Looking Forward, Ignoring the Past?

ache rightBy Max White, Amnesty International USA Indonesia Country Specialist

Recently, Amnesty International released a comprehensive report, “Time to Face the Past,” documenting the disturbing failure by Indonesian governments, local and central, to establish the truth of what happened to victims of years of violence in the province of Aceh, Indonesia. The conflict left up to 30,000 people dead, many of them civilians; it is nearly eight years since the end of that conflict.

When President Obama came into office, he was encouraged to investigate and prosecute U.S. officials responsible for torture. In January 2009, the New York Times reported, “President-elect Barack Obama signaled in an interview broadcast Sunday that he was unlikely to authorize a broad inquiry into Bush administration programs like domestic eavesdropping or the treatment of terrorism suspects.” He stated that, “…we need to look forward as opposed to looking backwards.”

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Save Abdullah From the Ultimate Human Rights Violation

Abdullah al-Qahtani

Abdullah al-Qahtani

By Samir Goswami, Director of Amnesty International USA’s Individuals & Communities at Risk Campaign

Last week, we issued an Urgent Action to the disturbing news that Saudi Arabian national Abdullah al-Qahtani was at imminent risk of execution.

Abdullah was convicted of robbery and murder under Iraq’s Anti-Terrorism Law. While in custody, he was viciously beaten, burned and asphyxiated into “confessing” to being a member of al-Qaida. Four of Abdullah’s six co-defendants were executed last week and for a time, it seemed as though Abdullah was next.

But then, an amazing thing happened. We emailed a petition out to our Amnesty members and within 24 hours, received over 30,000 signatures.

Abdullah is still alive and pressure from activists like you likely helped spare his life. Today, Abdullah’s petition has over 40,000 signatures. But make no mistake – his execution is imminent. Abdullah’s attorney urges continued vigilance:

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Sri Lankan Report Doesn't Fully Address War Crimes

Displaced Sri Lankan Tamil civilians.

I’ve been waiting for months for the final report from Sri Lanka’s Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (often referred to as the “LLRC”).  The commission had been appointed by President Rajapaksa in May 2010 to examine events during the last seven years of the war between the government and the Tamil Tigers (the war ended in May 2009 with the government’s victory over the Tigers).

The Sri Lankan government has used the existence of the commission to say that an international investigation into war crimes and other human rights abuses committed by both sides during the war in Sri Lanka wasn’t needed.  On Dec. 16, the Sri Lankan government released the LLRC’s final report.  I have to say that I’m disappointed with the report.

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Sri Lanka's Killing Fields

Sri Lanka

Civilians, in between Kilinochchi and Mulathiv, Sri Lanka, May 2009, during the last few months of the war. (c) Private

Last night, I watched a harrowing new documentary, “Sri Lanka’s Killing Fields,” by Channel 4, a British media company, about the final months of the civil war in Sri Lanka in 2009.

The 49-minute film depicts the massive human rights abuses and violations of the laws of war committed by both the Sri Lankan government forces and the separatist Tamil Tiger rebels.  The film is available online at Channel 4′s website until June 21.

Please note:  some of the scenes in the film are very disturbing.  It is NOT for younger viewers.

The film includes an extended version of the “execution video” released in 2009, in which naked prisoners are shown being shot in the head.  There are scenes of dead female Tamil Tigers who appear to have been raped and murdered.

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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.

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.

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!