Sri Lanka rejects veracity of pictures of bloodstained bodies of bound and blindfolded Tamils

The BBC reports that Sri Lanka’s foreign minister has cast doubt on newly released photos that are said to show a massacre of Tamils during the country’s civil war. On an official UK visit, GL Peiris said images published by the Global Tamil Forum were a bid by rebel sympathisers to tarnish Sri Lanka’s image. Some of the pictures apparently show the bloodstained bodies of bound and blindfolded young people. The Global Tamil Forum (GTF), a group which includes former supporters of the separatist insurgents, released the images as the Sri Lankan foreign minister visited London.

Human rights groups decline to appear before Sri Lankan reconciliation commission

When Sri Lanka’s External Affairs Minister Gamini Lakshman Peiris was at the United Nations last month, he challenged human rights groups to appear before a government-appointed ‘Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission’ (LLRC) probing human rights violations during the country’s civil war. Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and the International Crisis Group have accused both the Sri Lankan armed forces and the rebel group, Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), of war crimes and violations of international humanitarian law – particularly during the final stages of the conflict last year.

The three groups declined Peiris’s invitation and instead called for “an international inquiry into the evidence of war crimes and other abuses during the civil war”. In a joint letter Thursday, the three rights organisations said they would not appear before the commission because “it did not meet international standards for independent and impartial inquiries”.

Madhu Malhotra, Amnesty’s deputy director for the Asia- Pacific region, said her organisation would welcome the opportunity to appear before a “credible commission of inquiry aimed at securing accountability and reconciliation in Sri Lanka”.

“We believe effective domestic inquiries are essential to human rights protection and accountability. But the LLRC falls far short of what is required,” she added.

Amnesty’s Malhotra said the LLRC’s mandate, its composition, its procedures, and the human rights environment in which it is operating all conspire to make a safe and satisfactory outcome for victims of human rights violations and their families extremely unlikely.

She said Amnesty is particularly concerned about the lack of any provisions for witness protection and the fact that former officials who have publicly defended the Sri Lankan government against allegations of war crimes serve on the commission.

Sri Lanka Tamil Tiger spokesman ‘missing after arrest’

The BBC reports that two prominent Tamil Tiger leaders in Sri Lanka are missing after arrest by the army last year, their wives have told a presidential commission. LTTE spokesman Rasiah Ilantherian and head of the Tiger intelligence wing in Batticaloa, Prabha have not been seen since being detained, they said. The two wives were among hundreds of Tamil and Muslims testifying to the panel in Batticaloa, eastern Sri Lanka.

ICJ paper on Sri Lanka’s mass detention of LTTE Suspects

Although the conflict between the Government of Sri Lanka (GoSL) and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) ended in May 2009, the GoSL continues to detain approximately eight thousand individuals under administrative detention without charge or trial.  “Beyond Lawful Constraints: Sri Lanka’s Mass Detention of LTTE Suspects” addresses the human rights concerns arising from the world’s largest mass detention of persons held in connection with an internal armed conflict. The ICJ is concerned that the GoSL’s “surrendee” and “rehabilitation” regime fails to adhere to international law and standards, amounting to an arbitrary deprivation of liberty and denial of the right to a fair trial.

Addressing the UN General Assembly in New York, President Mahinda Rajapaksa last week stopped short of explicitly calling for the Geneva Conventions to be changed. The president said Sri Lankans had faced the “atrocities of terrorism” for decades, and that the country lost nearly 100,000 lives. It was therefore, he said, worth examining the capacity of international humanitarian law to meet today’s needs.

Sri Lanka: US Report Shows No Progress on Accountability

A US State Department report released on August 11, 2010, shows that Sri Lanka has not yet conducted an effective investigation into laws-of-war violations by government forces and the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in the final months of the war that ended in May 2009, Human Rights Watch said. The report states that one post-war government inquiry was “ineffective” and that a second inquiry, just under way, raises concerns about its mandate and composition.

Canada man pleads guilty in first terrorism fundraising case

[JURIST] Canadian resident Prapaharan Thambithurai pleaded guilty Tuesday to raising money for the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in the nation’s first case involving fundraising for a banned terrorist group. Thambithurai admitted raising between $2,000 and $3,000 between late 2007 and March 2008, acknowledging that he knew part of the money would go to the LTTE, which was banned in Canada in 2006. Thambithurai is the first to be charged under the controversial terrorism financing legislation, introduced almost 10 years ago. The maximum sentence is 10 years in prison, but the prosecution is seeking only a two-year jail term. The defense has requested a three-year suspended sentence. Sentencing is scheduled for Friday.

Sri Lanka has faced numerous allegations of human rights violations originating from incidents that took place during the final months of the civil war by both the government and the rebel LTTE, which ended last year. In January, UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial killings Philip Alston urged an investigation into possible war crimes after authenticating a video of members of the LTTE being executed by members of the Sri Lankan military. In October, the US State Department released a report on the conflict, urging Sri Lankan officials to investigate reports of human rights violations and war crimes and prosecute those responsible. While the government of Sri Lanka rejected the findings of the report, President Mahinda Rajapaksa decided in October to appoint an independent committee to investigate allegations of human rights violations.

Sri Lanka ex-chief justice criticizes military trial for detained opposition leader

[JURIST] The former chief justice of the Supreme Court of Sri Lanka on Monday 15 March criticized the government’s treatment of detained opposition leader General Sarath Fonseka. Sarath Nanda Silva, who retired from the Sri Lankan Supreme Court last year, accused the government of using the military justice system to prevent Fonseka from participating in the upcoming elections scheduled for April 8, and of violating Fonseka’s civil rights. Silva’s charge implicates Fonseka’s presence in the military, rather than civilian system, which he says provides no recourse for Fonseka. Silva also said that Fonseka’s arrest was made in violation of the country’s constitution. The military has charged Fonseka with mixing politics with the military, and improperly awarding procurement contracts. Fonseka’s court-martial hearing begins on Tuesday 16 March. Fonseka is also scheduled for a hearing before the Supreme Court of Sri Lanka on April 26, where he will challenge his detention.

Also Monday, Sri Lanka criticized a US State Department report, released last week, which accused Sri Lanka of violating its citizens’ civil rights. Last month, the Sri Lankan Supreme Court rejected a petition to release Fonseka, who was taken into custody in early February. Also in February, Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa, who defeated Fonseka in the January election, dissolved parliament and called for early parliamentary elections in an attempt to harness momentum from his victory to gain more seats in parliament for his political party, Freedom Alliance. The Sri Lankan Supreme Court ruled last month that Rajapaksa’s second term will begin in November. Fonseka has disputed the election results, citing vote counting irregularities and violence.

UN SG proceeding with Sri Lanka rights panel

[JURIST] UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said on 16 March that he would not delay his plan to set up a UN panel to investigate allegations of human rights violations during the Sri Lankan civil war. Ban made the statement during a press conference in response to a question about a letter from the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) to the Secretary-General last week. Ban responded that the letter, which challenged the UN’s authority to form the panel, was a misunderstanding, and he made clear his intention to form the panel:

This panel will report to me directly and not to any other body. It is well within my power, I believe. I am convinced that it is well within my power as Secretary-General of the United Nations to ask such a body to furnish me with their advice of this nature. This does not in any way infringe on the sovereignty of Sri Lanka.

Ban added that there would be, “no delay in the establishment of the panel.”

Earlier this month, Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa rejected Ban’s plan to appoint a panel of experts to look into alleged rights abuses in the island nation’s civil war, saying it “is totally uncalled for and unwarranted.” Just prior to Rajapaksa’s statement, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay criticized the state of human rights in Sri Lanka, while presenting her annual report to the 13th Session of the Human Rights Council. Sri Lanka has faced numerous allegations of human rights violations originating from incidents that took place during the final months of the civil war by both the government and the rebel Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).

Coercion of prominent human rights advocates in Sri Lanka

The International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI) is alarmed at reports of intimidation and the possibility of criminal charges being brought against prominent human rights lawyer and Executive Director of Transparency International, Sri Lanka (TISL), Mr J C Weliamuna, and Dr Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu, Executive Director of the Centre for Policy Alternatives (CPA).

According to reports from Sri Lanka, both Mr J C Weliamuna and Dr Saravanamuttu are understood to have been placed at the top of a list ranking 35 human rights activists, lawyers and journalists, according to their ‘levels of dissent’. The list is said to have been created by the Sri Lankan State Intelligence Services. While the purpose of this list remains unclear, the IBAHRI is deeply concerned for the physical safety and liberty of the named individuals, in particular for Mr J C Weliamuna and Dr Saravanamuttu who have previously been subject to serious coercion, including physical attacks and death threats.

‘We consider this current campaign against those who are perceived as being critical of the Government or its policies to be extremely serious’ said Alex Wilks, IBAHRI Programme Lawyer. ‘Not only does it compromise the physical safety of those named on the list, it exacerbates the climate of fear within which civil society is currently operating. Credit must be given to those who are still working in such difficult circumstances.’

Juan Mendez, IBAHRI Co-Chair, said,

 ‘It is deeply disappointing that in this critical period in Sri Lanka’s history that those who advocate on rule of law and human rights issues continue to face such insidious threats. The IBAHRI strongly urges the Sri Lankan Government to demonstrate its commitment to democratic principles by ensuring that freedom of expression and accountability are made a reality for all its citizens.’

The IBAHRI reports that in recent weeks, a media campaign led by several pro-government media outlets has accused TISL and other non-governmental organisations (NGOs) of misusing funds to ‘destabilize’ the country.  However, no evidence has been provided in support of this claim.

The report of the IBAHRI fact-finding mission to Sri Lanka, Justice In Retreat, concluded that there was a pattern of intimidation routinely expressed against lawyers, academics and NGO workers. Further, the brazen nature of some of the attacks and threats, the lack of prompt or effective investigation or prosecution, and the consequential sense of impunity surrounding these incidents, have created a climate of fear amongst members of civil society.

Click here for the full report ‘Justice in retreat: A report on the independence of the legal profession and the rule of law in Sri Lanka’.

Sri Lanka: emergency laws extended

On 9 March 2010, Sri Lanka’s Parliament, which had been dissolved, met for a short session to approve a one-month extension for the nation’s emergency laws. President Mahinda Rajapaksa had signed a proclamation to that effect on 1 March. With three opposition parties voting against the extension, it passed on a 93-24 vote.

Speaking against the extension, a Member of Parliament from the opposition Janatha Vimukthi Perumana Party, Sunil Handunneththi, denounced the government for using the emergency regulations against democratic rights. He also argued that since the civil war in the country had ended more than eight months ago, there is no need to continue emergency regulations. Handunneththi claimed that no actions have been taken on complaints that government agents attacked opposition supporters and that eight new detention centers have been opened.

The state of emergency was imposed in August 2005, following the assassination of then Foreign Minister Laksman Kardirgamar, which was attributed to the Tamil Tigers rebel group. The special regulations have been re-imposed monthly since that time; the Tamil Tigers were decisively beaten in military action in May 2009. Government officials have defended the extension, stating that “operational activities” were ongoing to prevent a resurgence of the rebellion and defeat terrorism.

The emergency regulations have been criticized outside of Sri Lanka. One organization denouncing their impact is the International Crisis Group (ICG). The ICG states, “Sri Lanka has two sets of emergency laws – regulations issued under the Public Security Ordinance, No. 25 of 1947, and the 1979 Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) – which impose severe limits on courts’ jurisdiction and authority to prevent abusive detention and torture.”