US Ambasador to Sri Lanka Atul Keshap writes on his country's deep connections with Jaffna, ahead of the US Air Force’s Operation Pacific Angel visit to the the region. The first American missionaries arrived in Jaffna in 1813, when the Rev. Samuel Newell founded the first American schools in Thellipalai. Those schools were the first of hundreds of schools and medical centers that provided for the people of northern Sri Lanka. Continuing this deep connection between our two nations, this week Jaffna is welcoming the U.S. Air Force’s Operation Pacific Angel, which will renovate schools and provide medical services for nearby communities.
Writing in the Tamil Guardian today, the UK Minister of State for Asia, Hugo Swire recognised progress made by the Sri Lankan government but said "much more remains to be done" in the country. Expressing agreement with the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights' oral update on Sri Lanka, Mr Swire highlighted the need for further land releases, repeal of the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) and the development of credible justice processes, in consultation with victims and families in Sri Lanka and the diaspora. The full text of Mr Swire's op-ed follows: A long way in a short time, but more needs to be done Sri Lanka has come a long way since President Sirisena’s election in January 2015. I have been struck by the progress made. No one should underestimate the challenge of dealing with the legacy of a 30 year conflict. Sri Lanka is in a far better place now than even the most optimistic could have imagined, only 18 months ago. Yet much remains to be done.
"With the Sri Lankan government winding back commitments to reconciliation and justice measures, it’s up to the international community to hold them to account," writes Tamil activist Nirmanusan Balasundaram in the Guardian. "For Tamil war victims and survivors, the statements by the Sri Lankan president and prime minister are indeed disheartening. Apart from a few symbolic returns of occupied Tamil lands and the release of some political prisoners, unsurprisingly, there have been no constructive actions to address wartime accountability or end the culture of impunity." Read the full article...
The Sri Lankan government cannot continue to blame members of the former regime for the lack of progress in furthering accountability said the Global Tamil Forum’s spokesperson Suren Surendiran, in a piece published in Colombo Telegraph on Saturday. “Barely four months since [the] Government of Sri Lanka internationally committing by co-sponsoring Resolution A/HRC/30/L.29 in Geneva, the U-turn came in spectacular fashion from the highest authority in the country, the President himself,” said Mr Surendiran. “As if there wasn’t enough trust deficit between communities in Sri Lanka, this major let down, haemorrhaged the trust of Tamils in the new President and in his new coalition government.”
The international community should insist on course correction by Colombo through strong statements and continued monitoring after the high commissioner submits his final report in March 2017, writes JS Tissainayagam in the Asian Correspndent. Highlighting several instances of Sri Lanka reneging on its commitments to the United Nations Human Rights Cuncil JS Tissainayagam warns that “There is no doubt that this year too Sri Lanka’s UN delegation will embellish the sordid performance of its government with conciliatory words and artful phrases.” Full opinion produced below.
Members of the UN Human Rights Council and the UN Human Rights Chief “should press the (Sri Lankan) government to follow through on its commitment to meaningful forms of international participation on the proposed special court for war crimes,” said the International Crisis Group's Sri Lanka Senior Analyst Alan Keenan. In a piece entitled “Impunity and Justice: Why the UN Human Rights Council Must Stay Engaged in Sri Lanka” Mr Keenan stated that despite committing to a UN resolution last year, “Sri Lanka today is not yet the success story that many in the international community claim it to be”. “Progress on implementing the Council resolution has been slow and often grudging, and there are growing doubts about the government’s political will and ability to see the complex process through,” he added. “For Sri Lanka to stay on the path toward recovery, it needs sustained international support and engagement.” Since the UN resolution was passed in September, Sri Lankan leaders have repeatedly backtracked from commitments made, in particular the inclusion of foreign judges in an accountability mechanism for mass atrocities. Mr Keenan noted that “under domestic pressure, the president and prime minister backed away from promises to the UN and announced there will be no foreign judges”. “Given the decades-long failures of government commissions and judicial processes, international participation is essential to the credibility and effectiveness of the special court,” he continued.
Human rights issues in the Tamil North-East have not yet been settled and the Sri Lankan government is yet to prosecute members of the armed forces responsible for war crimes, said P Ramasamy, the Deputy Chief Minister of Penang. In a piece entitled “ End of war in Sri Lanka, but Tamils still suffering ,” the deputy chief minister rebutted the argument that a piece dividend has arrived for the Tamils, stating that “One can hardly talk about the dividends of peace, when major human rights issues concerning the Tamils in the north and east have not been settled yet”. “The call by international human rights agencies for the Sri Lanka Government to undertake reconciliation measures by accounting for the hundreds of thousands of Tamils who have gone missing, the more than one hundred thousand, mostly innocent women, children and the elderly who were killed during the height of the civil war as well as the rapes and torture inflicted on Tamil women, have not been addressed,” he added. Mr Ramasamy went on to state, “The new government of Maithripala Sirisena has failed to punish those responsible for war crimes. Unfortunately, despite calls by international human rights agencies including the United Nations, countries like India and the United States have shown no interest in addressing the human rights violations in Sri Lanka.” "The war might have ended, but the civilian Tamil population, particularly in the north and east, are being robbed of their properties and land by the Sri Lankan armed forces."
The failure to acknowledge crimes committed in Sri Lanka “is a continuing injury” to victims, writes human rights lawyer Kate Cronin-Furman in the Washington Post. Stating that “Sri Lanka has yet to face its past,” she said “to those in the south, these crimes may seem distant and forgettable”. “For families still searching for information about their missing loved ones, though, they’re a glaring fact of everyday life,” she added. “And if Sri Lanka’s foot-dragging on transitional justice underscores the challenges of pursuing accountability in deeply divided societies, its continuing...
Sri Lankan police have recently uncovered ammunition, a suicide vest, and explosives in Chavakachcheri, a town in the country’s north. It’s widely (and realistically) believed that this is an old arms cache. Let’s keep in mind that from 1983-2009 a brutal civil war raged in this South Asian island nation. The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) were fighting for a separate Tamil state in the country’s Northern and Eastern Provinces. In May 2009, the Sri Lankan government – under the leadership of former president, Mahinda Rajapaksa – militarily crushed the LTTE. However, Sinhala nationalism and the idea (however remote) of the LTTE regrouping within the country can still be used for domestic political gain, especially by Rajapaksa. After all, in the eyes of many Sinhala people, Sri Lanka’s overwhelming ethnic majority, Rajapaksa remains a war hero who defeated a ruthless separatist organization. Though Rajapaksa unexpectedly lost the country’s January 2015 presidential election, he is currently a member of parliament. Given the wide-ranging corruption allegations against him and his family, he has no incentive to leave public life. In that context, it’s unsurprising that the former president has chosen to weigh in regarding the recent arms discovery. According to Rajapaksa, the weapons that the police found weren’t old, the implication being that the country should be concerned about a return to Tamil militancy in the Tamil-dominated north.
Processes in Sri Lanka towards accountability and justice must keep victims at the centre, said Dharsha Jegatheeswaran in an article for the University of Toronto Faculty of Law’s Rights Review Magazine . Commenting on the erosion of victims’ confidence since UN Resolution 30/1, alongside the government’s reneging on its commitments thereunder, Ms Jegatheeswaran said, “Initial cautious hopes of Tamil victims and war-affected communities have turned to distrust and skepticism of the government’s intentions as a result of this mixed messaging. This distrust has been further deepened by the government’s failure to undertake any meaningful confidence-building measures and address ongoing human rights violations, including: demilitarizing the North-East; repealing the draconian Prevention of Terrorism Act and releasing all political prisoners arrested thereunder; returning all illegally acquired lands; and ending a culture of impunity/condonation for sexual violence and torture.”