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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2644

Sri Lanka under heavy scrutiny on human rights practices: But Tamil Tigers escape international monitoring

By Daya Gamage – A Review to Asian Tribune

Washington, D.C. 20 September, ( The Government of Sri Lanka is under severe pressure from the international community, the United Nations and global human rights organizations to allow international monitors to scrutinize human rights practices and abuses in recent times while they make passing remarks of human rights violations and abuses of its non-state player the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).

The international community, especially the United States, has often said that since the Government of Sri Lanka exercises legitimacy over the governance of its territory which make it accountable, the international bodies advocating the protection of human rights have jurisdiction only over such legitimate governing authorities and that these bodies do not have jurisdiction of non state players, in this case the LTTE which is popularly known as Tamil Tigers.

The heavily armed Tamil Tigers have been in conflict with the Government of Sri Lanka since mid eighties to win a separate ethnic Tamil minority state in the predominantly Tamil northern and eastern provinces of Sri Lanka accusing the successive governments of discriminating against the minorities which the governments have denied. However, Sri Lankan governments have admitted that legitimate grievances of the minority Tamils need to be addressed. The Tamil Tigers entered into a ceasefire agreement with the government of Sri Lanka in 2002 but fresh hostilities erupted since December last year with the election of Mahinda Rajapaksa as the country’s new president. The Tigers unilaterally withdrew from talks early last year.

Sri Lanka is one of the 180 countries the United States Department of State monitors human rights practices. While the State Department highlights the human rights abuses and violations of non state players, the Tamil Tigers and other armed groups, it gives special emphasis on government’s human rights practices. The report is subsequently used by officials of the State Department and the foreign affairs committees of the Senate and the House to bring pressure on the Government of Sri Lanka linking the issue to foreign economic assistance. The State Department and the Congress have, in the past, taken note of reports issued by the United Nations and other globally active human rights organizations to bring pressure on the Government of Sri Lanka.

The United States, the United Nations and globally active human rights organizations have often admitted that they have no influence or jurisdiction over non state players making the Government of Sri Lanka the sole body to respond to international calls and pressure.

Knowing full well that international pressure was coming on his regime over recent killings of aid workers and Muslim villages in the eastern province in Sri Lanka amidst renewed fresh hostilities between the Sri Lanka forces and the separatist Tamil Tigers, President Mahinda Rajapakse, at the recent 14th Non-Aligned Summit in Havana, Cuba, to shave off criticism of human rights abuses told UN Secretary General Kofi Annan that his government would appoint a commission within the legal framework of the country to investigate into unlawful killings, abductions and disappearances. He also welcomed the appointment of an international commission to observe the above investigation to ensure impartiality and transparency.

In his first press briefing, the new American Ambassador to Sri Lanka Robert O. Blake, on Tuesday, September 19 in Colombo, Sri Lanka, praised President Rajapaksa for its efforts to get international assistance to monitor human rights issues in Sri Lanka. This was the most diplomatic way of exercising pressure by an American envoy.

The United Nations Human Rights Council now in session in Geneva came hard on Sri Lanka assessing this South Asian nation’s human rights practices.

Stephen J. Toope, Chairperson-Rapporteur of the Working Group on enforced and involuntary disappearances, addressing the 2nd session of the UN Human Rights Council on 19 September said "The Government of Sri Lanka continued to cooperate with the Working Group, but there was concern that patterns of the 1980s and 1990s were starting to emerge once more."

The previous day, 18 September, Ms. Louise Arbour, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights told the 2nd session of the Human Rights Council in Geneva said: "In Sri Lanka, conflict has flared up again. In the past six months, the country has descended further into violence with the death toll climbing to include and increasing number of civilians. As the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary and arbitrary killings will report to this session, scores of extrajudicial and political killings, allegedly committed by Government security forces, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and other armed elements, continued. At present, several cases of killings and disappearances are reported each day in the Jaffna area. Since April 2006, some 240,000 people have been newly displaced from their homes, in addition to the hundreds of thousands who were forced to flee during earlier stages of the conflict as well as by the tsunami. Restrictions on humanitarian access have been imposed by both sides, worsening the vulnerability of these populations. The LTTE’s persisting record of forced military recruitment, including children, is a major concern.

"While the LTTE abuses continue on a large scale, human rights violations by State security forces, and the failure of the Government to provide the protection of the rule of law to all its citizens also generate serious concerns. The Government’s public commitment to investigate these crimes, including the killings of 17 humanitarian workers of Action Contre la Faim, is welcome. In too many cases, however, investigations have failed to produce results and victims have been denied justice and redress.

"There is an urgent need for the international community to monitor the unfolding human rights situation as these are not merely ceasefire violations but grave breaches of international human rights and humanitarian laws," concluded Louise Arbour.

Pressure is solely on the Government of Sri Lanka from the international community because the international community holds a legitimate government responsible for “grave breaches of international human rights and humanitarian laws” because only such legitimate governments are the signatories to international human rights and humanitarian laws and not non state players such as the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam and other armed rebel groups operating in other countries.

Sri Lanka’s representative to the Human Rights Council W. Fernando addressing the session on19 September outlined his government’s responsibility on the human rights issue as a reply to the Council’s observations: "As a result of the close cooperation with the Working Group on enforced or involuntary disappearances, the number of un-clarified past cases had decreased substantially. That had also enabled the Government to address the misconception that Sri Lanka was a country with a large caseload of disappearances without clarifications. As a result of that constructive cooperation with the Group, adequate domestic mechanisms were in place to handle allegations and inquire into disappearances. Cases of alleged disappearances could be reported to the police stations as well as to the Human rights Commission of Sri Lanka, among others."

- Asian Tribune -

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