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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2767

United States Releases its Global Human Rights Report: Sri Lanka gets a mixed reaction

Daya Gamage – US Bureau Asian Tribune

Washington, D.C. 07 March (Asiantribune.com) The United States hopes that the State Department's annual Country Reports on Human Rights Practices "will be a source of information for governments and societies everywhere and a source of inspiration for all who are still working for peaceful, democratic change around the globe," according to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

Dr. Rice during a press briefing March 6 made the above remarks presenting the State Department compiled annual human rights report.

The reports, submitted annually to Congress as mandated by the 1976 amendment to the Foreign Assistance Act, examine the status of human rights in 2006 in 196 countries and entities. The reports describe the performance of governments in putting into practice their international commitments on human rights, says the State Department official web site USINFO.

With the release of this year's reports, Americans are "recommitting ourselves to stand with those courageous men and women who struggle for their freedom and their rights," Rice said. "And we are recommitting ourselves to call every government to account that still treats the basic rights of its citizens as options rather than, in President Bush's words, the non-negotiable demands of human dignity."

The Asian Tribune, in a series of submissions, will present the findings of the U.S. State Department judgments on selected countries’ practices of human rights in 2006.

Previously, the Asian Tribune commenced its submission with the State Department analysis of the importance of the report carried 06 March titled ‘Human Rights, the United States and Judging the Judge’.

Today, Asian Tribune carries significant sections of the US report on Sri Lanka’s human rights practices. The State Department gives a mixed reaction to Sri Lanka situation at a time the separatist Tamil Tigers (LTTE) and the Government of Sri Lanka are militarily battling to gain supremacy over the country’s northern and eastern provinces.

American ambassador in Sri Lanka Robert O. Blake recently stated that the human rights situation in the country is deteriorating and that abductions and disappearances are on the rise.

With this submission on Sri Lanka, Asian Tribune endeavors to scrutinize U.S. judgments on several selected countries and then use the same State Department ‘yardstick’ to ‘judge the Judge’ to ascertain whether the Bush Administration, during its six years, has adhered to international standards of human rights in following vital covenants of the United Nations which the United States expected the 196 countries that it scrutinized to follow.

Let us now see how the United States has judged the human rights practices in Sri Lanka:

Using its own diplomatic sources in Colombo and other independent sources such as Amnesty International, Non-Governmental Organizations and monitoring of US rights groups, the State Department gives the following analysis about the deterioration of the general human rights scenario.

“The government's respect for the human rights of its citizens declined due in part to the breakdown of the CFA. Credible sources reported human rights problems, including unlawful killings by government agents, high profile killings by unknown perpetrators, politically motivated killings by paramilitary forces associated with the government and the LTTE, and disappearances. There were numerous reports that armed paramilitary groups linked to government security forces participated in armed attacks, some against civilians. Following the December 1 LTTE attempt to assassinate Defense Secretary Gothabaya Rajapaka, the government strengthened emergency regulations that broadened security forces' powers in the arrest without warrant and non-accountable detention of civilians for up to 12 months.”

The report talks about the LTTE writ:

“The LTTE continued to control large sections of the north and east and engaged in politically motivated killings; suicide attacks; disappearances; torture; arbitrary arrest and detention; denial of fair public trial; arbitrary interference with privacy; denial of freedom of speech, press, and of assembly and association; and the recruitment of child soldiers.”

Disappearance

“The Sri Lanka Human Rights Commission (SLHRC) reported 345 instances countrywide of politically motivated disappearances at the hands of the security forces or by paramilitary forces allegedly tied to the government, or the LTTE.”

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. Human rights groups maintained that while torture is prohibited under specific circumstances, it was allowed under others. According to the HRC and other credible sources, the use of police torture 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 hold a person until the individual is brought to court; 528 arrests were made under the Emergency regulations during the year, although 288 of those arrested were released within 12 hours. The majority of those arrested were Tamil, although detainees included Sinhalese and Muslims as well. In addition to suspicion of terrorism, people were detained for lack of identification, narcotics, and outstanding warrants (see section 1.d.). Observers estimate that 200 persons remained in custody under detention orders at years end. The SLHRC reported that 433 individuals were tortured in police custody during the year.”

Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

“The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention; however, such incidents occurred. There were 528 arrests while the emergency regulations were active. The government stated that most of those arrested were released within a few days.

In December in a reaction to the December 1 LTTE attempt to assassinate the defense secretary, the government reinstated certain provisions of the pre-CFA Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) as an additional emergency regulation. This gives security forces broader arrest and detention prerogatives than previously allowed.”

And, Government’s failure to bring rights abuses to justice, State Department says:

“In the majority of cases in which security force personnel may have committed human rights abuses, the government had not identified those responsible or brought them to justice. Human rights organizations noted that some judges were hesitant to convict on cases of torture because of a seven-year mandatory sentence for committing torture. There was no witness protection program. According to human rights organizations, obtaining medical evidence was difficult, as there were only 25 forensic specialists, and medical practitioners untrained in the field of torture assessment examined most torture victims. In some cases doctors were intimidated by police, making accurate medical reporting on torture victims difficult.”

Use of Excessive Force and Other Abuses in Internal Conflicts

“The LTTE routinely used excessive force in the war, including attacks targeting civilians. Since the peace process began in 2001, the LTTE has engaged in targeted killings, kidnapping, hijackings of truck shipments, and forcible recruitment, including of children.

“There were regular reports that the LTTE expropriated food, fuel, and other items meant for internally displaced persons (IDPs) from both the conflict with the government and the 2004 tsunami.

“During the year there were credible reports that the LTTE killed 531 members of the police and military, more than 34 members of anti-LTTE Tamil paramilitary groups such as the Eelam People's Democratic Party (EPDP), LTTE cadres loyal to the Karuna faction, alleged Tamil informants for the security forces, and civilians.

The LTTE targeted both current and former members of anti-LTTE Tamil political parties. During the year 59 current and past anti-LTTE EPDP members were killed. Credible sources indicated that the LTTE killed 30 members of the breakaway military leader Karuna's group. There was also credible evidence that the LTTE killed 10 members of the military intelligence apparatus in a targeted campaign.”

Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights, the report states;

“A number of domestic and international human rights groups generally operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials were cooperative and responsive to their views. Many domestic human rights NGOs, including the Consortium of Humanitarian Agencies; Home for Human Rights; the University Teachers for Human Rights, Jaffna; the Civil Rights Movement; and the Law and Society Trust monitored civil and political liberties.

The government officially required NGOs to include action plans and detailed descriptions of funding sources as part of the initial registration process, and every five years thereafter. In August the government required that NGOs working in the north and east register with the Ministry of Defense but did not enforce this requirement with all agencies. NGO workers viewed the renewal requirement as an attempt by the government to exert greater control over the NGO sector after previous human rights groups' criticisms. Most NGOs complied with these reporting requirements. After August the government did not renew work permits for international NGO staff working in LTTE-controlled areas.”

Child Soldiers:

“The LTTE used child soldiers and recruited children, sometimes forcibly, for use in battlefield support functions and in combat. LTTE recruits, some as young as eight years of age, escaped LTTE camps and surrendered to the military or the SLMM. Credible reports indicated that in February the LTTE and Karuna faction increased recruiting efforts, particularly in the east (see section 1.g.).

Credible sources reported that there were more than 450 cases of forcible child recruitment by the LTTE. The Karuna faction of the LTTE forcibly recruited an estimated 200 children. These sources also reported that more than 1,000 children remained in LTTE custody at year's end. Several sources reported that the LTTE continued to obstruct the 2003 action plan between UNICEF and the LTTE on the demobilization and rehabilitation of child soldiers. Several sources reported that the LTTE used intimidation or bribes to facilitate recruitment. Some senior LTTE officials claimed that all child soldiers were volunteers.”

- Asian Tribune -

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