Can the UN get Sri Lanka to #TellTheTruth?

Amnesty’s Yolanda Foster with Dr Manoharan. He believes the security forces killed his son, and has since had to flee the country because of death threats. © Amnesty International

Activists have fought tirelessly to keep Sri Lanka’s human rights crisis on the international agenda. Their courage and persistence could finally be paying off.

By Yolanda Foster from Amnesty International’s Sri Lanka team

People who have suffered human rights abuses in Sri Lanka have been feeling nervous lately. So have the activists supporting them. They’ve been preparing for a groundbreaking visit by Navi Pillay, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, which began on 25 August.

This is the Commisioner’s first official visit since Sri Lanka’s armed conflict − between government forces and an armed separatist group known as the Tamil Tigers − ended in 2009. Activists have worked hard to get to this point, in very difficult circumstances.

One lawyer I spoke to described the current situation in Sri Lanka as “a climate of oppression”. Key activists are being followed and interrogated. Victims fear being punished for speaking out. They aren’t sure how to best share their stories with Navi Pillay and stay safe.

Exposing the truth
While Navi Pillay meets with government officials, judges and the National Human Rights Commission, activists say they will continue to expose the truth which the government is so keen to hide: the large scale human rights abuses committed during and after Sri Lanka’s bloody civil war.

Tens of thousands of people were killed, tortured and disappeared during the civil war from 1983 to 2009.

In June, we launched our Tell the Truth campaign, calling on Sri Lanka to come clean about its appalling record of torture, killings and other human rights abuses – and stop it. Because even though the civil war is over, criticizing the government can still put your life in danger.

The war ended, but the crisis didn’t
It’s been a long, hard journey to get to this point.

In the final months of the conflict in 2009, civilian casualties skyrocketed. Amnesty International appealed to the UN for an international investigation into alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Nevertheless, in May that year, 29 UN member states approved a UN Human Rights Council resolution drafted by the Sri Lankan government to congratulate itself on winning the war.

A Sri Lankan official lashed out at Amnesty International as “liars and apologists for terror”. At the same time, the government was cracking down on people defending human rights at home.

We kept on working with Sri Lankan human rights activists and victims’ families. They travelled to the Council to give testimony on the world stage. Together, we highlighted torture, enforced disappearances and arbitrary detentions.

We have worked to show that even though the war had officially ended, the country’s human rights crisis had not.

Relentless campaigning
Many Sri Lankans, including Dr Manoharan, whose son was killed in 2006, and Sandya Eknaligoda, whose husband was disappeared in 2010, have campaigned relentlessly through the UN for justice.

In 2010, the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon responded by commissioning a panel of experts to advise him on the best way to ensure those responsible for possible war crimes and crimes against humanity were brought to justice. It confirmed many of our findings and also recommended the setting up of an independent international investigation into alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity in Sri Lanka.

Navi Pillay also called for such an investigation. Her call was bolstered by Sri Lanka’s Killing Fields – a harrowing documentary screened at the UN Human Rights Council, which exposed new evidence of war crimes. Increasing numbers of UN member states realised they could no longer ignore the human rights crisis in Sri Lanka.

From resolutions to real solutions
In March 2012 the Council called on Sri Lanka to ensure accountability for alleged violations of international law. And in a follow-up resolution earlier this year, it noted Navi Pillay’s call for an international investigation and expressed concern about continuing human rights violations.

The outcome of Navi Pillay’s visit to Sri Lanka is eagerly awaited by everyone who wants to see the Council move from political resolutions to on-the-ground solutions. She will soon report back to the Council about her visit.

I will be travelling with Dr Manoharan to the Human Rights Council this September to deliver our Sri Lanka: Tell the Truth petition and advocate for action. We need your support right now: every signature counts.

Because by keeping up the pressure, activists have already shifted the focus from the government’s congratulatory spin in 2009 to the people whose lives have been brutally changed or taken away. The time has come to tell the truth.

Act now
Sign our petition asking Sri Lanka’s authorities to tell the truth about past and present abuses, and stop them from happening again.

Posted in Armed Conflict, Human Rights Defenders and Activists, Internally Displaced People, International Justice, Killings and Disappearances, Sri Lanka, Torture and Ill-treatment, UN | Tagged | 14 Comments

  1. Don says:

    What about the thousands of Sinhalese & Muslims killed by the LTTE, and the hundreds of thousands of Muslims and thousands of Sinhalese chased out of the Northern Province by the LTTE during the last 30 year?.

    Will IA investigate and issue an impartial report on that? People in Sri Lanka are waiting for the day AI will tell the truth, without depending on LTTE diaspora funding. Will AI ever tell the truth?

  2. Sam DeSilva says:

    The Sri Lankan people suffered for 30 years, due to terrorism. Countless people died due to train bombings, bus bombings and civilians in war affected areas. Amnesty International never condemned the rebel groups for it. They never spoke to the victims of these terrorist attacks. Countless people were ethnically cleansed from LTTE area’s (both Singhalese and Muslims), Muslims were killed while they were praying in their mosque, Buddhist were killed in while worshipping in Anuradhapura and Kandy. Amnesty International never highlighted these crimes internationally. AI has only been interested in high lighting the plight of the Tamil people, because they are the only people willing to give generous donations to your organisation. We waited patiently during the cease fire periods, hoping for peace, but during each cease fire the LTTE regrouped and attacked the government. In the first cease fire 900 police officers surrendered to the LTTE. All of them were killed when they surrendered. In the second cease fire, within hours of pulling out of the cease fire the LTTE planted sea mines in two Sri Lankan navy and killed all navy personal. During the third cease fire the Norwegian cease fire monitors recorded over 3000 cease fire violations by the LTTE and 300 violations by SL army. but AI never publicly criticised the LTTE, never spoke of the crimes committed by the LTTE. If the war had continued more people would have died for another 30 years, but the current government took bold decision to finish it off, to ensure Sri Lanka has chance to live again in the future. If LTTE did not keep human hostages, the civilian casualties would be minimal, but AI, UN and other NGO never speaks about this most serious crime committed by the LTTE. In war there are no winners only loser’s!!. Sinhalese, Tamils and Muslims all died in this war. I appeal to Amnesty International and other NGO stop prosecuting the SL and allow it self to rebuild it self, give time for it heal it self from the scar’s of war.

    • Shiromi Pinto says:

      @Sam – thanks for your comments. As we have said elsewhere in this thread, Amnesty International received credible and consistent reports that both the LTTE and Sri Lankan government forces committed violations of international humanitarian law in the course of the conflict and in particular during the final months. The LTTE forcibly recruited children as soldiers, used civilians as human shields against the Sri Lankan army’s
      offensive, and attacked civilians who tried to flee. Amnesty has raised this issue with UN member states, with the UN Panel of Experts and historically with the LTTE leadership itself.
      We continue to call for an independent international investigation to establish the full extent of violations committed during the conflict that would enable the international community to make informed decisions on how to ensure that there is no impunity in Sri Lanka. An international inquiry would help Tamils and Sinhalese alike accept the reality of the charges levelled against the Tamil Tigers and Sri Lankan government forces, where there is currently too much denial. Beyond this, such an independent international investigation would send a global message, that the international community cares about individuals and communities who suffer during wars, that it would work to ensure justice for victims where their own governments fail to do so, and that it would not allow governments to bury crimes under layers of secrecy and impunity.

  3. Malraj De Silva says:

    Dear Dr. Manoharan,
    As you are so concerned of your son, can you explain the concerns of mothers, fathers, brothers sisters, sons and daughters vanished during 30 yeas in the hand of LTTE. Do not be selfish. All other lives are valuable as your sons. Lets go forward, and think after the war. Is any body son, daughter, brother sister, mother or father died in vain. So lets be proud of our soldiers who eradicated the is terror machine from Sri Lanka to, protect and provide our first human right (Freedom). i urge you to assist in eradicating the terror machine from the rest of the world. Buddy lets do it !!!!!!

  4. Siri de Alwis says:

    Meditation teaches the evil of living in the past. Revenge is never a good thing in the Tamil and Sinhala culture. In the Western culture, revenge is justice. The theory of rebirth says that killing a person results in him being reborn as a worse person and the problem aggravates.Some people think that if the Sinhalese agree to giving them police powers and land rights, the Tamils will embrace the Sinhalese and that they will live in harmony forever thereafter. Is this another Western theory of sociology?
    When are we going to start moving forward?

  5. Jfdo says:

    You are not talking about LTTE atrocities.What about the innocent people with their children cut with swords, while they were sleeping in the night.What about blowing up of trains buses where innocent people were travelling,what about the people who were praying in temples and churches.What about the blowing up of the central bank, where 80 odd people who came to do transactions. I can go on and on and on.So the above are not atrocies, NOT THE TRUTH according to you!

    • Shiromi Pinto says:

      @Jay and @Jfdo – thanks for sharing your views. Amnesty International received credible and consistent reports that both the LTTE
      and Sri Lankan government forces committed violations of international humanitarian law in the course of the conflict and in particular during the final months. The LTTE forcibly recruited children as soldiers, used civilians as human shields against the Sri Lankan army’s
      offensive, and attacked civilians who tried to flee. We have raised this issue with UN member states, with the UN Panel of Experts and historically with the LTTE leadership itself.
      We continue to call for an independent international investigation to establish the full extent of violations committed during the conflict. This would enable the international community to make informed decisions on how to ensure that there is no impunity in Sri Lanka. All facets of the conflict must be examined by an independent international investigation. In many cases the facts of incidents are disputed; the parties have accused each other of engaging in attacks on civilians or killing surrendering combatants. It is important to establish the truth and to ensure justice and reparations to survivors whenever possible.  

  6. Jay says:

    Lives are lives whether Tamil or Sinhalese. You guys only talked about lives lost in last few months. My innocent relatives lost their lives by ruthless LTTE well before. How about people who were killed by suicide bombers in Trains, Buses? How about innocent villagers hacked to death by LTTE? How about people who were praying in Temples and Mosque killed by LTTE gunmen? This was going on 30 years. You guys were sleeping. I cry for them every day. I hate so much you guys who never utter a word about those people who suffered 30 years. You know nothing about suffering they had. I lived there, experienced it. I have Tamil friends. Worked under Tamil bosses. Tamils worked under me. Discrimination to Tamils by Sinhalese is a big lie. You guys are intellectually inferior and can be fooled easily. I never say politicians are saints. But you guys are pushing them to the evil path by joining LTTE sympathisers. Tamils will lose every bit of culture, identity in the end. Stop pushing the politicians. Poor in Sri Lanka always discriminated irrespective of ethnicity. Rich in Sri Lanka whether they were Tamil or Sinhalese always enjoyed everything. That is the truth.

  7. Bennet says:

    Why only last couple of month of the conflict??? What about total 30 years of the conflict?? Why did you silent for 29 years and 10 month??

    As Siri De Alwis stated above , let the nation be in peace.
    As a nation, Sri Lanka has forget the past and they are looking forward for a better future. AL should support their goal and stop doing cheep politics…

  8. Antany Peter says:

    One thing that absolutely surprised me is how the Sri Lankan government has been dealing with public protests and journalists, while the UN High Commissioner for human rights Navi Pillay about to visit the country, and being the host country for the CHOGM. It shows the government’s madness. As a political writer, I never seen, heard or read such a madness due to bloody arrogance or stupidity. The West doesn’t commit human rights violations against its own people. They are committing human rights violations somewhere else to keep their power. If our leaders are smart enough they would have learned from the Westerners. Unfortunately, Sri Lanka is in a strategic location, but the leaders are not smart enough to handle it. Therefore, it will be on going struggle for Sri Lanka. The Mattala Airport and the Hampanthota harbour are good example how the Chinese want to control Sri Lanka, by making the Rajapaksa brothers rich, and place the country under the huge financial burden, in order to rule the country. The Chinese didn’t bother whether the Mattala Airport and Hampanthota Harbour projects are going to make profit or not; if they did they would have done proper analyses before starting the projects. The Chinese only wanted to have a foothold in the country. It is very clear Sri Lanka is under the firm grip of China. Slowly, but surely Sri Lanka is becoming a little North Korea. The country is heading towards dictatorship. This is a huge worry for the world, especially to India, Japan and South Korea. The UN clearly understands this, therefore I expect an adverse report by Pillay in September at the UNHRC meeting. Her adverse report will have a negative impact on the CHOGM in November. The Rajapaksa dynasty is coming to an end. I am expecting an unsuccessful CHOGM, after that the Foreign Minister’s resignation. Most properly Sri Lankans will go to polls for the general election next year. Playing against the world is a suicidal move, listening to the dragon always is not a wise choice either. The Rajapaksa brothers thought they are the smartest. They thought they will live happily ever after as long as they keep Karuna and KP next to them. They have ignored all the smart Tamils who are well educated and talented than Karuna and KP. The government even refused to reinstate our citizenships. Finally, the Rajapaksa dynasty is coming to an end. Free at last, Free at last, Thank you Navi Pillay we are free at last.

  9. Ganesh says:

    Srilanka is a Genocide country



  11. B.Benvin Allen says:

    Please help our Tamil peoples…we Want Tamil eelam…

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