Posts Tagged ‘Tamils’

Tamil Tiger video killing is genuine, declares the UN

January 8, 2010

The Times/UK, Jan 8, 2010

A photograph taken by The Times from a Sri Lankan helicopter

A photograph taken by The Times from a Sri Lankan helicopter flying the UN Secretary-General shows a devastated refugee camp in the ‘no-fire’ zone

Catherine Philp, Diplomatic Correspondent, and James Bone in New York

A leading United Nations expert called yesterday for a war crimes inquiry in Sri Lanka after his investigation concluded that a video showing soldiers summarily killing Tamil prisoners last year was authentic.

In a damning report citing top scientific experts, Philip Alston, UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial Killings, dismissed the Sri Lankan Government’s claims that the footage shown by Channel 4 had been fabricated. He urged Colombo to allow UN experts to investigate “persistent” allegations of war crimes in the final stages of its three-decade civil war.

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Sri Lanka Continues War on Media

September 4, 2009

Thursday 03 September 2009

by: J. Sri Raman, t r u t h o u t | Perspective

In a statement, President Barack Obama said journalist J.S. Tissainayagam was “guilty of nothing more than a passion for truth and a tenacious belief that a free society depends on an informed citizenry.” (Photo: Reuters)

Colombo’s war on the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam may have ended. But its war on media freedom is far from over. Unlike the army offensive in the northeast of Sri Lanka, this is a war waged in disregard of the island-state’s ethnic divide.

The latest illustration of this years-long offensive has come with the Colombo High Court sentencing a Sri Lankan journalist to a 20-year prison term, with “hard labor,” on August 31 for his published comments on the armed conflict. Forty-five-year-old Jayaprakash Sittampalam Tissainayagam is a Sri Lankan Tamil, but has never been known to function as a member of the LTTE.

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Sri Lanka jails journalist who criticised war policy

September 1, 2009

Twenty years for writer who was hailed by President Obama as a hero facing persecution

By Andrew Buncombe, Asia Correspondent,  The Independent/UK, September 1, 2009

Journalist JS Tissainayagam leaves court yesterday after he was jailed for 20 years for causing 'racial hatred' and 'supporting terrorism'

Journalist JS Tissainayagam leaves court yesterday after he was jailed for 20 years for causing ‘racial hatred’ and ‘supporting terrorism’

A Sri Lankan reporter, recently named by US President Barack Obama as an example of the way journalists are persecuted around the world, has been sentenced to 20 years in jail for writing articles critical of the government’s military operations.

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Sri Lankan police interrogate doctors who witnessed war crimes

June 13, 2009
By Nanda Wickramesinghe |, 13 June 2009

The Sri Lankan government is continuing to detain and interrogate three doctors—Dr Thurairajah Varatharajah, Dr Thangamuttu Sathyamurthi and Dr V. Shanmugarajah—who risked their lives to provide medical care to thousands of Tamil civilians caught in fighting between the army and the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).

With journalists and most aid workers barred from the war zone, the government-appointed medical officers provided a glimpse into the horrific conditions facing over a quarter of a million civilians in the small LTTE-held enclave. Their testimony provided first-hand evidence of the war crimes being carried out by the Sri Lankan military in shelling civilian areas. Their makeshift clinic was hit several times in the last weeks of fighting.

The three doctors fled along with thousands of civilians just days before the army overran the last LTTE territory. They were detained by soldiers and handed over to police. To deflect attention from its own crimes, the government accused the doctors of aiding the LTTE and denounced their accounts as propaganda. Only the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has had access to the men.

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Doctors who braved bombs in Sri Lanka imprisoned

June 6, 2009

Government accuses medics of collaborating with Tamil Tigers

By Andrew Buncombe, Asia correspondent | The Independent/UK, June 6, 2009

Civilians injured during the conflict were treated at a makeshift hospital inside the conflict zone

Civilians injured during the conflict were treated at a makeshift hospital inside the conflict zone

Three doctors who struggled to help tens of thousands of civilians wounded in Sri Lanka’s war zone could be held for up to a year before being charged with harming the country, the government has revealed.

Sri Lanka’s Human Rights Minister, Mahinda Samarasinghe, said the doctors were being detained on “reasonable suspicion of collaboration with the LTTE [Tamil separatists]”. He said the men had to be presented before a court on a monthly basis, but that investigations could take more than a year.

In the final bloody months of the war, the three government-appointed medics – Thurairaja Varatharajah, Thangamuttu Sathyamurthi and V Shanmugarajah – worked with the most basic medical facilities to run a makeshift clinic inside the conflict zone.

Without many of the drugs they required, or sufficient staff numbers, the doctors struggled to manage while their clinic came under regular bombardment, reportedly from both the LTTE rebels and government forces.

Yet, to the fury of the government, the doctors were also one of the few sources of independent information about the civilian casualties of a conflict that was all but hidden from view.

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Amnesty presses UN on Sri Lanka casualty figures

June 1, 2009
Morning Star Online, Sunday 31 May 2009

Amnesty is urging the United Nations to publicise its estimate of civilian deaths in the final weeks of Sri Lanka’s civil war, amid mounting speculation over the true toll.

The NGO said that it has received “consistent testimony” that both government troops and Liberation Tigers of Tamil Elam fighters had killed thousands of civilians trapped in the war zone.

It called for an independent international investigation to uncover the truth.

The group did not say who had testified to the alleged abuses.

The UN said that 7,000 civilians had been killed and 16,700 wounded between January 20 and May 7.

However, these estimates, circulated among diplomats, were not released publicly.

Amnesty cited an investigation published on Friday in a British newspaper, which claimed that 20,000 civilians had been killed in the final phase of the war.

The report cited unnamed UN sources.

But the world body denied that the figure had come from the UN and said that the exact death toll may never be known because there were no independent observers on the ground.

UN chief knew Tamil civilian toll had reached 20,000

May 30, 2009

The Times/UK, May 30, 2009

Catherine Philp, Diplomatic Correspondent

The top aide to the United Nations Secretary-General was told more than a week ago that at least 20,000 Tamil civilians were killed in the Sri Lankan Government’s final offensive against the Tamil Tiger rebels this month, The Times can reveal.

UN officials told Vijar Nambiar, Ban Ki Moon’s chief of staff, that their figures indicated a likely final death toll of more than 20,000, during a briefing in preparation for Mr Ban’s visit to the region on May 23.

Two staff present at the meeting confirmed the exchange to The Times but Mr Ban never mentioned the death toll during his tour of the battleground, which he described as the “most appalling scene” he had witnessed in his long international career.

The casualty figure, revealed by The Times yesterday, triggered an international furore, with the Sri Lankan authorities denying the report and human rights groups demanding an investigation into possible war crimes.

Lakshman Hulugalle, a Defence Ministry spokesman, said: “These figures are way out . . . What we think is that these images are also fake. We totally deny the allegation that 20,000 people were killed.”

But, internationally, calls have been growing for an independent war crimes investigations on both sides and for access by humanitarian groups to the war zone and the 270,000 Tamil civilians who are still being detained.

Amnesty International called on the UN to release the estimated figures to help to push for a war crimes inquiry. “The Timess investigation underscores the need for investigation and the UN should do everything it can to determine the truth about the ‘bloodbath’ that occurred in northeast Sri Lanka,” Sam Zarifi, the Asia-Pacific director of Amnesty International, said.

“The Human Rights Council’s decision not to call for specific measures to protect Sri Lankans made a mockery of the council, but it does not mean the end of the international community’s responsibility to respond to this continuing crisis,” Mr Zarifi said.

The International Committee of the Red Cross made a rare public plea yesterday for access to the no-fire zone and internment camps in the region. “We haven’t been able to access the areas where most of these people would have fled from since the ending of the most recent fighting,” Florian Westphal, the Red Cross spokesman, told a briefing in Geneva.

The figure of 20,000 casualties was given to The Times by UN sources, who explained in detail how they arrived at that calculation.

Before this month’s bombardment made the recording of each individual death impossible, the figures had been collated from deaths reported by priests and doctors and added to a count of the bodies brought to medical points.

Of the total, the bodies collected accounted for only a fifth of all reported deaths. After the bombing intensified this month, the only numbers available were by a count of the bodies. The 20,000 figure is an extrapolation based on the actual body count.

The 20,000 figure has also been obtained by Le Monde, the French daily newspaper, which quoted UN sources as saying that the figure had not been made public to avoid a diplomatic storm. The figure of 7,000 deaths until the end of April, which was based on individually documented deaths and not estimates, was leaked by UN sources in Sri Lanka this month after internal anger over the secrecy surrounding them. UN satellite images documenting the bombing of medical facilities were also leaked from New York.

The UN Humanitarian Co-ordination Office said yesterday that the figures cited by The Times were based on “well-informed estimates” given in private briefings to member states to underscore its concern — including Britain and the United States.

“You have seen the figures that are mentioned. Obviously, what we have are well-informed estimates and not precise, verifiable numbers,” said Elisabeth Byrs, spokeswoman for the humanitarian co-ordination office. “The point is the UN has not been shy about the scale of human suffering and civilian casualties. It has been ringing the alarm bells for a long time.”

Sri Lanka accused of ‘ethnic cleansing’ of Tamil areas

May 26, 2009

The Sri Lankan government has been accused of launching a campaign of “ethnic cleansing” following its victory over the Tamil Tigers in the country’s 26 year civil war.

By Dean Nelson in Trincomalee |
Last Updated: 9:14PM BST 25 May 2009

Sri Lankan government has been accused of launching a campaign of

Sri Lankan government has been accused of launching a campaign of “ethnic cleansing” following its victory over the Tamil Tigers Photo: KIRSTY WIGGLESWORTH/AP

Aid officials, human rights campaigners and politicians claim Tamils have been driven out of areas in the north-east of the country by killings and kidnappings carried out by pro-government militias.

They say the government has simultaneously encouraged members of the Sinhalese majority in the south to relocate to the vacated villages.

One foreign charity worker told the Daily Telegraph the number of Tamils disappearing in and around Trincomalee, 50 miles south of the final conflict zone in Mullaitivu, had been increasing in the last three months.

He claimed to have known 15 of the disappeared, three of whom had been found dead. He said all three bodies showed signs of torture, while two were found with their hands tied behind their backs and single bullet wounds in their heads.

Another aid worker said the killings were part of a strategy to drive out the Tamils.

“Eastern province is vulnerable, there’s cleansing by the Sinhalese. There will be more problems with land grabbing. The demography changes and the Tamils who are the majority will soon become a minority,” he said.

He claimed many villagers had moved out after the army declared their land to be part of a ‘high security zone’ and Sinhalese had been given incentives to move in to provide support services to new military bases.

Many Tamils sold their homes and land at below-market prices after members of their families had been killed or had disappeared, he said.

One western human rights advocate said Tamils in and around Trincomalee were terrified because they believed the police were either complicit in, or indifferent to, the numbers disappearing or found dead. “There’s no investigation. It’s a climate of terror and impunity,” he said.

A local campaigner for the families of the disappeared said the killings were speeding the flight of Tamils from the area. “When there’s a killing other Tamils move out. Who goes to the Sinhalese police? You either live under threat or you move out,” he said.

He said much of the “ethnic cleansing” was being done in the name of economic development in which Tamil villagers were being moved out to make way for new roads, power plants and irrigation schemes, while Sinhalese workers were being drafted in with incentives including free land and housing.

“Thousands of Sinhalese are coming in, getting government land and government assistance from the south. It’s causing huge tensions,” he said.

He and others fear this model will now be applied to the north where the final army onslaught to defeat the Tamil Tigers left 95 per cent of the buildings demolished or heavily damaged.

Since the victory earlier this month, President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s government has been under pressure to ‘win the peace’ with a generous devolution package for Tamils in the north.

Ministers have said they want to break the identification of the Tamils with the northern and eastern provinces and integrate them into the Sinhalese majority population throughout the country.

In Colombo, billboard posters have contrasted the “divided” pre-victory Sri Lanka, with the Tamil north and east shaded red, and the “united” post-war island.

Ministers have said billions of dollars will be needed to rebuild the area’s roads, buildings, schools, hospitals and water, electricity and communications infrastructure. Community leaders and Tamil politicians fear this will mean a further influx of Sinhalese.

R. Sampanthan, the parliamentary leader of the Tamil National Alliance and an MP for Trincomalee said he shared these fears. A new road being constructed from Serubilla, a Sinhalese village in Trincomalee district to Polonaruwa, a Tamil village, was under construction and Sinhalese families were being settled on either side of the road as it snakes further north-east.

“It’s ethnic cleansing, and we’re concerned that this is what they will also do in the north,” he said.

Sri Lanka: Distant voices, desperate lives

May 17, 2009

John Pilger |  New Statesman, May 14, 2009

History teaches us that when no one listens, tragedy ensues. Sri Lanka’s Tamils face terrible suffering. They urgently need to be heard

In the early 1960s, it was the Irish of Derry who would phone late at night, speaking in a single breath, spilling out stories of discrimination and injustice. Who listened to their truth, until the violence began? Bengalis from what was then East Pakistan did much the same. Their urgent whispers described terrible state crimes that the news ignored, and they implored us reporters to “let the world know”. Palestinians speaking above the din of crowded rooms in Bethlehem and Beirut asked no more. For me, the most tenacious distant voices have been the Tamils of Sri Lanka, to whom we ought to have listened a very long time ago.

It is only now, as they take to the streets of western cities, and the persecution of their compatriots reaches a crescendo, that we listen, though not intently enough to understand and act. The Sri Lankan government has learned an old lesson from, I suspect, a modern master: Israel. In order to conduct a slaughter, you ensure the pornography is unseen, illicit at best. You ban foreigners and their cameras from Tamil towns such as Mulliavaikal, which was bombarded recently by the Sri Lankan army, and you lie that the 75 people killed in the hospital were blown up quite wilfully by a Tamil suicide bomber. You then give reporters a ride into the jungle, providing what in the news business is called a dateline, which suggests an eyewitness account, and you encourage the gullible to disseminate only your version and its lies. Gaza is the model.

From the same masterclass you learn to manipulate the definition of terrorism as a universal menace, thus ingratiating yourself with the “international community” (Washington) as a noble sovereign state blighted by an “insurgency” of mindless fanaticism. The truth and lessons of the past are irrelevant. And, having succeeded in persuading the United States and Britain to proscribe your insurgents as terrorists, you affirm you are on the right side of history, regardless of the fact that your government has one of the world’s worst human rights records and practises terrorism by another name. Such is Sri Lanka.

This is not to suggest that those who resist attempts to obliterate them culturally if not actually are innocent in their methods. The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) have spilled their share of blood and perpetrated their own atrocities. But they are the product, not the cause, of an injustice and a war that long pre-date them. Neither is Sri Lanka’s civil strife as unfathomable as it is often presented: an ancient religious-ethnic rivalry between the Hindu Tamils and the Buddhist Sinhalese government.

Sri Lanka, as British-ruled Ceylon, was subjected to classic divide-and-rule. The British brought Tamils from India as virtual slave labour while building an educated Tamil middle class to run the colony. At independence in 1948, the new political elite, in its rush for power, cultivated ethnic support in a society whose imperative should have been the eradication of poverty. Language became the spark. The election of a government pledging to replace English, the lingua franca, with Sinhalese was a declaration of war on the Tamils. Under the new law, Tamils almost disappeared from the civil service by 1970; and as “nationalism” seduced both left and right, discrimination and anti-Tamil riots followed.

The formation of a Tamil resistance, notably the LTTE, the Tamil Tigers, included a demand for a state in the north of the country. The response of the government was judicial killing, torture, disappearances and, more recently, the reported use of cluster bombs and chemical weapons. The Tigers responded with their own crimes, including suicide bombing and kidnapping.

In 2002, a ceasefire was agreed, and it held until last year, when the government decided to finish off the Tigers. Tamil civilians were urged to flee to military-run “welfare camps”, which have become the symbol of an entire people under vicious detention, and worse, with nowhere to escape the army’s fury.

This is Gaza again, although the historical parallel is the British treatment of Boer women and children more than a century ago, who “died like flies”, as a witness wrote.

Foreign aid workers have been banned from Sri Lanka’s camps, except the International Committee of the Red Cross, which has described a catastrophe in the making. The United Nations says that 60 Tamils a day are being killed in the shelling of a government-declared “no-fire zone”.

In 2003, the Tigers proposed a devolved Interim Self-Governing Authority that included possibilities for negotiation. Today, the government gives the impression it will use its imminent “victory” to “permanently solve” the “Tamil minority problem”, as many of its more rabid supporters threaten. The army commander says all of Sri Lanka “belongs” to the Sinhalese majority. The word “genocide” is used by Tamil expatriates, perhaps loosely; but the fear is true.

India could play a critical part. The south Indian state of Tamil Nadu has a Tamil-speaking population with centuries-long ties to the Tamils of Sri Lanka. In the current Indian election campaign, anger over the siege of Tamils in Sri Lanka has brought hundreds of thousands to rallies. Having initially helped to arm the Tigers, Indian governments sent “peacekeeping” troops to disarm them. Delhi now appears to be allowing the Sinhalese supremacists in Colombo to “stabilise” its troubled neighbour. In a responsible regional role, India could stop the killing and begin to broker a solution.

The great moral citadels in London and Washington offer merely silent approval of the violence and tragedy. No appeals are heard in the United Nations from them. David Miliband has called for a “ceasefire”, as he tends to do in places where British “interests” are served, such as the 14 impoverished countries racked by armed conflict where the British government licenses arms shipments. In 2005, British arms exports to Sri Lanka rose by 60 per cent.

The distant voices from there should be heard, urgently.

Sri Lanka guilty of ‘humanitarian disaster’

April 24, 2009

April 24, 2009

Civilians arrive at the village of Putumatalan in Puthukkudiyirippu, northern Sri Lanka


The Security Council has urged the Sri Lankan Government to protect civilians and allow international agencies access to those fleeing the conflict

Aid workers accused Sri Lanka yesterday of causing an avoidable humanitarian disaster as the country’s Government appealed for international help in handling 100,000 civilians who have fled the conflict with the Tamil Tigers since Monday.

The Government had maintained for weeks that there were fewer than 50,000 civilians in the area where the army has pinned down the last of the Tigers.

It insisted that UN and Red Cross estimates of 100,000 to 150,000 civilians in the zone were exaggerated — and prepared internment camps to screen non-combatants based on its own figures.

The army now says that it has rescued 103,000 civilians from the area since Monday — on top of 70,000 already in the camps — and estimates that there are up to 20,000 still inside the zone.

The result, according to the UN, is that more than 100,000 desperate people — many of them injured and traumatised — are now heading for camps that are severely overcrowded and running short of supplies. Even the Government concedes that a humanitarian emergency is unfolding. “Overcrowding was a problem before the exodus,” Gordon Weiss, the UN spokesman in Colombo, the capital, said. “The existing sites are going to be overwhelmed in the coming days.”

Ban Ki Moon, the UN Secretary-General, ordered the immediate dispatch of a humanitarian team to the area last night and urged the Government to co-operate with it. “Too many lives are at stake,” he said.

The Government has blocked all aid agencies from helping the civilians until they are in the camps, but is struggling to provide them even with food and water, according to aid workers. “People are keeling over from hunger,” said one.

Tony Senewiratne, the local head of Habitat for Humanity, an international NGO, said that existing camps were not nearly sufficient to house so many people during a screening process that would take months, if not years.

“The influx of people is going to create a humungous humanitarian problem,” said Mr Senewiratne, who is Sinhalese. “We aren’t ready to meet the basic needs of the people, and the Government is depending on the international community jumping in.”

Rohitha Bogollagama, the Foreign Minister, described the situation as “less than ideal” and appealed for assistance in providing shelter, clean water and toilets. “With the influx of large numbers of people in such a short period of time, obviously we do face an emergency humanitarian situation,” he said.

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