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29/03/2013

Haunted by her Yesterdays

As promised, here is the film "Haunted by her Yesterdays" by the Social Architects.



Please do watch it, and then share it with your friends.

Haunted by her yesterdays

This documentary tells a story of silent agony, trapped screams and repressed mourning. A story of women forced to deny their identity – who are trapped in between a government which sees them as “Tigers,” and a society whose norms they are no longer deemed worthy of.

These women fought bravely alongside men as members of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) during Sri Lanka’s bloody thirty-year civil war. From protectors and defenders of their families, villages and nation, thousands of female ex-combatants have now returned home to assume more traditional roles as mothers, wives, widows, and teachers – in communities where they are perpetually shunned. Through several powerful voices, “Haunted by Her Yesterdays” allows a few to share their pain and suffering – the wounds that remain unhealed, the scars that are impossible to ignore and the hearts that still burn with pain, passion and grief – for the world to hear. This film is a gripping tale of loss, betrayal and struggle, but –above all else – it is a search for inspiration and a call for action. As the country’s war-torn North and East struggles to rebuild itself, this documentary tells a deeply moving story that has been overlooked for far too long.

The Social Architects:

Created in 2012, The Social Architects (TSA) are composed of a diverse group of writers, intellectuals and working professionals. While most of TSA’s members hail from the country’s North and East, the group also includes other scholars and activists who have been working on Sri Lankan issues. TSA seeks to educate, to inform and to provide timely, thoughtful analysis on a range of topics.

TSA has written numerous reports and articles including: Salt on Old Wounds: The Sinhalization of Sri Lanka’s North, East and Hill Country and Giving Reconciliation in Sri Lanka a Better Chance: A Shadow Action Plan for the LLRC. The organization’s writing has appeared in a range of outlets such as Groundviews and International Policy Digest.

This March TSA will be releasing The Numbers Never Lie – a comprehensive report which assesses the Sri Lankan government’s implementation of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) recommendations.

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24/03/2013

Tamil political prisoners in Sri Lanka


You might have seen we launched a report, based upon Watchdog's research, in today's observer

As we say in the report this is
"A report into arbitrary detention, prison conditions, the Vavuniya riot, and its aftermath." 
"This report was undertaken by Tamil and Sinhalese researchers from Sri Lanka and the United Kingdom. We would like to thank the Watchdog team that facilitated the production of this report and many more people who cannot be named for fear of retaliation. The final manuscript was produced by the Sri Lanka Campaign for Peace and Justice."
You can download it here. In addition you can download it from our website (bottom right on front page) You can also download summaries in French and Spanish - and we hope to soon be able to circulate summaries in Tamil, Sinhala, and Arabic.

22/03/2013

Petition spreads into India and Canada

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh: Do Not Attend the Commonwealth Summit in Sri Lanka
We said yesterday's petition in the UK would be the first of many. Now we are pleased to be able to tell you about petitions for Canada and India.

Prime Minister Steven Harper was courageous in setting an example and announcing that if the summit happens, then he will not go. However, it is still expected that a Canadian delegation will attend the Summit, and this will undermine the effect of the Prime Minister's personal boycott as Canada's attendance will still be visible in the Summit. If you are in Canada please sign the petition here to send that message.

The Indian petition is run by the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative. If you are in India please sign here.

Meanwhile the UK petition has reached well over a thousand signatures in under 24 hours. We soon hope local organisations will launch petitions in Malaysia, Kenya, Uganda, Botswana, Bangladesh, Australia and New Zealand. If we haven't reached you yet, we will soon. In the meantime please keep signing and sharing with your UK, Indian, and Canadian friends.

If you are in the UK click here to sign the petition


If you are in Canada click here to sign the petition


If you are in India click here to sign the petition,

21/03/2013

The Human Rights Council has voted - but now we need you



Today is the start of something special.

The Human Rights Council has once again condemned Sri Lanka's human rights record, this time in even more damning terms. This is great news for everyone who cares about Sri Lanka - but to turn it into meaningful action we need your help. 

In less than a month a key part of the Commonwealth, the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG), meets. After the strong message the Human Rights Council has sent, they must take a stand and ensure that Sri Lanka is not rewarded by hosting the Commonwealth's grand summit this November - that will keep the pressure on Sri Lanka and ensure we finally get the independent international investigation Sri Lanka needs to end its cycle of murder, torture, and rape. But if the Commonwealth continues as usual then the Government of Sri Lanka will be able to use this to whitewash their crimes, and derail the process of reconciliation. The cycle of violence will continue. 

So in the next month we need our leaders to show leadership, and show the Commonwealth that it must not be business as usual. They can do this by following the Canadian Prime Minister's example and announcing that if the summit happens then they will not go. This is the most effective way we can put the pressure on the Commonwealth to act. We are going to ask this of every Commonwealth country, but we are starting with the UK. 

Please sign the petition here

Desmond Tutu, Mary Robinson, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Geoffrey Robertson QC, the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Select Committee, the Royal Commonwealth society President Peter Kellner, Bloomberg, the Washington Post, the Guardian, prominent Caribbean diplomat Sir Ronald Saunders, David Milliband, Malcolm Rifkind, Ricken Patel (the founder of Avaaz), those campaigning for the murdered tourist Khurram Sheikh, Amnesty International, Forum Asia, the Asian Legal Resource Centre, Civicus, the Commonwealth Journalists Association, the East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project, the Human Rights Law Centre (Australia), Human Rights Watch, the International Crisis Group, the International Federation for Human Rights, Minority Rights Group International, the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative and a number of Sri Lankan NGOs have already said this summit is a bad idea.   

But it is your voice the politicians need to hear.

Please sign the petition.

The Human Rights Council passes its resolution

The Human Rights Council has once again passed a resolution on Sri Lanka.

The vote was proposed by 42 nations.

Austria, Belgium*, Bulgaria*, Canada*, Croatia*, Denmark*, Estonia, Finland*, France*, Georgia*, Germany, Greece*, Hungary*, Iceland*, Ireland, Italy, Liechtenstein*, Lithuania*, Malta*, Monaco*, Montenegro, Norway*, Poland, Portugal*, Romania, Saint Kitts and Nevis*, Slovakia*, Slovenia*, Spain, Sweden*, Switzerland, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland*, United States of America, Czech Republic, *Albania, *Australia, *Bosnia and Herzogovina, *Cameroon, *Cyprus, *Latvia, *The Netherlands and *New Zealand

A * means that these sponsors are not HRC members, only one sponsor has to me.

The vote was passed 25 votes to 13.

These countries voted in favour:

Benin, the Ivory Coast, Libya, Sierra Leone, India, Korea, Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Peru, Austria, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Spain, Switzerland, USA, Czech Republic, Estonia, Montenegro, Poland, Romania, Moldova.

These countries voted against:

Venezuela, Ecuador, UAE, Thailand, Qatar, Philippines, Pakistan, Maldives, Kuwait, Indonesia, Uganda, Mauritania, Congo (Rep not DR)

These countries abstained:

 Ethiopia, Angola, Botswana, Burkina Faso, Kenya, Japan, Kazakhstan, Malaysia.

None of the countries who were members last year (italics) changed their vote.

The new members (non italic) voted 9-3-4. Those they replaced had last year voted 8-5-4 (For: Cameroon, Mauritius, Nigeria, Mexico, Uruguay, Belgium, Norway, Hungary. Against: Russia, Cuba, Saudi Arabia, Bangladesh, China. Abstain: Djibouti, Senegal, Jordan, Kyrgyzstan)

Somalia, Israel, and Luxemburg cosponsored the resolution last year but not this year. Albania, Bosnia, Montenegro and St Kitts sponsored this year but not last year.

Here is the wording of the resolution that passed:

A/HRC/22/L.1/Rev.1

Human Rights Council

Twenty-second session

Agenda item 2

Annual report of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and reports of the Office of the High Commissioner and the Secretary-General


The Human Rights Council,

Reaffirming the purposes and principles of the Charter of the United Nations,

Guided by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenants on Human Rights and other relevant instruments,

Bearing in mind General Assembly resolution 60/251 of 15 March 2006,

Recalling Human Rights Council resolutions 5/1, on institution-building of the Council, and 5/2, on the code of conduct for special procedures mandate holders, of 18 June 2007,

Recalling also Human Rights Council resolution 19/2 of 22 March 2012 on promoting reconciliation and accountability in Sri Lanka,

Reaffirming that it is the responsibility of each State to ensure the full enjoyment of all human rights and fundamental freedoms of its entire population,

Reaffirming also that States must ensure that any measure taken to combat terrorism complies with their obligations under international law, in particular international human rights law, international refugee law and international humanitarian law, as applicable,

Welcoming the announcement made by the Government of Sri Lanka that elections to the Provincial Council in the Northern Province will be held in September 2013,

Welcoming and acknowledging the progress made by the Government of Sri Lanka in rebuilding infrastructure, demining, and resettling the majority of internally displaced persons, and noting nonetheless that considerable work lies ahead in the areas of justice, reconciliation and the resumption of livelihoods, and stressing the importance of the full participation of local populations, including representatives of civil society and minorities, in these efforts,

Taking note of the report of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission of Sri Lanka and its findings and recommendations, and acknowledging its possible contribution to the process of national reconciliation in Sri Lanka,

Taking note also of the national plan of action to implement the recommendations of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission of the Government of Sri Lanka and its commitments as set forth in response to the findings and recommendations of the Commission,

Noting that the national plan of action does not adequately address all of the findings and constructive recommendations of the Commission,

Recalling the constructive recommendations contained in the Commission’s report, including the need to credibly investigate widespread allegations of extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances, demilitarize the north of Sri Lanka, implement impartial land dispute resolution mechanisms, re-evaluate detention policies, strengthen formerly independent civil institutions, reach a political settlement on the devolution of power to the provinces, promote and protect the right of freedom of expression for all and enact rule of law reforms,

Noting with concern that the national plan of action and the Commission’s report do not adequately address serious allegations of violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law,

Expressing concern at the continuing reports of violations of human rights in Sri Lanka, including enforced disappearances, extrajudicial killings, torture and violations of the rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly, as well as intimidation of and reprisals against human rights defenders, members of civil society and journalists, threats to judicial independence and the rule of law, and discrimination on the basis of religion or belief,

Calling upon the Government of Sri Lanka to fulfil its public commitments, including on the devolution of political authority, which is integral to reconciliation and the full enjoyment of human rights by all members of its population,

Expressing appreciation for the efforts of the Government of Sri Lanka in facilitating the visit of a technical mission from the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, and encouraging the Government to increase its dialogue and cooperation with the Office of the High Commissioner,

Noting the call made by the High Commissioner for an independent and credible international investigation into alleged violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law,

1. Welcomes the report of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights on advice and technical assistance for the Government of Sri Lanka on promoting reconciliation and accountability in Sri Lanka[1] and the recommendations and conclusions contained therein, in particular on the establishment of a truth-seeking mechanism as an integral part of a more comprehensive and inclusive approach to transitional justice;

2. Encourages the Government of Sri Lanka to implement the recommendations made in the report of the Office of the High Commissioner, and also calls upon the Government to conduct an independent and credible investigation into allegations of violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law, as applicable;

3. Reiterates its call upon the Government of Sri Lanka to implement effectively the constructive recommendations made in the report of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission, and to take all necessary additional steps to fulfil its relevant legal obligations and commitment to initiate credible and independent actions to ensure justice, equity, accountability and reconciliation for all Sri Lankans;

4. Encourages the Government of Sri Lanka to cooperate with special procedures mandate holders and to respond formally to their outstanding requests, including by extending invitations and providing access;

5. Encourages the Office of the High Commissioner and relevant special procedures mandate holders to provide, in consultation with and with the concurrence of the Government of Sri Lanka, advice and technical assistance on implementing the above-mentioned steps;

6. Requests the Office of the High Commissioner, with input from relevant special procedures mandate holders, as appropriate, to present an oral update to the Human Rights Council at its twenty-fourth session, and a comprehensive report followed by a discussion on the implementation of the present resolution at its twenty-fifth session.

 [1] A/HRC/22/38.


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20/03/2013

Five infographics about Sri Lanka

Over the last few weeks we've created a number of infographics to highlight the current situation in Sri Lanka. We commissioned them, but we have left our logos off them to allow people to share them as freely as they like. So please do. Use them however you like, the more people who see this information the better.

We've embedded all five below and you are free to download them. Additionally after each one we have linked to where we have spread them over a number of social media platforms and so you are free to use these links to share them more widely.

1 Sri Lanka's north is under military occupation

This was shared on twitter, facebook, pinterest, imgur, and reddit.

2 Mahinda Samarasinghe, the President's envoy, says the military is not involved in civilian life

This was shared on twitter, facebook, pinterest, imgur, and reddit.

3 The decreasing circles of accountability in Sri Lanka


This was shared on twitter, facebook, pinterest, imgur, and reddit.

4 The intensity of the conflict


This was shared on twitter, facebook, pinterest, imgur, and reddit.

5 Nepotism in Sri Lanka

This was shared on twitter, facebook, pinterest, imgur, and reddit.

19/03/2013

DMK pullout FAQ

Q What is happening?

The DMK, Tamil Nadu’s largest political party, has pulled out of the ruling coalition in India because it feels India has not taken strong enough action over war crimes allegations in Sri Lanka. The DMK has 18 seats and some sources say the Government of India has a majority of 13 – so this action has been said by some to end the majority in the Indian Parliament.

While the DMK have said that they have pulled out of the Government they have not made final arrangements to do so (it has not sent a letter to the President formally signalling its intent), and it may be possible that they can be persuaded to stay in the coalition if tougher action is taken. Events are unfolding rapidly; this site is doing a minute-by-minute update service.

Q So has the Indian Government lost its majority?

There are various different ways of measuring how large a majority the Indian Government has. You need 272 seats for a majority. Previously the coalition had a total of 248 seats, and it had the outside support of 59 more (SP - 22, BSP - 21, RJD - 4, JD (S) - 3 and Independents - 9), making it a total of 307. The DMK's withdrawal brings the coalition down to 230, but with the outside support of 59, it still has 289 seats.

But some of these parties were more supportive than others and so not everybody agrees that you can count on these parties for outside support. This is particularly true of the SP, and its by not counting the SP that you get the headline that the Indian government had a majority of 13 and has now lost it. Others say the Government never had a majority (or that it lost it a few months ago when some other parties left the coalition) and others maintain that the Government still has a majority. Regardless, what is clear is that the Indian Government will continue, but that it will now struggle to pass legislation.

Q What action do they want?

The Human Rights Council, a body of the UN that meets in Geneva, is currently considering a resolution regarding Sri Lanka. This resolution will probably be voted upon on Friday – a simple majority of the 47 member states have to vote in favour for it to pass. The text is proposed by the USA and can be read here. India have said they will support the resolution but behind the scenes it is believed that India was a key force behind watering down the resolution.

The DMK believe that rather than weakening the resolution India should work to strengthen it. In particular they believe that the resolution should use the term “genocide” to describe what took place in Sri Lanka.

Q Is this possible?

The draft resolution can be technically amended right up to the moment of adoption which could be as late as Friday afternoon this week. However, amendments need to be politically acceptable to all co-sponsors and the challenge would be to get the necessary political acceptance, including instruction from the capital city for many or most delegations.

The Indian Government have suggested that the term genocide can’t be used until after an international investigation has taken place, and so can’t be used in this resolution. While there may be no procedural rule to that effect that is likely to be politically true, and furthermore any resolution that mentions genocide would be highly likely to then fail to receive enough votes to pass.

Q What is desirable?

We have long insisted that what Sri Lanka needs is an independent international investigation into the war crimes, and crimes against humanity, that both sides participated in in the final stages of Sri Lanka’s civil war. This resolution falls short of delivering that.

Nevertheless, this resolution is a positive step: it builds on the resolution that was passed at last year’s Human Rights Council but uses stronger language and gives an enhanced mandate to UN experts (known as Special Rapporteurs and Special Procedure Mandate Holders) to hold the Government of Sri Lanka to account over human rights violations – and it’s an important step on the road towards the international investigation we need. It is very important that the resolution not be abandoned as a result of this controversy.

That said, this resolution is much weaker than it could have been, and hopefully this controversy will enable the resolution to be strengthened: either in terms of language, or by more clearly allowing the High Commissioner of Human Rights to investigate war crimes allegations, or even by asking for the independent international investigation we so clearly need. India was previously thought to be a major road block to that kind of strengthening – hopefully that road block has been removed.

However what would not be helpful would be for the term genocide to be included. It is entirely possible that the final stages of Sri Lanka’s civil war, when 40-70,000 people died in the space of a few months fit the test for a genocidal incident. It is also possible that the ongoing disruption of normal life in the North, the destruction of mosques and temples, the building of Buddhist stupas, and the promotion of Sinhalese Buddhist supremacy fit the pattern of a cultural genocide. It is also possible that the LTTE’s (the Tamil Tigers) removal of the Muslim community from the north be considered a form of cultural genocide, and that the Sri Lankan Army’s brutal suppression of the Marxists Nationalist JVP uprising be considered a Cambodia-style self-genocide. However the inclusion of the word genocide in this particular resolution will not advance that debate. The only thing it will achieve is to ensure that the Human Rights Council resolution dies, and that would be an enormously wasted opportunity.

In short?

What we really need is an independent international investigation but this resolution is a positive development. It should have been more demanding, but it might be too late to change the resolution now. If India wants to win back support in Chennai they must propose tough action via the Commonwealth.

Q What else could happen?

If the Government of India wants to win support in Tamil Nadu it shouldn’t just think about the Human Rights Council. The biennial Commonwealth summit (CHOGM) is to be hosted in Sri Lanka this November and many people feel this meeting should now be cancelled. Moreover key figures in the Commonwealth (The Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group or CMAG, who next meet on April 26th) are considering taking strong action against Sri Lanka. India has been silent on both these points, but could now push for the commonwealth to take a stand.

Additionally the administrative head of the Commonwealth (the Secretary General) is a former senior Indian diplomat called Kamalesh Sharma – he is thought to be close to Sonia Gandhi. He has been less than neutral in his handling of Sri Lanka before the commonwealth and has continually shielded Sri Lanka from human rights investigations. India could pass him a message that defending the Government of Sri Lanka in this way is not helpful.

Q What have the major human rights organisations said about the resolution?

Amnesty International
The Human Rights Council should establish a Council mechanism devoted to monitoring and reporting to the Council on the current human rights situation in Sri Lanka and should throw its support behind growing demands for an independent international investigation into allegations of crimes under international law committed in Sri Lanka.
HRW
Over the past year the Sri Lankan government has alternated between threatening activists who seek justice and making small, cynical gestures to keep the international community at bay, the Human Rights Council should dismiss these tactics, end the delays and authorize an independent, international investigation into the estimated 40,000 civilian deaths at the conflict’s end.
ICG
Strong international action should begin with Sri Lanka’s immediate referral to the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG) and a new resolution from the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) calling for concrete, time-bound actions to restore the rule of law, investigate rights abuses and alleged war crimes by government forces and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), and devolve power to Tamil and Muslim areas of the north and east.
MRG
In this context, MRG says, international action is now crucial. It calls on the UN Human Rights Council to start a formal discussion on both the LLRC report and the UN Panel report with the aim of establishing an independent international mechanism to investigate fully the credible allegations of violations of international humanitarian committed by all parties involved in the armed conflict and to monitor progress towards the implementation of an effective transitional justice process by the Government of Sri Lanka.

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12/03/2013

Attacks on Sri Lanka's Muslim community

Al Wasat is the biggest selling broadsheet in Bahrain. They just published an article (in Arabic) on the increasingly aggressive attacks on Sri Lanka's Muslim community. The article was based on the work of the Minority Rights Group and their recent report on the same issue (also available in Arabic).

It should be noted that since this report BBS, who feature in the report substantially, have opened a leadership academy. The President's brother Gotabaya Rajapaska was guest of honour at the opening and spoke effusively about BBS. Another mosque was also recently vandalised and a pig was drawn on it.

You can read the report below in English, or in Arabic here, or in French here, or in Spanish here:

Muslims face persecution as new wave of violence erupts in Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka is facing a new wave of brutality that has seen minority Muslims subjected to violence and persecution, often at the hands of militant Buddhists.

There have been scores of attacks on the country’s Muslims in recent weeks. Widespread death threats have also been reported in what appears to be part of a growing campaign to destroy Muslim communities or drive them into exile.

Sri Lankan officials have been accused of openly encouraging hostility towards Muslims. Such claims risk undermining fragile efforts to foster ethnic harmony on an island still reeling from the bloody 2009 conclusion to the civil war between government troops and ethnic Tamil rebels.

A poster in Sinhala urges locals to boycott Muslim
 owned shops
And with international focus still directed at well-documented atrocities committed by both sides during the conflict, the plight of the island’s marginalised Muslims is in danger of being overlooked by the global community.

Efforts to persecute Muslims have gathered pace in recent weeks. They have coincided with the emergence of Bodu Bala Sena -- or Buddhist Power Force -- an increasingly hardline pressure group that campaigns to promote Buddhism and the cultural interests of the country’s ethnic Sinhalese majority.

The group, which counts many Buddhist monks among its ranks, last month rallied thousands of supporters in the Sri Lankan capital Colombo to call for an abolition of halal methods used to prepare food according to Muslim beliefs.

They have also demanded measures to increase Sinhalese dominance in Sri Lanka. These include an end to birth control so that Sinhalese population numbers will flourish, and calls for some proponents of Islam to be banished.

Intimidation aimed at of other aspects of daily Islamic life is also now disturbingly commonplace in Sri Lanka. Wearing of beards by men, traditional hijab veils by women and the observance of prayer times have all been condemned by extremists seeking to fuel sectarian hatred.

Bodu Bala Sena insists it is not involved in any intimidation or violence directed at Muslims, blaming duplicate groups.

Nevertheless, the persecution of Muslims through attacks on mosques, death threats, business boycotts, and property seizure is on the rise. There are also claims that women have been forcibly sterilised. 

"I feel there is no space for any religion other than Buddhism in this country,” says Shreen Abdul Saroor, a Muslim Sri Lankan human rights worker. “It breaks our hearts that, since the end of the war, intolerance and hatred towards all the minority communities have grown to this extent.”

Much of this persecution is carried out with apparent impunity. Sri Lanka’s president, Mahinda Rajapaksa, has urged Buddhists to promote religious harmony, however in some cases senior government figures have been accused of supporting policies aimed at restricting Muslim activities or even of involvement in direct action.

One Sinhalese government minister, Mervyn Silva, staged raids on Muslim properties to seize hundreds of cattle earmarked for ritual slaughter. Silva insisted any animal deaths would violate Buddhist principles and threatened brutal punishment for anyone who went against him.

Muslims say some elements of Sri Lanka’s mainstream media have sought to legitimise restrictions on religious freedoms by portraying the country as a Buddhist nation at risk from aggressive “Islamisation.” They fear such views have support at the highest level.

Last April the government ordered the removal of a mosque at Dambulla, a Buddhist pilgrimage town north of Colombo, following disputed claims that the 60-year-old structure had been built in on land belonging to a Buddhist temple.

Issued by Prime Minister D.M. Jayaratne, the order followed an incident in which a mob led by Buddhist monks tried to storm the mosque during Friday prayers. Protesters broke through police lines and caused damage to the building as well as copies of the Quran and other sacred texts.

The incident has raised ethnic and religious tensions that were already high in the aftermath of the civil war. It has provoked concerns that, after years of stoking Buddhist extremism for political gain during the recent war and subsequent elections, the government has created a ruthless and unpredictable force it is now incapable or unwilling to control.

Muslims are traditionally tolerated by the Sinhalese who make up three quarters of Sri Lanka’s population of 21 million. Following the forcible expulsion of 72,000 Muslims from Tamil-controlled northern territories in 1990, Sinhalese leaders sought Muslim support in the conflict.

But there are now fears that the Dambulla attack could be the catalyst for more widespread sectarian violence in Sri Lanka in the same way that the 1992 destruction of a mosque in the Indian city of Ayodhya led to successive waves of deadly violence.

Such concerns are borne out by a litany of other incidents in which Muslims have been subjected to low-level harassment, direct threats or violence.

In May last year stone-throwing protestors damaged a mosque in Dehiwala on the outskirts of Colombo. Meanwhile, in the northern town of Kurunegala, Buddhists forced users of another mosque into signing a document pledging not to use the building for religious purposes.

Kurunegala was the scene of further unrest in July when a group of 150 protestors led by a Buddhist monk entered a mosque and threatened worshippers. In the same month, Buddhists persuaded police to close down a mosque on the outskirts of Colombo and, separately, a Muslim educational centre.

August 2012 saw the launch in Dambulla of a public campaign calling for a boycott of Muslim shops. Leaflets distributed around the town also urged people not to sell land to Muslims and claimed that the Sri Lanka's Muslim population would rise from eight to 30 percent within a decade. Similar campaigns have since been held in other parts of the country.

The anti-Islamic movement now seems to have any institutions or buildings with Muslim connections in its sights. Last October, thousands of demonstrators congregated on Bangladesh's embassy in Colombo to rage against the treatment of Buddhists in the Bangladeshi region of Chittagong. Sri Lanka's law college has also suffered an attack in January over claims that the legal profession was being dominated by Muslims.

Also last October, unidentified attackers torched a mosque in the northern city of Anuradhapura. Muslim worshippers were forced to reconvene in a nearby family home which is now facing calls for closure from Buddhists. Muslims here have also faced demands for their expulsion.

In recent weeks, the campaign against halal products mounted by Bodhu Bala Sena has generated ugly demonstrations. It has also spilled over into social networking websites, which are being used to spread messages of hatred and insults to Islamic beliefs and texts.

Sri Lankan rights groups have demanded investigations into these attempts to persecute and intimidate investigations. Many incidents, particularly the government’s order to remove the Dambulla mosque, clearly flout international conventions on minority rights and religious freedoms.

Human rights abuses are a feature of life in Sri Lanka, where the rule of law appears to be deteriorating. Such problems belie the peaceful image of the island that is promoted to the crowds of foreign tourists it attracts annually.

Tens of thousand of Tamil civilians who survived the civil conflict are still interned in squalid camps. Extra-judicial killings have been documented, as have many attacks on journalists, lawyers and aid workers.

The targeting of Muslims and other religious minorities adds a disturbing new dimension to the appalling situation in Sri Lanka and strengthens the urgent need for international action.

Human rights campaigner Saroor says such persecution alongside abuses perpetrated during and after the civil war, demands the attention of the United Nations.

“We request an immediate assessment of growing religious intolerance through possible visits by the UN special rapporteur on minority rights and the UN special rapporteur on religious freedom,” she said.

“The Sri Lankan government must be held accountable by the UN Human Rights Council for war crimes and continuous infringement of minority rights."

06/03/2013

Coming soon: Haunted by her yesterdays

"Haunted by her yesterdays" is a new film by The Social Architects. There will be selected screenings on Friday to mark International Women's Day, after that we will be working to make sure as many people as possible can see it. Watch this space for details.....

Haunted by her yesterdays

This documentary tells a story of silent agony, trapped screams and repressed mourning. A story of women forced to deny their identity – who are trapped in between a government which sees them as “Tigers,” and a society whose norms they are no longer deemed worthy of.

These women fought bravely alongside men as members of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) during Sri Lanka’s bloody thirty-year civil war. From protectors and defenders of their families, villages and nation, thousands of female ex-combatants have now returned home to assume more traditional roles as mothers, wives, widows, and teachers – in communities where they are perpetually shunned. Through several powerful voices, “Haunted by Her Yesterdays” allows a few to share their pain and suffering – the wounds that remain unhealed, the scars that are impossible to ignore and the hearts that still burn with pain, passion and grief – for the world to hear. This film is a gripping tale of loss, betrayal and struggle, but –above all else – it is a search for inspiration and a call for action. As the country’s war-torn North and East struggles to rebuild itself, this documentary tells a deeply moving story that has been overlooked for far too long.

The Social Architects:

Created in 2012, The Social Architects (TSA) are composed of a diverse group of writers, intellectuals and working professionals. While most of TSA’s members hail from the country’s North and East, the group also includes other scholars and activists who have been working on Sri Lankan issues. TSA seeks to educate, to inform and to provide timely, thoughtful analysis on a range of topics.

TSA has written numerous reports and articles including: Salt on Old Wounds: The Sinhalization of Sri Lanka’s North, East and Hill Country and Giving Reconciliation in Sri Lanka a Better Chance: A Shadow Action Plan for the LLRC. The organization’s writing has appeared in a range of outlets such as Groundviews and International Policy Digest.

This March TSA will be releasing The Numbers Never Lie – a comprehensive report which assesses the Sri Lankan government’s implementation of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) recommendations.

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Sri Lanka stops Tamils civilians from expressing their right to protest

 Eleven bus load of people (approximately 700 persons) from Jaffna, were stopped in Vavuniya and prevented from continuing their journey to Colombo; where they intended to protest to demand justice for relatives who have disappeared, or been detained, since the end of the country’s civil war in 2009.


These peoples, mostly women, are part of the Tamil ethnic minority, and have seen many of its members disappeared after the civil war, disappearances for which victimized families are now claiming justice and accountability.


This protest was supposed to take place next to the Columbia UN Office on the 6th of March 2013, while the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) is in session.


When trying to reach the Omanthai check post, a special escort came to take them to Vavuniya, where protestors and drivers were interrogated by the Terrorist Investigation Division (TID) and the Criminal Investigation Division (CID). Since then, victimized protestors have been kept under military surveillance. It was only after 3 hours and intense negotiations that they were allowed to move to places where they could rest. Bus drivers, having been personally threatened for carrying Tamil protestors, have, for the most part, decided to go back; leaving the people behind. Only two buses remained for 700 people.


As a consequence, the Tamil civilian group protested in Vavuniya. After some of the family members gave a speech in the Urban council ground, the whole group walked in the direction of the Kachchari (government offices) and sat down for two hours at the entrance. The Government Agent who finally appeared accepted the appeal and the protest ended around 3.30.


The pretext used by the security forces to justify the blockage was that they were not able to guarantee the safety of the travellers at night. This contrasts with the recurring position of the Government for Sri Lanka (GoSL) that normalcy has returned, and people have the freedom to travel at any time anywhere.

 
This ill justified action represents a clear attempt to prevent the fundamental right of freedom of expression. The Government of Sri Lanka has effectively blocked hundreds of family members of the disappeared from reaching Colombo and protesting outside the UN Office.

This anti-democratic government’s decision shows the emptiness of the Government’s promises of upholding the rule of law and human rights made recently in the Human Rights Council.


Hopefully coverage of this issue will cause Human Rights Council members, and all other democratic organisations and institutions, to strengthen their recommendations to Sri Lanka and so force the Government to take adequate measures to ensure the observation of the human rights.

 

04/03/2013

Sri Lanka dominates Human Rights Council discussion on twitter

Last week we and a group of other organisations ran a couple of initiatives designed to raise the profile of human rights abuses in Sri Lanka on twitter.

On Wednesday the President's envoy on human rights Mahinda Samarasinghe delivered his speech and we were on hand to correct his factual innacuracies. Sri Lankan civil society also came out with a statement decrying the speech.

Then on Friday we ran a series of co-ordinated tweets drawing attention to the situation in Sri Lanka using the hashtag #UNlk. We were joined by @francesharris0n, @acf_france, @freefromtorture, @cpjasia, and various members of Human Rights Watch.

Using"hashtracking" we can see that the last 250 tweets could have reached a combined total of up to 979,026 people (reach measures the number of tweeters who follow each person who tweeted, so it tends to be an overestimate as obviously not all your followers will be signed into twitter when you tweet) and the phrase #UNlk could have appeared on twitter screeens 4,356,691 times (timeline deliveries multiples reach by number of tweets sent - so again tends to be an overestimate). Here's a screengrab on which i've superimposed the figures you get by hovering.



Using "Topsy" you can see that we dominated Human Rights Council both on Thursday and Friday (that highest peak on Feb 21st was the HRC session opening and all the official tweets that came with it).


Note Topsy's figures will be lower than hastracking as Topsy's methodology is to ignore all tweets that weren't either retweeted, or had a link which someone clicked, as irrelevant.

So thank you to everyone who took part. And if you are on twitter please contine to follow the story at #UNlk.

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