Amnesty's approach is that it chooses to address
symptoms rather than causes...
letters to the fox to look after the 'human rights'
of chickens in the chicken pen
has again reported on torture, Sri Lanka
ten years of Amnesty Reports, the answer cannot be
another ten years of Amnesty Reports...
A question of
commitment - the story of the chicken and the
of Amnesty's approach is that it chooses to address
symptoms rather than causes...
Recent reports by
Amnesty International expose the Sri Lanka government's
continued violations of human rights. At the sametime,
they also high light the failure of Amnesty's endeavours
in Sri Lanka during the past ten years. It used to be
said unkindly of Rotary: 'Whither Rotary? To Lunch.' It
may well come to be said of Amnesty in Sri Lanka:
'Whither Amnesty? To more fact finding missions.'
The weakness of Amnesty's approach is that it chooses
to address symptoms rather than causes. Amnesty is quick
to point out, that its remit does not extend to
addressing the rights and wrongs of an armed conflict.
Amnesty says that it does not take sides.
But if you do not take sides where a government
has so oppressed a
people that that people have, as a last resort,
arms to resist that oppression, then you end up by
making pious pleas to the very same government which is
intent on subjugating that people.
Your pleas, by implication, recognise the right of
that Sinhala dominated Sri Lanka government to continue
to govern a people it
has systematically oppressed for several decades.
Your pleas also promote the myth that the Sri Lanka
government is genuinely concerned with protecting the
human rights of the Tamil people and securing a
'negotiated' and just settlement of the ongoing armed
The Sri Lanka government then seizes upon your
appeals, to give assurances about its future conduct and
buys time to continue its oppression and advance the
assimilative and so called 'pacification' process. You
then make further reports saying that the Government has
not kept its undertakings and you make fresh appeals to
the same government. In the meantime, Tamils continue to
be unlawfuly detained, tortured, massacred,
indiscriminate aerial bombardment, and thousands
David Selbourne was right when he said in the
''It is evident that one of the most difficult
points for commentators to grasp... is that the
Sinhalese, as I have maintained since I first began to
write on Sri Lanka, have no intention whatever of
reaching a 'negotiated' settlement with the
Deanna Hodgin from Insight was more direct than
Amnesty has ever had the courage or inclination to be.
She declared forthrightly in 1990:
''Human rights is not an idea with much currency
for the Sri Lankan government. Quiet diplomacy is not
an option for our policy in Sri Lanka...''
Though Amnesty recently took full page advertisements
in the London press to protest against the 'quiet
diplomacy' stance adopted by Government delegations at
the Geneva UN Commission on Human Rights, on the East
Timor question, Amnesty itself has often appeared to be a
prisoner of the same 'quiet diplomacy' syndrome.
Lets face it. It will be difficult to pretend that
Amnesty's reports on Sri Lanka during the past ten
years have inhibited, leave alone prevented, Sinhala
Buddhist chauvinism's attack on the Tamil people.
Incidents of torture
and unlawful detention have multiplied rather than
decreased. Impunity is the new buzz word at the UN
Commission on Human Rights and the Sri Lanka
authorities continue to torture with impunity (and
apparent relish) whilst Amnesty continues to
Nine long years ago, Amnesty reported in
''AI has repeatedly informed the Sri Lankan
government that special legal provisions, especially
those in force since 1979 facilitate torture..
Relatives have difficulty in establishing the
whereabouts of detainees and in recent months over 180
are reported to have 'disappeared', the authorities
having denied any knowledge of their detention... AI
knows of no case in recent years in which police or
security personnel have been prosecuted for acts of
torture or deaths in custody of political detainees
held under the Prevention of Terrorism Act...
…The following types of torture have been
reported to AI:
prolonged hanging upside down while being
beaten all over the body, sometimes for the duration
of one night and sometimes with the head tied in a
bag in which chillies were burning, making the victim
feel close to suffocating
prolonged beatings, especially on the soles of
the feet while lying stretched out on a bench or
while hanging by the knees from a pole; beatings on
the genitals and other parts of the body with sticks,
batons and sand filled plastic tubes.
insertion of chilli powder in the nostrils,
mouth and eyes and on genitals.
insertion of pins under fingernails and
toenails and in the heels.
insertion of iron rods in the anus
burning with cigarettes
mock or threatened executions...
In view of persistent reports of torture in Sri
Lanka in recent years AI recommends that the Sri Lanka
Government implement the following measures as a sign of
its commitment to eradicate torture and ill
treatment.... ….Please write courteously worded
letters urging the Sri Lanka authorities to take
effective measures for the prevention of torture, as
1.The Sri Lanka government should issue clear public
instructions to the army, police and other security
forces personnel that torture is a criminal act and
will not be tolerated under any circumstances. All
relevant officials should be instructed too refuse to
obey any order to use torture
2.Relatives and lawyers should be informed promptly
of the whereabouts of detainees. No one should be held
in unacknowledged detention.
3.When it is found that torture has been committed
by or at the instigation of a public official, criminal
and disciplinary proceedings should be instituted."
Courteous letters to the
fox to look after the 'human rights' of chickens in
the chicken pen
A number of 'courteously worded letters' were, no
doubt, sent by Amnesty members committed both to securing
human rights and to remaining courteous. But with what
result? Amnesty's recommended action may well have
appeared to the Tamil people somewhat like sending
courteous letters to the fox to look after the 'human
rights' of chickens in the chicken pen.
Again, that was nine years ago. Since then, Amnesty
has reported every year without exception on torture by
Sri Lanka authorities - and Sri Lanka has continued to
torture, year in and year out, again without
In January 1986, Amnesty Reported:
"Amnesty International was concerned about reports
of arbitrary killings of many hundreds of non
combatants by government security forces in northern
and eastern Sri Lanka and of many 'disappearances'.
Widespread torture of political detainees was
reported... The organisation also remained
concerned about long term detention without charge or
trial of many hundreds of Tamils."
Amnesty reported again in January 1988:
''The (Sri Lanka) police and armed forces
continued to kill non combatant Tamils... Of
particular concern were reprisal killings by the
security forces and reports that Tamil suspects taken
into custody were shot or tortured to death and their
bodies disposed of in secret.''
Amnesty reported yet again in January 1989:
"Thousands of people were detained without charge or
trial, and dozens 'disappeared' following arrest by the
Sri Lankan security forces and by the Indian Peace
Keeping Force (IPKF) deployed in the northeast. The
fate of hundreds who had disappeared in previous years
remained inadequately investigated. There were many
allegations of torture.''
In January 1991, Amnesty reported:
''(During 1990)Thousands of people disappeared or
were extra judicially executed in the north-east; many
were tortured and then killed in custody. An
unknown number of others were detained in the area...
Government forces in the northeast were reported to
have extra judicially executed thousands of defenceless
civilians in areas they had regained..Victims were
reportedly shot, bayonetted, stabbed or hacked to
death; some were said by witnesses to have been burned
''Victims bodies were regularly left in the open.
The identities of many remained unknown; others,
presumably killed in custody, were identified as people
who had been detained by security forces days earlier.
Some had been burned beyond recognition or mutilated.
In Amparai, where the Special Task Force, a police
commando unit, was especially active, bodies - some
without heads - began to be washed up on the beaches
... Both the security forces and the government
refused to acknowledge that many defenceless people had
been deliberately killed... Victims included babies
and their mothers, children and elderly men and
And now in
February 1994, Amnesty has again
reported on torture, Sri Lanka style
And now in February 1994, (and countless 'courteous'
letters later) Amnesty has once again reported at length
on torture, Sri Lanka style in 1993:
''Some Tamil people have been arrested by groups
of armed men in military or civilian dress, blindfolded
and taken to secret places of detention where they have
been held at least a week, interrogated and torture to
make them confess to involvement with the LTTE.
Families have no idea who has taken their relative nor
where their relative is detained.
Under Emergency Regulations 19(8) it is a criminal
offence to detain any person in an unauthorised place
of detention, which reflects one of the recommendations
made by Amnesty International and accepted by the
Government in 1991. It is therefore very disturbing
that only a few months after the Defence Secretary
gazetted a list of 343 authorised places of detention
in Sri Lanka, people were being abducted, held in
secret, unauthorised locations and interrogated under
torture. This is reminiscent of the manner in which
thousands of people were 'disappeared' in the south
between 1988 and 1990, by police or army personnel who
sought to hide their identities in order to evade
accountability for their actions.
Torture or ill treatment is a routine method of
forcing detainees to confess to involvement with the
LTTE. In particular, Amnesty International has
interviewed a number of Tamil detainees who were beaten
by CDB officers during interrogation. Prisoners held in
secret detention by the army or other groups suffer
more severe forms of torture.
Amnesty International has also collected several
first hand accounts of prisoners being beaten in local
police stations, including those in Dehiwela, Kotahena
and Peliyagoda. Sometimes prisoners are beaten while
being questioned. On other occasions police randomly
kick and punch prisoners in police cells for no
apparent reason or ostensibly as a punishment for some
Victims are often too frightened to complain about
the treatment or do not believe their complain would
lead to proper investigation and action. The
DIGP-Colombo told Amnesty International that no
investigations have been launched into beatings because
he had not received any complaints about specific
Amnesty recommended yet again, in terms reminiscent
of its 1985 report, that 'the government should
immediately end the detention of people in secret places
'and that 'the government and leaders of the security
forces should publicly state and issue orders that
torture and other ill treatment will not be
After ten years of
Amnesty Reports, the answer cannot be another ten
years of Amnesty Reports
After ten years of Amnesty Reports, the Tamil people
may be forgiven if they feel that these Reports have
served only to demonstrate that the answer to forty years
of consistent and systematic human rights violations by
the Sinhala dominated Sri Lanka government cannot be
another ten years of Amnesty Reports.
It is true that facts concerning violations of
human rights need to be ascertained and published. But
information on human rights abuses is not an end in
itself. Human rights is not some self sufficient industry
concerned simply with providing employment for
The non governmental organisation, International
Educational Development took a more rounded approach at
the UN Sub
Commission on Protection of Minorities in August
''The Universal Declaration of Human Rights states
that all persons... have the right to the full
realisation of their human rights and to an
international order in which their rights can be
realised. The Sri Lanka situation has shown that for
the past forty years, the Sinhala controlled government
has been unwilling and unable to promote and protect
the human rights of the Tamil population, and the Tamil
population has accordingly lost all confidence in any
present or future willingness or ability of the Sinhala
majority to do so.
Are people in this situation required to settle for
less than their full rights. Can the international
community impose on a people a forced marriage they no
longer want and in which they can clearly demonstrate
they have been abused? We conclude that in order for
the human rights of the Tamil people and others in a
similar situation to be realised, the international
community must invoke the principle of self
determination as it arises from persistent non
fulfilment of the rights of minorities who have been
subsumed into larger states.''
of commitment - the story of the chicken and the
At the end of the day, the question that Amnesty may
well need to ask is: what is the extent of its commitment
to human rights? As the story goes, a chicken and a pig
passed a man in a restaurant enjoying his bacon and eggs.
The chicken pointed to the eggs and spoke of its
commitment to food production. The pig replied, pointing
to the bacon,: 'You are only involved - I am
The Tamil people have been at the receiving end of
Buddhist chauvinism for several decades and they have
put their lives on the line in the defence of their
homeland and of their near and dear. To report on human
rights in the island of Sri Lanka without admitting to
the justice of the demand for a Tamil homeland and
right of the Tamil people to govern themselves, is to
speak the language of the chicken - involved perhaps,
but, certainly, not committed.
It is, perhaps, all this and more which impelled Tamil
Eelam leader, Velupillai
Pirabaharan to say to the Tamil people on Maha Veerar
Naal in November 1993:
''...we are fully aware that the world is not
rotating on the axis of human justice. ...International
relations and diplomacy between countries are
determined by the self interest of each country. .. In
reality, the success of our struggle depends on our own
efforts, on our own strength, on our own
The Tamil people know that they cannot afford the
luxury of crying helplessly about the cynicism of real
politick. They have recognised the need to marry
principle with power and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil
Eelam represent an open manifestation of that recognition
and that marriage.
Amnesty International in four reports released in
January and February 1994 (and widely circulated at the
50th Sessions of the UN Commission on Human Rights at
Geneva in February/March 1994) expressed its grave
concern at the human rights situation in Sri Lanka.
''Thousands of Tamils are being arrested every
month in Colombo, most without any valid reason.
The government says there were 15,000 arrests in
Colombo under emergency legislation between 1 June and
31 December 1993.. ..The true number of arrests may be
higher if people were arrested without the necessary
paper work being completed.. The small number of cases
in which there appears to be any evidence of wrong
doing is high lighted by the fact that out of the total
15,711 arrests in only 17 (0.11%) cases have charges so
far been laid..
In many cases families who have not been notified of
the arrest desperately search for their missing
relative, fearing they have 'disappeared'. The army
and armed groups working with the government have
abducted some people and held them in secret places of
detention for upto two and a half months, where they
have been tortured before being dumped on the side of
the road or transferred to police custody...
Some agencies routinely beat detainees to extract
confessions... After being released they are at risk of
being repeatedly re arrested, most likely to be
released each time without charge and without ever
knowing why they were detained..
The indiscriminate round ups of people solely
because of their ethnic origin and reports of their
treatment in custody is making members of the Tamil
community fearful that they are not safe to walk the
streets of Colombo.
The way in which people are being arrested and
detained is reminiscent of the manner in which
thousands of people were detained in the south between
1988 and 1990... The way in which people have been
recently abducted in Colombo by army in civilian dress,
blindfolded with their own shirts and taken away in
unmarked vehicles to secret locations where they have
been tortured is a particularly chilling echo of the
..impunity remained a major obstacle to the long
term improvement of human rights. Little progress was
made in the prosecution of security forces personnel
allegedly responsible for committing human rights
violations during previous years.
..A former senior police officer who had left Sri
Lanka in 1992 returned in June 1993. He had been wanted
for questioning in connection with the death from
torture of a (Sinhala) lawyer, Wijedasa Liyanaratchi in
1988 and had been summoned to appear in court in April
1992. After his return, however, he was not required to
attend the court; instead he was given a senior
position in government service..
Many of the specific undertakings made to the
international community for the protection of human
rights have yet to be implemented...
Although the government undertook to remove from
Emergency Regulations any regulation which has no
bearing on public security concerns, it has since
promulgated new regulations with no apparent connection
to public security... The government has said that
changes made to the Emergency Regulations in June 1993
were made taking into consideration the recommendations
of the Centre of Human Rights at the University of
Colombo and other human rights organisations. However,
the regulations have not yet been completely revised
and many of the recommendations for revision of arrest
and detention procedures made to the government by
international and local human rights organisations have
not been incorporated..
In the north scores of civilians were reportedly
killed during the year by the security forces, some
apparently victims of extra judicial executions, as
they attempted to cross the Kilalli lagoon from the
Jaffna peninsula to the mainland... In some cases, navy
personnel reportedly boarded boats and deliberately
killed civilian passengers who offered no resistance.
Civilians were also reportedly targeted in reprisal
bombing raids on Jaffna..
There were continuing reports of harassment and
death threats issued to journalists in the south. Iqbal
Attas received repeated death threats after he
criticised (Sri Lanka's) military operations in the
north in October.. Two further journalists were
threatened after publishing on the same matter''