Colombo unwilling or unable to contain Rights violations- HRW

[TamilNet, Wednesday, 12 September 2007, 11:18 GMT]
During the launch of the Report “Return to War: Human Rights Under Siege” in the European Parliament Tuesday, the Human Rights Watch (HRW), a leading Rights organization based in New York, said after the report was published in the first week of August, disappearances especially in Jaffna have continued, condition of internally displaced have reached alarming levels, climate of impunity continued to prevail, and the Attorney General’s office, have not effectively investigated human rights violations or brought perpetrators to justice. HRW also condemned Colombo's dismissal of international critics as “traitors,” and “terrorist sympathizers.”

Excerpts from HRW's presentation in the European parliament follow:

"What is obvious since we published our report is that the government has shown itself unable or unwilling to stem the tide of ongoing human rights violations by state forces. In June Sri Lankan police arrested 16 people, including four policemen and a member of the air force, in connection with the spate of burgeoning abductions, and claimed to have broken the back of the racket. While disappearances and abductions showed a temporary lull in the capital Colombo, in the rest of the country, families continued to report abductions of relatives by unknown persons. The National Human Rights Commission in Jaffna reported that, in the first three weeks of August 2007 alone, 21 cases of enforced disappearances and 13 cases of unlawful killings took place. On September 3, the ICRC reported that in the previous three weeks, it had documented 34 such abductions countrywide.

"The condition of internally displaced persons continues to be cause for alarm...Over the past year, government authorities have in some instances forced internally displaced persons to return to areas that remained insecure. Protection for the displaced has been very weak despite the presence of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, with regular threats and occasional violence, including abductions, by both the LTTE and pro-government armed groups. Others will never be able to return to their homes following the government’s announcement in May of the creation of “High Security Zones” that include “special economic areas” on the lands where thousands of families once lived. These people have been left languishing in makeshift camps. Those who have returned have often faced reprisals.

"Sri Lanka suffers from a long-standing climate of impunity. The Sri Lankan government has failed to hold perpetrators accountable for abuses. Key parts of the criminal justice system, such as the police and the Attorney General’s office, have not effectively investigated human rights violations or brought perpetrators to justice. The high level of violence has created an atmosphere of fear and insecurity for civilians, particularly ethnic Tamils. Victims of violence by the security forces and non-state armed groups are apprehensive about complaining to the police or other authorities for fear of retaliation, especially in the absence of functioning victim and witness protection mechanisms.

"The Presidential Commission of Inquiry is not a deterrent for current and on-going human rights abuses. The commission is only advisory. It can only recommend to the government the steps to take, including by the attorney general, but there is no legal obligation for the president to act on them or make the findings public. The mandate of the commission allows a high level of participation by the attorney general’s office and the police. The International Independent Group of Eminent Persons (IIGEP) has expressed concern about the role of the attorney general’s office in the investigations, citing a potential conflict of interest because investigators “may find that they are investigating themselves.”

"We have been surprised and disappointed that instead of looking into the information presented in this report, the government quickly dismissed our findings as “tendentious” and “generalized”. It seems like only yesterday that the LTTE was accusing us of bias and the government was quoting our reports at the UN and elsewhere favorably. When we spoke out in Toronto and London against LTTE intimidation against the Tamil communities there, the government applauded and the EU acted.

"Instead of using the report as a reason to turn its attention to address human rights violations, conduct effective investigations and stem the culture of impunity, the government has dismissed critics as “traitors,” “terrorist sympathizers,” and “supporters of the LTTE.” Yet in August 2007 chief government whip and Cabinet Minister Jeyaraj Fernandupulle called UN under-secretary for humanitarian affairs and emergency relief John Holmes a “terrorist’’ after Mr. Holmes appropriately described Sri Lanka as ”one of the most dangerous places for aid workers in the world.’’ A few days after Mr. Holmes’ comment, two aid workers—one, a Tamil staff member of the Danish Demining Group, and the second, an employee of Sewalanka—were shot dead in the army held Jaffna peninsula.

"The suggestion that we are somehow anti-government or pro-LTTE, or naively promoting the LTTE’s agenda, is absurd and beneath the Sri Lankan government. Instead of attacking the messenger, the government would do well to address the issues raised by Human Rights Watch and other serious organizations."


External Links:
HRW: Launch of the Human Rights Watch Report


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