A Brief Colonial History Of Ceylon(SriLanka)
Jack Layton’s open letter
Systematic Genocide of Tamils
Sunday, April 30, 2017
The session was important for Sri Lanka's coalition government, led by President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe. (AP Photo/Tran Van Minh)by Taylor Dibbert |
The UN Human Rights Council's 34th session ended on March 24. Ostensibly, the session was an important moment for Sri Lanka's coalition government, which is led by President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe. Sri Lanka's compliance with a previously passed Council resolution (designed to promote human rights and transitional justice) came under review.
Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera addressed the body on Feb. 28 and the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein, provided a critical assessment of the government's performance during the session. On March 23, as expected, another cosponsored resolution was passed on Sri Lanka.
But here's the bottom line: The passage of another resolution on Sri Lanka, the fifth since 2012, should be viewed as a stark reminder – of both the limits of international influence via the Council and that now would be an opportune time for international actors to consider other methods of engagement with the Sri Lankan government.
Colombo's wide-ranging reform agenda has been stagnating for some time. Nowhere is this truer than when it comes to transitional justice, and building a lasting peace in a country that went through a brutal civil war – fought between Sri Lankan military forces and the separatist Tamil Tigers – from 1983 to 2009.
In a major upset, Sirisena defeated Mahinda Rajapaksa in a January 2015 election. Rajapaksa is still venerated by many ethnic Sinhalese, the majority community, for winning the war. Nonetheless, he put the country on an increasingly authoritarian, corrupt and nepotistic course, which led to his electoral demise.
With the resolution it cosponsored in October 2015, Colombo committed to an expansive transitional justice agenda, including four important mechanisms: a truth commission, a judicial mechanism to deal with alleged wartime abuses and offices to handle both disappearances and reparations. Yet none of those mechanisms are operational. Besides, there are plenty of other moves the government could have already made to prove its sincerity about transitional justice.
Sustained militarization – the military is almost exclusively Sinhalese – throughout the Tamil-dominated northern and eastern provinces remains a major issue. Relatedly, the military's continued occupation of civilian land is a big problem too. Security sector reform is an important matter that's being ignored. Based on my recent exchange with a Colombo-based human rights lawyer, fifty to seventy Tamil political prisoners are still being held in various detention centers throughout the country.
The government should immediately release all of these individuals or at least bring them to trial.
More generally, Colombo has taken an intransigent approach towards international involvement in the transitional justice process, although a degree of international participation is essential to ensure that the process is credible. Furthermore, the country's political leadership, including the president and the prime minister, are still not making an articulate case for these reforms.
Transitional justice is in deep trouble and additional scrutiny via the Geneva-based body is unlikely to change that very much. From 2012 to 2014, Rajapaksa categorically rejected three resolutions on Sri Lanka. The Sirisena administration has spent nearly two years basically ignoring a resolution it had cosponsored. For better or worse, the U.S. played an important role in the passage of all five resolutions.
Sri Lanka is making a mockery of the Council. If international actors actually want to keep the pressure on the island nation, they should consider moving beyond nonbinding human-rights resolutions – perhaps by reexamining engagement (diplomatic, military, even economic) at the bilateral level – an admittedly unlikely scenario at present.
For the victims of Sri Lanka's war, particularly those residing in the country's war-torn north and east, Sirisena's ascendance has not resulted in dramatic changes to daily life. And, for the duration of his tenure, that's probably not going to change. These are inconvenient realities for many, not least because foreign money for transitional justice projects keeps pouring into the country.
Taylor Dibbert, a writer based in the Washington, D.C. area, is affiliated with the Pacific Forum at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. The views expressed here are his own. Follow him on Twitter: @taylordibbert.
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Saturday, April 29, 2017
Sri Lanka’s Tamil and Muslim political parties are demanding release of land occupied by the military, justice to the missing and jobs for those affected by the civil war
Sri Lanka’s civil war (1983-2009), between the state and the LTTE, created thousands of refugees and led to some 65,000 disappearances. Photo: David Gray/AFP
Colombo: All the major towns in Sri Lanka’s war-ravaged northern and eastern provinces on Thursday observed a shutdown after the Tamil and Muslim political parties held a protest demanding the release of military-occupied land. Offices, businesses, schools and public transport came to a halt after the two provinces observed a shutdown.
“We hope the government would respond after looking at this protest action. All Tamil and Muslim political parties in these areas are observing the protest,” M.K. Shivajilingam, a hardline Tamil provincial councillor from the Tamil-dominated northern province, said. In some Muslim-dominated areas in the eastern province, life remained normal with all services operating. The Tamil and Muslim people in the northeast are demanding the government to release the lands that are still occupied by the military, justice to the disappeared persons and provide employment to the war-battered.
“People have been protesting now for over two months yet the government has failed to address the issue,” Shivajilingam said. Some of the lands held over three decades have been released since 2015. But Tamils complain of slow progress. Commenting on the protest, government spokesman and minister of health Rajitha Senaratne said the relatives of the disappeared people in some cases had provided photographic evidence that they had been seen under government care since the end of the conflict in 2009. “We will investigate such cases but we are unable to issue death certificates in respect of the disappeared as we have no proof,” Senaratne said.
In August last year, Sri Lanka’s parliament has unanimously approved a bill to set up an office to help find some 65,000 people reported missing during the country’s civil war with the LTTE (1983-2009), and clarify the circumstances under which they disappeared. Relatives of the missing people had alleged that the Lankan state—particularly its army, navy and police—were behind most of the disappearances. Many Lankan soldiers and LTTE cadres who had surrendered before the government troops were also among the missing.
In the chaotic merry-go-round characterizing the drafting of Sri Lanka's proposed Counter-Terror Act (CTA), the periodic surfacing of one version followed by another has given rise to unexpected horrors. Every time that a new draft emerges or must I say, is 'extracted' with great pain out of a process gripped by skullduggery and secrecy, its devious drafters conceive new and ingenious ways to confound scrutiny.
Legal clauses to mask and deceive
Even as one objection is taken to categorically dangerous definitions of proposed offenses, these are whipped away, soothing the unwary. Yet later, they emerge, clothed in chameleon colors to mask and deceive. Nothing proves this point better than the CTA draft that went before the Cabinet of Ministers this week. This includes hasty revisions made on the cusp of a suddenly suspenseful vote in the European Parliament seeking a rejection of the EU GSP Plus facility which was defeated.
Ostensibly, its contents were supposed to have improved. Yet what we see is not reassuring. The draft reeks of bad faith and is an extraordinarily contradictory. Indeed and outrageously so, it contradicts explanations for drafting positions taken by the drafters themselves.
Two glaring examples will suffice for the moment. The initial CTA version leaked to this newspaper last year had included the offense of espionage. Following public concern, this was removed in a later version. As formally recorded, the reason given for this removal was because this offense would more properly belong to a separate National Intelligence Act.
But now, in the face of that very explanation, various offenses under espionage were sneakily restored to the latest draft while omitting the sub-heading 'espionage.' Thus, the offensive of 'abetment' is defined to include 'gathering confidential information' if linked to 'terrorist' or terrorist related offenses. Treacherous consequences which may ensue are tied into the very broad definitions of terrorism related offenses. In addition, confidential information has been vaguely defined inter alia as information that may adversely affect public safety.
Scant protections in a dysfunctional system
Risks inherent in which they are not mitigated by 'good faith' with 'due diligence' and 'for the benefit of the public in the print and electronic media or in any academic publication.' It is interesting that this protection is only for 'registered' media. Meanwhile a notable omission in those given protection is online media which should sound warning signals for cyber advocates.
In any event, the terms such as 'good faith' and 'due diligence' provide scant protection in a dysfunctional judicial and prosecutorial process. Provisions that are perfectly reasonable in the functional Rule of Law systems assume sinister meaning connotations here because of that reality. This is not an abstract point as far less hazardous Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) was wielded against journalists and critics for decades.
Bitter animosity against the Rajapaksa regime was manifest in that regard. Why are we beckoning to laws that may provide greater opportunities for political repression? This is a baffling question.
Reinventing previous 'vague' terms
In another equally furtive move, the term 'unity' in relation to the definition of 'terrorist' and terrorism related offense 'has been brought back. Earlier, this was removed after persistent criticism. As the drafters themselves admitted, the term was vague. Classifying a terrorist related offence If one writes or talks in a manner that may offend 'unity' (subjective in its very essence) is the perilous to say the least.
But wondrously, this week's CTA restores 'unity' as a component of 'Offenses of Terrorism' and other related offenses. Culpability arises when acts are known or reasonably believed to adversely affect the 'unity, territorial integrity, sovereignty, national security or defense of Sri Lanka.' The related offenses are repetitive and vaguely defined. They include 'specified terrorist offenses', 'aggravated criminal offenses associated with terrorism', 'offenses associated with terrorism' as well as 'terrorism related offenses' and 'abetting terrorism and terrorist organizations.'
Thus, speaking or writing that 'causes harm to the' unity, territorial integrity or sovereignty of Sri Lanka, 'amounts to abetting terrorism and terrorists. That this proposed offense is not to affect the exercise of a 'fundamental right' in 'good faith' is a sop thrown to the needy. Its efficacy depends on a vigorous Supreme Court conscious of its constitutional role and a vigilant civil society. With some exceptions, one can not profess a great deal of confidence in either.
Where is this famed 'accountability'?
Meanwhile police powers in compelling bank statements, calling for information from service providers and senior public officials etc without applying for a magisterial warrant can now be met with with rejection to comply. Further action is only through activation of the legal process which is some relief at least. However, a suspect's right to immediate access continue to be held by qualifications rendering it meaningless. Here too, the revised amendment to the Code of Criminal Procedure Act appears to be right after but then craftily denies it later.
In sum, the contents of that amendment and the revised CTA draft appear to be an uncomfortable exercise in 'lies and deception.' Indeed, it is an insult to assume that masking language and offenses will not result in the pretence being exposed. As repeated ad nauseam in these column spaces, both these amendments must have been publicized by the Government of Sri Lanka and extensively subjected to detailed independent scrutiny. But the converse takes place.
In the minimum, the CTA draft has not yet been sent to the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka (HRCSL). This is despite the fact that the mandate of the HRCSL (Section 10 (c) and (d) of Act, No 21 of 1996), is to advise and assist the government in 'formulating legislation ... in furtherance of the promotion and protection Of fundamental rights' and to recommend on compliance with international human rights norms and standards. The contempt thus shown for a prescribed statutory process is nothing short of scandalous.
Menacing eventualities before us
Once the document is in the Bill of Parliament, there is only limited time for challenge if needs be in Court. This absurd and counterproductive scramble in forcing through laws is deplorable. Whatever revisions that may take place at the committee stage to this bill is also out of our hands.
Certainly these are menacing and high risk for a law that can be used to crucify Sri Lankan citizens by present or potential as may be.
Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena has called upon Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka to resign from the government’s ministry and return to the position of army commander. In a bid to “discipline the country,” Fonseka would be head of the country’s three armed forces for two years.