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Home > Struggle for Tamil Eelam > Sri Lanka Accused at United Nations > UN Commission on Human Rights 1986
UN COMMISSION ON HUMAN RIGHTS
42ND SESSIONS: FEBRUARY 1986
- Joint Statement by 11 Non Governmental Organisations consisting of the Anti-Slavery Society for the Protection of Human Rights, Centre Europe-Tiers Monde, Human Rights Advocates, International League for the Rights and Liberation of Peoples, Pax Christi International, Pax Romana - International Catholic Movement for Intellectual and Cultural Affairs, International Movement for Fraternal Union among Races and Peoples, International Student Movement, UN Union of Arab Lawyers, Disabled Peoples International, International Federation of Human Rights, February 1986
"Lives are being lost in their hundreds in an escalating spiral of violence and counter-violence in Sri Lanka. With no sign of a resumption of negotiations for a peaceful solution to the ethnic conflict in that country, the President is on record as having recently stated his government's preferred option to seek to total military victory..."
- Statement by Anti-Slavery Society under Agenda Item on incommunicado detention and torture, 12 March 1986
"...We welcome the report of the Special Rapporteur on Torture as a step in the right direction....Almost all the conditions, under which torture is practised and listed by the Special Rapporteur, are prevalent in Sri Lanka, which makes it an ideal example for a case study..."
- Statement by Dr. G. S. Dhillion, Leader of the Indian Government Delegation, 5 March 1986
"...There is very clear evidence now emanating that violence directed against the Tamil minority is indiscriminate and makes no distinction between those engaged in conflict and innocent civilians, whether men, women or even children. This is a matter of the utmost concern for us in India..."
- Response by Dr. G. S. Dhillion, Leader of the Indian Government Delegation, 10 March 1986
"It is a matter of deep dismay and regret for the delegation of India that in his statement this morning the Sri Lanka representative elected to characterise our statement of March 5 as one of "ill grace...The Sri Lanka representative has questioned the authenticity of reports on human rights violations by the Sri Lanka Security forces. Reports about violations of human rights have been based on incontrovertible evidence collected by objective international observers..."
- Statement by International League for the Rights and Liberation of Peoples on Disappearances and Torture, 11 March 1986
"..The response of the government of Sri Lanka to the 197 cases of disappearances referred to it by the Working Group, is most shocking. In only three cases has the government provided satisfactory explanations as to their whereabouts..."
- Press Release by 5 Non Governmental Organisations on return of Tamil refugees from Switzerland
- Joint Statement by 11 Non Governmental Organisations on return of Tamil refugees from Switzerland
- Statement by the Anti - Slavery Society
- Statement by Hurst Hannum, the Procedural Aspects of International Law Institute
- Statement by Pax Christie International, 11 March 1986'In view of the publicly stated goal of the Government to eliminate all terrorist groups before the end of this year by intensified military action, it would seem optimistic to expect the suffering of the Tamils to diminish during the rest of this year. We fear that it also will be intensified.''
- Statement by the International Commission of Jurists, 6 March 1986''In ruthless retaliation to a land mine explosion presumably planted by a group of Tamil militants in a naval boat, the Sri Lankan navy went on a rampage in this island of Nainativu - they set fire to an ancient Hindu temple; several shops and houses were set ablaze; at least 10 people were killed and scores of civilians were injured as the navy ran berserk in an uncontrolled orgy of indiscriminate machine gun fire."
Joint Statement by 11 Non Governmental Organisations
- consisting of the Anti-Slavery Society for the Protection of Human Rights, Centre Europe-Tiers Monde, Human Rights Advocates, International League for the Rights and Liberation of Peoples, Pax Christi International, Pax Romana - International Catholic Movement for Intellectual and Cultural Affairs, International Movement for Fraternal Union among Races and Peoples, International Student Movement, UN Union of Arab Lawyers, Disabled Peoples International, International Federation of Human Rights, made in February 1986
"Lives are being lost in their hundreds in an escalating spiral of violence and counter-violence in Sri Lanka. With no sign of a resumption of negotiations for a peaceful solution to the ethnic conflict in that country, the President is on record as having recently stated his government's preferred option to seek to total military victory. Sri Lanka's shift towards a military solution was announced by President Jayawardene in the following terms:
"The Tamil problem is more a military problem and any military problem has to be tackled militarily... We were not ready earlier. Now we are acquiring arms and getting our soldiers trained. We are getting ready for a decisive military action if nothing comes out of the negotiations... Already there is a strong feeling that we should stop all these talks and strike again." (India Today 15.12.85)
- "I am winning this war... I have come to realise that only success matters. I do not care what New Delhi, London or any other country says. How quickly and effectively I can exterminate the militants is the crux of the problem and I am on the point of achieving this... Now I have more weapons. Countries like Pakistan are training 60 officers and 1500 Junior Commissioned Officers. My air force is also being trained by people from abroad." (London Times, 27.01.86)
Such a course would appear to be in direct conflict with the repeated assurances given by Sri Lanka to the Commission on Human Rights and to the Sub-Commission for the Prevention of Discrimination and the Protection of Minorities.
The government of Sri Lanka in its note verbale dated 30 January 1984 (E/CN.4/1984/10,1,Feb.1984), circulated to the delegates of the Commission on Human Rights at its 40th sessions, inter alia, stated:
"The Government of Sri Lanka is full committed to strengthening of national unity by promoting co-operation and mutual understanding among all people of Sri Lanka... As a part of this process, in January 1984 the President of Sri Lanka summoned a conference of all political parties representing various ideologies and ethnic groups, with a view to discussing the relevant issues and proposals concerning the rights of the minorities and finding solutions acceptable to all parties concerned within the democratic framework of the country... In this context, the constructive approach of the international community to desist from any action of comment on the situation in Sri Lanka."
The all Party Conference convened with the assistance and good offices of the Indian government continued throughout 1984. Prior to the commencement of the conference, the President of Sri Lanka had agreed with the special envoy of the Indian Prime Minister a set of proposals contained in a document known as 'Annexure C'. These proposals provided a framework for a peaceful resolution of the ethnic conflict on the basis of a degree of regional autonomy to be granted to the North and East of the country, predominantly Tamil areas. The Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF) was prepared to abandon its call for a separate state and settle on the basis of the 'Annexure C' proposals.
However as the Conference commenced, and as soon as the government faced opposition from its own ranks and the extremist sections of the Buddhist clergy, the President abandoned the 'Annexure C' proposals of which he was a proposer, the TULF continued to participate in the conference.
In August 1984, speaking before the Sub-Commission for the Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities, the Sri Lankan government delegate said:
"Let me assure you that the process of finding a negotiated political solution to the problems is very much alive in Sri Lanka today... We would appeal that a delicately poised political negotiation currently in progress not be endangered even by the most well - intentioned resolution."
The All Party conference collapsed in December 1984. The government's proposals before the Conference were basically for the setting up of District Councils throughout Sri Lanka similar to the one's that had already been tried and found inadequate to meet Tamil grievances.
The TULF could not accept the government's proposals but were ready to continue negotiating. However, faced with mounting opposition from powerful sections of the Buddhist clergy the government, for the second time in the same year, abandoned its own proposals.
When the Sri Lanka question was again raised during the 41st sessions of the Commission on Human Rights, the Sri Lankan delegates, on 8 March 1985, assured the Commission of its government's continued commitment to the quest for a political solution and President J.R. Jayawardene continues his consultation in pursuit of this solution. "He also assured that" certain amendments involving devolution of power at local government level and the setting up of the new institutions of local government at grass - root level on an island - wide basis will be implemented. However, these assurances to the commission came to nothing in practice.
With over 100,000 Sri Lanka Tamil refugees landing in the shores of south India during the first quarter of 1985, the Indian Prime Minister brought to bear renewed interest in helping the Sri Lankan government to arrive at a negotiated settlement. As a result of these efforts, the Indian government was able to bring about a 'cease-fire' between both sides to the conflict in Sri Lanka - the Tamil guerrilla groups and the security forces. Having helped to bring about the 'cease-fire', which came in to operation on 18 June, 1985, the Indian government made arrangements for negotiations to take place at Thimphu in Bhutan between the delegations of the government of Sri Lanka and the Tamil groups, including the guerrilla groups.
The second round of negotiations took place between the parties in July - August 1985. The government of Sri Lanka demonstrated its total lack of seriousness in search for a real and genuine settlement when it produced proposals which fell short of even the proposals it placed before the ill - fated All party conference and which had already been rejected by the Tamils as unacceptable. By the time the second round of talks was taking place in August, both parties were accusing each other of 'cease-fire' violations. The talks eventually collapsed as northern town of Vavuniya, in which an estimated 200 Tamil civilians were killed in reprisal to a land - mine explosion allegedly planted by Tamil guerrillas. There were no casualties for the security forces as a result of this explosion; nevertheless, the army rampage brought the negotiating process to an end.
Since the breakdown of the talks the government of Sri Lanka has put forward proposals for the setting up of provincial councils with very limited powers. The TULF has submitted counter - proposals setting out its case for a real devolution of power by creating a linguistic regional unit in the North and East with powers similar to those of Indian states. The Tamil guerrilla groups too would appear to have expressed their willingness to settle for much less then the separate state for the achievement of which they had taken up arms. One of the leaders of the most powerful Tamil guerrilla group, Mr. S. A. Balasingham, stated, 'if the Sri Lankan army is withdrawn from Tamil areas, if the Government stops colonising areas belonging to the Tamils, and if total regional autonomy is guaranteed to us, we may consider a settlement with the Sri Lanka government". (India Today , 15.12.85)
The government of Sri Lanka has summarily rejected the TULF's proposals. In the meantime, as the Sri Lankan government is carrying on its offensive in the North and East of the country with the security forces wreaking havoc and destruction, there is clear evidence that the Indian government is becoming more and more exasperated with the lack of positive and genuine response on the part of the Sri Lankan government for a peaceful solution. The Indian Prime Minister recently stated that, "Sri Lanka government should let us know whether it was really interested in the initiative India has taken" (Financial Times, 12. 02. 86). India seems convinced that Sri Lanka's preference is for a quick "military victory", Sri Lanka having become more confident after it has massively armed itself in the recent past.
The several measures taken by the Sri Lankan government over the past year demonstrates a policy of military confrontation which goes far beyond the needs to counter violent actions by Tamil guerrillas. The military actions of the government have been directed at the civilian population at large, which reflects an official doctrine of inflicting collective punishment upon all Tamils.
Major aspects of the deteriorating situation include:
- 1.the massive increase in military expenditure and the number of men under arms;
- 2.the setting up of special commando and para - military units including the so-called 'home guards';
- 3.the officially admitted induction of foreign elements into the security and military structures of Sri Lanka: the Israeli secret services and ex-SAS mercenaries:
- 4.settlement of selected armed Sinhala civilians in predominantly Tamil areas thus provoking a situation of violent confrontation between the Tamil and Sinhala communities;
- 5.the imposition of severe restrictions upon the movement of people in the northern and eastern provinces resulting in considerable hardships and serious disruption of normal civilians life;
- 6.the alarming increase in the number of arbitrary and extra judicial killings of mainly Tamil civilians by the armed and paramilitary forces;
- 7.the indiscriminate use of bombing, strafing and shelling of civilian centres in the north and east.
- 8.an escalation of attacks by Tamil guerrilla groups against the government's security forces and occasionally against Sinhalese settled in Tamil areas.
There is no doubt that the Sri Lankan government has been utilising the period of the 'peace process' at Bhutan and the `cease-fire' to re-equip and reorganise its armed forces. Since 1977, defence spending has increased by 800 percent , that is, from Rs 750 million to Rs 6 billion. Although defence expenditure for 1985 was estimated at Rs 3,7 billion it rose to Rs 6 billion. The amount estimated for defence for 1986 is Rs 5.84 billion.
On 16 October 1985, the Minister of National Security, proposed during cabinet meeting to raise the army from 20,000 to 100,000, which, according to the Finance Minister would increase defence cost from the present US $500 million to US $2,504 million a year.
Young people, including school children have been recruited and given military training. Under a new cadet training scheme, 4000 cadets in schools would be given special military training; their number is to be increased to 10,000. 400 senior school girls were also to be given military training.
The 'home guards' , set up in late 1984, have been recruited, controlled and directed by members of Parliament. Lacking in basic training, but armed with guns, grenades and petrol bombs, they constitute a dangerous ally to the security forces in their 'search and destroy operation'. They have also been engaged in a campaign of looting and arson in many villages mainly in the Eastern Province.
A Special Task Force (STF) comprising over 1000 strong commando unit, has been set up with the assistance of former SAS personnel supplied by a Channel Islands based company, Keeny Meeny Services (KMS). Operating outside the control of either Police Chief or the Commander of the Armed Forces, the STF would appear to be a law unto itself, carrying out some of the documented extra judicial killings, particularly in the Eastern Province, and the many involuntary disappearances.
In early October 1985, the government enacted the Mobilisation and Supplementary Forces Act enabling conscription of civilians for military and parliamentary service. This enactment was condemned by the opposition parties as the latest attempt by the government to militarise public life more extensively. This measure enabled the government to establish a National Auxiliary Force, any other Auxiliary Force, any Paramilitary Force, a Home Guard unit and a Civilian defence Force. Fears have been expressed by the opposition and civil rights organisations in Sri Lanka that the new legislation enabled the creation of a powerful paramilitary arm of the ruling party to crush any opposition.
The Supplementary forces established under this law need not necessary come under the operational command of the Commander of the Armed Forces. The President is empowered to place them under the operational control of "any fit and proper person designated by name and office".
A series of measures introduced under emergency regulations since 1984 have institutionalised collective punishment, within the legal framework of the country. The following measure introduced in November 1984 brought about a total disruption of normal civilian life in the Northern Province. These measures included :
- a Prohibited Zone covering a distance of 5 km seawards and 100 metres landwards along the entire coast of the Northern Province;
- a Security Zone in the whole of the Northern Jaffna and Kilinochchi districts;
- a Surveillance Zone along the Northern coast;
- a No Entry Zone in the Northern territorial waters between 6 pm and 6am.
The Minister of National Security conceded in Parliament on 28 November 1984, that "Many of the restrictions are certainly unpleasant and likely to affect the lives of many persons, not themselves responsible for the current situation. " These measures closely resemble the various Military Orders that have been in operation in the occupied West Bank aimed at collectively penalising the Arabs and Palestinians in the occupied territories.
In January 1986, the government announced the establishment of a 1000 metre Security Zone around army camps in the North and East. Within the area covered by the Security Zone, the armed forces were authorised to carry out aerial bombardment and long range mortar fire in the event of incidents of violence against the security forces even though the victims of such bombardment and mortar fire would be civilians and their property.
Since the introduction of this measure, there have been many cases of deaths and injury as a result of indiscriminate firing from the Jaffna Fort where the army camp is situated. For instance, on 15 February 1986, three pensioners, aged 77, 75 and 75, were killed and three more injured when the army fired shells from the Jaffna Fort. At the time of the incident, the victims were standing in a queue outside the bank to collect their tokens for their pensions.
Besides the arbitrary arrests, detention and torture about which well-documented evidence has been produced by Amnesty International, the most alarming feature during the last year has been the rapid escalation in the number of extra judicial and arbitrary killings carried out by the Sri Lankan security forces.
The victims have been predominately innocent Tamil civilians including women and children, young and old alike. There have been several instances of recorded mass killings by the security forces carried out in reprisal against alleged attacks by Tamils guerrilla groups.
According to a human rights group monitoring army excesses in the Northern and Eastern Provinces, the rate of reprisal killing of Tamils for the death of a single soldier in an encounter with Tamil guerrillas has sometimes been as high as 100 Tamils, as was the case at Valvettiturai in May 1985 when an army officer was killed; in another instance when an attempt by a Tamil guerrilla group to blast a culvert near Northern Vavuniya was made in August 1985, as many as 200 Tamils civilians living in the vicinity suffered death in a army rampage...
The latest massacre of over 80 Tamil farm workers and their bodies being burnt in the Eastern village of Akkaraipattu on 19 February is typical of the conduct of the armed forces. The farm workers were threshing the paddy fields when troops appeared firing into the air. The women were chased and the soldiers rounded up the men, tied their hands and made them sit on the road while the troops moved into the village and looted the shops. Thereafter the farm workers were taken back to the paddy fields and shot. The bodies were piled on top of the dry rice harvest and set on fire.
Eight more people were still missing and the bodies of three tractor drivers were found near a village 15 miles away. Up to 20 other people who had travelled into the area on the same day are also reported to have been killed. These killings by the security forces have been reported to be in retaliation to the death of 4 soldiers and several Sinhalese civilians in a land mine explosion allegedly planted by a Tamil group (Guardian, 22.02.86).
Attention is specifically drawn to the Report by the Special Rapporteur (E/CN.4/1986/21 of 7 February 1986) on Summary or arbitrary executions, paragraphs 159 (p.91); p38-142 (pp. 83-87); and 91-93 (pp. 33-38).
In addition to the figures referred to above (see p.6), attention is drawn to pages 78-82 of the Report of the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances (E/CN.4/1986/18, 24 January 1986), submitted to the 42nd session of the Commission on Human Rights, which provides details surrounding the involuntary disappearance of over 200 persons.
In view of the gravity of the situation that has developed in Sri Lanka, and taking into consideration the gross abuse of human rights, including the right to life, we recommend that the delegates to the 42nd session of the Commission of Human Rights give serious thought to the following matters:
(a) urge the parties to renounce the use of violence and take action in pursuit of a negotiated political solution;
(b) request the Sri Lankan government to permit the International Committee of the Red Cross to visit the affected areas and provide necessary relief;
(c) urge the Sri Lankan government to take immediate steps to prevent its armed forces from committing excesses against non-combatant civilian population;
(d) appoint a Special Rapporteur to investigate and report on the human rights situation in Sri Lanka and other steps taken to restore communal harmony to the 43rd session of the Commission.
Statement by Anti-Slavery Society
- made on 12 March 1986 under the Agenda Item on incommunicado detention and torture
"We welcome the report of the Special Rapporteur on Torture as a step in the right direction. Particularly most welcome is his victim-oriented approach to his task as well as his identification of a common link between torture, enforced or involuntary disappearances and summary or arbitrary executions, all of which are facilitated by prolonged incommunicado detentions.
Almost all the conditions, under which torture is practised and listed by the Special Rapporteur, are prevalent in Sri Lanka, which makes it an ideal example for a case study. The provisions of the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) and the Emergency Regulations promulgated under the Public Security Ordinance under which Sri Lanka has been ruled for some years, create the ideal and classic conditions under which the inter-related violations of human rights such as torture, disappearances and executions occur.
The PTA authorises detention of persons up to 18 months and the Emergency Regulations for an indefinite period. Detention orders are theoretically made by the Minister of Defence, a portfolio held by the President. However, Paul Sieghart, Chairman of Justice, the British Section of the International Commission of Jurists, who visited Sri Lanka on an ICJ mission in February 1984 concluded, "I am regretfully left with the impression that neither the Secretary nor the Minister, in practice do much more than accede to the routine applications that are put down before them, without either testing the case that is put, or laying down firm policy directives..."
The PTA and the Emergency Regulations authorise incommunicado detention in such places and under such conditions as the government determines. Detainees under the PTA are invariably held in army camps located in various parts of the country. They can be, and in fact they are, transferred or taken from one place of detention to another without any information being given to the relatives or legal advisers regarding the whereabouts of detainees. In fact, one of the standard conditions prescribed for PTA detainees provide, "The suspect will not be permitted to have any visitors".
Referring to the arrest and incommunicado detention of nearly 200 persons, this time mostly Sinhalese political and civil rights activists from South Sri Lanka, carried out in December 1985, the Civil Rights Movement of Sri Lanka pointed out that those detained were being held in various police stations, often under acutely uncomfortable physical conditions, and in general, without the right of access to family members or lawyers. In many instances, the families of the detainees had not been informed regarding their whereabouts.
The fact that persons are held in detention for prolonged periods without being charged or brought to trial, constitutes a clear violation of Article 9 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
Detainees under the PTA are also held in conditions which amount to no less than torture, or degrading inhuman treatment. There is documented evidence that detainees have been kept in a handcuffed position on the floor or kept chained to the walls for several months. In this process, several of the provisions of the United Nations Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners have been flagrantly violated.
Both the PTA and Emergency Regulations prohibit any judicial challenge of detention orders. Section 10 of the PTA provides that a detention order made by the Minister shall be final and not be called into question in any court or tribunal by way of writ or otherwise.
The government of Sri Lanka seeks to mitigate the criticism levelled at this prohibition of judicial challenge by drawing attention to the availability of habeas corpus petitions and Article 126 of the Constitution under which a person whose fundamental rights are infringed can apply to court for redress.
In practice, these remedies have not only been ineffective, but also unavailable to the vast majority of the victims of arbitrary and incommunicado detention. In this connection, in a recent statement reported in a Colombo English daily, 'The Island' of 20 January 1986, the President of the Law Society of Sri Lanka stated, "Since it is a tedious legal process which entails inordinate delays, a Habeas Corpus application does not serve the intended purpose. Quite a large number of applications in respect of persons about whom nothing is known after arrest, is still pending in the Appeal Court."
The Sri Lankan government's claim that the provision in the PTA and Emergency Regulations enabling detainees or their relatives to make representations to an Advisory Board appointed by the President provides a sufficient remedial mechanism for aggrieved detainees is rather tenuous.
A delegation of the U.K. Parliamentary Human Rights Group which visited Sri Lanka in February 1985 stated,
"The problem is that it frequently takes several months for the parent's or mother's letter requesting a review to reach the Advisory Board via the Ministry of Defence. And, once the Board has made its recommendation, it takes several more months before the Ministry of Defence acts upon it. Then, on being presented with several dozen cases, the Minister pleaded that there was a shortage of clerks. We found this attitude extremely disturbing."
Mr. Chairman, if one is asked to single out the most important factor which has contributed to systematic practice of torture in Sri Lanka, it is the provision that enables the use of confessions extracted during detention under oppressive conditions makes the situation conducive and the detainees most vulnerable to torture, while the practice of torture becomes worthwhile and rewarding when information or confessions are made admissible in evidence.
This is exactly what the PTA and Emergency Regulations do in Sri Lanka. In an attempt to deflect criticism on this point, the government of Sri Lanka has often suggested that there were provisions in these laws to exclude evidence if it is proved that such evidence was obtained by the use of torture.
I can only recall what the Special Rapporteur has said on this point. He says that torture by its very nature takes place in isolation in interrogation centres, in places of detention and in prisons where detainees are normally held. In most cases, there are no eye-witnesses other than the victims and the torturers. Secrecy surrounds the practice of torture and this secrecy is created and protected most effectively by incommunicado detention.
There are also a considerable number of techniques of torture which leave no traceable marks on the body, although they invariably leave permanent marks on the mind. In cases where the victim is still under detention, it is virtually impossible to obtain conclusive evidence that they had been tortured.
Mr. Chairman, the Sri Lankan delegate categorically denied that any person arrested had been tortured or executed. If this distinguished Commission were to believe that denial, then it would also believe that the Nazis never persecuted the Jews.
The latest Amnesty International's Sri Lanka File on Torture published in October 1985 documents a depressing and distressing catalogue of torture systematically practised in Sri Lanka.
I will only cite one example from that report. In this case, the victim was detained in an army camp in late December 1983. He claimed that he was beaten for several hours with rifles, iron rods and plastic pipes. He was suspended with a rope with his arms being tied together. A tray of burning coal was placed directly under him. He was beaten and hit on the soles of his feet. A paste made of chilli powder and water was applied into his eyes and ears and upon his genitals.
Ten months later, a medical examination conducted on the victim at the request of the Amnesty International found, "...the remaining physical scars confirm the essential story. The multiple faint scars cris-crossing his back are typical of a beating. The scars above each elbow are consistent with abrasions caused by a restraining rope tying the arms together. Paralysis in the median and radial nerve distribution on the left was confirmed at this medical examination in 1984."
As for the Sri Lankan delegate's denial of deaths in custody, Mr. Chairman, here is one example cited in the same Amnesty Report: A young man named W.A. Dayaratne arrested on suspicion of theft died in custody on 28 March 1985. At the inquest, the Magistrate held that he had died as a result of police assault.
Mr. Chairman, despite the protestations to the contrary by the government of Sri Lanka, the use of torture is widespread and universally practised in that country, particularly those held under the PTA and Emergency Regulations.
The use of torture is so widespread that it can no longer be regarded as the result of individual excesses, nor simply as an over-reaction by enthusiastic officers. The fact that the use of torture is not an exception but has developed into almost a routine is a reflection of the reality that it has become an integral part of the institutionalised repressive machinery of the State.
The government of Sri Lanka has attempted to divert the attention of delegates of this Commission by raising the spectre of separatism and terrorism, instead of responding to the several detailed allegations of gross violation of human rights including torture, involuntary disappearances and summary executions."
Statement by Dr. G. S. Dhillion, Leader of the Indian Government Delegation
- made on 5 March 1986
''The Commission on Human Rights is meeting at a time when the condition of minorities in Sri Lanka has become very precarious. The Commission has in its deliberations in the past shown its concern for the minorities in Sri Lanka. The very serious escalation in the violence in the Northern and Eastern provinces of Sri Lanka, however, poses a challenge now to all those in this Commission who are concerned with the human rights.
There is very clear evidence now emanating that violence directed against the Tamil minority is indiscriminate and makes no distinction between those engaged in conflict and innocent civilians, whether men, women or even children. This is a matter of the utmost concern for us in India.
Over one hundred and twenty five thousand Sri Lankan Tamils have sought refuge in India, and around forty five thousand more, here in Western Europe. Under present circumstances, there is no prospect of their being able to return to their homes in safety and dignity. The influx of refugees not only continues unabated, but threatens to continue indefinitely.
The stories related by the hapless and tormented refugees arriving on our shores make it clear that the actions of the Government of Sri Lanka have resulted in serious violations of the human rights of Sri Lanka's Tamil citizens living in the Northern and Eastern provinces of that country.
The blatant killings of innocent civilians, through ground, naval and air actions are beginning to look like the victimisation of the entire community of Sri Lankan Tamils by the Sri Lankan security forces. Attacks on innocent civilians have been repeated too often, with ever - increasing severity. They have been picked up on mere suspicion, brutally tortured and some even killed.
For us, and for the friends of Sri Lanka, these are developments that we view with justified disquiet and unease.
You will recall, Mr. Chairman, that this Commission, at its 1984 session, appealed to all parties in Sri Lanka to continue to take necessary measures to strengthen and maintain peace and restore harmony among the people of Sri Lanka.
There had been some grounds for optimism towards the middle of last year when a de-facto cease-fire had been arranged between Government forces and the Tamil militants, and, through the good offices of the government of India, talks had been held between the parties to the ethnic conflict. Subsequently, a Cease-fire Monitoring Committee was set up by the Government of Sri Lanka with the participation of representatives of the Tamil minority. These were all heartening developments.
Unfortunately, from the last quarter of 1985, the process of seeking a peaceful solution to ethnic problem in Sri Lanka has received a serious set-back. The cease-fire appears to have broken down, and the continuing violence has led to an appalling loss of life among the civilian minority population.
Tamil confidence in the credibility of the cease-fire monitoring Committee has been eroded by the resignation of two of the three Tamil members, who left on the grounds that the committee was not being allowed to function independently. This is a matter of great concern.
The peace process appears to have floundered, and a number of recent statements attributed to highest levels of the Sri Lankan leadership indicate that the Government of Sri Lanka determined to first pursue a military solution to this problem.
These statements provide the explanation why the peace process has not made much progress, namely, the lack of a firm commitment to a political solution on the part of the Sri Lankan authorities...''
Response by Dr. G. S. Dhillion, Leader of the Indian Government Delegation
- made on 10 March 1986
"It is a matter of deep dismay and regret for the delegation of India that in his statement this morning the Sri Lanka representative elected to characterise our statement of March 5 as one of "ill grace".
I had, Mr. Chairman, spoken on that occasion on a careful, considered, objective and factual basis to that the Human Rights Commission could acquaint itself with the problem and extend of human rights violations in Sri Lanka. The statement of the representative of Sri Lanka constitutes a negation of this spirit of constructive dialogue which has characterised exchanges between our two governments on the ethnic issue in Sri Lanka and to which the representative of Sri Lanka had himself earlier made generous reference.
We made our Statement on the human rights situation in Sri Lanka on the basis of our knowledge of the situation and our consequential concern and not in response to statements made by individual delegations. I am now taking the floor to response to some of the points made by the representative of Sri Lanka in order to set the record straight.
The Sri Lanka representative has questioned the authenticity of reports on human rights violations by the Sri Lanka Security forces. Reports about violations of human rights have been based on incontrovertible evidence collected by objective international observers.
The human rights problem of Sri Lanka is inevitable of grave concern to the international community as a whole and to India in particular and we remain convinced that it can be addressed only through urgently needed constructive political actions on the ground rather than through efforts to evade the issue through misrepresentation of the situation in international organisations...
The causes for the exodus of refugees from Sri Lanka, to which we in India have to bear an unacceptable burden, have been fully documented and established by a number of Governments and respectable international human rights organisations. Not only did refugees feel obliged to flee their homes because of violence visited on them, including by police and military authorities, but it has been also conclusively established that conditions for their returns in dignity and honour to Sri Lanka have not been created by the authorities. The exodus of refugees is continuing and they have perforce to live outside their country for what now appears to be an indefinite period...
We have very recently been constrained to convey to the Sri Lanka Government in the plainest terms that their present attitude and policies would only result in prolongation of the agony and tragedy faced by its people. It is our determined endeavour to reverse this situation.''
Statement by International League for the Rights
and Liberation of Peoples on Disappearances and Torture
- made on 11 March 1986
"...We now take this opportunity to deal specifically with Sri Lanka where the practice of enforced or involuntary disappearances would appear to be assuming alarming proportions. As an organisation concerned with the rights and liberation of peoples, we are particularly disturbed that this undesirable practice is taking place in Sri Lanka in the context of an ethnic conflict, the main victims of this practice being the Tamil people. In this connection, we with to invite the attention of distinguished delegates to the report of the working Group on this subject, namely E/CN.4/1986/18 of 24 January 1986, page 78 to 82.
The response of the government of Sri Lanka to the 197 cases of disappearances referred to it by the Working Group, is most shocking. In only three cases has the government provided satisfactory explanations as to their whereabouts.
In two cases the government claimed that they were in detention, but did not provide any indication as to their whereabouts. Thus of the 197 cases referred to the working Group, the government of Sri Lanka has failed to furnished any explanation in regard to 194 cases.
According to the evidences submitted to the Working Group, most of the persons who had disappeared were arrested at their homes or in the compound or area where they lived or at their work places. Of the 130 cases of disappearance in 1984, almost all of them related to persons arrested on 2 December 1984.
The largest number of arrests concerning 99 men took place in Chemamadu and Cheddikulam in northern Sri Lanka. On this day members of the security forces carried out the arrests and took the persons in trucks to unknown destinations. The chief government official of the area , the Government Agent, had expressed doubt whether any of those persons were still alive. In any event, these 99 persons, all of the Tamils, have disappeared.
On 4 December 1984, another group of persons were taken into custody. Although it had been announced that they were released, a number of persons were shot by the army the very same day and their dead bodies burnt thus leaving no trace of their identity.
The Working Group also identified over 100 cases in respect of which inquiries made of the government agent, the police and army authorities produced only denials that they were arrested; and in certain cases, it was admitted that they had been taken to the capital for interrogations. However, the relatives could not locate those persons in any of the detention centres in the capital, and consequently they have disappeared.
The Working Group also has referred to another 24 persons arrested on 17 May 1985 in a village in the eastern province Sri Lanka by the special task force. The whereabouts of these persons are not known.
The case of a 17 year old Tamil youth illustrates the practice of unacknowledged detention in Sri Lanka. Despite efforts by his father to trace his son's whereabouts, the various government agencies repeatedly denied that his son was in custody. However, after one and a half months, his son was released from unacknowledged detention. It would appear that he had been mistakenly arrested by the army. The boy in question has, in an affidavit, given a detailed account of the interrogation methods, including torture.
Besides the cases of disappearances referred to in the report of the working group, there are many other cases, running into hundreds, which have been brought to the attention of our organisation. A human rights monitoring body operating within Sri Lanka has produced details of as many as 448 all of them belonging to the Tamil community, who had gone missing in just two months - November and December 1985. By any standards, this is a frightening situation.
The International League for the Rights and Liberation of peoples also wishes to raise the subject of widespread use of torture in Sri Lanka. Although Article 11 of the constitution of Sri Lanka in conformity with Article 7 of the International covenant on civil and Political Rights, prohibit torture and inhuman treatment, reports by reputed human rights organisations confirm the continued, systematic and widespread use of torture in Sri Lanka."
Press Release by 5 Non Governmental Organisations
- consisting of the International Federation of Human Rights, Anti Slavery Society, Pax Christi International, Human Rights Advocates, International League for the Rights and Liberation of Peoples and the Arab Lawyers Union, circulated at the Commission Sessions on 12 March 1986,
''On 10 March 1986, the Swiss Federal Government decided to lift the moratorium on repatriation of Tamils seeking asylum in Switzerland. Swiss authorities argue that this decision is justified by improved circumstances in Sri Lanka. On the contrary, the general opinion of governments and human rights organisations familiar with the situation, as expressed in the United Nations Commission on Human Rights currently meeting in Geneva, is that the violence in that country has grown worse.
According to Federal Minister of Justice, Elisabeth Kopp, as quoted the Journal de Geneve on 11 March, "the situation in Sri Lanka has changed." She attributed this assessment to reports and positions taken by various humanitarian and human rights organisations. In statements made at the Commission on Human Rights in Geneva, however, several governments and international human rights organisations described the situation in Sri Lanka as having deteriorated. Australia, for example, referred to "the recent deterioration of the communal conflict in Sri Lanka," and Ireland observed that "recent months has seen an increasing spiral of violence."
According to Minister Kopp, "one cannot speak of a general persecution of the Tamils. If the situations in certain parts of the country somewhat resemble a civil war, one cannot say that there is truly a widespread civil war." But the indiscriminate and widespread nature of the violence against Sri Lankan Tamils was underscored at the Commission on Human Rights, several speakers referring in particular to the recent aerial and naval bombardments of densely populated Tamil communities. India observed that the situation was "beginning to look like the victimisation of the entire community of Sri Lankan Tamils by the Sri Lankan security forces."
The International League for the Rights and Liberation of Peoples stated that in Sri Lanka , " the practice of enforced involuntary disappearances would appear to be assuming alarming proportions" and that "the main victims of this practice being the Tamil people." They added that "as many as 448 persons, all of them belonging to the Tamil community, had gone missing in just two months - November and December 1985. By any standards, this is a frightening situation."
The United Kingdom expressed its concern about Sri Lanka President Jayawardene's December 1985 statement that "the Tamil problem is more a military problem." "We have consistently pressed on the Sri Lanka government the need for a political rather than a military solution to the ethnic tensions in Sri Lanka."
The International Commission of Jurists warned that "in view of the publicly stated goal of the government to eliminate all terrorist groups before the end of this year by intensified military action...the suffering of the Tamils... also will be intensified."
According to a report in the 11 March issue of the Tages Anzeiger, the Swiss government recognises it has been given no formal guarantee for the safety of repatriated Tamils from the government of Sri Lanka,... Indeed, the Swiss government proposes to send a trial group of Tamils to Sri Lanka to test the safety of the situation. In its comments to the Commission on Human Rights last week, however, the government of India maintained that "under present circumstances, there is no prospect of their being able to return to their homes in safety and dignity."
If so many governments are aware of the real situation in Sri Lanka, the government of Switzerland must also be full aware of the facts. The real reason for the Swiss decision has nothing to do with improved circumstances in Sri Lanka. According to Minister Kopp as quoted in the 11 March 'Tages Anzeiger', "if we do not repatriate the rejected asylum seekers, Switzerland would attract even more candidates for asylum."
Joint Statement by 11 Non Governmental Organisations
- consisting of International Commission of Jurists International Association of Democratic Lawyers, International League for Human Rights, Arab Lawyers Union, International Federation of Human Rights Advocates International Fellowship of Reconciliation International Human Rights Law Group, Anti-Slavery Society, International League for the Rights and Liberation of Peoples made on their behalf by the Procedural Aspects of International Law Institute, on 12 March 1986
"We must express our dismay at the decision of the Government of Switzerland this week to reverse its 1984 decision, reaffirmed late last year, not to repatriate Tamil refugees to Sri Lanka. Some 289 Tamils are immediately subject to deportation, and another 5,193 Tamils applications for refugee status are still pending.
The seriousness of the situation in Sri Lanka, including the Sri Lankan Government's admitted aerial bombardment of Tamil areas, has been described to the Commission over the past few days by, among others, the delegations of Australia, Canada, India, Ireland, Sweden, and the United Kingdom. In view of this deteriorating situation, we urge the Government of Switzerland to reconsider its action in this matter.
While this concludes my prepared statement, I would like to bring to the attention of the Commission to two relevant press reports that appeared in this morning's editions of Le Matin and La Tribune Geneve. Both refer to a report prepared by a delegation of the Swiss Federal Police which visited Sri Lanka from 14 - 24 December 1985 in order to asses the situation there.
As stated in La Tribune de Geneve, "The confidential report of the two experts is frightening and largely contradicts Monday's speech by Federal Counsellor Elizabeth Kopp concerning the repatriation of Tamils." With respect to the situation the north of Sri Lanka, the Swiss report indicates that ".. the security forces are following a policy of terror".
The delegation spoke with officials of the Sri Lankan Government including the person responsible for defence and security. He (General Attygalla) reportedly told the delegation that "all those who are requesting asylum are criminals who are left the country to avoid pursuit. 70% of those repatriated will be considered to be terrorists..."
Le Matin specifies further that: "The mission rejects the possibility that Tamils from the north and east could set foot in the south; 'Anyone who is visited by a Tamil is denounced to the police. Mistrust between the different ethnic groups is too great.' "
The Procedural Aspects of International Law Institute can only support the conclusion of the Swiss Federal Police that Tamil refugees returned to the north or east of Sri Lanka would be exposed to "great risks". We would respectfully call upon the Swiss government not only to reconsider the implications of the report of its own federal police, but also to consider providing copies of that report to members of the Commission on Human Rights, so that the Commission might understand the present situation in Sri Lanka.''
Statement by the Anti - Slavery Society
- made on 5 March 1986
"Mr. Chairman, last night the distinguished delegate of Sri Lanka made a long statement about his government's attempts to seek a political solution and the human rights situation in that country. Even as he was delivering his statement, the unarmed and defenceless Tamil civilians of the small island lying two or three miles off the northern coast of Jaffna were counting the casualties, the victims, the damage and the destruction inflicted by the indiscriminate lethal blows of the Sri Lankan security forces.
We are in possession of a telex message of the happenings which took place yesterday (4 March 1986 ) morning. In ruthless retaliation to a land mine explosion presumably planted by a group of Tamil militants in a naval boat, the Sri Lankan navy went on a rampage in this island of Nainativu - they set fire to an ancient Hindu temple; several shops and houses were set ablaze; at least 10 people were killed and scores of civilians were injured as the navy ran berserk in an uncontrolled orgy of indiscriminate machine gun fire. The Assistant Government Agent caused the injured civilians to be admitted to the Jaffna General Hospital. Over 350 families have been rendered homeless.
This type of indiscriminate violence carried out by the Sri Lankan armed forces against civilians and their property is one of the main causes of concern for international human rights groups...
Mr. Chairman, the violence and violation of human rights have escalated during the last year. Last year, when the commission met, there was a remote possibility of negotiations between the parties initiated with the good offices of India.
Unfortunately, as the commission meets this year, the developments in Sri Lanka have assumed a purely military dimension. This is best illustrated by the government's use of helicopters and attack aircraft's to carry out aerial bombardments into thickly populated civilian centres in what are described as search and destroy missions resulting in many civilian casualties.
The Financial times (London) of 28 February 1986, in reporting one of these air attacks, said:
"Sri Lanka aircraft and helicopter gunships conducted air strikes in the northern peninsula yesterday in what the Defence Ministry called pre - emptive strike. This is the second time the government has admitted the use of aircraft, although Tamil citizens committees have complained of air attacks since last year. In yesterday's action, three persons were killed and several injured."
"In an air strike last week, the government said eight rebels and five civilians were killed. An independent Tamil daily in Colombo said that a Hindu priest and a 60 year old woman were among those killed".
The Indian Foreign Minister, in the Indian Parliament, described these aerial bombardments in which innocent Tamil civilians are killed as manifesting 'elements of genocide'.
In spite of the protestations of the Sri Lankan delegate that his government is dedicated to a negotiated peaceful solution, the recent statements of the Sri Lankan President demonstrate that the government is hell bent on a military option. In an interview published in the magazine, 'India Today' of 15 December 1985, the President said:
"The Tamil problem is more a military problem and any military problem has to be tackled militarily ... We were not ready earlier. Now we are acquiring arms and getting our soldiers trained. We are getting ready for a decisive military action if nothing comes out of the negotiations ... Already there is a strong feeling that we should stop all these talks and strike again."
The cost to human lives in adopting such a military option is clearly incalculable. Already over 200.000 Tamil refugees are dispersed throughout the world undergoing severe hardship. And India has clearly shown its eagerness and commitment to helping Sri Lanka in arriving at a negotiated political solution. Until such a solution is reached, and the gross violation of human rights, including arbitrary killings, involuntary disappearances and systematic use of torture practised in Sri Lanka and documented in meticulous detail by international human rights groups, including Amnesty International end, we as a Non - Governmental Organisation, together with others, will continue to express our concern."
Statement by Hurst Hannum, the Procedural Aspects of International Law Institute
"The Procedural Aspects of International Law Institute listened with great interest to the presentation by the Government of Sri Lanka and is appreciative of its attempts to explain the current situation in that country. The Institute is not a fact - finding organisation nor do we claim any special expertise on Sri Lanka; nevertheless, we would like to offer a few comments on some of the legal and other implications which seem to underlie the approach of the Government of Sri Lanka, as outlined in its statement.
One of the most disturbing aspects of the Government's comments was the apparent suggestion that the absence of action in the past by United Nations human rights bodies implies approval of the Government's handling of the current human rights situation in Sri Lanka. Contrary to the Government's suggestion, however, the lack of investigation cannot automatically be interpreted to imply approval of any government's actions, just as the fact of investigation by the United Nations should not imply any a priori condemnation of a government.
In fact, the Government's statement is somewhat confusing on this point, as lack of United Nations actions was first cited as supportive of the Government's current position, yet later there was a reference to unspecified "official and judicial scrutiny" by UN bodies as evidence that the allegations of alleged terrorists had been rejected.
Given the Government's evident distaste for the reports of NGO's with which it disagrees and the faith it places in United Nations human rights bodies, perhaps it would be appropriate for the Government of Sri Lanka at this time formally to invite the commission on Human Rights to designate a representative to visit Sri Lanka and investigate first -hand, without prejudice, the human rights situations there. I have no doubt that such a step would be welcomed both by NGO's and various delegations that have expressed concern over the situation in Sri Lanka during the current session.
In defending its position on the merits of Tamil demands for greater autonomy, the Government of Sri Lanka seems to equate its present unitary or centralised system of government with national unity and territorial integrity... Research undertaken by the Procedural Aspects of International Law Institute related to issues of autonomy, sovereignty, and international law has revealed a remarkable diversity of constitutional structures designed to ensure that the rights of groups - ethnic, religious, racial, geographic, economic, or even political (e.g. the proposed autonomous status for Hong Kong) - as well as the rights of individuals are respected.
One might under score in this context that even the support of a majority of the population cannot justify discrimination or repression of the minority or its members. Portions of the Secretary - General's report on popular participation as it is related to development and human rights (E/CN. 4/1985/10) are particularly relevant in this respect.
The detailed explanations of political negotiations at Thimpu and elsewhere offered by the Government are interesting, although they are in many respects not directly relevant to the serious human rights violations allegedly occurring in Sri Lanka. The lack of a political resolution to the current conflict in Sri Lanka cannot justify any infringement of human rights, nor can the evidently fundamental obligation of every government to maintain low and order be put forward without explanation as excusing torture and arbitrary killings by members of the security forces...
The Government's own figures raise serious questions as to its desire - or perhaps its ability - to control actions of its own security forces. In the light of the consistent, serious allegations of torture and killings brought by responsible NGO's (who are not all "dupes" of terrorists), is it credible to believe that an objective inquiry would not reveal a single instance of ill - treatment of suspects, as the Sri Lankan courts have apparently concluded? Is it credible that not a single unlawful action by the security forces during combat has been judicially condemned?
Even given this lack of effective control over the security forces, the Institute views with concern the possibility raised in the Government's statement of instituting "an alternative procedure free of the technicalities involved in the judicial process" to deal with alleged violations of rights. While observers should withhold judgement until specific proposals are introduced, there are too many instances of so-called "legal technicalities" being eliminated (in many countries) in order to deny fundamental legal protections rather than to promote any legitimate government interest in improving the administration of justice...
The Government of Sri Lanka has suggested, publicly and privately, that interest by the United Nations in the human rights situation in Sri Lanka will in some way support separatism and terrorism... Without denying the relevance of separatist demands to the conflict in Sri Lanka, in the context of the commission, this is simply a false issue raised by the Government in order to deflect the legitimate concern with human rights.
It is precisely in the context of civil unrest and political strife the human rights are most threatened. If every case currently on the public agenda of the Commission, the claim has been made that giving serious attention to allegations of human rights violations should avoided in order not to support terrorists or revolutionaries. That contention as been rightly rejected by the Commission in the past, and it should be rejected with respect to Sri Lanka.
The situation in Sri Lanka is not the worst in the world, but its serious deterioration in recent months is cause for the utmost concern, as already noted by several delegations. ...it is inexcusable to assume without foundation that international attention will have a negative rather than a positive impact in Sri Lanka, and to continue to ignore the grave allegations of human rights violations that reflect a worsening situation.
The Representative of Australia correctly noted in his statement on item 12 the need for a "flexible approach" to human rights. The Commission for the past several years has tried silence with respect to Sri Lanka, and that approach has failed. Perhaps more affirmative action should now be given a chance."
Statement made by the Australian Government Representative on 5 March 1986
Statement made by the Canadian Government Representative on 5 March 1986
- 'The Australian Government shares the widespread international disappointment at the recent deterioration in the communal conflict in Sri Lanka. We continue to watch developments closely. In the spirit of our long-standing friendship with that country, we have several times expressed our concern to the Sri Lankan Government that the human rights all Sri Lankans should be respected. We stress our hope that all in Sri Lanka will eschew violence and renew their efforts towards a peaceful political solution.''
Statement made by the United Kingdom Government Representative on 6 March 1986
- ''In Sri Lanka, we are saddened by recent reports of bombings by the Air Force in the densely populated Jaffna Peninsula. We deeply regret the loss of life by innocent civilians on both sides in the current conflict and urge the Sri Lankan Government to make its best efforts to find a peaceful political settlement.''
''Like other delegations who have spoken in this debate, we are concerned by the situation in Sri Lanka and the human rights abuses that are being committed by the security forces. We have consistently pressed on the Sri Lankan Government the need for a political rather than military solution to the ethnic tensions in Sri Lanka.
We will continue to do so and to discourage them from the idea that the Tamil insurgency can or should be dealt with by military means. We will also continue to urge on the Sri Lankan Government the urgent need to take firm action to stop human rights abuses by the security forces. Similarly we will continue to emphasise in our contacts with opposition leaders in Sri Lanka that a negotiated settlement is the only solution. We are disappointed that there have so far been no signs of progress towards such a settlement.''