U.K. group urges protection for Sri Lanka's rights defenders

[TamilNet, Friday, 28 December 2007, 19:49 GMT]
A U.K-based Rights Group, Tamil Information Center (TIC), in a report released this week expressed serious concern "over the plight of human rights defenders in Sri Lanka, who are facing persecution and threats to life from [Sri Lanka] government authorities," and said the situation requires "urgent intervention by the International Community." The report urged the "Government of Sri Lanka to bring to an end a cycle of cumulative disregard for human rights in general and for abuses against human rights defenders in particular and to accept the offer of the international community to establish a human rights monitoring mechanism."

The report said, "[T]he latest victims are three Members of Parliament – Mano Ganeshan, leader of the Western People’s Front (WPF), N Sri Kantha, MP of the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) and T Maheswaran, MP of the United National Party (UNP). Mr Ganeshan is also a founder member of the independent Civil Monitoring Commission (CMC), which has been actively campaigning against government-inspired abductions, killings and disappearances.

Human Rights Poster
"The Ministerial Security Divisions, which assigns security to MPs comes under Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapakse, the President’s brother. Mr Ganeshan has been receiving death threats for several months. The Chairperson of the CMC Siritunga Jayasuriya narrowly escaped physical injury when government inspired armed thugs attacked a peace rally organized in Colombo by the CMC in January 2007. Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC) leader Rauf Hakeem’s security was removed after he blamed the police Special Task Force for the massacre of eleven Muslims in Pottuvil in September 2006."

The report added that when the "Ceylon Workers Congress (CWC) withdrew support in Parliament in August 2007, the government withdrew the security provided to the CWC members," and that the "government reduced the security of Sunday Times journalist Iqbal Athas after he exposed highlevel corruption in government involving defence purchases."

The Rights group noted that the "liberal space for expression of opinion has shrunk substantially and they [Rights defenders] are increasingly exposed to death threats and attacks. They are facingsevere retaliatory measures over struggle against abuse of authority, breach of the rule of law, corruption and impunity."

"Poor governance, corruption, nepotism, severe political tension in the country and lack of accountability remain the main facilitators of human rights abuses," the report pointed out.

TIC has received reports that New Left Front leader Dr Wickramabahu Karunaratne and veteran film maker Dharmasiri Bandaranayake have been subjected to threat and intimidation for their forthright and unswerving stand on the conflict in Sri Lanka.

The main perpetrators of the recent spate of human rights abuses are the "agents of the State including the police, army, and other law enforcement agencies...The intelligence services and other shadowy groups operated by senior government officers are also resposible for abuses. These violations are mainly arbitrary arrest, torture, disappearances and murder," the report said.

The report said are the LTTE, paramilitary groups operating with the security forces, individuals or groups linked to armed criminal gangs, parties of the ruling coalition or the opposition, and mercenary gangs hired by local politicians are also some other perpetrators of abuses against human rights defenders.

Even the "NGOs maintaining a position independent of the government in defense of human rights have also been frequently harassed and attacked," the report added.

On media freedom the report said, "[D]uring the past two years twelve media personnel have been killed in Sri Lanka. President Rajapakse, Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapakse and the army commander have summoned meetings of media representatives on several occasions to warn them against criticizing the war on the grounds that it will affect national security and the morale of the security forces. The Uthayan newspaper which reports the conditions of ordinary people in government-controlled Jaffna has lost five jounalists.

The report accused the Supreme Court of Sri Lanka also to be complicit in promoting impunity to the Security forces on rights violations. "The courts, particularly the Supreme Court, are hostile to the defenders," the report said, adding, "The Chief Justice himself has threatened human rights defenders during court proceedings, that he would suitably deal with them if they brought human rights cases before the Supreme Court against the security forces."

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