Julio 5, 2007

Sri Lanka - Ex-air force officer among 6 arrested over Sri Lanka abductions

COLOMBO: Sri Lankan police have arrested a former air force officer, a serving airman and four police officers for their alleged involvement in civilian abductions, a government spokesman said Wednesday.

The suspects were arrested last month after initial investigations suggested they were linked to several abduction and extortion cases, government security spokesman Keheliya Rambukwella said. He did not elaborate, saying investigations were still pending. It was not immediately clear if the air force officer was in service when the alleged crimes were committed, where the civilians were abducted from, or how many people the men allegedly abducted.

No indication was given that the abductees were ethnic minorities on this island nation riven by a separatist conflict. The Civil Monitoring Committee, a group that campaigns against abductions, says at least 140 people, mostly minority ethnic Tamils, have been abducted from the capital, Colombo, in the past year, 18 of whom were subsequently found dead. Some of the abductees were released after relatives paid huge ransoms, while others never returned despite the payment of large sums, the committee says.

‘US should do more’: About 50 US lawmakers have written to President George W Bush asking him to step up American efforts to help resolve the ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka. “The United States has the opportunity to serve as a leader” in renewed international efforts to bring about a peaceful resolution to the conflict, the lawmakers said in the letter, a copy of which was obtained by AFP.

Led by two Democrats in the House of Representatives, David Price and Rush Holt, the lawmakers told Bush it was “imperative” for him to step up US diplomatic engagement and high-level political contact in Sri Lanka in a bid to achieving peace. The US legislators also asked Bush to increase US efforts “to promote strong human rights protection for civilians” amid the conflict, and called on Colombo to take “active measures” to end “extrajudicial killings and disappearances” in government-controlled areas.

They cited a recent report by the International Crisis Group, a Brussels-based think tank, which described the international response to Sri Lanka’s human rights problems as “disjointed, lackluster and tardy.” A commission set up by Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapakse to investigate a wave of killings and disappearances said last week that 430 civilians, mostly minority Tamils, were slain over a bloody recent five month period. agencies


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Julio 1, 2007

Sri Lanka - Dark days in paradise

June 30, 2007

Kidnapping and murder are common in Sri Lanka as the teardrop isle slides towards anarchy, writes Dylan Welch.

Kamalajasi Ketheeswaran sits in a small, white air-conditioned office in the port area of Sri Lanka's capital, Colombo, cradling her 18-month-old daughter. Her other daughter, 7, sits beside her with four in-laws. Despite the family support, as she describes the abduction of her husband four months ago the seemingly stoic woman suddenly dissolves into tears.

"We married for love, and now only I am here. Every day I long for his return, thinking that he will come," she says. A Sri Lankan Tamil, Ketheeswaran, 30, is unable to contain her emotion when considering life without the family's sole breadwinner. "How long must I be in this situation? For how long can his brothers look after me?"

The nightmare of not knowing the fate of her husband has become a seemingly unresolvable injustice. It is so for the families of thousands of other recent abductees.

On January 10 Ketheeswaran's husband, Sujambu Nadar, 31, and his brother, Sujambu Nadar Kanapathy, 27, were running their private bus service in the suburbs of Colombo. During a stop they were approached by men dressed in civilian clothes who claimed they were from the Sri Lankan police.

They were asked by the men to get into a white van - such vehicles have become one of the most powerful symbols of abductions in Sri Lanka - and were whisked away. Five months later, even though the family reported their disappearance to the police, the Sri Lankan Human Rights Commission, the Red Cross and many national politicians, they have heard nothing about the fate of the two men.

They simply vanished amid a pattern of spiralling lawlessness that has been rocking Sri Lanka.

The lexicon of international law refers to enforced disappearances and extrajudicial killings. In a simpler language, abductions and assassinations, kidnappings and murder. One is often followed by the other.

As the 2002 Norwegian-brokered ceasefire in the 25-year war between the Government and rebel group the Tamil Tigers is near collapse, it seems a culture of impunity regarding abduction and murder is again rising.

"This issue, abductions, disappearances, started increasing again from the beginning of last year," says Mano Ganesan, a Tamil member of Parliament, and one of the conveners of the Civil Monitoring Commission, formed early last year to monitor the rise in abductions and murders - he says primarily of Tamils.

Since then the commission has recorded a steady stream of abductions - 103 cases up to the end of April. According to other monitoring groups that number is barely the tip of the iceberg, with thousands of disappearances and murders going unreported in battleground areas such as Batticaloa and Trincomalee in the east, and Jaffna in the north.

One of the oldest human rights organisations in Colombo, Home for Human Rights, which has recorded human rights violations in Sri Lanka since 1977, says even the quantifiable numbers are much higher. In the first four months of this year alone it recorded 270 disappearances and murders. Last year, it says, there were just under 1000.

Even the work of the monitoring organisations is not without risk. In November the co-convener of the commission with Ganesan, fellow Tamil politician Nadaraja Raviraj, was shot dead while driving on a busy road in a safe part of Colombo in the middle of the day. Fearing for his life, Ganesan fled to India, and returned only when the Government provided him with security. The irony of being guarded by officers from the very Government he accuses of murdering Raviraj is not lost on him.

Asked how he feels about his security cocoon - at least six guards, dressed in subdued colours with bulges at the hip, all wearing sunglasses - he smiles. "Even if I distrust them what can I do? I can't tell them to go away."

And while he confesses to carrying a handgun, he's not concerned. "I'm always optimistic," he says, smiling. But the smile quickly disappears. "And it's not going to be easy to assassinate me, or kill me, or take me away. If anybody tries, it will be a tough job for them."

The impunity with which Raviraj's killing was carried out is symptomatic of a dark side of Sri Lanka, where rebel and paramilitary groups kill who they want when they want. Many, such as Ganesan, allege the involvement of the police and military.

After the late 1980s, when the government crushed a Marxist uprising at a cost of at least 30,000 lives, successive governments promised to never return to those dark days. But now an increasingly cowed society is whispering of a return to the culture of impunity.

One senior public servant, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said abduction and secret murder have become institutionalised in Sri Lanka. "We have security forces and police who have done this thing before. They are quite used to that technique. They think it's an easy way. They've improved on it now, they have perfected it - they killed by the thousands and got away with it [in the late 1980s]. And they learnt from their mistakes - now you find bodies without heads or hands [to prevent identification]."

While the number of murders is nowhere near those of the late 1980s, he says the situation is beginning to resemble the bad old days. "Democratic institutions are being stifled, human rights are being violated and abandoned, and the value to life is low - anybody can disappear or get killed any time. You may find bodies lying here or there. There'll be only a mention that a body was found, and that is all, the investigation won't go beyond that."

The public servant attributes the current wave of disappearances and murders to an impersonal "they" and says it doesn't matter who is responsible - what matters is that "they" are willing and able to kill. "Everybody is free to dispose of anybody whom they want. And they are sure they are not getting caught."

In some cases, there is an almost absurd collusion from both sides. Take the case of a Tamil Hindu priest in the east. According to a report by the international organization Human Rights Watch, in early February in the town of Varahai, shortly after Government forces had captured the area, soldiers arrived at the home of the priest, Salliah Parameswar, and demanded he go with them.

"They took him to a victory ceremony … where the priest was instructed to garland President Mahinda Rajapakse as a sign that Tamils in the area welcomed what the Government called their 'liberation'. The event was widely publicised in the media. Five days later, unknown gunmen came to the priest's house, took him from his family, and shot him dead."

One of the worst affected groups are Tamil journalists, who face extreme risks when their reportage is critical of either side. The editor of the Jaffna-based Tamil newspaper Uthayan, Nadesapillai Vithyatharan, recently described to Agence France Presse the kind of threats his staff and he face. "We have lost five staff in the last 18 months," he said. "I have had grenades tossed into my room, but I am ready for anything."

While most accept that some abductions are attributable to the Tigers, Tamil politicians accuse the Government of involvement via the military and paramilitaries.

"The [Tamil Tigers are] basically considered a guerilla, terrorist organisation … and we have a Government here in Colombo, a legitimate, democratically elected Government that represents [Sri Lanka] to the international community, doing the same thing."

For its part the Government says the number of abductions is vastly exaggerated, and accuses its enemies of trying to manufacture a rise in abductions to embarrass it. In an interview on the Arabic broadcaster Al Jazeera recently, President Rajapakse said some of the alleged abductees were simply overseas.

Under pressure from within Sri Lanka and from the diplomatic community, last year the Government set up a commission of inquiry to examine 16 of the more serious allegations of murder and abduction.

The commission has been hampered, however, by the lack of witnesses. Only 12 have come forward, with the fear of being murdered or abducted themselves keeping most away. As the August deadline for its report looms, many question whether it will be able to provide anything close to a comprehensive report on even the few cases it is examining.

And as the numbers of human rights violations in Sri Lanka rise, the international community is finding itself forced to act. Britain halted debt relief to Sri Lanka in May, in anger at the Government's human rights record, and major donor Japan is reviewing its position. Germany stopped its aid in December.

The US is also expressing concerns. During a visit to Sri Lanka in early May the US diplomat Richard Boucher criticised the Government for the prevailing climate of fear. "I feel a lot people are afraid," he said. "We have seen people killed; there are very serious threats, lots of people are very worried about their lives. More needs to be done to create a climate where people feel safe."

Australia has also recently joined in the condemnation. The Foreign Affairs Minister, Alexander Downer, criticised both sides in a press release in late May. Australia was, he said, concerned by "the growing environment of impunity surrounding human rights violations in Sri Lanka".

But all of this international politicking means very little to the families; what matters is the return of their relatives. After the interview with the Herald, Ketheeswaran and her family slowly file out of the small, humid office. They gather several small plastic bags holding shopping and clothes, and walk out into the oppressive heat of the Colombo afternoon.

Later, Ganesan suggests there is not much hope for the Ketheeswarans, or for any of the other families of those who have disappeared, though he says he does not tell them this. "All the political kidnappings end up in death, there is no question."


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Sri Lanka responds to US allegations of disappearances

The Sri Lankan Ministry of Defense has responded to the list of 350 disappeared people presented by the US ambassador to them, by issuing a press release available at http://www.defence.lk/new.asp?fname=20070630_05

Basically they say that same names are repeated, that some of them have left the country, others have appeared dead and investigations are going on in most of the other cases.

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Sri Lanka: US expresses concern over 350 people 'disappeared' in Sri Lanka

Saturday, 30 June 2007
The United States has expressed concern over the fate of 355 Sri Lankans who "disappeared" in recent months amid an escalation of ethnic clashes in the island country, Sri Lankan government said in Colombo on Friday.

SL Foreign Ministry in a statement said US ambassador Robert Blake gave a list of 355 names of people whose whereabouts are yet to be known.

The government said Colombo took the issue seriously and had launched investigations into the list presented soon after the visit of US Assistant Secretary of State Stephen Mann in March who raised concerns about human rights during his visit.

The Colombo government's statement came amid mounting local and international criticism of the island's human rights record.

The Foreign Ministry in a statement said a good number of names was repeated in the US list of names but it did not mention when the victims had disappeared or been abducted.

The US embassy confirmed that the United States had supplied Colombo with the list but declined to give details.

The statement came a day after a presidential commission said 430 civilians, were reported killed between September 14 and February 25 as the ethnic conflict escalated.

The majority of the dead belonged to the Tamil minority, the Special Presidential Commission on Disappearances said, and many of the victims were shot through the head with their hands tied behind their backs.

The government is yet to prosecute anyone for the killings that were widely condemned both at home and abroad. Human rights groups have accused the government security forces, pro-government paramilitary groups and the Tamil Tiger rebels of involvement.


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Junio 28, 2007

Sri Lanka reports 430 killings in five months

June 28, 2007 (AFP) - Some 430 Sri Lankans were slain during a five-month period, most of them minority Tamils, a commission said on Thursday, amid growing controversy over rights abuses in the conflict-hit island.

The Special Presidential Commission on Disappearances said the killings were reported between September 2006 and February 2007 as the country came under increased international criticism over rights.

"A majority of the cases relate to (ethnic minority) Tamils," probe chairman Mahanama Tillakaratne said.

"Locally and internationally there has been a big issue of abductions, disappearances and unsolved killings," he said. "This is something very bad for the image of the country."

Tillakaratne was named last year by Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapakse to investigate a wave of killings and disappearances that has shaken the country where Tamils are fighting for an independent homeland.

Many of the victims have been executed with their hands tied behind their backs and shot through the head.

During the same September to February period, a total of 2,020 people were either abducted or disappeared, Tillakaratne added.

Some 1,134 were later found alive and reunited with their families.

The fate of the remainder is unknown, Tillakaratne said.

"The cases are so complicated that even if you get Scotland Yard (detectives) you may not be able to solve them," he said.

Sri Lanka is facing mounting criticism over its inability to stem the wave of killings and abductions which have risen with the escalation of fighting between troops and Tamil Tiger rebels in the island's northeast.

On Wednesday, Japan, the single largest donor to Sri Lanka, voiced concern about the human rights situation in the island nation during a visit by Colombo's foreign minister.

A Norwegian-brokered 2002 truce began unravelling in December 2005. Since then, more than 5,000 people have been killed in fighting across the north and tsunami-ravaged east of the country.

The 35-year-old conflict has left at least 60,000 people dead.


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Special center to gather information on abductions and disappearances in Sri Lanka opens today

Thursday, June 28, 2007, 14:16 GMT, ColomboPage News Desk, Sri Lanka.

June 28, Colombo: A special center was opened today at the Bandaranaike Memorial International Conference Hall (BMICH) for the benefit of the Sri Lanka public to provide information on abductions and disappearances.

The public can access the centre round the clock in all three national languages, Sinhala, Tamil and English. The telephone number is 060 2119240 and fax number is 011 2673409. The center was earlier proposed to be set up in the Presidential Secretariat but was moved to the BMICH for easy access by the public.

Sri Lanka President recently appointed a special committee to look into the abductions and disappearances. The committee includes Ministers Dullas Alahapperuma, Rajitha Senarathna, Deputy Ministers P. Radhakrishnan, Abdul Baiz and the opposition leader of the Colombo Municipal Council Vasudewa Nanayakkara.

Minister Rajitha Senarathna said opening the center that the abductions and disappearances have died down since the appointment of the special committee by the President.

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Junio 21, 2007

Sri Lanka - Disappearances: Police ordered to act swiftly

Rohan Mathes

COLOMBO: President Mahinda Rajapaksa yesterday directed the Public Administration and Home Affairs Ministry and the Police Department to implement the recommendations of the Presidential Investigations Commission’s first and second interim reports on abductions, disappearances and deaths of civilians by assault.

The President has also called for a follow-up report pertaining to the action taken, within one week. The Presidential Commission had submitted their first interim report on December 22, 2006, and the second on March 23, 2007.

Although the Commission is yet to conclude their investigations, the President is of the view that recommendation made in the interim reports pertaining to the incidents already investigated fully should be implemented sans any further delay.

Therefore the Registrar General under the re-implementation of Registration of Deaths Act 17 of 2001 (temporary regulations), is to instruct the District Secretaries, Provincial Secretaries, Grama Niladaris and Registrars of Births and Deaths to give priority to requests made. Following the registration of such deaths, provision should be made to swiftly compensate those already entitled.

The President’s Secretary has notified the Police Department of 50 incidents where it has been revealed that the Police have not initially conducted proper investigations. Therefore, the Secretary has directed the Police to take steps to re-investigate these incidents and bring the culprits to book, by establishing an investigations unit with wide powers.

The unit is to comprise high-ranking police officers and officers of the CID, who should also obtain assistance from the Attorney General’s Department as well.


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Junio 17, 2007

Lanka rights probe ‘set to end’ in failure

COLOMBO: A Sri Lankan probe into rights abuses blamed on security forces and Tamil Tiger rebels looks set to end in failure, international experts warned yesterday, as Amnesty International demanded an outside monitoring operation.

Experts nominated by the international community to observe a presidential commission probing abuses – including the massacre of 17 aid workers that Nordic truce monitors blame on the army – are worried at involvement of the attorney general’s department.

The damning assessment of the presidential probe comes as President Mahinda Rajapakse is in Geneva meeting human rights officials amid mounting international pressure on his government to halt any abuses blamed on state security forces.
“We ... are concerned that the conduct of the President’s Commission of Inquiry ... is inconsistent with international norms and standards,” the 11-person panel said in its second highly critical statement in a week.
“Failure to take corrective action will result in the commission not fulfulling its fact-finding mandate in conformity with those norms and standards."
The panel said its concerns that the involvement of members of the Attorney General’s department raised conflicts of interest had been ignored.
The experts said they had “observed examples of a lack of impartiality", with the counsel from the Attorney General’s department stating “as fact matters which are controversial to the case."
“Furthermore the witness was improperly led ... and information relied on by the witness and the Attorney General’s department was not made available to the (panel),” they added.
Only the testimony of one witness and the partial testimony of a second had been taken so far.
“Taking evidence in this manner will not, in our opinion, reveal the information and evidence necessary to identify perpetrators of human rights violations and enable the commission to achieve its mandate in a timely manner,” the panel said.
The presidential commission issued a statement of its own, saying it was satisfied its methodology would yield results. It called on the panel to ensure that at least one of its observers was always present to watch proceedings.
Addressing the International Labour Organisation’s annual conference in Geneva on Friday, Rajapaksa said he invited the panel of observers to Sri Lanka because his government wanted to establish the truth.
“We are open to scrutiny because we respect human rights, democracy and the freedom of the people,” he said. “Unfortunately, it is our flexibility and sincerity that seems to encourage the global non-governmental community to demand further involvement.”
“Our armed forces and the police are among the most disciplined in the world and they have great respect for human rights. Any lapses on their part will be promptly investigated and corrective action taken,” he added.
The panel of experts is also worried by what they say are insufficient measures to ensure protection of witnesses, particularly as reports of abductions and disappearances mushroom amid a new chapter in a civil war that has killed nearly 70,000 people since 1983.
Rights groups have reported hundreds of abductions and disappearances blamed on both sides. Rajapaksa argues that many of those reports are fake and designed to discredit his government and denies that the security forces are involved.
“In this deteriorating situation, an independent presence to monitor and investigate human rights abuses by all sides is critical,” Amnesty Secretary General Irene Khan said in a statement overnight.
The panel’s harsh reviews of the probe come against a backdrop of rights violations, assassinations and heavy fighting between state forces and separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). – Reuters

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Junio 11, 2007

Sri Lanka abuses probe substandard, experts warn

11 Jun 2007 14:00:00 GMT
Source: Reuters

By Simon Gardner

COLOMBO, June 11 (Reuters) - A Sri Lankan probe into a series of rights abuses blamed on the security forces and Tamil Tiger rebels is riddled with flaws and fails to meet international standards, foreign observers said on Monday.

Experts nominated by the international community to observe a presidential commission probing abuses -- including the massacre of 17 aid workers that Nordic truce monitors have blamed on the military -- saw "hardly any noticeable progress".

"We remain concerned the current measures taken by the government of Sri Lanka and the commission to address issues such as the independence of the commission, timeliness and witness protection are not adequate and do not satisfy international norms and standards," the panel said in statement.

The panel said it was also concerned that the Attorney-General's department acts as legal counsel to the commission, appointed by President Mahinda Rajapaksa amid outrage over the aid worker killings and widespread rights violations.

The fact that members of the Attorney-General's department now aiding the probe were involved in initial investigations into some of the 16 rights abuse cases being probed, means they might find they were investigating themselves, tha panel added.

"We consider these to be serious conflicts of interest, which lack transparency and compromise national standards of independence and impartiality," it said.


The experts were also worried by what they said were insufficient measures to ensure the protection of witnesses, particularly as reports of abductions and disappearances mushroom.

"We are concerned that there are no adequate victim and witness protection provisions under Sri Lankan law," the 11-member panel said.

The presidential commission and Attorney-General both issued statements of their own in response, rejecting the criticism and saying they believed international standards had been met. The commission established a witness assistance unit this month.

"That response isn't good enough, clearly," British Foreign Office Minister Kim Howells told reporters during a visit to the island on Monday.

"I very much hope that the Sri Lankan government will think again on that," he added, after meeting Rajapaksa and handing him a letter from British Prime Minister Tony Blair repeating Britain's offer to help find a political solution to the conflict.

Rights groups have reported hundreds of abductions and disappearances blamed on both sides. Rajapaksa argues many of those reports are fake and designed to discredit his government and denies the security forces are involved.

The panel's harsh review of the probe comes against a backdrop of rights violations, assassinations and heavy fighting between state forces and separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).

The massacre of 17 local staff of Action Contre La Faim (Action Against Hunger) in August 2006 was the worst attack on aid workers since a 2003 suicide bombing of the U.N. headquarters in Baghdad.

In the days after the killings, Nordic truce monitors were prevented from reaching the site in the northeastern town of Muttur. They are convinced only the security forces could have been behind the killings, something the government strenuously denies.

The bodies have been exhumed and examined by forensic experts. But no arrests have been made.


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Mayo 18, 2007

Lanka president shuns UK, US aid suspension

Published: Thursday, 17 May, 2007, 11:08 AM Doha Time

COLOMBO: Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapakse yesterday defied moves by Britain and the United States to halt some aid to the island over human rights concerns, saying the state would go it alone if necessary.

Britain suspended around $3mn of debt relief aid to the government earlier this month, citing human rights and defence spending concerns amid renewed civil war between the state and Tamil Tiger rebels.

The United States followed suit last week, announcing it had suspended an aid project given “the security situation and the human rights

“If we are offered genuine aid we will take it,” Rajapakse’s office quoted him as saying. “If not, we will forget about aid and do our job. We will not be dependent on aid.

“The work of resettlement, whether the tsunami displaced or those displaced due to the conflict is the responsibility of the government,” he added. “We will discharge this obligation whether we get aid or not.”
Aid organisations and donors across the world gave hundreds of millions of dollars to Sri Lanka in the aftermath of the 2004 tsunami at the time estimated to be double what the island needed to rebuild damaged homes and infrastructure.
But as aid dollars flowed in, suppliers of building materials jacked up their prices and many aid groups had to go back to the drawing board to rebudget post-tsunami housing projects. Others were delayed because of bureaucracy and difficulty in obtaining land to build on.
A resurgence of the island’s two-decade civil war compounded matters. Many post-tsunami projects had to be abandoned, and in some cases in the restive east, were destroyed by artillery shells.
More than two years on, tens of thousands of families are still living in spartan transitional shelters.
The Tigers have vowed to intensify their fight for an independent state in the north and east, while the government has pledged to wipe out all rebel military assets. Analysts fear a conflict that has killed nearly 70,000 people since 1983 could rage on for years.
Around 200 protesters marched in downtown Colombo yesterday to demand the government end a state of emergency declared in late 2005, which gives security forces wide detention powers they argue lead to human rights abuses.
“Stop all illegal arrests,” read one banner. “Immediately stop the disappearances,” said another, referring to more than 600 disappearances and abductions reported to the island’s Human Rights Commission so far this year and blamed on both sides. – Reuters

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Mayo 17, 2007

Sri Lanka - Presidential Commission on abductions, disappearances to submit final report soon

COLOMBO: The one man Presidential Commission of Inquiry appointed to inquire into the incidents of abductions, disappearances and attacks on civilians resulting in deaths throughout the island is due to submit its final report to the President soon.

A press release issued by the Commission said that it was now in the process of preparing its final report to be submitted to the President soon.

The Commission has also brought to the notice of the public that positive measures were taken by the law enforcement authorities to prevent abductions, disappearances, unexplained killings in the future, on the directions of the President, based on the recommendation of the Commission.

The one man Commission Chaired by Mahanama Tilakaratne states that it had submitted two interim reports so far, one on December 12, 2006 and the second one on March 23, 2007 after receiving complaints from the public till November 7, 2006 after giving notice to the public on September 24, 2006 to send in their complaints to the Commission.

The Commission states that, in response to the public notice, no Non-Governmental Organisation except for two organisations interested in Human Rights forwarded any information to the Commission.

“Further no political party or group forwarded any information, nor did they appear before the Commission and furnish any information nor did they represent any of the alleged aggrieved parties”, the release added.

The Commission also visited Batticaloa from January 18 to 21 this year and conducted its sittings.

The Commission had received 282 complaints; 132 on abduction cases, 41 on disappearance cases, 109 on cases of killings. This number also includes the number of cases inquired by the Commission during its sitting in Batticaloa.

The Commission as per the mandate completed inquiries in to 58 complaints on abduction, 26 complaints on disappearance cases, 10 complaints on cases of killings.

The Commission was appointed to inquire into and report on the following a) Examine the circumstances relating to incidents of abductions, disappearances and unexplained killings throughout Sri Lanka in the recent past;

b) Identify any Armed group or groups, any other forces or persons who are directly or indirectly responsible or involved in these incidents

c) Identify the causes and motives for such incidents

d) Assess the adequacy of the security arrangements made by the Security Forces and the Police to prevent such incidents

e) Whether the actions of the Security Forces/Police in the immediate aftermath of such incidents and in the detection and apprehension of offenders, have been adequate,

f) Recommendations for measures to be adopted to prevent such incidents in the future based on the findings of inquiry.

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Mayo 9, 2007

Sri Lanka: A thriving industry of Tamil extortion

Amidst kidnappings and ransom demands, Tamil businesses in Colombo are downing the shutters. It seems the government couldn’t care less

Sixty-year-old Egamabaram Palaniraja, the owner of Mythili Jewellers in the heart of Colombo, went missing on 12 September last year, along with his 23-year-old son Balasaravanan and employee, Ganesan Muhundan.

All three were abducted while returning home at around nine in the evening, just metres away from the Sri Lankan prime minister’s office. Two days later, Palaniraja was released 250 km from Colombo, in Polonnaruwa in the North Central Province, and ordered to arrange an “undisclosed” amount of ransom money to secure the release of his son and employee. After extracting millions of rupees, the abductors released both of the youths but retained the vehicle.

For a citizenry that slid into a virtual war last July despite the existence of a truce to which both the government and the LTTE rebels continue to pay lip service, the past few months have been a nightmare. Beyond the stepped-up military engagements, there have been dramatically increased levels of forced disappearances, extortions, extrajudicial killings, general harassment and intimidation. Amidst widespread human-rights violations in Sri Lanka today, one of the most significant, and most under-reported is the ongoing intimidation, extortion and abduction of affluent Colombo-area Tamil businessmen. This phenomenon was recently referred to as a “thriving industry”.

Palaniraja is among the lucky few. Many abducted Tamils never return home, even after paying multi-million-rupee ransoms. S Srikandarajah, a leading sugar merchant, and his driver were abducted in July 2006. But they failed to secure their freedom even after SLR 30 million was paid for their release. While Thirunavakurusu Puvaneshwaran, a successful Tamil businessperson, was released after SLR 1.5 million was extracted as ransom money, trader Maxie Bolton has still not been let go although the requested money was deposited.

More white vans

With the phenomenon of disappearances prevailing in Colombo, its sizeable and economically powerful Tamil population is seized by fear. Not only is it susceptible to forced disappearances by the Sri Lankan Army, the LTTE breakaway Karuna group and occasionally the Eelam Peoples’ Democratic Party (EPDP) for alleged connections with the LTTE, its commercial success also puts it at risk. Some of the abducted have been released after severe warnings, while the mutilated bodies of other victims have been recovered near culverts, waterways, paddy fields and roadsides, transmitting a potent message to the living.

Since the resumption of virtual wartime conditions in July 2006, the Civil Monitoring Committee (CMC), a multi-party human-rights group that works in Colombo and its suburbs, has recorded over 80 disappearances. Although there has recently been something of a lull in the numbers of abductions reported, the trend in extortion is on the up and up. A likely indicator of the excessive intimidation has been the increase in the number of Sri Lankan Tamil business families fleeing the island. According to CMC records, over 30 Tamil businessmen have left the island during the past two months, to shift their base of operations to India, Singapore, Malaysia, Europe or West Asia.

These victims tended to lay the blame on the Karuna group and, to a lesser degree, army deserters as well as activists with the EPDP. It was the LTTE that used to kill or demand ransom from the supporters of alternative Tamil political parties such as the EPDP and Karuna faction. But in Colombo today, Karuna activists far overshadow any other outfit in carrying out extortions, with occasional collaboration from government security forces.

While analysts point out that the disappearances do not necessarily have a political element to them – with victims being not just Tamils with origins in northeastern Sri Lanka, but also those of Indian origin and the occasional wealthy Moor – others note that government complicity is aiding the culture of impunity. Either way, says CMC chairman Sirithunga Jayasooriya, the evidence is incontrovertible as to who is being targeted: “Many victims are from two predominantly Tamil areas, Colombo 6 and Colombo 13. They are also business hubs.”

Many of the victims have only returned to the island following the 2002 Ceasefire Agreement (CFA), with an eye to investing in their homeland. One Sri Lankan Tamil who keeps houses in Britain and Sri Lanka, who did not want to be named, says that a white van has recently been seen repeatedly near his Colombo residence. The passengers of the vehicle had questioned the man’s neighbours about his return from the UK, and also about his Sri Lankan businesses. “I took a couple of years to formulate a business plan,” he explained. “The business climate created by the truce is what inspired me to return after decades in the UK. Now I have returned here only to be hounded by white vans wanting to find out details about my investments.” He is now contemplating returning to the UK, and abandoning his Sri Lankan venture.

Many others have, of course, already thrown in the towel. A reputed Colombo jeweller, who has received several threatening telephone calls demanding millions of rupees, says that it is not possible to continue his business in Sri Lanka anymore. “I have already selected a location in Chennai to relocate my business,” he said. “It is sad because I ran two jewellery shops for 30 years in Colombo without any problem, and even survived the 1983 communal riots.”


Not only do Tamil businesspeople in Colombo feel physically and commercially threatened, says CMC convenor and Colombo District legislator Mano Ganesan, but matters have been compounded by significant police inaction. “There is a complete breakdown in the law-and-order situation,” he says. “We have provided telephone numbers, some bank-account numbers of extortionists, and eyewitness accounts in certain instances to assist the authorities. They have done absolutely nothing to bring the culprits to book.”

As the pressure mounts, Ministry of Defence spokesman Keheliya Rambukwella admits to “some problems”. But while he adds that a presidential inquiry into the matter “could be appointed”, he refuses to discuss when this will happen. He also denies widespread charges that the government has failed to take action. “It is easy to blame the government,” he said. “Civil society can help the authorities by providing vital information.”

Even while the CMC has been attempting to provide just those details, the allegations of government complicity have received added momentum from within the government itself, particularly from Deputy Vocational and Technical Training Minister P Radhakrishnan, himself a Tamil. Upon receiving complaints from other Tamils who had recorded their own interactions with extortionists, Radhakrishnan took the matter up with President Mahinda Rajapakse, providing the telephone numbers of several extortionists, along with an appeal for immediate intervention. The only outcome: Radhakrishnan was summoned by the police to explain how he got the telephone numbers.

With the Sri Lankan government failing to control the situation, the opposition is getting vocal, as is the demand for international intervention. Opposition leader Ranil Wickramasinghe says that the government has failed to contain the extortion situation. “The incidents are on the increase. In such circumstances, we are compelled to support the call for an international human-rights monitoring mission,” he said in late April. “People have lost faith in the law-enforcement mechanism. The United National Party is obliged to assist these victims, and do everything possible to prevent an escalation in abductions and extortions.”

The possibility of international involvement in highlighting the disappearances has brought some hope to even victims’ families, says Ganesan. “Given the gravity if the issue, what we ask is so little,” he says. “But for a government that is hell-bent on abetting the crimes by sheer non-action, this may prove impossible.”


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Abril 22, 2007

El gobierno de Sri Lanka promete investigación sobre los desaparecidos

La agencia IRIN informa (ver mensaje anterior) que el gobierno de Sri Lanka ha prometido investigar el paradero de los miles de desaparecidos en Sri Lanka. Miles de personas han desaparecido durante el conflicto entre el gobierno y los Tigres de Liberación de Tamil Eelam (LTTE). Aunque las desapariciones bajaron en los últimos años debido a una tregua entre el gobierno y el LTTE, la violencia comenzó a escalar en el 2005,y desde entonces más de 1,000 personas, mayormente Tamiles, han desaparecido. Muchos han sido detenidos en fugones blancos en plena luz del día de lugares públicos.

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Sri Lanka: Government promises inquiry into 'disappeared' while families wait in anguish

lankafam.jpgBy: IRIN News
Published: Apr 21, 2007 at 07:47

Seven-year-old Angel Yogarajan held a photograph of her family and stared blankly, while her brother and mother fought hard to keep back the tears. On 2 March, their family of seven was suddenly reduced to three people who have been desperate ever since.

Angel's father, Emmanuel Yogarajan, and three of her brothers were abducted in the coastal town of Negombo, 40 km north of the capital, Colombo. The family has no information of the whereabouts of the four or even if they are still alive.

"We have gone everywhere, the police, human rights organisations. We don't know what happened to them," Dalian Yogarajan, the one surviving brother, said. The Yogarajans are not alone in looking for missing loved ones in Sri Lanka, once again beset by sectarian violence despite a five-year ceasefire between the government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).

Violence began escalating in December 2005 and more than 1,000 people, the majority ethnic Tamils, have gone missing, according to the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka, a semi-autonomous government entity. Relatives are scared to openly point fingers at who they fear are behind the abductions. Many have been abducted in white vans, in broad daylight from public places, according to the relatives interviewed by IRIN and media accounts.

S. Amalajasi's husband, S. Ketheswaran, was abducted from a public bus in Colombo along with his brother in January. The mother of two is pregnant and has sought the help of local and international human rights groups to locate her husband.

"He just went missing and I don't know what to do. Someone with authority and power has to help us. Maybe we will not get anywhere without international help," she said, while attending a Colombo meeting organised by the Civil Monitoring Committee (CMC) that has taken up their cause.

Government slow to investigate

Consisting of opposition lawmakers, the CMC too has faced its share of the violence. One of its founder members, Nadaraja Raviraj from the Tamil National Alliance, was shot dead in Colombo last year. CMC members feel that the government of President Mahinda Rajapakse has been slow to investigate cases of abductions, giving credit to suspicions that groups with tacit government support were responsible.

"The government has to be more assertive on these cases, you just can't wait till 1,000 civilians go missing to wake up," CMC president Sirithunga Jayasuriya said. He suspects that a breakaway Tiger faction is behind most of the abductions.

The CMC has appealed to the UN Human Rights Council to intervene, and many relatives told IRIN that UN intervention is now the last hope. "For more than six months I have been looking. Local authorities are of no help; international help is now absolutely necessary if our complaints are not to be forgotten," Mariappan Maruwei, whose son Ajanthan went missing in the northern town of Vavuniya last June, told IRIN.

The UN Human Rights Council, along with groups including Amnesty International (AI) and Human Rights Watch (HRW), have for some months called for the establishment of an international human rights monitoring mechanism for the island to investigate violations that they say are taking place on an almost daily basis. The government however is unlikely to allow monitors anytime soon.

"No international monitors would be allowed without an invitation from the government," Sri Lankan government spokesperson Keheliya Rambukwella said.

The government has set up a Special Presidential Commission assisted by a group of international experts to investigate 15 selected cases of violations. However, many organisations, such as AI and HRW, say that past experience with local investigations does not encourage optimism.

President Rajapakse recently told a group of parliamentarians that he was also planning to set up a parliamentary select committee to look into abductions. According to officials in the Ministry of Human Rights and Disaster Management, they are trying to schedule a meeting for June or July between President Rajapakse and the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour.

Sensing that the government was facing increasing international pressure on rights violations - US Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs, Richard Boucher, just last week said that his government supported an independent international monitoring mechanism – the main opposition United National Party has come out supporting an international mission.

The LTTE also say that they have no objections to international monitors. "We will work with them, we support investigations into the extrajudicial killings and abductions," Tiger human rights spokesperson Selvy Navaruban said.

For the relatives, though, the diplomatic moves mean little. "We need answers, there has been silence for too long," Yogarajan said.

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Abril 18, 2007

HRW writes to Pope on human rights violations in Sri Lanka

April 16, 2007

Your Holiness,

Please accept our best wishes on your birthday.

Human Rights Watch is writing prior to your meeting with Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapakse. We are deeply concerned about the deteriorating human rights environment in Sri Lanka as major hostilities between the government and the armed opposition Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) take place. We believe international actors have an influential role to play in protecting and promoting human rights, and we urge you to raise these matters with the president during your talks. A list of concrete recommendations comes at the end of the letter.

As the armed conflict in Sri Lanka continues, both the government and LTTE have shown a brazen disregard for the safety and well-being of civilians. By directing artillery fire at military targets and civilians without discrimination, firing artillery from populated areas, summarily executing persons, and unnecessarily preventing the delivery of humanitarian aid, both sides have violated international humanitarian law.

Members of the clergy have been among those targeted. We are particularly troubled by the case of Reverend Fr. Thiruchchelvan Nihal Jim Brown, who "disappeared" after he was stopped at a Sri Lanka Navy checkpoint on Kayts Island near Jaffna on August 20, 2006. He had reportedly been receiving death threats from senior Navy personnel.

Violations of International Humanitarian Law
For many years, Human Rights Watch has criticized the LTTE for its violations of international humanitarian law, including the use of children as combatants. We have called upon the Security Council to impose targeted sanctions against the LTTE for its use of child soldiers over many years. Yet the very disturbing trend of recent months has been the growing involvement of Sri Lankan military and police forces, as well as proxy armed groups, in serious violations of the laws of war and human rights. To date the government has taken no effective action to end these ongoing abuses.

The protection of internally displaced persons by the government remains a paramount concern as civilians continue to flee areas under LTTE control after government offensives. More than 100,000 displaced persons are currently in the eastern district of Batticaloa, and hundreds more are arriving every day as the fighting spreads. Government protection for these people has been very weak despite the presence of UNHCR, with regular threats and occasional violence, including abductions, by both the LTTE and pro-government armed groups.

In recent days the government has begun to return families to the area of Vaharai, which the government "cleared" of the LTTE in January, as well as parts of Trincomalee. In February Human Rights Watch spoke with displaced persons from both these areas who did not want to go home due to security concerns and worries about ways to secure their livelihood. Initial reports coming out of Batticaloa this week strongly suggest that the government is returning some families to Vaharai and Trincomalee against their will.

Child Recruitment and Government Support for Karuna and Other Armed Groups
Of deep concern is the government's continued support for abusive armed groups. There is now a clear pattern of the state turning a blind eye to abductions, extrajudicial executions, and extortion committed by these groups. In the east, the Karuna group, a breakaway faction of the LTTE, is responsible for ongoing child recruitment, abductions, and targeted killings, as well as intimidation and violence against the internally displaced. Despite widely publicized criticisms of the group's practices by the UN special advisor to the Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, Human Rights Watch, and other nongovernmental human rights organizations, the Karuna group continues to abduct and use children as soldiers, often with blatant complicity of the Sri Lankan military and police.

Although the Sri Lankan government has denied these reports, the evidence that state security forces are aware of, and in some cases working with, the Karuna group is overwhelming. In February Human Rights Watch observed armed children guarding Karuna political offices in plain view of the Sri Lankan army and police. A top Karuna commander was seen riding atop an army personnel carrier. Armed Karuna cadre openly roam the streets in Batticaloa district in sight of security forces, and in some cases they jointly patrol with the police. Despite its denials, the Sri Lankan government knows about the abductions and has apparently done nothing to make them stop.

President Rajapakse and other top government officials have repeatedly promised to investigate allegations that Sri Lankan security forces are complicit in these crimes. To date, no serious investigation has taken place. On the contrary, some parents of abducted children have been threatened not to report their case, or to state that the abductor of their children is unknown.

Enforced Disappearances
Enforced disappearances attributed to state security forces are also on the rise. In the Jaffna peninsula alone, the government's Human Rights Commission has recorded 707 cases of missing persons since December 2005, 492 of whom are still missing. In the vast majority of reported cases, witnesses and family members allege that security forces were involved or implicated in the abduction. Jaffna residents reported 55 abductions over the past three months during curfew hours, when only security forces are on the streets in this heavily militarized region.

Abductions continue in the capital, Colombo. As of February 7, the Civil Monitoring Committee, an organization documenting disappearances, had recorded 51 abduction cases in and around the city over the previous year. Thirty-four of the people were still missing and six had turned up dead. Most of the others were released after paying a ransom. Human Rights Watch recently interviewed more than one dozen families of persons missing from Colombo and other parts of the country, who were last seen being taken away by the military or police.

Father Jim Brown, a parish priest in the village of Allaipiddy on Kayts Island, and another man, Wenceslaus Vinces Vimalathas, left Allaipiddy in the early afternoon of August 20, 2006, for the nearby village of Mandaithivu. The Sri Lankan military did not allow them men to enter. On the way back to Allaipiddy they were stopped at a navy checkpoint, and they have not been seen again.

Father Jim Brown was known to have helped many civilians to move from Allaipiddy to the town of Kayts after fighting in the area between the Sri Lankan Navy at the LTTE. In fighting on August 13, at least 54 civilians were injured and 15 lost their lives.

Dangerous Emergency Regulations
Enforced disappearances could be facilitated by the sweeping emergency regulations, reinstated in December 2006, after the LTTE's attempt to assassinate Defense Secretary Gotabaya Rajapakse, brother of the president. The regulations give the security forces' expansive powers of search, arrest, detention, and seizure of property, including the right to make arrests without warrants and to hold individuals in unacknowledged detention for up to twelve months. Most of those detained under the emergency regulations are young Tamil men deemed by the security forces to have LTTE ties. Increasingly, however, the regulations are being used against Muslims and Sinhalese who challenge or criticize the state.

The current set of emergency regulations has also reintroduced a provision allowing the disposal of the bodies of persons who die in police custody without public notification. This gives uncontrolled discretionary power to the police in ordering the cremation of bodies, which could lead to the premature destruction of forensic evidence. Given the large numbers of "disappearances," the prospect for misuse is a deep concern.

Intimidation of Civil Society and Threats to the Media
At the same time, the government is using the "war on terror" paradigm to intimidate the media, non-governmental organizations, and others with independent or dissenting views. Human Rights Watch is deeply concerned that the government, driven by the Sri Lankan defense establishment, is dismissing critics as allies of the LTTE and traitors of the state.

The government has dangerously ratcheted up its criticism of civil society, especially in the media. In February 2007 Minister for Environment and Natural Resources Champika Ranawaka of the Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU), the Buddhist monk party in the government coalition, advocated extrajudicial methods to deal with human rights groups, journalists, and others who criticize the state's militaristic aims. "Those bastards are traitors. We can't do anything because of wild donkey freedom in this country," he told the Ravaya newspaper on February 18. "If those can't be handled with existing laws we know how to do it. If we can't suppress those bastards with the law we need to use any other ways and means, yes." To Human Rights Watch's knowledge, no one in the government has condemned the minister's words.

On March 8 the government's peace secretariat vehemently dismissed the growing allegations of human rights violations as propaganda of the LTTE, suggesting that those reporting human rights violations were assisting the insurgent group. "Any group or organization, falling prey to this malicious propaganda of the LTTE, without prior inquiry, investigation or reliable verification, could as well be accused of complicity in propagating and disseminating the message and motives of the LTTE," a statement said. Given Sri Lanka's new emergency regulations, which criminalize "aiding and abetting the LTTE," this lumping of human rights groups with the LTTE could silence local and international organizations working to report objectively on human rights.

Human Rights Watch is concerned that these verbal attacks will lead to physical assaults. Nongovernmental organizations have reported an increase in death threats from anonymous people over the phone.

The media has also come under attack. On February 26 officials from the Terrorist Investigation Division (TID) of the police detained Dushyantha Basnayake, Director of the Sinhala newspaper Mawbima. The TID has held another journalist from the paper, Munusamy Parameshawary, without charge for the last three months. On February 5, three trade unionists who write for their union publication were abducted from suburbs around Colombo; three days later the government announced that they had been arrested under the emergency regulations for suspected ties to the LTTE.

Over the past fifteen months nine media workers have lost their lives in varying circumstances, and no one has been charged with the deaths. The Karuna group in the east has issued death threats to the distributors of the Tamil-language newspapers Sudar Oli, Virakesari and Thinakkural. The military has been denying journalists access to LTTE-controlled areas and, as before, those journalists working in LTTE-controlled territories are under pressure not to criticize the LTTE.

Impunity Remains the Norm
Sri Lanka's law-enforcement authorities have proven woefully incapable of dealing with the abuse. The peace secretariat's statement of March 8 provides the results of police investigations into nine cases of abductions and "disappearances," but this represents a small fraction of the total number of cases reported every month. A positive sign came on March 6 when the Inspector General of Police, Victor Perera, announced that the police had arrested over 400 persons since September 2006 on charges of abduction, including "ex-soldiers, serving, soldiers, police officers and underworld gangs and other organized elements." Perera refused to provide further details and it remains to be seen whether these people will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.

A barrier to accountability lies in the non-implementation of the constitution's 17th amendment, which provides for the establishment of a Constitutional Council to appoint independent members to various government commissions. By ignoring the amendment, the president has been able to directly appoint commissioners dealing with the police, public service and human rights, thereby robbing these important institutions of their independence and legitimacy.

Sri Lanka's law-enforcement authorities have proven woefully incapable of dealing with the abuse. The much publicized Commission of Inquiry and its group of international observers, including one US expert, established last year to investigate 15 cases of serious human rights violations may bring results, but Human Rights Watch considers it an inadequate mechanism for addressing the wide spectrum of serious and ongoing abuse. The commission will only investigate a selection of cases, and a broader international mechanism is needed to monitor and ultimately prevent human rights violations in the longer term.

To address the intensifying abuse, Human Rights Watch believes an international human rights monitoring mission under UN auspices is urgently required. Monitors on the ground will help temper the behavior of all parties to the conflict, thereby protecting lives. A number of European Union states have already publicly expressed support for such a monitoring mission. We hope that the US government will back such an initiative and encourage key allies such as India to do the same.

In particular, Human Rights Watch encourages you to raise the following points with President Rajapakse when you meet:

1. The Sri Lankan government should bring an end to child abductions by the Karuna group in the east, which is now done in plain view of the military and police. Abducted children and young men should be released and returned to their families.
2. The government should end the "disappearances" by the state and state-sponsored armed groups, including the Karuna group, EPDP and PLOTE, and prosecute those responsible.
3. The government should make public a list of all persons detained by the military and police under emergency regulations and other laws, and provide these people proper access to their families and legal representation.
4. Under no circumstances should the government forcibly return internally displaced persons and should instead work with displaced communities to provide for genuinely voluntary and safe returns.
5. The Sri Lankan government should accept a United Nations human rights monitoring mission to monitor abuses by both the LTTE and state security forces.

We greatly appreciate your attention to these pressing issues and your consideration of the recommendations above. We hope our proposals will help protect civilians, promote human rights, and assist the development of a lasting political solution.


Brad Adams
Asia Director
Human Rights Watch

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Abril 17, 2007

SRI LANKA: Disappearance of persons and disappearance of the criminal investigation system

April 16, 2007

A Statement by the Asian Human Rights Commission

SRI LANKA: Disappearance of persons and disappearance of the criminal investigation system - A response to Ambassador Richard Boucher’s comments

The issue of enforced disappearances is among the highlighted topics of the discussion of human rights abuses in Sri Lanka. While about 1,000 disappearances were reported in 2006, already by April, 2007 around 300 cases have been cited.

A situation of this magnitude has found some response from the United States where Ambassador Richard Boucher, the US Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs is quoted to have expressed serious concern about violations of rights in Sri Lanka both by the LTTE and the government. Mr. Boucher stated:

"Building democracy and building stability we think are part of the same thing. We are not looking to change governments, we are looking to help governments achieve the institutions that can support democracy, the education systems, the information systems, the rule of law, election commissions, anti corruption commissions, things like that, that really can make a democracy stable in the longer term. That sort of democratic stability in the longer term, that is what we are trying to achieve," he said. (Sunday Leader April 15, 2007)

Even a casual study into forced disappearances since the 1970s which, when put together far exceed the number of disappearances in any other country, would clearly indicate that the relevant governments were unwilling and incapable of bringing this situation under control.

In the process of using the law enforcement agencies and armed forces to act freely to control terrorism the entire criminal justice system in Sri Lanka has suffered an enormous set back. The criminal investigation machinery of the country has been so affected by long years of interference into its proper functioning that now the state simply does not have the capacity to cause proper criminal investigations into serious crimes and gross human rights abuses including forced disappearances. The government does not to deal with the problem of the incapacity of the criminal investigation machinery, but instead engages in public relation measures such as the appointment of various commissions and now they are even talking about the appointment of an ombudsman.

Within the criminal justice framework of Sri Lanka it is not possible for any commission or an ombudsman to do what the country’s Inspector General of Police cannot do through the use of the criminal justice machinery which is under his control. It is the incapacity of this machinery of criminal investigations that needs to be investigated and redressed. The questions of stability and democracy that Ambassador Boucher has raised cannot be addressed without first dealing with the collapse of the criminal investigations machinery in Sri Lanka.

This is not a new position that the Asian Human Rights Commission is taking up. As far back as 1998 we wrote of ‘Disappearance of persons and the disappearance of a system.’ Our position expressed then remains even more valid today under a situation of the continuous degeneration which deprives the people in all areas of the country the protection that the state is under obligation to provide by maintaining an efficiently functioning criminal investigating machinery.

We reproduce below the publication made in 1998 exposing the link between the disappearance of persons and the collapse of the criminal justice machinery in Sri Lanka:

Disappearances of persons and the disappearance of a system

The Sri Lankan Final Report of the Commission of Inquiry into Involuntary Removal or Disappearance of Persons in the Western, Southern and Sabaragamuwa Provinces (the Commission Report) among its recommendations mentions the need for a training programme in investigations for all police officers (pp. 80, 174). Besides this, the Commission Report recommends that Police-Lay Visitors Panels be instituted for each police area and Citizens Advisory Bureaus for each district level (pp. 80, 174). Obviously these are measures recommended to reverse the consequences caused to the law enforcement machinery by processes that made large-scale disappearances possible in Sri Lanka. (It must be noted that even politically related disappearances are not past events, as several hundred disappearances have been reported in the country quite recently.)

In fact, the law enforcement mechanism has collapsed. Extra-judicial killings are no longer a phenomenon that merely relate to insurgency investigations, but have subtly entered into criminal investigations as a whole. In many parts of the country there are complaints of so-called self-defence killings, shootings of fleeing suspects, and the like. Complaints about the lack of or inadequate investigation of, serious crimes have also become common. It is also no exaggeration to state that bribery in criminal cases has reached epidemic levels.

The present situation is a byproduct of the large-scale disappearances that were achieved through loosening all the hard knots that keep criminal investigations tied to the rule of law and the elementary norms of human decency. The set of Emergency Regulations used at the time of mass disappearances removed limitations from the powers of law enforcement officers. As a result, Sri Lanka lost the human resources necessary for law enforcement: i.e., a group of law-abiding law enforcement officers committed to observing an extremely high degree of caution, while also being skilful in the detection, prevention, and investigation of crimes. In the past, although the Sri Lankan achievements in developing such a professional group of law enforcement officers had their limits, they were considerable. These hard-earned habits of professional behaviour were undermined in order to encourage law enforcement officers to engage in illegal arrests and detention, torture and killings.

Control of the behaviour of law enforcement officers is usually achieved through various forms of supervision in which departments deal with law enforcement and ultimate supervision rests with the courts. The set of Emergency Regulations used at the time of these disappearances was designed to remove such controls. One control removed was judicial supervision of post-mortem inquiries; this allowed for the easy disposal of bodies. What logically followed were executions without judicial inquiries. Law enforcement officers thus got the ‘freedom’ to deal with ‘crime’ in any way they liked. The Emergency Regulations removed the most fundamental checks necessary to maintain a proper law enforcement mechanism.

Although the removal of controls was easy, effective re-imposition of these controls is not, it is easy to remove the Emergency Regulations. The chief executive or the legislature does this by means of a simple declaration. However to re-introduce controls to the same officers who have become used to operating without them is no easy task. The behaviour of a good watchdog that had been prevented from tasting blood can never be the same after the dog has tasted it. In a country that does not make a priority of incurring all the expenses necessary for human resource training and providing attractive conditions for law enforcement officers, the re-creation of an orderly law’ enforcement system will remain a formidable task. Nevertheless, the delay in achieving this task poses a continuing threat to the society.

A greater danger is that even the memory of a rational system of law enforcement may be lost. Alleged criminals may be at the mercy of law enforcement officers. Contract killings may take place with varying degrees of consent on the part of the law enforcement officers. Corruption may become the deciding factor in the treatment of persons who seek recourse in the law Politicians may exploit the situation and may themselves become compromised as a result.

Under these circumstances the Commission Report recommendations for training programmes in investigation for police officers are quite welcome and even laudable. However such measures are wholly inadequate to deal with the situation now prevalent in the law enforcement machinery one in which the internal structures of proper supervision have collapsed. Any attempt at finding solutions must be with realising the enormity of the problem and with understanding the structural issues gone wrong in the law enforcement machinery.

The social philosophy on the basis of which disappearances were encouraged: The need to maintain order, with or without law

The situation of instability and insecurity prevailing in the country during the last three decades, particularly during the last decade, has given rise to a ‘consensus’ that order has to be maintained with or without law. The underlying assumption is that the law itself could be an enemy of order. According to this way of thinking, certain provisions of law restrict the powers of law’ enforcement officers to deal with disorderly conduct by some persons or groups. It follows that the perceived restrictions need to be removed and that, once freed from such restrictions, the law enforcement officers may return order and stability to society.

This way of thinking is usually regarded as ‘realistic.’ The maintenance of order through legal means is considered unrealistic for the following reasons, among others:

The country cannot afford to have well-functioning law enforcement machinery and must therefore be resigned to defective machinery;
Too much insistence on law may discourage law enforcement officers from carrying out their functions even to the extent that they are doing them;
As corruption and abuse of power are facts of life in the country it may not be a wise policy to fight too hard against them; and,
As the insistence on law may lead to conflict, it may be necessary to restrict such agencies that insist on observing the rule of la such as the judiciary
These and other similar considerations form the basis for encouraging practices such as killing under certain circumstances.

The country now has the lessons gained by the experience of testing the practices ruthlessly launched on the basis of such a social philosophy. Instead of bringing about order, these practices have confounded the situation a thousandfold. Ironically, the worsening of the situation may reinforce this same philosophy It is like the situation of a creditor who gives further credit to a debtor in the hope of regaining his earlier loans.

The recovery of the system

After the Cultural Revolution, the Chinese realised that their society’s existence had been threatened. The slogan “Rule of Law as against the Rule of Man” was developed at the time. Since then, for over twenty years the Chinese have constantly struggled to rebuild a society based on the rule of law. Despite many setbacks and such cruel incidents as the Tiananmen Square killings, they have made enormous gains. Even with regard to Tiananmen Square, the killing of about 400 persons evoked tremendous adverse protests, which the disappearance of tens of thousands of persons in Sri Lanka failed to evoke. An impressive attempt to build a system based on law is taking place in China, despite the difficulties in developing such a system in a vast country with over a billion people.

Addressing the issues of developing the rule of law and of repudiating past practices remains a fundamental challenge to all persons who wish to help the system recover from the damage suffered in its ‘great fall.’ A serious crisis in a system of law enforcement can also bring about the dangerous consequence of a changing mentality among persons who have been beneficiaries of the system. They may shed their loyalty to the system because it has become ineffective. They may adjust their minds to the new situation.

It is only through the efforts of those engaged in various activities relating to social change that the situation can be saved. Political thinkers, social critics, jurists, judges, journalists, those who deal with moral and ethical matters and organisations including NGO5 need to help create a social fabric upon which the society can develop.

The Interim Report of the Commission of Inquiry into Involuntary Removal or Disappearance of Persons in the Western, Southern and Sabaragamuwa Provinces contained the following recommendation:

Finally we recommend the creation of a ‘Wall of Reconciliation’ wherein are inscribed the names of all who have disappeared or died in this tragic period of our country’s history.

Your Commissioners consider this recommendation to represent a very important aspect of national reconciliation. This Memorial Wall which will contain names denoting all sections of the Sri Lankan people, will be a symbol of our essential unity to future generations a place to which everyone in this country could come and pay respect to those lost to us.

This may be useful, as have been similar monuments in Cambodia, such as the Genocide Museum located in a school transformed into a Khmer Rouge interrogation centre) and the Killing Fields (the location where these prisoners were later taken, executed and buried). Beyond providing an opportunity to pay respect to the dead and preserve their memory such a wall can act as a reminder of the enormous crisis we face as a society and of the need to develop civilised ways to emerge from this situation,

(Initially published as an article by Basil Fernando, the Executive Director of the AHRC in the Sunday Observer, it was reproduced in several publications).

For recent articles on forced disappearances please see http://www.hindustantimes.com/Search/Search.aspx?q=PK%20Balachandran&nodate=1 and http://www.island.lk/2007/04/16/features2.html

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About AHRC: The Asian Human Rights Commission is a regional non-governmental organisation monitoring and lobbying human rights issues in Asia. The Hong Kong-based group was founded in 1984.

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Sri Lanka: An overview of the enforced disappearances phenomenon under President Mahinda Rajapakse


Sri Lanka: An overview of the enforced disappearances phenomenon under President Mahinda Rajapakse

Monday, 16 April 2007

"..What is frightening about this racket is suspected connivance and condonement at very high levels. At least one cabinet minister has demanded and received money for the release of abducted persons. There are also instances of the families and relatives of abducted persons obtaining their releases through contacts at very, very high levels of government. .."

"..Up- Country Peoples Front MP and Deputy Minister Radhakrishnan went public with the telephone numbers of some abductors. Instead of follow up action some police sleuths summoned Radhakrishnan for an inquiry about how he got his information.

Against this backdrop the average Tamil victim does not trust the police, armed forces or the government. Those who have high level contacts use that influence to get their loved ones out. .." The enforced disappearances phenomenon is but one in a long list of problems plaguing the Tamil people of Sri Lanka in recent times. People suddenly disappear or go missing. There have been some incidents where Muslim and Sinhala people have gone ‘missing’ too but the overwhelming cases of ‘missing’ or ‘disappearances’ pertain to the Tamil people alone.

Though these incidents are loosely called ‘disappearances’ they are really ‘involuntary disappearances’ or ‘enforced disappearances.’

Disappearances are nothing new to this country. The Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) insurgencies of 1971 and 1988-89 saw thousands of people, mainly youths being killed or made to disappear. Officially sanctioned abductions and executions were the order of the day. While this method was consciously adopted by the state to defeat the insurrection, the JVPers themselves were responsible for several killings and disappearances. Quantitatively state repression was much more than the JVP violence.

Likewise the long years of an on-going ethnic conflict have also seen much Tiger terror, counter-terror, inter-terror, intra-terror and state terror. Tamil youths were taken, tortured and murdered in 1979 when Junius Richard Jayewardene declared emergency for Jaffna and sent his nephew ‘Bull’ Weeratunga with orders ‘to wipe out terror in all its forms,’ before December 31 that year.

Similar incidents as well as other types of ‘disappearances’ took place frequently thereafter. There were many instances where disappearances and mass executions were part of deliberate state policy to quell the separatism. The Special Task Force in the east excelled at this type of counter-insurgency. In 1996 after the security forces took over Jaffna more than 500 Tamil youths disappeared. Some bodies were discovered at the Chemmany mass grave.

While the security forces were responsible for many disappearances and executions of Tamils in the past the Tamil armed groups too were involved in such activity. The internecine warfare among Tamil guerilla organisations contributed greatly to this situation. There were also a lot of internal killings Moreover people suspected of being spies, informants and traitors were also victims. There were also instances of people being abducted for interrogation or for ransom. Many died in custody and are termed missing.

Enforced disappearances

In this endless cycle of ‘misery’ it has now become the turn of Tamils to bear the brunt of ‘enforced disappearances.’ Disappearances have taken place in Colombo, Negombo, Dehiwela, Puttalam, Chilaw, Ratnapura, Avissawella, Wattala, Ratnapura and Kandy. They are also happening in Jaffna, Vavuniya, Mannar, Batticaloa, Trincomalee and Ampara Districts. People are also being abducted in the areas controlled by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).

A vague pattern can be discerned in the incidents occurring in the areas controlled by the Government of Sri Lanka (GOSL). The disappeared and those reported dead can be divided into four broad categories. One category is that of people suspected to be linked directly to the LTTE. The second category is that of people suspected of being linked indirectly to the LTTE. The third category is that of businessmen suspected of being linked directly or indirectly to the LTTE. The fourth category is that of businessmen, professionals etc. being abducted to extract huge sums of money as ransom.

The current phase of disappearances and killings in Jaffna began as a calculated campaign to weed out and eradicate perceived LTTE elements. The ill-advised LTTE campaign of enlisting ‘trained civilians’ as the so called ‘peoples force’ (Makkal Padai) to attack the police and security forces in GOSL controlled Jaffna made the state fully aware of the ‘enemy within.’

The LTTE functioning officially as the ‘political wing’ withdrew leaving the civilians to face the consequences. Many pro-Tiger families also relocated to the Wanni. The danger of a ‘fifth column’ was once again realised during the abortive Tiger attempt to re-take Jaffna in August last year.

As a result of this paranoia regarding a ‘fifth column within’ people perceived as LTTE or LTTE supporters are being either killed or being abducted. Some of the abducted are interrogated and detained. They are regarded as ‘lucky’ because their presence is acknowledged officially. Family members are informed and human rights organisations and some Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) are also kept informed.

A few have been produced in courts too. If anything happens to these prisoners or detenues the state will be held responsible and accountable. This extends some form of protection to them.

But those affected terribly are those who have gone missing or reportedly disappeared. In many instances people are instantly killed or killed within a short time of being abducted. But there are many who have vanished without a trace. Most of these ‘vanished’ are reportedly dead. Some charred corpses have been discovered. In a few cases torsos of bodies have been found floating in the sea. It is suspected that abducted people are killed, body parts severed and then taken to sea and flung overboard with stones attached.

Intelligence operatives

It is widely alleged that the security intelligence and counter-intelligence operatives have assembled files of people believed to be linked to the LTTE or co-opted into its service. Many of those killed instantaneously are people who are strongly suspected of being LTTE. Some killings however are by the Tigers themselves of suspected collaborators and pro-government elements.

In the case of business people suspected of being linked to the LTTE or helping them with money a different approach is adopted. They are asked to pay up and those obliging are left alone. But those refusing or not giving enough are killed.
During the LTTE’s unbridled ‘occupation’ of Jaffna after the ceasefire several public demonstrations were held. All of these were videoed by the security intelligence. Now those in the forefront of these demonstrations and those engaged in organising them etc. are being identified and killed.

Students involved in demonstrations are also targeted. At the same time several people trained by the LTTE in combat or planted by the Tigers as intelligence operatives are also being killed or abducted. There is however a big margin of error in this. So many innocent persons are being victimised.

In Jaffna elements linked to the Eelam People’s Democratic Party (EPDP) are allegedly responsible for much of these acts. The EPDP has a public political face on the one hand. The political activists selling the Thinamurasu are unarmed and rely on police and army protection to move about. The LTTE often kills these people ruthlessly. But there is another killer group of EPDP elements closely connected to Sri Lankan intelligence and security forces. It is this outfit which engages in abductions, extortion and killings.

The EPDP along with some sections of the People’s Liberation Organisation of Tamil Eelam (PLOTE) were engaged in these activities in Vavuniya. In recent times the Karuna faction too has arrived in Vavuniya. With a senior LTTE leader from Vavuniya who was earlier in charge of Tiger taxation joining the Karuna faction the situation transformed. Many who had given money to the LTTE earlier are being asked the exact amount by the Karuna faction.

It is believed that the Karuna faction is a mix of several ex-cadres from different groups. Likewise the EPDP segment engaged in violence in Jaffna and Vavuniya are also a mixture of assorted elements.

Killings and extortions

In Batticaloa the Karuna faction known as Tamil Makkal Viduthalai Puligal (TMVP) is involved in abductions, killings and extortion in the form of taxes. The mainstream LTTE is also active in a clandestine manner. The TMVP has also opened branches in Trincomalee. Tamil traders are being taxed ruthlessly. Also Tamil community leaders and businessmen are being killed. The TMVP tried to move into Ampara District also. But opposition from Muslim people along with the hatred some sections of the STF have for Karuna has prevented this. So Ampara Tamils are not suffering like their counterparts in other areas in this respect. But they have many other problems.
In Colombo the situation in the period after the ceasefire came into effect was one where the LTTE was killing suspected informants, para-militaries and members of alternative Tamil parties like the EPDP. Many Tamil businessmen were also compelled to pay money. The LTTE also infiltrated Colombo by planting its agents in different places. Some businesses were also opened by Tiger stooges.

Fifth column

Initially the abductions and disappearances were directed against the perceived LTTE fifth column. The EPDP was of help in assisting the intelligence. But soon the Karuna faction overshadowed the EPDP. In fairness to the EPDP it must be said that the party has a definite political programme and was earlier reluctant to confront the Tigers.
But the LTTE forced the EPDP to join forces with the security intelligence and collaborate actively in anti-Tiger action. But the Karuna faction like the mainstream LTTE has no comprehensive political agenda. They are solely dependent on the state and are guided and controlled by the state’s ‘intelligence’ handlers. In Mao Ze Dong’s parlance the TMVP cadres are nowadays the ‘running dogs’ of (Sinhala) imperialism.

The Colombo scenario has started deteriorating. From a stage where only suspected LTTE agents were being targeted the situation has now become one where the profit motive is dominating. Most disappearances through abductions are now being enforced to extort massive sums of money as ransom. It is not only Tamils of north-eastern origin who are being victimised but many Indian origin Tamils too. Some Muslims too have been terrorised.

LTTE intelligence operatives

On another level people believed to be LTTE agents or intelligence operatives are also being targeted. Many of them vanish without a trace and are believed to have been killed. Some bodies are found on roadsides, waterways. A few are headless. These bodies were meant to be discovered in order to terrorise the people.
At the same time many are being disposed of in the sea. After the Chemmany and Suriyakanda mass grave controversies there is reluctance to bury the victims. It is said that many victims are those killed by torture during interrogation.

The ‘enforced disappearances’ of most affluent Tamils are not political or related to counter-terrorist procedures. These are nothing but extortion related abductions. It is now an industry. The actual number of incidents are not reported to the police or even organisations like the Civil Monitoring Commission. Many people negotiate on their own and get their loved ones released through paying a reduced sum. They later keep silent.

In many cases the ransom paid is so great that continuing with business becomes impossible. Some are forced to sell off property to collect ransom money. Also some who get released feel so insecure that they transfer their businesses to someone else and leave the country. There are also many businessmen who have run off to India, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Middle East and Western nations to escape being victimised.

While these organised "disappearances for ransom" are overtly a racket milking Tamil cash cows there is also a hidden aspect. In July 1983 organised mobs consisting mainly of Sinhala speaking hoodlums looted and destroyed Tamil businesses. Despite that blow the resilient Tamil people have bounced back and have carved out their niche once again in Sri Lankan commerce. What is happening now is another ‘silent’ July 1983. The business concerns are not physically destroyed but Tamil businessmen are being systematically wiped out. Tamil owned or controlled commerce is rapidly eroding.

The irony is that this slow strangulation is not being done by Sinhala mobs but by Tamil cat’s-paws. The actual abductions are generally done by the Karuna or EPDP groups or in a few cases by both. There is close collaboration by sections of the police and armed forces and intelligence personnel. Some top ‘security’ guy is usually at hand to help out if something goes wrong. It is also believed that a percentage of the ill-gained loot is given to these sections. In some instances the Tamil groups pay ‘bribes’ to get things done.

Collaboration on individual basis

There does not seem to be institutionalised corruption or collaboration by the police or armed forces in this sordid activity. But there certainly seems to be collaboration on an individual basis by some sections of the police and armed forces. Some victims have told families that their abductors simply flashed their ID cards at check points and got clearance.

In some cases the abducted persons were gagged and bound and forced to lie down in the vehicle while their abductors placed their feet on them. The security personnel at check posts were apparently not aware of abductees being in the vehicle.

According to versions trotted out by released victims there seem to be safe houses in Colombo and suburbs where some victims have been taken. Others have been taken to makeshift camps in Polonnaruwa, Ampara and Vavuniya.

Usually they are kept blindfolded and allowed time for meals and ablutions during which time the blindfolds are removed. They were allowed to bathe once in two days. Some victims have been assaulted and badly treated while others were treated well. These vagaries were a result of the personality differences of the respective captors. Victims also say that their captors spoke in Sinhala, Tamil and English in different dialects.

What is frightening about this racket is suspected connivance and condonement at very high levels. At least one cabinet minister has demanded and received money for the release of abducted persons. There are also instances of the families and relatives of abducted persons obtaining their releases through contacts at very, very high levels of government.

Only guarantee

It is said that the only sure guarantee of getting one released is to gain the sympathy of family members of a powerful, political dynasty. This does not mean that a powerful ‘clique’ is directing operations. The abductors have autonomy in this. But if someone is to be easily released without paying up then political help at a very high level is absolutely essential.

There is also the patent lack of interest shown in trying to apprehend the culprits. Despite much evidence being available no effort is made to trace the abductors. Tamils have been arrested by honest Sinhala policemen but were forced to release them due to high level pressure. Up- Country Peoples Front MP and Deputy Minister Radhakrishnan went public with the telephone numbers of some abductors. Instead of follow up action some police sleuths summoned Radhakrishnan for an inquiry about how he got his information.

Against this backdrop the average Tamil victim does not trust the police, armed forces or the government. Those who have high level contacts use that influence to get their loved ones out. Others negotiate with the abductors, pay up and secure releases. After getting out most victims either leave the country or simply keep quiet.

There are however many who remain missing still. There may be a variety of reasons for this. The families of such people are despondent. The only silver lining in that dark cloud is the Civil Monitoring Commission convened by the Western Peoples Front Leader and Parliamentarian Mano Ganesan. The chairman is a veteran leftist and former presidential candidate Siritunga Jayasuriya.

Politicians such as Vasudeva Nanayakkara, Wickremabahu Karunaratne, Lakshman Kiriella Suresh Premachandran etc. are also involved in the commission’s activities. The efforts of this body have failed to get any ‘missing’ person released but the awareness created has helped to reduce abductions to some extent. More importantly it provides an avenue for affected families to complain without fear.

D. B. S. Jeyaraj

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Marzo 8, 2007

Sri Lanka: Spectre of abductions by the security forces officially admitted

On 6 March 2006, Sri Lanka's Inspector General of Police (IGP), Victor
Perera stated that over 400 persons including “ex-soldiers, serving
soldiers, police officers and underworld gangs and other organised
elements” had been arrested since September 2006 on charges of abduction.
Mr Perera refused to divulge further details. But Asian Centre for Human
Rights (ACHR) believes that majority of those abducted have been killed.

The announcement of the IGP appears to be the first official admission about the role of the police and the army in abductions and enforced disappearances. Often, the Sri Lankan government dismissed such allegations and set up inquiry commissions which whitewashed the gross human rights violations.

The intensity of abductions and disappearances in Sri Lanka require little introduction. The Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka (HRCSL) is reportedly investigating 16,305 past cases of disappearance left un-inquired by the All Island Commission on Disappearances. According to HRCSL, about 100 abductions and disappearances have been reported so far in 2007. The majority of these abductions have taken place in the capital Colombo, Batticaloa in the Eastern Province and Jaffna peninsula in the Northern Province. Over 1,000 cases of abductions were reported in 2006 and ethnic Tamil minorities were the main victims.

I. Impunity: Inadequacies of the systems

Blanket impunity and the lack of systemic protections intensified human rights violations. Rather, laws were adopted which facilitate abductions and disappearances.

In May 2005, the Sri Lankan government adopted draconian Code of Criminal Procedure (Special Provisions) Act and Criminal Procedure Code Amendment Act in the name of speedy justice. The Acts empowered the Police Officer not below the rank of Assistant Commissioner of Police to detain persons for 48 hours, instead of existing 24 hours, in certain cases such as killings, rape and any offence committed with the use of explosives or offensive weapons without producing before the judge. The Acts also provided for the extension of the period of detention of persons arrested without producing before the court. In these offences, a magistrate has been also empowered to hold a preliminary inquiry and forward the record of the proceedings to the Attorney General, who on receipt of the record of the proceedings can decide whether to file indictments in the High Court, thereby denying trials at the lower courts. The Acts also provided that statements made by a witness in the course of the investigations shall become part of the records of the inquiry after the Magistrate had verified the accuracy of such a statement and both the witness and the Magistrate had certified it.

The institutional mechanisms have been inadequate. In 2002, the Sri Lankan government set up National Police Commission (NPC) under the 17th Constitutional Amendment with the power of “appointment, promotion, transfer, disciplinary control and dismissal of police officers other than the Inspector-General of Police”, among others. The NPC also has power to “entertain and investigate public complaints and complaints of any aggrieved person made against a police officer or the police service, and provide redress in accordance with the provisions of any law enacted by Parliament for such purpose.” However, the NPC has been hamstrung by the lack of adequate financial resources, investigative powers and the lack of cooperation from the police department. Chairman of NPC, Mr Ranjith Abeysuriya stated that effectiveness of the NPC depends on the goodwill of the police administration, and not its own effectiveness.

The Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka (HRCSL) has not been different. Since inception, it has been hamstrung by the failure to establish transparency in its work. The lack of powers to enforce its recommendations and inadequate financial resources remained serious impediment to its effectiveness and independence. In its Annual Report 2003, the last one to have been made public, HRCSL stated, “owing to the heavy cuts imposed on the HRC budget in terms of the government's budgetary policy, HRC was severely constrained during this period in carrying out its routine duties such as visiting police stations and this often hampered the Commission in performing this deterrent role as efficiently as it would have”. The HRCSL recommended that the Human Rights Commission Act of 1996 should be amended to make the recommendations of the Commission enforceable but no action was taken by the government.

II. Establishing accountability: Spotlight on International Independent Group of Eminent Persons

President Mahinda Rajapakse set up his own Presidential Commission of Inquiry headed by former High Court Judge Mahanama Tilakaratna to enquire into disappearances. This was nothing new considering that each new President of Sri Lanka had a penchant for setting up his/her own commissions of inquiry. The Presidential Commission of Inquiry into Involuntary Removal of Persons of 1991, Regional Commissions of Inquiry in 1995, A Board of Investigation of the Ministry of Defence of 1996, All Islands Commission of Inquiry in 2000 are some of the inquiry commissions set up by different governments.

In its fourth periodic report to the UN Human Rights Committee in 2005, the Sri Lankan government stated that Presidential Commission of Inquiry into Involuntary Removal of Persons (13.11.94 to 03.10.97) had concluded that approximately 16,800 persons had disappeared during the period. The All Island Commissions of Inquiry “reported that further 10,400 persons had disappeared” during the relevant period”. The Sri Lankan government stated that “With this new addition the total number of persons who had disappeared during the period 1988-90 currently remains approximately at 27,200”. In December 2002, a Committee was appointed under the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka to investigate reports of over six hundred cases of "disappearance" which took place in Jaffna district during 1996 and 1997. The HRCSL reportedly did not receive information about 42 people from Batticaloa and four from Amparai who disappeared in 2002.

Kidnappings and disappearances in Sri Lanka have intensified following the collapse of the Cease-Fire Agreement between the government of Sri Lanka and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. With the government backing the Karuna faction, the abductions and disappearances at the hands of the armed opposition groups have also intensified.

It is unlikely that that Justice Mahanama Tilakaratna Commission of Inquiry will establish accountability. All the eyes are presently on the inquiry to be conducted by International Independent Group of Eminent Persons headed by India's former Chief Justice, Justice P N Bhagawati. Given Sri Lankan government's track record of consistent failure to establish accountability, the eminent persons, who will make trips to Sri Lanka on rotational basis according to the Terms of Reference, have put their credibility at stake. The International Independent Group of Eminent Persons remains the last hope for the victims and their relatives, though the Terms of Reference belie any such hope.

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Agosto 30, 2006

SRI LANKA: One Catholic priest and a man disappear

30 August 2006
UA-280-2006: SRI LANKA: One Catholic priest and a man disappear

SRI LANKA: Disappearance; government's inaction to locate the missing persons

Dear friends,

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has received information from the church-run Centre for Peace and Reconciliation (CPR) regarding a disappearance of Fr. Thiruchchelvan Nihal Jim Brown (34) and Mr. Wenceslaus Vinces Vimalathas since 20 August 2006. They were last seen at a military checkpoint situated at the entrance to Allaipiddy in conflict ongoing Jaffna peninsula, Sri Lanka. A complaint lodged with Kayts police as well as the Human Rights Commission regarding their disappearance but there has been no serious action by the government authorities to locate their whereabouts so far. Meanwhile, it is reported that Fr. Jim Brown had been allegedly accused of helping the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) to dig bunkers by the Naval commanding officer of Allaipiddy before the incident.

At around 12:30 pm on 20 August 2006, Fr. Thiruchchelvan Nihal Jim Brown left Kayts on his motorbike with Mr. Wenceslaus Vinces Vimalathas to go to Mandaithevu to say Mass for displaced people who had sought shelter in a Hindu temple. However, Sri Lanka Navy (SLN) personnel at the entrance to Mandaithevu did not allow him to say Mass so he left.

Fr. Brown then proceeded toward Jaffna to return to Kayts. On his way there he met Rev. Fr. Peter Thurairatnam on a motorbike between Madaithivu checkpoint and Allaipiddy checkpoint of the SLN personnel at around 2:00 pm. Fr. Jim Brown, Mr. W.V. Vimalathas and Fr. Peter Thurairatnam traveled together up to the SLN checkpoint at the entrance to Allaipiddy. They reached the checkpoint nearly 2:10pm. At the checkpoint Fr. Jim Brown told Fr. Peter that he wanted to go to Allaipiddy, where he was the newly appointed parish priest (he was so appointed in July).

According to Fr. Peter, SLN personnel showed an abnormal reaction when Fr. Jim Brown said that he would go Allaipiddy. Fr. Peter felt like going with Fr. Jim Brown to Allaipiddy, but proceeded to his parish at Naranthanai, hoping nothing would happen to him. It was the last time Fr. Jim Brown was last seen before his disappearance. They never returned and efforts to track them down have so far proved useless. Later, the SLN personnel at the said checkpoint claimed that Fr. Jim Brown with Mr. W.V. Vimalathas went to Allaipiddy but gave different versions about their departure.

Prior to Fr. Brown's disappearance, on August 12, over 20 people were killed in Allaipiddy in crossfire between the security forces and LTTE. During the crossfire, Fr. Brown's parish church of St Philip Neri, where many people sought shelter, came under fire. He and his parishioners then ran to an open bunker and saved their lives. The next day afternoon (August 13), he took most of the people of the village - about 800 - to St. Mary's Church in neighboring Kayts, literally begging the Navy troops on his knees to be allowed to go there. Shortly afterwards, Fr. Brown was scolded by the Navy commanding officer of Allaipiddy during the meeting. He allegedly shouted at Fr. Brown saying that he had helped the LTTE to dig bunkers. However, Fr. Brown told Fr. J.J.Bernard OMI, the director of the Centre for Peace and Reconciliation, that they had dug bunkers in order to protect themselves from the shelling and bombing of the church premises. Allaipiddy is also known for the massacre of 9 persons that took place on 13 May 2006.

Meanwhile, a complaint has been lodged with Kayts police and Human Rights Commission regarding disappearance of Fr. Jim Brown and Mr. W.V. Vimalathas. The Bishop of Jaffna and the Human Rights Commission have then contacted the Navy Commanders of the North, Admiral Ranaweera and Colonel L.C. Perera, who did not take any action but merely said that they do not know anything about the incident. The Church of Jaffna has also launched an urgent appeal: the government must intervene to discover the whereabouts of Fr Brown and Mr. W.V. Vimalathas. They urged the international community to pressurize the Sri Lankan government to attend to this incident immediately, act in time and save these innocent victims. Sedec, the national Caritas, has also informed the president of Sri Lanka, Mahinda Rajapakse, of the incident but still await a reply.

This case is not an isolated case in Sri Lanka which has one of the highest rates in the world of unsolved cases of disappearances. The AHRC is also concerned the fact that Fr. Brown went missing after being accused of supporting the LTTE by the Navy commanders in the region. The Sri Lankan government must take serious action to locate the whereabouts of the two victims and ensure their safe return to their homes. It also must investigate to find out actual circumstances of the incident and whether Navy personnel are involved in their disappearances.

Please write to the relevant authorities listed below and urge them to act immediately to find the whereabouts of Fr. Brown and Mr. W.V. Vimalathas and ensure their safety.

To support this appeal, please click:

Sample letter:

Dear __________,

SRI LANKA: One Catholic priest and a man disappear

Name of the victims:
1. Fr. Thiruchchelvan Nihal Jim Brown, aged 34, a Catholic parish priest of Allaipiddy, born on 4 June 1972
2. Mr. Wenceslaus Vinces Vimalathas, born on 1967, father of five children
Date of disappearance: 20 August 2006
Place where last seen: at around 2:10pm on August 20 at a Navy checkpoint situated at the entrance to Allaipiddy

I am deeply concerned by disappearances of Fr. Thiruchchelvan Nihal Jim Brown and Mr. Wenceslaus Vinces Vimalathas. They have been last seen at around 2:10pm on 20 August 2006 at a Navy checkpoint situated at the entrance to Allaipiddy and have been missing since then.

According to the observations of Fr. Peter Thurairatnam, who was the last person seeing the two victims at the Navy checkpoint at the entrance to Allaipiddy, Sri Lanka Navy (SLN) personnel showed an abnormal reaction when Fr. Brown said that he would go Allaipiddy, where he was newly appointed as parish priest in July. It was the last time he was last seen before his disappearance. The SLN personnel at the checkpoint later reportedly claimed that Fr. Jim Brown with Mr. W.V. Vimalathas went to Allaipiddy but gave different versions about his departure.

I am also gravely concerned the fact that prior to his disappearance, Fr. Jim Brown was scolded by the Navy commanding officer of Allaipiddy who accused him of helping the LTTE to dig bunkers during the meeting that was held after the August 12 crossfire between the security forces and the LTTE in that area. Over 20 people were killed in Allaipiddy due to crossfire and on August 13, Fr. Jim Brown took about 800 villagers to St. Marys Church in neighboring Kayts, literally begging the Navy troops on his knees to be allowed to go there. Fr. Brown reportedly told a fellow priest that they dug bunkers in order to save their lives from the shelling and bombing of the church premises.

I am also informed that no serious action has been taken by the Sri Lankan government authorities to locate whereabouts of the two victims despite complaints to Kayts police and Human Rights Commission. Even though the Bishop of Jaffna and the Human Rights Commission contacted the Navy Commanders of North, Admiral Ranaweera and Colonel L.C. Perera, instead of taking action on the case, they simply said that they did not know anything about the incident. Sedec, the national Caritas, has also informed the Sri Lankan President, Mr. Mahinda Rajapakse of the incident. However, there has yet been no response from his officer.

Under the circumstances, I strongly urge you to take immediate and serous action to find the whereabouts of Fr. Jim Brown and Mr. W.V. Vimalathas and ensure their safe return to their homes. I also urge you to find out actual circumstances of the incident and whether Navy personnel are involved in their disappearances. In fact, this case is not an isolated case in Sri Lanka which has one of the highest rates in the world of unsolved cases of people who have gone missing. The Sri Lankan government must enforce a strong policy to reduce alarming rate of forced disappearances in the country.

Yours truly,



1. Mr. Mahinda Rajapakse
Socialist Democratic Republic of Sri Lanka
C/- Office of the President
Temple Trees
150, Galle Road
Colombo 3
Fax: +94 11 2472100 / +94 11 2446657
Email: secretary@presidentsoffice.lk

2. Mr. Ratnasiri Wickremanayake
Prime Minister
Temple Trees
Galle Road, Colombo 03
Tel: +94 11 2 575317-8 or 370 737-8
Fax: +94 11 2 575454

3. Mr. Mahinda Rajapaksa
Ministry of Defence, Public Security, Law and Order
15/5, Baladaksha Mawatha,
Colombo 03,
Sri Lanka.
Tel: 94-11 2 430860-9, 430878-9 or 435879 (for the secretary)
Fax: 94 11 2 446300 or 421529
E-mail: modadm@sltnet.lk or secdef@sltnet.lk

4. Mr. K. C. Kamalasabesan
Attorney General
Attorney General's Department
Colombo 12
Fax: +94 11 2 436421
Email: attorney@sri.lanka.net

5. Mr. Chandra Fernando
Inspector General of Police
New Secretariat
Colombo 1
Fax: +94 11 2 440440/327877
Email: chandralaw@police.lk

6. Secretary
Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka
No. 36, Kynsey Road
Colombo 8
Tel: +94 11 2 694 925 / 673 806
Fax: +94 11 2 694 924 / 696 470
E-mail: sechrc@sltnet.lk

7. Mr. Stephen J. Toope
UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances
Attn: Tanya Smith
1211 Geneva 10
Tel: + 41 22 917 9176


Fr. J.J.Bernard OMI
8, Grousseault Road
Centre for Peace and Reconciliation
Sri Lanka
Tel/Fax: + 94 21 222 8131
E Mail: jjbernardomi@sltnet.lk, jjbernard@sltnet.lk, jjbernardomi@gmail.com

Thank you.

Urgent Appeals Programme
Asian Human Rights Commission (ahrchk@ahrchk.org)

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Agosto 23, 2006

Sri Lanka: Open Letter to HR Commission

This is an Open Letter written by the Families of the Disappeared to the Chairperson of the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka on the issue of disappearances. The Chairperson had inquired about a picture published in the newspaper showing people commemorating the disappeared. The Group invites the Commissioner to find out more about the issue by visiting their officers.

Mr. P. Ramanathan - Chairperson
Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka
No. 36, Kynsey Road
Colombo 8

Fax: +94 11 2 694924 / 696470
E-mail: sechrc@sltnet.lk

Dear Mr. Ramanathan,

Re: Your inquiry from the Daily Mirror about the undated photograph of the unresolved problem of the disappearances

I write on behalf of Families of the Disappeared.

I have seen in the Daily Mirror, Justice Page on August 19, 2006, a letter written by you to the editors of that paper inquiring from them about a photo that has appeared on August 5. This photo as you have mentioned shows people standing near a monument at Raddolowa Junction, Seeduwa to commemorate the people who had disappeared. Since the photograph was taken by us and belongs to us I thought we had a right to explain to you about this picture.

This photograph is among the hundreds available within our organisation - Families of the Disappeared - depicting the tragic story of the disappearances in Sri Lanka. Having taken interest in one photograph I think it would be useful for you to look at the other photographs so that you can get an idea of the immense problem of the disappearances. You can do so by visiting our office and we will be very glad to show you these pictures.

Of course seeing the pictures is not really enough. You may also want to talk to the families who have suffered such disappearances. To begin with you can look through the library of the HRCSL for a copy of a book entitled 'An exceptional collapse of the rule of law - told through the stories by the families of the disappeared in Sri Lanka'. Families of the Disappeared have sent several copies of this book to the HRCSL free of charge. This 202 page book gives 38 stories of the affected families. It is a product of meticulous interviewing and research with the family members. The book also contains several articles about the implications of such disappearances. Since you have mentioned in your letter to the Daily Mirror referred to above that, "the article and picture give the impression to the public that they are of recent origin and not what has happened in the 1980s", after you read the stories in this book you will find that your impression is completely wrong. Since you are the Chairperson of the HRCSL (although appointed in contravention of the Constitution) it would be not proper, and certainly very damaging to the cause of the protection and promotion of human rights, if you hold onto the view expressed in your letter. For tens of thousands of families living in the South, North and East of Sri Lanka disappearances remain one of the major problems that affect their daily lives now and will continue to do so for a long time to come.

The protection and promotion of human rights requires an understanding and sensitivity about human rights violations and their implications. Violations of human rights mean the causation of suffering by agents of the state. Such causation of suffering doesn't end with the killing and disposal of the body of one person. To know the nature of this suffering it would not be enough just to read the stories contained in this book. Therefore we also suggest that you personally meet with these families and hear for yourself whether these are just stories from a by-gone era. We will be very glad to facilitate such a meeting. Just tell us when you want to do it and these people will be very happy to accommodate you and to meet with you at your convenience.

We have a further invitation for you. This is for you to attend the annual gathering of the Families of the Disappeared persons at the monument for the disappeared at Raddolowa Junction, Seeduwa. This will be held this year on October 27 and ceremonies begin in the morning and continue until late in the evening of that day. They include prayers by leaders of various religions, the laying of flowers by the family members, the Dana offered to a large number of Buddhist monks at the monument, the recital of poems by children, awarding of prizes on essays and poems written by the children and various discussions by the family members and their sympathisers. These families would really appreciate your attendance. If you wish to lay flowers in memory of a grave wrong done by the state, which yet remains to be acknowledged and corrected, you are quite welcome to do so. If any of your fellow commissioners and staff are willing to join in please bring them along.

If you look into the living problems created by disappearances you will understand how wrong it was for your commission to stop investigations into the disappearances. Perhaps it was your ignorance about the issue that led to that bad decision. Please do correct your mistake and demonstrate to the country that you really mean to do your job, which is to protect and promote human rights.

Thank you

Yours sincerely,

Philip Dissanayake
For the Families of the Disappeared
555 Colombo Road

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