'Tamils made to accept terror as normal'- Dean

[TamilNet, Sunday, 10 June 2001, 20:38 GMT]
>Dr. Yuvaraj Thangarajah, the Dean of the Faculty of Arts in the Eastern University. (TamilNet Library Photo)

The west not only gave us democracy. It also gave us an international regime of terror. A regime that was buttressed by a legal veneer to cover extra democratic and extra judicial means of suppressing the very freedoms promised by democracy. The Sri Lankan government selected the most draconian aspects of the laws which were used to suppress human rights in Ireland and South Africa in the seventies to draft the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA). It improved it further to eliminate loopholes that might give reprieve to the victims" said Dr. Yuvaraj Thangarajah, the Dean of the Faculty of Arts in the Eastern University, addressing a seminar on 'The Public and the PTA and Emergency Regulation' Sunday at the Teachers' Training College Auditorium in Batticaloa town. The seminar was organised by the East Lankan Journalists' Association and the Koralaipattu Human Rights Organisation.

For instance, according to Section 4 of the PTA where any person convicted of any offence under this act, then in addition to any other penalty that the court shall impose for such offence-

a)"All property movable and unmovable of that person shall, by virtue of such conviction, be deemed to be forfeited to the Republic; and b)Any alienation or other disposal of such property effected by such person after the date of coming into operation of this part shall be deemed to have been, and to be, null and void."

The PTA was promulgated in July 1979. The retrospective punitive power of Section 4 (b) of the PTA is inhumanly atrocious. This means that if a 21 year old Tamil person is convicted under this section of the PTA, then the properties that may have devolved on him/her at birth would also be forfeited by the state, Dr. Thangarajah said.

He pointed out that the Sri Lankan government developed and located its special counter insurgency arm-the Special Task Force- which was responsible for numerous atrocities in the east in the eighties in order to show the world that the Batticaloa district was civil authority and not under the army. "This was a tactic to minimise the visibility of the gross human rights violations that were being perpetrated on the population in Batticaloa," he said.

Mr.Aiyathurai Nadesan, the Vice President of the East Lanka Journalists' Association, Photo: TamilNet
Dr.Thangarajah said, "the aim of counter insurgency is to desensitise the community to its legitimate rights and fundamental human dignity, by prolonging a consistent campaign of terror so that the people begin to accept terror as normal. Then any little concession given by the state's security forces would be received with great gratitude by the affected population, which there by could be made more pliable and hence willing to impart useful information to the army to fight the insurgents. Doing human rights piecemeal without understanding this general context in which they are allowed to offer a semblance of relief to some individuals, actually contributes to the aims of the root cause of the violations- counter insurgency operations and laws that back them."

The Vice President of the East Lanka Journalists' Association, Mr.Aiyathurai Nadesan, who presided, emphasised role of journalists in human rights violations to light. "There are many organisations which get funds and international backing to do this work. But in Batticaloa, with our own limited resources we journalists have been largely responsible for the endeavours against rights violations committed against civilians," Mr. Nadesan who is the correspondent of the Tamil daily Virakesari said.

Mr.Nishanthan Swarnarajah, a human rights activist. Photo: TamilNet
Mr.Nishanthan Swarnarajah, a human rights activist who addressed the meeting said, "The chapter on fundamental rights in the Sri Lankan constitution is useless where the Tamils are concerned because it does not ensure the right to life. The PTA contravenes international legal norms. It is in breach of many of our fundamental rights and as such the act itself should be challenged. But in Sri Lanka we can legally challenge only the administrative and executive branches of the government for violating the fundamental rights guaranteed to us by the constitution. There is no provision at all in the Sri Lankan constitution for the judicial review of any legislation passed by the Parliament".

"The United Nations General Assembly adopted a convention against torture and other cruel, inhuman and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment on 10 December 1984 and Sri Lanka acceded to the Convention ten years later on 3 January 1994. By virtue of the Convention being adopted, Sri Lanka was required to take legislative steps to give effect to Sri Lanka's obligations under the convention. Hence Act No. 22 of 1994 was enacted by Parliament on 20 December 1994.

"The Sri Lankan government did not include some of important provisions of the Convention Against Torture (CAT) such as the right of individuals to send their complaints directly to the Committee Against Torture. Since the enactment of this act, there has not been a single reported prosecution under this act. Nor has the government at any stage explained why prosecutions have not been initiated against the perpetrators under this act. However, if the act amended so as to enable private prosecutions, there will be a possibility of the provisions of this act being implemented. The act being purely a criminal statute, there is no mention of payment of compensation to victims of acts of torture", Nishanthan said.


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