Facts to 61st ANNUAL DPI/NGO CONFERENCE
“Reaffirming Human Rights for All - The Universal Declaration at 60”
Information à 61e conférence annuelle DPI/ONG
“Réaffirmer les droits de l’homme: La Déclaration universelle à 60 ans”
Informativos a 61ª Conferencia Anual DIP/ONG
“La reafirmación de los derechos humanos para todos: la Declaración Universal a los 60”
3 - 5 September 2008
The Tamil Centre for Human Rights (TCHR) is officially accredited to participate in the
Annual DPI/NGO Conference – UNESCO Headquarters, Paris
Tamil Centre for Human Rights - TCHR
Centre Tamoul pour les droits de l'Homme - CTDH
Centro Tamil para los Derechos Humanos
(Established in 1990)
9, rue des Peupliers
95140 - Garges les Gonesse
Tel/Fax : + 33 - 1 - 42 67 54 36
+ 44 - 161 – 860 46 09
Email : email@example.com / firstname.lastname@example.org
email@example.com / firstname.lastname@example.org
Australia, Canada, Denmark, Norway, Switzerland, The Netherlands, United Kingdom
Table of Contents Page
Sri Lanka - Clampdown on International NGOs 02
Sri Lanka gets tough on UN, aid visas 03
International Coalition of NGOs Opposes Sri Lanka's Bid for HRC 06
Sri Lanka rights activists face growing dangers 08
Aid and loathing in Sri Lanka 09
NGO Forum disrupted in Sri Lanka 10
Attacks on NGO offices by the security forces and paramilitary
17 NGO workers massacred in Muttur 12
Aid agency probes Sri Lanka massacre as monitor slams shelling
Sri Lanka obstructing slain aid staff probe – SLMM Head 13
Statement made by Mr Bernard Kouchner
46 Humanitarian staff killed in Sri Lanka
Humanitarian staff injured 15
Call for release of website editor accused of terrorism 16
A Story About a Tamil Called Tissa Tissainayagam
More than 150 days of detention
Recorded Figures – Arrest, Killings, Disappearances, etc 19
Comparison with Kosovo 20
Proposed Solutions to settle the ethnic conflict in the island - Chronology 22
Failed Talks and abrogation of pacts - Chronology 23
SRI LANKA - Clampdown on International NGOs
COLOMBO, Aug 11, 2008 (IPS) - Accusing international non-government organisations (INGOs) of disseminating ‘wrong’ information to media on the civil war with Tamil rebels and rights issues, the government has moved to tighten the visa regime for foreign workers in this country.
"The government wants to control the number of people going into sensitive (conflict) areas due to negative stories appearing in the media overseas," said a foreign humanitarian worker who declined to be named.
"We are careful not to criticise the government. There is a kind of subtle censorship. We are careful what we say or visas could get cancelled," she said. President Mahinda Rajapakse's nationalist government has always frowned on the activities of INGOs, particularly those promoting peace or involved in humanitarian work in war-torn areas where rebels control territory.
Since the December 2004 tsunami, which laid waste to a large part of this island country’s coastline, there has been a proliferation of INGOs promising to bring relief to the survivors. Efforts to bring order to these humanitarian agencies have been complicated by intensified fighting between government troops and Tamil rebels over the last two years.
Both United Nations agencies and NGOs have raised the issue of civilian casualties from the war coming on top of tsunami resettlement issues, especially in the Tamil-dominated north adn east, annoying the government. In a report released in June, the United Nations Economic and Social Council said that the war was seriously hampering tsunami reconstruction work. "The most significant challenge to the recovery process in Sri Lanka is ongoing civil conflict. Escalating violence over the past few years has set back reconstruction efforts in the north and east of the country, though it continues largely apace in the south," stated the report.
The ministry of internal administration, responsible for registration and control of NGOs, justifies the ‘streamlining’ of procedures relating to the grant of visas to expatriates working with NGOs, saying that a large influx of expatriates for 'reconstruction and rehabilitation work' has made the issue of visas complicated.
Cause and effect syndrome
Gomin Dayasiri, a prominent lawyer, told IPS in an interview that the restrictions on foreign workers are essentially because of a few NGOs. "The new rules on NGO personnel are the consequence of a cause-and-effect syndrome created by a stupid few in the NGO mainstream which has unfortunately discredited the silent and substantial contribution made by many in the NGO community in our society.’’
Dayasiri, who insists he is not anti-NGO or a nationalist as perceived to be, says a 'visible and vocal' few tend to equate the terrorists with freedom fighters and those who fight terrorism as vultures of human rights.
"With the war going against the terrorists now, they (some NGOs) are even worse than terrorists. At least the terrorists fought for a cause they believed in for which they were prepared to sacrifice their lives. The NGO vocalists sang for their supper for which they were rewarded and now the entire NGO community has to suffer being regulated. The bottom line is that the nationalists have now set rules for the internationalists for being unbalanced and getting their equation bizarre," he said.
Recently, Dayasiri appeared for the Sri Lanka army in a court case to defend it against accusations that it was responsible for the massacre of 17 local aid workers attached to an INGO.
On Aug. 6, 2007, 17 workers, including four women, were found shot dead in the office of Paris-based humanitarian group, Action Contre la Faim (ACF), in the eastern town of Muttur, soon after the army had captured the town from the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).
While the government said the LTTE was responsible for the massacre, the rebels and human rights activists have been pointing fingers at the army.
The issue came into the international spotlight with several western governments backing the ACF’s call for an independent investigation. In June this year, ACF pulled out of a presidential probe into the killings, saying it was disappointed with the way legal proceedings were going and "the blatant lack of will of the Sri Lankan government to establish the truth." "ACF sees the launching of an international inquiry as the only reliable means for identifying the perpetrators,’’ ACF executive director Francois Danel said.
Earlier to that on Mar. 31 the International Independent Group of Eminent Persons (IIGEP), headed by former Indian chief justice P. N. Bhagwati, withdrew from its watchdog role. It charged the presidential probe with failing to investigate 16 high-profile incidents of rights violations in 2006 and 2007 and falling short of international norms and standards. The IIGEP had experts from 11 countries: India, France, Indonesia, the U.S., the Netherlands, Bangladesh, Canada, Cyprus, Britain, Australia and Japan.
New rules not applicable to UN
The new rules governing NGOs will not apply to U.N. agencies and accredited foreign organisations that work with the government. Sri Lankan authorities, in addition to tightening rules for expatriate workers, also want to reduce the number of expatriates hired by NGOs.
The maximum period of visa for an expatriate worker is three years as against earlier when the period could be extended. The rules permit the head and deputy to be expatriate appointments, but organisations have been told they must advertise all other positions locally and only if unavailable, would an expatriate be permitted to fill these positions. "The concept here is that NGOs should recruit locally as far as possible and should only find expertise for the posts which cannot be filled locally due to unavailability of suitable candidates," the regulation says.
Expatriate workers must be cleared by the defence ministry; their dependants or family members cannot work; and their visa is invalid once they quit the job before the work contract ends. There have been many cases, in the past, of expatriate workers changing jobs and remaining in the country for periods of up to eight to 10 years.
The head of a peace-promoting INGO says many of these restrictions have been in place over the past year but on an ad hoc basis. "In that sense this is welcome because it brings these together and streamlines them into a formal process," he said, adding that the situation during the tsunami was 'very unruly' and complex for local authorities.
"There were many problems caused by foreign NGO workers and I believe the concern of government over the large number of expatriate workers, to some extent, is justified," he said. In some cases the number of foreign workers per INGO jumped to 50 from just four after the tsunami. However, he said, the challenge for NGOs is not in the rules but whether officials would make it more difficult for expatriates to operate with all this bureaucracy and procedures. The process of appeals of rejection of visa applications has also not been clearly laid out, he said .
U.N. workers are permitted to stay on four-year visas which may be extended in exceptional cases. But a senior U.N. worker said the rules would affect dozens of foreign volunteers who work for U.N. Volunteers (UNV). She said the government was also making if difficult for expatriates to work in war-devastated areas, particularly sections of the northern Wanni region which are controlled by the rebels.
"There is too much paper-work, time and energy involved in bringing down expatriates and then more rules to get them into conflict areas," she added.
Charge of funding of Tamil rebels
The proposed new law governing NGOs is the culmination of an exercise last year by a parliamentary committee that has been probing NGOs and their activities. Included in its probe were details from NGOs of journalists, politicians, government and private sector officers who have directly or indirectly benefited through NGOs.
Last year NGOs operating in conflict areas were accused in the media of funding Tamil rebels. Among these groups were Save the Children, Britain, World Food Programme (WFP) and the Swiss-based ZOA. They have all vigorously denied the allegations and said humanitarian aid was meant for affected people.
In some cases, the parliamentary committee cancelled or did not extend the visas of 40 foreign workers for security reasons -- implying suspicion of links with the Tigers. There are more than 1,000 registered NGOs in Sri Lanka, with at least tne percent of that number being INGOs. (END/2008) http://www.ipsnews.net/news.asp?idnews=43509
Sri Lanka gets tough on UN, aid visas
July 17, 2008 (AFP) - Sri Lanka's government on Thursday unveiled new restrictions on how long United Nations and other foreign aid staff are allowed to work on the war-torn island.
The new regulations come amid a backdrop of mounting tensions between the government and the United Nations and key member states, who have been highly critical over how the war against Tamil Tiger rebels is being conducted.
Under the new Sri Lankan foreign ministry rules, foreign nationals will not be allowed to stay more than four years in a single place, while experts and advisers will only be allowed into the country for a year.
Previously rules regarding foreigners were flexible and allowed for people to stay in the country for long periods of time.
UN and other aid agencies will also not be allowed to create new positions without prior approval from Colombo.
The ministry said the rules where designed to "consolidate the linkages between the UN and other international organisations with ministries dealing with the relevant sectors of activities."
Sri Lanka's government, which pulled out of a Norwegian-brokered ceasefire with Tamil Tigers in January, has seen its relationship with the UN and other key donors worsen over the past year.
The UN's human rights body has asked it be allowed to set up a monitoring office on the island amid reports of widespread disappearances, abductions and murders linked to the conflict.
Colombo has rejected the demand and accused Louise Arbour, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, of "obvious bias" after she hinted Sri Lankan officials were exposing themselves to the risk of war crimes charges.
The hawkish government has also publicly accused its foreign critics -- mainly Western nations -- of being "pro-terrorist", and argues that a number of international organisations and NGOs in Sri Lanka have been infiltrated by rebels.
Relations further soured when UN member countries rejected Sri Lanka's re-election bid to the world body's Human Rights Council in May.
Government troops were also implicated by French aid group Action Against Hunger for massacring 17 of its workers in 2005. Sri Lanka has denied the charge, but the perpetrators have not been brought to justice.
Last November, the government was forced to recall 111 soldiers on a UN peace keeping mission to Haiti over allegations that some of the troops sexually abused local girls.
International media rights groups have repeatedly pulled Colombo up for not doing enough to protect journalists from being verbally abused by senior government officials, abducted, harassed and killed. Rights groups say at least 12 media workers have been killed in Sri Lanka since 2005.
The government has also brushed off threats of foreign aid cuts due to the worsening conflict and human rights situation, and turned to countries like Iran and China for aid this year.
Sri Lanka's powerful defence secretary, Gotabhaya Rajapakse, has often accused expatriates of being "too soft" on Tiger rebels and taking up posts on the tropical island to "simply have a paid holiday".
The Tamil Tigers are fighting for a separate state in the north and east of the ethnic Sinhalese-majority island.
A UN official, who asked not to be named, said the new visa rules made it difficult for expatriates to seek extensions.
However, the foreign ministry quoted UN resident co-ordinator for Sri Lanka Neil Buhne as saying that the UN agreed to cooperate with the new rules.
June 16, 2008 - Chulani Kodikara’s article, exclusive to Groundviews, explores the attacks against NGOs in Sri Lanka from the Rajapaksa administration and places this against global reactions to the promotion of democracy by non-governmental organisations
Who is afraid of NGOs ?
‘The normal types of NGOs—advocacy organizations, service delivery groups, cultural organizations and others—generally contribute to democracy, not threaten it. They do so by pushing for greater accountability and increasing citizen participation. Governments that feel threatened by NGOs are usually non-democratic governments’
When governments have wanted to make peace with the LTTE, they have not been shy to mobilize the support of NGOs dealing with issues of peace and human rights. During the last two peace processes with the LTTE (1994-1995 and 2002 -2003)
advocacy and policy related NGOs worked closely with the regimes in power to provide intellectual support to these processes. During the 1994 – 1995 talks, NGO personnel were directly involved in peace talks at the track one and track two level and were also asked to contribute to the drafting of a set of constitutional reforms. Following the Ceasefire Agreement signed in 2002, there was broad agreement between NGOs and the GOSL at the time on the need for a negotiated political solution as well as international intervention. The GOSL was able to use the expertise developed by NGOs in preparing for talks with the LTTE, and representatives from NGOs were also appointed to some of the Subcommittees established during the talks. In fact, four of the five GOSL representatives on the Subcommittee on Gender Issues (SGI) were from NGOs or associated with NGOs. The Secretariat for Coordinating the Peace Process (SCOPP), also met with NGO personnel from time to time to seek their views. Engagement with civil society, including academics, community leaders, business community and NGO representatives, was later institutionalised through the National Advisory Council for Peace and Reconciliation (NACPR) which was appointed by the President in 2004. NACPR was envisaged as a forum ‘for consultation on the peace process between the GOSL and the citizenry, mainly through their elected representatives and also through their religious leaders, as well as leaders of civil society’. For a while, it served as an important invited space for consultations and sharing of information on the peace process with NGOs.
But under this regime which is intent on pursuing a military solution to the conflict, NGOs have become villains for their advocacy of a negotiated political solution to the conflict, for challenging conventional notions of sovereignty, territorial integrity and security and for demanding accountability, the protection of human rights and an end to impunity. They are denounced as ‘traitors’, ‘unpatriotic tiger lovers’, ‘separatists’, ‘neo imperialist agents of the west’, dollar karkkas, etc, etc. This vilification is also sought to be legitimised through official ‘investigation’ of NGOs. The Parliamentary Select Committee initially appointed to investigate irregularities of tsunami funding has since November 2005 expanded its mandate to investigate peace and human rights NGOs for activities ‘that adversely affect national security’ and that ‘are inimical to the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Sri Lanka’, among other things. The recent investigation of the International Centre for Ethnic Studies gives a hint as to what will be considered a threat to national security by this committee.
Principles of democracy and good governance require the proper regulation and monitoring of NGOs. There are also legitimate questions about the accountability of NGOs. As trustee organisations whose leaders have taken it upon themselves to define and represent the interests of people who do not speak for themselves, NGOs most often don’t have a constituency and are only accountable to their donors. However, in a country where there is no political commitment to take any action on very serious and specific charges of corruption and financial mismanagement within the bureaucracy, the moral outrage over alleged wrongdoings of NGOs somehow seems slightly out of keel.
The backlash against NGOs is not a phenomenon unique to Sri Lanka. Recently, from China to Zimbabwe governments have been cracking down on NGOs for raising issues that are considered ‘sensitive’, and outside their purview. Carothers and others analyzing these trends take the view that the backlash has come from authoritarian or pseudo democratic regimes intent on holding on to power and resistant to implement substantive democratic reforms. The fact is however that since the 1990s, whether one likes it or not, for better or for worse, the ‘sovereign state’ is no longer considered to hold the monopoly on governance. Civil society and NGOs in particular have emerged as significant actors in this regard and as legitimate recipients of donor funds. This focus on NGOs has happened in the context of a widespread debate about democratic deficits both in the North and the South and threats to the legitimacy of democracy even as institutional forms and procedures of democracy appear to be spreading in the aftermath of the cold war. Those questioning the quality and substance of democracy around the world see many democracies in crisis – citizens unable to hold governments accountable for their use/abuse of power, stifling of dissent, declining patterns of political participation, huge gaps between wishes of the people and decisions made by those in power, unequal enjoyment of rights and entitlements, gross violations of basic human rights, patronage politics and corruption, continuing poverty, deprivation and intractable civil conflict.
One response by donors to this perceived crisis of democracy has been to strengthen NGOs as a link between citizens and the state for mobilising claims, for advocacy of special interests, and as a countervailing power against the state. Some analysts view the backlash against NGOs as a compliment or a sign of the coming of age of NGOs in the role as a watchdog and a force that can hold government’s accountable. For if NGOs were minor players, they would not be attracting this kind of attention or criticism nor this much of newsprint and web space in the first place. Looking at the current crisis in Sri Lanka, certainly NGOs have been almost the lone voice speaking against the abuse of power by this regime. Certain NGO interventions have made an impact on the rights and lives of ordinary people. When hundreds of Tamil people were evicted from Colombo in June 2007, it was a fundamental rights application to the Supreme Court filed by a NGO that put a stop to it.
Yet given the level of authoritarianism and intransigence of this particular regime there has been only so much that NGOs have been able to do. Marina Ottaway writing about the experience of democracy assistance to NGOs in Africa found that they played a useful role when governments were open to reform, but when their commitment to democracy was weak, what is necessary is a broad based social movement which can make the government feel sufficiently threatened from below. This is not inconsistent with the predicament of human rights and peace advocacy NGOs in Sri Lanka. Popular mobilisation that results in mass based movements happen when there is a growing feeling among ordinary people that inaction produces costs that they cannot bear and new circumstances open political space to express those emotions of frustration and outrage. But what possibility of such a movement in Sri Lanka?
Letter to UN Member States
International Coalition of NGOs Opposes
Sri Lanka's Bid for U.N. Rights Council Seat
May 6, 2008
We are a coalition of nongovernmental organizations from all parts of the world.
We write to urge that your government not vote for Sri Lanka for membership in the U.N. Human Rights Council in the election in the General Assembly on 21 May 2008 because of Sri Lanka’s failure to meet the Council’s membership standards.
In doing so, we strongly support the position of human rights organizations from within Sri Lanka, who state that their government fails to meet the membership standards, has “presided over a grave deterioration of human rights protection” since first winning Council membership in 2006, and “has used its membership of the Human Rights Council to protect itself from scrutiny.” Their letter of 28 April 2008 is available online at
As you know, General Assembly (GA) resolution 60/251 requires that “members elected to the Council shall uphold the highest standards in the promotion and protection of human rights” and “fully cooperate” with the Council. Sri Lanka falls far short of meeting these requirements.
I. Sri Lanka is failing to protect human rights
We recognize that that the armed separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) have long been responsible for numerous and horrific human rights abuses. However, abuses by non-state armed groups do not justify rights violations by government forces.
In the last two years, Sri Lankan government forces have been directly implicated in a wide range of serious abuses of human rights, and have failed to ensure investigations and bring those responsible to justice. These include:
hundreds of extrajudicial killings, including of humanitarian workers
hundreds of enforced disappearances, the highest rate of new cases
recorded by the Working Group on Enforced and Involuntary Disappearances in
· arbitrary arrests and long-term detentions without charge or trial
· widespread torture of detainees, “a routine practice … both by the police and the armed forces” according the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Torture.
· forcibly returning internally displaced persons to unsafe areas
· unwarranted restrictions on media freedoms, and threats and killings of journalists
· complicity with the recruitment of child soldiers by the Karuna militia
· denunciations and threats against human rights defenders and humanitarian workers
These problems are compounded by the authorities having failed to provide easily accessible avenues enabling victims of human rights abuses to make complaints. Extreme delays in adjudication make it near-futile to pursue such complaints, when made. The absence of a witness protection law and system has lead to the harassment and even killing of victims seeking redress and witnesses.
A full list of U.N. and other reports documenting these and other abuses are posted on our coalition website at www.hrw.org/effectiveHRC/SriLanka.
A government which has been proven to engage in such serious human rights violations cannot be said to be upholding the “highest standards in the promotion and protection of human rights.” Based on its current record, Sri Lanka is simply not qualified for re-election to the U.N. Human Rights Council.
II. Sri Lanka refuses to cooperate with the Council and U.N. human rights mechanisms
Government officials have launched unacceptable and unfounded personal attacks on respected international officials who have visited Sri Lanka and raised human rights concerns. Rather than consider the recommendations made in good faith by these officials, the Sri Lankan authorities have instead chosen to question the officials’ integrity. Senior Sri Lankan officials have accused:
The Sri Lankan government has not seriously engaged the recommendation by several special procedures and by OHCHR to establish a human rights monitoring mission under U.N. auspices to document and report on violations committed by all sides to the conflict and to prevent further violations.
Sri Lanka did not reply to any of the 12 questionnaires sent by special procedure mandate holders between 1/1/2004 and 31/12/2007, nor to over half of the 94 letters of allegations and urgent appeals sent by special procedures in that period. Sri Lanka has not implemented the principal recommendations of the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances and the Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial Killings. The Special Rapporteur on Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment observed that Sri Lankan authorities impeded his fact-finding, citing “instances where detainees were hidden or brought away shortly before the Special Rapporteur arrived.”
III. Don’t Vote for Sri Lanka this Year
Rather than promote human rights worldwide as required of Council members by GA Resolution 60/251, Sri Lanka has sought to use its Council membership to shield itself from constructive international scrutiny.
GA Resolution 60/251 requires that in voting for members of the Human Rights Council “member States shall take into account the contribution of candidates to the promotion and protection of human rights.” Council members are required to “uphold the highest standards in the promotion and protection of human rights” and to “fully cooperate with the Council.” As Sri Lanka so clearly fails to meet either of these standards, your government should withhold its support this year, and instead vote only for other candidates which do meet the standards.
U.N. Members have an important choice to make in this election. To re-elect Sri Lanka based on its record of the last two years would weaken the Human Rights Council and indicate the international community is unconcerned with the grave human rights situation in Sri Lanka. To reject Sri Lanka’s candidacy at this time would show that U.N. members are serious about the membership standards they established for the Council, and bring new attention to the gross violations in Sri Lanka and hope and support to the victims of abuse.
With assurances of our highest respect,
(1) Ms. Martha Meijer, Director
Aim for Human Rights
(2) Enrique Bernales, Executive Director
Andean Commission of Jurists
(3) Dr. Agnes Callamard, Executive Director
(4) Michael Anthony, Program Coordinator
Asian Human Rights Commission
(5) Moataz El Fegiery, Executive Director
Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies
(6) Abdurashid Abdulle Abikar, Chairman
Center for Youth and Democracy
Gaston Chillier, Executive Director
Centro de Estudios Legales y Sociales
Maja Daruwala, Director
Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative
Lorena Fries, President
Ana Lucia Herrera, Director
(11) Robert R. LaGamma, Executive Director
Council for a Community of Democracies
(12) Dokhi Fassihian, Acting Executive Director
Democracy Coalition Project
(13) María Ysabel Cedano García, Director
DEMUS—Estudio para la Defensa y los Derechos de la Mujer
(14) Mr. Hassan Shire Sheikh, Chairperson
East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Network
(15) Natalia Gherardi, Executive Director
ELA - Equipo Latinoamericano de Justicia y Género
(16) Ms. Souhayr Belhassen, President
Fédération Internationale des Droits de l'Homme/International Federation for Human Rights
(17) Jennifer Windsor, Executive Director
(18) Dieudonné Zognong, President
(19) Tolekan Ismailova, Director
Human Rights Center/Citizens against Corruption
(20) Maureen Byrnes, Executive Director
Human Rights First
(21) Kenneth Roth, Executive Director
Human Rights Watch
(22) Deborah Muir, Project Director Asia-Pacific
International Federation of Journalists—Asia-Pacific
(23) Indria Fernida, Deputy Coordinator
KontraS (Commission for “the Disappeared” and Victims of Violence)
(24) Nozima Kamalova, Chairman
Legal Aid Society of Uzbekistan
(25) Taufik Basari, Chairperson of the Board of Directors
Lembaga Bantuan Hukum Masyarakat (Indonesian Community Legal Aid Institute)
(26) Vo Van Ai, President
Quê Me: Action for Democracy in Vietnam & Vietnam Committee for Human Rights
(27) Robert Menard, General Secretary
Reporters Without Borders
Sri Lanka rights activists face growing dangers
By Farah Mihlar
Farah Mihlar works as media officer at Minority Rights Group International. She is a Sri Lankan activist and academic who has reported on the country's ethnic conflict for over a decade and is currently doing a PhD on religious fundamentalism in Muslim minority contexts.
AlertNet, 18 April 2008 - In March Sri Lankan police used anti-terror laws to arrest and detain J.S. Tissanayagam, a prominent journalist working for The Sunday Times, a maistream English-language weekly. After two weeks behind bars he was finally served a detention order charging him with engaging in terrorist activities, which today in Sri Lanka can be interpreted as criticising the government.
In the last year, with a return to war and a rapidly deteriorating human rights situation, Sri Lanka has very slowly managed to grab a few international headlines. But the real-life narratives of the people who fight to draw attention to these headline-making stories remain untold.
Sri Lanka is now one of the most dangerous places in the world for human rights defenders - broadly defined to include journalists, aid workers, activists, NGO workers and religious leaders.
Since the country's human rights situation plummeted following the breakdown in 2006 of a four-year Norwegian-brokered ceasefire between the Sri Lankan government and Tamil Tigers rebels, human rights defenders have increasingly been targets of killings, disappearances, abductions, arrest and detention. They live and work in a climate of fear that international activists say at times parallels countries like Iraq and Afghanistan.
According to a recent report by one of Sri Lanka's leading non-governmental organisations, the Law and Society Trust, a humanitarian worker was killed or disappeared every single month between January 2006 and December 2007, with the exception of just two months.
In August 2007, U.N. humanitarian relief chief John Holmes said Sri Lanka was one of the most dangerous places in the world for aid workers. He referred in particular to the gruesome execution-style slayings of 17 aid workers of international NGO Action Contre la Faim in August 2006.
At the time, the government responded by calling Holmes "a terrorist", but last week an internationally acclaimed human rights monitoring group, the University Teachers for Human Rights (Jaffna), said in a damning report there was evidence to implicate the military in this incident.
In January this year, the Sri Lankan government unilaterally abrogated the ceasefire, forcing the exit of Scandinavian ceasefire monitors and leaving the country void of any human rights scrutiny.
Local and international human rights activists have blamed the Sri Lankan military of either being directly involved in killings, disappearances, abduction and threats or of supporting paramilitary groups who are running amok and committing these abuses.
The Tigers are also intolerant of dissent - gunning down political opponents and activists and journalists who oppose them. Human rights defenders are caught up in the melee, dubbed the enemy as they attempt to expose the perpetrators.
"Since I am in politics I can understand the pulse of the government, the general trends, and moreover two of my colleagues, both MPs, were killed in Colombo," says Mano Ganeshan, a Tamil parliamentarian and possibly the country's most high-profile minority activist who leads a human rights monitoring group.
"So it is crystal clear the guns are pointed at me."
His predecessor, N. Raviraj, was shot dead last year and fellow member of parliament, T Maheshwaran, was killed in January this year.
If they are not murdered in cold blood or abducted, they are followed, searched and harassed with warning phone calls and letters. Family members are preyed on and sometime attacked.
"When I get up in the morning, if I can make it through the day I count it as a blessing," said a human rights activist from the north who did not want to be identified.
Media workers are also targeted. In August 2007, gunmen walked into the home of Tamil journalist Sahadhevan Nilakshan and sprayed him with bullets, killing him on the spot.
In a press statement in August 2007, Reporters Without Borders said the northern town of Jaffna was one of the most dangerous places in the world for journalists, where in just one year up to eight media workers were killed.
Even when lives are spared, repercussions often follow. Like The Sunday Times' Tissanayagam, journalists face possible arrest. Their offices are raided by security personnel and they are quite often taken in for questioning by police.
The danger is not simply limited to those who fight for human rights in their professional capacity. Several people in their day-to-day lives are under threat because they stand up to the culture of impunity but have no protection because they don't fall into the recognised category of a "human rights defender".
One such person is a Tamil woman whose husband "disappeared", reportedly abducted by the military, who when approached denied involvement in the incident. She then turned to some paramilitary groups, thinking they could help because of their close affiliation with the government. They promised to help but some days later abducted and raped her.
"I had to run around embassies begging for a visa to help get her out because her life was obviously under threat," a local activist said. "I had no luck, just because she is not high profile enough."
The story speaks of the complexity of the problem. There have been many instances in which foreign governments have come to the aid of activists but local human rights groups are urging diplomatic missions in Sri Lanka to be more flexible with their visa laws to recognise the nuanced threat associated with working and reporting on human rights.
They are calling on EU countries, the United States, Canada and India to act faster to temporarily get people out of the country in such situations. Within the country, activists have formed networks and are putting in place protection mechanisms such as safe houses.
But quite often the threat is too serious to be able to manage at a local level. In such situations, leaving Sri Lanka is not just an option, it is the only option, to which diplomatic missions have to more effectively respond.
Aid and loathing in Sri Lanka
AlertNet, 27 September 2006 - Where is the international outcry about crimes against aid workers in Sri Lanka?
Getting aid to the victims of Sri Lanka's conflict is becoming more dangerous by the day. Access to conflict areas is increasingly restricted, security threats are worsening, and NGOs claim that the government seems to be laying red tape like trip wires across the humanitarian field.
NGOs have become politicised, and many stand accused of sympathising with the rebel Tamil Tigers, according to . Sensitivities are so heightened that it's becoming almost impossible to appear neutral. A recent article in the Sinhalese nationalist press described NGOs as the "four-letter word" of Sri Lankan politics, according to .
In early May, grenades were lobbed near three international NGOs providing tsunami relief in Mutur, according to the Monitor. All three agencies have now left the embattled eastern town.
In recent days, Sinhalese mobs have attacked convoys of aid workers in Mutur.
Meanwhile, in Tiger-held territories in the eastern Ampara district, there is intimidation in the other direction - locals employed by international aid agencies say Tigers are threatening them in the hope they will stop working in the region.
Hatred towards NGOs burst out most visibly with the murder, in early August, of 17 locals who worked for Action Against Hunger in Mutur (they were wearing their NGO T-shirts at the time). The United Nations said it was the deadliest attack on aid workers since the bombing of its headquarters in Baghdad in 2003.
All but one of the victims were Tamils, and Ulf Henricsson, the outgoing head of the Sri Lankan Monitoring Mission, which oversees the shaky 2002 ceasefire, laid the blame for the atrocity at the feet of . The government has responsibility.
Meanwhile, bureaucratic obstacles to working in the country are also mounting, with a new demand that foreigners working for NGOs apply for work permits, and a confused demand that expats register with the Defence Ministry. The latter demand can't be complied with anymore because it has now been revoked, but government checkpoints are still obstructing passage for NGOs on the grounds that they don't possess this registration, claims the Monitor. The government is also trying to impose a tax on aid groups' spending, says .
All the evidence points to deliberate harassment of NGOs and their work, but the government denies this. Jeevan Thiagarajah, executive director of the in Sri Lanka, says aid workers face a "generally unhelpful, hostile enviornment". Refugees International calls it "what appears to be a conscious campaign of harassment and intimidation".
There's no doubt that Sri Lankans need aid. In addition to the 325,000 displaced by the tsunami, a further 215,000 people have been displaced this year by the reignited conflict, following a four-year suspension of hostilities.
But the United Nations and the International Committee of the Red Cross - the only agencies that have access to Tiger-held territories and to areas where the Tigers and government forces are fighting each other - have both warned that they may cease operations in Sri Lanka because of security concerns.
The national and international reaction to the murder of the 17 aid workers has been pitiful, says Refugees International, and can only worsen the security situation.
It singles out the donor community for criticism.
"High-level public engagement is essential to restore the morale and confidence of the aid community in Sri Lanka and, most importantly, the embattled civilians of northern and eastern Sri Lanka.
"The lack of credible government and international response to the murders has surely emboldened the combatants of both parties: killing Tamil and Muslim NGO personnel is a crime of no consequence. Impunity rules”.
NGO Forum disrupted in Sri Lanka
On the morning of 15th November 1995, the NGO Forum took place at Bentota Beach Hotel, in Bentota, in the South of Sri Lanka. Both foreign and local NGO representatives participated in this forum, which was designed to improve cooperation between local and international NGOs in the effort to promote equitable development. The forum meeting was disrupted by anti-NGO demonstrators who were funded and masterminded by the government of Sri Lanka.
Three journalists were seriously wounded by members of the crowd, which congregated outside the Bentota hotel! They smashed a car and attempted to throw a journalist into the river. The police authorities made no effort to prevent the assault or to rescue the victims. It was alleged that certain government politicians were behind the anti-NGO demonstration. The organisers of the NGO forum decided to shift the venue to the capital, Colombo.
On 16th November, the NGO Forum re-convened in the morning at a conference hall in Ratmalana, a suburb south of Colombo. The conference attendees, several of whom had been questioned by police officers at their hotel the previous night, once again became nervous. Just as the Forum was beginning its work, police officers arrived to “request” the Forum to suspend its proceedings, claiming that the meeting was illegal! The meeting was dissolved and all attendees dispersed.
In the afternoon of the 16th November, the Forum’s international Core Group and the Sri Lanka Working Group convened an emergency meeting at an NGO’s office in Colombo to discuss their concerns regarding the disrupting of the NGO Forum in two different locations. Unfortunately this meeting, too, was disrupted when an angry crowd, made aware of the venue by radio news broadcast, converged on the site. It was evident that the discussions could not continue there either.
Brigades International - Sri Lanka
Special Report: December, 1995
By 9 am on 14 November, according to NGO Forum Executive Secretary Bryn Wolfe, a crowd of approximately 50 people had congregated outside the Bentota Beach Hotel to protest the meeting. As the number of demonstrators continued to grow, both the local police and hotel managers were nervous enough to request that the conference be canceled. On the other hand, Foreign Ministry officials insisted that the consultation should continue as planned, and had even arranged for a Ministry of Defense commando unit to disperse the crowd with tear-gas so the meeting could go on "in tranquillity." Under such circumstances, organizers felt that holding the meeting in the arranged location might produce a level of confrontation totally contrary to the spirit in which the member organizations work, and they decided to shift the venue. At 12 o'clock, Mr. Wolfe was escorted by police through the demonstration of 400 to 500 protesters and returned to Colombo to make alternate arrangements.
Later that same day, Sunandra Deshapriya, two other Sri Lankan journalists, and a German free-lance journalist arrived in Bentota to cover the story, although three of the four were in some way associated with NGOs attending the Forum meeting. Upon leaving the hotel to return to Colombo, the group was set upon by the crowd, which had now swollen to over 2,000 people, and the three Sri Lankan journalists were severely assaulted. Mr. Deshapriya, in conversation with PBI team-members, described the incident. "They smashed our car and nearly hammered me to death . . . They wanted to throw me in the river when they had finished with me . . . Fortunately, there was an army vehicle and I pleaded for my life." In a press release issued the following day, the Free Media Movement highlighted two main concerns: 1) "police authorities made no effort to prevent the assault or to rescue the victims," and 2) "senior local politicians of certain government political parties . . . seem to have been giving leadership to the demonstration." The FMM has called upon the government to investigate the matter without delay "so as to reassure the citizens of this country that the forces of political violence and terror will not be allowed to raise their heads again."
After many of the Tamil participants had been escorted out of Colombo by Peace Brigades field workers (see "The Sri Lanka Project in November"), several members of the Forum's international Core Group and the Sri Lanka Working Group convened an emergency meeting at the INFORM office to discuss their concerns and possible responses to the situation that had developed. However, this meeting was also disrupted when an angry crowd, made aware of the location by a radio news broadcast, converged on the site. Responding to calls for assistance from SL Working Group members, two government Ministers, one Deputy Minister, and an MP arrived on the scene. It was evident that the discussion could not continue, so one of the Ministers, after informing the crowd that the activists were not Tigers, invited the group to his home for a more relaxed discussion.
Reflecting upon the incidents surrounding the consultation, NGO Forum organizers have identified a series of concerns that must be addressed in order to ensure that these organizations can continue to function effectively. The security forces were unable or unwilling to intervene effectively to protect the safety of participants in a nonviolent, private meeting, allowing mob violence to rule the day. The national news media had repeatedly printed and broadcast inaccurate and defamatory information in the full knowledge that it was false and would inflame the situation, despite being provided with corrections by the NGO Forum itself. As a result, the population was given the impression that the NGO community in general and the Forum in particular are not only anti-government, but even "pro-terrorist." NGOs are now faced with the difficult task of re-building trust, particularly among the Sinhalese, and they hope that sympathetic elements within both the government and the media will assist in that process. (Excerpt)
Attacks on NGO offices
by the security forces and paramilitary in the recent past
Doctors Without Borders / Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) – 14 August 1997
Sri Lankan Airforce dropped two bombs towards 5 km southeast of Mallavi, where MSF has rehabilitated a hospital and provides gynecological, pediatric, and nursing care.
National Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka - 22 January 2002
Sri Lankan Police officer, Mr. Ranman Kodithuwakku (A.S.P) behaved arrogantly and intimidated the NHRC officer and challenge the authority of the Commission, claiming that it had no right to investigate his affairs.
An unoccupied vehicle parked in the compound of the SLMM was bombed.
Due to increasing violence, the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission - SLMM is suspended its operations in the northeastern Trincomalee district.
Inter SOS, ZOA and Non-Violent Peace Force – 21 May 2006
Grenades were lobbed at the offices of three international non-governmental organizations, in government controlled Muttur. One foreign representative of the Non-Violent Peace Force and a local worker were injured in the grenade attacks.
Jaffna office of the Tamils Rehabilitation Organisation was looted and burned by armed men. Intruders forced a night watchman to leave the office and then destroyed computers, files and other equipment before setting the building on fire.
Sri Lankan government has frozen the bank accounts of Tamil Rehabilitation Organisation (TRO).
Action Contre La Faim (ACF) – 7 September 2006
Following the murders of 17 of its staff members, ACF has announced it will be suspending reconstruction work in Sri Lanka. The organization will maintain a reduced presence in the country.
International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) – 30 September 2006
"On Saturday September 30 around 11p.m. a grenade exploded in front of the ICRC, Jaffna office. The explosion caused only material damage to the building.
Doctors Without Borders / Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) – 30 September 2006
Since the September 30, false allegations have been leveled in the Sri Lankan media accusing MSF teams of participating in the conflict. Simultaneously MSF received a letter from the government canceling their existing visas and asking them to leave the country.
The Australian Red Cross – 18 October 2006
The Australian Red Cross announced it was temporarily suspending field activities in and around Jaffna.
17 NGO workers massacred in Muttur
5 August 2006 - Sri Lanka Army soldiers who entered the Muttur town in the early morning of Saturday shot and killed 17 Tamil workers from Action Fiam NGO. The workers, trapped inside their Muttur branch office residence located close to Muttur Cultural Centre, were shot and killed at point blank range, initial reports from Muttur town said.
According to the initial reports, four of the fifteen massacred at the residence were women workers.
Meanwhile, 29 Tamil males who were among the civilian refugees being transported by United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) towards Trincomalee town were arrested by Sri Lanka Army troopers and were transported in a tractor.
The arrested were handed over to the Police. 300 Tamil families reached Trincomalee in a transport facilitated by the ICRC.
Aid agency probes Sri Lanka massacre as monitor slams shelling
7 August 2006, COLOMBO (AFP) - A French aid agency was trying to find out who shot dead 17 of its employees as a Nordic truce monitor hit out at the Sri Lankan government for shelling Tamil rebels as they tried to reopen a bitterly-contested waterway.
The bodies of 11 men and four women, wearing Action Against Hunger (ACF) T-shirts, were found face-down in their office on Sunday in the town of Muttur, close to heavy fighting between Tamil rebels and government forces. The rebels have accused the security forces of killing the aid workers, who were all members of Sri Lanka's minority ethnic Tamil community.
Benoit Miribel, the director general of Action Against Hunger (ACF), said his organisation was stunned by the killings which were unprecedented in its 25-year history. "We are trying to send a team to find out what is going on in this area," Miribel told AFP in Paris. "But soldiers have prevented us from entering the town which remains completely sealed off."
ACF is one of the hundreds of aid agencies that set up operations in Sri Lanka after an Indian Ocean tsunami wiped out much the island's coastal infrastructure and killed an estimated 31,000 people in December 2004.
Sri Lanka obstructing slain aid staff probe – SLMM Head
Saturday August 12, 2006 COLOMBO (Reuters) - Sri Lankan authorities are deliberately hampering efforts to investigate the murder of 17 aid workers, some of whose relatives blame the military, the island's chief truce monitor said on Saturday.
As the international community, from the United States to the United Nations, demands a transparent investigation into one of the worst massacres of aid workers in living memory, the government is denying Nordic truce monitors access to the site.
The military blames Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) rebels for the killings last week, amid a bout of the worst fighting since a 2002 ceasefire. The government has promised to conduct a transparent probe.
"I have experienced this in the Balkans before. When you're not let in, it's a sign that there's something they want to hide," said retired Maj. Gen. Ulf Henricsson, who heads the unarmed Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission (SLMM).
"You have a lot of time to clear it up. If there was clear evidence for the LTTE to have done it, why not let us in to see it? I think the government makes the situation worse for themselves, because the truth will come out."
The local staff of aid group Action Contre la Faim, or Action Against Hunger, were found lying face down in the grounds of their compound in the eastern town of Mutur, which was the scene of fierce fighting between the military and rebels.
Photographs taken by fellow aid workers show them wearing blood-soaked Action Contre la Faim T-shirts, lying in rows on the ground, apparently shot in the head. Most were Tamil.
"They are denying us access to the whole area, so we cannot monitor. There were journalist trips arranged to Mutur last Saturday and Sunday. That was possible, but we had no access. Why? For security reasons? Of course not. There are other reasons."
Henricsson is frustrated at repeated obstruction by both the government and the Tamil Tigers when his team tries to investigate repeated violations of the ceasefire agreement, which is dead on the ground as battles rage.
His monitors say there is evidence that troops have been involved in extrajudicial killings of minority Tamils in the war-ravaged north and east.
The Tigers have also committed a litany of violations, and have given European Union nations Sweden, Denmark and Finland an ultimatum to withdraw their members from the monitor team in light of a new EU terror ban against them.
The three countries are pulling out, cutting the mission from 60 to 20 monitors. Remaining nations Norway and Iceland are to contribute new staff to bring the mission to 30-strong. Henricsson, a Swedish national, will have to leave -- and thinks it is time the monitors pulled the plug altogether. "I have recommended to the facilitator (Norway) to at least consider a withdrawal," he said.
"(The mission) is some kind of political cover for the government and the LTTE to still have the ceasefire agreement on more or less," he added. "I don't like to be a political hostage. Why be here, if you're not wanted, not used? Why spend the money and the time on this?"
Statement made by Mr Bernard Kouchner
June 17, 2008 - The French government condemned in the strong possible terms the massacre of 17 employees of the French NGO Action Against Hunger in August 2006 in Muttur (Sri Lanka).
A Sri Lankan commission of inquiry is currently investigating the murder of these aid workers. We have just sent a French expert to Colombo in order to follow the public hearings of the commission and evaluate the results.
I understand the impatience and frustration of the families of the individuals who were assassinated and the leaders of Action Against Hunger (ACF). At the ACF’s request we are going to explore with our international partners the possibility of establishing an international commission of inquiry.
46 Humanitarian staff killed in Sri Lanka
by the security forces and the paramilitary
From January 2006 to August 2007
(Listed by organisations in alphabetical order)
No. Name organisation date
1 - Mr. Primus Anandarajah Action Contre La Faim (ACF) 04/08/2006
2 - Mr. Matahavarasa Ketheeswaran -do- -do-
3 - Mr. G. Sreethraran -do- -do-
4 - Mr. Narmathan -do- -do-
5 - Mr. R. Arulraj -do- -do-
6 - Mr. P.Pratheeban -do- -do-
7 - Mr. M. Rishikeshan -do- -do-
8 - Mr. Y Kodeeswaran -do- -do-
9 - Ms. K.Kovarthani -do- -do-
10 - Ms. S.Romila -do- -do-
11 - Ms. V.Kokilavathani -do- -do-
12 - Ms. G. Kavitha -do- -do-
13 - Mr.
S. Ganesh -do- -do-
14 - Mr. Abdul Latif Mohamed Jauffer do- -do-
15 - Mr. A. Jaseelan do- -do-
16 - Mr. K. Koneshwaran do- -do-
17 - Mr. Muraleetharan do- -do-
18 - Mr. Arumainayagam Alloysius Danish De-mining Group – DDG 23/07/2007
Sivarasa Vimalarasa do- 19/06/2007
20- Mr. Thambiah Tharmasiri do- 11/01/2006
Narayanamoorthy Kandeepan do- -do-
22 - Mr. Nagarasa Narenthiran Halo Trust 09/02/2007
23- Mr. C. Rajendran, do 09/01/2007
24- Mr. Subramaniam Parameswaran do 04/01/2007
25- Mr. Gunaratnam Logithas do 04/02/2006
26- Mr. Charles Huston Ravindran do 15/11/2006
27 - Mr. Rasiah Muraleeswaran Housing devel. for tsunami victims 08/07/2006
28 - Mr. Pathmanathan Shanmugaratnam HUDEC 10/04/2006
29 - Mr.
Selvendra Pradeepkumar do- -do-
30 - Mr. Sinnarajah Shanmuganathan ICRC 1/06/2007
31 - Mr. Karthigesu
Chandramohan do- -do-
32 - Mr. Mohamed Z. Mohamed Rizvi Methodist Community Org.(UMCOR) 06/08/2007
33 - Jeyaruban Gnanapragasam Norwegian Refugee Council 15/05/206
35 - Mr. Kasinathar Ganeshalingam Tamil Rehabilitation Org.(TRO) 29/01/2006
36 - Mr. Thangarasa Karthirkamar do- -do-
37 - Ms Thanushkodi Premini do- 30/01/2006
38 - Mr. Thamiraja Vasantharajan do- -do-
39 - Mr. Shanmuganathan Sujendran do- -do-
40 - Mr. Kailyapillai Ravinthiran do- -do-
41 - Mr. Arunesara Satheeskaran do- -do-
42 - Mr. Krishnapillai Kamalanathan do 02/07/2006
43 - Mr. Muthuraja Aruleswaran do 24/03/2007
44 - Mr. P. Jestly Julian UN agency UNOPS 24/08/2006
45 - Mr. Ratnam Ratnarajah World Bank assisted (NEIAP) 26/05/2006
46 - Mr Ragunathan Ramalingam World Concern Devel. Org. 11/09/2006
Humanitarian staff injured
by the security forces and paramilitary in the recent past
Name incident date organisation
A Serbian aid worker Injured 21/05/2006 Non-violent Peace Force group
Mr. Thangarasa Mukunthan Injured 12/06/2006 White Pigeon, Jaffna
Mr. Anthonio Mahalucgs Injured 13/06/2006 Mercy Corps
Mr. Kanthasami Sivasuthan Army 18/07/2006 Tamil Rehabilitation Org.(TRO)
COLOMBO, Sept 1, 2006 (AFP) - Sri Lanka has enforced new controls on foreign aid workers after 17 local employees of a French charity were murdered, allegedly by security forces, aid officials said Friday.
Local and foreign non-government organisations were told to obtain work permits for expatriate staff by Friday, before the deadline was extended by a week, the officials said.
The new measures were brought in after the aid workers of Action Against Hunger (Action contre la Faim or ACF) were shot through the head on August 4 as troops and Tiger rebels fought for control of the northeastern town of Muttur.
Independent Scandinavian truce monitors have charged that security forces killed the aid workers, mounted a cover-up and prevented monitors from entering the area.
The government denies it was involved in the murder and points out that forensic and police investigations are still under way.
An official of an international charity said the authorities had also begun harassing their staff in the aftermath of the accusations.
"Our vehicles are not allowed to go in or come out of the (restive) east," said the official who declined to be named.
A spokesman for non-governmental organisations said about 500 foreign nationals working for about 90 charities had already applied for work permits but were still awaiting them.
Government spokesman Keheliya Rambukwella said the authorities wanted to keep track of the work of relief agencies and ensure that their facilities were not made available to the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam.
"We have had some bad experiences in the past," Rambukwella said. "We have a right to know who is doing what."
However, aid officials said the government's measures against relief organisations did not apply to United Nations agencies or the International Red Cross.
Rambukwella, who is also policy planning minister, said relief agencies must hand over their assets to the military if they were quitting embattled areas and not let them to fall into rebel hands.
His remarks came after the United Nations threatened to halt Sri Lankan aid operations, including refugee and tsunami relief, over the killing of the aid workers.
At least 1,500 people have been killed since violence escalated in December, despite a ceasefire agreed in February 2002. The government and Tamil Tiger rebels say they remain committed to the truce despite recent violence.
Call for release of website editor accused of terrorism
Reporters Without Borders calls on the Sri Lankan government to release J. S. Tissainayagam, a Tamil journalist who has been held since March. A government minister has just said he is charged with terrorism on the basis of articles written in 2006 and his activities as the editor of a website."This respected journalist's illegal and unjust detention is being accompanied by grotesque charges that are a serious violation of the freedom of expression guaranteed in the Sri Lankan constitution,"
Reporters Without Borders said."How can the expression of a personal view, which is based on facts known to everyone and which does not call for violence, be an act of terrorism," the press freedom organisation said. "We urge the international community, including the European Union, to press for Tissainayagam's release.
"In a 12 August letter to Human Rights Watch, disaster management and human rights secretary Rajiva Wijesinha said that, after a long police investigation, Tissainayagam was now facing terrorism charges. But the only evidence he offered was a 2006 article in a magazine edited by Tissainayagam in which he spoke of an army offensive in a Tamil region that was being accompanied by a dramatic humanitarian crisis for the civilian population.
The letter can be read on the Peace in Sri Lanka website ().A contributor to the Sunday Times newspaper, Tissainayagam was arrested in Colombo on 7 March, just a few weeks after creating a news website called Outreachlk with funding from FLICT, an NGO supported by the German development agency GTZ.
The authorities extended his detention for another three months on 6 June in order to continue their investigation.The police have apparently tried to establish that articles he wrote in 2006 supported Tamil Tiger terrorism. His case was referred to the attorney-general's office on 4 July. He is being held by the anti-terrorism police in Colombo, where his lawyer has never been allowed to talk to him in private.— (Reporters Without Borders/Reporters sans frontiers 14 August 2008)
A Story About a Tamil Called Tissa Tissainayagam
By Eric HüblerThu.
March 27, 2008 - A dissident columnist is hauled away on a meaningless “detention order.” His frantic wife says he has been beaten — and is, in all likelihood, being beaten at this moment. She begs a family friend with international ties to get word out; the friend fires off an email to an influential American acquaintance, begging him to use his pull with Washington and the media to put unrelenting pressure on the embassy.
In a world full of violent opposition to insensitive authority, this must happen daily. The difference here is that the role of the influential American is to be played by me. And the gaping hole in the plan is: I’m not influential.
In 1980, as best as I remember, the American Field Service sent a Sri Lankan exchange student to my New Jersey high school, and we fell into the same clique. She was a member of a minority ethnic group, the Tamils, but that didn’t seem significant; she was the exotic kid we liked to hang out with.
Three years later, at college, I learned by crinkly, sky-blue aerogramme that she and her family narrowly escaped lynching when a mob of majority Sinhalese stormed their apartment house to avenge a guerrilla attack on the police. She became a teacher, got married, and raised her children as cycles of insurgency, counter-insurgency and parliamentary incapacity wrecked her country.
Now, thanks to a panicky email from someone I remember fondly but haven’t spoken with for decades, I find myself fretting over a man I never heard of. Knowing nothing about J.S. “Tissa” Tissainayagam except he was there and then wasn’t, I Googled him.
It wasn’t a great way to become acquainted. I found many of his clips on what appears to be the Web site of the Tamil Tiger guerrillas — who, to their eternal damnation, pioneered the suicide bomb, making them and anyone remotely connected with them accessories to so many murders, in so many places, for so many causes that, surely, could have been addressed more intelligently.
Is Tissa a party hack? Does he deserve the international publicity without which, his wife has reason to believe, he’ll die?
“There is no such thing as an independent journalist in this country,” my schoolmate emailed. “Thirty years of viciousness has effectively cleared the middle ground…. The civic institutions and rights that the West take for granted are barely imaginable here.”
Still, she was outraged I would even raise the possibility of Tissa’s being an apologist for terrorism, pointing out that he has twice visited the United States at the government’s invitation.
Perhaps a likelier explanation of his prominence on the guerrillas’ site is that, in addition to being ruthless bastards, the Tigers are greedy bloggers and cast their links wide so as to appropriate those with cleaner reputations. They also pasted up a picture of Jesus, and say what you will about the man, he never shot up a bus.
Maybe I’m over-thinking this. Maybe the essential thing isn’t whether Tissa is a good guy, a bad guy or an enigma. Maybe in an environment as brutal as Sri Lanka has become, to write at all — to think at all — is to pick sides. And with the government resorting to “disappearances” as a political tactic, according to Human Rights Watch, there’s no right side to pick.
In any case, here’s how it’s supposed to be in a free society (or even a free-ish one, which seems to be the best any of us can expect nowadays): Nobody should be punished for having thoughts and sharing them. Not a Tibetan lama, not an Argentine rabbi, not a Palestinian poster-hanger, not a Latin American priest, not a Turkish novelist. Nobody.
The cops of the world may disagree, but there must be a distinction between those who speak reprehensibly and those who act dangerously. Who gets to draw this distinction? We do. I do.
Tissa Tissainayagam is locked up, and somehow it has become my job to bust him loose. If any influential Americans read this: Any ideas?
More than 150 days of
detention without charges:
15 August 2008 - Senior journalist, Sunday Times columnist and editor of the website www.outreachsl.com, Mr. J. S. Tissainayagam remains in custody without specific charges being brought against him for more than 150 days, even though the Attorney General’s department has informed the Supreme Court on July 11th 2008 that investigations are over. The Attorney General’s Department obtained time till the 20th of August 2008 to report back to courts on the status of the investigations and the next course of action. To this date there has been no evidence being produced in court justifying either the arrests or the detentions.
Mr. Tissainayagam was arrested and detained on 7th March 2008 by the Terrorist Investigation Division (TID) of the Sri Lanka Police. Mr. N. Jasiharan, owner of E-Kwality press on which premises Mr. Tissanayagam was renting office space, and his wife, Mrs. Valarmathi were detained on 6th March 2008. They have all since then been kept in continued detention under Emergency Regulations.
This is a flagrant violation of a fundamental tenet of Sri Lankan law that protects citizens from arbitrary arrest and detention, and guarantees equality before the law for all citizens, regardless of his or her ethnicity or race.
The arrest and detention of Mr. Tissainayagam, Mr. Jesiharan and Ms. Valarmathy has been without adherence to basic safeguards such as the production of valid detention orders at the appropriate time and without their production in court as required to in terms of the Emergency Regulations themselves. They have been denied the right of regular access to lawyers and family members. On the two occasions that lawyers have been able to meet Mr. Tissainayagam, it has been with a Police officer present, thus denying the privacy and confidentiality in seeking legal counsel to which he is entitled by law. As recently as in 2005, the UN Committee against Torture in its Concluding Observations on Sri Lanka reaffirmed that confidential access to legal counsel was basic to the provision of safeguards against abuse. In addition, all three detainees have been denied timely access to medical attention, resulting in their deteriorating health condition. Furthermore, there are allegations of torture of at least one of the three detainees. On June 23rd Mr. Jesiharen revealed in open court that he had been assaulted by the officers of the TID for having told the Judicial Medical Officer the extent of his injuries, inflicted on him by the Police.
The arrest and detention of these persons reiterates a concern that we have consistently voiced regarding the process of arrest and detention under Emergency Regulations: that in many cases, the process as followed infringes on a basic principle consistently articulated by the Supreme Court in the past, namely that the Secretary to the Ministry of Defense is authorized to arrest and detain a person upon material submitted to him or upon such further additional material as may be called for by him, only where he is satisfied that such a step is necessary in order to prevent such person from acting in any manner prejudicial to national security or to the maintenance of public order.
As the Court has stated, the notion of reasonableness cannot be negated to the point where the essence of the safeguard secured by Article 13 (1) of the Constitution is abrogated. It is our view that the circumstances and context of Mr Tissainayagam’s arrest and detention, as well as the detention of his colleagues, lacks all the requisite aspects of reasonable arrest and detention.
The onus is on the Attorney General of Sri Lanka to demonstrate that there is respect and adherence to the Constitution and national laws by presenting whether there is credible and substantial evidence to further detain the three. It is also an opportune moment for the Attorney General to demonstrate that the arrests and detentions are not motivated by other interests including ethnic or political. The onus is upon the Attorney General to demonstrate that the arrests and detentions are in accordance with the law and that due process has been followed. As the head of the Attorney General’s Department, the Attorney General has the power to decide whether to pursue a case if there is sufficient credible evidence or whether to suspend investigations. He should only be dictated by the evidence and not by other factors or persons.
We are also concerned in particular about the arrest and detention of Mr. Tissainayagam because of the impact that this has on broader issues of the freedom of expression and media freedom in the country. As civil society organizations committed to the democratic principles of human rights and freedoms including freedom of expression, we feel that Mr. Tissainayagam’s arrest has reaffirmed the fear prevailing within the media community in Sri Lanka today, that publication of any opinion that provides critical analysis of the situation in the country could lead to persecution, arbitrary arrest, disappearance and even assassination. The sad fact that nine media persons have been killed in Sri Lanka over the past 2 years and that many more have been subjected to physical and mental harassment and assault bears out our concerns regarding Mr. Tissainayagam. Investigations into these crimes against journalists have gone nowhere. The perpetrators of these violations go unpunished, and the cycle of terror and impunity which grips contemporary Sri Lanka is strengthened.
It is in this context that we call upon the State to remedy this grave injustice to a journalist who was engaged in expressing his opinions on the state of human rights in the country within the boundaries of the law. The continued detention of Mr. Tissainayagam, Mr. N. Jasiharan and Ms. Valarmathy, without charges is an affront to justice and we call for due process and the release of all the detainees without further delay.
Asian Human Rights Commission - Association of Family Members of the Disappeared
Centre for People’s Dialogue - Centre for Policy Alternatives
Christian Alliance for Social Action - Civil and Political Rights Program, Law & Society Trust
EQUAL GROUND, Sri Lanka - Free Media Movement
Federation of Media Employees Trade Union - Home for Human Rights
Human Rights Centre, Kandy - Human Rights in Conflict Program, Law & Society Trust
IMADR Asia Committee - INFORM Human Rights Documentation Centre
Mothers and Daughters of Lanka - Muslim Women's Research and Action Forum
National Peace Council - Right to Life Human Rights Centre
Rights Now Collective for Democracy - 20. Sri Lanka Muslim Media Forum
21. Sri Lanka Tamil Journalists Alliance - 22. Sri Lanka Working Journalists Association
Women and Media Collective - Women's Support Group, Sri Lanka
The Ven G S K Francis, Archdeacon of Kurunagala and Commissary for the Anglican Bishop of Kurunagala
The Ven Dhiloraj Canagasabey, Archdeacon of Nuwara Eliya and Commissary for the Anglican Bishop of Colombo
Rev. Fr S. Maria Anthony, sj, President, Conference of Major Religious Superiors
Rev. Fr. Praveen, OMI, Centre for Peace and Reconciliation
Dr. Hasbullah, University of Peradeniya
Dr. Jehan Perera
Mr. Herman Kumara
Mr. Lal Wijenayake
Mr. Dharmasiri Bandaranayake
The Right to Self-determination
Tamils of Sri Lanka (Ceylon)
Comparison with Kosovo
Tamil Centre for Human Rights – TCHR/CTDH – March 2008
CAT - Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment....
* optional protocols
Proposed solutions to settle the ethnic conflict
Tamil Centre for Human Rights – TCHR/CTDH – March 2008
Year Type of political solution Result
1957 Banda-Chelva pact – Regional Councils Unilaterally abrogated by GOSL
1965 Dudley-Chelva pact – District Councils Unilaterally abrogated GOSL
1970 Proposals placed by the Tamil Federal Party Rejected by the GOSL
(A federal form of government with an autonomous
Tamil-Muslims state and three autonomous Sinhala states)
1979 Presidential Commission to report on This did not fulfil the Tamils’ aspirations.
(creation of District Development Councils) Not intended to provide a different
political or administrative structure for any particular part of the country
1983 All Party Conference TULF rejected these proposals as it was
(Proposals merely extended the scheme of not the originally formulated set of
decentralization at District level to the proposals, known as Annexure – C.
Provincial level with limited co-ordination)
1985 In Thimpu - The devolution proposal by Sri Lanka Rejected by the Tamil representatives
(District councils without executive power)
Thimpu (principle) proposal placed by Tamils Rejected by the GOSL
(Homeland, Nationhood, Right to self-determination Talks collapsed because while the talks
and equal rights ) take place Sri Lanka renewed its military
offensive in the North East
1986 “19 December” proposal s by Indian envoys GOSL expressed reservations and
(Formation of a new Eastern Province by eventually rejected this proposal.
excising Sinhalese majority areas and the creation
of two Tamil Provincial Councils in the Northern and
the reconstituted Eastern Province)
1987 Indo-Lanka Accord (Provincial Councils) After 18 years, the Sri Lanka
(North and Eastern Provinces were merged under Supreme Court rejected this merger
this accord. 95% Tamils didn’t support this accord) 16 October 2006
1989-90 Premadasa Talks The holding of fresh elections in North East
(LTTE formed a political party-PFLT never took place. Prevented LTTE from
and prepared to contest in the elections) demonstrating its support from the people
in North East
1992-93 Parliamentary Select Committee Reports Eyewash to International Community (President D.B.Wijetunga said that there No progress was made
is no 'ethnic problem')
1995 Devolution Package Rejected by Buddhist Maha Sanga and
(Refused to recognise the existence of the other Sinhala political parties
Tamil homeland, rejected an asymmetric approach,
continued to treat all the provinces in the same way)
2003 ISGA proposal by LTTE Rejected by the GOSL and other
(Interim Self-Governing Administration) extreme Sinhala political parties
2005 Post Tsunami Operational Management Rejected by the Sri Lanka
Structure – PTOMS Supreme Court
2007 All Party Conference* Not ALL political parties invited to
Sinhala political parities UNP, JVP, JHU participate in its discussions.
strongly against its proposals Tamil National Alliance, especially
was kept away.
*Mr. N. Satyendra, a scholar and legal expert who participated in the earlier political negotiations with GOSL, described the legislation as a "comic opera." The provisions of the 13th Amendment are impossibly "burlesque and farcical," he stated. Further Parliamentarians and academics described this proposal as ‘political mockery’.
GOSL = Government of Sri Lanka 22
Failed Talks and abrogation of pacts
Tamil Centre for Human Rights – TCHR/CTDH – March 2008
Year Talks between Result Reason/Consequence
1927 Sir Ponnambalam and Sinhala leader Failed Tamils’ point of view ignored
(Recommendations of Donoughmore Commission)
1957 S.J.V. Chelvanayagam and Bandaranayke Pact signed ‘Banda-Chelva’ pact
(In 1956 Sinhala Only act introduced by the PM unilaterally abrogated by Prime
Proposal for Regional Councils) Minister SWRD Bandaranayke
1965 Chelvanayagam and Dudley Senanayake Pact signed ‘Banda-Dudley’ pact
(Proposal for Establishment of District Councils) unilaterally abrogated by Prime
Minister Dudley Senanayake
1971 Tamil Leaders and Srimavo BandaranayakePM Failed Republican constitution was
(Amendments to Republican constitution) passed in 1972 without the support of Tamil parties
1977-1982 TULF and President J.R. Jayawardena Failed The July 1983 riots followed.
(In July 1977 general elections Tamil people marking the beginning of Eelam
gave a mandate to the Tamil United Liberation War - I
Front - TULF, to exercise the “Right to
Self-determination” in the North East)
1985 Tamil activists including the LTTE and GOSL Failed GOSL rejected the Thimpu
(Thimbu talks under Indian facilitation) principle of Tamil homeland, Nationhood, Right to self-determination and Equal rights
1986 LTTE Leader and President J.R. Jayawardena Failed Jeyawardena refused to recognise
(Talks mediated by Indian Prime minister the right to self-determination
in Bangalore, India) and the homeland of the Tamils
1987 India and Sri Lanka (Accord) Signed Accord signed, without any
(under the guise of settling the Tamil ethnic consultation with Tamils, nor the conflict in Sri Lanka.) LTTE, the main party to conflict.
95% Tamils didn’t support this accord.
Under this accord merger of North Eastern
province took place on 8 Sep.1988. But,
after exactly 18 years, The Supreme Court
delivered its political judgement
on 16 October 2006, stating that the merger
of these two provinces was invalid.
1989 LTTE and President Premadasa Failed GOSL prevented International
(LTTE formed a political party and named it, Community knowing the support
“People’s Front of the Liberation Tigers -PFLT”. for the LTTE among the Tamils.
It was registered with the Election officials
of Sri Lanka.) Beginning of Eelam war-II.
1994 LTTE and President Kumaratunga GOSL Failed Promised lifting of Economic
(President Chandrika and the LTTE embargo dragged on and on.
signed an agreement for
cessation of hostilities ) Beginning of Eelam war-III
2002-2004 LTTE and Ranil Wickremasinghe PM Failed The GOSL failed to implement the
agreed outcomes of peace talks
(Under the facilitation of Norway and the CFA. Several rounds of
a Cease Fire Agreement - CFA was signed negotiations took place in
on 22 February 2002 between the Thailand, Norway and Germany
LTTE and government of Sri Lanka.)
Year Talks between Result Reason /Consequence
2005 LTTE and President Kumaratunga Failed By a political judgement from the
with the aim of ensuring equal Supreme Court, PTOMS was made
distribution of Tsunami aid to null and void – 15 July 2005
the worst affected North East
(Post Tsunami Operational Management
Structure – PTOMS was signed between
the GOSL and the LTTE – 24 June 2005)
2006 LTTE and President Mahinda Rajapaksa Failed GOSL failed to implement
February & (Talks in Geneva, Switzerland the agreed outcomes of
October on Paramilitary activities) Geneva talks in February
2006 April - Beginning of Eelam War – IV
2008 January Sri Lanka officially withdrew from the CFA on 3 January 2008
GOSL = Government of Sri Lanka
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