By ABC Radio –
Interview given to ABC – Radio Australia by Brito Fernando, co-convenor, Platform for Freedom, Sri Lanka
The pro-democracy group, Platform for Freedom believes there have been about 35 disappearances over the past three months. The UN Human Rights Council last week passed a resolution calling for a thorough investigation of alleged war crimes committed by both sides during the final phases of the civil war. Platform for Freedom says the Sri Lankan government’s track record for follow-up is not a good one.
To listen the interview click here
Presenter: Sen Lam
Speaker: Brito Fernando, co-convenor, Platform for Freedom, Sri Lanka
FERNANDO: We have a history of not implementing commission reports. Sometimes even, they do not publish the reports, so no one knows. Recently, when a free trade zone worker was shot dead in a struggle, the President appointed a Commission, the Commission report was handed over, but no one knows what is there. So, this LLRC (Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission) being a commission appointed by the government and their recommendations, and if the government is not going to implement, the foreign intervention is much needed.
LAM: Has the government made sincere attempts at national reconciliation, especially in Sri Lanka’s north and east?
FERNANDO: I don’t think the government tried its best or worked sincerely because, Yes, they have built some temples, changed Tamil names into Sinhala and the army presence is much stronger than before, so if someone says this is reconciliation, then Yes. But the thing is, the Tamil people are unhappy because they don’t have the freedom for expression. They can’t mourn together for their disappeared, or for the people who were killed, whether they are LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam) or not. Their children, they have the right those things. So, I think the government is not doing this real reconciliation. But without admitting their role in wrong things and repent, I don’t think that there can be reconciliation. Everyone has to admit what they have done and then only the reconciliation can begin.
LAM: You’re the chairman of Right to Life, which over ten years ago set up this ‘Wall of Tears’ memorial, where over 600 photographs of people who’ve been ‘disappeared’ are posted, and the list is still being updated annually. So are these forced disappearances still occuring, now that the war is over?
FERNANDO: Yes, that is the main worry we have, because in our country, in 1989, when we had these disappearances, we all campaigned against it, the leadership was given by the present president, Mahinda Rajapakse. We marched from Colombo to Kataragama, that is down south, about 19 days, and he was our representative to the UN and he was campaigning in Geneva, to stop the disappearances, so after he became the president, it’s very unfortunate, it’s still happening. So last three months, the numbers say it’s about 35 disappearances have taken place.
LAM: So you’re saying the government is not taking this issue seriously?
FERNANDO: No, because they’re using it as a political thing against their opponent very recently, some military people were caught red-handed, when they were trying to abduct the chairman of a municipality, that chairman was from their own party. But the government just released them, saying that they just went to find some ex-soldiers from the military. So the government is not paying interest, in stopping this, the most cruel violence against a human being.
LAM: In a recent paper, you spoke about the militarisation of society – is this part of what you were talking about, this lack of freedom of expression?
FERNANDO: Definitely, yes. Now, they always try to call the military on the street, legally. Now all the districts under the People’s Protection Act, the military can be called to anything. So very recently, when the fishermen came on to the streets – I know they sometimes behave roughly, because they don’t have that sort of training or ways of how to challenge and other things. Then the military was called and shot dead a fisherman. And even the armoured cars came on to the streets. So this is happening again and again. So we have to stop it because now they’re calling against every struggle being conducted by the workers, the farmers or anything like that. So the military personnel, they’re not only in the north, but even in the south now. For anything, they will call the military.
LAM: How do you think a space might be opened up or built, to promote a free and safe forum for discussion of issues that are important to the people? How do you think this might be done in Sri Lanka?
FERNANDO: The civilian movement is not that strong in Sri Lanka, but still, we’re trying to engage all the political parties and the civil movements, especially on a few issues like the freedom of expression, trying to create an environment where the people can have the right of dissent. But the freedom of expression should be maintained, so we’re trying our best as Platform for Freedom. Now, even the main opposition political party is working with us, so we’re getting all the other political parties and the civil movements together, to fight for those things, so that is how we think that space can be made. And even by organising the local mass campaigns and joining hands with the international pressure, we have to create it. Otherwise, no one can do anything, no one can express themselves freely, without the fear of getting disappeared. Now even passing a resolution in Geneva, it always helps, but it is our duty to build up a movement in Sri Lanka, in a democratic way, to challenge those things. And we are not afraid to say that we worked with the President and he was with us against the disappearances. Now he has forgotten those things, and we are still continuing.
To listen the interview click here