By Brian Senewiratne –
His Excellency Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights
Palais des Nations
CH-1211 Geneva 10,
Sri Lanka: The situation in the North and East
I am a Sinhalese from the majority community in Sri Lanka. My cousin, Chandrika Kumaratunga was a former President. I am one of a very few Sinhalese, in or outside Sri Lanka, to campaign for the cause of the Tamil people to live with equality, dignity and safety in the country of their birth. I have done so since 1948 when a million Plantation Tamils (one seventh of the total population of the country at that time) were disenfranchised and decitizenised in one of the most outrageous acts of political savagery in any country..
In 1956 I strongly opposed the discrimination against the Indigenous Tamils when my uncle, Prime Minister S.W.R.D Bandaranaike, changed the Official Language from English to Sinhalese only.
In 1972, then as a Senior Lecturer in Medicine in Sri Lanka, I strongly objected to Prime Minister Sirima Bandaranaike, my aunt, when she set the bar higher for Tamil students to enter the University because it was clearly discriminatory. I was witness to this discrimination
Over the next 4 decades I have addressed scores of meetings across the world to highlight the deteriorating human rights of the Tamil people. The back cover of my recently published book Sexual Violence of Tamils by the Armed Forces which I enclose, gives more details.
I also enclose one of the nine dvds recorded by me, “Sri Lanka. Genocide, Crimes against Humanity, Violation of International Law” which details the war crimes committed which have to be investigated.
I am very concerned about the plight of the Tamils in the North and East despite a change of Government in Sri Lanka from Mahinda Rajapaksa to Maithripala Sirisena on 8 January 2015. Although this has resulted in major changes in the Sinhalese South, I am far from convinced that it has made the slightest difference to the Tamils in the North and East – the homeland of the Tamils.
To summarise my concerns:
1. President Sirisena says that the Army (overwhelmingly Sinhalese) will stay in the Tamil areas. Since the Army has been responsible for most of the violations of human rights of the Tamil people, including sexual violence and torture, I cannot see how the situation can change.
2. Internationally credible human rights organisations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch will not be allowed into the country. This cannot be justified.
3. The Prevention of Terrorism Act which has been condemned by every Human Rights group will not be withdrawn.
4. The Rome Statute will not be signed. Sirisena stated this in his ‘100 day’ program and tried to justify the unjustifiable. As such, those responsible for war crimes cannot be taken before the International Criminal Court.
5. President Sirisena has recently appointed General Jagath Dias, the former commander of the 57th Division, who was responsible for attacks on civilians and the bombing of hospitals’, schools, places of worship and a whole host of other war crimes, as the Army Chief of Staff – one of the most important posts in the Army.
6. Despite assurances that members of his party who are being investigated by the Financial Crime Investigation Unit will not be nominated for the up-coming General Election, President Sirisena has done so and claimed that he had no control over these nominations. That is nonsense since he is the leader of the party.
7. There is increasing evidence that the former President Mahinda Rajapaksa is staging a come back and that a coalition with President Sirisena is a possibility. The Sri Lankan people did not vote for a Sirisena-Rajapaksa government.
There is no doubt that unless there is an International investigation into the major violation of human rights, especially in the closing stages of the armed conflict in May 2009, there will be no justice. If there is no justice to bring the culprits to book, there will be no reconciliation.
Your record sets you out as someone in search of truth and justice, as was your distinguished predecessor, Navanethem Pillay. The question is what will be done at the September 2015 meeting of the UN HRC when the situation in Sri Lanka is taken up.
I am absolutely convinced, as are many others, that a domestic investigation will achieve nothing. I draw your attention to the outstanding 60-page publication by Amnesty International (AI), “Twenty Years of Make-believe: Sri Lanka’s Commissions of Inquiry”. There is absolutely no evidence that this has changed. If it had, then AI would have issued another Report that the situation has changed, The very fact that Amnesty International, a Nobel Laureate, Human Rights Watch and International Crisis Group have been denied entry into Sri Lanka despite a change of Government, is evidence that nothing as changed.
As you know, in March 2014, the UN Human Rights Council decided to set up a UN investigation into war crimes in the closing stages of the war.
Sri Lanka refused point blank to cooperate, and questioned the integrity of the investigation, and claimed that you, High Commissioner Zeid, had used ‘intemperate language’.
Let me quote from what you said in response:
“A wall of fear has been created that has undoubtedly served to deter people from submitting evidence. Such a refusal does not, however, undermine the integrity of an investigation set up by Council – instead it raises concerns about the integrity of the government in question. Why would governments with nothing to hide go to such extraordinary lengths to sabotage an impartial international investigation?”
Excellency, as you yourself stated clearly and unequivocally, what is needed is an’ impartial international investigation’.