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Home > Struggle for Tamil Eelam > Sri Lanka Accused at United Nations > UN Commission on Human Rights 2000
UN COMMISSION ON HUMAN RIGHTS
56th SESSIONS: MARCH/APRIL 2000
- Report of UN Special Rapporteur on violence against women
-14 March 2000
- Statement by Sri Lanka Representative, H. M. G. S. Palihakkara
- on the question of the violation of human rights and fundamental freedoms, 30 March 2000
- Written Statement by Pax Christi International, International Catholic Peace Movement
- a non-governmental organization in special consultative status [E/CN.4/2000/NGO/45 1 February 2000] under Agenda Item 11 on Civil and Political Rights
"...the Sri Lankan military is responsible for the human rights violations of the Tamils and is viewed with fear and hatred by the Tamil population. Hence, demilitarization of the Tamil areas would see the return of normalcy to the lives of the 800,000 refugees.... Despite the visits by special representatives of the Secretary-General, the situation has not improved; on the contrary, human rights violations are escalating unabated..." more
- Written statement by the Asian Legal Resource Centre
- a non-governmental organization in general consultative status under Agenda Item on Civil and Politicaal Rights, including the question of disappearances and summary executions [E/CN.4/2000/NGO/63 8 February 2000]
"...what has taken place in Sri Lanka in terms of mass disappearances is a crime against humanity. The local commissions have concluded that most disappearances that occurred in Sri Lanka were killings after arrest; they have further concluded that disappearances were carried out as part of a plan approved by the highest political authorities..." more
Report on the visit to Sri Lanka by a member of the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances - (25-29 October 1999)
- [E/CN.4/2000/64/Add.1, 21 December 1999] under Agenda Item 11(b) - Civil and Political Rights, including the question of disappearances and summary executions
"... the Working Group wishes to stress that Sri Lanka remains the country with the second largest number of non-clarified cases of disappearances on its list. Many of the missing persons allegedly traced by the (Sri Lanka) Human Rights Commission or other authorities seem not to correspond to the disappeared persons submitted by the Working Group... many of the earlier recommendations of the Working Group have not been implemented... the Prevention of Terrorism Act and the Emergency Regulations...have not been abolished or brought into line with internationally accepted standards of human rights..." more
"...The human rights situation for Tamils in the island of Sri Lanka continues to be horrendous. Aerial bombing of civilian targets, such as places of worship, hospitals and schools, continues. Last December, 42 Tamil refugees were massacred by the Sri Lankan Army as they sought refuge in the chapel of Madhu church in Mannar.The 600 persons who "disappeared" by Sri Lankan army, during 1996 in Jaffna, are still unaccounted for. ... Torture, rape, arbitrary detention and extra-judicial killings of Tamils by the Sri Lankan government armed forces continue....The food, health, education and employment situation has been severely affected in the North and East of the Island..." more
"In 1833 the Colebrook-Cameron Commission allocated approximately 26,500 sq.km as the Tamil People's Ancestral Motherland. In 1901 when the nine provinces came into being, the Tamil administration of the Northern and Eastern Provinces measured approximately 19,100 sq.km Due to some of the area being incorporated into the Sinhalese provinces the Tamil area had been reduced by approximately 7,500 sq.km. After 1948 the government's settlement plan deprived the Tamils of 7,000 sq.km. in the Eastern Province and 500 sq.km. in the Northern Province... Approximately 7,500 sq.km of Tamil land was plundered by the Sinhala Government's Demarcation and Resettlement Plan when it came into operation. This has been taking place over the last forty years. Before 1833, 25% of Tamil speaking people occupied 35% of land, which was in their administration as Tamil ancestral homeland. In 1901 this area shrunk from 35% to 29%. Within 162 years the Sinhalese government under its Demarcation and Resettlement Plan has plundered 50% of the Tamil ancestral homeland and is still attempting to colonise more and more!
Report of UN Special Rapporteur on violence against women, 14 March 2000
The Special Rapporteur on violence against women, Radhika Coomaraswamy, says she is dismayed that the incidence of gang rape and murder of women and girls by Sri Lankan soldiers is continuing unabated in Sri Lanka.
In a letter dated 13 March 2000, the Special Rapporteur expressed her grave concern over the lack of serious investigation of allegations of gang rape and murder of women and girls. She focused on three individual cases which had been brought to her attention:
. Sarathambal Saravanbavananthakurukal, aged 29, was reportedly gang-raped and then killed by Sri Lankan navy soldiers on 28 December 1999 in Pungudutivu, near Jaffna Peninsula. Despite an order by the President to immediately investigate the events, it is reported that "very little is being done to pursue the matter".
. Ida Caremelitta was allegedly gang-raped by five soldiers and then killed during the night of 12 July 1999 in Pallimunai village on Mannar Island. Five masked and heavily armed men reportedly entered the house where she and her family were sleeping, took Ms. Caremelitta outside and violently raped and then killed her. The post mortem report indicates that Ms. Caremelitta had been repeatedly raped and that her body had been sexually mutilated.
. On 6 October 1998, Ms. Pushpamalar, aged 12, was allegedly detained while returning from school and raped by a soldier in Sangathaanai, Chavakachcheri, east of Jaffna.
In her letter, the Special Rapporteur also expressed concern about political violence in the south of the country affecting women in particular. She cited the case of Anoja Weerasinghe, an actress whose house was attacked on 24 December 1999 and 2 January 2000 reportedly because of her political activities, including speaking in support of the United National Party and picketing peacefully in Veyangoda on 17 November 1999 to protest attacks against actors and actresses.
The Special Rapporteur expressed the hope that every effort will be made to prevent further violations through the investigation of the alleged incidents and the prosecution of alleged perpetrators in a manner consistent with international human rights standards.
Statement by Sri Lanka Representative, H. M. G. S. Palihakkara
- - on the question of the violation of human rights and fundamental freedoms
in any part of the world, 30 March 2000
Whatever may be said, who ever may say it - to
determine the truth of it, is wisdom - Thirukural
H. M. G. S. Palihakkara (Sri Lanka) said it had been the country's policy to share with openness the measures taken to promote human rights.
Sri Lanka would continue this tradition and hoped the information would not be used by propaganda lobbyists of terror groups. The position advocated by the delegation was that voluntary cooperation between Member States and the Commission was both desirable and feasible. Sri Lanka had signed or ratified 14 international instruments.
The Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances had visited Sri Lanka last year and its report was before the Commission. The action taken by the Government and the non-governmental organizations' community in Sri Lanka to address and readdress the relevant concerns was discussed. There were residual problems with regard to laws delays, however prosecutions had been launched against offenders.
International NGOs and foreign experts and observers had been invited to observe judicial inquiries, prosecutions and criminal forensic investigations. The recommendations by the Working Group would be carefully considered. A Human Rights Treaty Body was to be invited in the course of the year.
The Sri Lankan National Human Rights Commission had completed three years of work. Central to the many facets of the Government's efforts to promote and protect human rights was its initiative to find a political solution to the ethnic issues in Sri Lanka. The LTTE was the only Tamil group that had remained outside the democratic process.
Despite violence and terrorism, the Sri Lankan people remained supportive of the democratic process as that was the only way in which peace could be achieved. Terrorist attacks had to seize immediately. The solution had to be found through negotiation and the protection of the territorial integrity of Sri Lanka.
The international community could play an important role in negotiations with the LTTE. Last year's statement by Sri Lanka had accounted for the efforts of the Government to promote human rights even in the midst of violence by the LTTE. Sri Lanka cherished democracy and saw no other means to bring about a long-lasting durable peace.
Written Statement by Pax Christi International, International Catholic Peace Movement
- a non-governmental organization in special consultative status [E/CN.4/2000/NGO/45 1 February 2000 Original: ENGLISH] under Agenda Item 11 on Civil and Political Rights
1. In accordance with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Charter of the United Nations, the International Covenants on Human Rights and the provisions of the Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949, we remain deeply concerned with the plight of the Tamil people in Sri Lanka.
2. We have the honour to solicit the intervention of the Commission on Human Rights to facilitate a negotiated political solution to this protracted conflict with the hope of finding a just and durable solution to end the gross human rights violations perpetrated against these people. Many of the past interventions submitted by other concerned NGOs have testified to the genocide happening there.
Arbitrary arrests, torture, detention, disappearances and summary executions
3. Article 6.1 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights states:
"Every human being has the inherent right to life. This right shall be protected by law. No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his life". The Chemmani mass graves have revealed the extent of systematic human rights violations by the government forces. The revelation was made on 5 July 1998 by the convicted soldiers, over a year has gone by with investigations unduly protracted and the situation has further deteriorated with alarmingly high rates of arbitrary arrests, torture, rape and disappearances continuing to occur.
4. Bacre Waly Ndiaye, former Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, stated with respect to Sri Lanka that "a disturbing number of people have disappeared during Sri Lanka's 14-year war against Tamil separatists… There is still a very painful and difficult human rights issue in northern Jaffna peninsula". Despite much-publicized visits by the special representatives of the Secretary General, there have not been any monitoring mechanisms to prevent further occurrences of torture and summary executions. Scores of young men continue to be arbitrarily arrested and their whereabouts withheld from their grieving families.
5. The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) has also been accused of gross violations of human rights by a number of human rights organizations. The members of LTTE have killed Sinhalese, Tamil and Muslim civilians and tortured and killed prisoners. Pax Christi, as a member of the Coalition Against the Use of Child Soldiers, is concerned that LTTE continues to "forcibly recruit" children as young as 14 despite a promise made to the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Children and Armed Conflict, Olaru Otunnu, in May 1998.
Aerial bombing and displacement of civilians
6. Article 50 of the Additional Protocol II to the Geneva Convention of 12 August 1949 states: "The civilian population as such, as well as individual civilians shall not be object of attack…. Indiscriminate attacks are prohibited." Indiscriminate aerial bombing of densely populated Tamil areas have been justified by the Government as attacks on rebel hideouts. The International Committee of the Red Cross has confirmed yet another killing of women and children resulting from the bombing of a marketplace on 16 September 1999. "Twenty---one Tamil civilians were killed and 35 wounded when the air force carried out a bombing raid in north-eastern Sri Lanka", the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said Thursday (16 September 1999). Fifteen civilians, including women and children, died during the attack while another six died in hospital in the district of Mullaitivu on Wednesday, an ICRC spokesman in Colombo said (Agence France Presse, 16 September).
7. Human rights violations are the main reasons why people flee their homes. As security is as essential a priority as food, internally displaced refugees fleeing from military abuses have sought protection in the LTTE-controlled areas.
8. Humanitarian assistance to the displaced civilian population has been minimal because of the lack of political willingness on the part of the Government to encourage NGOs to provide assistance to the refugees. The Government has for many years used food as a weapon of war against the hapless population. According to a National Peace Council report of March/April 1998,
"There has been an economic blockade in the Northern Province in Sri Lanka ever since 1990. In 1995 since the resumption of the Eelam war, the Government of Sri Lanka has forbidden non governmental organizations (NGOs) from distributing food and, with the exception of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), distributing medicine."
Protection and welfare of children
9. Article 37 (b) of the Convention on the Rights of the Child states: "No child shall be deprived of his or her liberty unlawfully or arbitrarily." According to Amnesty International scores of children, aged between several months and 17 years, are among the thousands of people who are reported to have "disappeared" after detention by security forces and members of armed groups engaged in hostilities, during the last 15 years of civil conflict in Sri Lanka: "… there have been several chilling reports of torture of young Tamil children taken into custody …" (Amnesty International report ASA 37/10/99, June 1999).
10. It is also a matter of grave concern for Pax Christi that the Tamil children amidst the 400,000 civilians who have fled the armed forces into LTTE-controlled areas continue to suffer from malnutrition and succumb to easily treatable diseases. The mortality rate of infants and children is alarmingly high owing to the embargo on essential vaccines to the "uncleared" areas. A nutritional survey conducted by a government agent of the Killinochi district has revealed that "52 per cent of children are affected by malnutrition". Widespread incidence of malaria is also reported due to monsoonal rains and the climatic conditions. We request intervention and mechanisms to monitor the supplies of food and medicines to the refugee population in the Wanni.
Violence against women
11. "A soldier sentenced to death by a court in Colombo for the (rape and) murder of a teenage Tamil schoolgirl (Krishanthi) [said], 'We didn't kill anyone. We only buried bodies. We can show you where 300 to 400 bodies have been buried,'" (Reuters, 13 July 1998) The much-publicized case of the rape and murder of the schoolgirl Krishanthi and the conviction of the soldiers has not resulted in any improvement of the situation of violence against women. Pax Christi is deeply concerned that the armed forces continue to rape and sexually assault women and underage girls with impunity.
12. The embargo on food and medicine and the rape and other human rights abuses are used as weapons of war designed to break the will of the suffering population into submission.
13. It is evident from reports from various NGOs that the Sri Lankan military is responsible for the human rights violations of the Tamils and is viewed with fear and hatred by the Tamil population. Hence, demilitarization of the Tamil areas would see the return of normalcy to the lives of the 800,000 refugees. This would also pave the way for confidence-building measures to engage the parties to the conflict in peace talks with third-party mediation.
Mechanisms for on-site monitoring
14. Despite the visits by special representatives of the Secretary-General, the situation has not improved; on the contrary, human rights violations are escalating unabated.
15. We urge the Commission to provide the necessary mechanisms for on-site monitoring of:
- The human rights abuses, arbitrary arrests, torture and disappearances;
- The torture and rape of women and children;
- The free movement of displaced population;
- Distribution of humanitarian aid.
Urgent intervention to restore basic and fundamental rights to the Tamil people
16. Considering the denial of basic and fundamental rights to the Tamil people in the island of Sri Lanka, Pax Christi urges the United Nations organizations:
To provide urgent humanitarian and medical assistance to the displaced refugee population in the Wanni;
To initiate effective action to solicit third-party mediation to advance the facilitation of negotiations for a peaceful resolution of this protracted conflict.
17. Pax Christi solicits the urgent direct intervention of the Commission in the above systematic violations of human rights by the Government of Sri Lanka.
Written statement by the Asian Legal Resource Centre
- a non-governmental organization in general consultative status under Agenda Item on Civil and Politicaal Rights, including the question of disappearances and summary executions [E/CN.4/2000/NGO/63 8 February 2000 Original: ENGLISH]
Enforced and involuntary disappearances in Sri Lanka
1. In the communications of the Asian Legal Resource Centre (ALRC) and the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) we have exposed the situation relating to disappearances in Asia and, in particular, in Sri Lanka.
2. According to the United Nations Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances, Sri Lanka is second only to Iraq in terms of the number of disappearances in a country. In terms of official statistics three Government-appointed commissions have reported on about 26,000 cases of disappearances. A further commission, which is still continuing inquiries into another 10,000 cases, has completed inquiries on about 4,000 cases. The Government claims that the prosecutions are under way for about 400 out of the 4,000 cases. Even this figure is disputed by many organizations in the country. Even if it were true, it is just a handful of cases out of the total number quoted above.
3. The major obstacle to the prosecution of the perpetrators is that there had been no criminal investigations into the disappearances when they occurred. The criminal investigations were prevented by special emergency regulation laws, the passage of which created the background for large-scale disappearances. The provisions of the Criminal Procedure Code relating to criminal investigations were suspended through special laws. The bodies were allowed to be disposed of without any report being filed before the courts or without any inquest. As most of the bodies were burnt there is no possibility of examining them during belated inquiries. Further, as the alleged perpetrators are the law enforcement officers themselves, there is no possibility of conducting a credible inquiry into disappearances by the normal process of criminal investigations through the agencies of the police. The demand for the appointment of a special agency for investigating disappearances has not been heeded.
4. Added to all this is the general collapse of the criminal justice system in Sri Lanka.
5. As is well known, mass disappearances affect large numbers of people who are relatives, neighbours, friends and other acquaintances of the disappeared person; they also affect the society at large and shake the moral foundation of a given society. As a result of public indifference to the fate of disappeared persons, the families of these disappeared persons have become demoralized and have had to resort to their own means to deal with the consequences of disappearance. As many efforts by them over a period of around 10 years have borne so little result the families of the disappeared have lost faith not only in the legal system but even in the civil society which has failed to respond adequately to the grave injustices done to them.
6. It remains a fundamental human obligation towards the families of the disappeared to respond to the issue of disappearances and make it a fundamental issue of concern to the community at large as well as to the State.
7. The most likely outcome of the present situation is that except for a very few cases no prosecutions will be instituted. The reason is that there had been no criminal investigations into these cases. So, despite many protests by local people and organizations, by the international community, by the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances and the Commission on Human Rights itself at several of its sessions, the matter of the prosecution of the perpetrators of over 30,000 offences has reached a dead end.
8. If the matter is to be resurrected, the first step to be taken is to appoint an independent and credible commission to undertake criminal investigations into disappearance cases. A credible commission of inquiry needs to have an adequate legal mandate and resources. Sri Lanka has in many ordinary criminal cases sought the assistance of foreign criminal investigation expertise, for example, from Scotland Yard. In some investigations into mass graves, Sri Lanka had invited foreign experts. Therefore nothing is preventing foreign participation in the criminal investigations into cases of disappearances. In fact, such participation will add credibility to such a criminal investigation commission.
9. However, the appointment of such a commission can only happen if the international community, the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and the Commission on Human Rights itself take a serious interest in this matter. They have every reason to take such an interest; what has taken place in Sri Lanka in terms of mass disappearances is a crime against humanity.
The local commissions have concluded that most disappearances that occurred in Sri Lanka were killings after arrest; they have further concluded that disappearances were carried out as part of a plan approved by the highest political authorities. In terms of the number of persons killed, the Sri Lankan case is much worse than the East Timor case. It is also much worse than the case of the Chilean dictator Pinochet.