Sri Lanka’s ban on TRO ‘final nail’ in coffin of peace process

[TamilNet, Saturday, 24 November 2007, 01:10 GMT]
The Tamils Rehabilitation Organisations (TRO) has condemned the Sri Lankan government’s banning of the charity, saying the Rajapakse regime had done so with the “ulterior motive of unleashing untold hardships on the Tamil people as part of [the government’s] continuing discrimination and oppression of the Tamil people.” The TRO, which has been the largest - and for long periods the sole - NGO assisting the hundreds of thousands of Tamils displaced by the conflict, said in a statement this week “With the banning of the TRO the final nail in the coffin of the peace process has been hammered home.”

TROLogo
“It is a tragedy that the International Community, while ignoring the human rights abuses and violation of international humanitarian law by the GoSL, continues to dangle this ‘dead peace’, that the GoSL continues to show no interest in pursuing, before the Tamil people,” the TRO said.

The charity said the ban was a culimination of a campaign of harassment and violence against the organization and its staff carried out by the Rajapakse regime.

Last year the Sri Lankan government froze the TRO’s accounts. However, despite the move blocking the TRO’s post-tsunami projects being carried out in parallel with international NGOs, “the GoSL never filed any charges against TRO or submitted any evidence to the public or court for cross-examination.”

In January 2006 paramilitary groups, known to be working with and under the direction of the GoSL, abducted, raped, tortured and killed 7 TRO humanitarian workers, the TRO also pointed out.

Earlier this week analysts told international news agencies the GoSL’s action was part of its military drive against the Liberation Tigers.

"The government is continuously closing the doors to negotiations and it is continuously closing whatever opening there is for negotiations," Jehan Perera, Executive Director at National Peace Council, commenting on the ban of the TRO, told Reuters.

The full text of the TRO statement, issued November 18, 2007, follows

Government of Sri Lanka banning of TRO

TRO condemns in the strongest possible terms the Government of Sri Lanka's (GoSL) banning of TRO. The banning of TRO will result in a further restriction on humanitarian relief to the Tamil people and has the ulterior motive of unleashing untold hardships on the Tamil people as part of the GoSL's continuing discrimination and oppression of the Tamil people.

Unfortunately, this ban, orchestrated by the Mahinda Rajapaksa regime, does not come as a surprise to the organization. The Mahinda regime, has, since coming to power in 2005, been trying to restrict, and eventually completely stop, all TRO humanitarian, reconstruction, and development programs in government controlled areas and have continually put obstacles in the way of TRO relief activities in other areas of the NorthEast.

ATTACKS ON TRO PERSONNEL & OFFICES

In January 2006 paramilitary groups, known to be working with and under the direction of the GoSL, abducted, raped, tortured and killed 7 TRO humanitarian workers. The evidence of these paramilitary groups' affiliation with and control by the Sri Lanka armed forces is irrefutable and TRO holds the GoSL responsible for these deaths.

Additionally, TRO offices in GoSL controlled areas have been attacked numerous times by paramilitary groups and persons in "military fatigues". The Jaffna and Batticaloa TRO Offices were ransacked and set afire and the vehicles and office equipment destroyed. A staff member was killed in the final attack on the Batticaloa Office. These events usually occurred during curfew times and within 100 yards of Sri Lanka Police and Army checkpoints. Sri Lanka Armed Forces and Police also intimidated and threatened TRO staff at the office and in their homes

FREEZING OF TRO SRI LANKA BANK ACCOUNTS

When these actions did not bear results and TRO continued, despite the threats and harassament, to function in GoSL areas and deliver vitally needed humanitarian relief and development, the GoSL froze the TRO bank accounts. TRO sought to challenge the basis on which these funds were frozen and petitioned the High Court in Colombo to review and "vary or vacate" its order to freeze the accounts. The court refused, finding that it did not have the jurisdiction to do so and that the GoSL had the right to freeze the funds indefinitely "for investigation".

TRO, on the advice of international organizations, our donors and partners, continued to pursue the case, seeking our "day in court" and the opportunity to prove our innocence of all charges. But the GoSL and the Sri Lankan judicial system are fundamentally corrupt without any concept of the notion of "justice". The "law" and "justice" in Sri Lanka are words without meaning, political expediency, corruption and influence peddling carry more weight with this regime and the effect is that political decisions are given the cloak of legitimacy.

The GoSL never filed any charges against TRO or submitted any evidence to the public or court for cross-examination or for TRO to have the opportunity to confront its accuser. Instead the GoSL dragged the case on for over 14 months. During this time the Mahinda regime continued threatening TRO staff in Colombo office, blocked funds from overseas meant to cover the legal costs and also pressured the owners of TRO Colombo office building not to rent to TRO.

PROJECTS STOPPED IN GOVERNMENT CONTROLLED AREAS

As a result of our bank accounts being frozen, our office documents and assets being confiscated by the GoSL security forces and our offices in GoSL controlled areas attacked and destroyed, TRO was forced in 2006 to close its offices in GoSL controlled areas of the NorthEast leaving projects unfinished and war and tsunami affected persons in dire need. Through all this TRO continued to seek redress in the courts to overturn the account freeze.

CFA & THE PEACE PROCESS

TRO was founded in 1985 and prior to 2002 TRO functioned effectively in the Vanni. It was only after the Cease Fire Agreement (CFA) signed between the GoSL and the LTTE in 2002 that TRO, at the urging of the international community and with the assistance and advice of international organizations, registered in Colombo as a charity/NGO (Number L 50706) under the Social Services Act.

During this period, TRO, as the largest NGO in the NorthEast, gave its full and unconditional support to peace efforts by creating confidence in the minds of the people that, after 20 years of war, the dawn of peace was at hand and by implementing development projects in collaboration with international organizations that promoted peace. TRO, due to the non-implementation of many of the promises made by the GoSL and the international community in the post-CFA period, was one of the few organizations actually delivering the "peace dividend" at the grassroots level. It is worthy to note that, for the most part, the peace dividend never materialized for the vast majority of those in the NorthEast due to the actions of the GoSL.

With the banning of the TRO the final nail in the coffin of the peace process has been hammered home. Today the pulse of the peace process has stopped and peace is a lifeless, dead body. It is a tragedy that the International Community, while ignoring the human rights abuses and violation of international humanitarian law by the GoSL, continues to dangle this "dead peace", that the GoSL continues to show no interest in pursuing, before the Tamil people.

FOCUS ON EMERGENCY RELIEF

Due to the GoSL actions against TRO and the return to war, TRO has been forced to move from the rehabilitation and development mode that characterized the 2002-2006 period, into a new conceptual space of emergency humanitarian relief and assistance to internally displaced war and tsunami affected persons. As in the period before 2002, TRO will engage in projects providing assistance to the war affected population utilizing our own funds. Now TRO will only need to be accountable and transparent to its beneficiaries, donors, and other stakeholders and it will not be necessary to get approval from the GoSL or be accountable to it.

MAHINDA'S REQUESTS

There are many reasons for the Mahinda regime to take this punitive step against TRO. Apart from the fact that we were an impediment to the Mahinda regime's agenda of genocide of the Tamil people, TRO also refused to be used by the Mahinda regime to achieve the regime's political ends. The regime approached TRO numerous times with requests that were outside the mandate of TRO and would have violated the essential principles of humanitarian action and the humanitarian community. These principles demand that humanitarian organizations must be neutral, impartial and independent.

MISSION CONTINUES

Though our organization is banned by the SL Government we assure you that our mission will continue in our homeland areas without interruption and we call on the international community and the Tamil Diaspora to continue to support TRO's work with war and tsunami affected persons.


Chronology:


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