Congressional discussion focuses on Rights violations
[TamilNet, Saturday, 12 December 1998, 17:56 GMT]
A five member panel of experts on Human Rights violations in Sri Lanka, speaking at Congressional Human Rights Caucus staff round table discussions, were unanimous in their call to the Sri Lankan Government to expedite the investigations into the alleged mass graves at Chemmani, Jaffna where up to 400 bodies of Tamils disappeared in 1996 and 1997 may be buried.
Colleen Malone a Program Associate for the US NGO Forum on Sri Lanka based at the Asia Pacific Center for Justice and Peace who recently returned from a 3-month trip to Sri Lanka, Richard Reoch, chair of the International Working Group on Sri Lanka based in London, who went to Sri Lanka as a consultant to the ICRC/UNHCR to evaluate their work in the war zone, Elizabeth Bowen of Bowen Group which specializes in human rights issues, Steven Rickard of Amnesty International USA, and Jerry Leuders of the U.S Department of State spoke.
While acknowledging that the different parties in the conflict, the Sri Lankan State, the LTTE and the ex-militants have committed human rights violations, the speakers pointed out that the climate of impunity enjoyed by the security forces contributed in a large measure to the widespread human rights violations by the security forces.
The draconian Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) provided the necessary legal frame work for the security forces to commit crimes and not to face prosecution. The State Department's assertion that even the small degree of protection provided in the PTA is routinely ignored, was also pointed out.
Colleen Malone described the different kinds of torture methods carried out by the Security Forces she had catalogued during her stay in Government controlled areas.
The Government's embargo on food and medicine, within the international laws pertaining to conflicts, can be classified as war crimes, Ms. Bowen pointed out.
Mr. Leuders said that the State Department considers human rights as its top priority and have tried to impress upon the Sri Lankan government to monitor the violations using Human Rights Commissions.
He also added that although the US government participates in limited military exercises with the Sri Lankan Government and coaches the forces in human rights aspects, the Sri Lankan military groups chosen for these exercises are carefully screened so that no human rights violators are included. Steve Rickard added that just having Commissions is not sufficient and there should be adequate mechanisms to see if the Sri Lankan Government follows up on its promises to prosecute violators of Human Rights.
Mr. Reoch observed that while in other conflicts the ratio soldiers killed to those injured is about 3:7, in Sri Lankan conflict this ratio is 9:1. He added that the international community should focus on the warring parties adhering to internationally accepted norms of behavior during conflict to reduce the human rights violations, as a way to build confidence between the parties to work towards a negotiated settlement.
Hans Hogrefe, Legislative Assistant to HR Caucus chair Rep. Tom Lantos, and Director of the Caucus organized the briefing as a precursor to a full Congressional hearing scheduled for sometime in January 1999.