Fact finding civil groups want elections stopped in Batticaloa

[TamilNet, Wednesday, 27 February 2008, 10:55 GMT]
"Batticaloa elections seem to be about legitimizing brutality through forced political authority and participation," said a group of 9 civil society organisations that undertook a fact finding mission to the district between February 16 and 18. The mission, issuing a report titled "Afraid to even say the word: Elections in Batticaloa," in a press conference held in Renuka hotel on Wednesday, said despite the possibility of International and independent election monitors generally having a positive influence on the electoral process, the presence of monitors inherently risks legitimizing elections despite sincere efforts to expose any violations.

"The perpetrators of violence have sought to make a good impression on election monitors as they seek to legitimize their influence on local communities by entering mainstream politics while retaining their arms and using them as they wish," the report said.

"Faced with mortal fear of post-election retaliation, affected communities feel unable to report violations or even protest against them."

"People are not interested in elections," was a consistent statement expressed by the people of Batticaloa, the group added.

Press conference by the civil groups that took part in the fact finding mission to Batticaloa district
"Elections seemed neither for the people of Batticaloa nor about about them," was the general expression as people's representatives expressed despair at the elections taking place at a time when such pressing issues as continued unpunished armed violence and on-going humanitarian concerns related to IDPs remain unresolved, the mission announced Wednesday in the report.

The group had met with Internallay Displaced Persons (IDPs), persons affected by election related violence, workers from community based organisations (CBOs) and Non Governmental Organisations (NGOs), civil servants and religious dignitaries in the district.

Observations by the group:
  • Fear due to long history of local violence by actors now contesting elections
    • recruitment of children, abduction of husbands, fathers and sons, seizure of land - exert "control" through fear of further loss or harm. There is no free choice in this context.
  • Armed violence / gun culture
    • Armed groups remain armed, despite appearances / statements otherwise
    • Credible reports of threats and violence against people who refused nomination. At least one person was killed for his refusal.
    • Militant culture is not the same as normal democratic culture - it is not realistic to expect that armed actors can transform overnight. The dramatic drop in violence is artifical - disappearances and killings were high at the end of 2007, but dropped dramatically in January and February. But groups remain armed and the real test of these elections will start the day after.
  • Ongoing humanitarian crisis
    • UN Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC): 19 IDP camps in Batticaloa district. Many IDPs are from Trincomalee district, but there are also IDPs from within Batticaloa district, who are still not allowed to go home by the military.
    • UNHCR: 7,038 families and 26,484 people remain displaced in Batticaloa district.
    • IDPs from within Batticaloa district are not allowed to cultivate paddy fields, though in some camps rations are inadequate or have stopped due to lack of funds.
The groups that undertook the fact finding mission were: Citizen's Committee for Forcible Eviction of People, Commission for Justice, Peace, Human Rights and Human Development, Secretariat, Community Trust Fund (CTF), International Movement Against Discrimination and Racism (IMADR), Justice and Peace for Integration of Creation, Law & Society Trust (LST), Rights Now - Collective for Democracy and two others.

The report concludes with the following recommendations:
  • Stop the election process immediately
  • Reappoint the Constitutional Council and appoint new commissioners to head all independent bodies, including the Elections Commission, in keeping with the 17 amendment.
  • Disarm all armed actors by confiscating all weapons permanently - Take measures to stop fueling ethnic tension in the east
  • Improve freedom of movement in Batticaloa District by
    • Removing checkpoints except where deemed absolutely necessary
    • Give priority to issuing NICs to IDP who do not have them, instead of IDs that are valid only in some districts - "race" should never be mentioned [in the IDs]
    • Ensure that all IDPs originally from Batticaloa are registered to vote and provided with ballots, whether they are living in IDP camps or with host families in the community.
The report further said: "If one uses a 'toolkit for democracy' and simply checks the presumed indicators without an understanding of the complexities and the instilled culture of fear, then the Batticaloa election process approximates freedom and fairness. But an examination of the whole structure of elections in Batticaloa reveals serious issues that undermine any such possibility: from the Election Commissioner, appointed in breach of the 17th Amendment; to the electoral lists, which do not include all eligible voters; to the decision by the UNP and TNA not to contest out of fear for their prospective candidates, thereby shrinking the choices available to voters; to the nomination process which has involved violence against unwilling candidates; to threats against voters and candidates alike. Even a few of these elements would undermine the credibility of an election; seen altogether, that credibility collapses utterly."

The report has also recorded observations from other sources. According to some, the primary "benefit" of these elections will be to "attract donors" for "Nagenahira Navodaya" (Eastern reawakening), the eastern development programme. While others have observed that one armed group that assisted some resettled IDP communities has gained "political base" at least from a small constituency, as an attempt to legitimize its political influence.


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