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Home > Struggle for Tamil Eelam > Sri Lanka Accused at United Nations > UN Commission on Human Rights 2001
UN COMMISSION ON HUMAN RIGHTS
57th SESSIONS: MARCH/APRIL 2001
- Oral Statement by Oretta Bandettini di Poggio, Secrétaire générale, the International League for the Rights and Liberation of Peoples under Agenda Item on the right of peoples to self-determination and its application to peoples under colonial or alien domination or foreign, occupation - 22 March 2001 (E-mail: [email protected] )
- Statement by NGO, International Educational Development under Agenda Item 6 on Racism
- Statement by NGO, Women Against Rape, under Agenda Item 12 (a) - Violence Against Women
- Oral Statement by Oretta Bandettini di Poggio, Secrétaire générale, the International League for the Rights and Liberation of Peoples under Agenda Item on the right of peoples to self-determination and its application to peoples under colonial or alien domination or foreign, occupation - 22 March 2001
On December 24th last the so-called terrorist rebels, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) announced a month long unilateral cease-fire as a good will gesture to facilitate and promote initiatives towards a peace process. While declaring the cease-fire the LTTE expressed the hope that this gesture would be reciprocated by the Sri Lanka government and that the economic blockade would be lifted. The offer was categorically rejected by the government of Sri Lanka.
Prior to this declaration of unilateral truce, meetings had been held in October/November 2000 between the Norwegian envoy, Mr Eric Solheim, and both the president of Sri Lanka and the LTTE leader with a view to discuss confidence building measures to be mutually reciprocated by the parties in conflict. Besides the LTTE also issued reiterated calls for the de-escalation of the armed conflict meaning by that the cessation of armed hostilities, the removal of military aggression and occupation, the withdrawal of the economic embargo and the creation of condition of normalcy which is an essential prerequisite to resume political negotiations. Furthermore and most importantly the cease-fire has already been extended twice, next dead-line being March 24th without any effect. All these appeals and offers have been rejected point-blank.
The Sri Lanka government has declared it considers calls for de-escalation as a move by LTTE to prepare for war and has taken advantage of the truce to increase its military offensive, to recruit and train more than 10.000 soldiers and to further allocate 1 billion dollars to the war budget.(7.2% of GDP)
Army representatives have gone as far as saying, and I quote : …There will be no negotiations with the Tamil Tigers. They will be completely wiped out". On top of that, warnings have been issued by the army that severe actions would be taken against those who organise or take part in hunger-strikes, peace marches or any form of protest urging the Sri Lanka government to begin negotiation with the Liberation Tigers.
Rev. Swampillai, Catholic Bishop of the Trincomalee-Batticaloa diocese commented the army's proclamation by declaring "It is a dangerous development that people who say the war should be stopped and call for peace in Sri Lanka should be considered offenders by the army". Nevertheless massive manifestations have been held. On January 17th, in Jaffna, security forces refused to allow a peace demonstration by university and high school students, residents and members of civil organisations. Thousands of people were turned away at check points, roads were blocked by barbed wire and entrance to the university grounds was refused to anyone not belonging to the staff. Nine students were arrested, identity cards and bicycles were confiscated. Reporters were not permitted into the university either.
Let us further add that all Tamil parties, even those which have been co-operating with successive Sinhala governments, have taken a positive stand as regards the cease-fire. Several joint delegations have recently met with ambassadors and representatives of a number of Western European countries to impress upon them the urgent need for a cease-fire and a political solution to the conflict.
An important number of current conflicts indicate that the existing patterns of international boundaries do not correspond or, may be, have never corresponded to the realities and prerequisite of effective governance and require urgent corrections. The international community as a whole, and even more so that part of it which has been at the roots of many of today's world unjust situations should feel it its duty to constructively help redressing past errors.
The very notion of self-determination has remained behind history and is lacking consistency because most of the time it is interpreted as a notion stemming from the decolonisation period and therefore it leaves peoples' struggles outside international law. It definitely needs updating so as to better specify how its implementation can be calibrated within the context in which those aspiring to self-determination find themselves.
The struggle of the Tamils provides a strong argument for determining when a people should have the right to declare itself independent and sovereign state. The current conflict began following independence in 1948, though it is an historical fact that the Tamils lost their homeland as a consequence of foreign colonial penetration. For the sake of time, let us leave aside any further historical reference to facts all too well known by now and just recall the 1977 elections when over 75% of Tamils voted for independence, a true plebiscite that instead of being considered as a conclusive proof of the Tamils' wish to govern themselves triggered instead an escalation of repression by the government
Considering the history of these past years and the government's refusal to even entertain the possibility of a dialogue the Tamils are well justified in believing today that their aspirations can only be fulfilled through the creation of an independent Tamil state.
Though mutual mistrust is a normal consequence of the war both sides have waged for more than 20 years a common ground must be encountered at a negotiation table. This is why our organisation appeals to this Commission to urge the government of Sri Lanka to reciprocate the LTTE 's cease-fire, to lift the economic blockade and to accept to begin negotiations with the LTTE with a view to reaching a just peace.
- Statement by International Educational Development under Agenda Item 6 on Racism
International Educational Development is concerned by the serious increase in racist activities and racism in the world today. While international law condemns racism it also provides, as a last resort, a powerful remedy for groups subjected to prolonged and serious racism on the part of a government -- the right to self determination from racist regimes. This right is an integral part of international law, and finds expression in numerous resolutions of the General Assembly as well as in Protocol Additional I of the Geneva Conventions and customary international law. This means, that even without the right to self-determination under the so-called "classic" definition of self-determination, groups who show that they have been subjected to racist policies over a prolonged time with little or no chance of change have the right to resist that racism with the same means -- including the use of force -- that groups meeting the traditional definition of peoples have to resist colonization. Such is the case in Sri Lanka.
IED is convinced that the Tamil people on the island of Ceylon clearly meet the test of peoples with the right to self-determination under the classic international law model: they were an independent country prior to the colonial period but forcibly amalgamated with another country under the colonial administrative policy of "unitary rule"; they have an identifiable territory, distinct language, culture, religion and ethnicity; and they have made their choice of separate sovereignty clearly and with strong leadership. They have the capacity and will for self-governance.
We understand that certain countries, for covert and overt political reasons related to their foreign policy and economic objectives in the region, try to deny that such a right exists. Yet even these countries cannot deny the application of the right to self-determination from a racist regime.
The Tamil people have suffered extreme racism at the hands of the Sinhala majority in Ceylon since the end of the British colonial period. The Commission is aware of this as there have been literally hundreds of statements, both written and oral, governmental and non-governmental, at sessions of both the Commission and the Sub-Commission since 1983. A very brief review of pertinent acts includes:
(1) the 1948 Citizenship Act which disenfranchised over 1 million plantation workers, originally brought to Ceylon over 115 years ago;
(2) the "Sinhala only" Act of 1956;
(3) the anti-Tamil riots in Sinhala areas in 1958;
(4) the violations of the two Tamil-Sinhala political pacts;
(5) the Srima-Shastri pact which made over 650,000 "plantation Tamils" stateless;
(6) the denial in 1972 of equal education rights for Tamil children;
(7) the anti-Tamil riots in Colombo in 1983 which resulted in 2,500 Tamils killed by Sinhala rioters and produced 250,000 refugees.
This last event was the final blow for the Tamil people, who immediately thereafter began an armed struggle in exercise of the right to self-determination based on both classic international law and their rights against a racist regime. The war, a "last resort" response to a racist regime, continues to this day.
The government of Sri Lanka, in the course of this now eighteen-year war has developed and used anti-Tamil rhetoric of the most extreme kind. It has reached such proportions that any -- I repeat any -- attempt by human rights groups, religious groups or other charities to address the urgent humanitarian needs of the now estimated 900,000 Tamils living in shelters or even without shelter in Sri Lanka is violently opposed by the Sri Lanka government.
The regime writes menacing letters to churches, newspapers, indeed to any group that seeks to ameliorate the plight of these Tamil war victims. The regime goes so far as to openly threaten such aid providers and has an almost total blockade to Tamil areas. It appears that even Tamil children are the enemy. Our organization must stress that under the applicable rules of armed conflict, humanitarian aid cannot be criminalized nor can any party to a war impede fair distribution of humanitarian aid to victims.
Anti-Tamil rhetoric is so constant and so pervasive that even governments that should know better are infected by it. Some governments seem to only relate to the Sinhala people -- not even nodding to the Tamil or Muslim population of the island.
As an example of this, an ambassador of a major European power was recently interviewed by a newsmagazine from her country. In it, she commented on how she was happy to be posted in Sri Lanka because Sri Lanka was a Buddhist country and she "has always been passionate about Buddhism." She was photographed participating in Buddhist ceremonies.
But the Tamils in Sri Lanka are Hindu and Christian, and a sizable portion of Tamil-speaking people are Muslim. It is inexcusable that an ambassador would single out one group in a supposedly multi-cultural/multi-ethnic and multi-religious country, and in the context of the war in Sri Lanka must be viewed as racist. We can only point out the political furor that would arise if a European ambassador to the United States was photographed attending a Southern Baptist ceremony and quoted as saying "I have always been passionate about Southern Baptists."
The government has clearly shown that it seeks a military solution to the conflict in Sri Lanka rather than a negotiated one. It has not reciprocated the LTTE unilaterally declared cease fire -- as of last Thursday extended to its third month.
The government also appears to not cooperate with the Norwegian peace initiative undertaken in a spirit of neutrality and with no perceivable national interests other than a sincere search for peace.
International Educational Development would like to take this opportunity to thank the government of Norway for this action and encourage them to persevere. We hope that the Commission of Human Rights will also recognize and support this gesture so needed to bring peace, racial and national harmony to the island. We hope that the Durban Conference will fully address remedies for victims of racist regimes.
- Statement by, Deirdre McConnel on behalf of NGO Women Against Rape (PO Box: 287 London NW6 5QU, United Kingdom. Fax (0207) 209 4761) under Agenda Item 12 (a) - Violence Against Women
" On average, a Tamil woman is raped by members of the Sri Lankan security forces every two weeks. The real number is inevitably higher since many cases are unreported. Every two months a Tamil woman is gang-raped and murdered by the Sri Lankan security forces..."
There are no human rights in this world without women's rights. There may be many conventions on Human Rights but without real guarantee of women's rights they will not lead to justice.
Today, who are the victims of the worst human rights violations in areas of armed conflict, ethnic war etc? Women and children!
It is crystal clear that sexual violence used to subjugate and destroy a people, as a form of ethnic cleansing is an abhorrent and heinous war crime. These persistent and gross abuses, flagrant denials of the human rights of women and their right to life itself, demand an urgent response from international human rights bodies.
Women Against Rape has invited me, representative of the Tamil Centre for Human Rights (TCHR), to bring before the Commission, evidence of the systematic rape of Tamil women in Sri Lanka perpetrated as a weapon of war by Sri Lankan security forces with impunity.
For twenty-five years Women Against Rape has spoken out with, and on behalf of women rape victims in various forums.
In the last, 52nd session of the Sub-Commission on Promotion and Protection of Human rights, a member and expert, Mr Paulo Sergio Pinheiro, raised the specific situation of Tamil women under the agenda item on slavery-like practices during wartime.
TCHR has gathered detailed and specific documentation on the widespread violations of the human rights of women rape victims.
* On average, a Tamil woman is raped by members of the Sri Lankan security forces every two weeks. The real number is inevitably higher since many cases are unreported.
* Every two months a Tamil woman is gang-raped and murdered by the Sri Lankan security forces.
Personnel from the Special Task Force, the Sri Lankan Navy, Army and Police and Home guards operating with the Sri Lankan army, have raped Tamil women. Senior personnel such as captains are known to have been involved in gang-rape and murders, and have been named by victims and witnesses, but none has ever been convicted nor punished.
I could present before you a catalogue of rape and gang-rape murder cases which have been committed by the Sri Lankan security forces under cover of twenty-seven years of Emergency Rule and twenty-two years of Prevention of Terrorism Act in Sri Lanka.
* However, this august forum has already heard in the past, the internationally high-lighted case of 17 year old Krishanthy Kumaraswamy, gang-raped and murdered in 1996, which created a pathway for the discovery of several mass graves in the Jaffna Peninsula in the North of the island of Sri Lanka.
* You have also heard of the cases of Murugesupillai Koneswary who was gang-raped and murdered by security force personnel in May 1997, and whose attackers inserted a grenade into her vagina and blew her body apart to destroy all evidence.
* The cases of 12-year old Pushpalamar, 21 year old Ida Carmelita, 29 year old Sarathambal and 70 year old Poonamanai Saravanai have also been brought to your notice. These are a few of the cases.
For the concern of this Commission I would like to bring before you two very recent cases currently in the limelight. There has been ample condemnation of these brutal atrocities by religious leaders, parliamentarians, social workers, local human rights activists, universities and law associations.
On March 19th 2001, the first day of this Commission, Sivamani Weerakon, young mother of three children, and pregnant 22-year-old Wijikala Nanthan, were stripped naked, tortured and gang-raped by police from the Mannar Counter Subversive Unit (CSU) unit in Sri Lanka. After the horrific rape ordeal, Sivamani was hung upside-down, and tied by hands and feet to a pole suspended between two tables. She and Wijikala were tortured and poked in their genitals throughout the night until dawn. The draconian Emergency Regulations and Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) allow the arbitrary arrest, detention, torture and rape of Tamil women to occur with impunity.
Sir, any human being can feel the pain and acute distress of this horrible and barbaric act.
Several international NGOs have appealed to the President of Sri Lanka, who herself is the Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces, to investigate these atrocities against women, in a country which produced the world's first woman Prime Minister.
We welcome the historic judgement last February of the UN International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia where for the first time rape and sexual slavery were legally acknowledged as crimes against humanity, for which perpetrators can and must be held to account. This verdict is a significant step for women's rights.
We hope that many of you have seen recent highlights in the Netherlands media and some other international media about the case filed on March 19th 2001, by a leading Dutch human rights lawyer Cornelius Schoorlon, requesting the Chief prosecutor in Amsterdam to authorise the arrest of the visiting President of Sri Lanka, Chandrika Kumaratunga, on the basis of her responsibility, as commander in chief of the armed forces for acts of torture and crimes against humanity.
We urge the Commission on Human Rights, as a responsible human rights body, to take meaningful action and to appoint a country rapporteur to Sri Lanka to look into the situation of the systematic rape of Tamil women.