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Home > Struggle for Tamil Eelam > Sri Lanka Accused at United Nations > UN Sub Commission 1994
UN SUB COMMISSION ON PREVENTION
OF DISCRIMINATION AND PROTECTION OF MINORITIES
46TH SESSIONS: AUGUST 1994
- Appeal by the International Federation of Tamils
Towards a Just Peace in the Island of Sri Lanka
- Statement by Mr.Bradman Weerakoon, Leader of Delegation of Sri Lanka
- Response of the International Federation of Tamils
to the Statement made by the Leader of the Sri Lanka Delegation
- Intervention by International League for the Rights and Liberation of Peoples
under Agenda Item on the Question of violation of human rights and fundamental freedoms
Appeal by the International Federation of Tamils
- Towards a Just Peace in the Island of Sri Lanka, 3 August1994
Chairperson, and Delegates to the 46th Sessions of the United Nations Sub-Commission on Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities
During the past eleven years the Sub-Commission has heard hundreds of statements raising grave concern at the failure to resolve the armed conflict in the island of Sri Lanka. Yet the conflict continues and innocent lives continue to be lost.
The International Federation of Tamils (with constituent membership in Great Britain, United States of America, Canada, France, Germany, Switzerland, Italy, Denmark, Norway, Australia, Malaysia, Tamil Nadu, Africa and the Middle East) appeals to the Chairperson and Delegates to the 46th Sessions of the United Nations Sub-Commission on Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities to encourage and support the path of negotiation between the parties to the armed conflict in the island of Sri Lanka, as the only way towards reconciliation and a just peace.
At the 45th Sessions of the Sub-Commission in August last year, a draft Resolution (L27 - under Agenda Item 6 ) on the Situation of Human Rights in Sri Lanka, was withdrawn and the leader of Sri Lanka Delegation, in a Statement to the Sub Commission on 20 August 1993, thanked the co-sponsors for having 'kindly decided' to withdraw the resolution.
The Draft Resolution circulated to members had stated, inter alia, that the Sub Commission ''deeply disturbed by the continuation of ethnic violence in Sri Lanka'' and ''welcoming the commitment by the Government of Sri Lanka, made to the Commission at its 49th session, 'to make a comprehensive review and revision of emergency legislation related to arrest and detention', [to undertake] the compilation and publication of a consolidated version of all current emergency regulations to promote public awareness'
'' called upon ''the Government of Sri Lanka and all other parties to the armed conflict strictly to adhere to the obligations under common article 3 of the Geneva Conventions of 1949'' and
''urged the Government of Sri Lanka and other parties to the conflict to seek a cessation of hostilities and to achieve an end to the conflict through negotiations.''
The Leader of the Sri Lanka Delegation in his Statement thanking the co-sponsors for withdrawing the Draft Resolution sought to reassure the Sub Commission in the following terms:
''Mr.Chairman, in the statement made by me at the 49th Sessions of the Commission on Human Rights on 11 March this year, I outlined the main elements of a Programme of Work which the government of Sri Lanka had undertaken to carry out in the course of the year... As this session of the Sub Commission is the first occasion thereafter on which an opportunity has arisen to address an organ of the Commission, I wish to inform the members of this Sub Commission, the progress we have made on the implementation of this programme of work''
The Leader of the Sri Lanka Delegation then went on to detail to the Sub Commission the measures which he claimed the Sri Lanka government had already implemented to secure human rights in the island. He declared to the Sub-Commission:
''In regard to measures to ascertain the whereabouts of persons alleged to have disappeared, the government has prepared a revised warrant to be issued for the Presidential Commission to inquire into Involuntary Removals of Persons. This revision is with a view to facilitate the (Presidential) Commission to expedite its work...The prosecution of those responsible for disappearances is also being carried on with vigour.''
But what are the facts?
''The mandate of the Presidential Commission of Inquiry into Involuntary Removals of Persons which investigates disappearances committed after 11 January 1991 was revised in September (1993) and extended for a further two years upto 12 September 1995. Its terms of reference were altered to enable it to investigate cases more speedily. By the end of September 1993 it had concluded public inquiries into 21 cases since its creation in January 1991... No known action on its findings in any case has been taken, and none of its reports had been published by the end of year... ''[Amnesty International ReportFebruary 1994 - ASA 37/09/94 - page 8]
The Leader of the Sri Lanka delegation also declared to the Sub-Commission in his Statement on 20 August 1993:
''In regard to the review and revision of the Emergency Regulations relating to arrest and detention, the government has already accomplished this and the revised version of these Emergency Regulations was promulgated on 17 June 1993''
But, again, what are the facts?
- ''The President of Sri Lanka issued a new set of Emergency (Miscellaneous Provisions and Powers) Regulations on 17 June 1993 which alter the emergency procedures for arrest and detention, among other things. The regulations of the same name issued in June 1989, and their amendments, have been rescinded. The new regulations have been issued in a single volume which appears to provide a consolidated set of all regulations. This is deceptive, however, as regulations on other subjects dealt with under the emergency after June 1989 still remain in force and their provisions have not been included in the newly published regulations of 17 June even when they affect detention procedures...''
- ''Amnesty International has expressed concern to the Government of Sri Lanka for several years about the broad powers of arrest and detention granted under emergency regulations and the fact that detainees can be held in conditions which facilitate torture and disappearance... the regulations still provide for indefinite preventive detention on renewable, three monthly detention orders - including people whom Amnesty International would consider prisoners of conscience. They also continue to permit detainees to be held for long periods in police and in the northeast, in military custody... The emergency regulations governing post-mortems and inquests have not been altered significantly. The thorough investigation of all such deaths is an important means of preventing illegal killings by security forces personnel.''[Amnesty International Report February 1994 - ASA 37/04/94]
Amnesty also added:
- ''The introduction in law of new procedures and safeguards is not in itself sufficient to protect human rights. Illustrative cases included in this report demonstrate that many procedural safeguards are not implemented in practise and that secret detention continues...
- ....Some Tamil people have been arrested by groups of armed men in military or civilian dress, blindfolded and taken to secret places of detention, where they have been held for at least a week, interrogated and tortured or ill treated to make them confess involvement with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam.. In these cases, according to Amnesty International's own findings, families have no idea who have taken their relative away, and no idea of where their relative is detained. Both the army and the police deny to them that they are holding the missing relative...
- According to another report received by Amnesty International, the arrests may have been carried out by a special operational unit under the Director of Military Intelligence which reports directly to the Army Commander and which has links with the National Intelligence Bureau of the police... Some of the unit members are believed to be members or ex members of the Peoples Liberation Organisation of Tamil Eelam, a group which opposes the LTTE and works alongside the security forces''
The Leader of the Sri Lanka delegation declared to the Sub-Commission in his Statement on 20 August 1993:
''Steps are underway to identify Emergency Regulations yet in force which could be revoked as being redundant or unnecessary. The Regulations which are not strictly relevant in the context of public security but nonetheless considered necessary are to be enacted as laws through the normal legislative process.''
But what are the facts?
''Although the government undertook to remove from the Emergency Regulations any regulation which has no bearing on public security concerns, it has since promulgated new regulations with no apparent connection to public security. On 22 December 1993 the President promulgated new regulations requiring the registration of non-governmental organisations (NGO) and monitoring of their income and expenditure. According to a news release issued by the Presidential Secretariat, these matters were dealt with under emergency law 'as the enactment of legislation is going to take time'. The statement attempts no justification of these regulations in terms of public security concerns.''[Amnesty International Report February 1994 -ASA 37/04/94]
The Leader of the Sri Lanka delegation also declared to the Sub-Commission in his Statement on 20 August 1993:
''In regard to the recommendations of the Working Group on Disappearances, arising from two visits to Sri Lanka, the government is in the process of implementing these recommendations.''
But, again, what are the facts?
''In October (1993) the government established a unit under a senior police officer to examine documentation on the 'disappearance' cases submitted to the government for clarification by the UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances... [The procedure adopted] does not constitute a proper inquiry into the reported 'disappearances' and appears to have been instituted as a palliative to satisfy international concern on this issue... the Emergency Regulations have for a considerable periods permitted the secret disposal of bodies without any inquiry; when inquiries into deaths have been required under Emergency Regulations, the procedures stipulated require that only evidence from the police can be considered, and could still be used to cover up illegal killings.''[Amnesty International reported in February 1994]
The Leader of the Sri Lanka delegation also declared to the Sub-Commission in his Statement on 20 August 1993:
''In regard to the problems relating to the North and the East of the country, steps are already underway to hold elections to the local authorities in the Eastern Province and parts of the Northern Province where relative normalcy has been established in most areas... Upon conclusion of the elections to the local authorities thee would be elected representatives of atleast the Tamil speaking people of these areas and the Government could then negotiate a solution to the larger problems involving both the Northern and Eastern Provinces...''
But what are the facts concerning the local authorities elections held eventually on 1 March 1994?
No elections were held in most of the North which is controlled by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. As for the elections in the East, a Muslim correspondent, A.H. Macan Markar writing in the Sinhala owned Sri Lanka Sunday Times on 13 March 1994 exposed the grim farce:
''Around 2 o'clock, while voters were still waiting to cast their ballot, a police jeep drove upto the booth. (in Kathankudy) The constables who got out were in uniform and were armed. They proceeded to fire a round of shots in the air, the result of which led many men and women waiting to vote to disperse. Thereafter the policeman got the presiding, the junior presiding officer and the rest of the people working at the booth to line up in a corner. They were asked to stand with their hands up and faces to the wall. And there was no resistance offered as the police guns were pointed at them.
In the next 20 minutes the policemen went about marking ballot papers and stuffing them into the ballot boxes. This same police routine was carried out in two more polling stations nearby.
And in one of them, there was a presiding officer who felt it was his duty to protest. His question to a policeman as to who had sent them resulted in an answer so commonly heard these days: 'Orders from the top.'
When even after that the Presiding Officer stood his ground and objected to the impersonation of the votes, he was told by one of the police officers that his family would be harmed if he stood in the way. The officer gave in. The policeman marked more votes...
Ofcourse a problem surfaces at this point, if one was to ask the government to inquire into the deeds of these policemen. And why this is so is because of the latest contribution by the United National party in what it means by good government: the recent pardon by President D.B.Wijetunga of two men found guilty of attempting to kill a person; and the Attorney General's Department dropping a case against a politician now that he has joined the ruling party... So it is difficult to expect democracy to be saved by those in power.''
Even the Quisling Tamil Group EPRLF collaborating with the Sri Lanka government was compelled to submit a Memorandum to the Elections Commissioner:
''Last week a senior army officer while addressing the grama niladaris in Batticaloa in the presence of the Additional Government Agent acted in an intimidating manner accusing them of being supporters of the LTTE. This was widely reported in the media. He threatened them with punishment if polls did not take place in their respective grama niladari divisions... In the districts of Batticaloa and Trincomalee, the army is directly involved in assisting UNP candidates and in doing everything in ensuring their victory...
In many areas in the Batticaloa District, search and cordon operations are immediately followed by the UNP candidates securing the release of those rounded up by the army. This is clearly a drama stage managed to gain popularity for the UNP candidates...
In Muttur a significant portion of ballot papers have not been distributed and are being kept in the army camp. The local populace have been instructed to report to the army camp on the morning of the polls and to collect the ballot papers. The intention is stark clear and needs no further elaboration... In addition to the above, you are no doubt aware of the theft of thousands of ballot papers in certain areas of Vavuniya, Batticaloa and Chenkaladi. Here again the intentions are obvious.''
As for the so called negotiations with Tamil political parties in Colombo, the comments appearing in the Sinhala owned Lanka Guardian based in Colombo are relevant:
''Political impotence has reduced (Colombo based) Tamil parties to merely appealing to Sinhalese leaders. Naturally neither the UNP nor the SLFP has taken the grovelling Tamil politicians seriously.... Successive (Sri Lanka) Governments have exploited the eagerness of Tamil parties to conjure up illusions of 'negotiations" in order to claim falsely that a majority of Tamils disagree with the ongoing Tamil national struggle in the NEP. Their aim is to marginalise the LTTE as a minority of "terrorists" and to discredit Tamil resistance as "violence"...
....Today these (Colombo based Tamil) parties are at their weakest politically. They are no longer a credible political force. Therefore, it is simply nonsense to allege that they can even induce the present or future Government to begin official negotiations. They merely serve as window dressing for the insincere exercise of "exploring political solutions" conducted by the Government for the twin purposes of legitimizing the military campaign in the NEP and hoodwinking the international community that it is seeking a political solution to the 'Tamil problem.' ''
The International Federation of Tamils submits to the Sub-Commission that the conclusion is inescapable that the Sri Lanka Government's Statement to the Sub Commission on 20 August 1993 that the Government proposed to negotiate with (Colombo based) Tamil parties 'elected' at the local authority elections was a prevarication.
It was a prevarication intended to 'hoodwink' the international community and get over the immediate hurdle of the Sub Commission Draft Resolution (L27) which had, inter alia, recognised the existence of an 'armed conflict' in the island and which had ''urged the Government of Sri Lanka and other parties to the conflict to seek a cessation of hostilities and to achieve an end to the conflict through negotiations.''
We believe that sufficient has been said to show that the assurances given by the Sri Lanka government to the Sub-Commission were not intended to be honoured and have not in fact been honoured.
The Sri Lanka Government's assurances to the Sub Commission on 20 August 1993 will rank alongside several other solemn assurances given by Sri Lanka at the Sub Commission during the past several years.
For instance, eleven years ago, on 22 August 1983, faced with rising international indignation and concern at the July 1983 genocidal attack on the Tamil people, the Sri Lankan Ambassador, Mr.Tissa Jayakody, assured the Sub Commission:
"The Sri Lankan authorities....would leave no stone unturned to bring to justice all those responsible for killings, violence and acts of destruction, no matter who they were and regardless of their status, ideology or political alignments. There would be no exceptions."
But, today, eleven years after the July '83 genocidal attack, no inquiry, leave alone an impartial one, has been held into the admittedly planned violence against the Tamil people. In the meantime, however, the Sri Lankan authorities have continued to violate the human rights of the Tamil people and have continued in their refusal to recognise their obligations under common article 3 of the Geneva Conventions of 1949.
''Thousands of Tamils are being arrested every month in Colombo, most without any valid reason. The government says there were 15,000 arrests in Colombo under emergency legislation between 1 June and 31 December 1993.. ..The true number of arrests may be higher if people were arrested without the necessary paper work being completed.. The small number of cases in which there appears to be any evidence of wrong doing is high lighted by the fact that out of the total 15,711 arrests in only 17 (0.11%) cases have charges so far been laid..
In many cases families who have not been notified of the arrest desperately search for their missing relative, fearing they have 'disappeared'. The army and armed groups working with the government have abducted some people and held them in secret places of detention for upto two and a half months, where they have been tortured before being dumped on the side of the road or transferred to police custody... Some agencies routinely beat detainees to extract confessions... After being released they are at risk of being repeatedly re arrested, most likely to be released each time without charge and without ever knowing why they were detained..
The indiscriminate round ups of people solely because of their ethnic origin and reports of their treatment in custody is making members of the Tamil community fearful that they are not safe to walk the streets of Colombo.
The way in which people are being arrested and detained is reminiscent of the manner in which thousands of people were detained in the south between 1988 and 1990... The way in which people have been recently abducted in Colombo by army in civilian dress, blindfolded with their own shirts and taken away in unmarked vehicles to secret locations where they have been tortured is a particularly chilling echo of the past...
...impunity remained a major obstacle to the long term improvement of human rights. Little progress was made in the prosecution of security forces personnel allegedly responsible for committing human rights violations during previous years.
..A former senior police officer who had left Sri Lanka in 1992 returned in June 1993. He had been wanted for questioning in connection with the death from torture of a (Sinhala) lawyer, Wijedasa Liyanaratchi in 1988 and had been summoned to appear in court in April 1992. After his return, however, he was not required to attend the court; instead he was given a senior position in government service..''[Amnesty Reports February 1994]
The gross consistent and continuing violations of the rights of the Tamil people, by the Sri Lankan government and its agencies, have been well documented by innumerable reports of human rights organisations and independent observers of the Sri Lankan scene and we send you herewith a publication which brings together extracts from some of these reports.
The record shows:
that the attack on the human rights of the Tamil people commenced more than forty years ago;
that such oppression included the disenfranchisement of the plantation Tamils, systematic state aided Sinhala colonisation of the Tamil homeland, the enactment of the Sinhala Only law, discriminatory employment policies, inequitable allocation of resources to Tamil areas, exclusion of eligible Tamil students from Universities and higher education, and genocidal pogroms;
that the attack was initially resisted by the Tamil people by non violent means together with a parliamentary campaign for a federal constitution;
that this non violent resistance was met with planned Sinhala violence directed to subjugate the Tamil people to the will of a permanent Sinhala majority within the confines of an unitary state;
that the armed resistance of the Tamil people arose as a defence against decades of oppressive alien Sinhala rule;
that international law recognises that the armed resistance of the Tamil people against such oppressive alien rule is lawful and just;
that Sri Lanka has committed systematic violations of the humanitarian law of armed conflict in its effort to quell the armed resistance of the Tamil people;
that Sri Lanka's sustained attack on the Tamil people amounts to genocide;
that international law recognises the combatant status of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam who today lead the struggle of the Tamil people for national self determination;
that the territorial integrity of the Tamil homeland continues to be defended by the Tamil people against the planned and determined attacks of the Sinhala dominated Sri Lanka government; and
that Sri Lanka's continued refusal to recognise the claim of the Tamil people to the right to self determination constitutes a continuing breach by Sri Lanka of a peremptory norm of international law.
Here, may we add that the alleged sporadic violations of the humanitarian law of armed conflict by some cadres of the LTTE, though not to be condoned, cannot, in any event, take away from the legitimacy of the armed resistance that the Liberation Tigers lead.
Again, such sporadic violations must be considered in the context of the asymmetric nature of an armed conflict, where the government controls the state machinery and all that goes with it, including the administration of justice, whereas the other party to the armed conflict, the Liberation Tigers, is significantly worse off in terms of material resources at its command.
The Sri Lanka Government often states to the Sub-Commission that it "continues to hope that the LTTE too would see the merits of a negotiated settlement''. However the political reality is
that it is the Sri Lanka government which used the Parliamentary Select Committee mechanism, for two years and more, as a way of avoiding direct talks with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam;
that it is the Sri Lanka Government which rejected a number of offers to mediate including one made in August 1993 by four Nobel laureates; that it is the Sri Lanka President who continued to insist that there was no ethnic problem;
that it is Sri Lanka which is engaged in a war for land in the Tamil homeland; and
that it is Sri Lanka which seeks to conquer the north and render the Tamils in the east a minority in their own homeland.
Since the last sessions of the Sub-Commission, the Sri Lanka government has intensified its indiscriminate aerial bombardment of the North and the four year old economic blockade continues. Since last year several hundred more Tamils have been arrested in the East by Sri Lanka's military and para military forces and many have 'disappeared'.
The International Federation of Tamils believes that these events taken together with the statements made by the Sri Lanka delegation to the Sub Commission, show that the Sri Lanka government is, in truth, engaged in creating a legitimising framework for its continued genocidal onslaught on the Tamil people. In our view the situation in the island is extremely serious and demands the urgent attention of the Sub-Commission.
We request the Sub- Commission to adopt a resolution calling upon the two parties to the armed conflict, the Government of Sri Lanka and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, to enter into a ceasefire and to commence negotiations. We believe that it is recognition and negotiation that will provide the pathways to peace in the island of Sri Lanka.
Statement by Mr.Bradman Weerakoon, Leader of Delegation of Sri Lanka
- under Agenda Item on violation of human rights and fundamental freedoms, 12 August 1984
I propose to use the time made available to me to provide a brief account of some important developments in Sri Lanka since the 45th Session of the Sub Commission. A 'Situation Report' providing detailed Information regarding the present situation in the country has already been circulated.
My statement will highlight some of the significant measures which have been taken in the course of this year and which have resulted in a further improvement of the human rights situation. I shall also endeavour to respond briefly to the points made by earlier speakers under this agenda item relating to the situation in Sri Lanka.
I intend to make broadly four points
Firstly, I wish to update the Sub Commission on the action taken in relation to the programme of work outlined by Sri Lanka at the 50th Session of the Commission on Human Rights.
Among the important measures which we proposed were certain revisions in the Emergency Regulations then in force, so as to bring them in line with the accepted International practices concerning particularly arrest and detention. I am very pleased to be able to inform this Sub Commission that the state of Emergency has been revoked as from 14 July, 1994. There are today, no Emergency Regulations in force in Sri Lanka and the normal ' laws and legal processes operate throughout the country after a lapse of almost five years. In spite of the threat to security by isolated acts of terrorism, the government was determined to fulfill its commitment to lift the emergency at the earliest possible opportunity.
The government had initiated the necessary revisions to the Emergency Regulations then in force. Judicial intervention has been provided for within a reasonable time limit, in cases of preventive detention. Increased penalties have been provided for in respect of public officials who infringe the procedural safeguards incorporated in the Emergency Regulations. Of course, in view of the lifting of the state of Emergency, these revisions will now not be relevant. However, the revisions initiated and the consolidation of all Emergency Regulations which have now been effected are available for use in any future eventuality. The considerable effort that has gone into the periodic improvement, revision and consolidation of the Emergency Regulations would therefore not have been in vain.
A draft bill providing for the registration of deaths of persons reported missing and believed to be dead was approved by the Cabinet of Ministers on the 8th of June this year. Similarly, legislation has been approved by the Cabinet to give legal effect to the provisions of the Convention Against Torture, which Sri Lanka acceded to in December 1993, The legislation in respect of death certificates and the Convention against Torture will be presented before Parliament at the earliest opportunity,
My second point refers to the present political situation in Sri Lanka. As members of the Sub Commission may already be aware the Parliament which had been elected to office in February 1989 has been dissolved and Elections have been called for the 16th of August, a few days from today. The Parliamentary General Elections will take place in an atmosphere devoid of the constraints of Emergency Regulations. A free and fair election monitored by
international observers is anticipated with 13 political parties including 5 parties representing the Tamils and 26 independent groups, contesting for the 225 member Parliament throughout the country. Except for a small area in the Jaffna peninsula yet under the armed control of the LTTE, over 10 million voters of all ethnic groups will be able to exercise on the 16th of August, the cherished democratic right of electing a government of their choice. Periodic elections have been a feature of the Sri Lankan polity ever since universal adult franchise was achieved in 1931. In the last two years, in spite of security threats posed by the LTTE insurgency, elections have been held at local and provincial levels. In a few months time, in November, 1994, the Presidential Election is scheduled.
The process of normalization which resulted in a successful election of local bodies in the Eastern Province is being continued in all areas cleared of insurgent activity. For the first time in several years, voters iii the islands of the Jaffna peninsula and cleared areas of the mainland will have the opportunity of electing to Parliament, members of their choice.
Concurrently, the situation in the Northern and services has also improved. ln addition to supplies of food fuel and medicine sent to the North at government expense with the assistance of the ICRC, the supply position has been improved owing to the opening of private trade channels. Following on the undertaking given at the CHR last March instructions 'have been issued to all relevant authorities to ensure that effective steps are taken to prevent injury to innocent civilians nad damage to civilian property in the course of military operations conducted against terrorists. Recent reports from the Jaffna peninsula emanating from NGO sources and visiting journalists confirm that the situation of the civilians in the North who are caught in the Cross fire has improved significantly both in terms of supplies and security.
Consequent on the improved security situation, the return of those displaced in the past to their former places of habitation has continued apace. The number of voluntary returnees from South India now exceeds 40,000. The improved situation has also resulted in so called asylum seekers whose claims have been rejected by some Western governments returning to Sri Lanka. The agreement on the return of rejected asylum seekers with the Swiss government has become operative and arrangements have been made for the returnees to be integrated back into the community. A feature of the transitional arrangements provided for such returnees is the role Performed by the local Red Cross Societies and the UNHCR. A movement back to Sri Lanka of its citizens who have had their spurious claims for asylum rejected, may lead to agitation by groups who have an entrepreneurial interest in the 'refugee issue' maintaining that the security situation is yet not normal. Some of the interventions here attempted to make such a point. Both Sri Lanka and the countries' having 'economic refugees' would need to take heed of such disinformation campaigns.
At the height of the security crisis in 1989 and 1990, reported disappearances caused serious concern. and led to the creation of new mechanisms and procedures to eliminate the problem. The measures taken by the government have resulted in a rapid decline of this phenomenon and there have been only three cases of reported disappearances in the six-month period January to June 1994. Of these three cases, one has already been traced by the Presidential Commission inquiring into Involuntary Removals.
Two other areas of marked improvement in governance have been the favourable environment provided to the media and the renewed momentum in NGO activity. The Emergency Regulations relating to NGOs have been revoked and the draft legislation covering the recommendations of the NGO Commission is being discussed fully, as under-taken by us, with NGO representatives.
My third point, is in regard to the efforts being made to seek a negotiated political solution to the problems affecting the North and the East. It can be stated with confidence that the time now appears propitious for this long sought after goal to be realized, Both the governing party (the United National Party) and the major opposition group - the Peoples Alliance - have in their respective Manifestos not only given the resolution of the conflict the highest priority, but have also laid before the electorate, the outlines of the manner in which, a negotiated political solution is to be effected. The bipartisan consensus, which had been earlier manifested in a Parliamentary Select Committee agreement in principle during 1992 and 1993 holds promise of an early resolution of what has been an intractable problem for so many years, The peoples mandate, which is awaited through the August 16th Parliamentary Elections could well herald the much awaited break-through.
Finally, I would like to reiterate Sri Lanka's commitment to an open and constructive dialogue with the organs of the United Nations system and other humanitarian and human rights organizations. Sri Lanka's co-operative relationship is clearly evident through the invitations extended to Working Groups and special rapporteurs of the CHR, its on-going Agreements with the UNHCR and ICRC and its policy of collaboration with NGOs such as Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, MSF and so on.
Sri Lanka was pleased that it was able to share its experience in regard to displaced persons in the work being undertaken by Special Representative Dr. Francis Deng.
The manner in which the Government of Sri Lanka has fulfilled its obligations to displaced and returnee population and some unique elements of our work in this area have been described in positive terms in the Special Representative's Report on the Internally Displaced.
Only last month, Sri Lanka was able to make a further contribution to the cause of promoting human rights globally by hosting a highly successful regional seminar on traditional practices affecting the health of women and children. A distinguished member of this Sub Commission, Mrs. Hatima Embarak Warzazi played a notable role at this meeting as Rapporteur.
I have no doubt that you, Madam Chairperson and the members of the Sub Commission will agree that the human rights situation in Sri Lanka has been significantly improved in recent months and that the momentum is continuing. We look forward to reporting further progress on our programme of work at the 51st Session of the CHR next March.
Thank you, Madam Chairperson.
Response of the International Federation of Tamils
- to the Statement made by the Leader of the Sri Lanka Delegation, 12 August 1994
It is a matter, not only for regret, but also for grave concern that the statement of the Leader of the Sri Lanka Delegation to the Sub Commission on 12 August is at variance with the grim reality on the ground, in the island of Sri Lanka.
Regret, because after more than ten years of an armed conflict that has taken an increasingly heavy toll in human lives and suffering, Sri Lanka has not recognised the need to address the underlying causes of the conflict. Grave concern because Sri Lanka appears intent on simply creating a legitimising facade for the international community - a facade behind which it can continue its attack on the Tamil people and quell their resistance to oppressive Sinhala rule.
The Leader of the Sri Lanka Delegation said on 12 August that he was very pleased to be able to inform the Sub Commission that the State of Emergency has been revoked as from 14 July 1994. He added:
- ''There are today no Emergency Regulations in force in Sri Lanka and the normal laws and legal processes operate throughout the country after a lapse of almost five years...''
Five years ago as well, the Emergency was lifted for a short duration and reintroduced again. The revocation of the State of Emergency on 14 July 1994 appears to have everything to do with the immediate demands of the General Elections scheduled for August 16 and little to do with any change of direction by the Sri Lanka authorities.
The leader of the Sri Lanka Delegation himself was concerned to protect himself against the eventuality that even as the Sub Commission sits (and in any event before the next Sessions of the Commission) the Emergency may be reinstated. He took care to tell the Sub Commission:
- ''...the revisions initiated and the consolidation of all Emergency Regulations which have now been effected are available for use in any future eventuality. The considerable effort that has gone into the periodic improvement, revision and consolidation of the Emergency Regulations would therefore not have been in vain.''
Again, the provisions of the infamous Sri Lanka Prevention of Terrorism Act which was described in 1984 as an 'ugly blot on the statute book of any civilised country' continue in force. Given all this, to claim that 'normal laws and legal processes operate throughout the country after a lapse of almost five years' is to be economical with truth.
Further, on the content of the Emergency Regulations which are 'available for use in any future eventuality' the Leader of the Sri Lanka Delegation had this to say:
- ''Among the important measures which we proposed were certain revisions in the Emergency Regulations then in force, so as to bring them in line with the accepted international practises concerning particularly arrest and detention... The government had initiated the necessary revisions to the Emergency Regulations then in force.''
One year ago, at the 45th Sessions the Attorney General of Sri Lanka who led the Sri Lanka delegation declared to Sub Commission:
- ''In regard to the review and revision of the Emergency Regulations relating to arrest and detention, the government has already accomplished this and the revised version of these Emergency Regulations was promulgated on 17 June 1993''
But, what are the facts? The President of Sri Lanka issued the new Emergency Regulations on 17 June 1993 in a single volume which appeared to provide a consolidated set of all regulations. But this was deceptive, as regulations on other subjects dealt with under the emergency after June 1989 still remained in force and their provisions had not been included in the newly published regulations of 17 June even when they affect detention procedures.
The Leader of the Sri Lanka Delegation also declared to the Sub Commission on 12 August:
- ''Judicial intervention has been provided for within a reasonable time limit, in cases of preventive detention.''
But what are the facts? The provisions for magistrates visits do no more than provide for an additional record of the detainees existence. A detainee could be held for upto a month before being visited and the magistrate has no discretion over the detention itself. The regulations still provide for indefinite preventive detention on renewable, three monthly detention orders. They also continue to permit detainees to be held for long periods in police and in the northeast, in military custody.
These broad powers of arrest and detention granted under emergency regulations enable detainees to be held in conditions which facilitate torture and disappearance. Again emergency regulations governing post-mortems and inquests have not been altered significantly. The thorough investigation of all deaths in custody is an important means of preventing illegal killings by security forces personnel, but, significantly, the Sri Lanka regulations contrive to exclude such investigation.
The Leader of the Sri Lanka Delegation told the Sub Commission on 12 August:
- ''Increased penalties have been provided for in respect of public officials who infringe the procedural safeguards incorporated in the Emergency Regulations.''
But, again, what are the facts? Little progress has been made in the prosecution of security forces personnel allegedly responsible for committing human rights violations during previous years. A former senior police officer who had been summoned to appear in court in connection with the death by torture of a detainee, was instead, given a senior position in government service. Even criminals convicted of attempted murder have been pardoned by the President, whilst their appeals were pending before the courts. Impunity continued to remain a major obstacle to any improvement of human rights in the island.
The Leader of the Sri Lanka Delegation told the Sub Commission on 12 August:
- ''At the height of the security crisis in 1989 and 1990, reported disappearances caused serious concern and led to the creation of new mechanisms and procedures to eliminate the problem. The measures taken by the government have resulted in a rapid decline of this phenomenon and there have been only three cases of reported disappearances in the six month period January to June 1994.''
But what are the facts? Thousands of Tamils are being arrested every month in Colombo, most without any valid reason. The government itself has admitted to 15,000 arrests in Colombo under emergency legislation between 1 June and 31 December 1993. The true number of arrests may be higher. Even on the basis of the government's figures out of a total of 15,711 arrests in only 17 (0.11%) cases have charges been laid.
The way in which people have been recently abducted in Colombo by the army in civilian dress, blindfolded with their own shirts and taken away in unmarked vehicles to secret locations where they have been tortured is reminiscent of the manner in which thousands of people were detained in the south between 1988 and 1990.. It has even been reported that some arrests ' may have been carried out by a special operational unit under the Director of Military Intelligence which reports directly to the Army Commander and which has links with the National Intelligence Bureau of the police.'
Amnesty has reported that 'in many cases families who have not been notified of the arrest desperately search for their missing relative, fearing they have 'disappeared'. .Some agencies reportedly routinely beat detainees to extract confessions.. Amnesty has also reported that the indiscriminate round ups of people solely because of their ethnic origin and reports of their treatment in custody is making members of the Tamil community fearful that they are not safe to walk the streets of Colombo.'
The Leader of the Sri Lanka Delegation not only failed to refute these allegations but also offered no explanation as to how it was that despite the so called 'new mechanisms and procedures' introduced by Sri Lanka, 'disappearances' had continued to the extent that Tamils were fearful to walk the streets of Colombo. Clearly the introduction in law of new procedures and safeguards is not in itself sufficient to protect human rights. The facts demonstrate that many procedural safeguards are not implemented in practise and that secret detention continues.
The further assertion of the Leader of the Sri Lanka delegation that the security situation had 'improved' and that this had resulted in asylum seekers returning to Sri Lanka appears to fly in the face of the known facts about the situation in Sri Lanka.
His attempt to dismiss those who protested against sending back Tamil asylum seekers to Colombo where Tamils were 'fearful that they are not safe to walk the streets' as groups with an entrepreneurial interest in the refugee issue, is regrettable.
The Leader of the Sri Lanka Delegation also told the Sub Commission:
- ''The Parliamentary General Elections will take place in an atmosphere devoid of the constraints of Emergency Regulations. A free and fair election monitored by international observers is anticipated..''
But what are the facts concerning the 'atmosphere' in which the elections are being held? The Sinhala owned Sri Lanka Sunday Times reported on 7 August 1994:
- ''Polls violence has increased at an alarming rate since nomination day sounding alarm bells and raising tension all over the country. Twelve deaths have been reported so far with less than 10 days to go... If there is so much violence before the polls, many are horrified of what might happen after... It is possible that the President might declare a State of Emergency and deploy troops to maintain law and order.. What is most disturbing is the direct involvement of politicians in violence whilst talking about peaceful atmosphere..''
And on the question of international observers, that which the Leader of the Sri Lanka Delegation told the Sub Commission appears to be at variance with that which the Sri Lanka state owned and controlled Sunday Observer stated editorially on 31 July 1994:
- ''..As elections approach here in Sri Lanka, these observers arrive from various countries and organisations... They are briefed by the Commissioner of Elections and fan out to a few polling districts to observe and report on whether the conduct of the poll has been free and fair.... After the poll they are expected to review their individual reports collectively and submit a single report giving their common verdict.... Invariably these reports..are interspersed with a few malpractices and generally conclude that 'largely the elections had been free and fair.'... The reports of these observer teams are usually innocuous. One could not expect much more when they have the opportunity of observing only a few polling booths, interviewing a few voters and patiently listening to various allegations from different political parties. The end result of the exercise seems to be an international rubber stamp possibly for international consumption.''
The Leader of the Sri Lanka Delegation also told the Sub Commission:
- ''It can be stated with confidence that the time now appears propitious for this long sought after goal to be realised. Both the governing party (the United National Party) and the major opposition group - the People's Alliance - have in their respective Manifestos not only given the resolution of the conflict the highest priority, but have also laid before the electorate, the outlines of the manner in which a negotiated political solution is to be effected. The bipartisan consensus, which had been earlier manifested in a Parliamentary Select Committee agreement in principle during 1992 and 1993 holds promise of an early resolution of what has been an intractable problem for so many years. The peoples mandate which is waited through the August 16th Parliamentary elections could well herald the much waited break through.''
But again what are the facts about the so called 'bipartisan consensus'? Sri Lanka President D.B.Wijetunga, speaking at a recent election rally declared:
- ''Chandrika (leader of the Peoples Alliance) and Ashraff (Muslim Congress) have signed a Pact to divide the country.. But I stand by my party (the United National Party) and promise that I will never allow Sri Lanka to be divided... Our ancestors gave us a united Lanka. We have to give our children a United Lanka. Therefore, to ensure unity we all have to join hands and vote for the U.N.P.'' (Reported in the Sri Lanka State owned Sunday Observer, 7 August 1994)
But, Opposition leader Ms.Chandrika Bandaranayake Kumaranatunga declared at another election rally:
- ''On August 17th we will form a strong government by uniting the south with the north. There are no secret (pacts) with any party. We vehemently oppose Eelam.'' (Reported in the Sinhala owned Sunday Island, 7 August 1994)
It appears that the major Sinhala political parties continue to use the Tamil question as a political football and have not showed any inclination to address the underlying causes of the armed conflict in the island. The so called 'bipartisan consensus', if any, appears to be a naked appeal to Sinhala Buddhist chauvinism, and we fear that this will lead to the perpetuation of the conflict and not its resolution.
The attempt of the Leader of the Sri Lanka delegation to portray the outcome of the 16 August general elections as heralding a new dawn, is not rooted in the political reality on the ground.
Regrettably, his Statement appears to be more in keeping with similar soothing statements made by the Sri Lanka delegation to this Sub Commission as well as to the Commission in the past:
''We are now negotiating within the context of an All Party Conference... in order to expedite the devolution of powers to the Provinces and to resolve issues of national significance peacefully... As a further impetus to this political process, a Parliamentary Select, representative of all political parties in the Parliament, is being appointed to comprehensively review the ethnic problem...'' (Permanent Representative of Sri Lanka, Statement at 43rd Session of Sub Commission, August 1991)
''...many understandings have been reached under the auspices of the APC in order to ensure wider participation in the national consensus building process. A Parliamentary Select Committee was appointed in September 1991 to complement this process. This Committee which is chaired by an MP of an opposition party, is actively engaged in discussing proposals made by its members with a view to evolving a national consensus. The Government is optimistic about a positive outcome of this process.'' (Aide de Memoire of Sri Lanka Mission, 48th Sessions of Commission, February 1992)
''We are..encouraged by the fact that...a significant breakthrough has been achieved in the negotiations in arriving at a suitable political framework for the devolution of power to the North and the East. ...'' (Leader of the Sri Lanka Delegation, Statement at 49th Session of the Commission, 23 February 1993)
''A Select Committee of Parliament composed of representatives of all political parties in Parliament has been working to reach agreement on a just and lasting solution to the ethnic question... Ground conditions in the Eastern Province at present indicate that a referendum as required by law could be held in the course of this year... The vexed problem of the unit to which devolved powers should be given...would then be finally determined by the will of the people.'' (Leader of the Sri Lanka Delegation, Statement at 45th Session of Sub Commission, August 1993)
These statements taken together with the actions of the Sri Lanka authorities during the past year, including the denial by President D.B.Wijetunga of the existence of an ethnic question, lend credence to the view that Sri Lanka is engaged simply in offering palliatives to soothe international reaction to its horrendous human rights record whilst it prepares to conquer and rule the Tamil homeland.
Oral Intervention by Verena Graf, Secretary General, International League for the Rights and Liberation of Peoples
- under Agenda Item on the Question of violation of human rights and fundamental freedoms
The International League for the Rights and Liberation of Peoples is also much preoccupied with the situation in SRI LANKA. The continued violations of human rights and armed conflict in Sri Lanka cause us deep and grave concern. Year after year since 1983 the League had been appealing to the Human Rights Commission and to this Sub Commission to make a careful analysis of the situation in Sri Lanka and to recommend suitable remedial measures to stop the gross violations and the misery of the people.
The human rights situation and the armed conflict in Sri Lanka are fast deteriorating. The latest reports of reliable human rights organizations published really urge the Sri Lankan government to bring an end to impunity.
The League regrets to bring to the notice of this Sub-Commission that the Sri Lankan government has failed to prosecute persons responsible for extra judicial killings, disappearances and other violations of human rights, even though the Sri Lankan government had given assurances to international fora that it will prosecute them.
There is no sign or indication that the Sri Lankan government is considering to ensure an end to the climate of impunity prevailing among the members of its security forces.
Thousands of Tamils are arrested and the government itself had admitted that there were, 15,000 arrests in Colombo between the 1st June and 31st of December 1993. There is reliable information that the army and armed groups working with the government are abducting people and hold them in secret places of detention.
The indiscriminate rounds-ups of people solely because of their ethnic origin and degrading and inhuman treatment in police stations and army camps are well documented by recognised human rights organizations. It is the humble view of the League that it will be an impossible task to make significant progress against human rights violations in Sri Lanka until the war and the civil war situation is brought to an end.
It is the civil war that is feeding polarisation and bitter resentment. The government has opted for a military solution and this is being given effect by series of military operations: cordon and search, air raids in civilian areas, indiscriminate bombings and shellings from army camps.
Helicopters, supersonic jets and Pukara bombers are used to strafe the civilian population. The atmosphere of panic siege and vendetta makes these abuses and violations possible. It may not be possible, to end this war without external mediation. The International League for the Rights and Liberation of Peoples appeals to the members of this Sub-Commission to take adequate measures to end the miserable situation existing in Sri Lanka for the last 10 years where there had been no respect for human lives or limbs of the people.