"To us all towns are one, all men our kin.
Life's good comes not from others' gift, nor ill
Man's pains and pains' relief are from within.
Thus have we seen in visions of the wise !."
 
- Tamil Poem in Purananuru, circa 500 B.C 

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Selected Writings by Nadesan Satyendra
- நடேசன் சத்தியேந்திரா

Whither Amnesty?

May 1994

bullet Weakness of Amnesty's approach is that it chooses to address symptoms rather than causes...
bullet Quiet diplomacy syndrome...
bullet Courteous letters to the fox to look after the 'human rights' of chickens in the chicken pen
bullet Amnesty has again reported on torture, Sri Lanka style
bullet After ten years of Amnesty Reports, the answer cannot be another ten years of Amnesty Reports...
bullet A question of commitment - the story of the chicken and the pig
bullet Appendix


up Weakness of Amnesty's approach is that it chooses to address symptoms rather than causes...

Recent reports by Amnesty International expose the Sri Lanka government's continued violations of human rights. At the sametime, they also high light the failure of Amnesty's endeavours in Sri Lanka during the past ten years. It used to be said unkindly of Rotary: 'Whither Rotary? To Lunch.' It may well come to be said of Amnesty in Sri Lanka: 'Whither Amnesty? To more fact finding missions.'

The weakness of Amnesty's approach is that it chooses to address symptoms rather than causes. Amnesty is quick to point out, that its remit does not extend to addressing the rights and wrongs of an armed conflict. Amnesty says that it does not take sides.

But if you do not take sides where a government has so oppressed a people that that people have, as a last resort, justifiably taken arms to resist that oppression, then you end up by making pious pleas to the very same government which is intent on subjugating that people.

Your pleas, by implication, recognise the right of that Sinhala dominated Sri Lanka government to continue to govern a people it has systematically oppressed for several decades. Your pleas also promote the myth that the Sri Lanka government is genuinely concerned with protecting the human rights of the Tamil people and securing a 'negotiated' and just settlement of the ongoing armed conflict.

The Sri Lanka government then seizes upon your appeals, to give assurances about its future conduct and buys time to continue its oppression and advance the assimilative and so called 'pacification' process. You then make further reports saying that the Government has not kept its undertakings and you make fresh appeals to the same government. In the meantime, Tamils continue to be unlawfuly detained, tortured, massacred, subject to indiscriminate aerial bombardment, and thousands simply 'disappear'.

David Selbourne was right when he said in the 1980s:

''It is evident that one of the most difficult points for commentators to grasp... is that the Sinhalese, as I have maintained since I first began to write on Sri Lanka, have no intention whatever of reaching a 'negotiated' settlement with the Tamils.''

Deanna Hodgin from Insight was more direct than Amnesty has ever had the courage or inclination to be. She declared forthrightly in 1990:

''Human rights is not an idea with much currency for the Sri Lankan government. Quiet diplomacy is not an option for our policy in Sri Lanka...''


up Quiet diplomacy syndrome

Though Amnesty recently took full page advertisements in the London press to protest against the 'quiet diplomacy' stance adopted by Government delegations at the Geneva UN Commission on Human Rights, on the East Timor question, Amnesty itself has often appeared to be a prisoner of the same 'quiet diplomacy' syndrome.

Lets face it. It will be difficult to pretend that Amnesty's reports on Sri Lanka during the past ten years have inhibited, leave alone prevented, Sinhala Buddhist chauvinism's attack on the Tamil people. Incidents of torture and unlawful detention have multiplied rather than decreased. Impunity is the new buzz word at the UN Commission on Human Rights and the Sri Lanka authorities continue to torture with impunity (and apparent relish) whilst Amnesty continues to report.

Nine long years ago, Amnesty reported in 1985:

''AI has repeatedly informed the Sri Lankan government that special legal provisions, especially those in force since 1979 facilitate torture.. Relatives have difficulty in establishing the whereabouts of detainees and in recent months over 180 are reported to have 'disappeared', the authorities having denied any knowledge of their detention... AI knows of no case in recent years in which police or security personnel have been prosecuted for acts of torture or deaths in custody of political detainees held under the Prevention of Terrorism Act...

…The following types of torture have been reported to AI:

prolonged hanging upside down while being beaten all over the body, sometimes for the duration of one night and sometimes with the head tied in a bag in which chillies were burning, making the victim feel close to suffocating

prolonged beatings, especially on the soles of the feet while lying stretched out on a bench or while hanging by the knees from a pole; beatings on the genitals and other parts of the body with sticks, batons and sand filled plastic tubes.

insertion of chilli powder in the nostrils, mouth and eyes and on genitals.

electric shocks

insertion of pins under fingernails and toenails and in the heels.

insertion of iron rods in the anus

burning with cigarettes

mock or threatened executions...

In view of persistent reports of torture in Sri Lanka in recent years AI recommends that the Sri Lanka Government implement the following measures as a sign of its commitment to eradicate torture and ill treatment.... ….Please write courteously worded letters urging the Sri Lanka authorities to take effective measures for the prevention of torture, as indicated below:

1.The Sri Lanka government should issue clear public instructions to the army, police and other security forces personnel that torture is a criminal act and will not be tolerated under any circumstances. All relevant officials should be instructed too refuse to obey any order to use torture

2.Relatives and lawyers should be informed promptly of the whereabouts of detainees. No one should be held in unacknowledged detention.

3.When it is found that torture has been committed by or at the instigation of a public official, criminal and disciplinary proceedings should be instituted."


up Courteous letters to the fox to look after the 'human rights' of chickens in the chicken pen

A number of 'courteously worded letters' were, no doubt, sent by Amnesty members committed both to securing human rights and to remaining courteous. But with what result? Amnesty's recommended action may well have appeared to the Tamil people somewhat like sending courteous letters to the fox to look after the 'human rights' of chickens in the chicken pen.

Again, that was nine years ago. Since then, Amnesty has reported every year without exception on torture by Sri Lanka authorities - and Sri Lanka has continued to torture, year in and year out, again without exception.

In January 1986, Amnesty Reported:

"Amnesty International was concerned about reports of arbitrary killings of many hundreds of non combatants by government security forces in northern and eastern Sri Lanka and of many 'disappearances'. Widespread torture of political detainees was reported... The organisation also remained concerned about long term detention without charge or trial of many hundreds of Tamils."

Amnesty reported again in January 1988:

''The (Sri Lanka) police and armed forces continued to kill non combatant Tamils... Of particular concern were reprisal killings by the security forces and reports that Tamil suspects taken into custody were shot or tortured to death and their bodies disposed of in secret.''

Amnesty reported yet again in January 1989:

"Thousands of people were detained without charge or trial, and dozens 'disappeared' following arrest by the Sri Lankan security forces and by the Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) deployed in the northeast. The fate of hundreds who had disappeared in previous years remained inadequately investigated. There were many allegations of torture.''

In January 1991, Amnesty reported:

''(During 1990)Thousands of people disappeared or were extra judicially executed in the north-east; many were tortured and then killed in custody. An unknown number of others were detained in the area... Government forces in the northeast were reported to have extra judicially executed thousands of defenceless civilians in areas they had regained..Victims were reportedly shot, bayonetted, stabbed or hacked to death; some were said by witnesses to have been burned alive.''

''Victims bodies were regularly left in the open. The identities of many remained unknown; others, presumably killed in custody, were identified as people who had been detained by security forces days earlier. Some had been burned beyond recognition or mutilated. In Amparai, where the Special Task Force, a police commando unit, was especially active, bodies - some without heads - began to be washed up on the beaches from September.

... Both the security forces and the government refused to acknowledge that many defenceless people had been deliberately killed... Victims included babies and their mothers, children and elderly men and women. ''


up And now in February 1994, Amnesty has again reported on torture, Sri Lanka style

And now in February 1994, (and countless 'courteous' letters later) Amnesty has once again reported at length on torture, Sri Lanka style in 1993:

''Some Tamil people have been arrested by groups of armed men in military or civilian dress, blindfolded and taken to secret places of detention where they have been held at least a week, interrogated and torture to make them confess to involvement with the LTTE. Families have no idea who has taken their relative nor where their relative is detained.

Under Emergency Regulations 19(8) it is a criminal offence to detain any person in an unauthorised place of detention, which reflects one of the recommendations made by Amnesty International and accepted by the Government in 1991. It is therefore very disturbing that only a few months after the Defence Secretary gazetted a list of 343 authorised places of detention in Sri Lanka, people were being abducted, held in secret, unauthorised locations and interrogated under torture. This is reminiscent of the manner in which thousands of people were 'disappeared' in the south between 1988 and 1990, by police or army personnel who sought to hide their identities in order to evade accountability for their actions.

Torture or ill treatment is a routine method of forcing detainees to confess to involvement with the LTTE. In particular, Amnesty International has interviewed a number of Tamil detainees who were beaten by CDB officers during interrogation. Prisoners held in secret detention by the army or other groups suffer more severe forms of torture.

Amnesty International has also collected several first hand accounts of prisoners being beaten in local police stations, including those in Dehiwela, Kotahena and Peliyagoda. Sometimes prisoners are beaten while being questioned. On other occasions police randomly kick and punch prisoners in police cells for no apparent reason or ostensibly as a punishment for some perceived misdemeanour.

Victims are often too frightened to complain about the treatment or do not believe their complain would lead to proper investigation and action. The DIGP-Colombo told Amnesty International that no investigations have been launched into beatings because he had not received any complaints about specific incidents. .''

Amnesty recommended yet again, in terms reminiscent of its 1985 report, that 'the government should immediately end the detention of people in secret places 'and that 'the government and leaders of the security forces should publicly state and issue orders that torture and other ill treatment will not be tolerated.'


up After ten years of Amnesty Reports, the answer cannot be another ten years of Amnesty Reports

After ten years of Amnesty Reports, the Tamil people may be forgiven if they feel that these Reports have served only to demonstrate that the answer to forty years of consistent and systematic human rights violations by the Sinhala dominated Sri Lanka government cannot be another ten years of Amnesty Reports.

It is true that facts concerning violations of human rights need to be ascertained and published. But information on human rights abuses is not an end in itself. Human rights is not some self sufficient industry concerned simply with providing employment for researchers.

The non governmental organisation, International Educational Development took a more rounded approach at the UN Sub Commission on Protection of Minorities in August 1990:

''The Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that all persons... have the right to the full realisation of their human rights and to an international order in which their rights can be realised. The Sri Lanka situation has shown that for the past forty years, the Sinhala controlled government has been unwilling and unable to promote and protect the human rights of the Tamil population, and the Tamil population has accordingly lost all confidence in any present or future willingness or ability of the Sinhala majority to do so.

Are people in this situation required to settle for less than their full rights. Can the international community impose on a people a forced marriage they no longer want and in which they can clearly demonstrate they have been abused? We conclude that in order for the human rights of the Tamil people and others in a similar situation to be realised, the international community must invoke the principle of self determination as it arises from persistent non fulfilment of the rights of minorities who have been subsumed into larger states.''

up


A question of commitment - the story of the chicken and the pig

At the end of the day, the question that Amnesty may well need to ask is: what is the extent of its commitment to human rights? As the story goes, a chicken and a pig passed a man in a restaurant enjoying his bacon and eggs. The chicken pointed to the eggs and spoke of its commitment to food production. The pig replied, pointing to the bacon,: 'You are only involved - I am committed.'

The Tamil people have been at the receiving end of Sinhala Buddhist chauvinism for several decades and they have put their lives on the line in the defence of their homeland and of their near and dear. To report on human rights in the island of Sri Lanka without admitting to the justice of the demand for a Tamil homeland and the right of the Tamil people to govern themselves, is to speak the language of the chicken - involved perhaps, but, certainly, not committed.

It is, perhaps, all this and more which impelled Tamil Eelam leader, Velupillai Pirabaharan to say to the Tamil people on Maha Veerar Naal in November 1993:

''...we are fully aware that the world is not rotating on the axis of human justice. ...International relations and diplomacy between countries are determined by the self interest of each country. .. In reality, the success of our struggle depends on our own efforts, on our own strength, on our own determination...''

The Tamil people know that they cannot afford the luxury of crying helplessly about the cynicism of real politick. They have recognised the need to marry principle with power and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam represent an open manifestation of that recognition and that marriage.

up

 


Appendix

Amnesty International in four reports released in January and February 1994 (and widely circulated at the 50th Sessions of the UN Commission on Human Rights at Geneva in February/March 1994) expressed its grave concern at the human rights situation in Sri Lanka. Amnesty said:

''Thousands of Tamils are being arrested every month in Colombo, most without any valid reason. The government says there were 15,000 arrests in Colombo under emergency legislation between 1 June and 31 December 1993.. ..The true number of arrests may be higher if people were arrested without the necessary paper work being completed.. The small number of cases in which there appears to be any evidence of wrong doing is high lighted by the fact that out of the total 15,711 arrests in only 17 (0.11%) cases have charges so far been laid..

In many cases families who have not been notified of the arrest desperately search for their missing relative, fearing they have 'disappeared'. The army and armed groups working with the government have abducted some people and held them in secret places of detention for upto two and a half months, where they have been tortured before being dumped on the side of the road or transferred to police custody...

Some agencies routinely beat detainees to extract confessions... After being released they are at risk of being repeatedly re arrested, most likely to be released each time without charge and without ever knowing why they were detained..

The indiscriminate round ups of people solely because of their ethnic origin and reports of their treatment in custody is making members of the Tamil community fearful that they are not safe to walk the streets of Colombo.

The way in which people are being arrested and detained is reminiscent of the manner in which thousands of people were detained in the south between 1988 and 1990... The way in which people have been recently abducted in Colombo by army in civilian dress, blindfolded with their own shirts and taken away in unmarked vehicles to secret locations where they have been tortured is a particularly chilling echo of the past...

..impunity remained a major obstacle to the long term improvement of human rights. Little progress was made in the prosecution of security forces personnel allegedly responsible for committing human rights violations during previous years.

..A former senior police officer who had left Sri Lanka in 1992 returned in June 1993. He had been wanted for questioning in connection with the death from torture of a (Sinhala) lawyer, Wijedasa Liyanaratchi in 1988 and had been summoned to appear in court in April 1992. After his return, however, he was not required to attend the court; instead he was given a senior position in government service..

Many of the specific undertakings made to the international community for the protection of human rights have yet to be implemented...

Although the government undertook to remove from Emergency Regulations any regulation which has no bearing on public security concerns, it has since promulgated new regulations with no apparent connection to public security... The government has said that changes made to the Emergency Regulations in June 1993 were made taking into consideration the recommendations of the Centre of Human Rights at the University of Colombo and other human rights organisations. However, the regulations have not yet been completely revised and many of the recommendations for revision of arrest and detention procedures made to the government by international and local human rights organisations have not been incorporated..

In the north scores of civilians were reportedly killed during the year by the security forces, some apparently victims of extra judicial executions, as they attempted to cross the Kilalli lagoon from the Jaffna peninsula to the mainland... In some cases, navy personnel reportedly boarded boats and deliberately killed civilian passengers who offered no resistance. Civilians were also reportedly targeted in reprisal bombing raids on Jaffna..

There were continuing reports of harassment and death threats issued to journalists in the south. Iqbal Attas received repeated death threats after he criticised (Sri Lanka's) military operations in the north in October.. Two further journalists were threatened after publishing on the same matter''

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