March 14 2005
The Chairperson, Members and Delegates, 61st Session
United Nations Human Rights Commission,
1211 Geneva 10, Switzerland
Distinguished Sirs / Madames,
We, in TCHR, bring our concerns to this august Human Rights forum regarding the situation in Sri Lanka. We also include certain relevant aspects of the massive human tragedy caused in Asia by the giant tsunami waves on 26 December last year. Sri Lanka is one of the countries most severely affected by the natural disaster.
The Memorandum of Understanding and Ceasefire Agreement (CFA) between the government of Sri Lanka and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam was signed more than three years ago, with the facilitation of the Royal Norwegian Government, introducing new hopes for a durable settlement to the longstanding, bloody conflict on the island.
The spirit of the Memorandum of Understanding holds that by alleviating the suffering of the Tamil people, conditions of normalcy could be created in which peace talks could begin.
It is sad to note that, although the ceasefire has created normalcy in the seven Southern provinces, normalcy does not exist for the people in the NorthEast. Blatant discrimination against the Tamil people has been the same, prior to the tsunami and after it.
The consistency with which the Sri Lankan military and the government have violated the CFA is shocking.
Violating CFA Article 2.2, the Sri Lankan army continues to occupy temples and churches in the NorthEast. In violation of Article 2.3, school buildings are still occupied by the Sri Lanka army. All such occupation should have been withdrawn in July 2002. In cases where the army has vacated premises, "High Security Zones" have been immediately built nearby, thereby occupying again civilian homes and buildings in the traditional Tamil homeland and intimidating school children.
Members of civil society in the NorthEast are asking, " ‘Security’ – for whom? Certainly not the security of local Tamil people." The people refuse to talk of "High Security Zones," but rather "Militarised Zones." The situation of IDPs remains critical. They are prevented from resettling in their own homes due to these militarised zones which have taken over their land.
In breach of CFA Article 2.1 and 2.5 people are harassed at checkpoints. Over the last year the incidence of harassment, rape and sexual assault of Tamil civilians by Sri Lankan armed forces has increased. There are more Sri Lankan soldiers now in the Jaffna Peninsula than there were before the CFA. While oppression continues and basic daily reality is filled with fear and dread – where is the hope for a just peace?
Fishermen are still severely restricted in pursuing their livelihood, they are persistently harassed and intimidated by the Sri Lanka Navy and armed forces.
In serious violation of Article 1.8 of the CFA, the government has not disarmed paramilitaries nor ensured they leave the NorthEast. On the contrary, these paramilitaries working with the Sri Lanka armed forces have been responsible for many recent assassinations in the East, of human rights activists and political activists, causing terror and destabilisation.
Post-tsunami, eyes have been focussed on the situation in Sri Lanka, waiting to see if the tragedy would bring together the parties to the conflict, in joint relief and rehabilitation work. The shocking unfolding horror of the thousands of dead bodies which had to be buried in mass graves, then of the thousands of survivors, in their grief and distress in desperate need of food and shelter, seen in the media world-wide, touched people everywhere. Despite hollow assurances to the international community that they were treating all victims equally, the Sri Lanka government and military prevented aid flowing swiftly to the NorthEast
UN Secretary General, Mr Kofi Annan, who visited Sri Lanka soon after the tsunami struck, requested to visit the most affected areas, which are in the NorthEast. He was prevented from doing so by the government of Sri Lanka. This refusal is a pure violation of the UN Charter, Chapter XV, Article 100.
Foreign dignitaries visited only the South and West of the island, with the exception to Prince Charles of the UK and Ministers from Norway, Singapore and Sweden. Fishermen who spoke to Prince Charles in the East confirmed that more than two months after the tsunami struck they had still received no aid from the government.
The Tamil Rehabilitation Organisation (TRO) and the LTTE organised the relief and rescue operations in the NorthEast. Their timely response, their highly organised and efficient approach and their co-ordination with all, including government agents, were praised by non-governmental and inter-governmental organisations, media and everyone who witnessed their work. They helped victims belonging to all communities, discriminating against no-one.
It is disturbing that the Sri Lankan government seems to be concentrating more on the purchasing of new arms than working out joint mechanisms with the LTTE for delivering aid and rehabilitation support to the victims in the NorthEast.
Our attached report contains tables showing statistics relating to the victims of the tsunami disaster, as well as statistics on the human rights violations perpetrated prior to the war and during the 20 years of armed conflict.
Why are the Tamil people in the island of Sri Lanka treated so differently even at a time of natural disaster?
There is an urgent need for the International Community to take bold steps in urging the Sri Lankan government to respect the human rights of all in the island and to take up the Peace process, and to resist the temptation to fan the flames of racism and discrimination which were the cause of the island’s ethnic conflict in the first place.
You, being the Chairperson of the Commission on Human Rights, have the responsibility of ensuring that Tamils in the island of Sri Lanka are treated with equality in all aspects by the government of Sri Lanka.
Please request the international community to ensure that the relief aid sent by them to Sri Lanka to the victims of Tsunami is equally distributed to the people who are from the worst-affected NorthEast.
We appeal to you to take immediate action during this session of the Commission on Human Rights.
S. V. Kirubaharan, General Secretary
Tamil Centre for Human Rights
Other materials submitted to the UNHCHR
Note that the tables on number of disappeared, tortured, killed, etc. are those cases for whom there is some documentation and TCHR is always working to strengthen their documentation with assistance from the community.
Posted April 2, 2005