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.

Displaced children at risk in Sri Lankan camps

Yesterday, the Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers (of which Amnesty International is a member) issued a briefing paper on children affected by the recent conflict in Sri Lanka.  The paper details how children in the military-controlled internment camps for displaced civilians are being abducted for ransom, for forced recruitment into pro-government armed groups or due to suspected links with the opposition Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).

In May of this year, the Sri Lankan government completed its offensive against the LTTE, recapturing all the territory formerly held by the group and killing their senior leaders, thus ending the 26-year-old conflict.  The LTTE had been fighting for an independent state for the Tamil minority in the north and east of the island.  Both sides committed gross human rights abuses, including war crimes, during the course of the conflict.

Hundreds of thousands of Tamil civilians were displaced earlier this year by the fighting.  By the end of the hostilities, over 280,000 civilians (included a reported 80,000 children) were being held in overcrowded, military-run camps.  Most of the civilians are not allowed to leave the camps.  The Sri Lankan government has said that they must be screened first to determine the presence of any suspected LTTE combatants.

The Sri Lankan government should tighten security at the camps so that children are no longer at risk of abduction.  But they should also allow all the civilians in the camps freedom of movement, a right they’re entitled to as citizens of Sri Lanka.  Those who wish to leave the camps should be immediately allowed to do so.  Haven’t the displaced children and their relatives suffered enough already?

The Gambia, Where Persecution Has Replaced Justice

The following comes to us from Essa Bokarr Sey, the former Ambassador of the Republic of The Gambia to France (1999-2001) and to the United States (2002-2003). We asked him to share with us his perspective on The Gambia today, in light of this week’s Day of Action for Ebrima Manneh. To learn more about Amnesty International’s concerns about human rights in The Gambia, click here.

President Yahya Jammeh of The Gambia monopolizes power with excessive force. In The Gambia of today being an opposition or exercising one’s right towards freedom of expression is a considered social taboo. Fear is ruling our people without limits or respect for the rule of law.

In The Gambia three scary names are used to maintain the brutal Jammeh regime in power.

1) The NIA (National Intelligence Agency) is first on the list. It is known for abducting, torturing and killing Gambians who dare show their difference in political opinion before the regime’s modus operandi. The NIA was established as soon as the Jammeh regime came into existence based with reference to decrees that were promulgated by the Armed Forces Provisional Ruling Council. These special decrees empowered the NIA to arrest any Gambian upon suspicion and keep him or her for days without trial. They are still in full force. The latter contradicts the very essence of the Gambia constitution. Worst of all the NIA is directly answerable to the minister of defense who is President Jammeh, him being the hub of all abuses with the excessive use of power.

2) The state guard is a special squad composed of thugs and killers who run along the length and breadth of the country with unmarked vehicles. The latter can visit the residence of any Gambian at any time then abduct and incarcerate him or her while using harsh torture methods. Their callous and brutal methods started mushrooming from 1994 November 11 when officers of the Gambia National Army were summarily executed. Over the years many more were killed like former Lt Seye, former state guard commander Lt Almamo Manneh and others. Killings that are based on nothing other than speculation or whirling accusations which usually reflects suspicion from a paranoid leadership. These are crime scenes where clear indications have so far implicated the state guard beyond any reasonable doubt.

3) Third are the different locations where those abducted or kidnapped are kept incommunicado. The most dangerous are: Mile two central prisons, Jeshwang prisons, Jangjangbureh Prisons (an isolated island) where torture could include being exposed to mosquito bites and excessive heat in dark cells. Within the NIA premises also are dark dungeons like the Bambadinka–meaning the crocodile’s hole.

These three scary names are the pillars of President Jammeh’s regime of brutality. This is exactly why journalists like Ebrima Manneh are helpless and vulnerable. No single person can ever determine where detainees are kept with precision because the regime’s tactics includes transferring detainees from one undisclosed location to another only to escape inquiries from family members of the affected parties.

Refusing detainees access to legal representation and or visits from family members is definitely not uncommon in The Gambia today. The Jammeh regime exercises its strength by showing the detained and the family of the detained that absolute power lies in its hands but not within the hands of the judiciary. Court orders are not respected because re-arresting people who have been freed by a judge just outside the premises of the court house has been part of the regime’s merciless reactions during the past years. Indeed the above cannot be part of the modus operandi of a democratic regime. Therefore any regime which practices what is referenced here above is one that has no respect for the rule of law. That is why Gambians are scattered all over the world as asylees or refugees. Our country’s population is one of the smallest in Africa, however, the number of Gambians on exile is on top of the list in the continent. That certainly should be a cause for concern.

The recent report of Amnesty International entitled Gambia: Fear Rules speaks for itself. This same vein is the reason why six senators from the US senator on foreign relations signed a petition calling on the Gambian president to release Chief Ebrima Manneh. These are respected institutions who have no interest in staining the Jammeh regime for political reasons or any other one for that matter. Veterans like Senator Ted Kennedy are of course not into this for making names or controlling anything political. They are in it because what affects human life in The Gambia or any other part of the world attracts the attention of responsible leaders like the latter. President Jammeh’s legacy has already been stained like that of Idi Amin Dada and other former blood thirsty dictators. Along the way he will face his fate because international laws supersede the local Gambian laws he is manipulating to help maintain his ruthless regime.

Another Life Lost in the Struggle for Human Rights in Russia

Natalia Estemirova © AI

Natalia Estemirova © AI

Human rights activist Natalia Estemirova was murdered Wednesday in the North Caucasus region in Russia. According to BBC News, she was allegedly bundled into a van and abducted as she was leaving her home in Chechnya on Wednesday morning. Her body was found shortly after in Ingushetia. She had been investigating human rights abuses in Russia for some time, working for a human rights organization called Memorial. She focused her efforts particularly on the Chechnya region, where she worked to battle impunity and to gather evidence on an alleged campaign of house-burnings by government-backed militias.

Her murder has occurred just two years after the murder of Russian journalist and human rights activist Anna Politkovskaya in 2007. (See a video of Estemirova remembering Politkovskaya here). Human rights activists in Russia continue to be in danger.

Amnesty grieves the loss of this courageous woman and prominent human rights defender. Many are left shocked and saddened by the incident. It brings to light Amnesty’s growing concern about human rights abuses in Russia. Learn more about Amnesty’s concerns regarding human rights in Russia, and take action.

Disappearance of Sri Lankan human rights defender

It’s not only the war zone in northern Sri Lanka where people are at risk.  On May 7, Stephen Sunthararaj was abducted in Colombo, the capital, by five men dressed in military uniform and carrying pistols.  At the time, he was traveling in his lawyer’s car with his wife and two children, when two men on motorcycles pulled up in front of the car to stop it.  As the car stopped, a white van pulled up next to it and the five men emerged and forced Sunthararaj into the van which then drove off.  There’s been no word from Sunthararaj since then.  The police haven’t started any investigation and the Sri Lankan authorities haven’t provided any information as to his status or whereabouts.

Sunthararaj’s enforced disappearance may be due to his work as a Project Manager at the Centre for Human Rights and Development, a Sri Lankan human rights organization.  At the time of his abduction, he had just been released hours earlier from police custody.  He had been arrested by the army on February 12 in Colombo and later transferred to the police.  He was never charged with any offense.

Sri Lanka’s security forces have been responsible for tens of thousands of enforced disappearances over the past thirty years.  Last year, the U.N. Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances expressed concern about the high number of recent cases of enforced disappearances reported from Sri Lanka.

Please write to President Rajapaksa (Presidential Secretariat, Colombo 1, Sri Lanka, email:  priu@presidentsoffice.lk or modadm@sltnet.lk) on behalf of Sunthararaj.  Ask that the government carry out an independent investigation into his enforced disappearance and prosecute those responsible.  If he is found to be in custody, he should either be promptly charged with a recognizable criminal offense or else immediately released; while he is detained, he should be treated humanely and given access to his family, lawyer and medical care.  Ask that the government ensure that human rights defenders are able to carry out their work without fear of harassment or intimidation.  Thanks.

Rally Echoes Congolese Plea for Help

Amnesty International activists urge the US government to support the UN peacekeeping mission in the DRC. White House, November 23 (c) Msia Clark

Amnesty International activists urge the US government to support the UN peacekeeping mission in the DRC. White House, November 23 (c) Msia Clark

Rallying in front of the White House on November 23, I joined over 100 activists in expressing our concern for Congolese civilians, as armed groups turn their homes into a battlefield. Three messages continue to stand out in my mind: Protect the People! Stop Violence against Women! and No Child Soldiers!

Amnesty International USA organized this event in response to the humanitarian and human rights emergency in the Democratic Republic of Congo, calling on the United States to follow through with their support of a new UN Security Council Resolution  by delivering the needed troops and equipment. The resolution passed unanimously, showing all nations understand how crucial the success of the UN peacekeeping mission is to bringing the killings, rape and abduction of children to a halt.  Now, these countries must follow through with their commitment by providing troops and equipment.

Days before the resolution, 44 Congolese NGOs wrote a letter requesting the UN Security Council and international leaders immediately supply troop reinforcements. The message that was consistent throughout their letter was that words of concern are not enough. They exclaimed, “Diplomacy always takes time, and we understand this, but unfortunately we do not have time. The population of North Kivu is at risk now; with each day that passes, more and more people die”.

The desperation is clear on the faces captured in the photos taken by reporters in the crisis region. If the troops are not on the ground and properly equipped, the UN’s resolution will be meaningless.