Amnesty Media Advisory on Disappearances

Amnesty disappearances Aug 27 2013

AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL
MEDIA ADVISORY
AI index: ASA 37/020/2013
27 August 2013
Sri Lanka: Navi Pillay’s visit and Day of the Disappeared

Spokespeople and new case studies available

On 30 August 2013, the world will mark the International Day of the Disappeared.
In Sri Lanka, some 12,000 complaints of enforced disappearances have been submitted to the
UN since the 1980s – making it second only to Iraq. But the actual number of disappeared is
much higher, with at least 30,000 cases alleged up to 1994 and many thousands reported
after that.

“The number of disappeared people in Sri Lanka is astounding. The government has to stop
making empty promises and once and for all seriously investigate the tens of thousands of
cases of enforced disappearances,” said Yolanda Foster, Amnesty International’s Sri Lanka
expert.

This year’s Day of the Disappeared coincides with the visit of UN High Commissioner for
Human Rights, Navi Pillay, to Sri Lanka (25-31 August). She is expected to meet family
members of some of the disappeared.

More information

Amnesty International spokespeople as well as activists based in Sri Lanka are available for
interviews on enforced disappearances and on Navi Pillay’s visit. To arrange, please contact:
Olof Blomqvist, Amnesty International Asia/Pacific press officer, + 44 (0) 20 7413 5871,
olof.blomqvist@amnesty.org

In addition, Amnesty International has documented several new case studies of enforced
disappearances in Sri Lanka that have never been published before. Photo material and more
information on these cases are available through the Amnesty International press office.

Background

On 26 July 2013, the Sri Lankan government announced that it will establish a Presidential
Commission of Inquiry to look into enforced disappearances from the final years the conflict
(1990-2009), but there are questions about the commission’s independence from the
government.

Similar commissions appointed in the past have accomplished very little and some have had
close ties to the authorities, undermining their independence. There have been ten
commissions on disappearances since the early 1990s, but their recommendations have
largely been ignored, and few of the many alleged perpetrators they identified have been
brought to justice.

During the final bloody months of the armed conflict in 2009, thousands of people
disappeared after their arrest or capture by the Sri Lankan security forces or abduction by the
Tamil Tigers. Very few of those cases have been resolved. In addition there has been blatant
intimidation reported against families and others seeking to take remedial action.

The Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) gives the security forces wide powers to arrest
suspected opponents of the government and detain them incommunicado and without charge
or trial for long periods – conditions which provide a ready context for deaths in custody,
enforced disappearances and torture.

Victims and their relatives have faced enormous difficulties in seeking redress. Hundreds of
relatives have filed habeas corpus petitions in an attempt to trace ‘disappeared’ prisoners but
the procedure has proved slow and ineffective.

On ‘The Face of Buddhist Terror’

Time magazine’s cover story

“The article did a fine job of highlighting what’s already been in the news recently, but it said nothing about the history of Buddhist fundamentalism. It’s not a new thing. Beech spoke of the Bodu Bala Sena that formed in Sri Lanka less than a year ago, but it is worth pointing out that ethnic Sri Lankan Tamils have been aware of hate-inciting Buddhist monks for decades. While the world holds to its idealistic illusions about the one major religion that appears to be free from the violent and toxic fundamentalism that seems to afflict all the rest, Buddhist extremism was there, alive and well, free to fester and gain momentum for decades.”

by Sachi Sri Kantha, July 26, 2013

Time cover story July 1, 2013

Associated Press report July 3 2013According to a recent Associated Press news brief, Sri Lanka’s Customs confiscated 400 copies the July 1st issue of Time magazine. The reason cited by Mr. Leslie Gamini, a spokesman for the Customs Department, the cover story entitled ‘The Face of Buddhist Terror’ “could affect religious sentiments in its country, which is mainly Buddhist.”

So as not to deprive the freedom of knowledge enshrined in the Sri Lankan Constitution, for the Sri Lankan readers of Time magazine, I opted to deliver the contents of the cover story in this banned issue. The cover story predominantly features the terrorist activities of Buddhist monks in Myanmar and Thailand.

Sri Lankan Buddhist monks are covered only in two paragraphs under the sub-heading ‘Temple and State’, with focus on recently formed Bodu Bala Sena (BBS). Two direct quotes cited in these include one from the general secretary of BBS, Ven. Galaboda Aththe Gnanasara Thero, and the other one from a military guy Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, the Presidential sibling and the patron of a handful of Tamil traitors. For the record, I present below the sentences of these two paragraphs in entirety.

“Dreams of repelling Islam and ensuring the dominance of Buddhism animate the Bodu Bala Sena (BBS), Sri Lanka’s most powerful Buddhist organization whose name means Buddhist Strength Army. At the group’s annual convention in February in a suburb of Sri Lanka’s capital Colombo, more than 100 monks led the proceedings, as followers clutched Buddhist flags, clasped their right hand to their chest and pledged to defend their religion. Founded just a year ago, the BBS insists that Sri Lanka, the world’s oldest continually Buddhist nation, needs to robustly reclaim its spiritual roots. It wants monks to teach history in government schools and has called for religious headscarves to be banned, even though 9% of the population is Muslim. Said BBS general secretary and monk Galaboda Aththe Gnanasara Thero at the group’s annual meeting: ‘This is a Buddhist government. This is a Buddhist country’.

Hard-line monks, like those in the BBS, have turned on minority Muslims and Christians, especially since the 26-year war against the largely Hindu Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam insurgency ended four years ago. After President Mahinda Rajapaksa, a conservative, was elected in 2005, Buddhist supremacist groups became more powerful. In recent months, their campaign of intimidation has included attacks on a Muslim-owned clothing store, a Christian pastor’s house and a Muslim-linked slaughterhouse. Despite monks’ being captured on video leading some of the marauding, none have been charged. Indeed, temple and state are growing ever closer in Sri Lanka, with a monk-dominated party serving as a coalition member of the government. In March, the guest of honor at the opening ceremony for the BBS-founded Buddhist Leadership Academy was Sri Lanka’s Defense Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, the President’s brother, who said, ‘It is the monks who protect our country, religion and race.’ ”

Time cover July 1 2013

The Face of Buddhist Terror TIME July 1 2013 Burma Sri Lanka

It is my impression that Hannah Beech, the author of this cover story, had not visited Sri Lanka. None of the five photographs presented in the cover story are related to any recent incidents that had happened in Sri Lanka. As indicated, under her byline, she had been to Meikhtila (Myanmar) and Pattani (Thailand). She had also omitted the self-immolation death of Buddhist monk, Bowatte Indarathana that happened in May of this year. This was a first in Sri Lanka. Ven. Indarathana was protesting “against the slaughter of cattle and the alleged conversion of Buddhists by the country’s minority faiths”, according to BBC’s news report of May 26, 2013.

One finds it hard to believe why the Sri Lankan Customs had to stop this particular Time issue. But who can vouch for absence of sycophantic behavior among the Sri Lankan Custom Officials? Visiting Sri Lankan politicians and ambassadors never fail to identify the similarity of Buddhism between Sri Lanka and Japan, whenever they have an opportunity to speak. But, Japan didn’t ban this particular Time issue for its contents. Here lies the essential variance between the terrorist Buddhism of Sri Lanka and tolerance Buddhism of Japan.

The recent issue of Time magazine (July 29, 2013) carried four letters from the readers on the July 1st cover story. Among these, two relate to the Sri Lankan brand of Theravada Buddhism. One reader, identified as Naraayanie Sri Raviculan (from Shizuoka, Japan) had written,

“The article did a fine job of highlighting what’s already been in the news recently, but it said nothing about the history of Buddhist fundamentalism. It’s not a new thing. Beech spoke of the Bodu Bala Sena that formed in Sri Lanka less than a year ago, but it is worth pointing out that ethnic Sri Lankan Tamils have been aware of hate-inciting Buddhist monks for decades. While the world holds to its idealistic illusions about the one major religion that appears to be free from the violent and toxic fundamentalism that seems to afflict all the rest, Buddhist extremism was there, alive and well, free to fester and gain momentum for decades.”

Another reader identified as Ravi Nair (from Chennai, India) had commented, “I am not suggesting everything is fine with Buddhist practices, but one cannot deny that they have been most compassionate, rational and liberal. You will have to scrape the bottom of history’s barrel to dig out a Buddhist atrocity on a mass scale. What happened in Sri Lanka was ethnic cleansing and not religious.”

In my view, I’m not sure whether Ravi Nair’s letter was published in entirety or it was edited for clarity. It appears to me that his knowledge on Sri Lankan affairs is rather incomplete.