Prevalence of impunity alarming: Arbour
Lanka succeeded in ensuring that a resolution on the country at the
Human Rights Council Sessions, which ended on September 28, was dropped.
However, country visits by top UN officials could not be prevented. In
most cases, requests made to visit the country were turned into
Thus, just as UN Special Rapporteur on torture, Manfred Nowak, ended his
weeklong visit to Sri Lanka on October 8, flying out on Tuesday morning,
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour, coincidentally,
flew in on a mission of her own.
Nowak is expected to submit a report, including his conclusions and
recommendations, to the Human Rights Council.
During his visit, Nowak met Government Ministers and officials; the
judiciary; the Human Rights Commission; parliamentarians; officers of
the Attorney General’s Department; the IGP; and representatives of
non-governmental organizations and international organizations. He also
visited detention facilities.
The government now awaits Nowak’s report with bated breath. Nowak was
previously a UN expert on missing persons in the former Yugoslavia, a UN
expert on legal questions on enforced disappearances, and a judge at the
Human Rights Chamber for Bosnia and Herzegovina. He also served as a
member of the Working Group on Enforced and Involuntary Disappearances.
Following on from Nowak’s visit, Arbour who arrived on Tuesday and left
yesterday, requested that Sri Lanka become a signatory to the new
International Convention for the Protection of All persons from Enforced
“In light of the documented violations of international humanitarian
law, Sri Lanka should seriously consider joining the 105 countries which
have ratified the Rome Treaty creating the International Criminal
Court,” said Arbour at a parting media conference.
Are there plans to haul Sri Lankans before this court for violating
international humanitarian law?
For Arbour, the “prevalence of impunity is alarming”, even though she
stated that her visit was not a fact-finding mission.
In 1982, a year before the riots broke out, after a soldier was shot
dead in the north, furious Sinhalese soldiers went on a
rampage—destroying 64 houses, buses, cars, and motorcycles. The Army
High Command withdrew the mutinous unit to base and dismissed six
soldiers. Some 90 soldiers who deserted in retaliation were sacked and
six officers had their commissions withdrawn. That was the discipline
then, and the international community kept hounding the Government on
human rights violations both during the Northeast war and particularly
during the crackdown on the JVP subversion to prevent a state of
However, it must be stated that policemen several months back who went
berserk in Vavuniya killing three students, after the Tigers exploded a
bomb, were brought to book and recently indicted. That is what the
international community expects of the government.
The Government must realize that with the setting up of the Human Rights
Council last year, the issue of human rights has been elevated to a
higher status on par with security. It is possible that gross human
rights violations by countries could be brought to the notice of the UN
Compared to the visit of Allan Rock, John Holmes, and Manfred Nowak, the
visit of Louise Arbour was less controversial. Of course, at the parting
press conference, Arbour stood her ground that capacity building alone
was insufficient to put right Lanka’s human rights record.
“One of the major human rights shortcomings in Sri Lanka is rooted in
the absence of reliable and authoritative information on the credible
allegations of human rights abuses,” said Ms. Arbour adding, that
independent information gathering and public reporting was essential.
Human Rights Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe was careful to state that Ms.
Arbour’s press statement was not a joint one, even though it was tabled
at a joint press conference. He took a contrary view and insisted that a
physical UN human rights monitoring mission would violate the
independence and sovereignty of the country, and, therefore, was not
required. He, however, persisted with a request for assistance from the
UN in training and capacity building.
But, the biggest warning that Arbour gave the 10-year old local Human
Rights Commission was that it may lose its accreditation to the
international body governing these institutions.
Contrast this with the joint press conference the Minister had with John
Holmes, which was very cordial. The cordiality however ended with the
controversial interview given to Reuters. The Government felt that Rock,
too, rocked the boat during an international press conference saying
there was credible evidence to show military complicity in Karuna cadres
abducting under-aged children.
The government subsequently appointed a committee to probe the charges
after initially strongly disputing Rock’s claim. In the end, Karuna was
packed off, albeit, temporarily.
Arbour reiterated that the UN High Commission would not force itself
upon Sri Lanka, and would come only on invitation—even though her
request to have a regional monitoring office in Colombo was turned down.
Ms. Arbour observed that her office is not like the UN Security Council,
which can enforce its resolutions. There was talk that the Sri Lankan
issue was likely to be taken up at the Security Council.
On the Sri Lankan ethnic conflict, India, which has been knocking on the
Security Council’s door for a permanent seat, would do everything
possible to prevent UN intervention here, even though it is not averse
to monitoring of human rights in Sri Lanka as violations have a direct
fall out at its own end.
Arbour had been keen on visiting Kilinochchi but the government declined
in keeping with its consistent policy of depriving the LTTE of gaining
any legitimacy through visits by UN officials. In the aftermath of the
tsunami, too, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan was not allowed to visit
Kilinochchi, home to the Tiger headquarters. This was during President
Chandrika Kumaratunga’s tenure.
It was not long ago, during the previous UNF peace process, that India
did not want to give the LTTE the legitimacy it sought during
international meetings. India, on several occasions, turned down
invitations to send representatives to meetings the LTTE participated
in. But, at the Washington preparatory meeting in mid April 2003, where
the LTTE was not invited, India sent a representative.
One of the first things Arbour did during her visit here was to meet up
with representatives of the International Independent Group of Eminent
Persons (IIGEP) and members of the Commission of Inquiry (CoI) on
Ms. Arbour stated that members of the Commission of Inquiry had
intimated to her that State officials had failed to turn up when
requested and that the lack of a witness assistance and protection
system was a major constraint to their work.
Ms. Arbour also noted that the Commission would gain greater public
confidence and support by conducting public hearings.
After meeting Attorney General C.R. De Silva, P.C., and a team of senior
State lawyers at 9:00 a.m. on Thursday, Ms. Arbour proceeded to meet
President Mahinda Rajapaksa at 11 a.m. Secretary to the President,
Lalith Weeratunga, Foreign Secretary Dr. Palitha Kohona, Secretray
Justice, Suhada Gamlath, Attorney General De Silva, Deputy Solicitor
General Shavindra Fernando and Ms. Shirani Goonetilleke Director Legal
Affairs Secretariat for Coordinating Peace participated at the meeting.
(Ms. Goonetilleke along with the Office of the Commissioner of Human
Rights arranged Ms Arbour’s itinerary). Responding to the issues raised
by Ms Arbour, the President informed the High Commissioner that the
public hearings of the Commission would commence soon.
The delay to commence the public hearings has been due to the lack of
witness protection legislation. A draft for this law has already been
prepared by the Attorney General’s Department based on inputs from
various sources including civil society. Ms Arbour was told the Legal
Draftsman was putting the final touches to the bill, which is to be
referred by the President to the Supreme Court as an Urgent Bill.
The CoI will be completing its mandated one year in a little over a
fortnight, and will wind up unless it is extended.
President Rajapaksa had told Ms. Arbour that instead of clashes between
the Commission and the IIGEP, he would have preferred it if results were
delivered as he has spent more than 100 million rupees of public money
and was answerable to the people.
Some wonder whether this was a hint that the commission may not be
extended and instead allowed to lapse early November.
As a former federal court judge in Canada, Ms. Arbour also paid a
courtesy call on Chief Justice Sarah N. Silva. Justice Secretary Gamlath
also participated in that meeting.
In her statement, Arbour said the application of treaties in domestic
law has been questioned by the Supreme Court in the Singarasa case, and
the proposed legislation (The Nation reported a fortnight back) only
partially addressed the issues and risks, confusing further the status
of different rights in national law.
On Tuesday after meeting the IIGEP and CoI, Ms Arbour proceeded to
Parliament where she met the JVP, JHU, and UNP delegations, and had a
one to one meeting with Leader of the Opposition Ranil Wickremesinghe.
Ms. Arbour also discussed several issues with Defence Secretary
The visiting top UN official who was hosted to dinner by Human Rights
Minister Samarasinghe on Tuesday night met him for a formal meeting the
following morning. On Wednesday evening at 6:30 p.m. she met Foreign
Minister Rohitha Bogollogama.
On Friday she flew to Jaffna for a two-hour meeting with various
stakeholders. She met Jaffna Security Forces Commander Major General
Chandrasiri and subsequently met Jaffna Bishop Thomas Savundranayagam,
NGO representatives, and members of civil society. While in Jaffna, Ms
Arbour had telephoned Minister Samarasinghe to arrange a meeting with
political prisoners at Welikada who had undertaken a fast unto death.
The press was kept out of the meeting with prisoners that took place
after the noon media conference on Saturday.
While Ms Arbour’s request to visit Kilinochchi was not granted on a
matter of policy, President Rajapaksa, on Thursday, had inquired whether
she was keen on visiting the East, to which Ms. Arbour replied that it
was not possible as she was leaving on Saturday.
Concerning human rights, Ms. Arbour is the most senior UN official to
visit Sri Lanka. Internal displacement as a result of the war has led to
another human rights issue that is to be addressed by Walter Kälin,
Representative of the Secretary-General on the human rights of
internally displaced persons (IDPs), who will also be visiting Sri
Kälin’s mandate is to engage in dialogue and advocacy with Governments
and other actors concerning the rights of IDPs, strengthen the
international response to internal displacement, and mainstream human
rights throughout the UN system. Among other things he has to report
annually to the Commission on Human Rights and General Assembly.
On September 19, Kälin told to the HR Council that in order to ensure
the full protection of the human rights of internally displaced persons,
there should be a strong normative framework, political will, and the
capacity to protect. He said the mandate to pursue dialogue with
Governments, as well as to mainstream the human rights of internally
displaced persons into all relevant parts of the United Nations, was a
call to support the strengthening of political will for the protection
of the internally displaced and their rights.
(See box story for statistics)
IDPs: The statistics
According to the UN inter-agency standing committee, in the
Trincomalee district, 1143 IDP families (3,778 persons) currently reside
in the Kiliveddy transit sites; while 135 IDP families (493 individuals)
from the Uppooral area are to be settled soon.
It has been reported that IDPs in Konesapuri have expressed concern
about moving to Kiliveddy due to hardships in living conditions and
difficulties in food assistance.
While, according to government statistics, the total registered IDP
population in the Batticaloa district is 10,300 families (38,153
The government has officially announced the return of IDP families to 5
villages in the Chenkalady division on the 18th and 19th October, with
2,523 families (9,158 individuals) scheduled to be resettled over these
The Kilinochchi District Secretariat has reported that 12,517 families
(48,512 persons) have been registered as IDPs in the Kilinochchi
district since April 2006, while 9,060 families (32,323 persons) have
been registered as IDPs in the Mullaitivu district.
In the Mannar district, there are 5,658 IDP families (21,368
individuals) displaced while 3,071 IDP families (10,302 persons) are
displaced in Vavuniya district.
Following a Defence Ministry meeting, the Mannar GA states that no
resettlement will take place in the Musali DS division before January
2008. 1,123 families have been displaced from the Musali DS division to
the Nanaddan and Mannar DS divisions.
Following this announcement, the Mannar humanitarian agencies are
planning to relocate the people from current welfare centers of Murunkan
church, Nanaddan Rice Mill, and Nanaddan church to new locations.
The current welfare centers were established with limited facilities as
a short term measure. With the onset of the rainy season people are to
be relocated from low land to high land, in areas with more long term
The IDP issue is the next big problem the government will have to
address before the UN Representative on the subject arrives.
Varaha sees action
The former Indian Coast Guard Ship, SLNS Sagara, finally saw action
this week when she, along with the Navy’s flagship Sayura (also from
India), and the Israeli built fast missile vessel SLNS Suranimala, sank
what is said to be the last of the LTTE’s cargo ships. The encounter
happened on October 7, 1700 km’s south of Dondra Point, in international
The event marked the baptism of SLNS Sagara to the offensive OPV fleet
of the navy, which has further being strengthened by its latest
At a reception, Navy Commander Vice Admiral Wasantha Karannagoda
yesterday received and returned a salute in a ceremony that was not made
public. Karannagoda took the opportunity to “pass over his deepest and
heartfelt appreciation to the ships’ crews for their dedication and
unwavering efforts in defeating terrorism by obstructing the
transporting of lethal weaponry by means of destroying the floating arms
“The Sri Lanka navy has now gained ‘blue water” capability for the
defence of the country from the most heinous LTTE terrorism,” states a
On February 25 this year, The Nation exclusively reported that the
Indian government had donated an Offshore Patrol Craft, the second of
its kind given by our neighbour, to the Sri Lankan Navy.
The transfer of the Indian Coast Guard Ship (CGS), Varaha, to Sri Lanka
has been a low profile matter with the Indian side not wanting to arouse
passions in its important southern states over increased military
cooperation with Sri Lanka.
The transfer was a marked contrast to the donation of a similar coast
guard ship from the United Sates during the previous regime. The former
US Coast Guard Cutter, Courageous, was commissioned as the Sri Lanka
Navy’s Ship (SLNS), Samudura, with much pomp and pageantry. In contrast,
the re-commissioning of CGS Varaha as SLNS Sagara took place sans media
attention. CGS Varaha has been in service with the navy since last year
while Sayura was undergoing refurbishment in India. However, with the
return of Sayura to Sri Lanka, the Indian government, after some
persuasion, agreed to transfer its coast guard ship to boost the
island’s defences against LTTE weapon smuggling vessels.
SLNS Sagara is a Vikram class OPV, which was first commissioned in 1992.
At the time of construction it was designed to be in service for 20
years until 2012. However, after some modifications, the vessel is
expected to be in service for approximately 26 years.
The 75 metre long ship requires a crew of 100, including 11 officers. It
can reach a top speed of 22 knots while having a range of 8500 nautical
SLNS Sagara was a notable absentee in the naval flotilla that took part
in the Independence Day celebrations in February this year. It was also
not involved in the epic encounter on September 11, when four navy ships
engaged and sank three LTTE weapons carrying ships. On that occasion,
SLNS Sayura, the largest vessel of the navy—also purchased from
India—along with SLNS Samudura, SLNS Suranimala, and SLNS Shakthi were
involved in the operation. Although, the SLNS Shakthi is mainly used as
a troop carrier rather than an Offshore Petrol Vessel (OPV), and is not
ideally suited for an offensive mission.
The omission of SLNS Sagara in this sea battle had led some to believe
that the Indian government had imposed certain restrictions on the use
of its former vessel for offensive operations.
More operations on the cards in Mannar
Pooneryn, Mullaitivu, and Elephant Pass were major military bases in
the nineties until they were overrun by the LTTE in 1993, 1996, and
The military, which captured the Jaffna peninsula in 1995 courtesy of
Operation Riviresa, managed to stall the advancing Tigers at the Kilali-
Muhamalai- Nagarkovil axis in 2000.
But, exactly a decade back, in 1997, the military—courtesy of Operation
Jaya Sikurui (victory Assured)—tried to regain the Wanni and the
Mullaitivu areas. The final plan was to open up an alternative land
route through the Wanni and Kilinochchi districts to link the Jaffna
peninsula with the mainland.
The Army was able to capture the strategic towns such as Omanthai,
Kanakarayankulam, and Mankulam, which were Tiger strongholds. But, the
military lost Mankulam and Kanakarankulam in 1999 to the Tigers’
Unceasing Waves, although it managed to retain Omanthai, which has been
the southern entry-exit point on the A-9 Road (the northern being
In the current undeclared Eelam War IV, the major efforts by both sides
to break the defences of its opponent in Jaffna failed. The military
efforts to penetrate the Wanni west of Omanthai has also not been all
that successful, even though it has managed to destroy bunkers and
eliminate Tigers in its war of attrition where both sides have suffered
Prior to this, the military wrested control of the East with casualty
figures on both sides comparatively low.
In its ‘central’ approach in the late nineties to wrest control of
Mullaitivu and Kilinochchi, ground troops had two flanks to defend on
either side of the road, which was no easy task.. In fact, the military
is yet to fully recover from its Jaya Sikurui hangover.
The safer bet is to defend just one flank while advancing. For this, two
other alternatives exist. They are inwards from either the Northwest
coast or the Northeast coast via Weli Oya.
During the battles to wrest control of the East, the prime task of the
Navy was to prevent the Tigers from sending reinforcements and stocks to
the East from Mullaitivu.
The priority now is to prevent the Tigers from bringing in arms,
ammunition, and other military ware to the country as the LTTE will
naturally want to replenish its stocks after more than a year of
Attempts to do so have been severely restricted as three ships were
destroyed barely a fortnight ago in the space of 24 hours, while last
Sunday another was destroyed south of Dondra Head in international
waters. (see box story)
On Thursday, the Navy destroyed two LTTE boats carrying war-like
material including a remote controlled small aeroplane similar to an
unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) on the Northwestern coast. The craft were
heading towards Vidattilativu, it was revealed.
Last week the military said it noticed an influx of civilians to this
same place—Vidattilativu—and, according to defence officials, a
humanitarian mission is to be undertaken like the one at Sillavataurai
south of Mannar to rid the area of the Tigers.
The larger interest is to secure the northwestern coast and eventually
to advance eastwards with naval cover from the sea. Eventually, the
troops could move upwards to secure Pooneryn and Kalmunai Point, the
artillery gun positions that have being wreaking havoc on the security
forces and causing a threat to Palaly. But advancing towards Pooneryn is
also no easy task as the Tigers could turn these same artillery guns on
the troops. The 50 kilo-metre road from Mannar to Pooneryn is worth
securing, sections of the military believe.
Military spokesman Keheliya Rambukwella himself, many months back,
hinted at creating this alternative route to Jaffna.
Now that the Navy is in control from Foul Point down to Amparai, and
there is no urgency for Tigers to penetrate the Eastern coast, the
likelihood is to commence operations along the northwestern coast. And
that makes sense given that the military has cleared south of Mannar
along the coast including Sillwaturai.
Army Commander Lieutenant General Sarath Fonseka flew to Vavuniya on
Friday (12) morning and met Commander Security Forces Headquarters Wanni
(SFHQ-W) Major General Jagath Jayasuriya who received him on arrival at
the SFHQ (W) helipad. He conducted the army chief to the SFHQ auditorium
where senior ground commanders briefed him on the security situation in
respective Divisions, Brigades and Units.
Lt. Gen. Sarath Fonseka, who reviewed the security situation in the
areas under SFHQ (W), issued further instructions to the ground
commanders present. A section of Senior Officers of Army Headquarters
joined the Commander on his visit.
It is likely that more operations in the Mannar District are on the
cards following a Defense Ministry meeting with the GA Mannar. No
resettlement in Musali DS division is to take place before January next
The Tigers are strongly resisting advances on their Forward Defence
Lines in the Yodha Wewa, Vilayathikulam, Pokkarawanni, and
Periyathampane areas. It is reported that small groups of the army, that
infiltrated to the Vanni LTTE stronghold, have obstructed supplies to
The LTTE has launched a recruitment drive in the Vanni claiming that
they are preparing for the final battle. This is probably in view of the
LTTE Leader’s Heroes Day message on November 27 when he makes his annual
announcement. Currently, the LTTE’s main objective is to safeguard its
strongholds in the Vanni.
The military believes that the LTTE is preparing to launch sporadic
attacks on the Welioya Forward Defence Line, which has been strengthened
while a new brigade has been established and bunker lines created. There
were sporadic attacks in the northern front for the third successive