SL Campaign: Release of the Detained

by Sri Lanka Campaign for Peace & Justice, London, April 12, 2014

Death of “Gobi” should mean release of the detained

We are today calling for the release of Jeyakumari Balendran and at least 60 others detained under the prevention of terrorism act in the last month, following the Sri Lankan Army’s announcement that they had killed suspected LTTE revivalist Selvanayagam Kajeepan AKA Gobi. We are suggesting a travel ban be placed on all members of the department responsible unless this takes place.

The manhunt for Gobi was repeatedly cited as the reason that Jeyakumari Balendran and others were detained under the Prevention of Terrorism Act – a draconian piece of legislation which allows suspects to be detained without evidence for up to 18 months.

There was never any credible evidence produced to link Jeyakumari Balendran or any of the other people arrested to Gobi, and their detention had always appeared to have more to do with maintaining a climate of fear, and preventing communication with the outside world, than it did with security concerns. Now that Gobi is no longer at large there is no longer even the illusion of a reason to continue to detain these people. The Prevention of Terrorism act is an immoral, unnecessary, and unjustifiable piece of legislation and it must be abolished, and those held under it must be released without delay.

Jeyakumari Balendran and at least 60 others remain in Boosa detention centre, a place notorious for torture. We remain very concerned about their wellbeing. If they are not released immediately the international community must swiftly act to ensure there are meaningful sanctions – such as a travel ban on all members of the TID (Terrorist Investigation Department).

Little information is available about Selvanayagam Kajeepan AKA Gobi. As we pointed out earlier, the lack of information about Gobi, and the fact that such information as has been made available does not tally with credible eyewitness accounts, cast doubt on the official narrative of events. This pattern continued as the Uthayan newspaper reported Gobi was arrested on the 8th of April (eyewitnesses had suggested he had already been arrested on the 13th of March), and yet he was reported to be at large when he engaged in a firefight with security forces and was killed on the 11th of April. Clearly this raises the suspicion of extrajudicial killing, but without any further information it is impossible to say whether this was the case, or indeed whether the entire saga was a complete, or partial, fabrication, or merely an exploitation of real events for the purposes of quelling dissent. Certainly a degree of scepticism is in order.

Pro-government spokespeople immediately took to social media (some seemingly before the news had even officially broken, and with images apparently prepared in advance – raising further questions) suggesting the incident marked a return to war. This is patently absurd and there is no suggestion that this incident will have any subsequent consequences. Indeed the death of Gobi, whoever he is or was, must not mark the beginning of anything, but the end of a strange saga which the Government of Sri Lanka ruthlessly exploited to intimidate its critics into silence and strike a series of blows against those working for human rights in Sri Lanka. It is vital that this process is now put into reverse.

Now that Gobi is dead, Jeyakumari must come home

We have just released a statement in response to the Government of Sri Lanka’s announcement that they have killed the wanted LTTE revivalist “Gobi”.

As we said in that statement, “There was never any credible evidence produced to link Jeyakumari Balendran or any of the other people arrested to Gobi, and their detention had always appeared to have more to do with maintaining a climate of fear, and preventing communication with the outside world, than it did with security concerns.”

“Now that Gobi is no longer at large there is no longer even the illusion of a reason to continue to detain these people. They must be released without delay.”

Jeyakumari Balendran and at least 60 others remain in Boosa detention centre, a place notorious for torture. No evidence has ever been produced against any of them, and Jeyakumari at least has now been detained for a month. They must be released, and the draconian law that has been used to keep them in jail must be repealed.

If they are not, the international community needs to take strong steps against the Sri Lankan Government. Only this will change their mind. We are suggesting that all members of the TID (Terrorist Investigation Department) – the organisation that is responsible for these detentions – be denied visas to travel abroad until Jeyakumari is released.

Please write to your Government, and make that argument. You can contact the British here, and the Americans here. A sample email is included below.

Sample email


Dear xxxx,

Jeyakumari Balendran, a prominent human rights activist, and at least sixty others remain in detention in Sri Lanka’s notorious Boosa prison. No evidence has ever been produced against any of them, but the Government of Sri Lanka says that it needs to question them in connection with their hunt for Selvanayagam Kajeepan AKA Gobi.

Now that Gobi has been found, these people must be released and the draconian law that has been used to keep them in jail  (the PTA) must be repealed. If they are not then the international community needs to take strong steps against the Sri Lankan Government. Only this will change their mind. I suggest that all members of the TID (Terrorist Investigation Department) – the organisation that is responsible for these detentions – be denied visas to travel to our country until Jeyakumari is released.

Kind regards

Sri Lanka’s Displaced

by Sarah Stodder, ‘The Diplomat,’ April 9, 2014

Sanjeev sits nervously in a scuffed plastic chair, half-listening to the sounds of the road outside the displacement camp where he lives. Seven years have passed since his involvement in the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), the militant separatist organization that claimed a homeland for Sri Lanka’s minority Tamils until its demise in 2009. Sanjeev’s neck, where an LTTE cyanide capsule once hung, is now bare. After two years in a government rehabilitation camp, he believed he could return to his family’s brick house; instead, he returned to a corrugated metal shack and a military fence.

This month, the UN Human Rights Council passed a resolution establishing an international investigation into possible war crimes committed in the last months of Sri Lanka’s 26-year conflict. Of particular concern are an estimated 40,000 civilians killed as the military completed its final offensive in May 2009.

Though the UN resolution targets abuses committed during the war, it is aimed more broadly at the culture of impunity that has flourished under the government of President Mahinda Rajapaksa, architect of what the International Crisis Group has termed Sri Lanka’s “Potemkin Peace.” The past two months alone have seen a prominent journalist murdered, two well-known human rights activists detained, and a mass grave discovered.

For Sanjeev, reports of mass graves and missing persons punctuate the more chronic pain of internal displacement. Since the end of the war, the Sri Lankan military has occupied his home district of Sampur, but refuses to recognize his community as displaced. Stories like Sampur’s are common: as of April 2013, the government had seized an estimated 7,000 square kilometers of land in the post-conflict area.

While last week’s UN resolution does not directly address the plight of internally displaced persons (IDPs), their ability to one day regain their land hinges on whether an independent war crimes investigation can push the Sri Lankan government toward international standards of human rights and legal process.

The LTTE governed Sampur, a collection of villages on Sri Lanka’s east coast, until 2007, when the Sri Lankan military reclaimed it after a fierce battle. The government told Sampur’s more than 15,000 inhabitants that they could return to their land after demining.

But Sanjeev and his neighbors soon realized that the Sri Lankan government had little intention of following through. They learned that the government had quietly entered into an agreement with a state-owned Indian company to establish a coal power plant in Sampur. Rumor spread that a new road of reddish gravel leading from the military-held area had been supplied with the dust of Sampur’s houses.

The Sri Lankan government encouraged Sampur’s residents to relocate, but most chose to camp in a public lot in nearby Killivetti, where they have remained since 2007. Because they have no deeds to the land they occupy in Killivetti, aid organizations have no basis on which to build permanent housing.

When the conflict ended in 2009, Rajapaksa sought to eliminate the official number of IDPs as quickly as possible by returning Tamil civilians to their home districts. In September 2012, the government of Sri Lankadeclared all IDPs “resettled.”

Official figures, however, ignore communities like Sampur, which are displaced within their home districts. Investigative work by a Sri Lankan think tank, Center for Policy Alternatives, indicates that government deregistration of IDPs ignored intra-district barriers to resettlement such as military seizure of land. According to the UN, Sri Lanka still housed more than 93,000 unofficial IDPs in December 2012, three months after Rajapaksa’s statement.

Camped in Killivetti, Sampur’s residents are deprived of their livelihoods and dependent on foreign aid. Two court cases filed on their behalf have gone nowhere. They and tens of thousands of other IDPs are casualties of military impunity and a lack of political will in Colombo to ensure a legitimate transition to normalcy for war-affected Tamils.

Scenes of U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron visiting the post-conflict area embarrassed Rajapaksa’s government at the 2013 Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting and set the stage for the recent UN resolution. Cameron’s visit gave the world a glimpse of Sri Lanka’s lingering humanitarian crisis – a crisis not only of war crimes but also of internal displacement that could provoke future upheaval if left unresolved.

A tall fence keeps Sanjeev out of Sampur, but nothing keeps him in Killivetti. Yet at the suggestion of leaving, he shakes his head. He has no family elsewhere, so where would he go? More importantly, Sampur is his home, and he wants to fight for it. Perhaps he thinks of relocation as giving up.

A man without hope would not endure the endless surveillance, leaky roof, and loss of dignity that accompany life in a Sri Lankan IDP camp. He stays for the chance that a David Cameron – or perhaps the UN itself – might descend on Sampur, and that the world might listen.

Until then, he waits outside the military fence surrounding his home. For now, his only contact with Sampur is the road of fresh red gravel crunching under his feet.

Sarah Stodder served as a 2012-2013 Fulbright Scholar to Sri Lanka, where she studied the intersection of post-conflict reconstruction and natural disaster management. Fellow Fulbright Scholar Sean O’Connor assisted in researching this article.

US State: 2013 Report on Human Rights

US Department of State, February 27, 2014

The government prosecuted a very small number of government and military officials implicated in human rights abuses and had yet to hold anyone accountable for alleged violations of international humanitarian law and international human rights law that occurred during the conflict that ended in 2009.

Secretary of State John Kerry

Remarks on the Release of the Human Rights Report

The struggle for rights and dignity couldn’t be more relevant to what we’re seeing transpire across the globe:  The places where we face some of the greatest national security challenges today are also the places where governments deny basic human rights to their nation’s people.  That’s no coincidence.

We’ll do so in Sri Lanka, where the government still has not answered basic demands for accountability and reconciliation, and where attacks on civil society activists, journalists, and religious minorities sadly continue.  Our concern about this ongoing situation has led the United States to support another UN Human Rights Council resolution at the March session.

 We’ll do so because we know countries that deny human rights and human dignity challenge our interests.

——————–

Sri Lanka

Executive Summary

Sri Lanka is a constitutional, multi-party republic. President Mahinda Rajapaksa was re-elected to a second six-year term in 2010. The Parliament, which was elected in 2010, shares constitutional power with the president. The president’s family dominates government. Two of the president’s brothers hold key executive branch posts, as defense secretary and economic development minister, and a third brother is the speaker of Parliament. A large number of the president’s other relatives, including his son, also serve in important political and diplomatic positions. Independent observers generally characterized the presidential, parliamentary, and local elections as problematic. Polls were fraught with election law violations by all major parties, especially the governing coalition’s use of state resources for its own advantage. Authorities maintained effective control over the security forces. Security forces committed human rights abuses.

The major human rights problems were: attacks on, and harassment of, civil society activists, journalists, and persons viewed as sympathizers of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) terrorist organization by individuals allegedly tied to the government, creating an environment of fear and self-censorship; involuntary disappearances and a lack of accountability for thousands who disappeared in previous years; and widespread impunity for a broad range of human rights abuses, particularly torture by police and attacks on media institutions and the judiciary. Disappearances and killings continued to diminish in comparison with the immediate postwar period. Nevertheless, attacks, harassment, and threats by progovernment loyalists against critics of the government were prevalent, contributed to widespread self-censorship by journalists, and diminished democratic activity due to the general failure to prosecute perpetrators.

Other serious human rights problems included unlawful killings by security forces and government-allied paramilitary groups, often in predominantly Tamil areas; torture and abuse of detainees by police and security forces; poor prison conditions; arbitrary arrest and detention by authorities; and neglect of the rights of internally displaced persons (IDPs). Defendants often faced lengthy pretrial detention, and an enormous backlog of cases plagued the justice system. Denial of fair public trial remained a problem, and during the year there were coordinated moves by the government to undermine the independence of the judiciary. The government infringed on citizens’ privacy rights. There were restrictions on freedom of speech, press, assembly, association, and movement. Authorities harassed journalists critical of the government, and most major media outlets were controlled by the government. Self-censorship by journalists was widespread, and the government censored some news websites. Citizens generally were able to travel almost anywhere on the island, although there continued to be police and military checkpoints in the north and de facto high-security zones and other areas remained off-limits. IDPs were not always free to choose where to resettle. The president exercised his constitutional authority to maintain control of appointments to previously independent public institutions that oversee the judiciary, police, and human rights issues. Lack of government transparency and widespread government corruption were serious concerns. Sexual violence and discrimination against women were problems, as were abuse of children and trafficking in persons. Discrimination against persons with disabilities and against the ethnic Tamil minority continued, and a disproportionate number of the victims of human rights violations were Tamils. There was an increase in discrimination and attacks against religious minorities, especially Muslims and evangelical Christians. Discrimination against persons based on sexual orientation continued. Limits on workers’ rights and child labor also remained problems.

Government officials and others tied to the ruling coalition enjoyed a high degree of impunity. The government prosecuted a very small number of government and military officials implicated in human rights abuses and had yet to hold anyone accountable for alleged violations of international humanitarian law and international human rights law that occurred during the conflict that ended in 2009.

Individuals suspected of association with progovernment paramilitary groups committed killings, kidnappings, assaults, and intimidation of civilians. There were persistent reports of close, ground-level ties between paramilitary groups and government security forces –

See more at: http://www.state.gov/j/drl/rls/hrrpt/humanrightsreport/index.htm?year=2013&dlid=220404#wrapper or

http://www.state.gov/documents/organization/220616.pdf