US report on Sri Lanka highlights ‘significant human rights issues’

The US State Department’s 2019 Country Report on Human Rights Practices in Sri Lanka highlighted a range of concerns this week, from unlawful killings and torture by government agents to the unjustified arrests of journalists and violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons. Amongst the issues raised by the State Department was the harassment of Tamil journalists in the North-East, including of Tamil Guardian correspondents.

Tamil asylum seeker takes on US immigration policy at the Supreme Court

The US Supreme Court heard a landmark case brought by a Tamil asylum seeker this month, which could have wide-reaching implications for Washington’s fast-tracked immigration and deportation processes. Vijayakumar Thuraissigiam, a Tamil asylum seeker who reached the United States via a gruelling eight-month journey through South and Central America, was arrested just 25 yards north of the US-Mexican border and placed in expedited removal proceedings which deemed he could be deported to Sri Lanka. After years in Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) custody, his challenge of a particularly arbitrary US immigration policy has now reached the highest court in the federal judiciary.

‘Tensions among ethnic and religious communities persist’ says UN Special Rapporteur

“Tensions among ethnic and religious communities persist” the Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief said in his report. “Significant gaps exist particularly in upholding accountability and access to justice as well as ensuring non-recurrence of human rights violations,” the report added. Ahmed Shaheed, the Special Rapporteur, conducted his country visit to Sri Lanka 15 August to 26 August 2019. In his report, the Rapporteur highlighted that despite the armed conflict ending over a decade ago, “reverberations of the ethnic conflict remain apparent in the political, social and...

UN human rights chief urges Council to ‘explore all possible avenues’ for accountability in Sri Lanka

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights expressed her “regret” at the Sri Lankan government’s announcementof officially withdrawing co-sponsorship of a resolution and called on the Human Rights Council to “to remain alert to this situation in terms of prevention and to explore all possible avenues for advancing accountability”. In her oral update address to the Council in Geneva this morning, Michelle Bachelet said she was “not convinced the appointment of yet another Commission of Inquiry” would amount to any accountability for rights violations, as in Sri Lanka "domestic processes have...

UN report urges Sri Lanka to deal with impunity to avoid the 'recurrence of human rights violations'

The Sri Lankan government’s inability to “deal comprehensively with impunity and to reform institutions may cause the recurrence of human rights violations” the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) said in its report on Sri Lanka's efforts towards implementing Resolution 30/1, which called for accountability and transitional justice through a hybrid mechanism. The report raises concerns over the “signs indicating a possible reversal of past commitments by the Government which would setback the promotion of reconciliation, accountability and human rights,...

Divided island – Tamil and Sinhala response to US travel ban

Following the United States’ announcement that the head of Sri Lanka’s army was subject to a travel ban over his involvement in mass atrocities, there have been markedly contrasting responses from Sinhala and Tamil actors on the island and beyond. A statement released by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that Shavendra Silva and his immediate family are now “are ineligible for entry into the United States… due to credible information of his involvement, through command responsibility, in gross violations of human rights”. Sri Lankan response The Sri Lankan government, opposition...

US bans Sri Lanka’s army chief from entry over war crimes

The US State Department has announced the head of Sri Lanka’s army Shavendra Silva has been barred from entering the USA “due to credible information of his involvement, through command responsibility, in gross violations of human rights”. A statement released by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that Silva and his immediate family are now “are ineligible for entry into the United States”. “The allegations of gross human rights violations against Shavendra Silva, documented by the United Nations and other organizations, are serious and credible,” said Pompeo. “His designation underscores...

Two bodies and bullets uncovered from Mullaitivu hospital grounds

Excavation work at a hospital in Mullaitivu has uncovered bullets and the bodies of at least two people, after skeletal remains and mines were found on Wednesday. Deminers with protective equipment carried out excavation work at the site, under the supervision of Kilinochchi district hospital medico-legal officer Dr Thanushan and Sri Lankan police officers. Alongside the bodies of what appears to be two people, several bullets and items of clothing were uncovered. It remains unclear as to how the two were killed, but the region is host to many mass graves, dating back to the final stages of...

Review: ‘Keenie Meenie - The British Mercenaries Who Got Away with War Crimes'

This month saw the release of an explosive new book that documents how a private British company formed of former Special Air Service (SAS) veterans turned mercenaries, went on to effectively set up one of Sri Lanka’s most notorious military units – one that has been accused of committing egregious mass atrocities. Authored by Phil Miller, ‘Keenie Meenie: The British Mercenaries Who Got Away with War Crimes', goes into meticulous detail of how a band of former British soldiers trained and even flew helicopters for the Sri Lankan military whilst massacres were reportedly underway, all under the watchful eye of the UK Foreign Office.

Tamils raise black flags in protest on Sri Lanka’s Independence Day

Tamils across the North-East held rallies and protests today demanding justice for the disappeared and for perpetrators of abuses to be held accountable, as Sri Lanka marked its 72 Independence Day. See a selection of photographs from events in the North-East and diaspora below.