Sri Lanka: War Crimes

A United Nations investigation panel says both the government and Tamil Tigers are to blame.

In May 2009, Sri Lanka’s decades long civil war with the Tamil Tigers, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam came to a bloody close after government forces launched a massive offensive.

What exactly happened during the last days of the battle is still the subject of fierce debate, but it is clear that as the rebel perimeter shrank, around a third of a million civilians were trapped between the two armies and tens of thousands were killed.

The government says the LTTE were using civilians as human shields, Tamil exiles say the deaths were the result of indiscriminate shelling by the Sri Lankan army. The LTTE was crushed in the offensive, most of its leaders killed and thousands were captured and imprisoned but the Sri Lankan government has so far refused to agree to an independent, international war crimes investigation.

Now a UN panel has found that the allegations against both sides are credible saying they may have committed serious violations of humanitarian law.

As Juliana Ruhfus and Dom Rotheroe have been finding out, unless and until the truth is established, a final reconciliation in Sri Lanka may prove impossible.

Some of the images in their film are deeply disturbing.

This episode of People & Power can be seen from Wednesday, April 20.


Top NGOs face peril despite country returning to ‘normalcy’

Dr. Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu, continues to be on the rough ride facing peril.Dr. Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu, continues to be on the rough ride facing peril.

Despite the end of war against LTTE and the return to ‘the normalcy’ in Colombo, some civil society outfits in Colombo continue to be on the rough ride facing peril. The Transparency International Sri Lanka (TISL) and Centre for Policy Alternatives (CPA) are two such institutions reportedly facing uncertainty.Initially no less than five national level NGOs & INGOs were under ‘pressure’-CPA, Consortium of Humanitarian Agencies (CHA), Transparency International (TI), Berghoff, and FCE. However, having made ‘some adjustments’, the CHA, FCE and even the Berghoff Foundation are now apparently in the ‘good books’ of the government, sources said.

Clombo, 20 June,  (

Asian Tribune learns that   of the Centre For Policy Alternatives,  Sunial Abeyasekera, woman Activists Jegan Perera  of the National Peace Council  and several others are regularly flying out of the country  to  foreign countries for their safety,  as they are facing threats and intimidation in the present  post LTTE period.

It is learnt that Norway is to face the Parliamentary General Elections soon and our NGOs who were recently in Oslo were not given any encouraging response from their Masters.

Recently many NGOs were on a trip to Oslo to meet their Masters and to get assuarance from them of continued financial support in the post conflict period too.

The Berghoff Foundation, strongly viewed as an anti-Sri Lankan NGO, was originally invited to set up an office in Sri Lanka in 2001 to provide support, assistance, external experiences and expert knowledge to the principal negotiating parties.

The CHA which is network of NGO members in Sri Lanka and was formed in 1997,  works in the humanitarian sector in Sri Lanka. TI-Srilanka’s Executive Director J. C. Weliamuna, prominent Sri Lankan anti-corruption and human rights advocate, came under attack on September 27, 2008 as a grenade attack was launched on his family’s home in Colombo. He, his wife and two young children escaped injury.

But both CPA and TI are still continuing to resist while facing pressure. The Centre for Policy Alternatives, has recently filed a fundamental rights case challenging the violation of the basic legal rights of Tamil civilians interned in military-controlled camps saying that the detentions are illegal and in breach of “fundamental rights” in the constitution. CPA cites as respondents President Rajapakse, in his role as defence minister, and his brother Gotabhaya, who is defence secretary, as well as the attorney-general and the army commander in charge of the camps.

–      Asian Tribune –

Ravaya ==HOT TOPIC==


Can there be lasting peace in Sri Lanka? /* Aljazeera English */

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Uthayan newspaper attack condemned

Free Media Movement (FMM) in Sri Lanka has condemned Tuesday’s attack on the Uthayan newspaper office, Jaffna.

“An attack happening at a place which is under police protection raises serious questions about the freedom of media in Sri Lanka”, says the convenor of the FMM Chulawansa Srilal.

According to media reports, the grenade attack took place on Tuesday night around 11.00 p.m.

“We heard a loud explosion and the windows were damaged” said Gnanasundram Kuhanadan, chief reporter of the Uthayan newspaper.

A police officer who was on guard duty at Uthayan newspaper office was wounded in the explosion caused by the grenade which was lobbed into the ground floor of the office.

This is the fifth time that the Udayan Newspaper office has been subjected to attack in the recent years.


The Reporters without Borders (RSF) says that this is another attempt to stop distribution of Uthayan and comes less than a month after the arrest of N. Vithyatharan, the editor of the Tamil daily Sudar Oli, an Uthayan press group publication.

The media watch dog RSF said. “We urge the Sri Lankan authorities to carry out a thorough investigation with the aim of arresting those responsible and bringing them to trial.”

Meanwhile N. Vithyatharan the editor of the Tamil daily Sudar Oli has filed a fundamental rights petition challenging his arrest by the police.

Source : BBC

I’m always agitated against violence, fought for justice for oppressed

-Tissainayagam says to Court

Read on (sinhala)>> as_PDF

(Lanka-e-News, 21.March.2009, 12.00Noon) In statement made to the Court Friday, senior Tamil journalist J.S. Tissainayagam who has been held in detention for more than a year under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA), said: “I was and am still an advocate against terrorism. I have criticized terrorism in whatever form. I never advocated violence, my objective was to generate non violent means of resolving the conflict, my research, writings and work was towards achieving this.” Many international rights groups have called for the “unconditional release of Tissainayagam, who has been subjected to arbitrary court adjournments and is suffering ill health.”

First anniversary of arrest and imprisonment of Tissaianayagam fell on 7th March.

Full text of Tissainayagam’s statement to the Court follows:

I wish to commence this statement with a brief introduction about my home. My father was a government servant for 40 years. He served at the Department of Information and retired as its Director.

Later he worked in the Prime Minister’s office as an Assistant Secretary and was the speech writer to the Prime Minister. I grew up in an environment of mixed ethnic groups in Colombo.

In school too my friends were from all the different ethnic communities of our country. My first language is very much Englishand although I can speak Tamil, I am not very fluent in Tamil. After my high school I entered Peradeniya University and studied in English. There too all my friends were from different ethnic backgrounds.

I joined the Sunday Times in 1987 after university and later have worked as a journalist in a few English language national newspapers. I joined MARGA in 1989 pioneered discussions and engaged in research on how to solve the national issue peacefully.

While I was at Marga and later also, I helped OPFMD (Organisation of Parents and Family Members of the Disappeared ): I helped the families of the disappeared persons from the South due to insurrection by collecting information and translating them into English to send to organisations such as the Amnesty International and the UN. Vasudeva Nanayakkara and HE Mahinda Rajapakshe gave it political leadership and took the documents to Geneva. Was always worried for the safety of the civilians. Intention was to stop the killing of youth, whoever they were.

Although I told all this when questioned at the TID, they never wrote these things down, and even when Razik dictated for me to write down he left all this out.

I spoke up for the employees and as a consequence my services were terminated. I filed an application in the labour Tribunal and was awarded compensation. Although Marga appealed to the High Court, it was dismissed.

1994 to 1995 – I worked on a project for UNICEF through an organization called “The Medium”. Went to the East and did a documentary on children left parentless due to the conflict due to activities of the LTTE, JVP, EPRLF, IPKF, State created violence and other paramilitary groups.

This was also left out of all my statements.

Disappearance Commission – 1994 to 96: I helped them in various ways, collected info, translated them into English, helped to coordinate with families.

This was also left out of all my statements.

Knowledge of Tamil: I am not fluent in Tamil, my work has always been in English. I can speak Tamil, but am not fluent. For the first time after I left school I was made to write in Tamil when Razik forced me to take down what he dictated. This is what is now claimed to be my confession. I never wrote it on my own and I stand by the evidence I gave at the voir dire.

I was also scared of my eye conditions since I have had surgery for retinal detachment. If it recurred, I would go blind fully. Therefore even when I protested as the factual inaccuracies what is said to be my confession, I wrote it since Razik threatened me and also told me that I would be released soon if I co-operated. He said that they had to send it to the Supreme Court.

Charge under the PTA: It is unfair and illegal to charge me under the PTA for acts said to have been committed during the operation of the Ceasefire Agreement when the government had given an undertaking to relax the operation of PTA and allowed the free movement of the people from North and South into both LTTE and government controlled areas.

I travelled to the North and East during the CFA, as a journalist, collected information about life there to include in my writings, interviewed people from a vast spectrum such as political leaders, religious leaders, scholars, the displaced people activists, NGO, LTTE leaders. I personally know that many other journalists also traveled to the North and East during this time for the same purpose. I have also spoken on the telephone many times with persons who lived in those places to obtain information.

A person called Baba never offered me any money I never received money from him or the LTTE.

North Eastern Monthly was run on a commercial basis. It was sold at bookshops like Vijitha Yapa and Makeen Bookshop. There were subscribers too. The Account Number in which to deposit the subscription money was printed in the

North Eastern Monthly from the January 2007. Therefore the Account Number was available to anyone who bought the magazine.

I was and am still an advocate against terrorism. I have criticized terrorism in whatever form. I never advocated violence, my objective was to generate non violent means of resolving the conflict, my research, writings and work was towards achieving this.

OPFMD was at one stage involved in securing the release of soldiers and policemen captured by the LTTE. They made contact with the LTTE for this purpose and travelled to the Vanni also. In order to arrange these trips, I have often spoken on the phone in Tamil I could manage with their contact persons.

This was also left out of all my statements.

I am a non violent person and always agitated against violence and for justice for the oppressed. By writing the two articles referred to in the indictment, I never intended to cause violence or communal disharmony and no such thing ever occurred as a result of those articles. This is all I have to say.

Read on (sinhala)>> as_PDF

Journalists in the cross hairs of Sri Lanka war

Some suspect a government role in the deaths of several journalists, including Lasantha Wickrematunge, editor of the Sunday Leader, who was gunned down in January.
By Mark Magnier
Reporting from Colombo, Sri Lanka — The news editor at Sri Lanka’s investigative Sunday Leader newspaper was driving to work in January when she ran into a traffic jam a few hundred yards from the office.

Naturally, she investigated. Almost immediately, she saw the body of her boss, friend and editor in chief, Lasantha Wickrematunge, being loaded into a white van near his battered, bloodstained car. Witnesses later reported that several gunmen on motorcycles had carried out the attack.

Wickrematunge, an uncompromising journalist known for his hard-hitting articles on corruption and military accountability, had many powerful enemies. But the 52-year-old had survived attacks before.

This time, his luck ran out.

“Walking into the office the next day was so hard,” the news editor, Mandana Ismail Abeywickrema, said, sitting at her computer beside a picture of him. “All we could do was hug each other.”

The Sri Lankan government hasn’t commented on its investigation into the Jan. 8 killing, saying only that it is continuing.

The government has nearly doubled the size of its armed forces since 2006, altered military tactics and devoted enormous resources to winning its 25-year civil war against the Tamil Tiger rebels, who seek a separate state. Although the military has chalked up a long line of victories, nine journalists have been killed in Sri Lanka in the last three years, a government minister told parliament shortly after Wickrematunge’s death.

Echoing a global debate over the balance between human rights and the fight against militants, some suspect that paramilitary forces or others closely associated with the government may have played a role in the attacks.

Critics charge that the government of President Mahinda Rajapaksa, which came to power espousing human rights and benefits for the downtrodden, appears outright hostile to journalists who don’t toe the government line, contributing to a climate of fear.

Anyone who speaks out against the government is accused of demoralizing the troops, being a traitor or supporting the Tigers, said Lal Wickrematunge, chairman of the Sunday Leader, sitting at his desk beside a picture of his slain brother.

“There’s a fear psychosis among the media,” he said. “There’s self-censorship.”

Humanitarian organizations, opposition groups and other independent voices also feel a chill, some said.

“Democracy in this country is in peril,” said Ravi Karunanayake, an opposition lawmaker, who said he feels personally threatened. “The government has tied up the media, so it only reports what they say.”

International human rights and media groups have condemned Wickrematunge’s killing, and the media watchdog Reporters Without Borders ranked Sri Lanka near the bottom of its 2008 press freedom index of 173 nations, just above North Korea, Myanmar, China and Cuba.

At the broadcasting center of Maharaja TV, Sri Lanka’s largest independent network, known for investigative reports on politicians and the police, employees recount the attack they suffered two days before Wickrematunge’s death, when about 20 men with machine guns arrived at 2:10 a.m., assaulted the guards and demanded to be taken to the master control room.

There, they shot up the equipment and set off an explosive device that decimated the network’s multimillion-dollar digital nerve center.

“The way they shot at the TV screens, the way they shot the monitors, it was quite evident they were trained marksmen, not some gangsters,” station director Asoka Dias said, standing amid the debris.

After the attack, Maharaja TV staff rushed to the center and within hours patched together enough old equipment to get back on the air.

Weeks later, the smell of burned chemicals remains. Carbon from the fire coats the walls, desks and melted computer servers. A clock’s hands are frozen at 2:35, the time of the explosion.

Sonali Samarasinghe, Wickrematunge’s widow, said her husband told her that the station attack was meant to intimidate him and other independent journalists.

“Lasantha always felt, if he was killed, it would be the government,” she said, speaking by phone from a European country, which she asked not be disclosed because she feared for her safety.

Lakshman Hulugalle, director general of the official Media Center for National Security in Colombo, the capital, strongly disputes any suggestion of government involvement.

“On Lasantha, an inquiry is going on,” he said. “The easiest way is to accuse the government, but we can totally reject it.” And Maharaja TV may have destroyed its own station for insurance money, he added.

Wickrematunge appeared to be expecting his death. He prepared a final editorial, published posthumously, that lays out in detail why the government would want him dead. He told his brother that this was the time they might come for him, after a series of military victories when public approval was high. And he told his wife the morning of his death that he knew he was being followed.

Wickrematunge was no stranger to danger. A year after he and his brother started the Sunday Leader in 1994, several men smashed up his car while he and his family were inside. Two years later, his house was sprayed with gunfire. In 1998, the paper was shut down under emergency rule. Shortly after he appealed and won, the paper’s presses were set on fire; in 2007, they were set on fire again.

The paper’s staff is shaken but says it remains resolved.

“He made a huge difference. Even in death we need to reflect that,” said Abeywickrema, the news editor. “Now when I have a tough decision, I look at his picture and ask, what would Lasantha have done?”

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