of the official Commonwealth’s willingness to truly reform itself and to apply values of human rights, good governance and democracy.

As a part of this reform process, at the 2011 CHOGM it was agreed that your office would work with the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG) to address all serious or persistent violations of Commonwealth values. This was to be an important step in strengthening the CMAG. In pursuing this commitment it is imperative that your office and CMAG do not leave grave international concern over human rights violations in Sri Lanka unaddressed.

We understand that as the Secretary-General of the Commonwealth your duties include implementing political decisions taken by Commonwealth Heads of Governments, including the 2009 decision to let Sri Lanka host the 2013 CHOGM. At the same time, your position as the highest official of the Commonwealth comes with an obligation to strongly uphold, at all times, all the fundamental values of the Commonwealth. At this time of Commonwealth renewal, we believe that upholding the core values of the Commonwealth naturally has precedence over other concerns.

Sincerely,

CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation www.civicus.org

Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative www.humanrightsinitiative.org

Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA) www.forum-asia.org

Human Rights Law Centre (Australia) www.hrlc.org.au

Human Rights Watch www.hrw.org

Sri Lanka Campaign for Peace & Justice www.srilankacampaign.org

United Nations Association of the UK www.una.org.uk