2ND LEAD (Adds details)

Rights monitoring needs International presence, US Caucus told

[TamilNet, Sunday, 27 May 2007, 18:39 GMT]
Addressing the Congressional Human Rights Caucus briefing on the human rights situation in Sri Lanka held Thursday, at 2:00 p.m. in room 2247 Rayburn Building Washington DC, Hans Hogrefe, Senior Professional Staff Member, House Committee on Foreign Affairs, said there was much hope after the 2002 cease-fire, but today this agreement was "practically meaningless." He added that the LTTE has stepped up aggression with its air wing, and in addition to the LTTE, now the GOSL is also accused of severe HR abuses, including cooperation with the Karuna group, denying access to camps, hampering investigations.

Mr Hogrefe also said that the Millenium Challange Account monies had been "mothballed," that is, put on hold until improvement in human rights was seen in Sri Lanka.

The expert witnesses to the Congressional briefing were Dr. Paikiyasothy Saravanamuttu, Director of the Centre for Policy Alternatives (CPA), Colombo Sri Lanka, Joe William, Senior Development Officer at the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), and Bhavani Fonseka from CPA.

The speakers addressed the continued challenges of managing the humanitarian and international dimensions of the ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka in the contemporary context, and in the months ahead, and advocated international presence to monitor human rights violations in the island.

According to Joe Williams, "Sri Lanka has lived through 20 years of civil war but never has the humanitarian situation been so bad."

Dr. Saravanamuttu said the LTTE and GOSL are both guilty of human rights abuses, and that human rights concerns have become "secondary" to both parties, who are currently mainly concerned with demonstrating their military strength. However, it is a government's responsibility to ensure that the human rights of its citizens are not violated, Dr Saravanamuttu said. The GOSL is falling short of this obligation, accused of participating in child conscription through Karuna group as strategic forces against LTTE, in turn occluding the option of taking "the moral high ground on the issue of child soldiers."

Regarding International Group of Eminent Persons (IIGEP), Dr. Saravanamuttu noted that if the institutions of government were executing their functions, IIGEP would not be necessary, and also that the IIGEP cannot be effective, independent, or impartial, given the role national institutions and government actors play in the process.

The U.S. position towards the GOSL is inconsistent and contradictory, in its support of the GoSL on the counter-terrorism front, and criticism of the GoSL on the humanitarian front, Dr Saravanamuttu said. There needs to be an international human rights monitoring body in Sri Lanka, and the Congressional Human Rights Caucus (CHRC) should urge US administration to support a resolution for international monitoring mission, he concluded.

Mr. Williams referred to the deteriorating situation in Jaffna, with NGO's denied access, and food only deliverable by ship as due to the security situation, the land route, the A-9 road, has been closed.

Mr William's said the GOSL has declared "emergency regulations" which has created the space for large numbers of Tamils being arrested without due cause, abductions, anddisappearances. Many members of Parliament are now ministers which is "political criss-crossing," while more than 500,000 displaced in total, more than 250,000 newly displaced by conflict.

Ms. Bhavani Fosenka said that there are many "shades of displacement," with those living in camps, transitional shelters and with other families, and she surmised that less than fifty percent of forced displacement is actually reported.

She said that the GOSL has been violating the 17th Amendment of the constitution that ensures checks and balances on Sri Lanka's President and executive branch. She added, the people of Sri Lanka currently do not trust their national institutions to address human rights concerns given the increasing authoritarianism, collapse of the rule of law, and culture of impunity. There have been commissions of inquiry previously, but they were ineffective, yielding few prosecutions, Ms Fonseka said.

The current international committee of eminent persons is comprised of one man investigating a few disappearances. There is no witness protection, Ms Fonseka commented. Given the circumstances, Fonseka added, that Sri Lanka needs a "field-based presence of international actors" working with state actors to effectively address the human rights issue.

Congressman Tom Lantos, the Co-chair of the Human Rights Caucus, in his announcement for the Caucus briefing highlighted the shortcomings of the presidential Commission of Inquiry monitored by the International Group of Eminent Persons (IIGEP). He described the recent action by the Colombo Chief Magistrate barring accessing evidence and reports by the Commission of Inquiry as “stunning IIGEP and human rights experts.”

Related Articles:
25.05.07   Upholding Humanitarian principles, key for conflict resoluti..
10.04.07   Rajapakse disregards disappearances - Civil Monitoring Commi..
23.11.06   Presidential powers can undermine CoI- Amnesty
23.10.06   Sri Lanka in "interminable and intractable crisis"- UN
12.12.98   Congressional discussion focuses on Rights violations

External Links:
IHT: Rights group wants UN to monitor alleged Sri Lanka rights violations
Amnesty: Sri Lanka Report 2007: state of the world human rights Amnesty
CIDA: Canadian International Development Agency
UNHCHR: UN Expert Welcomes Proposed Sri Lanka Commission
AHRC: SRI LANKA: An epidemic of lawlessness
CPA: Center for Policy Alternatives
AI: Observations on a Proposed Commission of Inquiry
SriLanka: Commission of Inquiry
AI: Commission of Inquiry must be independent and international


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