INDICTMENT AGAINST SRI LANKA
The Charge is Ethnic Cleansing
Sri Lanka's Undeclared War on Eelam Tamils
...in the Shadow of the Ceasefire: 2002 - 2007
- Despite Peace Talks, Tamils remain detained without trial
Sinhala Journalist Champika Liyanaarachchi reported in One World
South Asia, 28 July 2003
COLOMBO, July 28 (OneWorld) - After this month's release of two
Tamil undertrials imprisoned for 11 years without trial, calls for
the repeal of the draconian Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA), under
which they were detained, are getting shriller in Sri Lanka.
Despite the ceasefire,
although the Sri Lankan government has released hundreds of
Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) rebels arrested under the
Act, suspects continue to rot in jail without trial.
Tamils, S. Lingharatna, 33, and T. Sivakandarajan, 31, both from the
eastern Batticoloa district, were picked up by the army in 1992 and
thrown into prison without any specific charges.
In 1995 the
Colombo-based Home for Human Rights filed a Habeas Corpus and the
Attorney General's office promised to hear the case before the end
of the year. But nothing of that sort happened.
The two were
granted bail early this month after 11 years in detention, on the
arguments of prominent Tamil human rights lawyer, Casinathan
Lingharatna, whose wife was pregnant with their
first child when he was taken away, was finally united with the
family. His son is now 11 years old.
"Justice delayed is
justice denied. This is just one case. There are around 50 more
people languishing in jail without any charges against them and
there are no moves by the government to expedite the judicial
process," points out Casinathan.
When the United National
Front government came to power in December 2001, 600 LTTE suspects
were detained under the PTA. Some of them were in detention for ten
years without being produced before a magistrate.
But with the signing of the ceasefire agreement 17 months
ago, the government expedited the judicial process and the number of
PTA detainees has fallen below 50. Most of them are housed in the
Kalutara prison in the Western province.
"Tamil members of
Parliament (MPs) and human rights groups were lobbying for the Act's
repeal for long. But despite its promises, the government has done
nothing to show that it is keen on it," says an MP of the Tamil
National Alliance (TNA), A. Vinayagamoorthy.
Vinayagamoorthy, who introduced a motion in Parliament recently for
the repeal of the PTA, says that the TNA - the main alliance of
Tamil parties - hopes to meet senior leaders, including Prime
Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, to discuss the matter.
Introduced in 1979, the PTA was used to suppress uprisings in Sri
Lanka's north and south. Ever since, there has been a strong lobby
both locally as well as internationally for the repeal of the
In its 1984 report, the International Commission of Jurists
commented on the PTA, "No legislation conferring even remotely
comparable powers is in force in any other free democracy. Such a
provision is an ugly blot on any civilized country."
the PTA, police officers are authorized to arrest suspects even
without a warrant. The law was harshly used not only against the
minority Tamils but also against the majority Sinhalese.
During the second uprising of Sinhala youth in the south in the late
eighties, of the nearly 20,000 youth arbitrarily arrested by the
security forces, a large percentage were arrested under PTA.
The law was also used as a tool to suppress political opponents.
Providing an amnesty umbrella for the remaining 50 won't be
easy, though. "They are in jail for gross crimes like the
assassination attempt on the President, attack on the Temple of
Tooth Relic, and bomb attacks in which hundreds were killed. We
cannot release them till they are proven innocent," says Defense
Secretary Austin Fernando.
Fernando mentions that there is strong pressure from the LTTE
and human rights groups for the release of these suspects. The LTTE
has fought a war to establish an independent Eelam for the past 20
"We have civilians serving long prison terms for
lesser offences. So how can we release LTTE suspects charged with
gross crimes just because the government has entered into talks?"
But the legal officer of the Center for Human
Rights and Development, Mudiappa Remedius, says there are several
innocent people among the suspects.
"Seventeen months have
passed since the signing of the ceasefire agreement and still we
have people arrested under the PTA languishing in jail," he laments.
"There's no point talking big about peace if the discrimination in
the judicial procedure is not removed. Peace does not mean absence
of war but also normalization of public life and the right to life,"
But Fernando will have none of it.
"There's a general delay in the judicial process and everyone is
affected by it. We cannot give special treatment to LTTE suspects.
Everyone is equal before the law."
As the pro- and anti-PTA factions slug it out, the families of
the likes of Lingharatna and Sivakandarajan continue to remain in a
state of uncertainty about the chances of an early homecoming for
their missing relatives.