Try President Chandrika Kumaratunga For War Crimes!
| Date: 20000801
The human rights record of Sri Lanka under President Chandrika Kumaratunga is increasingly coming under international scrutiny. Criticism against President and her government is now swelling in frequency and tempo.
Richard Howitt and Robert Evans, two MEPs who visited Sri Lanka recently, without mincing words accused the Sri Lankan government "of not doing enough to protect civilians caught up in the war against Tamil Tiger rebels and is covering up their suffering." They compared the plight of the displaced Tamil people in and around the conflict zone with those of Sierra Leone and Chechnya.
Earlier the two MEPs visited the border town of Vavuniya, where they met Tamil civilians displaced by fighting in the northern Jaffna peninsula and Vanni.
The two MEPs directed their harshest criticism against the government for implementing an oppressive press-censorship policy and of not allowing essential supplies, including baby food and medicine, to be distributed in areas controlled by the Tamil Tigers.
For far too long the Sri Lankan government had succeeded in concealing the major humanitarian crisis prevalent in Vanni and other conflict areas by clamping down press censorship coupled with ban on foreign and local news media. Northeast has remained virtually a no go zone for foreign journalists for many years now, except for hand picked pro-government journalists taken on conducted tours. Like the economic blockade, there is also a news blockade of the Northeast. Mr.Evans, a member of the Parliament's South Asia delegation, said that President Kumaratunga's proposals to end the civil war would not work unless she sat down and negotiated with the Tamil Tigers.
No doubt President Chandrika who is used to polite exchange of pleasantries by visiting foreign dignitaries would have been stung by the sharp reproach by the MEPs concerned. The choice of words used was unprecedented for visiting politicians who normally watch their language and speak without giving any offence.
Before the diplomatic and political ripples raised by the MEPs could die down comes hot on the heels a report by Amnesty International (AI). In a hard hitting report dated July 20, 2000, the human rights watchdog has slammed the Sri Lankan government for continued violation of the rights of the Tamil detainees arrested under the emergency regulations.
Sri Lanka enjoys the dubious distinction of being the country with the second largest number of non-clarified cases of "disappearances" on the WGEID's list, and where torture remains widespread. While a very large number of the approximately 12,000 non-clarified "disappearances" on the WGEID's list took place under the UNP government, the practice of "disappearance" by no means ceased when the People's Alliance came to power in 1994 under President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga. Amnesty International has received reports of at least 540 cases of "disappearance" since the change of government in 1994.
The promulgation of the new emergency regulations was presented by the government as part of a package of measures to put the country on a "war footing". Other measures included the suspension of all non-essential development activities for three months and the acquisition of sophisticated arms from abroad.
The government also depreciated the rupee as much as 6%, the first in 22 years, and the Central Bank linked the one-stroke depreciation to the ballooning defence expenditure.
The sharp depreciation follows a 14 percent drop in Sri Lanka's foreign reserves to 1.40 billion dollars at the end of May compared to 1.64 billion dollars at the end of last year, the bank's latest figures showed. There could be a further drain on the foreign reserves as the government announced in May that it hoped to spend an additional 175 million dollars to buy urgently needed military hardware. Consequently, the defence budget is expected to balloon to 880 million dollars this year, up from the original estimate of about 706 million dollars.
The AI expressed concern that "An increase in torture, "disappearances" and deaths in custody have been reported in Sri Lanka since new emergency regulations were introduced by the President in May 2000.
The new emergency regulations conferred powers of arrest to "any authorised person" in addition to the police and armed forces, and considerably extended their powers to detain suspects for long periods.
Some human rights, such as the right to life and the right not to be tortured, are absolute and may never, in any circumstances, be derogated from (suspended or restricted). However, states may suspend certain rights in times of emergencies under the terms of several international human rights treaties, including Article 4 of the ICCPR, but only to the extent strictly required by the situation.
Amnesty International's report was appropriately titled "Sri Lanka: New emergency regulations -- erosion of human rights protection". In particular, the report highlighted the removal of several safeguards against arbitrary arrest and detention and the danger this poses for the safety of detainees.
The issuing of new emergency regulations should not be confused with the declaration of a state of emergency as such. A state of emergency has been in force in Sri Lanka nearly continuously since 1983. During a declared state of emergency, which has to be renewed monthly by parliament, emergency regulations come into force. They are issued by the President under the Public Security Ordinance, by-passing the normal legislative procedure.
The AI report further alleged that a number of provisions meant to protect the rights of those arrested and detained under the emergency regulations have been jettisoned overboard. Removal of such safeguards will facilitate torture and "disappearances", and would lead to violations of non-derogable rights such as the right to life and the right not to be tortured. These new emergency regulations were put into effect following the major military offensive by the LTTE in which the Sinhala army was on ropes after losing a number of strategic bases including the well-fortified Elephant Pass. Some of the rights removed by the new emergency regulations include -
(1) Powers of arrest to "any authorised person" in addition to the police and armed forces, and considerably extends their powers to detain.
(2) An earlier requirement that arrest receipts should contain certain information such as name and rank of the arresting officer, the time and date of arrest and the place at which the person will be detained as set out in the Presidential directives of 1997 have not been retained in the new emergency regulations
(3) The new regulations considerably extend the period during which their interrogators can hold detainees. Any individual detainee might be held in different kinds of detention at different times during a continuous period of imprisonment. So from the prisoner's perspective these different forms of detention under the emergency regulations might not be distinct. In addition, detainees can be held under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) under three-monthly renewable detention orders for a maximum period of 18 months.
(4) Under the previous emergency regulations there was a legal requirement that places of detention had to be designated and gazetted as such. This is no longer the case.
(5) The regulation sets no time limit for the period a detention order can remain in effect, which implies that it can last indefinitely. Thus, persons can be detained in their homes for as long as the regulation under which the order was made remains in force. The regulations also provides no form of judicial or administrative scrutiny of an order under ER16. In practical terms no remedy is available at all for persons who find themselves the subject of such an order apart from petitioning the Supreme Court.
On the evening of 3 May, the day the new emergency regulations were issued, 45-year-old Thangaiyah Sivapooranam from Wattala, Colombo was taken away by three people in civil dress who identified themselves as officers of the Criminal Investigation Department of the police. The next day, his body was found at Kadawatha, together with three further bodies, whose identities remain unknown. There were five gunshot injuries on Thangaiyah Sivapooranam's body, including one to his forehead, suggesting he may have been summarily executed.
On 22 June, Thambiah Wijayakumar was reportedly taken away from the cinema in Veppankulam, Vavuniya District, where he works, by four officers of the Security Co-ordinating Unit (SCU), a police unit involved in interrogating suspected members of the LTTE. The SCU and other security forces continued to deny he was in their custody when Thambiah's relatives made enquiries. His whereabouts remained unknown until 10 July when the SCU finally admitted he was in their custody.
On July 19, 2000 the Batticaloa High Court Wednesday released two Tamil youths who had been tortured by the Sri Lankan security forces while in detention under the Prevention of Terrorism Act. The state counsel said that the Attorney General is withdrawing the cases against them and another youth as Senior Superintendent of Police, Bandula Kumara, the chief witness had died.
The two youths had been hung by their toes and beaten with pipes, choked in bags filled with petrol and chilli fumes pulled over the head and by immersion in water according to medical reports submitted to the courts by the Judicial Medical Officer (JMO) of Batticaloa and the Assistant Judicial Medical Officer of Colombo. The eardrums of one of the youth had burst and bled heavily due to the torture according to the medical reports.
On April 1999, Thambiaiyah Suntheralingam, 23, was arrested and taken into custody by the army at Navatkuda. The Batticaloa JMO who examined Suntharalingam on July 12, 1999 said in his report submitted to the court on August 02, that the youth had been beaten up severely and hung upside down and that his head had been covered with a plastic bag containing petrol and chilli powder during his detention in the military intelligence camp located in the former tooth powder factory building at Lake Road 2 in Batticaloa town. The DMO also stated in his report that the youth's head had been banged repeatedly on a wall for ten days while he was held at the camp of the Counter Subversive Unit (CSU) in Batticaloa town and that as a result his eardrums had burst and bled severely.
On July 13, 1999 Sithamparapillai Kanakanayakam, 27, of Kokkaddicholai, 16 kilometres southwest of Batticaloa, was arrested by the army while he was visiting relatives in Kallady, a suburb of Batticaloa town. He too was detained at the same military intelligence camp and later at the CSU camp. He was then transferred to Batticaloa and Kalutara prisons.
The Assistant JMO for Colombo Dr.S.Sivasubramaniam who examined Kanakanayakam on December 15, 1999 states in his report to the court that the youth had been beaten up severely with wires and plastic pipes and his head had been covered with a plastic bag containing petrol fumes and chilli powder and that his head had also been repeatedly thrust into water and held until he choked.
Thirumeni Sunthararajah (24) and Suntharaligam Subendran (23) were shot dead by the Vellaveli STF lying in ambush on March 9, 2000 this year when they were going to Mandoor to bid farewell to their relatives before they travelled abroad for employment. The government unashamedly claimed that both of them were members of the LTTE.
On June 24 (Saturday), two men from Kalmadhu refugee camp in Valaichenai, who were on their way to go fishing in Punaanai lagoon early morning Saturday, were killed when Sri Lanka Army soldiers opened fire, said survivors of the incident. Witnesses said an SLA ambush unit hiding behind bushes fired at them, killing their two colleagues, Sinnathamby Selvarajah, 28 and Kanthavanam Mangalan, 30.
On July 14 (Monday), 2000 Palanithamby Sambasivam, 16, and Thevaraj Gnanaesh, 16, both from Naasevanthivu were returning home from the annual festival of the Maylankarachchai Mariamman temple. They were shot dead by soldiers who were lying in ambush at Kaddumurivu, according to villagers. Kaddumurivu is a hamlet situated between Maylankarachchai and Naasevanthivu.
On 13th July, 2000 a student named Somasunderam Sanjeevan schooling at Jaffna Hindu College was shot dead by the armed forces. Sanjeevan was returning home after playing football at the college grounds. The armed forces claimed that the deceased was a suspected Tiger and he was collecting funds for the LTTE. The parents have strongly refuted these frivolous charges.
On July 15, a female student from Alvai in the Jaffna peninsula was gang raped by two soldiers attached to the Gajabahu regiment. She was later admitted to Manthikai hospital.
On May 9, 2000 a 70 year old woman Poomani Saravanai of Neerveli, Jaffna was raped by soldiers of the SLA in front of her 32 year old son. The woman wrote a letter to Joseph Pararajasingham, MP narrating her ordeal at the hands of the thugs in khaki uniform. The MP read out the letter in Parliament and took the opportunity to inform Parliament that about 1, 500 Tamils arrested under the Prevention of Terrorism Act are still languishing in prisons without trial.
Medico-legal reports written by 17 doctors on 184 Tamils who had been referred to the Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture between January, 1997, and December, 1998 supported the allegations of torture in Sri Lanka.
Of the 184 men, 38 (21%) said they had been sexually abused during their detention. Three (7%) of the 38 said they had been given electric shocks to their genitals, 26 (68%) had been assaulted on their genitals, and four (9%) had sticks pushed through the anus, usually with chillies rubbed on the stick first. One said he had been forced to masturbate a soldier manually, three had been made to masturbate soldiers orally, and one had been forced with his friends to rape each other in front of soldiers for their "entertainment".
These are just random cases, but they faithfully reflect the magnitude of the dreadful human rights violations committed by the Sinhala armed forces in the Northeast in a climate of impunity. Seldom or never the perpetrators of these crimes against humanity are arraigned before courts of law. Most often they are rewarded for "gallantry" or "bravery" and "decorated" like Major General Janaka Perera during whose command the Chemmani mass murders took place.
Tamil Diaspora and other human rights organizations should pressure the UNO to try President Chandrika Kumaratunga before an international Tribunal. for committing crimes against humanity.
BBC London announced today ( July 25) that new evidence compiled by a secret team of investigators is being used to indict a number of Iraqi war criminals, including President Saddam Hussein, his two sons and Deputy Prime Minster Tariq Aziz.
Washington and London are seeking international support for prosecutions to be brought against them. European governments now face increasing pressure to detain any of the listed Iraqis who arrive on their territory. While they do so, they should also try President Chandrika Kumaratunga whose record of war crimes rank second to President Saddam Hussein. There should not be double standards or selective morality in trying war criminals.