The UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances (UN WGEID) confirmed Wednesday what Tamils in Sri Lanka have known for many years: the Sri Lankan state runs secret detention camps in which it holds and tortures Tamil detainees. The UN WGEID’s announcement that it had discovered a “secret underground detention cum torture center” during its recent visit corroborates reports by Tamil victims and human rights groups that the Sri Lankan authorities are operating several secret camps to torture Tamils. Since the new government of Sri Lanka has emphasized its willingness to positively engage with the international community on accountability for violations of human rights law and humanitarian law, the international community must press the government to take immediate and decisive action on these secret detention and torture camps.
Samantha Power, America’s Ambassador to the United Nations (UN), is in India and Sri Lanka from November 18 – 23. In India, she’s set to meet human rights activists, members of civil society and senior government officials. On November 20, she’ll give a speech about UN peacekeeping. While far less significant on the geopolitical front, Power’s visit to Sri Lanka could be a tricky balancing act. Regarding the Sri Lanka portion of her trip, the U.S. mission to the UN has stated the following: In Sri Lanka, Ambassador Power will highlight the United States’ commitment to strengthening the bilateral partnership, and she will underscore U.S. support for the country’s efforts toward reconciliation, accountability, and lasting peace in the aftermath of a devastating civil war. In Colombo, she will meet with senior government officials, community leaders, civil society groups, and youth.
Continuous monitoring of Sri Lanka's transitional justice plan is vital in discerning how committed the new government is to the commitments made at the United Nations Human Rights Council , warns Taylor Dibbert in the Huffington Post. Raising concern at Colombo's downplaying of international involvement in a criminal prosecution mechanism, Mr Dibbert writes, "Since the resolution was passed at the Council, Colombo has been downplaying the notion of any meaningful international involvement for its domestic audience. While the exact level of international involvement remains unknown, it's vital to reiterate that, in the form of the recently passed resolution, Colombo agreed to something other than a purely domestic process." "Monitoring the implementation of Colombo's transitional justice plan, like the larger set of commitments made in the recently passed resolution, is very important. Yet in order to accurately track progress, understanding the content of the latest resolution is absolutely essential. For that is how we can begin to discern whether Sri Lanka's new government is really serious about healing the wounds of war." Full piece reproduced below.
Writing in the Diplomat, Taylor Dibbert said it was time for Sri Lanka’s political leadership to explain the content of the UNHRC resolution clearly to all its citizens and explain the importance of reforms. Adding that Colombo “has been reluctant to take even small steps to reach out to the Tamil community,” Mr Dibbert questioned whether “worries over a Sinhala-Buddhist backlash would again be used to justify prevarication form those in power.” Full piece reproduced below. Sri Lanka’s new government, led by President Maithripala Sirisena, has now made a range of assurances via an extensive reform agenda and is now faced with the trickier task of implementation. Elections in January (when Sirisena defeated the increasingly authoritarian Mahinda Rajapaksa in his quest to win an unprecedented third term) and August parliamentary polls, combined with the recently passed UN Human Rights Council (HRC) resolution on Sri Lanka, have presented the country with an unanticipated opening.
Speech delivered by Father Elil Rajendran at the BMICH, on October 27, 2015 Members of the families of those forcibly disappeared, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen. I would like to thank the organising committee for the invitation to deliver this speech on Enforced Disappearance from a Tamil perspective. I will start with the story of a Tamil mother - Chandra. Her life changed forever just before midnight on 11th of September 2008. Armed men broke into the house where her 24 year old son Jasinthan was sleeping and took him away in white van. There is only one road leading to the area where she lives and there is no way armed men could have taken away her son without the security forces knowing. But for the last 7 years Chandra’s life has been spent searching for her son. This may sound futile after so many years but she has good reason to believe that his son is still alive. Three years ago she saw a video of him in hospital with his front teeth smashed . In January this year she recognised him among several men in a photograph showing detainees at Welikada Jail. And yet she still cannot locate him. She lives in limbo and says if he had died it would have been easier to accept than this.
The following op-ed, How to Counter Rape During War , written by Elisabeth Jean Wood and Dara Kay Cohen was published in today's New York Times and highlights cases of armed groups who did not tolerate rape by their troops during conflict, including the LTTE. Last year, at a global conference on sexual violence during war, many speakers agreed that the best way to deter such crimes was prosecution, and they called for more of it. But prosecutions are not enough. We must work to reduce sexual violence by armed groups during wars — not just act afterward. First, we have to better understand it. Although rape during war is an ancient crime, it’s only in the last decade that social scientists have begun to study the patterns in which soldiers and rebels rape. The findings may be surprising: It’s not more likely to occur in particular regions, countries with greater gender inequality or during ethnic conflict; men may be victims, and women can be perpetrators. But while rape is tragically common in war zones, it’s not an inevitable part of war. In fact, we have found that a significant percentage of both armies and rebel groups in recent civil wars were, surprisingly, not reported to have raped civilians. That’s because commanders have options: They can choose to order, tolerate or prohibit rape. A deeper understanding of their behavior offers the hope of mitigating the problem. Some commanders order rape as a military or political strategy, and specify the target. As the Soviet Army marched toward Germany in 1945, generals ordered soldiers to take revenge on all Germans, not just soldiers. Guatemalan soldiers systematically raped indigenous Mayans during the civil war from 1960 to 1996. Today, the Islamic State forces Yazidi women and girls into marriages and sexual slavery, which they wrongly believe is legitimate under Islamic law.
The chair of the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee has urged the US to exercise leadership at the UN citing the international body’s failure to properly enforce a “zero-tolerance” policy on sexual abuse. In response to ongoing revelations about the extent of sexual exploitation and abuse at the hands of United Nations (UN) peacekeepers, Senator Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) offered a series of recommendations for his government to pursue at the UN, in a letter addressed to Secretary of State John Kerry. “As the largest contributor to the United Nations and as a permanent member on the UN Security Council, the United States has a responsibility to ensure that the United Nations upholds the highest standards of professionalism in peacekeeping operations,” wrote Senator Corker in his letter to Secretary Kerry.
The recent findings of two inquiry commissions in Sri Lanka underscore the need for a formal process to investigate and prosecute those responsible for grave crimes during the armed conflict that spanned three decades. The submission of the reports in Parliament should be welcomed, although it could also be interpreted as a signal to the international community that the domestic mechanisms are strong enough. The Maxwell Paranagama Commission, mandated to probe cases of missing persons and allegations of war crimes, has established that there were significant civilian casualties caused by Sri Lankan Army shelling in 2009 and that there may have been many individual acts of war crimes. The three-member Commission has, however, mainly blamed the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) for the civilian deaths, noting that it used civilians as human shields, placed weaponry in their midst and prevented them from leaving war zones.
Sri Lanka’s government could be doing much more to heal the wounds of the war and address Tamil grievances writes Taylor Dibbert in the Diplomat . Highlighting the ongoing military “occupation of civilian land in the northern province” and the “ government’s continued detention of Tamil political prisoners,” Mr Dibbert said President Sirisena’s decision on how to deal with Tamil political prisoners will be something to watch closely. Urging Sirisena to move on matters that are of particular importance to the country’s Tamil community, he added, “Though the country’s numerical minorities voted...
The inclusion of exiled victims and witnesses in Sri Lanka’s consultation for an accountability mechanism will be a litmus test of its credibility, writes former BBC correspondent Frances Harrison. Writing in the Huffington Post, Ms Harrison noted that “the extent of organised sexual violence and torture by the Sri Lankan security forces in the post-war period and right up to the present day and the chilling way every medical facility was deliberately attacked is now a matter of record,” with the release of the OISL report. “The fact the Sri Lankan security services this week went to question the only Tamil activist who spoke in public in Geneva appears to be an attempt to embarrass the government,” she added. “This sort of harassment causes disproportionate bad feeling and suspicion, especially when the target is a highly respected Catholic priest who works tirelessly with the families of the Disappeared.”