Asylum seekers held under PTA

44 asylum seekers, who attempted to flee from Sri Lanka to Australia, have been intercepted and arrested by the Sri Lankan Navy under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA). The asylum seekers, all Tamil, included two boys aged four and seven, who were released to their grandparents, after being bailed out for 100,000 rupees. The remaining refugees have not been brought before a court as of yet, and are being held in a detention camp reported The Age . Sri Lanka’s detention laws have come under increased scrutiny, as Sri Lanka apparently ended Emergency Laws, but replaced them with equally strict legislature while holding onto the PTA. The tactic was labelled “a cynical ‘bait and switch’” and brought Sri Lanka under greater international pressure to end such "draconian" legislation. The Sri Lankan Navy’s capture of the asylum seekers received praise from the Australian High Commissioner Kathy Klugman, but also drew much criticism from human rights groups and other Australian politicians. John Dowd, president of the International Commission of Jurists and former NSW Liberal attorney-general urged Australia to do more to protect the rights of asylum seekers commenting that, ''It is likely these asylum seekers will be treated harshly when all they have done is exercise a legal right. People who are desperate to get away from Sri Lanka know that it is a dangerous enterprise coming by sea. We Australians praise ourselves as great humanitarians - this is hardly an example of compassion. ''

Australia's Greens urge suspension of Sri Lanka from Commonwealth

Australia's Greens launched a campaign to call for the suspension of Sri Lanka from the Commonwealth until a credible independent invesigation into alleged war crimes takes place, reported The Australian . Greens senator, Lee Rhiannon, reportedly expressed hope of 'building bipartisan political support' for the suspension of Sri Lanka. The Greens have the backing of several human rights activists and jurists. John Dowd QC, a member of the International Commission of Jurists and former New South Wales attorney-general explained, " If Sri Lanka is used as a host, it ignores the fact that war crimes have been committed. The Commonwealth has to realise it can't keep being polite when one of its members is guilty of (such) crimes ." Senator Rhiannon added, "We will be looking at whether delegates of the Sri Lankan government may be refused a visa to visit Australia for CHOGM if it can be proved they do not meet the 'character test' and 'public criteria test'."

British Tamils held in Sri Lanka without charge

A British Tamil man has been arrested and held in Sri Lanka for over four years without charge under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA), reports the Guardian . Father of two, Viswalingam Gopithas, from South London has been under Sri Lankan custody since April 2007, accused of trying to supply night vision equipment to the LTTE. Reports have also emerged of other British Tamils, including a fifty-one year old woman, Vasugi Kaunanithy, being held by Sri Lankan security forces under the Prevention of Terrorism Act, since August 2011.

British MPs turn up the heat on Sri Lanka

In a debate held Thursday in the British House of Commons, several British MPs once again called for a full international investigation into war crimes in Sri Lanka, stating that Britain must take the lead in pushing for accountability. MPs from across the political spectrum united in expressing concern at the Sri Lankan government’s conduct since the end of the war. Robert Halfon, MP for Harlow, stated, “We must be clear about the fact that Sri Lanka is a rogue nation. It has carried out genocide against the Tamil people, and we must do all that we can to stop the persecution of the Tamils once and for all.” He further elaborated that, “We must make a distinction between murder and genocide— genocide is scientific, organised killing ”. Watch the full debate on the BBC below. Siobhain Mcdonagh, MP for Mitcham and Morden also said, “ Britain must take a brave and principled lead —just as we did in Kosovo and, with France, in Libya—and do all that it can to ensure that a full independent international investigation of war crimes takes place. Those of us who believe in justice want the people responsible to be held to account, just as all of us would agree about Colonel Gaddafi, Radovan Karadzic and Charles Taylor. We cannot allow the international community to slip back to the cosy days of 2009, when the UN disgracefully ignored calls for a war crimes investigation, or when the Secretary-General spoke of Sri Lanka’s ‘tremendous efforts’.” Read the Hansard transcripts here . Requested by MPs Lee Scott and Steve Baker, the debate tackled the issue of “Human Rights in the Indian Subcontinent”, looking in particular at human rights abuses in Kashmir and Sri Lanka. Concluding the debate, Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs Alistair Burt said, “The allegations of war crimes and other human rights violations committed by both sides in the military conflict are of great concern to us. The UK has consistently made its position clear: Sri Lanka needs to address accountability through an independent, thorough and credible process that meets international standards and allows the people of Sri Lanka to move towards reconciliation and lasting peace and security.” Excerpts from the debate have been reproduced below.

Canada calls to boycott Sri Lanka CHOGM

Candian Prime Minister Stephen Harper has stated that he will not be attending the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in 2013, due to be held in Sri Lanka, unless there is improvement in human rights on the island. Speaking to journalists, Harper backed the United Nations Secretary General’s representatives call for an independent investigation into war crimes and urged other countries to join his stance. “I have expressed concerns about holding of the next Commonwealth Summit, the one after the one coming up in Sri Lanka. I intend to make clear to my fellow leaders of the Commonwealth...

US warned Sri Lanka against offensive on safe zones

Leaked US embassy cables reveal how then Ambassador Robert Blake warned Sri Lanka that mass civilian civilian deaths would ensue, if its military stormed the government-declared safe zone. A March 2009 cable , detailing a meeting with Sri Lankan Foreign Minister Bogollagama, said: “Ambassador recalled continuing reports he has heard that the military intends to take the safe zone by force and told the Foreign Minister if the government did so thousands, perhaps tens of thousands, could be killed. “ If such casualties occurred the government would be accused of war crimes and its actions would diminish Congressional and public support for future US assistance to Sri Lanka.” Sri Lanka warned Blake, now US Assistant Secretary of State for South Asia, went on to urge Sri Lanka to think “very very carefully” on the next steps to be taken after the military surrounded the government-declared safe zone. Thereafter, Sri Lanka launched a massive air, sea and ground offensive, escalating the bombardment of civilians. The following month, in another meeting with Bogollagama, Blake said that, “comparisons are already being made to what transpired in Rwanda where the international community did not do enough to prevent a catastrophe. ” Blake added that if they pursued the military option then Sri Lanka could expect “escalating international criticisms.” “The Ambassador said such actions could include suspension of aid to Sri Lanka, closer scrutiny of IMF lending, possible war crimes investigations, and perhaps other actions. ”

ICG continues to call for investigation

The International Crisis Group has released a report rebutting government claims of progress since the end of the civil war more than 2 years ago. The report examines various government statements that progress has been made on a variety of issues, before looking at the “reality” of the situation. See the report here . The group argues that “the risk of an eventual return to violence is growing again” , and states, “ The Government of Sri Lanka has not taken credible steps to ensure accountability for the grave allegations of war crimes and crimes against humanity identified in the April 2011...

Monks destroy Muslim shrine as police stand idle

Photograph www.sinhalaravaya.com Over 100 Sinhala Buddhist monks demolished a Muslim shrine in Anuradhapura on Saturday according to reports by the BBC . Monks, dressed in their saffron robes, encouraged other monks and Sinhala crowds to tear down the shrine. One photograph of the incident shows a monk burning the flag of Islam by the ruins of the shrine. The destruction was reportedly masterminded by a monk, named Amatha Dhamma Thero, who justified the attack by stating the local Muslims were attempting to convert the shrine into a mosque. According to Thero, despite local government officials attempting to pacify the Sinhala crowds by stating the shrine would be closed within three days, angry crowds proceeded to raze the shrine, shouting "we cannot wait". Thero explained to reporters that the shrine was located on land 'given' to the Sinhalese Buddhists over 2000 years ago - an ideology central to the Sinhala Buddhist text, the Mahavamsa. According to locals, senior members of the Sri Lankan police force witnessed the entire incident, but did nothing to intervene.

Sri Lankan doctors "complicit in torture"

The British Medical Journal has published a report which has detailed how doctors in five countries, including Sri Lanka, have been complicit in torture. The report , compiled by global health charity Medact, examined case studies in the UK, US, Israel, Italy and Sri Lanka. In Sri Lanka they found cases where doctors not only failed to report torture, but actively refused to treat or even examine victims of torture. Marion Birch, director of Medact said, "The climate of impunity that may have been created, lack of support that may be given, really need to be discussed."

Blake turns up pressure on Sri Lanka

US Assistant Secretary of State, Robert Blake, speaking at a news conference to mark the end of his three day visit to Sri Lanka, urged the Sri Lankan government to ensure accountability, stop paramilitary activity in the North-East and pursue devolution through talks with the TNA. “We are not in the business of making threats to our friends. There is a need for a credible process of accountability for those who have violated international humanitarian law and there will be pressure for some mechanism to ensure that this takes place. However we hope that (such pressure) is not necessary.” "The solution to achieving a just and lasting peace in Sri Lanka is not just about accountability," he added, however. Highlighting the recent mock protest orchestrated by Douglas Devananda's EPDP, Blake condemned the use of paramilitaries in the North to maintain law and order, insisting the government must make progress on disarming such groups. “ I am concerned about human rights . I discussed with relevant officials the importance of disarming paramilitary groups, on which progress is being made. It is important to deploy Tamil policeman in the north so the military no longer needs to perform these functions.” “Paramilitary groups are not allowed to carry weapons in public. While I was in Jaffna I myself, experienced the power of the EPDP who was able to prevent me from meeting with some university students. ”

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