British Minister calls for independent war-crimes probe
[TamilNet, Monday, 11 January 2010, 02:32 GMT]
A senior British Minister Friday said that the allegations of war crimes especially during the last phase of war against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) including the killing of Lasantha Wickrematunge in Sri Lanka should be probed independently. British International Development Minister, Gareth Thomas MP made these remarks in his address at the First Anniversary of the killing of late editor of Sri Lanka’s weekly, Sunday Leader, Lasantha Wickramatunge, during an event held at Mahatma Gandhi Hall, 41 Fitzroy Square London on Friday, 08 January 2010 between 07:00 – 09:00 PM. The event was organized by Tamil Legal Advocacy Project (TLAP).
The first anniversary remembrance of the slain Sri Lankan editor was organised by the Tamil Legal Advocacy Project in the UK . A large gathering of Tamil and Sinhala expatriates, lawyers, human rights observers and activists attended the event.
“We have been consistently delivering to Sri Lanka our concerns through diplomatic channels on probing the consistent allegations of war crimes, especially by Security Forces,” Minister Gareth Thomas said.
“We are very clear that wherever there are substantial allegations of war crimes, they should be probed independently,” the British Minister stressed.
Wickrematunge was shot dead in a high street in Colombo in the broad day light of January 08 last year while he was on his way to the newspaper office. The gunmen came in motorbikes shot him at point blank range using automatic pistols equipped with silencers, after breaking his car windows.
Describing late Mr. Wickrematunge as a courageous journalist in Sri Lanka, the Minister said that his killing had sent terrible shock waves to the outside world.
“The killing of Lasantha Wickrematunge was the final confirmation of terrible human rights violation taking place in Sri Lanka,” Minister Gareth Thomas said, adding that the killers are still at large.
He said that the killings of civilians especially during the last phase of war, systematic silencing of independent voices, kidnaps and arbitrary arrests in Sri Lanka “clearly show that there was a culture of impunity prevailing in the island nation and the violations of international law were being carried out in a systematic manner."
“Tamil journalist J. Tissanayagam serving 20 years of rigorous imprisonment for writing two articles is completely unacceptable under any democracy,” he said, expressing the concern over the lack of progress in investigation into killing of dozens of journalists including the late editor.
“Even after the end of hostilities in Sri Lanka the culture of impunity is still prevailing there. That is why the UK supported the EU resolution to withdraw the trade tariff concessions. The GSP plus is granted to the countries which respects human right values.
“It is a clear signal to Sri Lanka,” the British Minister said.
Highlighting that the members of the international community “still do not have proper access to the internment camps” where thousands of war displaced Tamil civilians are detained, he said that there were hopes for possible solution constitutionally after the defeat of the LTTE.
“Simply because a military conflict has come to an end, it does not mean that the series of political issues underpinning the military conflict have also ended”.
“We will certainly be watching closely the upcoming presidential poll in Sri Lanka. We need to see the outcome of the poll, but we will continue to put pressure on Sri Lanka on human rights issues and for a lasting political solution to the ethnic conflict,” Minister Gareth Thomas said.
Answering a question from the audience, the British Minister confirmed that “the UK ’s arms sale licenses to Sri Lanka have been cancelled."
He, however, said that the British government would continue to provide humanitarian aid for the needy people via international agencies such as the UNICEF and World Food Program (WPF).
A leading Human Rights Lawyer, Baroness Helena Kennedy QC in her address recalled late Mr. Wickrematunge’s last editorial in which he predicted his own death, said his “courage was remarkable one could ever imagine”.
“Protection of free press is vital for any democracy. We can only feel humble when remembering Mr. Wickrematunge’s sacrifice,” she said.
Keith Simpson MP, Shadow Foreign Minister in charge of South Asia in his message highlighted the lack of progress in the probe into the editor’s death.
“He predicted his own death in a powerful editorial which was published posthumously and a year later no progress has been made in bringing his killers to justice,” he said, calling upon Sri Lanka to honour its commitment under law and urging them to improve conditions in Sri Lanka in accordance with international standards on media freedom and freedom of expression.
Ed Davey MP, Shadow Foreign Secretary of Liberal Democrats said the editor’s cruel killing coincided with the bloody ethnic war.
“If you read his last editorial, any investigation into his killing will be useless. Still, there should be an independent inquiry into his killing and into the killings of other journalists in Sri Lanka,” he said.
“We should make sure, when remembering Lasantha Wickrematunge, to push for an internationally-sponsored probe on war-crime charges. Sri Lanka desperately needs journalists like him to ensure free press more than ever before,” MP Ed Davey said.
Addressing the gathering, Alex Wilks, Programme Lawyer, International Bar Association - Human Rights Institute, said that his organisation has already written to Sri Lanka’s President Mahinda Rajapaksa its disappointment over the lack of progress and seriousness into his killing.
Noting that the Tamil press in Sri Lanka “is extremely exposed to threats and attacks," he said that there is a “systematic campaign under the draconian emergency laws Prevention of Terrorism Laws to suppress the freedom of expression and free press”.
Heather Blake of Reporters without Borders (RSF) said “shock and anger continue one year after Lasantha Wickrematunge’s unpunished murder.”
A pre recorded speech from the late editor’s wife Sonali Samarasinghe was played and his brother, Lal Wickrematunge’s statement was read at this event.
The Journalists for Democracy in Sri Lanka also issued a statement into his killing. A Sri Lankan journalist in exile Mr Balsundram described the threats faced by journalist in the island nation.