About Jim McDonald

Jim McDonald is the Sri Lanka country specialist for Amnesty International USA.
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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.

Still Waiting for Justice for the ACF 17

Today, Aug. 19, is World Humanitarian Day, designated by the U.N. to honor aid workers around the world.  Today, Amnesty International remembers 17 aid workers killed in Sri Lanka.  Their killers have yet to be brought to justice.

The 17 were local staff of the French aid agency Action contre la Faim (ACF) (Action Against Hunger).  In August 2006, they were executed in the town of Mutur in eastern Sri Lanka, after an intense phase of fighting between the government and the Tamil Tiger rebels.

The Sri Lankan police bungled the criminal investigation into the murders.  A subsequent commission of inquiry failed to identify the killers despite compelling evidence of their identity.  The government blamed the Tigers for the killings although a respected Sri Lankan human rights group provided evidence of the government forces’ involvement.

Last year, I wrote on this site that I hoped that a year later, the ACF 17 would no longer be an example of the ongoing impunity enjoyed by the security forces for human rights abuses.  Well, it’s a year later and that hope hasn’t been fulfilled.

Sri Lanka has time and again failed to effectively investigate and prosecute those responsible for human rights abuses, including war crimes.  Please sign our online petition to the U.N.  calling for an international investigation into war crimes and other human rights abuses in Sri Lanka.  The families of the ACF 17 and the other victims need justice now!

State Dept.: no accountability yet for Sri Lanka war crimes

As my colleague Christoph Koettl mentioned in his earlier post on this site, the State Department today issued its follow-up report on war crimes in Sri Lanka.  Why a follow-up report?  Last October, the State Department issued a report describing over 300 reported human rights abuses (including war crimes) committed by both sides during the final months of the war in Sri Lanka.  That earlier report cited incidents documented by Amnesty International, among others, and was based on traditional and innovative evidence, including satellite imagery and aerial photographs.   Congress then instructed the State Dept. to issue a second report about what the Sri Lankan government has done to investigate these abuses, and to evaluate the effectiveness of their efforts.  That second report by the State Dept. was issued today.

What’s the verdict?  No effective accountability yet by the Sri Lankan government.  The State Dept. describes how the Sri Lankan government has set up two bodies:  (1) a “Group of Eminent  Persons” to respond to the first State Dept. report, and (2) a reconciliation commission to examine the breakdown of the 2002 ceasefire with the Tamil Tigers and subsequent events.  The State Dept. concludes that the Group of Eminent Persons (which has now been subsumed into the reconciliation commission) was ineffective.

As for the reconciliation commission, the State Dept. points out in its report that the commission has just gotten started but it does mention a couple concerns, among others:

(a) The chair of the commission has a serious conflict of interest.  He used to be Sri Lanka’s Attorney General.  His department hindered the workings of an earlier commission of inquiry (as documented in AI’s “Twenty Years of Make-Believe” report).

(b) Public statements by Sri Lankan officials, such as the Defence Secretary, have been to the effect that the Sri Lankan military didn’t commit any abuses.  In this context, it may be difficult for the reconciliation commission to do an effective job of investigating abuses.

There’s more in the State Dept. report, including discussion of the UN advisory panel and of the “execution video,” which I don’t have room to discuss here (at least, if I want to keep this to a reasonable length).

Amnesty and other organizations have been calling for an independent international investigation into war crimes and other abuses committed by both sides during the war in Sri Lanka.  After reading the latest State Department report, I think our call for such an investigation is only strengthened.  The victims of the abuses and their families shouldn’t have to wait for the reconciliation commission to fail to provide justice.  We need an international investigation now!  If you haven’t already, please sign our online petition to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon asking the UN to set up such an investigation.  Thanks!