About Jim McDonald

Jim McDonald is the Sri Lanka country specialist for Amnesty International USA.
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UN: Investigate Sri Lanka War Crimes

This past Monday, the U.N. finally released the report of its advisory panel on accountability in Sri Lanka.  Thanks go to everyone who sent an online letter to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon asking him to release this report.

The report found credible allegations that tens of thousands of civilians were killed in the final months of Sri Lanka’s civil war in early 2009, and that both the government forces and the opposition Tamil Tigers violated international law, including committing war crimes.  The panel recommended, among other things, that the U.N. establish an international investigation into these allegations.

Sri Lanka's military held many of those who escaped the conflict in miserable conditions © Private

Today, Ban’s spokesperson explained that Ban would not initiate an international investigation into these allegations unless the Sri Lankan government consented or he was asked to do so by a U.N body such as the Security Council, the Human Rights Council or the General Assembly.

Well, the Sri Lankan government isn’t likely to consent.  They’ve rejected the panel’s report, calling it “flawed” and “biased.”  President Rajapaksa has called for mass protests against the report on May 1.

We’ll need action by U.N. member states to establish an international   investigation.  The U.S. government could play a vital role in this effort.  Please write to Secretary Hillary Clinton and ask her to support the establishment of an international war crimes investigation in Sri Lanka.

UN: Release Sri Lanka Panel Report

Yesterday, the United Nations advisory panel on accountability in Sri Lanka turned over its report to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.  The panel had been established by Ban last June to advise him on how to pursue accountability for reported war crimes and other human rights abuses committed by both the government forces and the opposition Tamil Tigers during Sri Lanka’s brutal civil war (which ended with a government victory in May 2009).

While the Secretary-General’s spokesperson said yesterday that the U.N. intends to make the report public, he didn’t give a timeframe for doing so.  It’s critical that the report be made public as a first step towards achieving accountability.

Amnesty International has been asking the U.N. to establish an international war crimes investigation in Sri Lanka.  This past February, I accompanied Yolanda Foster, the Amnesty researcher on Sri Lanka, and Dr. Kasipillai Manoharan, the father of one of the “Trinco 5” students killed by the security forces in 2006, as we delivered to the U.N. offices in New York over 52,000 signatures on a petition to Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon calling for such an international investigation.  Above is the trailer of a short film of our trip, which Amnesty has just released.

Please write to Ban Ki-moon and ask him to make the U.N. advisory panel’s report public.  It’s important that the U.N. hears from everyone concerned about truth and justice for the victims and their families in Sri Lanka.

Death threats for law school exam complaints

You wouldn’t expect to receive death threats for complaining that an exam was unfairly administered, would you?  You wouldn’t expect to be abducted for telling school officials that a test paper had been leaked, would you?  Yet that’s exactly what happened to D.M. Thushara Jayaratne, a final-year student at the Sri Lanka Law College.

Thushara publicly complained last November that President Rajapaksa’s son (also a student at the College) had received preferential treatment during final exams, including being seated in an air-conditioned room with access to a computer.  On December 3, Thushara alerted school officials that the test paper for the Commercial Law II exam had been leaked and was being discussed by students before the exam.  Instead of taking action, College officials rejected his complaint.  He approached the Bribery Commission, which also turned him away.  Then he filed a police report.  The police questioned College officials about his complaint.

Thushara later told the police that after filing his police report, he had received calls from the College Office Manager threatening him repeatedly with abduction or death if he didn’t withdraw his complaint.  He went into hiding and didn’t complete his last two exams.  The threats decreased after his case was featured in numerous press reports.

But on Mar. 4, he was abducted by two men and held for nearly 12 hours before being released.  During his abduction, he was questioned about complaints he had made against the College Registrar and his statements to international organizations.

Harassment, intimidation and attacks against human rights defenders and others who expose abuses in Sri Lanka are not uncommon these days.  Thushara’s case is one more example.

I’m very concerned for Thushara’s continued safety.  Please write to the Sri Lankan government and ask them to immediately provide him with effective protection and hold accountable those responsible for his abduction.  Thanks.

Sri Lanka: Release security detainees

Apart from the issue of war crimes that I’ve written about lately, there’s another urgent human rights crisis in Sri Lanka:  thousands of people are being detained without charge or trial under the country’s repressive anti-terrorism laws.  Some have been held for 10 years or more.

Please write to the Sri Lankan government and ask that all those detained under these laws are either promptly released or else charged with recognizable crimes.  Sri Lanka’s emergency regulations and Prevention of Terrorism Act should be promptly repealed.

 

War Crimes in Sri Lanka: Time for UN to Act

Delivering the petition to the UN

Last May, Amnesty International launched a global action calling on the UN to establish an international investigation into war crimes and other abuses committed during the war in Sri Lanka.

Both the Sri Lankan government and the opposition Tamil Tigers were responsible for massive human rights abuses and violations of the laws of war during the 26-year conflict.

In response to Amnesty’s call for action, over 52,000 people signed our petition to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon demanding an international investigation as a first step toward accountability for these crimes.

This past Tuesday, Feb. 22, I had the privilege of accompanying Yolanda Foster, the Amnesty researcher on Sri Lanka, and Dr. Kasipillai Manoharan, the father of one of the “Trinco 5” students killed by the security forces in 2006, to the UN offices in New York as we delivered the signed petitions to the UN.  We pressed the UN to act on our petition without delay and let them know we would be following up to make sure an international investigation is promptly established.

The U.S. government has not yet joined Amnesty in our call for an international investigation.  We could use their support.  Please write to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and ask that the U.S.  government encourage the establishment by the UN of an international investigation into war crimes and other abuses in Sri Lanka.  For Dr. Manoharan’s sake and that of all the other families of the victims, we cannot stop campaigning until they receive justice.

One year later, where's Pattani Razeek?

On Feb. 11, 2010, Pattani Razeek, a Sri Lankan human rights defender, was apparently abducted in the town of Polonnaruwa in northcentral Sri Lanka. The police have identified but failed to question a man they consider the prime suspect in Razeek’s enforced disappearance.  The man is a former colleague of Razeek’s and a close associate of the Minister for Industry and Commerce.  Pattani Razeek’s whereabouts remain unknown to this day.

Over the past several decades, Sri Lanka has experienced tens of thousands of enforced disappearances, the vast majority of which remain unresolved.  They are one more example of the lack of accountability in Sri Lanka for human rights violations.

Please write to the Sri Lankan government and ask them to effectively investigate the disappearance of Pattani Razeek and hold accountable those responsible for this crime.

Call your Senators TODAY on War Crimes in Sri Lanka

Update:  the letter was sent to Secretary Clinton on Dec. 10, with 17 signatories!  Here’s who signed:  Sherrod Brown, Burr, Murray, Hutchison, Casey, Gillibrand, Hagan, Cornyn, Mikulski, Cardin, Lieberman, Lautenberg, Boxer, Feingold, Coons, Manchin and Menendez.  Thanks to everyone who lobbied your Senator!

A Congressional sign-on letter is circulating in the Senate now, sponsored by Senators Sherrod Brown and Richard Burr.  The letter asks Secretary Clinton to publicly call for an independent international investigation into war crimes and other abuses committed during the war in Sri LankaAmnesty International has been campaigning for such an international investigation for the past several months.  Amnesty has received credible, consistent reports that both the Sri Lankan government forces and the Tamil Tiger rebels committed violations of international humanitarian law, including war crimes, and human rights abuses during the war in Sri Lanka.

This past summer, Amnesty activists supported a similar letter in the House of Representatives, and we obtained 58 co-signers!  It’d be great if we could get a similar success in the Senate.

Here’s how to take action:

1. Call the Congressional switchboard at 202-224-3121 and ask to speak to your Senators.  Tell your Senators about the letter and encourage them to support it.

2. If your Senators have Facebook pages or Twitter accounts, encourage them through those platforms to sign on to the letter.

Returned asylum-seekers tortured in Sri Lanka

Three Sri Lankan men (Sumith Mendis and his brother Indika Mendis, and Lasantha Wijeratne) were deported from Australia back to Sri Lanka, subsequently arrested and tortured in custody.  All three are reportedly at risk of further torture.  Please write to the Sri Lankan government and ask them to protect the men from any further torture, investigate their reported torture and hold accountable anyone found responsible.  Thanks.

Update:  an online action is now available on this case.

Don't Forget the Disappeared in Sri Lanka

Today is August 30, the International Day of the Disappeared, observed by Amnesty International and other human rights groups to remember victims of “enforced disappearance”  around the world and to press for justice for them and their families.  An “enforced disappearance”  occurs when agents of the state detain someone and the state then denies any knowledge of the person’s status or whereabouts.   Over the past several decades, Sri Lanka has experienced tens of thousands of enforced disappearances, the vast majority of which remain unresolved.  One recent example is that of the journalist Prageeth Eknaligoda, who went missing shortly after leaving work on Jan. 24.  Please write the Sri Lankan government and ask them to conduct an effective investigation into Mr. Eknaligoda’s disappearance and make the results public.  Please also work to get the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance adopted.  Thanks.

Do Sri Lankan Asylum-Seekers Deserve Hearings?

You may not have heard about it, but a boatload of Sri Lankan Tamils recently arrived in Canada.  The Washington Post published an article quoting a former State Dept. official who advocated summarily sending them all back to Sri Lanka.  I objected to that and wrote a letter to the editor published in the Post.  Well, the Sri Lankan Ambassador to the U.S. didn’t like my letter and issued a statement in which he says he “refuted” my claims.  I didn’t appreciate that and have sent him an open letter in response.  As I said in my letter, I do hope Amnesty International and the Sri Lankan government can move toward a constructive dialogue.  I’m willing to do my part.