Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Response of the Government of Sri Lanka to the US State Department Country Reports on Human Rights Practices - 2007

Foreign Minister Rohitha Bogollagama has issued today (31/03/2008) the detailed Response of the Government of Sri Lanka to the Country Reports on Human Rights Practices-2007 that had been released by the US Department of State relating to Sri Lanka, on 11th March 2008.

In a letter forwarding the Government's response, addressed to US Ambassador Robert Blake, the Foreign Minister has referred to the preliminary response that had been conveyed to him when he was called into the Ministry on 14th March 2008. At that meeting the Minister expressed the concern of the Sri Lankan Government on the substance of the report which presented a distorted view of the actual situation in Sri Lanka during the year 2007 and appears to have been based on unsubstantiated allegations. The Foreign Minister regretted that none of the positive steps taken by the Government of Sri Lanka to address the concerns on human rights had been reflected in the US State Department Report on Sri Lanka. Minister Bogollagama conveyed the expectation that the US Report would stand corrected in light of the facts contained in the Government response.

The Government response stated that the US Report carried several serious and baseless allegations against various officials of the Sri Lankan Government, while pointedly ignoring the many steps adopted by the Government to protect the sanctity of human life, and uphold fundamental rights as enshrined in the Constitution of Sri Lanka. Throughout the report, it had been observed that the approach of the US Report towards Sri Lanka was critical and judgmental, and such a slant undermined the objectivity and impartiality of the report.

The preamble of the response of the Government highlighted the fact that Sri Lanka is a vibrant multi-party democracy which accords the highest importance to the preservation and promotion of human rights, in keeping with the Government's constitutional obligations and the rule of law. In recent decades, LTTE terrorism has affected Sri Lanka's economic and social progress and the welfare of its people. However, it was possible for the Government to clear the Eastern Province last year from the LTTE presence and enable the people of the area to enjoy the fruits of democracy. The Government is determined to clear the remaining pockets in the Northern Province of the LTTE menace and restore the democratic process in those areas as well.

Minister Bogollagama underlined the failure of the US Report to reflect the difficult environment in which the Government operates, namely, promoting and protecting human rights whilst fighting a terrorist organization banned by the US, India, UK, EU and Canada, and described as 'among the most dangerous and deadly extremists in the world' by the US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). The Government response referred to a recent FBI report, which described the LTTE as a terrorist organization which 'has perfected the use of suicide bombers, invented the suicide belt, pioneered the use of women in suicide attacks, murdered some 4,000 people in the past two years alone, assassinated two world leaders - the only terrorist organization to do so.'

It was pointed out in the Government response that the US Report did not refer to the terrorist attacks committed by the LTTE against civilians including women and children, in sufficient detail. In particular, the indifference shown in the report towards the murders of school children by the LTTE, and neglected to reflect the facts in their proper context, could be seen as deeply offending to the feelings and sentiments of the families of the victims and the general public of Sri Lanka.

The Government's response reaffirmed that all human rights are universal, indivisible, interdependent and mutually reinforcing and that all human rights must be accorded equal weight. Sri Lanka's socio-economic indicators compare well with those of other medium income countries. In the 2007 Human Development Index, Sri Lanka ranked 99 out of 177 countries, the highest in South Asia. Amongst countries affected by conflict, Sri Lanka is unique in that the administrative machinery and infrastructure facilities in uncleared areas affected by the conflict, are funded and maintained substantially by the Government, despite the fact that some of these funds are known to be siphoned off by the LTTE.

Moreover, it was pointed out that Sri Lanka is a Party to the seven core international human rights instruments. Sri Lanka is also a State Party to other related instruments including the four Geneva Conventions of 1949 relating to armed conflict and international humanitarian law. Furthermore, Sri Lanka enacted enabling legislation in 2006 (Act No. 4 of 2006) to fully implement obligations under the Geneva Conventions.

The Government of Sri Lanka expressed its deep appreciation of the pro-active measures taken by the US Government to stop the procurement of weapons by the LTTE as well as to curb fund raising by the LTTE and its front organizations.

The Government's response underscored the fact that Sri Lanka and the US, are thriving democracies and have a shared and abiding interest in promoting and protecting human rights and therefore it should be the common endeavour of the two countries to engage in a constructive dialogue, which would further strengthen the existing bilateral friendly relations.

The response of the Government concluded with the expectation that the US Congress would take cognizance of the matters presented in its submission so that they would be able to understand the issues in a more balanced manner and also take necessary action to prevent the recurrence of such erroneous and biased reports being presented to it in the future.

Ministry of Foreign Affairs

Colombo.

31 March 2008

Full report as follows:

1. Introduction and Background

The United States of America State Department released the Country Report on Human Rights 2007 (USCR) on 11th March 2008 as required by the relevant U.S. statutes. According to Appendix A: Notes on Preparation of the country reports and explanatory notes, the compilers are supposed to `have attempted to make the reports as comprehensive, objective and uniform as possible in both scope and quality of coverage.' Furthermore, they should `have paid particular attention to attaining a high standard of consistency in the reports despite the multiplicity of sources and the problems associated with varying degrees of access to information, structural differences in political, legal, and social systems, and differing trends in world opinion regarding human rights practices in specific countries.' Whilst appreciating the challenges that would be faced in the preparation of such reports, it is deeply regrettable that the contents of the report lack scope and quality, while falling woefully short of "high standards" usually associated with, and should be maintained in, reports of this nature.

It is particularly regrettable that the compilers of USCR have levelled numerous allegations against the Government of Sri Lanka (GOSL), based on information allegedly provided by mostly unnamed and dubious sources, while neglecting to cross check the actual state of affairs with either the Government or any state institution, prior to finalizing the report, as was the practice that was followed in the past. Therefore, a doubt surfaces that this year's USCR may be a deliberate attempt on the part of some of the compilers of the report, to mislead the Congress of the United States of America of the true state of affairs in Sri Lanka, or worse still, bring the US State Department to disrepute in the eyes of the world.

Sri Lanka deeply regrets the publication of this report which is filled with factual inaccuracies, shocking omissions, biased opinions and statements which are uncorroborated, unsubstantiated and based mostly on hear-say. The fact that several other countries have also reacted in a similar manner may indicate that they too have suffered from the sub-standard work of the compilers.

The report also carries several serious and baseless allegations against various key officials of the GOSL, while pointedly ignoring the many steps adopted by the GOSL to preserve and uphold the respect for human lives, and fundamental rights as stipulated by the Constitution of 1978. Further, throughout the report, it is observed that the tone of the USCR towards the GOSL is critical and judgmental, and such stance supports the doubt about the impartiality and objectivity of the compilers.

This statement in response is therefore issued, to place on record the facts in true light, as they should always be.

2. Presidential Election

The GOSL wishes to categorically deny the allegation of the existence of an agreement between the President and the LTTE to enforce an election boycott at the 2005 Presidential Elections. Nevertheless, in keeping with the objective of upholding the Rule of Law, the Parliament of Sri Lanka has launched an investigation into this allegation with the complete consent and full co-operation of the President and the Government. Needless to say, the launching of a Parliamentary investigation should not, by any account, be construed as an admission that the alleged act was committed.

3. Claims of Arbitrary or Unlawful Deprivation of Life

In November 2006, the President of Sri Lanka appointed a Commission of Inquiry (COI) to investigate and inquire into 15 incidents of serious violations of Human Rights. The cases to be investigated included the killing of 17 aid workers of the international non-governmental organization - Action Contre La Faim (ACF) in early August 2006, the assassination of Mr Joseph Pararajasingham, Member of Parliament on 25th December 2005, the killing of 5 students in Trincomalee in January 2006, and the disappearance of Rev. Nihal Jim Brown of the Philip Neri's Church at Alaipidi on 28th August 2006. Subsequently, a further incident was added on 3rd November 2006, namely, the assassination of Mr. Nadarajah Raviraj, MP.

The COI has so far concluded several investigations, and two cases are at the stage of public inquiries. These are the public inquiries into the killing of 5 students in Trincomalee which commenced on St'' January 2008 and public inquiries into the ACF case which commenced on 3rd March 2008.

It is an accepted legal principle that conclusions cannot, and should not be drawn without a proper investigation and due process. In a country where rule of law, due process and the presumption of innocence prevail, short circuiting investigations to arrive at hasty and / or preconceived conclusions would give rise to the obvious violation of the basic principles of jurisprudence, equity and justice. Two investigations that the USCR alleges as "incomplete" are in fact so, because such inquiries have reached the public inquiry stage, which is a mandatory stage in the implementation of the principles of natural justice. Therefore, it is unfortunate that the compilers of the USCR were seemingly unaware of the present state of the investigations, and even more so, unable to appreciate the GOSL and the law enforcement authorities following proper procedures in the course of investigations. The law enforcement authorities in Sri Lanka relentlessly work on the investigations to bring those who are responsible for crimes and/or excesses to justice, and on certain instances international support has also been solicited to strengthen its own investigations. In point of fact, the assistance of Scotland Yard was sought in connection with the killing of Mr. Nadarajah Raviraj, MP and after conducting their own investigations, Scotland Yard has commended the manner in which the Sri Lanka Police has conducted the investigation.

As the US State Department would know only too well, given its' own experience with regard to Abu Ghraib for instance, investigations of this nature take a considerable time and effort. It is, therefore, regrettable that the State Department has echoed sentiments similar to those voiced by certain political interests, and by so doing, reaching the flawed conclusion that there must necessarily be a "cover up". In this regard, the GOSL wishes to reiterate the fact that delays are sometimes inevitable in legal systems where strong legal frameworks operate within a highly independent judiciary, and delay, prima facie, should not be construed as a reluctance on the part of the authorities to bring criminals to justice.

On many instances, as seen in certain sections of the report, the USCR adopts a stance, which is quite the opposite of the straight-forward foreign policy of the USA which advocates a zero tolerance of terrorism, terrorists and terrorist activity. In that background, it is quite likely that the US leadership would be acutely embarrassed by the many references in the USCR that indirectly supports terrorism, terrorists, terrorist causes and terrorist activities. As a case in point, the USCR attempts to

show the lack of progress of the investigation into the killing of E. Kausalyan, the head of the LTTE Terrorist Group in the Batticaloa-Ampara District, in order to emphasize a delay on the part of the GOSL. Irrespective of the fact that the deceased is a key member of a ruthless terrorist organization that is banned by many countries, it should be noted that the investigation into the killing is presently continuing and is being carried out by the Criminal Investigation Department (CID). However, it would certainly be interesting to ascertain as to whether a similar stricture about a `delay' would be made in relation to the progress made in the investigations into the numerous other killings of terrorist leaders around the world, including those destroyed by the US, in its relentless `War against Terror.'

The definition of "paramilitaries" in the report is also highly questionable and contentious. The Special Task Force (STF) of the Sri Lankan Police is identified as a 'paramilitary', but is categorized together with the 'Karuna' Faction, EPRLF, etc., thereby giving the mischievous intonation that the STF is a violent, ill disciplined group of fighters. This is obviously an attempt to tarnish the image of the Police Department of Sri Lanka. The STF is a well trained and well disciplined law enforcement authority that is internationally recognized. In fact, the Beijing Olympic organizers have sought advice on security from the Sri Lanka's anti-terrorist police commando unit of the STF. The Sri Lankan STF, which has fought separatist Tamil Tiger terrorists over the last two decades, are due to join

specialists from the United States, United Kingdom, Russia and France in planning security for the 2008 Summer Olympic Games. The STF's expertise has been particularly sought in relation to counter-terrorism measures and VIP protection, as well. The STF, established in 1983, handles security at key installations in Colombo and provides protection for the nation's president, prime minister and several cabinet ministers. In that light, it is deeply disturbing that the USCR has attempted to discredit the STF and such attempt is condemned by the GOSL.

In many sections of the USCR, sources, (often referred as "credible"), are highly questionable, and serve to destroy the veracity of, and challenge the integrity of, the report. One such cited source is the Human Rights Watch (HRW), an International Non Governmental Organization. The HRW has been an organization that has consistently failed to even grudgingly acknowledge the positive steps taken by the GOSL on preserving human rights, and it appears that they are on a mission to discredit the GOSL whenever and wherever possible. In fact, the annual report of the HRW for 2008, contains a chapter on Sri Lanka, which has even failed to distinguish between a democratically elected Government that has steadfastly affirmed its commitment to promote and protect human rights while combating an unprecedented challenge of terrorism, and a fascist terrorist group, LTTE, recently branded as one of the worst terror groups in the world by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI} of the USA.

Further, the insinuation that the USCR casts on the role of the GOSL in connection with the disappearance of Rev. Father Thiuruchelwam Nihal Jim Brown, the parish priest of the church in Allaipidi, Kayts, is totally ill-advised. In this regard, the USCR states, "media reports indicated that a DNA test confirmed that the body belonged to Brown, but the Government announced in June that according to its DNA test it belonged to neither Brown nor Vimalathas." The innuendo inexplicably overlooks and ignores the fact that, when a torso said to be that of Fr. Brown was discovered, it was the GOSL that expeditiously sought to ascertain whether the body was indeed that of Fr. Brown or his pillion rider Mr. Vimalathas, through DNA testing. Belittling the DNA based determination by a trained and highly respected medical professional, while upholding the veracity of an unsubstantiated media report, underscores the strange approach practiced almost across the entirety of the report - i.e., an eagerness to discount or discredit official efforts, disregard clear facts on the ground, and justify pre-determined conclusions. The GOSL is certainly willing to share the technical details of the scientific findings with the US Government, so that this matter could be put to rest. At the same time, it may also be interesting to conduct a research to ascertain whether there is any country in the world where forensic investigations are conducted by the media, instead of being done by trained professionals on the subject!

For purposes of record, it must also be pointed out that Mr. Kingsley Rajanayagam, who was considered to be a supporter of the "Karuna" faction, was forced by the LTTE to resign his seat in Parliament to which he had been elected in 2004, and was killed shortly afterwards. Further, the threat alleged by Mr. Chandranehru, MP has also been investigated and the report has been made available to the IPU special mission to Sri Lanka in February 2008 on the Human Rights of Parliamentarians.

4. Claims of `Disappearances'

In April 2007, the US Ambassador in Sri Lanka, H.E. Robert O'Blake handed over a list of 355 cases of disappearances to President Mahinda Rajapaksa. The Inter-Ministerial Committee chaired by the Secretary, Ministry of Foreign Affairs directed the list to the agencies that might be in possession of any information in this regard. This list has been carefully examined and a summary of the findings is as follows:

a) There were 5 names which had been duplicated.

b) 6 persons named in the list, have left Sri Lanka or have applied for passports after the dates of their alleged disappearances.

c) 24 persons have been traced, including a couple that had eloped! The Disappearance Investigation Unit of the Sri Lanka Police recorded statements of those who were traced, and it has transpired that some had left their homes due to family disputes, and subsequently returned.

d) 4 persons have been found to have died. The inquiries into their deaths are continuing.

e) 3 persons have been lawfully, arrested by the law enforcement authorities.

f) 106 cases have never been reported to the Police and the US Ambassador was requested to furnish more details. Such details have not been received to date, even though almost an year has lapsed.

g) As for the rest, the Disappearance Investigation Unit of the Police is continuing its investigations with the assistance of the relevant local Police stations.

It is indeed strange that many of the alleged disappearances have been reported to a foreign mission situated in Colombo, without being made at any of the 410 Police Stations situated in every part of the country, or without even informing the police hierarchy who can be very conveniently notified by letter, fax, or telephone.

The GOSL would also state that, while there had been allegations of increased killings and abductions in the latter part of 2006 and the first quarter of 2007, the ICRC, (which has regular access to all parts of Sri Lanka, except the uncleared areas in the North), has confirmed a distinct downward trend in

disappearances and killings in government controlled areas during the second and third quarters of 2007. According to the ICRC figures, and contrary to US State Department assertions, this decline was also evident in the Jaffna District. Notwithstanding the access the US State Department has had to the confidential report shared by the ICRC with GOSL, through its Embassy in Colombo, it is deeply regretted that the compilers of the USCR have ignored the many improvements, but merely reiterated the claims of dubious sources which simultaneously feed the LTTE propaganda machine. It is hoped that, at least in the future, the U.S. State Department would verify its sources prior to releasing reports to the international fora.

Further, contrary to misleading claims, the GOSL has mounted vigorous operations against a number of groups operating in Colombo and Kandy who had been allegedly responsible for disappearances and abductions leading to the extortion of money. However, as for the exact number of those alleged to have disappeared, GOSL faces difficulty in ascertaining such number, due to the multiplicity of lists of the allegedly disappeared provided by several agencies and organizations. Such lists have often been without supporting evidence or without the basic details of those who are alleged to have disappeared, which data and information would give investigators a useful starting point in their inquiries. In such circumstances, it is clear that many of these "disappearances" are obviously politically motivated claims in order to support the aims of various political parties, and the GOSL regrets that such groups have been able to mislead the compilers of the USCR as well.

In relation to "disappearances", the ICRC has also recorded that during the second quarter of 2007 (April - June), 181 disappearances occurred in cleared areas, while of that number it has managed to clarify the fate of 63 people, thereby leaving another 118 as missing. The ICRC however confirms that, compared with the number of disappearances recorded by the ICRC in cleared areas during the first quarter of 2007, the number of people who "disappeared" during the second quarter has declined.

The USCR also refers to the criticism leveled at the Attorney General by the IIGEP. The role of the Attorney General's office has come under criticism in the reports prepared by the Assistants to the IIGEP, as such compilers had been obviously not aware that, unlike in Britain or the United States, the Attorney General is not a political appointment in Sri Lanka. It should further be noted that the COI was at liberty to choose lawyers from the official or the unofficial bar to conduct its' inquiries.

Several generic trends are also observed in relation to alleged disappearances within the body of USCR. For completeness sake, these are set out below:

a) The lists almost always, overlap.

b) In many cases, certain persons whose names are in several lists, have probably never 'disappeared', as was noted as per the list forwarded by the US Ambassador. Further, the GOSL has no way of tracing those who might have moved into the uncleared areas in the Vanni, or even illegally migrated from Sri Lanka.

c) Most reports have been forwarded by a few NGOs. Some of such NGOs have been well known to obtain funding in dubious ways, and also known to exaggerate and/or conveniently "make" blatant mistakes. For example, one NGO included amongst the 'disappeared', six Sri Lankan security personnel who had been killed by an LTTE bomb, where their names were altered to sound Tamil. Another example is the suggestion by an NGO that it was "possible" that two NGO workers killed by a bomb along with five army personnel traveling in another truck, "might" have been victims of an army attack.

d) While the law provides the remedy of Writ of Habeas Corpu/ to those seeking to find a missing person alleged to be detained by any person or authority, this remedy has been hardly sought, and instead the 'remedv' has been mainly sought via a particular TV channel!

e) In many of the cases of persons said to have disappeared, no complaints were made to the Police, or to other investigative authorities, including the Special Independent Mahanama Tillekerathne Commission, or the Sri Lankan Human Rights Commission.

(f) Some "complaints" have been only made to the ICRC and/or to certain diplomatic missions.

(g) In certain cases of disappearances, it has transpired that, as soon as a complaint had been made to a Western Embassy or to the ICRC, the family of the alleged victim had applied for visas to go abroad.

The USCR has described Justice Mahanama Tillekerathne who was appointed the commissioner of inquiry to inquire into any alleged abductions, disappearances, extrajudicial killings and unexplained killing, as being partial due to his appointment by the President, since the Commissioner is an "associate" of the President. By such a misleading statement, the USCR is insulting the respected judicial process in the country. Justice `lahanama Tillekerathne is a retired High Court Judge who is a respected legal luminary, who is eminently suitable to hold this position. By simply insinuating that the Commission is partisan, the compilers of the USCR have taken the convenient route of ignoring the report of the COI and disregarding the findings of the report. The natural suspicion that arises therefore is as to whether that was because the report has not been supportive of their own pre-determined conclusions!

It is a well known fact that the recruitment of civilians into the terrorist cadres against their will is a common occurrence in the uncleared areas. In such instances, too, it is quite possible for the families of those who are forcefully recruited, to claim that their loved ones are 'missing'. Further, even though the GOSL takes steps to hand over the bodies of terrorist cadres who are killed in battles, to the LTTE with the assistance of the ICRC, there have been numerous occasions where the LTTE has refused to accept the bodies of their own cadres. Therefore, even in such instances, `disappearances' could arise, as the families of those LTTE dead cadres could claim that their family members are `missing'. It is also observed that in most cases of `disappearances', little or no detail is submitted by the complainants to the law enforcement authorities about the circumstances, place, time and date of the alleged 'disappearance', etc., in order to enable the authorities to carry out a comprehensive investigation.

Notwithstanding all these imperfections, the "statistics" submitted by even the most ardent critics of the GOSL make it clear that the situation has improved in 2007 as compared to 2006. At the same time however, it must be conceded that there have been financially motivated kidnappings during the middle of the year, but fast action on the part of the law enforcement authorities which culminated in several arrests, has resulted in the reversal of this trend.

The USCR has also alleged that no investigation had been conducted into a statement made by a Member of the Opposition, that bodyguards of a Cabinet Minister had been involved in a rather confusing case of abduction or luring! Contrary to such allegation, an investigation was conducted by the CID, and arising from such investigation, several arrests were made. However, it was discovered that the bodyguards of the said Minister had no involvement whatsoever in the said matter. This allegation therefore, is yet another in the long list of innuendo that the USCR has been misled into including in its report.

Although many incidents/matters have been reported in great detail which attempts to show the authorities in a poor light, amazingly, the reference to the fact that all families living in uncleared areas, have been forced to give up at least one member of the family to the terrorist cadres, seems to have been given very limited prominence in the USCR. It seems singularly bizarre that such a terrible occurrence could be so casually understated and described via a simple single sentence only!

As a general response, in all matters connected to alleged "disappearances", the GOSL wishes to caution the international community that they should be mindful of the many ruses employed by the LTTE, which pursues its terrorist agenda not only through terror, but also via political and diplomatic initiatives. While regretting that even the USCR may have been misled by such propaganda, efforts, the GOSL wishes to reiterate that it accords the highest priority to probe any "disappearances" cases that have been brought to its notice, and will indeed do so, in the future as well.

5. Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs)

As of 31St January 2008, the number of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) after 7th April 2006 has been established to be 187,863. This information is contained in a compilation published on 5th February 2008 by the Ministry of Resettlement and Disaster Relief Services, the Ministry of Nation Building and Development and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.

The table below sets out the figures on a District-wise basis:

District

IDPs in Welfare Centres and Temporary Accommodation Centres as of 31 January 2008

IDPs with Friends and Relatives

Total

Jaffna 857 30,180 31,037
Kilinochchi 3,737 44,810 48,547
Mullativu 923 31,194 32,117
Mannar 9,669 13,907 23,576
Vavuniya 281 10,376 10,657
Trincomalee 3,760 2,151 5,911
Batticaloa 10,010 16,474 26,484
Ampara 283 5,412 5,695
Puttlam 2,371 585 2,956
Anuradhapura - 486 486
Polonnaruwa 133 47 180
Gampaha - 213 213
Kegalle - 4 4
Grand Total 32,024 155,839 187,863

Out of the total, 32,024 still remain in welfare centers or temporary accommodation centers, while 155,839 are said to be with friends and relatives. However, the numbers given for Killinochchi. Nlullativu and the Southern part of Jaffna cannot be verified, although the GOSL continues to send relief supplies to these areas as well.

The GOSL is deeply committed to the facilitation of the voluntary return of all IDPs to their original homes. In the Eastern Province alone, approximately 120,000 IDPs have already returned to their homes since March 2007. However, some of those living in welfare centers or temporary accommodation or with friends and relatives have been held back due to the need for the clearance of landmines planted by the LTTE, which have claimed the lives of thousands of innocent civilians. Clearing of landmines is an on-going exercise, and as and when areas are cleared, re-settlements will be done in such areas as well.

It should be emphasized, that the re-settlement of IDPs in their homes has been a voluntary process and it has been undertaken according to international standards. This has been acknowledged by the international community including the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

The drafting of a comprehensive Bill on the Rights of the Internally Displaced and Returnees to supplement and complement other relevant legislation such as the Resettlement Authority Act (2007) is an initiative which has been undertaken by the IDP Unit of the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka, with the assistance of the Office of the UNHCR under the aegis of the National Protection and Durable Solution for IDPs Project.

It should be noted that the Government has, as commended by the UN Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights of IDPs, Mr Walter Kalin, begun to deal with the problems of IDPs who have been displaced many years ago as well. Most prominent amongst such displaced persons are the Muslims who were `cleansed' by the LTTE in 1990, by being given just 48 hours notice to vacate their homes situated in the North.

6. Allegations of impunity

At a time of any conflict and war, it is inevitable that some excesses take place. Even in the Iraqi war, the death toll of Iraqi civilians has been estimated at 660,000. The US Army and alleged paramilitaries, such as Blackwater, have been blamed for the alarming numbers of civilian killings. In a similar vein, even in Sri Lanka, there have been allegations of excess force used by the Sri Lanka security forces, at various times. However, it should be clearly noted that there is a zero tolerance policy on the part of the GOSL against such excesses.

The following actions exemplify the steadfast stance of the GOSL:

a) Over 150 indictments have been served against approximately 600 members of the security forces and the Sri Lanka Police as a result of their involvement in serious human rights violations prior to 2004. The alleged offences committed by them include abduction & disappearance, and illegal detention & murder.

b) Since 2004, a total of 42 indictments against 90 persons have been forwarded to the High Courts by the Attorney General's Department as a result of investigations into allegations of torture. In addition, 31 cases have been sent to the Police to initiate action in the Magistrate's Court. There are 25 pending cases, as of now.

c) Six members of the armed forces and Police personnel (both retired and currently serving) were arrested in June 2007, for a series of abductions for ransom and murder. After being held in custody, they have since been enlarged on bail with their passports impounded. The Attorney General will be consulted on the completion of investigations to file indictments against the suspects.

d) Two suspects, an army corporal and a police constable, were arrested and are currently in remand custody pending indictment in the High Court of Vavuniya, on being charged for murdering five students in Thandikulam on 18t' November 2006.

e) A Wing Commander and a Flight Lieutenant of the Sri Lanka Air Force were charged in the High Court of Colombo for the violation of human rights of a prominent journalist, and after a lengthy trial, both suspects were convicted and sentenced to 7 years of rigorous imprisonment and fined Rs.10,000/- each. The appeals presented by the convicted persons are presently being argued before the Court of Appeal.

These excesses and the resulting cases are totally regrettable and are being pursued diligently by the law enforcement authorities. At the same time, it may be pointed out there may have been similar or even worse excesses in certain overseas prisons, where officers were found to have inflicted sustained and deliberate inhuman and degrading treatment on prisoners of war.

7. Access for humanitarian agencies to the conflict areas

The GOSL acknowledges the good services rendered by several NGOs, INGOs and international humanitarian agencies. There are, in fact, over 3,200 registered NGO personnel in Sri Lanka. However, as is common in many countries, in Sri Lanka too, from time to time, there have -been issues regarding the conduct of certain individuals attached to some INGOs. For instance, there have been occasions where UN officials have been directly involved in demonstrations orchestrated by the LTTE, and instances where relief material provided by NGOs have been found in LTTE terrorist camps. These findings have naturally caused concern in official circles, but have fortunately been amicably resolved.

The UN has submitted a list of 21 INGOs, who are preferred partners in carrying out humanitarian assistance in the conflict affected areas. These INGOs have been given approval to work with the UN and ICRC to provide assistance to IDPs and to carry out projects related to tsunami reconstruction and development. Such INGOs have been provided access to uncleared areas since November 2006, in order to carry out their humanitarian operations. It is quite possible that, there may have been instances, where some agencies may not have been able to freely work in certain limited areas due to security advisories issued by the local military commanders. Such limitation would, not only apply to such INGOs, but also to UN, ICRC, etc.. as well as civilians. Such advisories, however, must not be construed as a denial of access, but as a temporary security measure in the interest of safety and security.

8. Victim and Witness Protection

The Law Commission of Sri Lanka, the Attorney General and the National Centre for Victims of Crime, initiated processes aimed at developing a new law to be enacted by Parliament, to provide protection to victims of crime and witnesses. Subsequently, these three processes were consolidated, and a comprehensive new law was drafted to provide assistance and protection to victims of crime and witnesses. Initiation of this project was done prior to it being suggested by the IIGEP. Once enacted, Sri Lanka will stand proud as a unique country that has a single law to provide both assistance and protection to victims and witnesses of conventional crime and human rights violations.

The proposed law would also provide assistance and protection to victims of crime as well as witnesses who have been interviewed by the police and who have to appear in courts. The law would provide assistance and protection to victims and witnesses before Commissions, such as a COL The proposed law has been developed by paying attention to the relevant international norms and best practices. The underlying policy for the new law, as developed by the Attorney General's Department, has met with the approval of the Cabinet of Ministers, and has been subsequently drafted by the Legal Draftsman. The final Bill has now received constitutional clearance and has been recently approved by the Cabinet. The Bill will now be scrutinized by the Supreme Court for constitutionality and will be presented in Parliament as an `urgent bill'. In the circumstances, it is likely that the new law will be enacted by Parliament soon and will thereafter become operational.

It is strange that these major positive developments have not even been considered by the compilers of the USCR. However, the compilers of the Report have, in a highly insensitive manner, proceeded to violate witness rights by consistently disclosing witness and victim identities and the details of crimes allegedly committed against them. The classic example is the repeated disclosure in the USCR, the names and whereabouts of several victims of rape.

9. Media Issues

The importance that the GOSL attaches to media freedom is underscored by the fact that freedom of speech is enshrined in the Constitution as a fundamental right. Article 14(i) of Chapter III of the Constitution dealing with fundamental rights, states thus:

Every citizen is entitled to:

(a) the freedom of speech and expression including publication;

(b) the freedom of peaceful assembly;

(c ) the freedom of association.

The only restrictions placed in the exercise of these fundamental rights, are laid down in Article 15 of the Constitution itself by which restrictions may be prescribed by law in the interests of racial and religious harmony or in relation to parliamentary privilege, contempt of court, defamation or incitement to an offence.

The GOSL recognizes and welcomes the important role that the media plays in society, in disseminating news and information. Sri Lanka, being a vibrant multi-party democracy, has a proud record of a fiercely independent and robust press. The GOSL believes that a free media is a cornerstone of democracy, which inter alia, promotes good governance and the rule of law.

In keeping with the government policy of upholding media freedom, the mass media of Sri Lanka is dominated by private news organizations. There is only one state owned newspaper, company, namely, the Associated Newspapers of Ceylon Limited, whereas the other six major newspaper companies are in private hands, which publish newspapers in Sinhala, Tamil and English. Apart from these newspapers, approximately 25 tabloid newspapers and magazines are also published, by the private sector. Similarly, television, the media channel having the biggest impact on the public, is predominantly in private hands. Of the 10 television channels, only two are state owned. The vast majority of radio channels are owned by private companies. There are 14 companies owning radio stations, of which only the Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation (SLBC) and ITN (Lakhanda service) are state owned. The SLBC operates 4 regional stations including the Palaly service in Tamil which is broadcast in the Northern Province. The private companies broadcast their programmes over 20 Sinhala, 4 Tamil and 6 English channels.

Media freedom has been further strengthened following the repeal of the 120 year old criminal defamation provisions in the Penal Code, by the Penal Code (Amendment) Act No. 12 of 2002. Similar amendments have also been made to the Press Council Law to repeal the criminal defamation provisions therein. However, the right of aggrieved persons to seek civil remedy for defamation continues to be in force.

The Press Complaints Commission which has been established by the Editors' Guild, the Newspaper Society and the Free Media Movement, is mandated to settle disputes referred to it by persons adversely affected by any of its members' publications.

Contrary to misinformed opinion, and the valiant efforts by many vested interests to project a contrary view, the media in

Sri Lanka enjoys wide freedom to report and disseminate news and information to the public, without government intervention or control. Indeed, notwithstanding the ongoing military operations against the LTTE, there is no press censorship, even on information pertaining to security and military matters. This exemplifies the high degree of media freedom in Sri Lanka.

There have, of course, been instances in the past where journalists have been questioned, arrested or detained on suspicion in connection with terrorist related offences. However such actions has been unrelated to their professional activities, but mainly based on their alleged involvement in aiding and abetting terrorism. Two such instances have received considerable attention in Sri Lanka and abroad and there have been attempts to suggest that these arrests are a media freedom issue, by certain interested parties.

a) Arrest and detention of Ms. Munisamy Parameshwari Based on intelligence received by the Special Task Force of the Sri Lanka Police, Ms. Munisami Parameshwari, a journalist attached to the Maubima newspaper was arrested on 23rd November 2006, in respect of her alleged involvement in abetting a LTTE female suicide cadre named Thambirasa Susanthi, by providing her with accommodation in Colombo. Her arrest and subsequent detention was in accordance with provisions of the Emergency Regulations.

Following the completion of the investigation, the Attorney General reviewed the available material for the purpose of instituting criminal proceedings. Though there existed a volume of incriminatory material against Parameshwari, the availability of material admissible against the suspect in a court of law, was insufficient and hence the Attorney General advised the police to discharge the suspect. Accordingly, the suspect was discharged by the Magistrate on 22nd March 2007.

b) Arrest and enlargement on bail of Mr. Dushyantha Basnayake Based on information received by the Sri Lanka Police, that Mr. Dushyantha Basnayake, Finance Director of the Maubima newspaper, along with a terrorist suspect named Anthony Lakshmi Emil had jointly engaged in an enterprise to fund terrorist activities in Sri Lanka, officers of the Terrorist Investigation Division of the Police arrested Mr. Basnayake on 26th February 2007.

Following the arrest of the suspect, he was detained in accordance with provisions of the Emergency Regulations promulgated under the Public Security Ordinance. The progress of the criminal investigation was periodically reported to the relevant Magistrate.

On 24th April 2007, based on the existence of a prima facie case of terrorist funding, the suspect was remanded in the custody of the Police by the Magistrate. On 15th May 2007, the suspect was enlarged on bail.

It is therefore clear that in both cases, there were good reasons for detention, followed with rapid release or release on bail, depending on the outcome of the inquiries.

In its report, the compilers of the USCR state that a certain media person was arrested by the CID on an 'uncorroborated' accusation by a Minister. It is quite amusing to note that a report which carries, inter alia, 126 statements based on uncorroborated evidence of highly dubious sources, has thought it fit to highlight a statement made in Parliament by a Minister regarding an incident that happened to the Minister, himself, in that manner.

Furthermore, it is unbelievable that the USCR has found it necessary to criticize the destruction of the "Voice of Tigers" (VOT) broadcasting tower by the Air Force jets. The VOT was a clandestine radio station that was operated by the LTTE terrorists and such station was also often used for transmission of messages among LTTE cadres. It was clearly a mechanism for LTTE propaganda for the "incitement of terrorism" and was part and parcel of a LTTE military infrastructure and not a civilian installation which is protected under International Humanitarian Law. Incitement of terrorism is prohibited under Security Council Resolution 1624 of 2005, relating to terrorism. The VOT facility was also an illegal entity that operated without a license issued by the Telecommunication Regulation Authority of Sri Lanka, as required by the law of the land and international practice. It's programme content promoted and glorified terrorism. In that context, it should be clear that those employed at the VOT facility cannot be considered as ordinary "civilian" media personnel, but have to be considered as "terrorist members" of the most ruthless terrorist organization of the world. It should also be noted that the VOT facility was in contravention of all internationally accepted norms and it was surely not the objective of any international convention to facilitate the propagation of terrorism by providing protection and moral support to any illegal media station operated by a terrorist group.

10. Access for media to the conflict areas

From time to time, upon receipt of requests to visit the operational areas, members of media have been provided access to the areas of conflict in the north. In July 2007, a five-day visit was undertaken by a group of journalists belonging to the BBC, Reuters, Reuters TV, AP, APTV, Al Jazeera, and the Daily Telegraph. They visited Kilinochchi and had direct access to the LTTE.

It is interesting to note that during their visit, while the LTTE publicly claimed that an Air Force attack on a Sea Tiger base had affected innocent civilians, this group of independent journalists who were already in the Vanni at the time, were not taken to the location of the alleged bombing, the most obvious action one would have expected from the LTTE, had their allegation been true.

The coverage of these foreign journalists clearly reflected the freedom with which they reported from the Vanni. The reports included a statement made by a key terrorist leader, S.P. Thamilselvan, who clearly stated to the media, that the LTTE would attack economic targets to weaken the Sri Lankan Government. The journalists were also shown women LTTE suicide bombers preparing to carry out attacks. In this context, it would be very interesting to ascertain whether any other government would have permitted media freedom to the extent where journalists were allowed to freely access terrorists who openly vow to bomb the country's own economic targets, destroy its' economy, kill its' innocent citizens and glorify terrorism. The fact that the GOSL had allowed even this type of abhorrent and extremely provocative encounters, clearly demonstrates the GOSL's deep commitment to media freedom. At the same time, it was indeed fortunate that, as a result of such visit, the foreign journalists saw for themselves, the yearning for peace amongst the common citizens of the North, whom they met at the market place. So too were the revealing reports by some journalists who described how youths in the Vanni were hiding in order to avoid being forcibly recruited by the LTTE and sent to fight against their will. For purposes of record, we reproduce below a Reuter report of 20th July 2007 titled; "Sri Lanka rebels forcing Tamils to join war efforts", which stated that "Families received letters from the Tigers with names of members who must join, underlined. Most international aid agencies have to keep some local staff indoors, some of them have not been able to leave their compounds for months.... All the NGOs in the area have great concern towards recruitment policy. We do experience that staff of all the different NGOs are getting abducted or have tremendous pressure towards them because they want to recruit them".

In the circumstances, it should be clear that other than in instances where there is an actual security threat due to ongoing operations (as prevalent at present in the operational areas in the North), the media have been provided access to the operational areas and have reported freely, and did not have to face any difficulties as a result, at least from the Government!

11. Children and armed conflict

Sri Lanka has ratified the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, on the involvement of children in armed conflict. It has also adopted a zero-tolerance policy on the recruitment of children for engagement in conflict.

According to the UNICEF, the LTTE has been responsible for the systematic and persistent recruitment of children into their cadres. Since 2002, they have recruited 5,700 children. According to UNICEF, there are 1,430 outstanding cases of child recruitment by the LTTE as of 31St January 2008.

On 9`h February 2007, at the 7th meeting of the UN Security Council Working Group on Children and Armed Conflict, the GOSL had conveyed that it would adopt the necessary measures to cause an independent and credible investigation into allegations made against some elements of the security forces in connection with the abduction and recruitment of children by the ' Karuna' faction. It was also confirmed that the GOSL is fully committed to the rehabilitation and reintegration of child combatants, who escaped from captivity of the armed groups and this is being done through the provision of a protective

environment as well as family re-unification and vocational training. As of 31st January 2008 the number of children recruited by the 'Karuna' faction was reported as 234, which included 164 children who are yet under 18 years. Given that the Eastern Province is now cleared of the LTTE, this problem is likely to be resolved soon.

As a further measure, the Minister of Disaster Management and Human Rights, in consultation with the Secretary to the President, appointed a high level "Committee to Inquire into Allegations of Abduction and Recruitment of Children for Use in Armed Conflict" in August 2007. The Committee is headed by the Secretary to the Ministry of Justice and Law Reforms.

12. Freedom of Religion

Sri Lanka functions in multi religious harmony and there are no special restrictions imposed by any authority against any particular community erecting a place of religious worship, and / or against any person in the practice of his/her own religion.

For purpose of record, a table of religious persons and places of worship is set out below:

Religious Places and Religious Personnel

Religious Denomination

No. of religious place

No. of Clergy Members

Percentage of Population

No. of religious place as a percentage of total

Buddhist 11,000 Temples 32,100 70 % 59 %
Hindu 4,382 Kovila 12,013 15 % 23 %
Islamic 2.100 Mosques 4,784 8 % 1 %
Christian 1,258 Churches 1,942 7 % 7 %

In a country environment where there are more than 18,000 places of worship and over 50,000 members of the clergy from 4 major religious denominations who co-exist wonderfully well, it is certainly sad that the compilers of the USCR have deemed it fit to portray Sri Lanka as a nation void of religious harmony by highlighting a few isolated incidents. The attack on a parish that has been described in order to portray a situation of `extremist Buddhists' attacking `Christian places of worship' is an unbelievable distortion of an isolated incident to create a false impression. Needless to say, the GOSL vehemently condemns any attack on any place of worship of any religion, in any part of the country, and for that matter, in any part of the world.

13. Allegations of torture and poor prison conditions

Sri Lanka acceded to the Torture Convention in 1994 and immediately thereafter, the Sri Lankan Parliament passed legislation to give effect to the provisions of the Convention. The GOSL, in keeping with its' deep commitment to this Convention, invited the Special Rapporteur on Torture, Prof. Manfred Novak to visit Sri Lanka. It is clear from Mr Novak's report, and from the report of his predecessor, that torture is not practiced in any systemic manner in Sri Lanka. Nevertheless, the GOSL set up a working group to study all the recommendations made by Prof. Novak, who was granted access to prisons and Police detention facilities without restrictions, including the carrying out of unannounced visits, and the conduct of private interviews with detainees. From the action of the GOSL to engage with Prof. Novak, it has been made abundantly clear that Sri Lanka is prepared to do more than what most countries dealing with terrorists, do. In turn, it is useful to reflect on Prof. Novak's remarks which reads, inter alia, as: "Notwithstanding the difficult security situation the Government is faced with, Sri Lanka in principle, is still able to uphold its democratic principles, ensure activities of civil society organizations and media, and maintain an independent judiciary. "

In the meantime, steps have already been taken to reduce the prison overcrowding that Prof. Novak pointed out, and which the GOSL too, has been anxious to deal with. In addition, statistics on torture cases are available on the website of the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka, which is not a commonly seen practice in many countries. It may also be pertinent to state that, according to information available, even in more affluent countries there are prisons where many conditions are well below standard and where torture has been found to be systemic.

The State Department's compilers' failure to give credit to a country that is anxious and willing to correct lapses is therefore regrettable, and this points to further evidence of compiler bias, ignorance and/or non-professionalism.

14. Liberation of the East from the LTTE

Despite resistance by the LTTE and the international build up of adverse claims and perceptions, the Sri Lankan security forces have been able to liberate the Eastern Province from the terror grip of the LTTE. The GOSL was able to successfully restore democracy in the East after a considerable length of time. The former LTTE area leaders, Mr. Karuna Amman and Mr. Pillaiyan, entered the mainstream of democratic politics and have set up a political party "Tamil Makkal Viduthalai Pulikal (TMVP)" which recently contested local elections. Confounding the prophets of gloom and doom, the elections were deemed free and fair by the independent monitors, PAFFREL. The elections also won recognition of the international community. The free and fair elections illustrated the yearning and the eagerness of the people of the East, including a large proportion of Tamil citizens, to re-enter the democratic process after being suppressed, suffocated and victimized by the LTTE for nearly two decades.

Following the liberation of the Eastern Province in 2007, the Government has embarked on a massive new programme titled: "N agenahira Navodaya" (Reawakening of the East) to quickly develop the Eastern Province and to bring it on par with other provinces of the country. A significant component of this programme is the resettlement of displaced persons. As a result of the strenuous efforts of the Government programme, resettlement is nearing completion and the emphasis is now shifting to economic recovery, restoration of livelihoods and development of infrastructure to enable a speedy and sustainable recovery and return to conditions of normalcy. The return to normalcy was aptly confirmed by the fact that, at the Local Authority elections conducted on 10th March 2008, voter participation was approximately 60%. The Government has now announced that Provincial Elections are to be held in May 2008 which will result in the implementation of the 13th Amendment in the Eastern Province of Sri Lanka. All these developments portray a transformation that few would have even believed possible, just about a year ago!

15. SLMM and the CFA

The USCR states that: "By mid-year, although the CFA technically remained in force, the SLMM ceased citing specific violations due to a lack of any response to previous complaints". The GOSL wishes to place on record that the reasons adduced by the SLMM were the paucity of monitors as well as an increase in violations. It should also be noted that the LTTE withdrew the security guarantees to the Danish, Swedish and Finnish monitors of the SLMM, which in turn, naturally led to the paucity of monitors.

16. Omissions and lack of understanding of laws and facts

The USCR has many references to state officials whose names have been linked by the compilers to various baseless and obviously politically motivated allegations. Most of these allegations have been originally brought forward by Members of the Opposition, covering behind Parliamentary immunity. It is therefore shocking that the USCR has published names of high ranking state officials and discredited them with some wild accusations, without even having the professionalism and good sense to either verify the facts from independent sources or to apply the basic principles of justice, before heaping blame and innuendo upon them. Once again, the blatant disregard for basic standards of fair and ethical behaviour, questions the mind-set and impartiality of the compilers.

Surprising also was the fact that the USCR, which dedicated an entire chapter to women, was deafeningly silent on the glaring issue of conscription of women and school-going teenaged girls as LTTE cadres. Further, the majority of the suicide bombings which took the lives of many innocent civilians were carried out by women suicide cadres who were on occasions even disguised as pregnant women, although this fact failed to receive the attention of the USCR compilers.

It is also very strange that the report fails to describe in any detail, the deadly atrocities committed by the LTTE against civilians including women and children. In fact, the criticism contained in the Report appears to gloss over the vast numbers of civilian deaths caused by LTTE terrorism over the years. For example, an eye witness of the Kebitigollewa bus bombing described how the LTTE terrorists calmly and systematically shot the women and children who were hastily getting off the bombed bus. This fact was surprisingly omitted from the report, which has been quite liberal in quoting from largely unsubstantiated and clearly incredible witnesses, on a large number of other matters. Further, the attempts on the life of important government officials, including a Tamil Minister, have been conveniently ignored. The non-reference to the various incidents documented in the final SLMM reports (160 incidents involving claymores or small arms by the LTTE, to just 7 by the Government), is also disconcerting. Whilst obviously higher standards are expected from a government than from a terrorist group, the fact that little or no mention is made about the enormous terrorist threat that Sri Lanka faces, is particularly strange, since the report emanates from a country that has, quite rightly, applied tremendous force to "shock and awe" the opponents in order to respond to its own terrorist threat.

17. Conclusion

All in all, the USCR is very poorly researched and unprofessionally compiled. It contains clear bias and innuendo. It contradicts its own statements. It carries fundamental inaccuracies which undermines the integrity and objectivity of the report and its compilers. Many of its sections have been compiled on the basis of false and hear-say stories from ill-informed, ill-researched and unreliable sources. The report has 126 instances where the compilers have failed to provide any source references and have simply covered up such shortcoming by using blanket clauses such as `numerous credible sources', 'reliable sources', etc. It has failed to adhere to basic standards and ethics of report compilation. For example, the report comments on the non availability of legislation in all three languages in Sri Lanka, while it is public knowledge that the laws of Sri Lanka are freely available in all three languages, and are even accessible on the internet. The report comments on restrictions on NGOs, while at the same time, acknowledging the facilitation provided by the Government for NGOs to operate throughout the country. The report, instead of presenting properly researched and credible material, bases almost all its "findings" on the many allegations made by opposition politicians, sometimes under the cover of parliamentary immunity from actions for libel, and a few political tabloids.

These obvious shortcomings and lapses will surely serve to seriously undermine the credibility and the stature of the US Government in general, and the US State Department in particular, and the direct responsibility of causing that sad state of affairs would unfortunately have to be placed upon the compilers of the immensely sub-standard report.

It is, therefore, hoped that the US Congress would take cognizance of the matters presented in this Response of the GOSL so that they would be able to understand the issues in a more balanced manner and also take necessary action to prevent this type of erroneous reports being presented to it in the future.

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