May 25, 2009

life in general: sri lanka's authoritarian regime

Things have been very severe for minorities, civil groups, journalists and international aid groups in Sri Lanka in the very few weeks. It matters the least for these people whether the LTTE chief, Prabhakaran, died or lived. What matters for them is their right to get fair and equal treatment from the ruling regime in Sri Lanka. And that right has been denied to him.

Here is an email I received today on the issue from a NGO:

Date: 2009/5/25
Subject: [PMARC] Appeal to the Government of India
To: Dalits Media Watch

Dear all,

At the end of the most ruthless military combat of recent times having ended in Sri Lanka, the country is left with around 80,000 tamil civilians dead and close to 24,000 soldiers dead. It has also left behind 2,72,000 refugees behind who now live in abysmal conditions in the camps.
At this stage the Sri Lankan government has drafted a resolution to be presented at the UN Human Rights Commission that is one of fabrication and false claims with regards to the process in which this massive humanitarian crisis is being dealt with. This resolution has been co-sponsored/signed by many other countries including India, with India being one of the biggest actors among the signatories along with Pakistan and China. A copy of the memorandum is attached.
It is absolutely imperative that we protest such a move. Activists in Sri Lanka have drafted a memorandum to counter this resolution. The memorandum is pasted below. We urge you to sign on to the resolution and fax it to the Prime Minister’s office at +91 11 23019545 , 23016857, 23018473 from wherever you are. Please do this today as the special session on Sri Lanka at the UNHRC is scheduled for tomorrow, Tuesday, 26th May. Attached to this email is the SL government's resolution.
Below are email addresses of the Prime Minister and some other important persons. Along with your fax today, kindly email the memorandum attached below to these addresses. Even if your unable to send a fax take a few minutes to copy paste and send this email.
Kindly do mark a copy to me Henri Tiphagne at Forum Asia,Geneva at for thier records which they can then use as representation of the number of people opposed to the resolution at the UNHRC.
Send off an email today.
1. Dr. Manmohan Singh, the Hon’ble Prime Minister of India ( )
2. Ms. Sonia Gandhi, the Chairperson of the UPA and the President of the Congress Party, ( )
3. Mr. S.M. Krishna , the Hon’ble Minister of External Affairs (, )
4. Mr. Rahul Gandhi, the General Secretary of the Congress Party ( )
Make your voice heard against gross human rights violations affecting the lives of thousands of people in Sri Lanka.

Appeal to the government of India
As human rights defenders concerned about the human rights situation in Sri Lanka, we are gravely concerned that the government of India has extended its support to the government of Sri Lanka at the Special Session of the UN Human Rights Council convened on May 26, 2009 to discuss the emerging humanitarian and human rights situation in Sri Lanka.
The decision of the President of the Human rights Council to call this Special Session was based on a call by 17 members of the Council: Argentina, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Canada, Chile, France, Germany, Italy, Mauritius, Mexico, Netherlands, Republic of Korea, Slovakia, Slovenia, Switzerland, Ukraine, United Kingdom and Uruguay. Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxemburg, Malta, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Spain and Sweden signed on to the call as Observer States of the Council.
With regards to the war, the conclusion of the military offensive in the north of the island has sharpened concerns around the world with regard to the protection of civilians in the context of the conflict. The present situation calls for urgent and immediate responses to the humanitarian needs of the over 300,000 people who have been displaced as a consequence of the recent fighting, as well as for protection of their human rights.
The continuing denial of access to the most recent zones of conflict to international humanitarian agencies places the lives of those civilians who remain trapped within these areas at risk. According to available information, there are still civilians stranded in the conflict-affected areas and monitored evacuation is essential.
Restrictions imposed on media and on civil society actors with regard to travel to the conflict-affected areas and to the IDP camps housing the most recently displaced means that independent investigation into allegations of gross violations of human rights and of war crimes remains impossible.
Conditions within the camps remain far below acceptable standards, with shortages of essential items. The conditions in which IDPs are reaching the camps, with infected wounds, dehydration and malnutrition being rampant among them, call for specialized and emergency care. On April 27, Vavuniya Magistrate Alexraja registered the deaths of 14 elderly persons in one camp (Chettikulam) on one day alone, which he attributed to malnutrition. Restriction of access to humanitarian agencies, the provision of security by the military and the presence of armed paramilitaries within the camps all lead to an environment of fear and anxiety and heighten concerns regarding the safety and security of the IDPs.
While we appreciate the security concerns voiced by the government, we reiterate that these considerations cannot be allowed to lead to human rights abuses such as abduction, disappearance, arbitrary detention and summary execution.
For example, on Wednesday May 20, there were reports of the removal of over 500 boys between the ages of 11 and 17 from the IDP camp at Manik Farm to the camp at Nellikulam Technical College, causing great anxiety to their parents and family members.
The continuing intimidation of human rights defenders, media persons and critics of the military resolution of the conflict and the labeling of them as being ‘anti-national’ stifles the expression of concerns regarding the humanitarian crisis in the north.
The prolonged detention of the 3 doctors from the Vanni – Thangamuttu Sathyamoorhty, Thurairaja Varatharajan and V. Sanmugaraja – who are accused of providing information regarding the situation inside the conflict zone as well as the expulsion of journalists constitute violations of the freedom of expression and opinion that have dire consequences especially in a context in which transparency and accountability become of paramount importance.
The Resolution tabled for the Special Session on May 22 by the government of Sri Lanka with the support of the government of India and several other governments that are members of the Human Rights Council seeks to underplay the critical situation and instead focuses on calling on the international community to extend financial assistance to the government.
Despite all reports from the UN and other international agencies regarding the poor conditions in the camps, the lack of security of IDPs and the denial of access to the camps to humasnitarian agencies, the Resolution ‘Commends the measures taken by the Government of Sri Lanka to address the urgent needs of the IDPs and ‘Welcomes the continued cooperation between the Government of Sri Lanka and relevant UN agencies and other humanitarian organizations’.
We urge the government of India to consider the humanitarian implications of allowing the government of Sri Lanka to avoid any reaffirmation of its obligations to treat the Tamil community of Sri Lanka, and in particular those who have been most affected by the recent conflict, as full citizens.
The Special Session should not be perceived either as a mechanism for negative criticisms of the government of Sri Lanka or as an arena in which the government of Sri Lanka can be permitted to evade its obligations under international human rights and humanitarian law.
Rather it should provide a forum for all governments including the government of India to enter into a dialogue with the government of Sri Lanka regarding the following:
- Cooperation with the UN and other international and national humanitarian agencies to ensure unrestricted access to the IDP camps for the recently displaced, and to facilitate provision of the immediate physical, medical and psychological needs of the IDPs, in keeping with the UN Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement and respecting the freedom of movement and expression of the IDP communities;
- special attention to IDP groups with special needs and vulnerable sectors of the IDP community such as the elderly, pregnant and lactating women, infants and children without adult accompaniment;
- Respect for international humanitarian norms and cooperation with international agencies to ensure the safe evacuation of all remaining civilians, former combatants who are hors de combat and the wounded from the recent conflict zones;
- Creation of a centralized data base of all those detained by the state during the past months, including those LTTE cadre and members of their families who have surrendered to the security forces, and to ensure access to these detainees by the ICRC. Family members of all detained persons should be informed as to the whereabouts of their detained relatives and special arrangements should be made for the security and care of detained women and children;
- Creation of a central list of all places of detention being presently utilized by the security forces and intelligence agencies and ensure access to these detention sites and to the detainees by the ICRC;
- Creation of a centralized data base of all those IDPs presently living in camps and receiving medical treatment in hospitals in order to facilitate family reunification and ensure that international and national humanitarian agencies have access to this information.
The Special Session could also propose to the government of Sri Lanka some issues that require medium and long-term attention:
- the need to gather a team of local and international forensic experts accompanied by independent observers to travel to the conflict zones of the Vanni to investigate allegations of war crimes attacks on civilians and on wounded combatants and surrendees.
- the need to engage in a multi-partisan process to ensure equitable and just processes of reconstruction and rehabilitation;
- the need for a consultative and participatory process that includes civil society as well as national and international agencies to facilitate resettlement in a manner that guarantees re-integration of communities and reconstruction of livelihoods in a framework that respects human rights and human dignity;
- consensus on the part of the government of Sri Lanka regarding modalities for demobilisation of LTTE cadres to ensure international verification of laying down of weapons and the protection of former combatants who have surrendered as governed by the Rules of War and Geneva Conventions.
It is in particular imperative that the Session addresses issues of access of humanitarian agencies to the IDP camps, which is imperative for ensuring the treatment of IDPs in keeping with international standards.
The establishing of data bases on IDPs, surrendees and detainees is critical to combat the allegations that there have been disappearances while IDPs were fleeing the fighting in the past two months right up to the present.
Access of independent observers – journalists, humanitarian actors, human rights defenders – to the conflict-affected areas can help in gathering accurate documentation regarding the situation on the ground in the past weeks of the conflict and help the government of Sri Lanka and the international community to resolve the spate of allegations and counter-allegations regarding human rights violations and war crimes.
As Sri Lanka’s closest neighbor, India bears a special responsibility towards all peace loving citizens of Sri Lanka, of India and of the world to ensure that this Special Session leads to an improvement of the conditions on the ground for all those affected by the recent conflict and prepares the ground for a long-term political solution.
INFORM, Sri Lanka
Rights now for Democracy

B-114, Shivalik, Malviya Nagar
N. Delhi - 110017
Phone: +91 11 2669 1219/20
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