US Congressmen condemn prison massacre

[TamilNet, Tuesday, 31 October 2000, 01:44 GMT]
Congressmen Benjamin Gilman, Sherrod Brown and Brad Shermen, in a letter addressed to the Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, urged her to "register her concern with the Government of Sri Lanka regarding the brutal murder of 24 Tamil prisoners" and "to support an independent and international inquiry." They further asked the Secretary to "urge the Sri Lankan Government to release all Tamil prisoners who are being held in custody without being charged with a crime."

The full text of the letter follows:

"We write to urge you to register your concern with the Government of Sri Lanka regarding the brutal murder of twenty-four Tamil prisoners inside the Bindunuwewa, Sri Lanka detention center on October 25, 2000. In addition to the gruesome murder of these Tamil prisoners by machete, clubbing, and stoning, an additional 40 prisoners were seriously injured and 20 others are reported missing. We understand that the local Sri Lankan governmental authorities did nothing to prevent this attack and failed to take measures to protect these helpless detainees even as the deadly assault progressed. Therefore, we request you support an independent and international inquiry of this horrific incident.

"Unfortunately, incidents such as these are not isolated occurrences in Sri Lanka. What is most disturbing is that despite reports from international organizations such as Amnesty International, atrocities such as these continue to be repeated. Moreover, in this latest incident, as well as in other similar cases in the past, the Government of Sri Lanka has failed to protect Tamil prisoners under its custody.

"Because of lack of progress to guarantee human rights of all Sri Lankans and questionable police and security practices that are incompatible with equal protection principles we request your assistance in providing additional assistance for rule of law and human rights programs in Sri Lanka. We ask for your support in securing at least an additional $1 million to support the effort of nongovernmental organizations working in Sri Lanka that seek to promote rule of law and good governance programs. We believe that it is essential for the United States to promote democratic principles in Sri Lanka and to allocate the resource necessary to support nongovernmental organizations to carry out programs designed to bring about genuine judicial and legal reform in Sri Lanka.

"In the interim, we ask that you urge the Government of Sri Lanka to release all Tamil prisoners who are being held in custody without being charged with a crime. This unacceptable practice is authorized in Sri Lanka through the Prevention of Terrorism Act. The denial of due process of law under such broadly written and vague law is manifestly unjust and would be unthinkable in the United States. Accordingly, we request that you urge the Government of Sri Lanka to repeal the Prevention of Terrorism Act because it leads to the incarceration of Tamils simply because of their ethnic background.

"We will closely monitor developments in Sri Lanka and continue to work closely with Ambassador Wills on these matters of concern to other Members of Congress and me. Thank you for your consideration of my requests."

Benjamin Gilman (Republican, 20th District, New York) is the Chairman, and Brad Sherman (Democrat, 24th District, California) and Sherrod Brown (Democrat, 13th District, Ohio) are members of the United States House Committee on International Relations.


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