Colombo Telegraph

The Human Rights Crisis In The Tamil North & East: An Appeal For International Intervention – Part II

By Brian Senewiratne

Dr. Brian Senewiratne

[Part I of this series was published on 16 March, 2018]


There has been a mass relocation of Sinhalese from the South to the Tamil areas by the Government. What is not widely known is that the Sinhalese military and police who have quit their jobs are being relocated in the North with their families.

The result is a massive increase in the number of Sinhalese in the North and East. If this continues, the North and East will be dominated by Sinhalese. The electoral consequences are obvious. This will not be reversible as has happened in Amparai in the East, which was a Tamil area that has been ‘Sinhalised’.

The long-term objective of accelerated Sinhalisation of the Tamil area is to destroy the Tamil homeland and establish a monoethnic identity throughout the island – a Sinhala-Buddhist nation.


Buddhist temples and structures are proliferating in an area where there are no Buddhist civilians. The only Buddhists are members of the Armed Forces and Police.

What often is that a ‘Bo-tree” (Ficus Religiosa) is planted in an area which is then declared a Buddhist sacred site. A Buddhist temple is then erected.

The British Tamils Forum (BTF) has published an excellent book, “Proliferating Buddhist Structures in Tamil homeland – Sowing the seeds of Disharmony”.

Education in Jaffna in chaos

Daya Somasunderam, Professor of Psychiatry in Jaffna, delivered an important lecture, “A lost Generation of Tamil Youth: Impact of past war trauma, present psychosocial context, globalisation and Education”. What he said was alarming. 70% of students failed the Grade 5 examination annually, and 50% failed the Ordinary Level (O/L) examination. Of those who sit for the Advanced Level (A/L) examination, only 15 % enter Universities.

Even the few who enter universities are not assured of a bright future. The university system that was dong reasonable well up to the early 1980s has deteriorated drastically due to the general chaos

of war, poor resources, and support from the State, loss of able academics and teachers with the general brain drain. This ‘must-read’ publication is on the net.

The difficulty in getting into universities is compounded by the fact that large numbers of Sinhalese from the South are getting into the Jaffna University. Some of them qualify for university education. Others get in because they know the ‘right’ people.

As someone who has been a Senior Lecturer in Medicine in the Peradeniya University in the late 1960s, I am well aware that a significant number of medical students were Tamils, many from Jaffna. There is no place that I know of in any part of the world that has produced more professionals than Jaffna. As such, what is now going on in Jaffna is an absolute disaster. Jaffna will take decades, if ever, to get back to where it was at the top of the educational league table.

Of equal concern is that parents, who can afford to do so, are sending their children abroad. Once trained, they are not going to return. This serious brain drain will affect not only Jaffna but the rest of the country.

Poverty and unemployment in the North

Poverty and unemployment are higher in the Northern Province than anywhere else in Sri Lanka. At the Northern Provincial Council’s 2nd budget reading on 12/12/17, Chief Minister Wigneswaran said that out of all 25 districts in Sri Lanka, Kilinochchi was the poorest. Mullaitivu which was previously the poorest is now number 2 on the list of poverty by district.

Jaffna is the 5th poorest district.

The level of unemployment is also highest in the Northern Province than in any other province.

Sexual violence in the North and East

Sexual violence has increased across the Northern Province. Women widows in their 20s are sexually assaulted at work. Women teachers are sexually assaulted in schools. Gangs commit sexual violence for money. Sri Lankan Tamil men pay huge sums of money to watch filmed village rapes.

Unwanted pregnancies and teenage pregnancies are an issue. Many men come to Jaffna from other places, have relationships with women, marry them and then leave them. Society shuns these women seeing them as indecent.

Sex is a taboo subject in Tamil culture. As such, sex educations is not taught or taught poorly. In what is still a male dominated society, such issues are difficult to deal with.

My book Sri Lanka: Sexual violence of Tamils by the Armed Forces has nearly doubled in size in two years since it was first published in 2015. It is now (March 2018) 264 pages.

Continuing violation of human rights

There continues to be involuntary ‘disappearances’, abduction, arrest without warrant, illegal detention   at unknown sites and a failure to release those who are being held without charge or trial. Nothing has changed in the North and East with the replacement of the dreadful Rajapaksa regime by Sirisena.

The 2016/17 Amnesty International Annual report spells it out.


Tamils suspected of links to the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) continue to be detained under the PTA, which permits extended administrative detention and shifts the burden of proof onto the detainee alleging torture or other ill-treatment. In 2015 the government pledged to repeal the PTA and replace it with legislation that complied with international standards, but had not implemented this commitment by the end of 2016. A draft policy and legal framework for replacement legislation submitted for cabinet approval in October retained many of the PTA’s most problematic elements.


The UN Special Rapporteur on torture visited Sri Lanka in May. He found that severe forms of torture by police continued.


In May (2016), Sri Lanka ratified the International Convention against Enforced Disappearance, but by the end of the year had not passed legislation criminalizing enforced disappearance in domestic law.

The Presidential Commission to Investigate into Complaints Regarding Missing Persons concluded in July, having received over 19,000 civilian complaints. However, little progress was made in clarifying the fate of the missing or bringing perpetrators of enforced disappearance to justice. In August, Parliament adopted an Act establishing the Office on Missing Persons to assist families to trace missing relatives and take on the case load left by the Commission.


Impunity persisted for alleged crimes under international law committed during the armed conflict. Impunity also remained for many other human rights violations. These included the January 2006 extrajudicial executions of five students in Trincomalee by security personnel and the killing of 17 aid workers with the NGO Action Against Hunger in Muttur in August 2006.


In August 2016, Balendran Jeyakumari, an activist against enforced disappearances, who had previously been detained without charge for a year under the PTA, was once again summoned for questioning. Human rights defender Ruki Fernando remained barred by court order from speaking about an ongoing police investigation into his advocacy on her case; his confiscated electronic equipment was not returned.

Sandhya Ekneligoda, the wife of disappeared dissident cartoonist Prageeth Eknaligoda, faced repeated threats and acts of intimidation. These included protests outside the court where her husband’s habeas corpus case was being heard, and a poster campaign that accused her of supporting the LTTE after the police identified seven army intelligence officers suspected of involvement in his disappearance.


People engaged in activism in the north and east continued to report harassment and surveillance by security forces.


Tamils continued to complain of ethnic profiling, surveillance and harassment by police who suspected them of LTTE links. In August, the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination found that the PTA was disproportionately used against Tamils and was discriminatory in effect.

Christians and Muslims reported incidents of harassment, threats and physical violence by members of the public and supporters of hardline Sinhala Buddhist political groups. Police failed to take action against attackers or in some cases blamed religious minorities for inciting opponents. In June, a group calling itself Sinha Le (Lion’s Blood) was linked to protests against a mosque construction in the city of Kandy. In June, its supporters waged a social media campaign of threats and intimidation against or in some cases blamed religious minorities for inciting opponents. In June, its supporters waged a social media campaign of threats and intimidation against Equal Ground, an organization seeking human and political rights for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and questioning (LGBTIQ) community of Sri Lanka.


Impunity persisted for violence against women and girls, including rape by military personnel and civilians, and also in situations of domestic violence such as marital rape.

Women human rights defenders supporting constitutional reforms advocated repeal of Article 16(1), which upheld laws existing prior to the current Constitution, even when they were inconsistent with the Constitution. This included tenets of Muslim personal law that permitted child marriage and failed to recognize marital rape.

The Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA)

The PTA has been condemned by every human rights group in the world. It has been used for extensive violation of human rights. It has been used for numerous illegal arrests, detention without charge or trial, ‘disappearances’, sexual violence, torture and much more.

The current Sri Lankan government committed in the UN Human Rights Council Resolution 30/1 in October 2015 to repeal the PTA and replace it with anti-terrorism legislation in line with “contemporary international best practice”.

A ‘Counter-Terrorism Act’ (CTA) was drafted by the government. Rather than reining in the PTA’s definition of ‘terror’, the CTA expanded upon it, criminalising any activity that threatens the ‘unity’ of Sri Lanka. This includes gathering information to supply to a third party deemed (by the Sri Lankan government) as a threat to Sri Lanka’s unity. The potential for local activists collecting information about human rights abuses being accused and charged with ‘terrorism’ is very real.

In early January 2018, the Sri Lankan cabinet approved the CTA. This was slammed by civil society groups stating that it fails to meet international standards and “leaves the door open for future abuse”.


Torture by the Sri Lankan Military and Police is widespread, especially in the Tamil North and East. This has been well documented by the International Truth and Justice Project (ITJP) administered by the Foundation for Human Rights South Africa under its director, transitional justice expert, Yasmin Sooka.

Unstopped: 2016/17 Torture in Sri Lanka”, July 2017, is one of several publications by ITJP. The site has a detailed account of ‘Joseph Camp’ (Joint Operational Security Forces Headquarters – JOSFH) in the middle of Vavuniya town in the North. It is the main torture centre in the Tamil area. Torture rooms and equipment used for torture are clearly seen.

There are more than 40 other torture sites n Sri Lanka run by the Police and Armed Forces and include the notorious CID (Criminal Investigation Department) torture site in Colombo, the dreaded “4th Floor” where torture has been well documented. This has changed after President Sirisena took over the country.

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC)[1] put this well: “Torture is part of the day-to-day operation of the Sri Lankan State………Therefore it is no exaggeration to say that Sri Lanka is a ‘Torture Republic’. The only inaccuracy may be about the word ‘Republic’, given the constitutional changes which have virtually created an authoritarian system”.

National reconciliation is nonsense

I have published a detailed paper which is on the net [2]“Why National Reconciliation in Sri Lanka is not possible”. The Government, past or present, has no interest in national reconciliation – a term used to bluff the international community.

Genocide of the Tamil people

I have dealt with this in detail in an article on the net[3]. It is not only physical genocide but cultural, linguistic, religious, economic and structural genocide. All these terms have been defined and justified in my article.

The need to establish a vaid legal and justice system in the North and East

Court cases, especially when the accused is a member of the Armed Forces or Police in the North and East, are being transferred to the Sinhalese South. This makes it difficult, if not impossible, for the victim and witnesses (Tamils) to go to the new location which is miles away and where the proceedings could be in Sinhala – a language they do not understand. As a result, the case is usually dropped and the culprit gets away with no conviction.

This is unacceptable. Court cases that come up for hearing in the Tamil North and East must be heard in Courts in that area.

To be continued… 




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