of Amnesty's approach is that it chooses to address symptoms rather than causes...
letters to the fox to look after the 'human rights' of chickens in the chicken pen
Amnesty has again reported on torture, Sri
After ten years of Amnesty Reports, the answer
cannot be another ten years of Amnesty Reports...
question of commitment - the story of the chicken and the pig
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
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,
to indiscriminate aerial bombardment, and thousands
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...''
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.
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."
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
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
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
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
... 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. ''
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
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.'
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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''