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"To us all towns are one, all men our kin.
Life's good comes not from others' gift, nor ill
Man's pains and pains' relief are from within.
Thus have we seen in visions of the wise !."
Tamil Poem in Purananuru, circa 500 B.C 

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Home > Struggle for Tamil Eelam > Sri Lanka Accused at United Nations > UN Human Rights Council - Eighth Session, June  2008 >

Eighth Session - June 2008

Statement on behalf of 'Interfaith International' by Deirdre McConnell at 8th session of the UN Human Rights Council [TCHR]  under item – 3   Promotion and protection of all human rights, civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights, including the right to development.

[see also The Tamil people's right to self-determination - Deirdre McConnell in Cambridge Review of International Affairs, Volume 21 Issue 1 2008 ]

Mr President, distinguished delegates,

Interfaith International welcomes the report of the Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial killings, (A/HRC/8/3). He provides a cogent analysis of the reasons why inquiries and commissions set up to investigate killings, fail in several countries.

In such situations, a government ensures that the initiative 'is pursued in ways designed to minimise its ultimate impact'. Thus, paradoxically, inquiries are used to deflect criticism, rather than to address impunity.

Sri Lanka is a good example. More than 100 massacres of Tamil civilians and numerous assassinations of Tamil human rights defenders, (parliamentarians, academics, journalists and other members of civil society) have been committed by government forces and the paramilitaries working with them. According to the UN Working Group on Enforced Disappearances, Sri Lanka has the highest number of disappearances in the world. Despite much evidence, the few inquiries and commissions set up by successive Sri Lankan governments have totally failed to bring the perpetrators to book.

In Annex 1 of his addendum, A/HRC/8/3/Add.3, the Special Rapporteur summarises the follow-ups to his recommendations regarding the situation in Sri Lanka .

Practically all his recommendations to the government were totally disregarded. These included: the renunciation of collaboration with the paramilitaries and the disciplining of officers who breach this rule; the prohibition against killing civilians - according to legal obligations under International Humanitarian Law; the establishing of an international human rights monitoring mechanism with powers to document and investigate abuses; and ratification of the Rome Statute of the ICC.

In November 2006 the President appointed a Commission of Inquiry - COI to investigate abuses committed since August 2005. The International Independent Group of Eminent Persons – IIGEP invited to monitor the COI found that the Attorney General's Department's role in the proceedings of the commission resulted in a serious conflict of interest. The Department was potentially going to be investigating itself. The IIGEP repeatedly made communications urging proper structural independence of the COI. The group stated that the commission 'had fallen far short of the transparency and compliance with basic international norms and standards pertaining to investigations and inquiries'. The IIGEP terminated its functions, unable to carry out its mandate.

Only two recommendations made by the Special Rapporteur have been implemented. They both concern the work and efficiency of the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission – SLMM, the Nordic presence in the NorthEast, which monitored the Cease-Fire Agreement -CFA.

Firstly, the SLMM carried out sustained follow-ups on killings. In fact this included establishing that the Sri Lanka forces were the perpetrators of massacres. Secondly, they published the results of investigations promptly and in accessible form. However, the government attempted to discredit these findings.

Since the government's unilateral termination of the CFA in January this year, the SLMM has completely ceased to function.

In his addendum report, the Special Rapporteur also states that some responsibility for the deteriorating human rights situation lies with the international community, which did not implement the recommendations to expand and support the UN Country team and its human rights related work.

Another recommendation of the Special Rapporteur was that during the period of the CFA, in the interest of crime control, the two parties to the conflict, the government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam – LTTE should initiate and regularize contact between their two distinct police forces.

In conclusion, Sri Lanka is a country which paradoxically uses inquiries to deflect criticism rather than address impunity. Since impunity is one of the contributing factors to the conflict situation, this is a very serious matter indeed.

As the Special Rapporteur states, the International community needs to scrutinise, monitor and evaluate initiatives such as the aforementioned commission, far more carefully in the future.

The responsibility to protect civilians is an urgent task and Interfaith International urges the Human Rights Council to take immediate action to prevent the continuing genocide of Tamils.

Thank You, Mr President

Statement by Professor Philip Alston, Special Rapporteur on
extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, United Nations Human Rights Council, Geneva, 2 June 2008

Mr President, distinguished delegates,

Today I am presenting the following reports: an annual report, a 400 page communications report, a follow-up report examining progress with recommendations made in the past in relation to Nigeria and Sri Lanka, a final report on the Philippines, and preliminary reports on missions to Brazil, the Central African Republic, and Afghanistan.

In 15 minutes I cannot hope to do justice to the complexity of these reports. I will thus confine my remarks to a few brief observations on some specific issues and situations.

A. Annual report (A/HRC/8/3)

My annual report looks in some depth at three issues. In relation to the right to seek pardon or commutation of a death sentence I argue that this right is nullified or reduced to a formality unless procedural guarantees accompany it.

I examine the increasingly common and dire phenomenon of prisoners being permitted to run prisons. In far too many places it is accepted as a fact of life about which little can be done, or perhaps as the best option available. In fact, it constitutes an unacceptable abdication by governments of their human rights responsibilities and almost always facilitates systematic violations of the rights of those thus abandoned to the care of unaccountable thugs.

The most extended analysis in the report focuses on the role of national commissions of inquiry as a response to allegations of extrajudicial executions. In a nutshell, an empirical study of experience over the past 26 years shows that such inquiries are far too often a facade designed to protect impunity. This is ironic, since their creation is invariably welcomed by people like me, and a great deal of resources and energy often goes into them. The conclusion is not that they should be shunned in the future but that certain minimum standards must always be met, that international assistance should be provided where appropriate, and that the critical gaze of the human rights community must not be averted simply because an inquiry has been established.

My report also recommends the appointment of a Special Rapporteur on the rights of detainees. I have visited various prisons around the world and the experience is all too often a shocking indictment of the inhumanity of the systems which many states have put in place. Detainees who have often not been convicted, sometimes not even charged, as well as duly sentenced prisoners, are kept in conditions in which no representative in this Council would knowingly permit his or her dog to be kept. The issues are complex but they are also terribly neglected by most governments. While many existing Special Procedures mandates — torture, executions, violence against women, health, etc — touch upon aspects of the problem they cannot do justice to it. This Council should act urgently to make such an appointment.

D. Follow-up reports ...

(ii) Sri Lanka

Extrajudicial executions have increased dramatically since I visited Sri Lanka at the end of 2005. Given the absence of effective human rights monitoring, reliable statistics are impossible to find. But civilian deaths since the current round of hostilities began clearly exceed 1,500. But numbers tell only part of the story, and the fighting has been characterized by exceptional brutality and disregard for international human rights and humanitarian law. The Government and the LTTE have both engaged in the targeted killing of individuals suspected of collaborating with the other party. Both sides have engaged in shelling (and the Government also in aerial bombardment) that has killed a substantial number of civilians in circumstances that sometimes suggest a failure to respect rules on proportionality and precautions in attack. The LTTE has also stepped up its indiscriminate attacks on civilians for the apparent purpose of terrorizing the population.

This increase in extrajudicial executions has been accompanied by the dismantling of accountability mechanisms. The Ceasefire Agreement has been terminated, and its monitoring mechanism abolished. The National Human Rights Commission has been stripped of its independence. The Government's commission of inquiry has failed to provide accountability for extrajudicial executions, and the international monitoring body of eminent persons concluded that the proceedings 'have fallen far short' of international standards and that 'there continues to be a lack of political and institutional will to investigate'. Journalists and human rights defenders face intimidation or death when they try to promote accountability. The Government has steadfastly and actively opposed any initiative to establish an international human rights monitoring mission. And the international community, including this Council, has done all too little in response.

Statement by Prof. Rajiva Wijesinha, Secretary-General of the Secretariat for Coordinating the Peace Process, during the Interactive Dialogue with Mr. Philip Alston, Special Rapporteur on Extra-Judicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions, 2 June 2008, Human Rights Council, Geneva

"Sri Lanka welcomes the continuing concern with Sri Lanka indicated in the follow up report on Sri Lanka by the Special Rapporteur. It regrets that this was issued without proper consultation with Sri Lanka, despite attempts to engage with him and to seek his advice and assistance with regard to strengthening mechanisms with regard to the problems he mentions.

Sadly the Special Rapporteur did not seem willing to engage. This may have been due to suspicions that arose at the time of his initial report, which seemed to have been leaked to hostile forces which made use of it to denigrate the then government. Subsequent similar incidents have made it clear however that improper behaviour occurs much lower down in the UN system, and the Special Rapporteur himself is above reproach. Hence attempts to contact him last year, and despite delays the letter to which he refers obliquely in this follow up report, but to which he never responded. This is perhaps understandable because it begins by saying, 'I would have complained about delays in the UN bureaucracy, but unfortunately I have had an example of even greater delay here'.

In short, those of us trying to improve the situation with regard to human rights are stymied at all turns by bureaucracies, occasionally made worse by malignancy but generally suffering only from incompetence. However in this regard I should quote the remark of the Canadian representative at the United Nations, in the recent debate on the protection of civilians, when he said 'In Afghanistan, indiscriminate acts of violence, such as suicide bombings, were a potent reminder of why support for the Afghan Government was so important.'

Though he did not say it, he was implicitly rebuking Sir John Holmes who had, in his usual balanced fashion, said, 'In Afghanistan and Iraq, civilians remained victims of suicide attacks as well as aerial bombardments and search operations against anti-Government elements.' While drawing attention to 'civilian casualties resulting from air strikes and search operations conducted by national and multinational forces, as well as the number of so-called "force protection incidents", in which civilians were shot at after being considered a threat to military convoys or for not obeying instructions at checkpoints.

Sir John is further quoted as saying 'he did not for one second underestimate the challenge in Afghanistan, Iraq and other contexts, of engaging an enemy whose members were difficult, if not impossible, to identify, and who saw the surrounding civilian population as a shield from attack. It was an enemy for whom the principles of distinction and proportionality appeared to have no practical meaning or application. Nevertheless, any military response must itself comply with international humanitarian law and demonstrate respect for the dignity of those already exposed to insurgent attacks.'

Sri Lanka continues to ask itself why, in our case, the challenge continues to be underestimated why despite the FBI – and who can doubt the veracity of what the FBI says? – asserting that the Tigers are one of the most dangerous of terrorist groups, it is assumed that our record has to be perfect, while elsewhere some elements in the international community bend over backwards to suggest that support for a democratic government fighting against terrorism is important.

Comment by tamilnation.org

Terrorism and Human Rights  Final Report of the Special Rapporteur, Kalliopi K. Koufa,  25 June 2004 "..The most problematic issue relating to terrorism and armed conflict is distinguishing terrorists from lawful combatants, both in terms of combatants in legitimate struggles for self-determination and those involved in civil wars or non-international armed conflicts. In the former category, States that do not recognize a claim to self-determination will claim that those using force against the State’s military forces are necessarily terrorists. In the latter, States will also claim that those fighting against the State are terrorists, and that rather than a civil war, there is a situation of “terrorism and counter-terrorism activity"....The controversy over the exact meaning, content, extent and beneficiaries of, as well as the means and methods utilized to enforce the right to self-determination has been the major obstacle to the development of both a comprehensive definition of terrorism and a comprehensive treaty on terrorism. The ideological splits and differing approaches preventing any broad consensus during the period of decolonization still persist in today’s international relations. ...

...The Special Rapporteur has analysed the distinction between armed conflict and terrorism, with particular attention to conflicts to realize the right to self-determination and civil wars. This is an issue of great international controversy, in need of careful review due to the “your freedom fighter is my terrorist” problem and the increase in the rhetorical use of the expression “war on terrorism”, labelling wars as terrorism, and combatants in wars as terrorists, and it has an extremely undesirable effect of nullifying application of and compliance with humanitarian law in those situations, while at the same time providing no positive results in combating actual terrorism...."

The Special Rapporteur, it should be stressed, seemed to understand this in his previous report, and we fully accept the point that, even in the context of fighting terrorism, we need to ensure adherence to the rule of law. It is for this reason that we have instituted measures to minimize abuses, and that we welcome further assistance to improve the situation.

Comment by tamilnation.org

Sri Lanka Army DPU Claymore Mine attack on Civilians, 29 January 2008

With regard to the specific points made, we note the suggestions the Special Rapporteur made with regard to the monitoring functions of the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission, and that this suffered a setback when the LTTE drove out representatives from three countries. Despite this, the Peace Secretariat and the SLMM were improving monitoring, including through local monitors whose role had been enhanced, with for the first time Tamils representing the government in three districts hitherto left to the LTTE.

Comment by tamilnation.org

Sri Lanka colonisation of East Tamil Eelam


It should be noted that a UNHCR office representative did not obviously agree with the Special Rapporteur's view and thought a UN presence necessary to supplement what he saw as the relative incompetence of the SLMM, another classic example of the infighting that makes progress so difficult.

With the abrogation of the Ceasefire and the departure of the SLMM, the obvious candidate to replace it as to monitoring was the National Human Rights Commission. Unfortunately the previous two years had seen a consistent campaign to run down the Commission, with the UN failing to use funding it had to appoint UN volunteers to Regional Offices. It also backed out of a Project to fund the HRC Backlog Project, which contributed to the downgrading of the Commission.

In short, what we would like is concerted action to strengthen our national mechanisms, and not underhand attempts to undermine them so as to ensure an enhanced role for an international bureaucracy, which we find equally slow, at much greater cost.

Comment by tamilnation.org

  "(there is an)  atmosphere of confrontation and disagreement towards the IIGEP engendered by organs of Government and – at least in official correspondence – by the Commission. The uncooperative atmosphere has rendered the task of the IIGEP, which approached its work in a spirit of co-operation and, at first, with optimism, disquieting and unpleasant. There seems to the IIGEP to be an absence of political and institutional will on the part of the Government to pursue with vigour the cases under review with the intention of identifying the perpetrators or at least uncovering the systemic failures and obstructions to justice that rendered the original investigations ineffective... the IIGEP cannot see that its continued involvement in the work of the Commission could change the situation, and it has decided to withdraw. The IIGEP has decided that it will terminate its observation role at the end of March 2008 and close its operations in Sri Lanka by the end of April 2008. It has taken this decision after due consideration and for fundamental reasons. The President of Sri Lanka invited the IIGEP to observe the proceedings of the Commission of Inquiry, to offer recommendations for corrective action, and to assess the conduct of the Commission’s proceedings in the light of international norms and standards. Despite their best efforts, the Eminent Persons have concluded that they have accomplished all that is possible within the constraints of the prevailing situation. They have thus decided, with deep regret, to end their activities."  Public Statement by International Independent Group of Eminent Persons, 14 April 2008

The Special Rapporteur had indeed been specifically asked for assistance to strengthen the Regional Offices of the National Human Rights Commission, and even though he may have felt this was outside his brief; the courtesy of a response would have been welcome.

Similarly, we appreciate his initial comments with regard to police training, and would welcome assistance to improve it. However for three years Sri Lanka endured an International Police Support Group which drank a lot of tea and produced nothing, except an excellent Swedish Project to improve investigation. The Special Rapporteur ignores this, perhaps because he did not know about it. He is substantially right however in that, apart from a useful British project on Community Policing, the Police Support Group achieved nothing, and certainly not with regard to language training, which as he noted was eminently desirable. Sadly, perhaps because of reliance on such mechanisms, Sri Lanka also did not move sufficiently swiftly in these areas, but this has now been remedied, though certainly action could be quicker.

It is unfortunate that, though he had been informed of it, the Special Rapporteur did not note attempts to improve Tamil language training, and also improve Human Rights training for the police, including replicating the very helpful ICRC course for the army with the relevant branch of the police. Some greater credit might also have been appropriate for the first measures in years to proactively recruit Tamils to the police.

Another area with which the Special Rapporteur deals at length is the question of paramilitaries, which he had emphasized earlier in just a single recommendation. Had he engaged more actively with the government, instead of relying only on selective sources, without even it seems looking at rebuttal of some allegations he reproduces, he would have realized that the Sri Lankan government has dealt more successfully with the question of reintegrating former terrorists than any other regime dealing with terrorism in recent years. Quite simply, without engaging in confrontation that would have led to even greater suffering for the Tamil people, the government has managed to integrate those elements in the former Karuna faction who want to move towards pluralistic democracy.

The establishment of the TMVP as a political party was a great step forward, and though initially elements in the international community, harping on the past, refused to provide it with the democracy training it craved, this will be remedied in the future. Karuna choosing himself to go into exile in Britain helped in this process since he was unlikely to fit into democratic practices and, whilst some associates may still be inclined to violence, the establishment of an elected authority that includes other communities will help in the process.

This will be slow, but it is preferable to confrontation, especially in the context of the LTTE continuing to disrupt, including by killing TMVP candidates. In this context it should be noted that, although when two journalists were killed in late May in Jaffna, the immediate assumption was that this was the responsibility of EPDP cadres, latest reports suggest that one of those killed was close to the EPDP leader, and the LTTE was probably responsible.

This further confirms the difficulty of moving towards normalcy, which is why firm dealings with the LTTE are necessary, and why we would welcome the categorical support the Canadian ambassador extends to the Afghan government, and which certainly his government seems to be trying to provide against the LTTE now in Canada, although belatedly, after massive funding from there contributed over the years to the ordeal the Sri Lankan people are facing now.

Another area in which the Special Rapporteur seems to have been carried away by adverse propaganda is in his statements about civilian casualties. He quotes figures from an International Crisis Group publication, knowing full well that the head of the group has been trying desperately for years to have himself called in to replace the Norwegian facilitators, and has insinuated false allegations against the Sri Lankan government in the process, including references to ethnic cleansing, which on questioning he — like the Special Rapporteur — knows was ever attempted in Sri Lanka only by the LTTE.

The Special Rapporteur, in citing ICG figures, does not even seem to have looked at the government releases that contest those figures. By careful examination of what might be termed worst case statistics, namely those put out in the independent Sri Lankan press or LTTE media outlets after any incident, government has been able to show that the incidence of civilian casualties is minimal. Any of these must of course be regretted, but it is equally unfair on forces that have a much better record than any other fighting terrorism to ignore the circumspection with which they operate. For instance the Special Rapporteur talks twice about aerial bombardments, whereas in the eighteen months since hostilities restarted, civilian deaths were alleged in only five incidents out of a total of 168 air strikes, and in two of those the government was categorical that illicit broadcasting facilities were legitimate targets.

Detailed discussion of all this, what might be termed a game of atrocity snap, is not appropriate however in plenary session at the UN Human Rights Council, and therefore we would welcome an opportunity to engage actively with the Special Rapporteur. We believe it is inappropriate for a Report of this sort to be brought before the Council before the country in question has had an opportunity to respond to it, and have adjustments that can be justified incorporated into the text. We hope very much that the Council will ensure that proper procedures of that sort are followed for the future. At the same time we appreciate the general sincerity of this Special Rapporteur, as of all those who have visited Sri Lanka in recent months, and hope that bureaucratic bungles will not prevent active and productive engagement with him in the future.

Finally, his comments with regard to the International Independent Group of Eminent Persons seem to reflect assertions made elsewhere, which have been adequately dealt with in Sri Lanka's response to questions during the Universal Periodic Review. We can only note the concluding comments of Justice Bhagwati in this regard, and the state of denial about these that engulfed one of his associates, who then claimed to pronounce on behalf of the panel as a whole. We feel the whole exercise was vitiated by the bad faith of just one or two people who were involved, and we hope that similar approaches by a limited few will not stand in the way of the improvements we seek in our polity, for which assistance and advice, if not patronizing and perverse, will always be welcome.

Comment by tamilnation.org

"..The Government of Sri Lanka has proclaimed that Justice PN Bhagwati, Chairman of the IIGEP, has clarified the IIGEP's assessment that the Government of Sri Lanka lacks the political will to ensure the success of the Commission of Inquiry. The Members of the IIGEP stand by the clear assertions of their Concluding Public Statement, and disassociate themselves from any attempt by the Government of Sri Lanka to reformulate and re-interpret that unanimously agreed text.  In fact, the letter to H.E. the President from Justice PN Bhagwati merely expresses the obvious, namely that the IIGEP cannot know for sure, but fears ('apprehends') that the political will is absent. It is lamentable that the Government of Sri Lanka continues to divert attention from the central truth in this matter – that is, the problem of impunity for serious human rights violations and the need for the Commission to get to the bottom of that impunity..." Public Statement by International Independent Group of Eminent Persons, 30 April 2008


Intervention by Karen Parker, International Educational Development
Agenda item 4, General Debate - Human rights situations that require the Council’s attention

International Educational Development addresses three situations -- Afghanistan, Iraq and Sri Lanka -- in which there are protracted armed conflicts but neither a special rapporteur nor an item 10 independent expert. These three situations illustrate the tragic results when the Council is backed into a corner by certain actors -- not limited to the governments of these countries-- and rendered ineffective to stop the carnage, the near and actual starvation of civilian victims of armed conflict, genocidal policies and intents, and other grave breaches of humanitarian law.

In Sri Lanka

In Sri Lanka, the United States geopolitical interest in establishing military bases in the Tamil areas of the island has resulted in US pressure on the EU, the UK and Canada to attempt to convert what is clearly an armed conflict into terrorism/counter-terrorism, leading to a total disregard for humanitarian law and to a racist attempt to demonise the Tamil people as a whole.

Comment by tamilnation.org

The international dimension of the struggle for Tamil Eelam is not simply about the United States geopolitical interest in 'establishing military bases in the Tamil areas of the island'. It has more to do with the uneasy balance of power in the Indian Ocean region and control of its strategic sea lanes. The harsh reality that Sri Lanka seeks to use the political space created by the geo strategic triangle of US-India-China in the Indian Ocean region, to buy the support of all three  for the continued rule of the people of Tamil Eelam by a permanent Sinhala majority within the confines of  one state. .. We have India in the Trincomalee oil farm, at the same time we have a Chinese coal powered energy plant in Trincomalee; we have a Chinese project for the Hambantota port, at the same time we have the attempted naval exercises with the US from Hambantota (to contain Chinese presence in the Indian Ocean); we have the grant of preferred licenses to India for exploration of oil in the Mannar seas, at the same time we have a similar grant to China and a 'road show' for  tenders from US and UK based multinational corporations;  meanwhile we have the continued presence of the Voice of America installations in the island and the  ten year Acquisition and Cross-Servicing Agreement (ACSA) was signed by the United States and Sri Lanka on 5 March 2007.

There will be no resolution of this conflict as long as the legally incorrect “terrorism” elephant is in the room. There will be no resolution to this conflict as long as the Tamil people are attacked in such a racist manner. The Council must act in accordance with the wishes of the High Commissioner and many of the Council’s mandate holders for an enhanced role of the High Commissioner in Sri Lanka. If the authorities continue to resist this, then the Council must hold a special session.

Intervention by Rev. Fr. Jeyabalan Croos, on behalf of Pax Romana, during the interactive dialogue with Representative of the Secretary General on Human Rights of Internally Displaced Persons and the Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary executions

For decades, our daily reality has been the destruction of our property, curbs on vital fishing and farming, arbitrary arrests, torture, forced conscription, killings, disappearances, with practically no one called to account for these atrocities. Almost everyone in Mannar has been displaced at least once, and some as many as seventeen times! One-fourth of the population of Mannar is internally displaced today.

Mr. President,

I’m a Catholic Priest, of the Diocese of Mannar, in Northern Sri Lanka , where war continues to rage today, as it had for almost three decades now, with civilians caught in the crossfire between the Government Forces and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).

Today, I speak on behalf of the people of Mannar. For decades, our daily reality has been the destruction of our property, curbs on vital fishing and farming, arbitrary arrests, torture, forced conscription, killings, disappearances, with practically no one called to account for these atrocities. Almost everyone in Mannar has been displaced at least once, and some as many as seventeen times! One-fourth of the population of Mannar is internally displaced today.

I highlight four situations:

1. Hundreds of people fleeing the territory controlled by the LTTE, as well as refugees returning from India , are being confined to a snake-infested “open prison” in Kalimoddai by the Sri Lankan military since March 2008, against their wishes. [1]

2. Nine months ago, the Sri Lankan military took control of Musali Division, forcibly displacing more than 4000 people. The government still refuses to allow anyone to return home, despite initial promises to do so within a few days. Last month, government forces asked people who had undergone training by the LTTE to report to their camps, and then beat and threatened them. More than 200 people fled to India in fear after this. Some people in camps also face restrictions of movement, with their national identity cards confiscated.[2]

3. Humanitarian workers in Mannar also face attacks, travel restrictions, arbitrary detention and threats. Three aid workers in the district, including a Catholic Priest, rendering assistance to the displaced have been killed in 2007 and no one has been held accountable.[3]

4. Churches have been the traditional places where people seek refuge, but even in these, security is not guaranteed to the displaced. Madhu Shrine, a sacred Catholic place of worship, had offered refuge to thousands of displaced through decades of war. Although the Army has now taken control of the Madhu Shrine, the Government is yet to declare it as a “zone of peace” in writing, despite repeated requests by the Catholic Church and others[4].

Almost two years after the attack on the Church of Pesalai , where displaced persons were taking refuge, and one person was killed and many injured, no one has been prosecuted or convicted.

I seek the views of the Representative and the Special Rapporteur on how to address these issues in line with international standards.

I urge the Council to make these pleas its own and further, address the urgent needs of the displaced in Mannar, especially to guarantee their freedom to choose where they seek refuge and to move about freely and ensure the safety of humanitarian workers and places of refuge.

Thank you.

[1] 100 people being held in the camp had signed a petition asking to be allowed to live with their friends and relatives, on 10th April 2008. According to UNHCR reports, the number of IDPs arriving in Mannar by sea from LTTE-held areas is increasing, with 20 individuals (11 families) arriving between 1st – 8th May 2008. According to government statistics, as of 11th May 2008, 116 families and 259 persons are confined to the Kalimoddai camp. In May 2008, refugees returning from South India have also been confined to this camp, against their will. The camp is a totally unsuitable place to live: snake-infested, without electricity in common areas. Yet people are virtually detained there, including pregnant women, elderly, children and university students, whose education has abruptly halted. So desperate are people to leave the camp that they initially refused to accept assistance for fear this may prolong their enforced stay. Most are not even allowed to go out of the camp: 30 out of 250 residents may do so, and they must return within the day, issued with a temporary ‘pass’.

[2] The security forces had publicly urged members of the LTTE to surrender, including those who had undergone training. People in areas controlled by the LTTE are often forced to undergo training. The call to surrender terrified them; those who did so were taken to a military camp; many were beaten or threatened that, should soldiers die in battle, they would be killed too.

[3] On 24th March 2007, Muthuraja Aruleswaran of Tamil Rehabilitation Organization was killed, on 26th Sept. 2007, Rev. Fr. N. Pakiaranjith, Catholic Priest and Coordinator of Jesuit Refugee Service was killed and on 10th Nov., Mr. Gouthu Jalaltheen of the Rural Development Foundation was killed. No one has been prosecuted or convicted for any of these killings. The ban on taking vehicles from Northern Provinces south of Medawachchiya, the gateway to the rest of Sri Lanka , as well as arbitrary restrictions, such as the one imposed on those entering Mannar in the week middle of April have also reduced the space for humanitarian workers and restricted supplies.

[4] As the Sri Lankan army advanced to take control of Madhu Shrine, all the displaced people, priests and staff of the Shrine, fled the Shrine with the sacred statue. Many individuals and groups, including the Catholic Bishop of Mannar (the legitimate administrator of the Shrine), the Catholic Bishops Conference of Sri Lanka, priests and Catholics in Mannar as well as rest of Sri Lanka and overseas have been requesting the LTTE and the Government of Sri Lanka to recognize the Madhu Shrine as a Zone of Peace, and for the Government to formally declare it as such through a Special Gazette notification.

Amnesty Reflections on Sri Lanka's UPR: Review of Sri Lanka under the Universal Periodic Review, June 2008 AI Index: ASA 37/023/2008 (Public)

Amnesty International welcomes the government of Sri Lanka’s attention to address some of these concerns, through a National Plan of Action on the Protection and Promotion of Human Rights1with specific benchmarks within a given timeframe and to give effect to the 45 recommendations made by states participating in the review to improve human rights on the ground. However, we also note the apparent lack of support by the Sri Lankan government of 26 other recommendations nearly half of which repeatedly urge it to establish an independent human rights monitoring mechanism, in cooperation with the High Commissioner for Human Rights.

Themes raised by member states participating in the review of Sri Lanka under the UPR dialogue included concerns related to the lack of protection of civilians caught in the internal conflict; enforced disappearances, unlawful/extrajudicial killings; torture and other forms of ill treatment, threats to freedom of expression, the need to strengthen national human rights institutions, attacks on dissent and ongoing impunity for human rights violations.

Amnesty International welcomes the government of Sri Lanka’s attention to address some of these concerns, through a National Plan of Action on the Protection and Promotion of Human Rights1with specific benchmarks within a given timeframe and to give effect to the 45 recommendations made by states participating in the review to improve human rights on the ground. However, we also note the apparent lack of support by the Sri Lankan government of 26 other recommendations nearly half of which repeatedly urge it to establish an independent human rights monitoring mechanism, in cooperation with the High Commissioner for Human Rights.

Rule of Law

Questions and recommendations concerning barriers to the effective rule of law remain an outstanding concern of Amnesty International that was also raised by a number of states in the interactive dialogue. The main focus was on the need for independent public commissions and to “strengthen and ensure the independence of human rights institutions such as the National Human Rights Commission, in accordance with the Paris Principles”.2In December 2007, the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka (HRCSL) was downgraded to B status by the International Coordination Committee of National Institutions for the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights, indicating that it is not fully in compliance with the Paris Principles.3The International Coordination Committee downgraded the accreditation of the HRCSL on two grounds: first, because of concerns in relation to the appointment of its commissioners and secondly, because it had publicly expressed its inability to investigate disappearances. Amnesty International is further concerned that the HRCSL no longer engages in regular public reporting. The HRCSL has not responded to a number of the organisation’s recent requests for information.

Paragraph 10 of the Report of the Working Group records information from the government of Sri Lanka that the 17th Amendment to the Constitution created a multi-party body – the Constitutional Council – that contributes to the appointment of certain independent national institutions and offices. In the current situation where the Constitutional Council is not functioning, appointments are made unilaterally by the President to the Human Rights Commission and the Police Commission. This has impeded the credibility and the effectiveness of these important commissions to realise their mandate. While the government has promised to improve the rule of law, it must explicitly commit to implement visible measures to ensure the independence of these public commissions.

Emergency Regulations

Paragraph 39C of the UPR report explicitly requests the government to “implement various recommendations made by treaty bodies and special procedures to ensure that security measures adopted in the context of armed violence including the state of emergency, the 2005 emergency laws and measures to combat terrorism comply with international human rights law”. Amnesty International has repeatedly raised concerns about the sweeping powers granted under the Emergency Regulations. Many Tamils, including Tamil journalists, are targeted and arrested under the regulations during cordon and search operations. Tamil journalist Jayaprakash Sittampalam Tissainayagam is currently being held in the Terrorist Investigation Division detention centre in Colombo under the Emergency Regulations.4

Amnesty International urges the government to repeal or revise the Emergency Regulations to bring it into line with international human rights standards and to ensure the full implementation of the recommendations made by the UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances including and of the Presidential Commissions for Investigation into Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances. There is also an immediate need for the government to establish a central register of detainees, particularly those arrested under the emergency regulations, with details regarding their date of arrest, transfer and release information, and provide public access to such registers.

Protection and Promotion of Human Rights

The Sri Lankan government, responding to the recommendations during the UPR, committed itself to investigate and prosecute all allegations of extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary killings and bring the perpetrators to justice in accordance with international standards. Amnesty International is alarmed that extrajudicial, summary and arbitrary killings continue, as illustrated by recent reports of five persons shot dead in the Batticaloa area on 22 May 2008. The Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions expressed serious concerns on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions stating that ‘the Government has relied extensively on paramilitary groups to maintain control in the East and, to a lesser extent, in Jaffna. There is evidence that these groups conduct operations with the Government forces and are responsible for extrajudicial executions’. During the UPR, some member states expressed concern that the government seems reluctant to immediately address the existence of armed groups, many of which are responsible for ongoing human rights abuses. The government responded by stating that ‘complete disarming of paramilitaries will take place when normality is restored [and] threats from the (LTTE) die down’.5

The government comments that it will make efforts to prevent cases of kidnapping, enforced disappearance and extrajudicial killings and to ensure all perpetrators are brought to justice. However there is a contradiction as the government states that it does not support the recommendation of paragraph 33 (b) urging the government to “adopt measures to shed light on a number of existing enforced disappearances and comply with the request to visit by the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances”.6The Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka reported that fifteen people were abducted in Trincomalee in the first half of May. Amnesty International has received a number of recent reports of persons being abducted in Colombo and other areas. The government needs to reconsider its position on this issue and to accept and promptly give effect to the recommendation.

The government’s commitment to introduce a Witness and Victim Protection Bill in Parliament shortly is a welcome step as this is an urgent priority given victims’ fear of reprisals when identifying persons responsible for human rights abuses. However the government must acknowledge and needs to swiftly act upon the seriousness of the problem in light of ongoing attacks and killings of persons raising concerns about human rights abuses, including the recent attack on Keith Noyar, the deputy editor of the Nation Sunday newspaper.

The government cites measures to implement the recommendations of the Special Rapporteur on torture and to take steps to eliminate all forms of torture and ill-treatment in prisons and detention centres. On this issue Amnesty International regrets that the government has not accepted the recommendation to ratify the Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture (CAT) and recalls the statement by the Special Rapporteur on torture in 2007 raising concern that “…safeguards against torture either do not apply or are simply disregarded […] and leads to a situation in which torture becomes a routine practice in the context of counter-terrorism operations.”7

Measures needed to improve human rights protection in Sri Lanka

The scale of human rights violations has drastically increased since the abrogation of the ceasefire agreement in Sri Lanka on 16 January 2008. The conflict continues to involve the intentional targeting and indiscriminate attacks on civilians. The LTTE has been deliberately targeting civilians in the South in an extended series of attacks. According to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), 180 civilians died in the first six weeks of 2008, and around 270 were injured in a series of attacks on civilian buses, railway stations and individuals in Colombo, Dambulla, Kebhitigollewa, Madhu, Okkampitiya and Welli Oya.8

Fighting in Mannar District in northern Sri Lanka has escalated in recent weeks. The new round of hostilities is characterized by worsening casualties. The disregard for international human rights and humanitarian law is reflected in the targeting of humanitarian workers with over 40 killed in the last 18 months.

Amnesty International is receiving reports about widespread disparities in the health and nutritional conditions of children living in conflict-affected and poorer areas of Sri Lanka. Amnesty International has repeatedly called on all parties to the conflict to facilitate full and unimpeded access to conflict affected areas, including granting the necessary travel permits, to international and national organizations. This will enable civilians in dire need to access timely humanitarian assistance, including food and medical supplies.

Against this background it is deeply worrying that, despite repeated calls from a large number of states during the UPR review, the Sri Lankan government continues to be “not in agreement with the suggestion for the establishment of a monitoring mission”. 9

There is little evidence that national mechanisms and measures are adequate in addressing the escalating human rights crisis in the country. The deployment of an international and independent human rights monitoring mechanism to undertake investigations and report on human rights violations would therefore be a crucial step towards the prevention of human rights violations and the improvement of human rights protection.

Amnesty International urges the government of Sri Lanka to face up to the escalating crisis of human rights abuses and take urgent steps to implement the recommendations to protect human rights in the country as well as to protect the defenders who speak out on human rights.

1 Report of the Working Group on the Universal Periodic Review, A/HRC/8/46, Point 6, Page 4, and recommendation 13 , Page 18, 15 May 2008.
2 Report of the Working Group on the Universal Periodic Review, A/HRC/8/46
3 Principles relating to the status and functioning of national institutions for protection and promotion of human rights, adopted by the General Assembly in resolution 48/134 on 20 December 1993.
4 Sri Lanka: Arbitrary detention/ medical concern: Jayaprakash Sittampalam Tissainayagam; Amnesty International UA, ASA 37/016/2008, 4 April 2008
5 Report of the Working Group on the Universal Periodic Review, A/HRC/8/46
6 Report of the Working Group on the Universal Periodic Review, A/HRC/8/46
7 http://www.unhchr.ch/huricane/huricane.nsf/
8 See, Sri Lanka: Amnesty International condemns civilian killings’, 28 November 2007, AI Index: ASA 37/020/2007
9 Report of the Working Group on the Universal Periodic Review, A/HRC/8/46

Statement by Visuvalingam Kirupaharan on behalf of 'Interfaith International' under Agenda Item Universal Periodic Review on Sri Lanka, 13 June 2008

Mr President,
Interfaith International would like to make some comments regarding many issues raised in the outcome  report on Sri Lanka.
The Draft report of the Working Group on the UPR - A/HRC/WG.6/2/L.12– indicates that many states are concerned about 'Child recruitment' and insists that this is not only in relation to the LTTE, but to all factions. Some states have even recommended that Sri Lanka investigate the role of security forces in child recruitment and hold to account those responsible. While we talk about Child recruitment, it is also necessary to consider other child rights – related to child labour, poverty, sexual abuse, etc. There are many war affected children without parents, shelter and food. No consistent and stable welfare is available to these victims.
The outcome UPR document on Sri Lanka fails to quote a remedy proposed in the recommendations of the report A/HRC/8/3/Add.3 – 14 May 2008. The Special Rapporteur urges that in the interests of crime control, the two parties to the conflict, the government and the LTTE "……. should initiate and regularize contact between the government police and the policing forces that operate in LTTE-controlled areas.....”
Referring to paragraph 82 of the Draft report, we observe that even though some countries recommend that the independence of Sri Lanka’s human rights institutions such as the National Human Rights Commission be strengthened, the High Commissioner for Human Rights and Special Rapporteurs go further. They not only recommend an International Monitoring body be established, but they also assert that the National Human Rights Commission is no longer independent.
The report A/HRC/WG.6/2/LKA/2 - a compilation of information from treaty bodies, special procedures, and other relevant official United Nations documents strongly recommends that a field presence of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human rights be established with a mandate for both monitoring the human rights situation in the country and providing technical assistance.
It is imperative that the Human Rights Council urge the GOSL, to accept an independent OHCHR presence and to allow the entry of international human rights monitors.
Thank you.




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