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Rajapaksha lied to Ban Ki Moon – HRW

Exclusive Interview with Brad Adams
Asia director at Human Rights Watch

The solution to the problem of the camps, which we have called for from the very beginning, is for the government to develop clear procedures for screening and registration and clear criteria for detention or release.

By Nilantha Ilangamuwa

(November 08, London, Sri Lanka Guardia) “International law does not allow a government to keep hundreds of thousands of people in detention just because it thinks that there are a certain number of criminals among them. That is collective punishment. It’s illegal, immoral and counterproductive,” Brad Adams, executive director of Human Rights Watch’s Asia Division, is a general expert on Asia said in an exclusive interview with the Sri Lanka Guardian.

According to Brad Adams, “the Sri Lankan government has no interest in holding human rights abusers accountable, as it showed with the last presidential commission of inquiry. That was a farce and so will this latest evasive action.”

Excerpts the interview;

Q. The situation in the Tamil IDP camps in Sri Lanka are indisputably bad and the government continues to delay releasing the bulk of those detained. However, it is equally indisputable that there are combat fighters of the LTTE hidden among the civilians in these camps that the Sri Lankan military has been attempting to isolate and arrest. If they are released, there is a distinct possibility that they will rearm and will kill again. How would HRW suggest the Sri Lankan Government deal with this problem? Should they accept that they cannot protect their citizens or is there an alternative solution?

A. Nobody has suggested that the Sri Lankan government should not protect its citizens. In fact, they have an obligation to do so. In all our statements we have recognized that the government has the right to screen the displaced and detain those who are suspected of having committed crimes.

What we do demand, however, is that the government follows its own laws as well as international law at all times. International law does not allow a government to keep hundreds of thousands of people in detention just because it thinks that there are a certain number of criminals among them. That is collective punishment. It’s illegal, immoral and counterproductive. It’s hard to think of a policy that could cause more anger and bitterness in the Tamil community. The way this has all been handled is almost as if it was designed to lead to divisions between the communities.

While screening is certainly permitted, it must follow basic standards, such as allowing security detainees access to the legal system and to legal counsel. Due process of law is essential at a time like this to create confidence that those who are detained will be treated properly. For instance, there has been a long problem of disappearances in Sri Lanka, which the government has done nothing to redress. Many of those who were disappeared in the past turned up dead. Many people are therefore understandably worried when a family member or friend is taken from a camp without further explanation or information.

The solution to the problem of the camps, which we have called for from the very beginning, is for the government to develop clear procedures for screening and registration and clear criteria for detention or release. As soon as a person has been registered, the government should check whether it has any information whether that particular person has committed a crime. If the government has such information, it should detain him according to the law, provide him with a lawyer and the chance to appeal his detention. If the government does not have such information, however, it must release him immediately.

Q. There is also the claim that the government cannot release civilians into areas that have not been cleared of landmines as this would put thousands of Sri Lankan citizens danger. Is this an acceptable excuse, or should the personal liberties of Sri Lankan Tamils allow them to leave the camps "at their own risk"?

A. If the government is sincerely concerned about the problem of landmines – and of course certain areas are heavily mined – it should of course restrict access to those areas for everyone other than demining teams. That’s just common sense and I don’t know anyone who has suggested otherwise. But the government has created a false dichotomy in order to provide a pretext to keep Tamils in camps. It has presented this crisis as a situation with only two possibilities: detention in closed camps or return to home villages. This is wrong. All of these people, no matter their ethnicity, are citizens of Sri Lanka and have, according to the constitution and international law, the right to freedom of movement and to choose where to live. A significant number of the displaced could stay with relatives or host families, a solution that would provide both better and more secure conditions. In addition, many of the displaced have financial means and could to a significant extent provide for their own up-keep. Those who have nowhere to go could stay in the camps, but these would be much smaller camps that would have a better chance of meeting the needs of residents. The point is simple: it should be the choice of each individual whether to stay in the camps or leave.

Q. “Given Sri Lanka's complete failure to investigate possible war crimes, the only hope for justice is an independent, international investigation,” you said recently. How can the International Community and other organizations urge the formation of an independent investigation on the final battle between the Government Forces and Tamil Tiger rebels in Sri Lanka? What are the benefits if we do conduct an independence investigation?

A. The international community has demonstrated that it is willing and capable of initiating international investigations in many different situations. The two most recent examples are the Goldstone investigation into violations committed during the recent war in Gaza and the international investigation into violations committed in Guinea after the armed forces gunned down protestors. In Asia we have the inquiry into the assassination of Benazir Bhutto. The first investigation was mandated by the UN Human Rights Council and the last two were created by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

Regrettably, the government has clearly demonstrated that it is not willing to investigate allegations of laws-of-war violations. Its appointment of a new committee of people to respond to the US State Department report is a brazen attempt to appoint people who are government loyalists who wouldn’t dream of publishing an independent or critical report. The Sri Lankan government has no interest in holding human rights abusers accountable, as it showed with the last presidential commission of inquiry. That was a farce and so will this latest evasive action. It’s time for Ban to realize that Mahinda Rajapaksha lied to him when he promised a serious national investigation and to do what he’s done elsewhere and establish an independent commission to investigate possible war crimes and other abuses by both the government and LTTE and make recommendations for action. Establishing the truth about what took place during the conflict, particularly in what the UN called a “bloodbath” at the end, is a prerequisite for true reconciliation and for building trust between the peoples of Sri Lanka and between the people and the government.

Q. If an independent investigation is made, what should be done if it is found that war crimes have been committed? Is punishing wrongdoers, those who are still alive, worth the risk that such punishments will cause armed violence or racial riots to flare up once more? At some point does justice become less important than public safety, or vice versa?

A. Whether seeking justice for grave international crimes interferes with prospects for peace is a long-running debate. Human Rights Watch recently conducted a survey of our work over the past 20 years in nearly 20 countries. We found that ignoring atrocities reinforces a culture of impunity that encourages future abuses. All too often, a peace that is conditioned on impunity for the most serious crimes is not sustainable. This is particularly true for a country such as Sri Lanka, which has a long history of virtual impunity for widespread human rights abuses. Only by punishing wrong-doers will Sri Lanka be able to break its cycle of impunity.

It’s hard to find an example where justice has led to serious public safety problems. This is what was threatened in places like the Former Yugoslavia, Rwanda, Sierra Leone and Cambodia, but it hasn’t happened. These arguments are usually made by those who want to avoid ending up in the dock.
-Sri Lanka Guardian

5 comments

Tudor the Canadian said...

what is your bank balance after the LTTE deposit.

Susith said...

Rajapaksa lied to Ban Ki but HRW lied and continue to lie to Whole World

SSK said...

How about setting up a war crimes tribunal against George w. bush and Tony Blair, the duo who were the champions of the game.

jane hart said...

This guy adams never gives up.He has lost all attempts to tarnish the image of srilanka.Only thing he's doing is harming the credibility of human rights watch which has become a stupid group filled with idiots and bribe takers.

Nathan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
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