Locked Away: Sri Lanka's "Security" Detainees

Sri Lanka

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.

SEE THE REST OF THIS POST

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.

SEE THE REST OF THIS POST

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.

SEE THE REST OF THIS POST

Investigate War Crimes In Sri Lanka!

This week marks the second anniversary of the end of Sri Lanka’s 26-year civil war, between government forces and the opposition Tamil Tigers.  The Tigers were seeking an independent state for the Tamil minority on the island.  As documented by Amnesty International and a recent U.N. panel report, there are credible reports that both sides committed gross abuses of human rights and international humanitarian law, including war crimes.  Yet no one has been held accountable for these crimes.

We know that the Sri Lankan government won’t effectively investigate these abuses.

So Amnesty International has been campaigning for an international war crimes investigation in Sri Lanka.  On March 15, we took to the streets in Chicago to demand justice in Sri Lanka.  In New York City, Amnesty International activists gathered outside the Sri Lankan Mission to the U.N. on April 8 as part of “Get on the Bus – New York.”  On April 15, we demonstrated outside the Sri Lankan Embassy in Washington as part of “Get on the Bus – DC.”  More recently, as shown in the photos above, Amnesty members in other parts of the U.S. have joined in calling on the U.N. to hold an international investigation on war crimes in Sri Lanka.

It would be a great help if we can get the U.S. government to publicly support our call for an international war crimes investigation in Sri Lanka.  Please write the U.S. government today, so that the victims and their families can finally receive truth and justice.

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.

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.

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.

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!