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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2397

United States Impeaches Sri Lanka on Human Rights and Governance In its 2007 Annual Human Rights Report

Daya Gamage US National Correspondent Asian Tribune

Washington, D.C. 12 March (Asiantribune.com): In its 2007 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices released here Tuesday March 11 in the State Department, graced by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, the United States in its report on Sri Lanka totally condemned, criticized and, in fact, impeached its human rights record and the style of governance highlighting that “the overwhelming majority of victims of human rights violations, such as killings and disappearances, were young male Tamils”.

The State Department report charges that the Government of Sri Lanka was responsible in the deterioration of human rights and conveys that the ethnic Tamil minority are the worst affected.

The report was critical of the violations of Sri Lanka’s separatist Tamil Tigers but the increased and continuous condemnation of Sri Lanka’s governance style in handling disappearances and rights violations appeared to be more significant to the United States.

Despite it stopped short of naming the Rajapaksa Administration a “Sinhalese-dominated government” and that Sri Lanka is “engulfed in an ethnic war between the majority Sinhalese and minority Tamils” the tone of the entire report came closer to those sentiments because of the report’s failure to identify that Sri Lanka is in a serious battle to militarily defeat a ruthless LTTE terrorism to safeguard the nation’s territorial integrity, sovereignty and the democratic structure.

The 2007 Country Report on Human Rights Practices on Sri Lanka is a total production of the American Embassy in Colombo. The draft of the report sent to the State Department in stages between November-December 2007 and the final draft in January-February 2008 are hardly vetted by the officials of the State Department giving Foreign Service Officers in the American Embassy in Sri Lanka significant latitude to arrive at their own judgments. These judgments, which are reflected in the Human Rights Practices Report, are taken very seriously by the U.S. Congress when dealing with issues connected to Sri Lanka.

Jonathan Farrar, Acting Assistant Secretary of the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor at the State Department in his remarks at the releasing ceremony said “officers in our overseas posts go to great lengths to gather factual information for these reports.”

He further said “the reports are based on information we receive from governments and multilateral institutions, from national and international non-governmental groups, and from academics, jurists, religious groups and the media, and have gone through a lengthy process of checking and cross-checking.”

Here are the highlights of the report:

(Summary) “The government's respect for human rights continued to decline due in part to the escalation of the armed conflict. While ethnic Tamils composed approximately 16 percent of the overall population, the overwhelming majority of victims of human rights violations, such as killings and disappearances, were young male Tamils. Credible reports cited unlawful killings by government agents, assassinations by unknown perpetrators, politically motivated killings and child soldier recruitment by paramilitary forces associated with the government, disappearances, arbitrary arrests and detention, poor prison conditions, denial of fair public trial, government corruption and lack of transparency, infringement of religious freedom, infringement of freedom of movement, and discrimination against minorities. There were numerous reports that the army, police, and progovernment paramilitary groups participated in armed attacks against civilians and practiced torture, kidnapping, hostage-taking, and extortion with impunity.

“The situation deteriorated particularly in the government-controlled Jaffna peninsula. By year's end extrajudicial killings occurred in Jaffna nearly on a daily basis and allegedly perpetrated by military intelligence units or associated paramilitaries. There were few arrests and no prosecutions as a result of these abuses, although a number of older cases continued to make slow progress through the judicial system. Government security forces used the broad 2005 emergency regulations to detain civilians arbitrarily, including journalists and members of civil society.

“The LTTE, which maintained control of large sections of the north, continued to attack civilians and engage in torture and arbitrary arrest and detention; denied fair, public trials; arbitrarily interfered with privacy; denied freedoms of speech, press, and assembly and association; and forced recruitment, including of children. The LTTE was also active in areas it did not control and during the year carried out at least one politically motivated killing in Trincomalee, a politically motivated suicide attack in Colombo, a suicide attack against a government army base near Batticaloa, a bombing of civilian shoppers in a suburb of Colombo, and bombings of civilian buses in the south.(End Summary)

Arbitrary or Unlawful Deprivation of Life

“There were numerous, credible reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings.

“During the year approximately 1,000 of the estimated 3,200 deaths associated with the hostilities between government security forces and the LTTE were civilians, according to public sources.

International organizations have documented approximately one-third of these. The casualties occurred in part as a result of artillery fire into populated areas, aerial bombings, land mines, and other military action, but international organizations noted that most of the civilian casualties occurred in "individual incidents," such as extrajudicial killings. Reliable statistics on such killings were not available, since this crime often goes unreported by families who fear reprisals if they file complaints. The numbers reported by different organizations therefore vary widely. In addition, it is likely that the majority of those reported as "disappeared," about whom there has been no further information, died.

“The Consortium of Humanitarian Organizations (CHA), an umbrella group of indigenous nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), reported that the killings occurred disproportionately in predominantly Tamil areas. For example, CHA recorded 35 civilian conflict-related deaths in Colombo, which comprises approximately eight percent of the country's population with roughly equal numbers of Sinhalese, Tamils, and Muslims. In comparison, there were an estimated 200 such deaths in Tamil dominated Jaffna, which accounts for only 3.5 percent of the population.

“There were numerous killings of those employed by NGOs and other humanitarian assistance workers. UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs John Holmes estimated that approximately 30 NGO workers died in the past two years, although NGO sources estimated the figure to be approximately 44. On June 3, for example, men dressed in police uniforms abducted two Tamil employees of the Sri Lanka Red Cross from the Colombo train station, a high security area. The Red Cross employees' bodies were discovered the following day approximately 100 kilometers away in Ratnapura. The Criminal Investigation Department (CID) arrested Nishantha Gajanayake, a retired Air Force squadron wing commander and former executive assistant of former Air Force commander (and current chief of defense staff) Donald Perera. As Sri Lankan media widely reported, opposition politicians alleged in parliament that Gajanayake acted under the direction of Defense Secretary Gothabaya Rajapaksa and Colombo Police Deputy Inspector General (DIG) Abeywardena. Gajanayake's arrest led to the arrests of several others, including four police officers and two military officers.

The government charged Gajanayake and the others with conducting political abduction, kidnapping for ransom, and murder. There was no government investigation of the allegations against involvement by senior officials. At year's end there was no progress towards a trial. On December 14, unidentified gunmen abducted and killed a 43-year old Sri Lanka Red Cross member Sooriyakanthy Thavarajah in Jaffna. On December 16, his decapitated body was found.

“The government used paramilitary groups to assist its military forces in fighting the LTTE and intimidate its critics in the media and in parliament. The Tamil Makkal Viduthalai Pulikal (TMVP or Karuna group), led by breakaway LTTE eastern commanders Karuna Amman and Pillaiyan, operated mostly in the east. The Eelam People's Democratic Party (EPDP), led by government Minister of Social Services and Social Welfare Douglas Devananda, operated in Jaffna. In September the government allegedly provided Karuna Amman with false identity documents to facilitate his entry into the United Kingdom, where he was arrested for illegal immigration on November 2. The government denied involvement in the episode.

Reports indicated that in Karuna Amman's absence, his deputy Pillaiyan assumed operational control of the Karuna group. On November 18, the government withdrew police security from the homes of several opposition Tamil members of parliament (MPs) from the east, while cadres loyal to Pillaiyan broke into their homes, abducted a relative of an MP, and threatened to kill the hostage if the MP voted against the government's budget. Pillaiyan reportedly personally telephoned one of the MPs and repeated the death threats hours before the budget vote. On December 11, the Pillaiyan group abducted three family members and associates of Tamil MPs in Batticaloa, again threatening to kill the hostages if the MPs voted against the budget. The three MPs concerned abstained in the budget vote, in which the government's survival was at stake, and the hostages were later released. However, the government publicly denied its involvement with paramilitary groups. A culture of impunity enabled paramilitaries to operate, often against civilians suspected of being LTTE sympathizers.

Disappearance

“The Sri Lanka Human Rights Commission (SLHRC), reportedly acting on instructions from senior government officials, did not provide statistics on the number of disappearances in the current year, but it reported 345 instances countrywide of politically motivated disappearances in 2006 by the state security forces, pro-government paramilitary groups, or the LTTE. According to NGOs, the number of disappearances sharply increased during the year. For example, the Foundation for Coexistence reported 880 disappearances.

“Witnesses and potential victims identified the perpetrators of abductions as Tamil-speaking armed men using white vans without license plates. The government generally failed to investigate allegations of abductions by armed men in white vans on the grounds that white vans are too common for these incidents to be effectively investigated.

In response to a list of 350 abductees in the previous 12 months presented to President Rajapaksa in March, the government reported by year's end that authorities had traced 21 persons who were still alive and identified the remains of four other victims whose cases were now considered murders. The government had not been able to resolve the remaining 325 cases and requested foreign government assistance in obtaining details of 105 cases which had not been reported to police. Human rights organizations have noted that the relatives of human rights victims, particularly in Jaffna, often did not contact the police for fear of reprisals against other family members.

Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

“The law makes torture a punishable offense but does not implement several provisions of the UN Convention Against Torture. If convicted of torture, the law mandates a sentence of not less than seven years' imprisonment. However, in the few publicized torture convictions since 2004, the individuals were released on bail pending an appeal rather than serving the minimum seven-year sentence. Human rights groups maintained that while torture is prohibited under specific circumstances, it was allowed under others. According to credible sources, including UN Special Rapporteur (UNSR) on Torture Manfred Nowak, the use of torture by police and security forces to extract admissions and confessions was endemic and conducted with impunity. In addition, the emergency regulations make confessions obtained under any circumstance, including by torture, sufficient to detain a person until the individual is brought to court. On October 29, following his one week assessment mission to the country, Nowak attributed the lack of convictions for torture to the absence of effective investigation, inadequate protection for victims and witnesses of torture, and an excessive minimum sentence for torture. He stated also that the police used threats of violence or fabrication of criminal cases to prevent the victims of torture by police officers from filing complaints. Nowak added that detainees reported that the magistrates did not provide them an opportunity to complain about police torture while the perpetrators often accompanied the victims to courts and remained present during medical examinations.

“Methods of torture and abuse reportedly included beatings, often with sticks, iron bars or hose; electric shock; suspending individuals by the wrists or feet in contorted positions; burning with metal objects and cigarettes; genital abuse; blows to the ears; asphyxiation with plastic bags containing chili pepper or gasoline; and near drowning. Detainees reported broken bones and other serious injuries as a result of their mistreatment. UNSR Nowak singled out the Terrorist Investigative Department facility in Boossa for including the "fullest manifestation" of torture methods.”

The following are some of the main references to the LTTE in US State Department Annual Report:

“The LTTE, which maintained control of large sections of the north, continued to attack civilians and engage in torture and arbitrary arrest and detention; denied fair, public trials; arbitrarily interfered with privacy; denied freedoms of speech, press, and assembly and association; and forced recruitment, including of children. The LTTE was also active in areas it did not control and during the year carried out at least one politically motivated killing in Trincomalee, a politically motivated suicide attack in Colombo, a suicide attack against a government army base near Batticaloa, a bombing of civilian shoppers in a suburb of Colombo, and bombings of civilian buses in the south.

“During the year media reports and observers implicated the LTTE in attacks on high profile political opponents and civilians. For example, on July 16, suspected LTTE cadres shot Chief Secretary of the Eastern Provincial Council Herath Abeyweera.

“The LTTE is suspected of having used claymore mines to attack buses in Sinhalese areas, including some carrying civilians. On March 27, the LTTE used a suicide bomber driving a tractor with an attached trailer to attack the Chenkallady Army Base in Batticaloa district, killing three soldiers and five civilians and wounding one soldier, two policemen and 18 civilians. The SLN reported that the LTTE used suicide boats to attack naval outposts and vessels.

“There was a drastic reduction in deaths and injuries resulting from land mines and unexploded ordnance, with only one death and one injury reported this year. During the year the LTTE continued to detain civilians, often requiring individuals to fight government security forces against their will. Credible sources also alleged that the LTTE required individuals to purchase the right to leave LTTE controlled territory.

“During the year the LTTE continued to operate its own court system composed of judges with little or no legal training. LTTE courts operated without codified or defined legal authority and essentially as agents of the LTTE rather than as an independent judiciary.

“The LTTE reportedly held political prisoners, although the number was impossible to determine because of the secretive nature of the organization; The LTTE and the Karuna group continued to interfere with the work of international NGOs. Credible sources reported 35 cases of harassment of international NGOs by the Karuna group in the Batticaloa and Ampara districts of the east. Credible reports indicated that between June and November there were six incidents of attempted forced recruitment of local NGO staff in the LTTE-controlled Vanni area. Local, mainly Tamil staff of UN agencies also faced increased harassment by the security forces and paramilitaries, to the point that many had difficulty carrying out their work.

“The LTTE and the Karuna group continued to interfere with the work of international NGOs. Credible sources reported 35 cases of harassment of international NGOs by the Karuna group in the Batticaloa and Ampara districts of the east. Credible reports indicated that between June and November there were six incidents of attempted forced recruitment of local NGO staff in the LTTE-controlled Vanni area. Local, mainly Tamil staff of UN agencies also faced increased harassment by the security forces and paramilitaries, to the point that many had difficulty carrying out their work.

The LTTE routinely interfered with the privacy of citizens by maintaining an effective network of informants.

“In the east, the Karuna group and the Pillaiyan group often operated without hindrance in internally displaced persons (IDP) camps under government control and restricted humanitarian access. Abductions and forced recruitment by the Karuna group took place in IDP camps in Batticaloa and Trincomalee districts. According to SLMM, the Karuna and Pillaiyan groups were responsible for numerous abductions of male children and adults in Ampara and Batticaloa districts. The LTTE allegedly used civilians as human shields.

Suspected LTTE presence among the IDPs led the Sri Lanka Army (SLA) to attack some IDP camps and safe havens, killing a number of civilians.

“On January 2, Air Force fighter jets bombed a village near Mannar along the northwest coast, killing 16 civilians. On September 2, DPUs detonated a claymore mine in LTTE controlled territory, striking a civilian van and killing at least 12, including four women and two children. On September 26, a claymore bomb killed Jesuit priest Reverend Nicholaspillai Packiyaranjith; observers alleged that a government DPU was responsible.

“On January 5, the LTTE detonated a bomb on a bus in the predominately Sinhalese town Nittambuwa, killing five and injuring 50. The following day the LTTE detonated a bomb on a bus in the southern coastal town of Hikkaduwa, killing 15 and injuring 42. On April 7, the LTTE used a claymore mine to target a bus with civilian and military passengers 15 miles west of Vavuniya, killing seven civilians and injuring more than 25. On April 23, a similar attack by the LTTE on a bus with Tamil and Muslim passengers killed seven civilians near Chettikulam in the north.

“On April 29, the LTTE used light aircraft to bomb the Ceylon Petroleum Company oil and gas facilities. On November 28, an LTTE bomb attack on the Nugegoda shopping mall near Colombo and a suicide bombing of a government office killed 21 and wounded 36 civilians. In June near the northern town of Kebitigollewa, a claymore mine attack on a passenger bus killed 64 civilians, and on December 5, another claymore attack killed 15 and injured 23 civilians.

“Late in the year unknown groups possibly linked to the LTTE, Sinhalese extremist groups, or illegal timber harvesters carried out brutal attacks against Sinhalese farmers in the south near Tissamaharama and Yala Park, killing five in two separate incidents. Before the government drove the LTTE from the east in August, there were reports that the LTTE expropriated food, fuel, and other items meant for IDPs from both the conflict with the government and the 2004 tsunami. Reports accused the Karuna group of similar action, especially in relation to camps of persons displaced from the conflict around Batticaloa.”

- Asian Tribune -

Also Read:

Sri Lanka: Country Reports on Human Rights Practices - 2007

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