Prisoners have been held for extended periods without charge at Welikada Prison © Private
I want to tell you a story about a man arrested in Sri Lanka. It’s shocking.
In June 2008, “Roshan” (not his real name) was arrested in Colombo by unknown assailants who he later learned were plainclothes police. The police suspected him of links to the opposition Tamil Tigers. He was held for two years without ever being charged or tried and was repeatedly tortured, before eventually being released. No one has been held accountable for his treatment.
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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.
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.
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.