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Home > Struggle for Tamil Eelam > Sri Lanka Accused at United Nations > UN Sub Commission 1988
UN SUB COMMISSION ON PREVENTION
OF DISCRIMINATION AND PROTECTION OF MINORITIES
40TH SESSIONS : AUGUST 1988
- Intervention by Mr.Martin Ennals, Secretary General, International Alert
- Statement by Sri Lanka Ambassador Nihal Rodrigo
- Statement by Human Rights Advocates,15 August 1988
- Comments by Tamil Voice International Political Analyst in Geneva, 15 September 1988 "the Tamils have no representation nor even an opportunity to put their case or the right to reply to false allegations and gross misrepresentations levelled at them. The Tamils here have to rely on the mercy of European and other non-governmental organisations to present the plight of the Tamil civilian population and the persecution and violations they suffer daily....One NGO said 'What happens here (in the UN Sub-Commission) is not human rights but pure politics. If you think it is human rights you are wrong!' "
Intervention by Mr. Martin Ennals, Secretary General of International Alert
- made on behalf of the Minority Rights Group, endorsed and co-sponsored by several NGOs including Human Rights Advocates, Pax Christi, International Commission of Jurists, Pax Romana, League for the Rights and Liberation of Peoples, International Movement for Fraternal Union Among Races and People
"The UN Commission on Human Rights, its Sub-Commission and other international human rights organisations have been deeply concerned about the human rights situation in Sri Lanka in the context of the ethnic conflict that has been plaguing the island for the past several years.
Among other issues, arbitrary arrests, detention without trial for prolonged periods, torture of detainees, deaths in custody, extra-judicial killings and the operation of the Prevention of Terrorism Act and Emergency Regulations promulgated under the country's internal security laws have been the subject of several reports by reputed international human rights organisations and Human Rights Commission's Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances and the UN Special Rapporteurs on Torture and Arbitrary Killings.
The concern with which the Commission of Human Rights viewed the situation in Sri Lanka was reflected when the Commission at its 43rd Sessions unanimously adopted a resolution on Sri Lanka.
The signing of the Indo-Sri Lanka Agreement in July 1987 by Sri Lanka's President J.R. Jayawardene and the Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi raised much hope about a negotiated peaceful resolution of the ethnic conflict, a return to harmonious relationship between the Island's Sinhala and Tamil communities and an end to abuse of human rights.
The Agreement, inter alia, provided for a degree of devolution of executive and legislative powers through the establishment of Provincial Councils as a means of meeting the demand for autonomy by the Tamil militant groups, a general amnesty for Tamil political prisoners and for the discussion on 'residual matters' in dispute. Jayewardene, the Indian Peace Keeping Force arrived in the island in the wake of the singing of the Agreement.
One year after the agreement, it is evident that the hopes and expectations raised a year earlier have not been fulfilled.
To begin with, extremist elements within the Sinhala community represented by the Sri Lanka. Freedom Party and the JVP (Peoples Liberation Front) opposed the Agreement and the latter initiated a campaign of violence which continues to this day unabated. Government party members and supporters, state officials and security service personal, and even those belonging to the opposition United Socialist Alliance which support the Agreement have become victims of this campaign of terror and murder.
The Provincial Council Law enacted by the government in pursuance to the Agreement has been described as inadequate to meet with 'aspirations' of the Tamil people. The Agreement also provided for further negotiations on outstanding matters but such negotiations have not take place.
There was renewed violence in the north and east of the country in consequence between and among Tamil militant groups and following attacks upon Sinhala settlers in the eastern province.
There was only a partial surrender of weapons by Tamil militant groups.
Dispute in regard to the composition of an interim administration for the north and east remained unresolved.
On the alleged ground that the Tamil militant groups had not observed the Agreement in regard to the surrender the release of Tamil political prisoners which it had begun immediately after the Agreement.
The dominant Tamil militant group, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) accused the Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) of assisting the other Tamil militant groups to launch attacks upon the LTTE...
Eventually the IPKF launched an offensive in October 1987 against the LTTE and its bases claming that the offensive was aimed at enforcing the provisions of Agreement in regard to the surrender of weapons. The resulting confrontation between the IPKF and LTTE has been fierce and is continuing to this day. Besides the casualties on the sides to this confrontation,
The IPKF is presently engaged in cordon and search operations north and east of the country. Hundreds of Tamil youth whom the IPKF have been rounded up and detained in the course of these operations. Instances of torture and deaths in custody have been established by reliable testimony.
The glimmer of hope raised by informal negotiations between Indian officials LTTE leaders in Madras and South India disappeared when negotiations broke down in early July this year. Since then, the operations by the IPKF have been intensified and the LTTE has expressed its determination to engage in a protracted guerrilla struggle.
In the South
The JVP continues with its campaign of killing all those who support the grant of limited autonomy through the establishment of Provincial Councils and those who support the Indo- Sri Lanka Agreement. An estimated 325 persons have been killed in the course of this campaign.
The Government has responded to this JVP campaign by resorting to the use of arbitrary arrests and detention of persons alleged to be members of the JVP Many cases of torture and 'disappearances' also have been reported. To meet the threat of individual assassinations, the Government has promoted the creation or armed private 'vigilantes', and distributed weapons to Ministers, MPs, and the other senior state officials besides security service personnel. There is also increased use of the Special Task Force and other paramilitary forces. The government has also enacted a law granting immunity to security service personnel who might break the law in the course of performing their functions.
Attacks on Human Rights Workers
For the first time, human rights activists and independent social and relief workers have become targets of non-state armed entities.
Organisations like the Civil Rights Movement, Campaign for the Release of Political Prisoners, Movement for the Inter-Racial Justice and Equality, Centre for Society and Religion, Marga Institute, etc, which have been active in the past in raising issues concerning the violation of human and democratic rights, and which have advocated rights, and which have advocated a negotiated political solution to the ethnic conflict by the grant of the legitimate rights of the Tamil people, and which supported the Indo-Sri Lanka Agreement as a means to settle the conflict have received death threats from the Patriotic Armed Unit, which is believed to be the armed Unit, which is believed to be the armed wing of the JVP. It is this organisation which assassinated the leader of the United Socialist Alliance, Mr Vijaya Kumaranatunga.
In the north and east of the Island, independent human rights activists, members of local Citizens Committees and Relief and Social Service organisations have not only come under pressure to fall in line with the demands of armed groups, but have also been killed, kidnapped or disappeared. Members of Citizens Committees who have an independent approach are forced to resign and in their place those who are likely to fall in line are substituted. A Catholic priest, Father Chandra Fernando who was the Secretary of the Batticaloa Citizens Committee in the eastern province was the Secretary of the Batticaloa Citizens Committee in the eastern province was murdered in his own church in June this year allegedly by an armed Tamil group. A dedicated and committed human rights activist and who concentrated his efforts to provide relief and rehabilitation in Tamil areas, Mr K. Kanthasamy was kidnapped by an armed Tamil group in northern Jaffna on June 19 and has not been seen since. Eye-witnesses to the kidnapping have alleged that the Tamil militant was responsible for his kidnapping and 'disappearance'.
Such targeting, threats, kidnappings and killings pose a grave danger to independent and impartial human rights, social and relief workers.
"The Commission of Human Rights and its Sub-Commission and Non Governmental Organisation concerned with the situation in Sri Lanka have at all times advocated the non use of violence and called upon all parties to arrive at a negotiated solution to the ethnic conflict and other associated problems facing the people of Sri Lanka. They have also called for an end to human rights violations and impartial investigations into such violations. "Taking account of the present situation in Sri Lanka, we urge the Sub-Commission on the Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities to:
Call for a cease-fire of armed hostilities between the IPKF and the LTTE;
Call upon all parties to recognise the Indo-Sri Lanka Agreement as a basis for the settlement of the ethnic problems, and to initiate negotiations on outstanding matters in dispute with a view to reaching a comprehensive negotiated settlement:
Specifically call upon the Sri Lanka Freedom Party and the Peoples Liberation Front (JVP) to join in the process of helping the resolution of the problem by negotiations; and in this context call upon the Peoples Liberation Front (JVP) to end its present armed campaign;
Call upon the Tamil militant groups to bring an end to their internecine armed conflicts and resolve their differences by democratic discussion recognising each other's rights to exist and function within the framework of the law and generally accepted principle of democracy;
Call upon the government to release all political prisoners forth with;
Call upon the government to institute impartial investigations into all cases of alleged torture arbitrary killings and 'disappearances';
Condemn the killing of Rev. Father Chandra Fernando and the abduction of K.Kanthasamy, call for the release of the latter, and call upon all parties, including the government, the JVP and Tamil militant groups, to recognise the right of independent human rights activists, members of Citizen Committee, Relief and Social Service organisations to perform their much valued services without pressure, threat or intimidation.
Call upon the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances and the Special Rapporteurs on Torture and Arbitrary Killings to pursue their investigations into violations of human rights and humanitarian law in Sri Lanka.
Statement by Ambassador Nihal Rodrigo, Permanent Representative of Sri Lanka, Geneva
The intervention last afternoon by the Representative of the Minority Rights Group who spoke theatrically of four "actors" in the Sri Lankan drama was somewhat confusing in that it did not clearly identify areas of responsibility for the continuation, even the exacerbation, of the unfortunate developments in the country. Some of the comment missed basic facts. The situation in Sri Lanka is certainly very complex and this is not surprising. It would be useful in the circumstances if I make some brief remarks by way of clarification which might help to place the evolving situation in a more complete and proper perspective.
The Sri Lanka Government's commitment to a negotiated political settlement of the country's ethnic issues has not been diminished despite the continued violence of terrorist groups against Sri Lankan civilians of all communities, against service and government personnel and against members of the Indian Peace Keeping Force.
I hardly need to detail the political process initiated by the Sri Lanka Government to redress grievances of' the Tamil community at the All Party Conference in Colombo in 1984, through talks in Thimpu and New Delhi In July/August 1985, the Bangalore talks in 1986 and other discussions in Colombo and New Delhi. The Indo-Sri Lanka Agreement was signed in Colombo on 29 June 1987.
The Agreement involves a complex of inter-linked obligations on the Sri Lanka Government, the armed militant groups and the Indian Government , the fulfilment of which is essential to strengthen the traditional friendship between Sri Lanka and India, to resolve the ethnic problem in Sri Lanka and the consequent violence and to ensure the safety, well-being and prosperity of people belonging to all communities in Sri Lanka. Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi of India described the Agreement, shortly after signature, as one which "looked at almost every single problem of the Tamils and found answers to these problems and guarantees for those answers".
The Sri Lanka Government has in good faith taken necessary action to fulfil more than its share of responsibility under the Agreement.
To develop on the Government's initiatives to deal with the grievances of the Tamil minority and in furtherance of the Government's efforts towards the devolution of power and administrative authority to the various regional units in Sri Lanka, the Agreement envisaged the setting up of Provincial Councils for each of the 9 Provinces in the country. Necessary amendments to the Sri Lanka Constitution were enacted. while 7 of the 9 councils have been constituted after elections, elections for the remaining two Councils in the Northern and Eastern Provinces will be scheduled in the near future.
In accordance with the Indo-Sri Lanka Agreement, a general amnesty has been granted by the Sri Lanka Government to over 3600 persons who had been held in custody at the time of the Agreement under the Prevention of Terrorism Act and other Emergency Laws, for having committed or being reasonably suspected of having committed offences under these laws. Those granted amnesty included persons convicted and serving sentences under these laws.
To assist in the political rehabilitation of Tamil militants who have decided to enter the peaceful democratic main-stream of political agitation, the Sri Lanka government has registered some groups as legitimate political parties free to contest elections.
It was stipulated in the Agreement that India will take necessary steps to ensure that Indian territory is not used for activities prejudicial to the unity, integrity and security of Sri Lanka. The Indian Navy/Coast Guard, it was further agreed, will co-operate with the Sri Lanka Navy in preventing Tamil militant activities from affecting Sri Lanka.
A cessation of hostilities ensued after the Agreement was signed. In accordance with the Agreement, India sent a Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) to Sri Lanka. The first task of the IPKF was to bring about the complete surrender of arms by Tamil militant groups. This would have enabled the members of the Tamil community who wished a non-violent resolution of the ethnic issues to participate in peaceful negotiations to settle their difficulties without terrorist intimidation.
All militant groups initially accepted the Agreement. In consequence, consultations took place on the setting up of an Interim Council which was to assist in the administration of the Northern and the Eastern Provinces pending establishment of Provincial Councils in these 2 provinces. However, the group calling itself the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) abruptly refused to participate in the constitution of the Interim Council, rejecting all arrangements that were being made. The Interim Council could not therefore be set up and elections to the Northern and Eastern Provinces have been delayed. Dates of elections to the Northern and Eastern Provinces will be fixed taking into account the security situation in these provinces.
The LTTE have not surrendered all their arms and have indeed acquired even more sophisticated arms.
Violence, tension and unrest have not yet abated in the Northern and the Eastern Provinces, with the LTTE continuing its armed assaults on civilians, on Sri Lankan authorities, on the Indian Peace Keeping Forces and on members of rival armed militant groups. Members of various Citizen's Committees in the Northern and the Eastern Provinces as well as human rights workers who have sought to defend civilians and highlight their grievances have also been assassinated by the LTTE.
In the Eastern Province, where the Tamil, Muslim and Sinhala Communities each account for a third of the population, the LTTE has begun systematic killings of persons of the Sinhala and Muslim communities. It s clear objective is to expel people of these two communities from the Eastern Province in order to forcibly effect such demographic changes as to create a mono-ethnic or racist entity in what has been a multi-ethnic Province. In pursuance of this objective, the LTTE has violently resisted the return of expelled Sinhala and Muslim villagers to their places of origin. The group's campaign has left hundreds of civilian of all communities dead through the denotation of hidden land mines and explosives in crowded places, nocturnal attacks on innocent sleeping villagers, the slaughter of unarmed civilians in temples, Mosques and public places and the ambush of public transport and massacre of passengers.
The magnitude of the violence and dislocation can be judged by the fact that the number of displaced persons in Sri Lanka increased from about 100,000, in July 1987, to over 400,000 as confirmed by the UNHCR.
The confrontation between the LTTE and the Indian Peace Keeping Forces has continued (and the presence of the Indian troops has not yet been able to disarm groups of terrorists holding out against the peacefully negotiated settlement of the country's ethnic issues. Earlier this month, the Indian Government closed down in Tamil Nadu, i.e. the southern-most state of the Indian Union, the offices of the LTTE, arresting or placing under house arrest large numbers of LTTE operatives.
It has been made abundantly clear that if the LTTE gives up its violent ways, accepting the essentials of the Indo-Sri Lanka Agreement, an immediate cessation of hostilities would be possible. The LTTE could then join other former militant Tamil groups in a democratic process that would be the best means of ensuring the Tamil people, the fulfilment of their aspirations free of terrorist coercion and violence.
Reference was made by the Minority Rights Group to the activities of the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) which has opposed the Indo-Sri Lanka Agreement. Since about 1987 there has been a spate of violence arising from the activities of the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna, which is a political party that emerged in the early 1970s.
In April 1971 the JVP raised an insurrection against the then Government and its members, including some of its leaders such as Mr. Rohana Wijeweera, were brought to trial and received sentences of imprisonment. The present Government in July 1977 pardoned and released them in the expectation that they would rehabilitate themselves and carry on their political activities within the democratic process. They were subsequently recognised and registered as a political party for purposes of elections. They participated in the District Development Council elections in 1981. They also participated in the Presidential Elections of 1982 fielding their leader as a presidential candidate. In view of the the evidence that they were involved in acts of violence, the party was proscribed in 1983. The proscription on the JVP was lifted in May 1988 in the expectation that they would give up violence and. participate in the democratic process. It is hoped that these expectations would be realised.
Statement by Ms.Sandra Coliveron behalf of Human Rights Advocates
"Human Rights Advocates join with other NGOs that have addressed the Sri Lanka situation in expressing our deep concern over continuing violations of human rights committed by all parties to the conflict there. The parties include the armies of the two governments involved - the Indian Peace Keeping Force and the Sri Lankan Army - and the two non-state militant forces, those of the Sinhalese including the Peoples Liberation Front or JVP, and those of the Tamils, including the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam.
"Human Rights Advocates is especially alarmed by attacks during the past year human rights defenders, including Father Chandra Fernando and Mr. Kanthasamy. Those two people, and other members of citizens committees and relief and social service organizations, for from using or advocating violence, actively have been working for a restoration of peace and respect from human rights.
"Since the Commission, in resolution 1987/61, expressed its concern as to the situation, India and Sri Lanka, in July of 1987, entered into an Accord. Now, one year after the signing of that Accord, it is clear that expectations for a prompt and peaceful resolution of the conflict have not been fulfilled. To the contrary, human rights violations continue; and the Sri Lankan Government has neither been able to maintain law nor co-operated sufficiently with the international Committee of the Red Cross.
"Accordingly, Mr. Chairman, Human Rights Advocates respectfully urged the Sub-Commission, this session, to call the situation in Sri Lanka again to the attention of the Commission and in particular:
(1) To request the working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances and the Special Rapporteurs on torture and on summary and arbitrary executions to vigorously pursue investigations or reliably attested charges of violations;
(2)To call on the Government of Sri Lanka to permit the International Committee of the Red Cross to fulfil its functions, including the provision of assistance and protection to victims of all allegations into all allegations of extra judicial killings, disappearances, acts of torture, and unlawful detentions;
(3) To call for a cease-fire between the IPKF and the LTTE;
(4) To call on parties to recognise the Indo-Sri Lanka Accord as a basis for the settlement;
(5) To condemn all extra judicial killings, disappearances, acts of torture, and unlawful detentions;
(6) To call on each party to end the commission of those violations for which it is responsible; and
(7) To call on all parties to respect the right of human rights defenders to monitor, publicise, and protest violations, without intimidation or persecution."
Comments by Tamil Voice International Political Analyst in Geneva, 15 September 1988
The fortieth Session of the Sub-Commission on Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights which met in Geneva ended its deliberations on 2 Sept. 1988.
The Sub-Commission consists of 26 members who are supposed to he independent experts in the field of human rights and related affairs. The member states of the United Nations are represented by observers. A number of Non-Governmental Organisation have consultative status.
The Governments of India and Sri Lanka are represented here by powerful teams of diplomats and officials who are always ready to state their side of the case on matters relating to the happenings in the Tamil areas namely the North and the East of Sri Lanka. Unfortunately the Tamils have no representation nor even an opportunity to put their case or the right to reply to false allegations and gross misrepresentations levelled at them. The Tamils here have to rely on the mercy of European and other non-governmental organisations to present the plight of the Tamil civilian population and the persecution and violations they suffer daily.
To make matters worse, a few of the European non-governmental organisations are, we are told, confused by the machinations of some self-appointed Tamils, masquerading as Tamil representatives, but with ulterior motives.
A member of the Indian delegation, Prahhou Dayal, in his Statement said, "The agreement is designed to meet the legitimate demands and aspirations of the Tamils of Sri Lanka, within the framework of Sri Lanka's unity and integrity." Probably he was not aware of the Thimpu Declaration of the Thimpu talks which was held under the auspices of his own Government, where the Tamils unitedly put forward their legitimate demands and aspirations, or has his government so soon forgotten it or chose to ignore it and impose a solution which it deems fit for the Tamils? He further alleged that "The LTTE was either unable or unwilling to give up violence and participate in the democratic political process." The LTTE indeed has on a number of occasions sought a cease-fire and negotiations to arrive at a political solution.
In a statement issued on August 9th the LTTE states, "The problems of the Tamil people are not going to be solved if the LTTE accepts the Accord, lays down arms and participates in the elections...The Government of India has rejected our pleas and is campaigning that we are frightened to face the people in the elections. We are ever prepared to face our people in the elections. But we want to ask whether India is prepared to face our people. We wish to call upon the Government of India to hold a referendum to determine whether the Tamils accept the Indo-Sri Lanka Accord, whether the IPKF should be withdrawn and replaced by an International Peace Keeping Force and whether' or not the LTTE are the representatives of the Tamil people." The LTTE further states that it is prepared to accept the Accord if they are defeated in the referendum.
The Sri Lankan delegate alleged that the LTTE was responsible for the attacks on Human Rights activists like Fr. Chandra Fernando and K. Kanthasamy, when all evidence available pointed to the contrary. Even a few NGOs were so confused as to believe this mischievous story supported by one or two busy bodies in our own ranks.
Five members of the World Federation of Tamils from Paris, London and Berne attended the Sessions. where they met many members of the Sub-Commission and NGOs. A Statement on the situation in Sri Lanka was submitted by the Federation on behalf of the Tamil Associations and Organisations of' the world. This called upon the governments of Sri Lanka and India, the LTTE and the international community as a whole to support an immediate cease-fire between the IPKF and the LTTE, and to set in motion a mechanism to carry out a referendum in the Northern and Eastern Provinces of Sri Lanka under international supervision.
Mr. M.C. Bhandare of India was the Chairman of the current Sessions of the Sub-Commission. Many independent experts and representatives of non-governmental organisations showed surprise and shock at the way the Indians are managing and manipulating the affairs of Sri Lanka. Many pointed to the reports of Amnesty International and other independent organisations accusing India of brutality, torture, tape and disappearances. Some did admit that the Indian lobby working through various diplomatic and other avenues are scuttling any move to place matters before the Sub-Commission.
However, many admit that India for the first time stands on the defensive and compromised in the international arena, which seems to worry some NGOs who have always sought and received the support of India on other international issues. A few confessed that all the allegations and weight of evidence indicated that the Indians are "thick-skinned". Some even pointed to the Indian governments violations of the human rights of their own people which in other countries would have been unthinkable. But one NGO was more to the point. He said that "What happens here (in the UN Sub-Commission) is not human rights but pure politics. If you think it is human rights you are wrong!"