(New York) – The Sri Lankan government’s announcement that it was ending its special inquiry into conflict-related abuses underscores the need for an international commission to investigate violations of international law by government forces and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, Human Rights Watch said today.
“Sri Lanka’s presidential commission of inquiry started with a bang and ended with a whimper,” said Elaine Pearson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “The need for an international inquiry into abuses by both sides is greater than ever.”
The mandate of the Presidential Commission of Inquiry, which was established in 2006 and assigned to investigate 16 incidents of killings, enforced disappearances, assassinations and other serious abuses, expired on June 14, 2009 and reportedly was not renewed. Although the commission’s chairman, former Supreme Court chief justice Nissanka Udalagama, said that seven of the 16 cases had been investigated, none of the commission’s reports have been released or any other public action taken. Among the cases the commission investigated was the brutal killing of five students in Trincomalee, the summary execution of 17 aid workers in Mutur, and the bomb attack that killed 68 bus passengers in Kebitigollewa. Human Rights Watch has expressed concern about the slow pace of the investigations and President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s unwillingness to release the investigation reports.
The last weeks of the war heightened the need for an independent and impartial inquiry. Fighting in northeastern Sri Lanka intensified from early January until the government’s defeat of the LTTE in May. During that period, both sides were implicated in numerous serious violations of the laws of war. LTTE forces used displaced persons as “human shields,” and fired on civilians who tried to flee the conflict area. Government forces repeatedly fired heavy artillery into densely populated areas, including at hospitals caring for the wounded.
During the special session on Sri Lanka of the UN Human Rights Council in May, the UN high commissioner for human rights, Navi Pillay, said that an “independent and credible international investigation into recent events should be dispatched to ascertain the occurrence, nature and scale of violations of international human rights and international humanitarian law, as well as specific responsibilities.”
On May 23, Rajapaksa and the UN secretary-general, Ban Ki-moon, issued a joint statement from Sri Lanka in which the government said it “will take measures to address” the need for an accountability process for violations of international humanitarian and human rights law.
“The decision to disband the presidential commission shows that President Rajapaksa has little intention of fulfilling his promise to Secretary-General Ban,” said Pearson. “It’s now up to concerned governments to step in and ensure that justice is done for the victims of abuses in Sri Lanka’s long war.”
There have been serious ongoing violations of human rights in Sri Lanka and a backlog of cases of enforced disappearance and unlawful killings that run to the tens of thousands, as described for example in the 2008 Human Rights Watch report “Recurring Nightmare.” Despite this track record, there have been only a small number of prosecutions.
Human Rights Watch said the presidential commission of inquiry was just the latest inadequate and incomplete effort by the Sri Lankan government to investigate serious human rights abuses and bring those responsible to justice. Other efforts to address violations through the establishment of ad hoc mechanisms in Sri Lanka produced few results, either in providing information or leading to prosecutions.
- Extrajudicial Killings
- State Responsibility for Enforced Disappearances
- Arbitrary arrests and Detention
- Forcible Returns of IDPs
- Threats to Journalists and Media Restrictions
- Recruitment of Child Soldiers
- Safety of Humanitarian Workers
- Culture of Impunity
“Police and military investigations into the killing of Tamils [and] ddeaths in custody have too often been poorly handled and remarkably few convictions have resulted. . . . from November 2004 to October 2005 the police [fatally] shot at least 22 criminal suspects after taking them into custody. . . . in one of these cases had an internal police inquiry been opened.”
“[D]uring 2006, witnesses in Mutur identified to the Magistrate most of the perpetrators of more than 20 incidents of murder and abduction. The Police in Mutur arrested no one.”
“[T] the army – assisted by pro-government Tamil paramilitaries – is also engaged in a deliberate policy of extrajudicial killings and abductions of Tamils considered part of LTTE’s civilian support network. Targeted assassinations have been particularly frequent in Jaffna and parts of the east, often victimising civilians with no connection to the LTTE.”
State Responsibility for Enforced Disappearances:
“The Working Group is gravely concerned at the increase in reported cases of recent enforced disappearances in the country. . . . The Sri Lankan Army and the Criminal Investigation Department were allegedly responsible for a large number of these cases.”
“[T]he Government is not taking effective steps to bring rising numbers of disappearances under control. The path to achieving justice for the victims and their families is reportedly long and arduous, with delays and interferences by high officials in investigations and inquiries, as well as threats to witnesses and family members.”
“[T]here has yet to be an adequate investigation or credible public accounting for the vast majority of [abductions and disappearances].”
“Sri Lanka [is] among the countries with the highest number of new cases in the world.
The victims are primarily young ethnic Tamil men who ‘disappear’—often after being picked up by government security forces in the country’s embattled north and east, but also in the capital Colombo.”
“As with killings, Tamils suffered disproportionately from abductions – 64.6%, compared with 3% Sinhalese and 3% Muslims. Men represented nearly 98% of all missing persons.”
“Accounts from family members indicate that the police failed to take even the most basic investigative actions to search for the victim or identify the perpetrators. They did not visit the place of the abduction, did not question eyewitnesses, and did not follow the leads provided by the families.”
Arbitrary Arrests and Detention:
“[Emergency Regulations] grant the security forces sweeping powers of arrest and detention, allowing the authorities to hold a person without charge based on vaguely defined accusations for up to 12 months. Over the past 18 months, the Rajapaksa government has detained an undetermined number of people reaching into the hundreds”
“As the conflict intensifies and government forces are implicated in a longer list of abuses, from arbitrary arrests and ‘disappearances’ to war crimes, the government has displayed a clear unwillingness to hold accountable those responsible for serious violations of international human rights and humanitarian law.”
“Although individual cases of killings and disappearances are reported almost daily in the media, no official Sri Lankan body has produced public reports of killings and disappearances.”
“They just took him away—I kept asking where they were taking him, but they said they would inquire and bring him back. When they left, I followed them. They took him to a place not far from where we live. There was a house there, and for a while they kept him there; he was just standing near the wall and I could see him. The military then chased me away, and I don’t know where they took him from there.”
“I asked where they were taking him again and he
showed me the pistol again and then they took him away. . . . It all happened in front of my eyes—I stood with the kids some 10 meters away. I ran there, screaming, ‘Where are you taking him. Please, let him go!’ In response, one of the soldiers unfastened a strap from his gun and lashed me, saying, ‘Go away, he is not here; if you lost your husband, go and ask the police.’”
Forcible Returns of IDPs:
“Violence, coercion and intimidation from the State were constant companions of the refugees from the time they reached the government-controlled area. . . . ordered to get into buses without notice, they were beaten by the security forces, parted from children who were at school, and told that if they remained their huts would be bombed or if caught on the road in Batticaloa with a Trincomalee ID, they face an uncertain future.”
“Sri Lanka [is] among the countries with the worst displacement situations around the world. . . . On May 14, 2007, the military began to resettle some 90,000 internally displaced people in Batticaloa District to their home villages. With their houses and crops looted they have had to face tough food and livelihood challenges. International aid organizations as well as United Nations bodies have voiced concern about the government forcing IDPs to return to areas ravaged by fighting. Pressuring displaced persons to return to their homes conflicts with UN-recognized principles and is contradictory to the Sri Lankan government’s repeated promises not to enforce resettlement.”
“[P]rotection of the displaced persons in Batticaloa cannot be guaranteed. The armed Karuna group, a proxy force of the government that broke away from the LTTE in March 2004, has been seen in and around various camps situated in government controlled areas. It has threatened and sometimes used violence against displaced people and the local population, as well as against NGOs. Numerous abductions of IDPs by the Karuna Group were also reported.”
“The Special Rapporteur was shocked at the brutality of some of the torture measures applied to persons suspected of being LTTE members, such as burnings with soldering irons and suspension by thumbs.”
“[T]orture is widely practised in Sri Lanka. . . . torture has become a routine practice in the context of counter-terrorism operations, both by the police and the armed forces.”
“There is a nationwide pattern of custodial torture in Sri . . . . The vast majority of custodial deaths in Sri Lanka are caused not by rogue police but by ordinary officers taking part in an established routine.”
“[C]ontinued well-documented allegations of widespread torture and ill-treatment as well as disappearances, mainly committed by the State’s police forces . . . . are not investigated promptly and impartially by the State party’s competent authorities.”
“[J]ournalists and media workers in Sri Lanka are daily confronting grave threats to the safety of themselves and their families. . . . the failure of Sri Lanka’s security personnel to act to prevent threats and attacks on journalists and media workers and to bring those responsible to account indicates that the State has relinquished its role as keeper of the peace.”
“Journalists, editors, and publishers are now regular targets of intimidation and violent attacks by various groups. Since January 2006 at least seven have been murdered. Numerous other journalists have been abducted, physically attacked, threatened or forced into exile.”
“In April 2007 Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapakse is alleged to have threatened the editor of the independent newspaper The Daily Mirror after it published articles seen as critical of TMVP activities. Rajapakse is reported to have said the stories had angered the Karuna faction and could provoke a violent response, in which case the editor should not expect any security from the government. The Emergency Regulations have been used to detain journalists and newspaper operators.”
“[S]enior members of Sri Lanka’s Government and security personnel have made inflammatory comments condemning journalists as traitors, implicitly allowing for the incitement of violence against journalists and media institutions. . . . Government Minister Mervyn Silva is allegedly linked to continuing threats and attacks against people who witnessed or reported on an incident at the office of the Sri Lanka Rupavahini Corporation (SLRC) in late December.”
“Eleven Sri Lankan journalists and other media practitioners have been killed by various parties to the conflict since August 2005. To date, no one has been convicted for any of the killings. Tamil journalists work under severe threat from both the LTTE and government forces.”
“Tamil journalists, especially in the north and east, have been frequently subject to intimidation and harassment by the security forces and armed groups. Since the beginning of 2006 over two dozen Tamil media workers have been abducted, threatened, assaulted or killed.”
“There has been no evidence to date that any measures have been instituted by the police or the security forces to secure the release of the children abducted, recruited and used by the TMVP/Karuna faction despite clear knowledge of the same by the police or the security forces.”
“Grave concern was also expressed about the development of a recent but increasing pattern of abduction and recruitment of children in the eastern region by the Karuna faction. . . . [and] about the fact that the Karuna faction had abducted children in areas considered to be Government controlled, raising questions about the complicity of certain elements of the security forces.”
“[The mission] found strong and credible evidence that certain elements of the government security forces are supporting and sometimes participating in the abductions and forced recruitment of children by the Karuna faction.”
“The Sri Lankan government is also violating international law by facilitating child recruitment by the Karuna. . . . The abductions of the Karuna group have taken place in areas of strict government control, with myriad military and police checkpoints. No armed group could engage in such largescale abductions and forced recruitment, training abductees in established camps, without government knowledge and at least tacit support. The police do not investigate the cases that parents report. The Sri Lankan government knows about the abductions and has not intervened.”
Safety of Humanitarian Workers:
“In the 24 month period between January 2006 – December 2007, there has been a killing or enforced disappearance of at least one person engaged in humanitarian service in every month, except March and October 2006.”
“Since 2006, numerous people engaged in humanitarian work have been killed and subjected to enforced disappearances. Many more individuals and organizations have been subjected to threats and attacks. Restrictions have been created which make it difficult or, in some cases, impossible to access civilians needing protection and assistance. . . . While some incidents such as the killing of 17 ACF staff in August 2006 in Mutur received public attention, many incidents received hardly any coverage in local and international media. . . . there has not been a single prosecution or conviction in any of the incidents.”
Culture of Impunity:
“[T]ake the missing [persons] list. Some have gone on their honeymoon without the knowledge of their household is considered missing. Parents have lodged complaints that their children have disappeared but in fact, we have found, they have gone abroad.… These disappearance lists are all figures. One needs to deeply probe into each and every disappearance. I do not say we have no incidents of disappearances and human rights violations, but I must categorically state that the government is not involved at all.”
“in the context of the armed conflict and of the emergency measures taken against terrorism, the weakness of the rule of law and prevalence of impunity is alarming”
“[C]ontinued well-documented allegations of widespread torture and ill-treatment as well as disappearances, mainly committed by the State’s police forces . . . . are not investigated promptly and impartially by the State party’s competent authorities.”
“[I] it is an enduring scandal that there have been virtually no convictions of government officials for killing Tamils, and many Tamils doubt that the rule of law will protect their lives.”
“The criminal justice system — police investigations, prosecutions, and trials — has utterly failed to provide accountability. Indeed, it is an enduring scandal that convictions of government officials for killing Tamils are virtually non-existent. . . . The time has come for the establishment of a full-fledged international human rights monitoring mission.”
“[T]here is a growing culture of impunity for perpetrators of enforceddisappearance . . . with delays and interferences by high officials in investigations and inquiries, as well as threats to witnesses and family members.”
“There has been no evidence to date that any measures have been instituted by,the police or the security forces to secure the release of the children abducted, recruited and used by the TMVP/Karuna faction despite clear knowledge of the same by the police or the security forces.”
“The failure to effectively prosecute government violence is a deeply-felt problem in Sri Lanka. The paucity of cases in which a government official – such as a soldier or police officer – has been convicted for the killing of a Tamil is an example. Few of my interlocutors could name any such case.”
“[W]e have uncovered information that reveals that the 17 aid workers were killed by at least one member of the Muslim Home Guard (Jehangir) and two police constables (Susantha and Nilantha) in the presence of the Sri Lankan Naval Special Forces. . . . The Police are more involved in perverting the evidence and silencing witnesses than in any real investigation.”
“The country has learnt to be comfortable with grave crimes going unpunished one after another, with the certainty that even graver ones would follow. The answer to the question why Sri Lanka is steeped in recurrent gross crimes, especially against the minorities, that go unchecked is not far to seek. . . . For years the State has gone on denying, obfuscating, abusing detractors, intimidating or killing witnesses and making matters progressively worse.”
“Many of the killings and disappearances, particularly around Colombo and Jaffna, have occurred in high security zones with heavy military presence; in Jaffna, many of these violations have occurred during military-imposed curfew times. In such cases, the involvement or complicity of security forces seems unavoidable.”
“The police are accused not only of a failure to act, but of active obstruction of justice in order to cover up the role of government forces in right violations”
“There is no doubt that TMVP forces are operating openly, extensively, and illegally in the Eastern province and in Colombo and that elements in the government are either facilitating their work or refusing to prevent it.”
Sri Lanka’s justice system, legal profession and media are all under grave threat, concludes a report published today by the International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI). The 155-page report entitled Justice in retreat: A report on the independence of the legal profession and the rule of law in Sri Lanka contains several recommendations to protect the independence of the judiciary, legal profession and media.
An IBAHRI delegation to Sri Lanka found that in recent years there has been an escalation of threats and physical attacks against lawyers filing fundamental rights applications and representing terrorist suspects, as well as cases of intimidation and harassment by the Government and the police authorities.
Lord Goodhart QC, who led the IBAHRI delegation to Sri Lanka between 28 February and 06 March 2009, said: ‘The IBAHRI report details a number of great concerns from the independence of the judiciary to violence against lawyers. It is imperative that, for example, lawyers in Sri Lanka be allowed to conduct their professional duties without fear of being attacked. It is absolutely unacceptable that lawyers representing terrorist suspects should find themselves listed on a government website which inappropriately implies that they, the lawyers, are linked to terrorist activity.’ He added, ‘Naming individual lawyers is wholly irresponsible and leaves them open to an increased risk of attack.’
The IBAHRI concluded that far from being isolated incidents, attacks against human rights lawyers form part of a pattern of intimidation routinely expressed against members of civil society, NGOs and journalists who are perceived to be critical or challenging of the Government or its policies, particularly with respect to the conflict with the LTTE. The brazen nature of these attacks, the lack of effective investigations and prosecutions and the consequential sense of impunity surrounding these incidents have created a climate of fear amongst the legal profession, journalists and civil society.
The IBAHRI also found that the judiciary has become increasingly vulnerable to political interference, and is concerned that Sri Lanka’s counter-terrorism legislation, in particular the emergency regulations, has had a detrimental impact on basic due process guarantees as well as freedom of expression.
An IBAHRI delegation first visited Sri Lanka in 2001; the 2009 IBAHRI delegation found that the state of the rule of law had deteriorated significantly since this first mission. Of particular concern is the widespread perception that that the judiciary is not independent. This has led to a rapid decline of public confidence in judicial processes. The lack of independent oversight and practice of exclusive presidential discretion over judicial appointments makes the judiciary susceptible to executive interference and jeopardises its independence. The current procedures for the disciplining and removal of judges are in urgent need of review. In particular, the Judicial Services Commission does not have adequate safeguards to ensure the transparency and independence of its decision-making process and is not able to guarantee a fair hearing for judges and judicial officers under investigation. The perception that the judiciary suffers from political influence has arisen in recent years due to the excessive influence of the Chief Justice, whom it is also believed has used the system of case allocation to sideline senior Supreme Court judges from hearing politically-sensitive cases.
With regard to the media, it appears that Sinhalese, Tamil and English language journalists have little room within the Sri Lankan media for dissenting viewpoints on ‘sensitive issues’, due to excessive governmental control and interference. The President reportedly holds monthly meetings with the editors and owners of all media institutions to maintain pressure on the media and to ensure compliance with the government position on issues relating to the armed conflict with the LTTE.
The IBAHRI reiterates the conclusion of the 2001 visit that Sri Lanka would benefit from an independent, pluralistic media which are free from state ownership and political influence. The use of criminal law, in particular under the counter-terrorism legislation, to detain and prosecute journalists who are considered to be critical of the Government is unacceptable.
The report contains detailed recommendations (Chapter 7) which the IBAHRI makes to the President, the new Chief Justice – due to be appointed in June – and the Government of Sri Lanka to implement as a matter of urgency in order to restore the rule of law in Sri Lanka.
The recommendations include:
- The IBAHRI calls on the President to promptly re-establish the Constitutional Council in accordance with the 17th Amendment to the Constitution, thus ensuring critical independent oversight of the proper functioning of Sri Lanka’s key institutions including the Judicial Services Commission (JSC).
- A return to the system of independent oversight of appointments of superior court judges with nominations being made or approved by the Constitutional Council.
- The appointment, transfer, dismissal or retirement of judges at all levels to be determined by a transparent and accountable system.
- To create a judicial environment where all extraneous influences on judicial decision making – whether originating from the executive, the JSC, within the judiciary or from any other quarter – are strongly discouraged and successfully repelled.
- The Government is encouraged to expedite the police investigations into the threats and attacks upon lawyers, and to ensure that they are independent, thorough and effective. The Government is urged to take preventative steps to ensure the security of lawyers under threat.
- The Government must refrain from publishing potentially inflammatory rhetoric against lawyers representing terrorist suspects, and from identifying attorneys with their clients’ causes. The article entitled ‘Who are the human rights violators?’ must be withdrawn from the website of the Ministry of Defence with immediate effect (It must also be removed from its archive).
- Independent, thorough and timely investigations, with a view to securing appropriate criminal charges, should be carried out in relation to each and every attack on journalists. There should be proper coordination between the law enforcement agencies with respect to the current investigations into the assassinations of journalists with a view to ensuring prompt and effective prosecutions.
- The Sri Lankan Bar Association should be more proactive in protecting the legal profession from political pressures.
- Planning should commence immediately – at a time when the armed hostilities in the northeast appear to be becoming less intense – for the gradual removal of the emergency regulations as quickly as possible after the cessation of the armed conflict in order to ensure that as little long-term damage as possible is caused to Sri Lanka’s democratic order.
- The Government should repeal any aspects of the Emergency Regulations and the Prevention of Terrorism Act which are not strictly necessary and proportionate to the apparently decreasing security threat currently being faced, with particular regard to basic due process guarantees.
- The Government and Sinhalese community should seek reconciliation and avoid triumphalism.
The full report, Justice in retreat: A report on the independence of the legal profession and the rule of law in Sri Lanka, can be downloaded from the International Bar Association website.
For further information please contact:
Romana St. Matthew – Daniel
International Bar Association
1 Stephen Street
London W1T 1AT
Direct Line: +44 (0)20 7691 6837
Main Office: +44 (0)20 7691 6868
Mobile: +44 (0)7940 731915
Fax: +44 (0)20 7691 6544
Notes to the Editor
The IBAHRI delegation comprised:
- Lord Goodhart QC, member of the House of Lords and former Vice President of the International Commission of Jurists;
- Mr Yeo Yang Poh, barrister at law and former President of the Malaysian Bar Association;
- Mr Alex Wilks, IBAHRI Programme Lawyer; and
- Ms Michelle Butler, barrister at law and mission rapporteur.
The delegation met with:
- A wide range of government officials;
- members of the judiciary;
- the attorney general’s office; and
- members of the legal profession, media and civil society.
Delegates also benefited from meetings with representatives of various foreign embassies and international organisations.
Statement From The Carter Center on Upcoming
U.N. Human Rights Council Elections
16 May 2008
The Carter Center calls on the General Assembly not to re-elect Sri Lanka to the Human Rights Council in the upcoming Council elections. Recently adopted reforms of the former Commission on Human Rights, including competitive elections, call for the conduct of a government to be a factor in whether it is selected for a seat on the Council.
In a March 5, 2006, New York Times opinion piece on the establishment of the Council, five Nobel Laureates, including former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, wrote, “With these new procedures and the articulation for the first time of standards for membership, we believe the new body will be led by countries with a greater commitment to human rights.” The expectation was that governments submitting their candidacies would be judged on their performance on human rights issues as a test of willingness to tackle tough problems and to assess honestly human rights violations wherever they occur.
Political resolve to abide by the new provision will be tested in the coming round of election to the Council’s membership. Will candidates be judged by their peers on the basis of their commitments to improve human rights conditions in their countries? There must be no return to the old habit whereby regional blocs would offer uncontested slates for election, during which the merits of any country’s particular qualifications for membership were never questioned.
Six countries — Bahrain, Japan, Pakistan, South Korea, Sri Lanka, and Timor Leste – are competing for four open seats in the Asian Group of U.N. member states. The Carter Center urges delegations to support the candidacies of Bahrain, Japan, Pakistan, South Korea, and Timor Leste because these governments have demonstrated a greater commitment than has Sri Lanka to the advancement of human rights. However, numerous nongovernmental groups have raised concerns about Sri-Lanka’s candidacy due to the country’s deteriorating human rights record since its first election to the Council in 2006. For example, Sri Lanka has one of the highest rates of enforced disappearances in the world, with little or no discernable commitment to accountability.
To re-elect states with deteriorating human rights records would undermine the Council at a time when it should be taking steps to shore its credibility as the principle platform for addressing human rights violations.
It is our hope that by electing states that demonstrate through their actions a commitment to furthering human rights, the Council will become a more courageous and united voice on behalf of victims of human rights violations.
With a terrible record of torture and disappearance, Sri Lanka doesn’t deserve a seat on the UN human rights council. It should be voted out
It would seem self-evident that a country which tortures and kidnaps its own people has no place on the world’s leading human rights body. Apparently not: Sri Lanka, despite repeated criticism for its human rights record, is running for re-election to the UN human rights council, with a vote to be held in New York on May 21.
Governments owe it to Sri Lankan human rights victims – and to victims of human rights abuses around the world – to ensure that the Sri Lankan bid fails. This will be an important test of the 47-member council, to show that the UN’s standards for it will be honoured.
If Sri Lanka is defeated this year, that will be important not just for the Sri Lankan human rights leaders who, at great personal risk, have called for Sri Lanka’s defeat, and for Sri Lankan civil society. In combination with the humiliating defeat last year of Belarus, it will send an important signal for the future: governments with track records of serious human rights abuses do not belong on a body set up to protect the victims of such abuses.
Sri Lanka has failed to honour its pledges of upholding human rights standards and cooperating with the UN since joining the council two years ago. Indeed, its human rights record has worsened during that time. The Sri Lankan idea of cooperation with the UN, meanwhile, has been to condemn senior UN officials (including the high commissioner for human rights, Louise Arbour, and the under secretary general for humanitarian affairs, John Holmes) as “terrorists” or “terrorist sympathisers.”
The systematic abuses by Sri Lankan government forces are among the most serious imaginable. Government security forces summarily remove their own citizens from their homes and families in the middle of the night, never to be heard from again. Torture and extrajudicial killings are widespread. When the human rights council was established, UN members required that states elected must themselves “uphold the highest standards” of human rights. On that count, Sri Lanka is clearly disqualified.
The separatist Tamil Tigers have used despicable tactics in their war against the government, including frequent suicide bombings. But that can in no way excuse the scale of government abuses.
Fortunately, the news from the council is not all bad. Countries running from other regions of the world have credible claims to be leaders in promoting human rights. Argentina and Chile, which suffered terribly from torture, enforced disappearances and extrajudicial killings in the past, have become leading supporters of human rights, and now seek to join the council. On the African slate, there are some true human rights leaders, and – thankfully – no candidacy from Zimbabwe or Sudan. In the entire world, Sri Lanka stands out as the most clearly unqualified state seeking election to the council this year, and the place where things are getting unambiguously worse.
Defeating the Sri Lankan candidacy would be a comfort to the people of Sri Lanka. It would place international pressure on the government to respect human rights, and to accept a UN human rights monitoring mission, which it has stubbornly refused. It would help make the council a place where true human rights leaders in all regions can help lead the world towards greater respect for human life and human dignity. An outcome, in short, that would benefit those who care about human rights in the world. Any other result would be a travesty.
Human Rights Watch
NobeThree Nobel Peace Laureates Oppose Colombo’s Bid for Re-election
l laureates Desmond Tutu, Jimmy Carter and Adolfo Perez Esquivel have joined Sri Lankan and International NGOs in opposition to Sri Lanka’s bid for a seat on the United Nations Human Rights Council. The three Nobel Peace Prize winners, representing three seperate continents, have each called on UN member states to reject Sri Lanka’s candidacy.
Elections to the 47-member council, the United Nations’ leading human rights body, will be held in New York on May 21, 2008. Six candidates – Bahrain, Japan, Pakistan, South Korea, Sri Lanka, and Timor Leste – are running for four seats allocated to Asian states. Council members are required to “uphold the highest standards” of human rights and “fully cooperate” with the council.
In a commentary published by The Guardian in London, Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa charged that “the systematic abuses by Sri Lankan government forces are among the most serious imaginable,” citing widespread torture and extrajudicial killings. “Governments owe it to Sri Lankan human rights victims – and to victims of human rights abuses around the world – to ensure that the Sri Lankan bid fails,” Tutu declared. Tutu won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1984 for his leadership of the campaign to end apartheid in South Africa.
In a commentary published by Página 12 in Buenos Aires, Adolfo Pérez Esquivel compared the routine torture and the hundreds of “disappearances” and extrajudicial killings committed by Sri Lankan government forces to the “dirty wars” waged by various Latin American governments against their own citizens in the 1970s and 1980s. “As Latin Americans know all too well, there are few crimes more horrible for a government to commit than summarily removing its own citizens from their homes and families, often late at night, never to be heard from again,” declared Esquivel. “Latin American governments can do a great service to the people of Sri Lanka by rejecting their government’s candidacy for the Human Rights Council.” Esquivel won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1980 for his opposition to the “disappearances,” extrajudicial killings, and torture used by the military government of Argentina in combating domestic terrorists.
Former US President Jimmy Carter observed that the UN established membership standards for the Human Rights Council in 2006 so that it would be “led by countries with a greater commitment to human rights.” A statement released by the Carter Center in Atlanta “calls on the General Assembly not to re-elect Sri Lanka to the Human Rights Council,” citing “the country’s deteriorating human rights record since its first election to the Council in 2006.” Carter won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2002 for his work to resolve international conflicts, advance democracy and human rights, and promote economic and social development.
The Nobel laureates added their voices to the Sri Lankan and international campaigns against the re-election of Sri Lanka to the council. Human rights organizations within Sri Lanka urged UN members to “hold the Sri Lankan government accountable for the grave state of human rights abuse in the country” by rejecting its candidacy, observing it “has used its membership of the Human Rights Council to protect itself from scrutiny.”
A coalition of more than 20 nongovernmental organizations from all regions of the world wrote to UN members to oppose Sri Lanka’s re-election to the council, citing its government for a wide range of serious abuses, including hundreds of extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances, widespread torture, and arbitrary detention. The website established by the NGO Coalition for an Effective Human Rights Council detailed how Sri Lanka rejects the recommendations of UN human rights experts, harshly attacks senior UN officials who report on human rights issues, and has refused to engage in serious discussions to allow international human rights monitoring.
The coalition noted in its letter that the armed separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam have long been implicated in serious human rights abuses, but says this provides no justification for government abuses. The abuses in Argentina opposed by Esquivel were committed by that government in the name of combating extreme domestic terrorist organizations.
In 2007, a coalition of NGOs successfully opposed the candidacy of Belarus for the Human Rights Council.
“Cheers went up amongst human rights defenders around the world when Belarus was defeated,” said Hassan Shire Sheikh of the East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project in Uganda. “This year’s election provides an opportunity for African states to send a strong signal, following up on the defeat of Belarus. The Human Rights Council must stand with the victims, not become an abusers’ club.”
To read the letter from the NGO coalition to the UN Human Rights Council, opposing Sri Lanka’s candidacy, please visit: http://www.hrw.org/effectiveHRC/SriLanka/INGOletter.html
To read more about the Sri Lanka campaign, please visit: http://www.hrw.org/effectiveHRC/SriLanka
TUESDAY, 09 JUNE 2009 10:53
TIM MARTIN ENDING STRIKE IN RESPONSE TO OFFERS OF HELP
On Sunday 7th June at 6pm, over 500 people gathered in London outside Parliament, for a ceremony to mark the end of a hunger strike carried out by a British former aid worker. Tim Martin, Director of the human rights group Act Now, had responded to assurances of help if he ended his hunger strike outside the Houses of Parliament in London, England, after enduring 21 days without food.
Tim’s protest has been to raise awareness of the plight of Tamils in Sri Lanka, centred on an urgent appeal to President Obama, the UK Government and the UN to press for action to protect the devastated Tamil civilian population and uncover the true scale of the humanitarian disaster in Sri Lanka. During these 21 days, news of further atrocities and abuses in Sri Lanka have come to light – some obtained from Tim’s own contact network.
News of increasing opposition, amongst US politicians and lawmakers, to the request by the Sri Lankan Government for an IMF loan is reassuring to those, like Tim Martin, who believed Obama would not repeat the mistakes of old (such as Clinton on Rwanda) and that Obama’s ultimate stance on Sri Lanka will be a benchmark of his presidency, in terms of human rights issues.
Tim’s four-point request to the US President:
1. International monitors on the ground and satellite imaging effective immediately to verify the true number of casualties and the mop up process.
2. Immediate free access to international media and international organisations throughout Sri Lanka.
3. Emergency medical treatment for tens of thousands of civilians and POWs that are currently not in hospitals and are being held at checkpoints, schools and IDP camps.
4. Public Investigation into Vijay Nambiar, the Special Envoy for the UN Secretary General, as his brother Satish Nambiar is a paid consultant for the Sri Lankan government which suggests a conflict of interest.
Over the course of Tim’s protest, these requests have begun to be addressed. Three days into the hunger strike, initially based outside the US Embassy in London, the US Government released satellite pictures highlighting the scale of the devastation in the so-called ‘Safety Zone’. The press also began to report on Tim’s fourth request: the need for an investigation into Indian diplomat and UN Chief of Staff Vijay Nambiar, whose brother is a paid consultant of the Sri Lankan government. There are now calls for this matter to be taken up by the UN.
Assurances of help have been given to Tim on condition he ended his strike:
1. Tim has been invited to raise awareness and high profile support from a number of top celebrities at a special celebrity event this month, with guests including Bob Geldof and Brian May.
2. Tim has been invited to speak to UN representatives of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, in particular, addressing those countries that voted for the Sri Lankan Government’s self-congratulatory resolution supporting its own version of events concerning the recent conflict.
3. A Parliamentary meeting has been organised for next Wednesday, 10th June – the latest reports from Sri Lanka will be presented to MPs by Tim Martin and news journalists recently returned from the camps.
4. Tim’s requests to Obama have been filmed and given to the President’s ‘Spiritual advisor’ with the promise of being viewed by the President.
5. He had received numerous requests to end his strike from the Tamil community and from the doctors who were extremely worried as his health has been deteriorating. He also received a special request from the Tamil community organisation the British Tamil Forum, pleading that, since Tim is the only non-Tamil NGO worker that has lived in Tamil Eelam in the good times of peace and the bad times of war that has come forward and fighting for the freedom of the Tamil people, fighting publicly on injustices and atrocities which continue to take place, he is irreplaceable to the Tamil community.
Tim has more than proved his ability to gain support after the large number of celebrities and MPs that he managed to get behind the Mercy Mission. Including ‘Trip-hop’ band Massive Attack, Joanna Lumley, Sian Evans (singer/songwriter of the band Kosheen), Brian May of the mega-rock group Queen, Jade Parfitt and Jasmine Guinness (British fashion models), Deborah Leng, Dr Chris Steele (of This Morning TV). Tim is now recuperating from his hunger strike, gathering his energies to report on the atrocities in Sri Lanka to British and UN officials and to raise awareness of his requests to protect Sri Lanka’s devastated Tamil population from further suffering. He urges everyone to sign the online appeal to Obama which can be found at http://www.act-now.info/Site/Online_Appeal.html