28 May, 2022


Sri Lanka’s Rights Violations Bring Commonwealth To Turning Point

By Frances Harrison

Frances Harrison

When they decided to have a meeting at their party office in the north of the island, the four Sri Lankan MPs probably didn’t expect that it would start raining concrete boulders.

Before they knew it, a mob of about 60 people had surrounded the building. After half an hour of sustained assault, the roof broke and the elected representatives found themselves sheltering in the archways of the doors, as if it were an earthquake. All the while the police looked on, doing nothing. At the end, they caught a few of the attackers but quickly released them, including a man who turned out to be one of their colleagues in civilian clothes.

“This is not the first or second time this has happened,” said one of the MPs, “it happens all the time and this was just a month ago”.

This is the way elected Tamil representatives are treated in a country that claims to be on the road to reconciliation and will soon head the Commonwealth. A Tamil newspaper in the north was recently attacked for the 37th time — its printing press set on fire just 10 days after its distribution staff had been attacked and its request for police protection turned down.

Jaffna University students who tried to protest peacefully last November were arrested and bundled off for forcible “rehabilitation”. In March, grieving mothers and wives of the disappeared were prevented from travelling to the capital to stage a peaceful protest. Catholic priests who signed a letter to the UN High Commissioner of Human Rights detailing abuses have been called for questioning and intimidated.

This is nothing compared to what some of the ordinary people have suffered. ABC News in Australia just broadcasted the shocking story of a Tamil man who was raped and tortured in Sri Lanka three weeks ago. Equally disturbing is the story of a young Tamil woman who was gang raped for 47 days in custody as recently as last November and the broader pattern of sexual abuse which the Human Rights Watch documented from 75 case histories. An extraordinary film made secretly inside the country by anonymous social scientists has revealed the extent of continuing sexual abuse of former female combatants by soldiers, with a Tamil woman explaining how she was routinely taken to the local army camp and sexually coerced by different men.

“There is no will for reconciliation; this is the victor’s peace,” commented Paikasothy Saravanamuttu, who runs the Centre for Policy Alternatives in Colombo. “We have descended into a darkness back home,” he told the Commonwealth Journalists Association in London recently, explaining that the media in Sri Lanka has to “put up or shut up”.

Lack of rule of law has become a problem for everyone in Sri Lanka, not just Tamils.  A disturbing new wave of Islamaphobia championed by extremist Sinhala chauvinist monks has seen Muslim businesses attacked with total impunity and drawings featuring pigs and swear words scrawled on mosque walls. Families in the capital who tried to hold a candlelit vigil to protest the attacks on Muslims found themselves arrested and abused.

Even the country’s top judge hasn’t received justice. The illegal impeachment of Justice Bandaranayake has been condemned by every possible international legal body. At the launch of a recent International Bar Association report, the author, Sadakat Kadri, said the chief justice’s legal team was given only 12 hours to study 989 pages of evidence. After a day and a half, her accusers had deliberated and written a 35 page report.  Kadri said they had “made up the rules as it went along” and he elaborated on a number of conflicts of interest, including nine cases where the new chief justice (a former legal adviser to the government and ex Attorney General) had simply failed to prosecute serious crimes committed against government critics.

It is perhaps not surprising that the Commonwealth lawyers’ meeting in South Africa last week unanimously passed a resolution calling for Sri Lanka to be suspended from the organisation — rather than run it for the next two years and host its major summit meeting this November. Nigeria’s former chief justice, Justice Muhammad Lawal Uwais, said the case of Sri Lanka was similar to the coup in Fiji, which the Commonwealth did not allow to go ignored.

On April 26, a group of foreign ministers from the Commonwealth known as the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group will meet in London chaired by Bangladesh. This group is charged with enforcing human rights and democratic principles and yet strangely they don’t even have Sri Lanka on their official agenda. To its credit, Canada will make sure Sri Lanka is raised in the “Other Matters of Interest to Ministers” section and will call for the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting to be held elsewhere.

Many believe April 26 will be a turning point for the 54-nation body — a test of the body’s shared values and recent commitment to institutional reform.

If the Ministerial Action Group doesn’t act it will mean the other 53 nations have no problem at all being headed by the only country in the world to have two chief justices, not to mention a state accused by two United Nations reports of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

*Frances Harrison is the author of Still Counting the Dead: Survivors of Sri Lanka’s Hidden War and a former BBC Correspondent in Sri Lanka. 

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Latest comments

  • 0


    You sound very frustrated on the eve of the MAG meeting tomorrow as you know nothing is going to happen with regard to either the venue of CHOGM or Sri Lanka’s membership in the Commonwealth. So you make one last ditch attempt by repeating your laundry list very methodically. Well you got to do what you got to do. I appreciate your perseverance in spite of your knowing it is a dirty job. You know more than anybody else how Britain, Canada, Australia, India and many other nations in the Commonwealth have committed crimes against humanity and have fallen far shorter in upholding the Commonwealth principles of good governance. Singling out Sri Lanka is a mockery of the very principles of the Commonwealth and will ultimately lead to the anachronistic association’s demise. But Sharma seems to be a fair-minded and sensible person and I’m sure he will ensure the right decision is made so that Sri Lanka’s hard won peace is not jeopardized. No one should take Canada’s Harper seriously. He is a mouse who has to share his bed with the US elephant. So once in a while he likes to display his manhood with small fries like Sri Lanka.

    • 0

      What else could you expect from the DRAMA QUEEN of journalism?

      This is how she describes her covering up truth and blatant human rights violation of her unborn child by letting her/him to inhale tear gas … .

      “…… For the first eight months, I hid my pregnancy from my bosses, terrified it would spell the end of my career as a foreign correspondent. I simply didn’t know any other women in the field with children. I flew to London for job interviews wearing loose-fitting clothes to hide my burgeoning bump. Being based in Malaysia for the BBC at the time made it a lot easier to keep secret from my employers, though I had to be careful about inhaling too much teargas in the weekly opposition street protests. Only when I was offered a role as a roving reporter in Europe did I come clean, since by then I was no longer legally allowed to fly…..”

      What a mother? Could anybody expect any humanity or love towards mankind from a mother who behaved like her?
      She would do anything for her carrier and ego …. Nobody should surprise about her writing ..

    • 0

      So Outrider does not contest the factual accuracy of a single one of the allegations made by the writer! Outrider is entitled to his/her views about where the Commonwealth Head’s meeting should be held, but that’s a sepaarte matter.

    • 0

      U look like real outrider of the things happening in Our beloved country
      We Citizens are v v peachful loving people but not the GOVT RUN BY MARA BRO did u c the recent FB post how GOTA THE GONNA order the POLICE to get away from PISSU BOOTLICKING BORU SOBANA WEERA”s hartal and the DIG got manhandle like a STREET DOG that would speak enough of the LAW N ORDER WHAT ELSE U WANT

  • 0

    Wow; what a pathatic story. Madam I would like to take you around the country as to get a first hand experience. I will invite some of my Tamil friends to join us so we can see how Military intimidate them. By the way all these HOUR activists to so called journalist must be living in the fully garded palaces by UN or western troops. Unless there’s no way of living in this hell without intimidation, quetioning and torchure. However there’s some light at end of the tunnel. We can still do films secretly so some freedom that can be enjoyed secretly prevails. So if you all campaigne Commonwealth to suspend SL and west to implement embargos, we can enjoy the secret freedom so openly and we can start our business of fiction publication. Let me know when you are free to travel.

  • 0

    Hopefully Francis and her ilk will be denied visas to step foot in Sri Lanka again. All these people do is exaggerate issues and spread lies. There are a few anti-Islamic elements in Sri Lanka, true, but what about the economic embargo on Iran? Britain has backed this embargo which at the end of the day, hurts poor Iranian families the most because rising inflation makes even the most essential commodity 10 times more expensive. Why don’t Francis and her comrades launch a protest against this obvious injustice against peaceful Shia Muslims, instead of playing second fiddle to the USA.

    • 0

      Hoo, goo, hoooo

  • 0

    It is blessings in disguise if the venue of CHOGM is shifted to some other country because at a time when the country is facing a financial crisis holding a conference such as CHOGM in Sri Lanka is another step towards financial suicide by the country. Such a meeting will only boost the image of the Rajapaksha clan and the poor civilians of the country will be forced to tighten their belts.

  • 0

    With the world’s attention on Syria and the proliferation of Al Quada-inspired terrorism, it’s hard to see Sri Lanka getting the attention she deserves.

    The Rajapaksa regime has successfully kept its profile of brutality and oppression just below the threshold required for any meaningful and coordinated action from the Commonwealth.

    Besides, the worst that can happen is the imposition of economic sanctions; hardly a sleep-disrupter for the regime that looks east for its lucrative kickbacks.

  • 0

    To the hell with the tea party (CHOGM) that white-man is holding with his former servitude to project their colonial glory. Why don’t we understand it.

  • 0

    It is useless to attack the writer. What happened at the TNA office was factually correct. If Law and Order is maintain then reporters like Francis have no need to write all what she is reporting hear. GOSL is asking for trouble by using Police and Army in civics to attack these Law makers from the TNA. The ABC story was telecast in Australia, and with first hand experience I am aware that ABC will not go for false reporting. Attack of the Tamil daily is not a secrecy as it President Mahinda is now involve with that case.

    The best thing for MOD is to maintain Law and Order, then reporters like Francis or any one will. Not attack the Rajapaksa government.

  • 0

    “Still Counting the Lies by Frances Harrison”

    One of the problems that liars have is that even when they might be telling the truth they are not believed. Another is that we tend to think that such people must have very weak arguments if they resort to fabrications and half-truths to try to make their case.

    Here are some examples of the more blatant lies and distortions made by Frances Harrison in the pages of the Colombo Telegraph over the last few months:

    1 – 17 December 2012: “World Bank population data from Sri Lanka indicates up to a hundred thousand Tamils are unaccounted for after the final war against the Tamil Tiger rebels in 2009.”
    In fact the data shows no such thing, only that there is a difference of just over 101,000 between the population statistics for the the Mullaitivu district at an unspecified date in 2007 and three years later and one year after the end of the war in mid-2010. Harrison is obviously trying to imply that this difference of over one hundred thousand must be because that number have been killed by the Sri Lankan forces. But aside from the question of the reliability of the 2007 headcount, she completely ignores the fact that tens of thousands continued to flee the area prior to the closing stages of the war.

    2 – 26 December 2012: “it’s now estimated by the United Nations 40,000 or possibly 70,000 civilians died in a few months” [at the end of the war with the Tamil Tigers.]
    In fact, the UN estimate of the number of civilians who were confirmed as having died between mid-January and mid-April 2009 was 6,500. However, an item on Wikipedia states:
    “The [Darusman] panel found that a number of credible sources have estimated that the number of civilian deaths could have been as much as 40,000. It called for a proper investigation to identify all the victims and to calculate an accurate figure for the total number of civilian deaths.” Note that this item in Wikipedia refers to estimates from ‘credible sources’, and not from the UN itself, as Harrison claims. Also the Darusman panel’s total casualties “could have been as much as” becomes the UN’s minimum and absolute civilian casualty figure in Harrison’s re-writing of Darusman. The later figure of 70,000 comes as an equally speculative guess in the Petrie report for the number of people in the north unaccounted for, not the number of civilian casualties.

    3 – 15 March 2013: “[Sri Lanka is] a country that committed war crimes on a scale that the UN says ‘represented a grave assault on the entire regime of international law’.” The phrase “a grave assault on the entire regime of international law” is mentioned twice in the Darusman Report. On both occasions it refers to the government AND the LTTE and actually refers to “the conduct of the war” by both sides, not the committing of war crimes by Sri Lanka. A “country” does not commit war crimes, organised bodies of people do, and it’s clear from the context that Harrison is only interested in the allegations against the government, but not the LTTE.

    4 – 25 March 2013: “I’ve testified in appeals [against deportation from the UK] to confirm an individual was a Tiger and that’s clinched their case.” In view of Harrison’s previous lies, this is such an outrageous claim of personal authority within Britain’s legal system that people are entitled to demand that Frances Harrison prove that it is true.

    5 – 27 March 2013: “[Sri Lanka] stands accused (in two UN reports) of crimes against humanity and murdering possibly seventy thousand of its own citizens.” The Darusman Report said that there were “credible allegations” of crimes against humanity by both parties to the conflict, whilst the Petrie report simply repeated that claim. Allegations of murdering its own citizens are not mentioned in either report.

    When a liar gets caught in the act (“Liar, liar! Your pants are on fire!”, as US children chant) only the naive, the gullible and those already deeply prejudiced attach importance to what the liar says or writes. So it’s plausible to argue that some of the Tamil translations and reviews of Ms Harrison’s falsifications and misrepresentations regarding the end of the war in Sri Lanka helped ignite recent attacks on Sri Lankans in Tamil Nadu by Tamil extremists and the blatant acts of racial discrimination against Sri Lankan cricketers by Tamil Nadu’s eccentric state government (although it’s likely that the UK Channel 4’s snuff movies made by Callum McCrae were much more influential).

    Is this what Harrison and McCrae wants to see – violent attacks on Sri Lankans by Tamils in India? It’s certainly reasonable to conclude that those attacks are partly the consequences of Harrison’s lies, especially since her book “Still Counting the Dead” was published in a Tamil translation just before the attacks and discrimination took place. If so, then she is responsible for producing hate writing. What a proud achievement for one who claims to want to uphold human rights!

    But lies aside, there is another problem for Ms Harrison’s campaign to have the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting transferred from Sri Lanka. If unanswered accusations of human rights violations are to be the criteria for transferring the conference then a number of other Commonwealth countries would be become ineligible also, e.g. the UK, Canada and Australia because of their role in the invasion of Iraq, and India, Pakistan and Bangladesh because of other human rights accusations. The whole thing begins to get very silly if suddenly the Commonwealth gets a new rule: Only those with no outstanding allegations of human rights violations may host CHG meetings.

    To finish off, here’s two nice verses from the 18th century British poet William Blake from a poem he called The Liar and very appropriate for Frances Harrison:

    What infernal serpent
    Has lent you his forked tongue?
    From what pit of foul deceit
    Are all these whoppers sprung?

    Deceiver, dissembler
    Your trousers are alight
    From what pole or gallows
    Do they dangle in the night?

  • 0

    Francis you are so well informed about whats happening in Sri Lanka.
    Quite soon you will be branded as a Tiger sympathiser.
    You have encapsulated in your article why the Commonwealth Conference should not be held in Sri Lanka.We will know soon.

  • 0

    Frances [Edited out]
    BTW Francess, have the Commonwelth Turned ??

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