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Home > Struggle for Tamil Eelam > Sri Lanka Accused at United Nations > UN Sub Commission 1984
UN SUB COMMISSION ON PREVENTION
OF DISCRIMINATION AND PROTECTION OF MINORITIES
36th Sessions: August 1984
Sub Commission Resolution 1984/32
- adopted on August 30, 1984 by 11 votes to 3 with 6 abstentions. Voting for the resolution were members from Jordan, India, Belgium, Greece, Canada, Argentina, France Zambia, United States, Soviet Union and Ecuador. Members from China, Ethiopia and Romania voted against. Cuba, Bangaladesh, Morooco, Mexico, Japan and the United Kingdom abstained.
'The Sub-Commission on the Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities
Deeply concerned about the recurrence of violence in Sri Lanka which resulted in severe loss of life and property.
Recognising the ultimate responsibility of the Government of Sri Lanka for the protection of all sections of the community.
Appreciating decision 1984/111 of 14 March of the Commission on Human Rights in which it appealed to the parties to continue to take all necessary measures to strengthen and maintain peace and restore harmony among the people of Sri Lanka and welcomed all measures for rehabilitation and reconciliation.
Anxious that the All-Party Conference convened by the Government will achieve the progress ardently hoped for in the direction of resolving of reducing the ethnic tension in the country.
Expresses the hope that the government of Sri Lanka will submit information on the progress made in the investigation of the incidents, and the recent efforts to promote communal harmony, to the Commission on Human Rights at its forty-first session.
Statement by Mr.R.C.Bandare, Indian Expert Member of Sub Commission
- Agenda Item 6 on the Question of violation of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms
Grave human rights situation | Reason to be outraged | Indiscriminate killings | Mass scale killing & destruction | Resort to naked force | Systematic violence against Tamils | Concerted plan of genocide | Human Rights & State Terrorism
Item 6 of our Agenda which deals with the question of violation of human rights and fundamental freedoms in all countries is, in more senses than one. The raison d'être of this Sub Commission. This is so, not only because it covers the whole gamut of human rights issues, but also because it provides an opportunity to deliberate, examine and establish the facts about what are generally termed 'human rights situations' and seek to apply a collective moral pressure on those that are responsible for violations of human rights in any part of the world whether they be the governments or their agencies, communities or even individuals. As a body of independent experts represented in our individual capacities I expect that what we say here under this item will be seen in its proper perspective.
Grave human rights situation
Mr Chairman, we are meeting at a time when the grave human rights situation in Sri Lanka has cast its shadow on the Sub-Commission's deliberations. Last year the Sub-Commission, taking into account the serious ethnic violence and incidents that had taken place in Sri Lanka in July-August 1983, with severe loss of life and property to the Tamil minority, had invited the government of Sri Lanka transmit to the next session of the Commission on Human Rights all relevant information on the communal violence in that country and also requested the Commission to examine the situation in Sri Lanka in the Light of all available information. The Human Rights Commission in turn had appealed to the Parties to continue to take necessary measures to strengthen and maintain peace and restore harmony among the people of Sri Lanka and had welcomed all measures for reconciliation including the All-Party Conference and expressed the hope that they will succeed in achieving a lasting solution.
Reason to be outraged
But now, five months after the Human Rights Commission decision and more than a year after the July-August 1983 events in Sri Lanka, there is, unfortunately greater reason for this Sub-Commission for the Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities to be outraged by what has since happened in Sri Lanka.
Instead of peace and harmony, there has emerged a pattern of almost endemic violence. The agony and suffering of the Tamil population, far from decreasing, has only intensified and for them there seems to be no relief and little hope. This cannot but cause doubts set in motion to bring about reconciliation.
I would briefly like to refer to some developments with regard to the human rights situation in Sri Lanka to ring out the fact that the situation in Sri Lanka calls for our urgent attention My account will be based not only on what has been appearing in the international media but also on the excellent studies prepared on this and fact-finding missions undertaken by some non-governmental organisations including those by the International Commission of Jurists (especially the Paul Sieghart Report) and the Amnesty International.
Till March 1984, according to official sources alone, more than 112 Tamils had been killed at the hand of security forces of whilst instate custody . At the end of March, i.e. soon after the Commission of Human Rights appeal, the Sri Lankan Government launched a 'security offensive' against so-called Tamil terrorists resulting in a large number of deaths of innocent and peaceful civilians and extensive damage was caused to Tamil property.
Amnesty International's report deals with the incidents of 28th march 1984 when Sri Lankan Air Force personnel came to a market place in a Tamil area - Jaffna, Chunnakam District - in a truck and van and opened fire at random into the crowed market, killing eight civilians including a woman and injuring 35 others.
Further, between 9th to 12th April, a number of violent incidents took place in and around Jaffna when security forces attacked a Tamils were killed by the security forces and the situation in the Northern Province as also in Colombo and other areas remained tense for several weeks. Though estimates of the number killed are put at 100, it is note worthy that the Government Agent of Jaffna, (the civilian head of the district), was quoted as saying that more than 50 people were killed 'and hardly any of those killed by the army were linked with guerrilla campaign for more autonomy for the Tamil minority.'
Mass scale killing & destruction
In the last few days, particularly from August 3rd 1984 onwards, the offensive against Tamil militants has sharply escalated, resulting in the loss of life of the Tamils on a mass scale and destruction of their property in the Northern Province of Sri Lanka. On 3rd and 4th August, the Sri Lankan Navy shelled the coastal Tamil town of Valvettiturai in which many people have lost their lives and property whilst many others have fled and become homeless.
Army authorities conducting operations in Valvettiturai asked the local population to produce male teenagers. Undertaking that they would be questioned and immediately released after checking their identity. The children as the Secretary - General of the United Liberation Front, Mr Amirthalingam, pointed out in his statement to the All-Party Conference on 17th August. 'Were arrested, tortured and transported like cattle by lorries with barbed wire, to unknown priors in the south.' Only 32 of the younger children were released. Not even the Government Agent has been informed where the children are being kept Parents of these children fear that they would be tortured and even be massacred. 'The Jaffna Citizens Committee has made an appeal to President Jayawardene pleading for the release of the innocent children of Valvettiturai.
On 7th and 8th August there were a number of killings in Vavuniya and several people including women were arrested and taken from their houses and to this day their fate or whereabouts remain unknown.
More recently, i.e. on 12th and 13th August, security forces set fire to the town of Mannar and nearby towns in retaliation for the bomb-blast some 40 miles away from Mannar in an uninhabited area. More than three thousand are said to have lost their homes and the soldiers, according to the Roman Catholic Bishop of Mannar, rampaged through the town. As a result of the fear and insecurity generated by these developments, there has been a refugee exodus from Sri Lanka and the number of Tamil refugee exodus is in my view an index of the grossness of the violations of human rights.
Resort to naked force
Mr Chairman, from incidents that I have outlined, this Sub-Commission cannot but note with concern certain disconcerting trends that have emerged.
Firstly, the desire to find a negotiated political solution to the problem of Tamil demands seems to have waned and available evidence points towards the government opting for a purely law and order approach through resort to naked force.
Secondly, even as many Tamils in the rest of the country have fled the violence in the non-Tamil areas by retreating into their traditional lands in the Northern and Eastern province has now shifted and kept confined to these predominantly Tamil areas of Sri Lanka. These provinces have been cordoned off from the rest of the country through the stationing there of 5,000 (out of total number of 14,000) Sri Lankan troops who are almost entirely Sinhalese in composition and have replaced the local administration and police authorities. The government seems have come down with a heavy hand on the innocent Tamil population in the name of reprisals against Terrorises thereby instilling fear and insecurity in the Tamil population whilst the would outside has few means to know about their predicament.
Thirdly, the violence against Tamils has become a matter of direct action by government through the use of security forced and it is now no longer a question of sporadic communal violence but against the Tamil population - a form of collective reprisals against a community through acts of looting, arson and indiscriminate killing.
Systematic violence against Tamils
Fourthly, even if the Government's actions are interpreted as necessary counter-measures against law-breakers, a large number of newspaper reports testify to the fact that in caring out their assigned task, the security forces have acted without discipline or accountability and innocent civilian population indiscriminately, a fact admitted by the government itself. As I have emphasised very often in connection with other human rights matters, law enforces should not become law breakers themselves.
Fifthly, the dimensions of the violence have so evolved that there now seems to be a pattern of systematic and continuing violence against the Tamils- almost a plan of action.
The gravity of these developments and trends is further underlined by the lack of investigation into incidents involving excesses by the security authorities against the Tamils on the one hand, and on the other by the fact that no earnest efforts seem to have been made to reach a viable political agreement at the All-Party Conference under which the just rights of minorities in Sri Lanka would have been assured and their frustrations and grievances on account of continuing denial of basic human rights such as equal opportunities in education, employment, use of language and their feeling of insecurity of their life, livelihood and property, set to rest.
Concerted plan of genocide
All of us, I am sure, would have been relieved if the political process which had been set in motion last year, and on which the Commission on Human Rights had placed some hopes, had led to a political solution. Regrettably, no substantial break throughs have been achieved in the parleys during the All-Party Conference. Instead, mounting violence continues to work against the search for a political solution because it leads to a hardening of positions, the building up of resentment, the deepening of the feeling of insecurity, of fear and desperation, of being victims of a concerted plan of genocide. Above all, violence imparts a surrealistic character to political negotiations and in turn induces loss of faith in peaceful methods.
Mr Chairman, today, not only is the right to life of Tamils threatened but their property, their way of life is jeopardised. They are made to suffer political and civic disabilities. Draconian laws and emergency regulations reinforce and react with harsh counter-measures taken by the Government to severely curtail their human rights and effectively block out any access to remedies.
Mr Chairman for this commission which is a Sub-Commission on Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities, the situation in Sri Lanka today raises some fundamental issues concerning the responsibilities and role of the Government of communities - both majority and minority - and of individuals in the protection and promotion of human rights. Further it brings into focus the question of using violent means to achieve given ends.
Human Rights & State Terrorism
If individuals and communities resort to violence to secure their human rights, it is objectionable enough but if Governments resort to and engage in violence - in the nature of collective reprisals against communities, it is morally indefensible and results in the society getting caught in an unending spiral of violence and be one day engulfed by it to the detriment of all concerned. In the ultimate analysis, state terrorism cannot be morally justified and a solution has to be found through peaceful and non-violent means which in the long term will not only reverse the process of the alienation of the Tamil minority but also seal and secure the unity and integrity, not to mention the humanistic traditions and democratic structure of Sri Lanka.
Mr Chairman in the light of all that I have stated here, it is clear that this august body cannot be a silent spectator to what is happening in Sri Lanka. The mass scale of loss of life, the destruction of homes, properties and means of livelihood of the Tamil population, the torture and random killing of their youth, have caused enormous suffering.
The Sub-Commission must call upon the Government of Sri Lanka to exercise restraint in dealing with the situation, show compassion towards the human suffering that has been caused to the Tamil minority, impose discipline on its security forces so that they do not enjoy a carte blanche to wreak havoc upon the hapless Tamil population, investigate and bring to book all those responsible for violation of human rights of the Tamil population and compensate and rehabilitate to the extent possible those who have suffered in the violence. We would also respectfully submit to the Sri Lankan government to show the political will to find a negotiated solution.
Lastly, I would also submit that this Sub-Commission should, as we did last year, request the Commission on Human Rights to consider the situation in Sri Lanka at its 41st session.
Statement by All India Womens Conference
- made on 24 August 1984
''As a women's organisation, we are concerned at the recurrence of violence against the Tamil people of Sri Lanka, not because of the political issues involved nor because of the fact that there are 55 million Tamils in our country. The Honourable Observer from Sri Lanka in his statement yesterday mentioned that democracy was under siege by terrorists in their country and their fight was not anti-Tamil but anti-terrorist. In the light of this statement what I am placing before you is all the more relevant.
We are directly concerned mainly because of two reasons. Firstly, the human rights violations to which Tamils of Sri Lanka are subjected adversely affect women more than any other section of society Secondly, the violations of human rights and the recurring violence results in women and children going over to South India as refugees.
To take the first point, when arbitrary arrest and incommunicado detentions become a daily phenomenon under the Prevention of Terrorism Act, it is the women at home who have to bear the brunt of the consequences of such arrests and detentions. Particularly when the whereabouts of those arrested or detained are not notified, as is the women and their children who suffer most.
Again when those arrested and detained happen to be breadwinners of the family, the consequences are harrowing and devastating. Particularly harrowing and traumatic are situations where the arrested sons or husbands 'disappear' and such cases are not infrequent.
We cannot calmly sit here as if nothing has happened when the Tamil-speaking people of Sri Lanka are being harassed, mutilated and murdered by armed forces. I will particularly mention that the Tamil children are arrested, tortured and transported by lorries to unknown prisons in the south of the country.
I wish to quote here from yesterday's (21.8.84) Financial Times report by John Elliott. 'More than 300 women fasted under a banyan tree by a Hindu temple in this small north Sri Lankan coastal town called Valvettiturai yesterday to protest against the round-up of 500 of their sons and husbands by government troops for removal to the south of the island.'
In this connection, it is relevant to mention the gruesome massacre of 53 Tamil prisoners in the Welikade jail in Colombo on July 25 and 27 last year. Many of them were only detainees on suspicion and not convicted prisoners. After they were brutally murdered, their wives, sisters, children and parents came to know about their death only through the radio.
Much more terrible was the fact that the bodies of these detainees were buried or cremated without any member of the families knowing or being present. They were not even given the chance of having a last look at the body.
No amount of sanctimonious expressions of sorrow or statements made before the Commission that the Sri Lankan Government was not proud of what happened at the Colombo jail would be acceptable to the civilised world, when up to date, the government has failed or neglected or refused to order an independent judicial inquiry into this unprecedented slaughter of those who were in the custody of the Government.
Our second point is the influx of thousands of Tamil families who have come over to South India. There are an estimated 40 to 50 thousand Tamil refugees. Whole families have come over either having lost all their worldly possessions or leaving behind whatever they had. These people have come over because they could no longer put up with the violence they had to face.
The violence they complain of is either from mobs during times of general breakdown of law and order or from the armed forces which has apparently become a daily phenomenon particularly in the northern Tamil areas. To all these people, India is an alien country. They have come over in search of physical security, and for nothing else. Our organisation has been contacted by many of these families seeking assistance and we are compelled to respond to the needs and care of particularly women and children.
Mr Chairman, yesterday the distinguished observer of Sri Lanka made a long statement in which he said that the allegation that the Sri Lankan navy had shelled civilian targets in the coastal town of Valvettiturai was false and that the navy did not have the necessary equipment to carry out such shelling. In this connection, I quote from an on-the-spot report by John Elliott which appeared in yesterday's Financial Times (21.8.84).
''Brigadier N. Seniviratne, the Jaffna combined security forces chief who also heads the civilian administration, says the shelling is either practice rounds, or aimed at suspected terrorists.
But local residents say that shelling usually takes place at night and is often directed for a short period around 9 p.m. at the shore.''
We respectfully appeal to the Sri Lankan government, to take all measures to alleviate the sufferings of the Tamil population of Sri Lanka, especially the women and children who are the most vulnerable sections the society.