Northern Provincial Council Chief Minister CV Wigneswaran writing in The Hill, a major Washington DC-based newspaper which focuses on politics and international relations. Come September, the United Nations Human Rights Council will assemble in Geneva for its 30th session. This session marks an important date for Sri Lanka, the United States and the international community: the long-awaited release of the UN report on war crimes committed during Sri Lanka’s civil war. Secretary of State John Kerry in May urged Sri Lanka to launch a credible investigation into human rights abuses and to release remaining political prisoners, and added that the U.S. is willing to support these developments with legal and technical assistance. This U.S. political will, ready to support justice and reconciliation in Sri Lanka, and the upcoming release of the UN report on war crimes, which disproportionately affected the ethnic Tamil population, mean the next few months are crucial for pursuing true reform in Sri Lanka. U.S. leaders have praised progress from newly elected President Maithripala Sirisena, like passing the 19th Amendment that limits the presidency to two terms, but the country’s Tamil population in the North and East remains disempowered and displaced. Slow reforms, the delayed release of the UN report and proposed accountability mechanisms that don’t meet international standards fuel the growing feeling that genuine justice and reform, a cause long-backed by the U.S. and multilateral organizations, is being sacrificed for domestic political maneuvering.
Sri Lanka's concept of accountability has not been in accordance with international standards, said the Chair of the BAR Human Rights Committee for England and Wales, whilst calling on Sri Lanka to take a “first step by providing a list of names of all those detained.” Speaking to Tamil Guardian at the 29 th session of the UN Human Rights Council, Kirsty Brimelow QC, said, “So far the Sri Lankan government’s concept of accountability has not been in accordance with international standards. Truth, justice and reparation equals accountability. This means putting victims at the heart of...
Hundreds of recent survivors of torture have been forced to flee Sri Lanka, says former BBC correspondent Frances Harrison, in a piece in the Huffington Post. “Torture is for life,” said Ms Harrison who stated that those who have fled abroad “should not be rendered invisible”. Extracts from her piece have been reproduced below. See the full piece here . “The Sri Lankan Tamil diaspora numbers some million people worldwide. Some settled abroad decades ago; others fled only in recent months. In the current period of transition in the country there's much talk of victims' rights, though arguably little to realise them yet. The unthinking assumption is that the "victims" are those Tamils eking out a living in the former war zone, searching for loved ones, as well of course as the Sinhalese and Muslims who suffered. It's the victims inside the country whose fate is considered the litmus test for any future reconciliation effort.” “But what about those who've fled abroad, those who've been driven out after experiencing unspeakable crimes. I call them the invisibles.”
Mullivaikaal today is a picture perfect beach with a small fishing community. Boats line the seafront, stuffed with freshly caught fish, sting rays and even tiny sharks. It is hard to imagine that this beach was soaked in the blood of thousands of Tamils in 2009, as the Sri Lankan military indiscriminately shelled the last strip of territory controlled by the outlawed Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). The fishermen say they were allowed to return here in 2012, and the physical signs of massacre have mostly been erased now, apart from a few sand bags in a crater behind the beach. But the pain is still etched onto the memories of the survivors, and many live in ramshackle shelters struggling to make a living.
Chief Minister’s Statement relating to the death of our dear ones during the last stages of the war on this Anniversary date - 18.05.2015 Today is the day of remembrance of those relatives of ours who died during the last stages of the war. This day brought forth sad and grief stricken news about our people six years ago which wrenched the hearts of not only Sri Lankan Tamils but also those residing abroad. This day is thus a significant emotive day for us. The Mullivaikal incident left indelible marks on the collective human conscience of our people. Human rights’ denied, media intervention...
Sri Lanka announced recently that it would launch a domestic probe to investigate war time mass atrocities in time for the release of the UN mandated investigation due in September. The announcement, made in the wake of a high profile visit to the island by the US Secretary of State John Kerry late last month, suggests that Sri Lanka is responding to international demands. However, it is not clear that this new international engagement necessarily translates to real changes on the ground. The government’s behaviour is notably contradictory. While it reassures international audiences that it is taking accountability seriously and is committed to reform and reconciliation, it says quite another to domestic Sinhala Buddhist constituencies. This duplicity is worrying and suggests that the government is intent on continuing with business as normal rather than committing to the deep changes in governance that are needed to secure a just and lasting peace.
Jared Genser is an associate of the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy at Harvard University. This article was first published in the Washington Post on April 24, 2015. Three years ago, President Obama created the Atrocities Prevention Board to help fulfill his important recognition that the prevention of mass atrocities is a “core national security interest and core moral responsibility.” With ethnic conflict boiling in Burma, South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, among other places, such a mechanism has never been more important. Although the board’s operations have been classified, there have been some visible successes. But much remains to be done.
Writing in the LA Times on Saturday following a visit to the island and road-trip along the A9, the American journalist Shashank Bengali said the North and South was still divided after the civil war. See here for full article. Extract reproduced below: "Occasionally I would see the Sinhalese tour buses parked along the roadside, or Sinhalese families picnicking in the shade of a tree. In Kilinochchi, the Tigers' former capital, several buses were stopped next to what looked like a giant funnel tipped onto its side. It was a water tank that had been toppled during the fighting, the steel rebar reaching out from the concrete husk like tentacles. The government had turned it into a war memorial, planting a tidy garden with flowers and a large stone tablet declaring that the damage had been done by rebel "terrorists in the face of valiant troops."
Published 00:01 GMT Writing in the Tamil Guardian today, British Prime Minister David Cameron reiterated his commitment to ensuring those responsible for war crimes in Sri Lanka are held accountable and said he would press the country's new president, Maithripala Sirisena, to deliver on his commitments, during a bilateral discussion at Downing Street this afternoon. Sixteen months ago I welcomed Tamil representatives from communities here in Britain to Downing St to discuss how we could work together to address the issues of Sri Lanka’s past and put the country on the path to a brighter, peaceful and prosperous future. Since then, a UN led investigation into alleged war crimes by all sides in the conflict has got underway. And the people of Sri Lanka have elected a new President who has made clear that he is fully committed to reconciliation and reform. Ever since my visit to Sri Lanka in 2013 one thing has remained constant - my unwavering commitment to stand up for all those affected by what happened. I remain determined to ensure that there is accountability for the past and respect for human rights today. And that will be my message to President Sirisena when I meet with him in Downing Street today.
In view of the Sri Lanka's new president's closeness to the last stages of the armed conflict, serving as acting defence minister for the final two weeks, the exiled journalist, J S Tissainayagam, stressed the need for the international community to ensure he too is held to international standards of justice. "As details of Sirisena’s possible connection to war crimes emerge, what is the international community – especially the Western democracies that are pushing for an international investigation – going to do?," asked Mr Tissainayagam, writing in the Asian Correspondent.