Speech delivered by Father Elil Rajendran at the BMICH, on October 27, 2015 Members of the families of those forcibly disappeared, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen. I would like to thank the organising committee for the invitation to deliver this speech on Enforced Disappearance from a Tamil perspective. I will start with the story of a Tamil mother - Chandra. Her life changed forever just before midnight on 11th of September 2008. Armed men broke into the house where her 24 year old son Jasinthan was sleeping and took him away in white van. There is only one road leading to the area where she lives and there is no way armed men could have taken away her son without the security forces knowing. But for the last 7 years Chandra’s life has been spent searching for her son. This may sound futile after so many years but she has good reason to believe that his son is still alive. Three years ago she saw a video of him in hospital with his front teeth smashed . In January this year she recognised him among several men in a photograph showing detainees at Welikada Jail. And yet she still cannot locate him. She lives in limbo and says if he had died it would have been easier to accept than this.
The following op-ed, How to Counter Rape During War , written by Elisabeth Jean Wood and Dara Kay Cohen was published in today's New York Times and highlights cases of armed groups who did not tolerate rape by their troops during conflict, including the LTTE. Last year, at a global conference on sexual violence during war, many speakers agreed that the best way to deter such crimes was prosecution, and they called for more of it. But prosecutions are not enough. We must work to reduce sexual violence by armed groups during wars — not just act afterward. First, we have to better understand it. Although rape during war is an ancient crime, it’s only in the last decade that social scientists have begun to study the patterns in which soldiers and rebels rape. The findings may be surprising: It’s not more likely to occur in particular regions, countries with greater gender inequality or during ethnic conflict; men may be victims, and women can be perpetrators. But while rape is tragically common in war zones, it’s not an inevitable part of war. In fact, we have found that a significant percentage of both armies and rebel groups in recent civil wars were, surprisingly, not reported to have raped civilians. That’s because commanders have options: They can choose to order, tolerate or prohibit rape. A deeper understanding of their behavior offers the hope of mitigating the problem. Some commanders order rape as a military or political strategy, and specify the target. As the Soviet Army marched toward Germany in 1945, generals ordered soldiers to take revenge on all Germans, not just soldiers. Guatemalan soldiers systematically raped indigenous Mayans during the civil war from 1960 to 1996. Today, the Islamic State forces Yazidi women and girls into marriages and sexual slavery, which they wrongly believe is legitimate under Islamic law.
The chair of the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee has urged the US to exercise leadership at the UN citing the international body’s failure to properly enforce a “zero-tolerance” policy on sexual abuse. In response to ongoing revelations about the extent of sexual exploitation and abuse at the hands of United Nations (UN) peacekeepers, Senator Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) offered a series of recommendations for his government to pursue at the UN, in a letter addressed to Secretary of State John Kerry. “As the largest contributor to the United Nations and as a permanent member on the UN Security Council, the United States has a responsibility to ensure that the United Nations upholds the highest standards of professionalism in peacekeeping operations,” wrote Senator Corker in his letter to Secretary Kerry.
The recent findings of two inquiry commissions in Sri Lanka underscore the need for a formal process to investigate and prosecute those responsible for grave crimes during the armed conflict that spanned three decades. The submission of the reports in Parliament should be welcomed, although it could also be interpreted as a signal to the international community that the domestic mechanisms are strong enough. The Maxwell Paranagama Commission, mandated to probe cases of missing persons and allegations of war crimes, has established that there were significant civilian casualties caused by Sri Lankan Army shelling in 2009 and that there may have been many individual acts of war crimes. The three-member Commission has, however, mainly blamed the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) for the civilian deaths, noting that it used civilians as human shields, placed weaponry in their midst and prevented them from leaving war zones.
Sri Lanka’s government could be doing much more to heal the wounds of the war and address Tamil grievances writes Taylor Dibbert in the Diplomat . Highlighting the ongoing military “occupation of civilian land in the northern province” and the “ government’s continued detention of Tamil political prisoners,” Mr Dibbert said President Sirisena’s decision on how to deal with Tamil political prisoners will be something to watch closely. Urging Sirisena to move on matters that are of particular importance to the country’s Tamil community, he added, “Though the country’s numerical minorities voted...
The inclusion of exiled victims and witnesses in Sri Lanka’s consultation for an accountability mechanism will be a litmus test of its credibility, writes former BBC correspondent Frances Harrison. Writing in the Huffington Post, Ms Harrison noted that “the extent of organised sexual violence and torture by the Sri Lankan security forces in the post-war period and right up to the present day and the chilling way every medical facility was deliberately attacked is now a matter of record,” with the release of the OISL report. “The fact the Sri Lankan security services this week went to question the only Tamil activist who spoke in public in Geneva appears to be an attempt to embarrass the government,” she added. “This sort of harassment causes disproportionate bad feeling and suspicion, especially when the target is a highly respected Catholic priest who works tirelessly with the families of the Disappeared.”
The proof of change in Sri Lanka following the passing of a UN resolution this week, will come in how it treats survivors of sexual violence, wrote Nimmi Gowrinathan and Kate Cronin-Furman. Writing in the Washington Post, they said “for the victim community, and their advocates,” the passing of the resolution is “not unambiguously cause for celebration”. “Even as the members of the Council commended Sri Lanka’s government for re-engaging with the international community, domestic civil society groups and international rights activists challenged the vagueness of the resolution’s call for Sri Lanka to ensure a “credible justice process”,” they said. “Sri Lanka has a long history of domestic commissions of inquiry that function as impressive political theatre but have limited capacity to provide redress. The acceptance of a (yet to be specified) role for international experts and the passage of a victims and witnesses protection act are encouraging signs that the new government intends to break with this tradition and embark upon a genuine transitional justice process. But the proof of a change will come in how Sri Lanka treats the most vulnerable victims of the long conflict – those who have survived sexual violence.”
Writing in the Huffington Post, the All Party Parliamentary Group for Tamils chairman James Berry called on the British government to lead the world in seeking proper accountability for Sri Lanka’s atrocities. Highlighting ongoing torture, militarisation and economic disempowerment of the Tamil areas in Sri Lanka, he called for the British government to work to end the disenfranchisement of the Tamil North-East of Sri Lanka. See also: Colombo has a stronghold on North-East of Sri Lanka: Interview with APPG-T Chair James Berry (04 Sep 2015) See extracts from his piece here . Critical moment in Geneva - but will Tamils See justice? Sri Lanka's President Sirisena has already set his face against any international involvement insisting on a domestic tribunal. By contrast, many Tamil people want to see an international, independent justice mechanism of the kinds established in post-conflict Rwanda and Yugoslavia.
Writing in The Guardian , the director of Freedom From Torture (FFT) UK Sonya Sceats, stressed that any process to deal with findings of the UN investigation into Sri Lanka’s mass atrocities that fails to win support of survivors “is doomed to fail before it even begins.” Full piece reproduced below: Sri Lankan war crimes will be laid bare in a harrowing UN report to be published on Wednesday. The Sri Lankan government has already launched its latest charm offensive to convince the world it can deal with these issues, but the international community must stay strong to ensure a proper justice process that wins the confidence of survivors and enables the country to heal.
The United States and international community should continue sustained engagement on Sri Lanka to ensure reform on the island and the passage of a strong resolution at the UN Human Rights Council, said Taylor Dibbert in Foreign Policy on Friday. “In order to help ensure that Colombo fully commits to reform, sustained engagement from the United States and other members of the international community is more important than ever” said Mr Dibbert, adding that “America’s commitment to issues including truth, justice and accountability needs to go beyond January 2017” when US President Barack Obama leaves office. “The war-wear Tamil community—the group that has clearly suffered the most as a result of the war—has virtually no faith in a domestic process,” he said. “If Washington has decided to unequivocally back the Sri Lankan government on this vital issue, it should take a couple of important steps during the Human Rights Council’s upcoming session,” Mr Dibbert added. “First, it is imperative that the United States make clear that sustained, international engagement with Colombo is paramount. Second, and more importantly, the United States should lead the way again at the Human Rights Council and ensure the passage of a strong resolution on Sri Lanka."