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‘Sri Lanka’s Killing Fields’

“You can bend it and twist it... You can misuse and abuse it... But even God cannot change the Truth.”
by Gareth Thomas

( July 02, London, Sri Lanka Guardian) I rise to raise two issues. First, I want to ask a series of questions on the Government's view of the human rights situation in Sri Lanka and, through them, to ask a series of questions of the Sri Lankan Government. I understand that the UN Secretary-General is due to receive a report on 13 April produced by a three-member panel that has been mandated to advise him on options for addressing accountability for crimes committed during the final stages of the recent conflict with which all who have an interest in Sri Lanka will be familiar. I ask whether that document will be published, and if not-or, indeed, if we are unsure whether it will be published-I ask the British Government to call on the UN Secretary-General to publish it.

Furthermore, will the Government urge the lifting of the prevention of terrorism Act in Sri Lanka-the UN urged this as long ago as 2000? Will they urge the Sri Lankan Government to release those who have been arrested, unless they are charged with criminal offences and remanded in custody by a civilian court? Will the Government urge the Sri Lankan Government to adhere to a 2006 presidential directive by registering detainees, informing their families and the Sri Lankan human rights commission of the place of their arrest and detention? Lastly, will our Government urge the Government of Sri Lanka to allow the Red Cross full access to the prisons where those still detained after the conflict are held?

In January and February, two of the world's most respected human rights groups, Amnesty International and Minority Rights Group International, raised, in separate reports, a series of concerns about the human, social and economic rights of minority communities in Sri Lanka. MRGI argued that nearly two years after the end of the war between the LTTE, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, and the Government, minorities face daily repression, and are marginalised in development policies and in politics in Sri Lanka. The MRGI's report documents cases of land in the north and east of Sri Lanka being seized by military and civilian authorities and used for the construction of everything from military encampments to hotels and leisure facilities. The report notes that international and national media and non-governmental organisations still have restricted access, and that there is a high level of militarisation and state control over freedom of movement and association.

Amnesty's report goes further. It believes that there are credible allegations that both Government security forces and the LTTE committed serious violations of international humanitarian and human rights law throughout their conflict, particularly in the final months, including summary executions, torture, attacks on civilians and other war crimes. The Sri Lankan Government have established a domestic "lessons learned and reconciliation commission", but most international observers have argued that the gravity of the accusations is such that a truly independent international investigation is necessary to address these issues fully and ensure accountability. That is why the UN Secretary-General established a three-member panel to advise him on options and why we need to have those recommendations publicised and made clear.

A longer-term problem in Sri Lanka has helped to drive what appears, at least, to be a culture of impunity and tolerance of breaches of human rights. The country has been under an almost continuous state of emergency since the early 1970s and, as Amnesty has made clear, successive Governments have used national security as the reason to bring in a series of broad and complex emergency regulations. If we look at the history of Sri Lanka, it is obvious that security has been a real concern, but let me be clear that the scale on which these emergency regulations have been used raises concerns. They have, at times, been used against critics of the Government from within the majority Sinhala community, as well as against those within the Tamil and Muslim communities. That is why I ask whether our Government will continue to press the Sri Lankan Government to lift the prevention of terrorism Act and to press for the Sri Lankan human rights commission and relatives to be informed when someone has been arrested.

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