“He who tries to defend everything, defends nothing”– Sun Tzu (‘The Art of War’)
With the arrests of an outspoken middle aged Tamil woman activist with no history of violence, her detention in Boossa under the Prevention of Terrorism Act, the handover of her 13 year old daughter to the child protection authorities, the detention without acknowledgement of two human rights activists, Ruki Fernando and Fr Praveen reportedly also under the PTA, the Sri Lankan authorities just torpedoed Sri Lanka’s chances at the ongoing crucial 25th sessions of the UNHRC.
This latest round of arrests in Kilinochchi-Vavuniya is not just outrageous, but also decidedly irrational. Apart from the ethics, the optics are all wrong. Detention under the harsh PTA of Tamil and Christian activists simply makes the case that the regime is targeting minorities. This impression is reinforced by the invective against the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress. When it takes place under the Geneva UNHRC searchlight, the impression is one of arrogant regime impunity masquerading as the defence of sovereignty; an impunity that invites a retaliatory response by Sri Lanka’s powerful and unfair critics while embarrassing and alienating potential friends. Thus the behaviour of elements of the regime actually makes Sri Lanka less defensible internationally. It jeopardises national sovereignty while rendering the security forces less secure.
When the timing is all very wrong because that vote pertains to so poisonous a clause as ‘a comprehensive investigation’ by the OHCHR, one cannot but notice that this is not Mahinda Rajapaksa’s usual style. Who decides? Is the Minister of Defence, who is also the President, really making the decisions? Or in the ultimate irony, has there been a dangerous degree of devolution of power?
“The Sri Lankan authorities need to release Fernando and Father Praveen, and end the ongoing state harassment of human rights defenders,” said David Griffiths, Amnesty International’s deputy director for Asia Pacific. “How can the international community take Sri Lanka’s claims to respect rights seriously when rights defenders continue to face intimidation and criminal charges for demanding accountability and human rights protection?”
The statement was issued by Amnesty International, Forum Asia, Human Rights Watch, the International Crisis Group, and the International Commission of Jurists.
The point of this article is not to assert that foreign countries should interfere. The point is, for the foreign countries not to interfere, the state of Sri Lanka should give them a legitimate reason. You cannot hide behind that concepts that doesn’t make any sense.
The Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) is due to start tomorrow. The last few weeks has seen series of violations of Human Rights and Commonwealth principles in Sri Lanka, which is the host country and expected to lead the Commonwealth in the next two years. Victims of human rights violations, their families, activists, local and international journalists, UN experts and opposition politicians from Sri Lanka and Commonwealth countries who are critical of the government have been amongst those targeted. Pro-government protests have been allowed to go ahead, even as Police obtained a court order preventing protests in the Colombo city today and tomorrow. In this article are some incidents reported, based on testimonies of victims, eye witnesses and media.
David Cameron met Sri Lanka’s president, Mahinda Rajapaksa, for a one-to-one meeting on Friday afternoon, following his return from Jaffna, in the Indian Ocean island’s former conflict zone.
Channel 4 News understands that the encounter was “pretty lively”, and the 45 seconds’ worth of television footage that has been released is revealing.
The prime minister is shown leaving the meeting, brushing past Sri Lanka’s high commissioner to London, who tried to engage him in conversation, before pacing past the camera with pursed lips. There is a strong sense from the pictures of the meeting having been brusque, curt and frosty.
A source who was present at the bilateral said the British prime minister had “repeatedly and robustly” raised war crimes allegations, human rights and freedom of the press.
The Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) is due to start tomorrow. The last few weeks has seen series of violations of Human Rights and Commonwealth principles in Sri Lanka, which is the host country and expected to lead the Commonwealth in the next two years. Victims of human rights violations, their families, activists, local and international journalists, UN experts and opposition politicians from Sri Lanka and Commonwealth countries who are critical of the government have been amongst those targeted. Pro-government protests have been allowed to go ahead, even as Police obtained a court order preventing protests in the Colombo city today and tomorrow. Below are some incidents reported, based on testimonies of victims, eye witnesses and media.
12 August 2013, Colombo, Sri Lanka: The Centre for Policy Alternatives (CPA) and its Executive Director filed a complaint (Complaint No: HRC/3083/13) before the Human Rights Commissions of Sri Lanka (HRCSL) this afternoon against the Independent Television Network of Sri Lanka (ITN) and its Chairmen. The complaint was on the basis that a news item appearing on the 7:00pm Sinhala language news broadcast of ITN on Sunday 14th July 2013 violates several fundamental rights of both CPA and its Executive Director which are guaranteed under the Constitution to all citizens of Sri Lanka.
CPA had previously written to the Chairman of ITN on the 16th July 2013 requesting that the erroneous news report be corrected and a formal apology be tendered to both CPA and its Executive Director within one week. However neither of these two requests was acceded to.
Against the backdrop of the Ministry of Mass Media and Information attempting to introduce “a code of media ethics” for Private sector media institutions CPA finds it abhorrent that a state owned and publicly funded media institution would be allowed to engage in irresponsible, unprofessional and deceitful reporting of this nature. Even more troubling is the unwillingness of the said media institution to accept that a mistake has been made and take remedial action once the error has been brought to its attention.
The only possible explanation to this callous disregard of the most basic media ethics is that it is part of a larger scheme to systematically undermine civil society organizations perceived to be critical of the government. It is clear that the state media apparatus is being used as one of several instruments to intimidate civil society organizations.
The erroneous and fabricated news report of 14th July 2013 is only one of several instances in which CPA and other civil society actors have been intimidated using the state media apparatus. CPA hopes that the relief sought in its complaint –if granted- would result in the formulation of processes within state owned and publicly funded media institutions that would result in more accurate, fair and balance reporting and also act as a deterrent against malicious and fabricated reporting.
CPA is hopeful that the HRCSL will conduct a full and independent investigation into its complaint and grant reliefs prayed for therein.
A copy of the complaint can be downloaded from here or viewed online here.
As Western notions of international norms on issues such as human rights continue to be challenged, the Sri Lanka example is a case in point. The real test for the country will be when a groundswell of domestic opinion grows to demand justice and accountability, not only for what happened to Tamils in 2009 but for the treatment of ordinary citizens in the slow and painful tarnishing of Sri Lanka’s democracy.
Three years after the government of Sri Lanka declared an end to decades of civil conflict with separatist rebels, thousands of people are still missing, according to the UN and Sri Lankan activists.
The Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances (WGEID) of the UN Office for the High Commissioner for Human Rights has recorded 5,671 reported cases of wartime-related disappearance in Sri Lanka, not counting people who went missing in the final stages of fighting from 2008 to 2009.
“If the government wants to be serious about reconciliation, perhaps the best way to start is to provide credible answers about their family members to Sri Lankans who went to Geneva two months ago – to Dr. Manoharan, Sandya Ekneligoda, Sithi, and brother and sisters of Bharatha Lakshman Premachandra. So they don’t have to go to Geneva again. And also respond to those who went before the LLRC. And thousands of others who await answers to their complaints to Police, Human Rights Commission, Courts and previous Commissions of Inquiries. And to all those protesting on variety of grievances – such as political prisoners, families of those disappeared, people whose lands are occupied by the military.
If this will start happening, then maybe we can still dream of reconciliation, rights and freedom in our lifetime. And it will help Sri Lankan citizens and the world to feel that we are a civilized country that cares about all it’s citizens, especially minorities, vulnerable persons and those with dissenting views, and where rule of law prevails.”
In the last twelve months, across Sri Lanka, students have been protesting, academics have been protesting, religious clergy have been protesting, women have been protesting, journalists have been protesting, lawyers have been protesting, health workers have been protesting, workers have been protesting. Even political prisoners have been protesting from inside the prisons. In the highly militarized war zones of the Northern Province, victims of land occupation, families of political prisoners, those disappeared and killed have been daring threats, intimidations and obstructions to engage in peaceful protests. In a few days, it is likely that at least a few people will once again commemorate the end of the war in a manner that will be different from the victory parades promoted by the government, resisting threats, intimidations and sabotage as experienced in the past. Even when their demands fall on deaf ears, their struggles will keep alive hopes for democracy and rights.
Clearly then, in Sri Lanka today, Buddhist “monks” destroying private property are kosher, but citizens attempting to light a candle, and walk peacefully in solidarity, are fit to be physically assaulted, hurled abuse at, arrested, intimidated and brutishly dispersed.
Our tweets and retweets are reproduced below, and include links to several Facebook status updates as well that clearly highlight fear, concern and opposition to what is now mainstream ethno-religious extremism, condoned by Police and with complete impunity, openly supported by Gotabaya Rajapaksa and the government of Sri Lanka.