Ilankai Tamil Sangam

Association of Tamils of Sri Lanka in the USA

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The EU Contribution to the Peace Process in Sri Lanka

Speech by Ms. Deirdre McConnell, Director, International Programme, Tamil Centre for Human Rights (TCHR), March 7, 2006 at EU meeting, Brussels

A government perpetrating genocide on a people, does its maximum to divert attention from the reality of the situation and does everything in its power to prevent other countries from intervening to stop the genocidal onslaught. This is the dynamic we are dealing with.

I have been been involved in Human Rights advocacy, since the days of Anti-Apartheid campaigning. Many people, world-wide, from diverse backgrounds worked together in that cause for justice and human rights, in solidarity with the oppressed. A racist regime that persecuted and vilified those who opposed it, was eventually overcome.

It was after hearing about grave human rights violations in Sri Lanka that I made fact-finding missions to the island. In 1989 I was involved in highlighting the atrocities committed against the JVP youth in the South of the island. After that period I continued to work on the human rights situation in the island, concerning the conflict in the NorthEast.

During four extended visits I have covered many parts of the island from Kankesanthurai (KKS) in the North to Galle on the Southern tip, from Colombo to Upcountry, Kandy, to the East, to Batticaloa and Trincomalee. I have had the opportunity to meet and interview victims of human rights violations, Human Rights Defenders and many members of civil society.

The concern I bring to this august forum, is that whilst the EU has shown support towards the peace process, there are extremely important facts which do not appear to have been taken into consideration, when the EU made its decision on 27th September last year. In fact TCHR made an appeal listing these facts. Due to time limitations it is not possible to refer to all of them here.

The unequivocally corroborated evidence of systematic human rights violations; arbitrary arrests, torture, rape, disappearances and extra-judicial killings of Tamils are well-documented by the United Nations human rights mechanisms of the UN Commission on Human Rights, the Sub-Commission on Promotion and Protection of Human Rights, Special Rapporteurs, Treaty body Committee meetings and so on. To illustrate my point briefly, here are two examples.

Firstly, the UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, Mr. Bacre Waly Ndiaye, visited Sri Lanka and stated in his report :  “Of particular concern are the emergency regulations governing arrest and detention procedures and those governing post-mortems and inquests when deaths have occurred in custody or as a result of the official action of the security forces. The regulations still provide for indefinite preventive detention on renewable, three ­monthly detention orders. Sri Lanka has been under an almost continuous state of emergency since May 1983…. Official emergency measures override the safeguards contained in the normal law and have granted sweeping powers to the security forces. In addition, there have been repeated allegations of intimidation of lawyers, relatives and others attempting to take remedial action through the courts". He stated that “This culture of impunity has led to arbitrary killings and has contributed to the uncontrollable spiralling of violence”. (Excerpts,  CN.4/1998/68/Add.2 - 12 March 1998 para 73)

A second example is that the UN Working Group on Disappearances stated that, "Sri Lanka had the second highest number of disappearances in the world, ranking next to Iraq". Sri Lanka was the only country that the UN Working Group on Disappearances has visited three times. So far no proper remedies have been found for these disappearances. It is well known in human rights terminology that “disappearance”, is actually equivalent to extra-judicial killing.

As far as the political killings in Sri Lanka are concerned, the UN Special rapporteur on extra-judicial killings and international human rights organisations know that killings in Sri Lanka where the government has been suspected of involvement, have neither been properly investigated nor have the culprits been brought to justice.

Indeed it really does seem very bizarre that there has been no Resolution in either the UN Commission on Human Rights or the Sub-Commission for nearly twenty years. This is due to the heavy lobby conducted by the Sri Lankan state.

What happens to all the facts documented in the UN system? They do not appear in the international media, due to this heavy lobbying. For instance, take the Sri Lankan media, such as the English media in Colombo, all the newspapers (except one, which also has reservations) do not publish much on these facts and figures concerning the reality of the conflict in Sri Lanka.

When we come to the news agencies based in Sri Lanka, and look at the people responsible for them, the vast majority of the international correspondents are Sinhalese. In other words, the same as the journalists of the Colombo papers. Therefore the international media coming from Colombo is not independent, it is not unbiased.

Not that I am saying it is because they are Sinhalese the media is biased, but it is a question of how the majority of Sinhalese see the conflict in Sri Lanka – except a handful of Sinhalese who analyse and see the root causes of the conflict.

Many Sinhalese people see the situation in a racist manner. We can see this, for example, in the statements by Mr Mahinda Rajapakse the President, the JVP and the JHU who insist that the “Unitary State” gives no chance for any federalism or recognition of the right to Self-determination of the Tamil people. When we look at the voting – all over the island, except the NorthEast, Mahinda Rajapakse won more votes than his opponent. One needs to look at the dynamic of the Sinhala polity, regardless of the Tamil people’s boycott. The Sinhalese voted for the racist view.

What I want to say here, is that the facts are not coming out of the island because of government manipulation of the international news agencies. There is, and has been for many years, biased reporting by Sinhalese working for these agencies. Also we should not miss the point that Sri Lankan Embassies and High Commissions in foreign countries carry out heavy lobbying, spending a huge sum of money on hiring private organisations to do their propaganda work. So-called independent international journalists, mentioned earlier, working with international news agencies have been hired as “communication experts” by the High Commissions themselves, to work with “opinion makers” and spin stories.

So what is happening? International institutions are given misinformation which is passed off as fact, lies dressed up as truth and because of this state-sponsored propaganda, the misinformation is taken up very well by anyone who has not looked deeply into the real issues. So the Sinhalese government uses its power as a recognised state to provide only its version of events in official places where there is no right of reply.

In addition, as a temporary solution, nowadays the Sri Lankan government has sponsored a few Tamil groups in foreign countries, to distribute the government’s facts and figures. Actually, the real information is not given to the international institutions by the government or government sponsored groups.

With all this, certain groups, like Tamil Centre for Human Rights manage to distribute information into certain international institutions and mechanisms of human rights bodies. Even these officially published documents are not taken up by the media, because of the effects of the lobby of the Sri Lankan government.

This has been the case during the twenty years of the conflict and also during the four years of the Ceasefire. Certain things have changed but STILL the Sri Lankan government lobby works effectively internationally.

I have been to the areas of the Tamil homeland. I know the situation, I have seen and listened to the victims of rape, torture and arbitrary arrest, the kith and kin of the disappeared and extra-judicially killed. When we brought these facts, wanting to give them to certain groups, we had difficulty contacting them, getting appointments and giving the information to governments and to international institutions.

But for the Sri Lankan government which clearly wants to hide the truth, it is easy as a recognised state to arrange appointments, to meet with the most senior people in international institutions. Then, during the appointment, government representatives give exactly the opposite version of the reality.

So this important aspect has to be taken very seriously by all international politicians and diplomats, like yourselves in the European Union and others.

A government perpetrating genocide on a people, does its maximum to divert attention from the reality of the situation and does everything in its power to prevent other countries from intervening to stop the genocidal onslaught. This is the dynamic we are dealing with.

It is tragic, to have to highlight the fact that Human Rights Defenders who attended international forums to explain the human rights situation in Sri Lanka are not spared by the government of Sri Lanka. Prominent Lawyer Mr. Kumar Ponnambalam, veteran journalists Mylvaganam Nirmalarajan, Aiyathurai Nadesan, Dharmaretnam Sivaram "Taraki", Joseph Pararajasingham MP and many others have been brutally assassinated. Until today none of these killings have been properly investigated nor have the culprits been brought to justice. They continue in service unpunished.

Mr. Kumar Ponnambalam participated in the UN Commission on Human Rights in Geneva and EU forums in Brussels and Strasbourg. Mr. Dharmaretnam Sivaram "Taraki" was briefing the US state department and many other international forums. Mr. Joseph Pararajasingham who had been to Australia, New Zealand, US, Canada, Switzerland, Britain, France and many other countries and met with several dignitaries is the latest victim. He was shot dead during Christmas Eve midnight mass in his home town two months ago.

The killing of Human Rights Defenders continues with impunity in Sri Lanka.

When the human rights violations escalated in genocidal proportions in 1983, if the international community had looked into the root cause of the problems, rather than helping Sri Lanka militarily, today the island’s history would have been very different. The international community openly gave military equipment, training and advice to the Sri Lanka government contributing in part to the causes of today's violations in that island.

There is a chance now to respond in a different, more positive way, building towards a future of peace with justice. We urgently appeal that the EU decision of 27 September be immediately reconsidered and overturned, in the interests of peace and humanity.

Thank you.

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