Adjournment speech, Tuesday 15 August 2012
Senator RHIANNON: Tonight I would like to share with members information about Sri Lanka. I recently received some distressing information in my email inbox, which paints a disturbing picture of the day to-day realities for Tamils in Sri Lanka. I commend the Commission for Justice and Peace of the Catholic Diocese of Jaffna in Sri Lanka for taking the brave decision to author and release their statement.
I imagine that their honesty and integrity will put them in grave danger at the hands of a brutal regime that has so far tolerated no dissent.
I have been following the situation in post-war Sri Lanka very closely for some time now. Although I have been told by my contacts in the Tamil community of the worsening situation, I was shocked to learn of the extent of the militarisation of Tamil land, the eradication of historical sites of Tamil ownership and occupation such as the renaming of sites to erase Tamil names, the resettlement of army personnel and
Sinhalese families in Tamil areas, the abduction of Tamils and the increasing fear in which the Tamil community live each day.
Women and girls in the north in particular are in a very perilous security situation. This is causing immense grief to the more than 60,000 Tamils living in Australia.
The comments from the Commission for Justice and Peace of the Catholic Diocese of Jaffna are in sharp contrast to the official statements issued by the Sri Lankan government. Its official position ignores the tyranny and hardship that Tamil communities endure under the Rajapaksa regime.
I do not have time to read the entire statement, and so I urge that you do read the full statement by the commission. It is on my website and other websites. It paints a graphic and troubling picture of the realities facing Tamils in post-war Sri Lanka.
Here are some excerpts:
The widely advertised ‘war for peace’ came to an end more than three years ago. Yet the fruits of this peace are yet to be enjoyed by the people in the North, who were most affected mentally, physically and economically. This reality is verified by the day to day events which are taking place here. The hop(e) for a real peace is declining day by day. The Commission for Justice and Peace of the Catholic Diocese of Jaffna feels that it is its historic duty to point out this in order that a way may open to establish a just, democratic and peaceful community in Sri Lanka.
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According to the reports given by the Sri Lankan Government to the outside world and the international leaders and their representatives only a few thousands of displaced persons who are still in the camps have yet to be resettled of the 300,000 people who were evacuated from the war-ravaged Wanni area and the resettled people have been given the facilities of decent housing and means to restart their lives. The balance
three to five thousands of people still in the camps will be resettled in a matter of two to three months and will be provided with all the facilities according to the Government sources. The Government says that 95% of the displaced persons have been resettled already. But the UN reports say that … 117,888 persons are yet to be resettled permanently.
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The Plight of the Resettled People
Taking into consideration the resettled people whom the Government claims as 95% of the total displaced, the conditions of substantial number of them are far from satisfactory. Some villages and fertile lucrative lands of these people have already been taken over for their usage by the security forces to establish permanent camps and naval bases. When it came to the resettlement, the displaced people after undergoing
immense inconveniences in temporary shelters for years have been forced to go to areas shown by the Government which are not in any way helpful to continue with their former work and find their livelihood.
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The plight of the displaced people from Mullikulam in the Mannar district is also disturbing. Some years ago they were asked to leave their homes with the assurance that they would be allowed to come back shortly. Hence they left their homes only with few of their belongings. But even after many years they were not allowed to get back and they were living temporarily in several part of Mannar without proper
work and with little assistance to find their livelihood. Now they are allowed to get back to their villages.When they went they were not allowed to occupy their houses. Hence they had to find shelter under trees in the elephant-infested jungles. Their uncertain journey back home continues.
… The NGOs who are willing to give them some relief are obstructed from doing so due to political reasons.
The ‘pass system’ for fishing affects them also. When they see the fishermen from the South fishing in the sea in their vicinity they are not able to venture into the sea freely to earn their livelihood.… they are afraid to speak out as they are surrounded by the army and
navy whose heavy presence and interference affects their day to day life.
The entire North is under military rule today. The most powerful ruling authority in the North, the Governor is an ex-military man.
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• The local military authorities in the North insist that prior permission has to be got from the military authorities before any public or even family function.
• Even in religious ceremonies and functions in Churches and Temples we can find undue interference of the military….
• The incidents of ordinary people being attacked by the army for no rhyme or reason are not rare occurrences in the North. Few weeks ago at … Point Pedro there were some civilians standing at night during the festival in a Temple close by. Some soldiers who happened to pass-by attacked these people without any provocation whatsoever. When these people went to the Police- Station to lodge a complaint, the police refused to take down any complaint….
• A lot of propaganda is given by the Government to the local and international media that there has been a substantial reduction of the number of soldiers in the North and vast areas occupied hitherto by the army have been vacated to enable resettlement of people displaced from there. But the ground reality is substantially different. Army presence and movement is very much there without any major change. In some
places temporary army camps are converted into well entrenched permanent bases. When some houses and lands here and there are given back to the owners with much propaganda, large areas of land and even village are cordoned off surreptitiously for ‘security reasons’. From Valikamam North alone people from 23 Grama Sevaka divisions are still not able to get back to their lands or houses.
… There are also some moves to take over some institutions such as the prestigious Government Teachers Training College complex by
the security forces….
• Another aspect of the military rule is the sidelining of the democratically elected TNA MPs from public functions and from any role in the development work in the North….
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Destruction of War-cemeteries, Prohibition of Prayer- Services for the War-victims.
In a war the accepted international norm which is followed is that the winners show respect to the cemetery of the losers. Before the end of the war there had been many war-cemeteries in the North, which used to be well-maintained. Even during the ceasefire time (from 2002 to 2006) the militants were allowed to maintain them and the people used to frequent these places to remember their dead and to pray for them.
Once the war was over, all these cemeteries were bulldozed without any trace and in some places new buildings and even army-camps have been established.
The security forces are also very vigilant in preventing any prayer-service or function to remembrance of not only the dead militants but also the civilians….
Burglaries, Robberies, Murders etc-Daily routine Events
Every day we read in the dailies and hear of burglaries, robberies and murders and other violent incidents in the North which is something unprecedented. Most of those who carry out these are masked or wear full helmets and have in their possession weapons which are used by the army and the armed-groups aligned to the government … We also can observe the army posted all over and the police patrolling the streets even at nights. It is surprising that these robbers are able to elude all these vigilant watches. In the course of these robberies those who have resisted have been murdered.
The LLRC in one of its recommendations stated that the armed groups who are with the Government should be disarmed. This has not happened as it is evident from the liberal use of these sophisticated weapons during the robberies etc.
Buddhishization of the North
Once the war with the LTTE was won by the Government and the A-9 road was opened for the normal traffic a full-scale Buddhisization of the North is underway. First huge statues of Buddha and Dagobas were erected either in or near the army camps with full participation of the security forces. Some of these were erected near permanent Hindu Temples which had been there for centuries. To the total dismay of the Hindus and against their religious sentiments, in some places the already existing Hindu Temples were brought down and in those places Buddhist worship sites are established …
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Unlike in the South where there are a substantial number of Hindus, Moslems and Christians and their respective Temples, Mosques and Churches besides the majority Buddhists, in the North the number of Buddhist civilians is negligible. Buddhism is present in the presence of the security forces and the visiting people from the South.
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Already, settlements are underway in—some Tamil regions and are being given—a Sinhalese name … The Tamils who had been living
there for generations are ejected from there and their paddy-fields to give place to the settlers from the South.
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Human Rights activists, outspoken persons of justice and those who point out corruption and abuse of power in high levels are threatened by various means including death threats.
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The Roman Catholic Bishop of Mannar, Rt. Rev. Dr. Rayappu Joseph who is respected by the Catholics and non-Catholics alike for his genuine efforts to bring about justice, also is threatened. Bishop Joseph, in his evidence to the … (LLRC) clearly stated that about 146,000 people are still not accounted for after the war on the basis on the statistics provided by the Government authorities and dates also have been given. It observation must have put the government in a predicament. It is very clear that the Bishop presented his findings were not conjectures but based on firm evidence taken from Government records. In spite of that coming to the Bishop’s House and having an inquiry is nothing but an act of intimidation. Adding to the a Cabinet Minister made a statement in the Parliament levelling some baseless accusation against the Bishop and the higher authorities remaining indifferent about is also a continuation of this intimidation.
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If anybody wants a job or a favor done he or she has to be the supporter of the Government.
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The Plight of the Fishermen in the North
The fishermen in the North had hoped that after the war that they would be able go fishing without any restraints and that they would be able to get back to their former fishing-villages. Their hopes are far from being realized. Still there is the pass system as well as time limitation in some places. In spite of the assurance given by the Minister of Fisheries of not allowing anybody new from the South to the region of Mullaithievu, other than those who were fishing there before the war, hundreds of new people are coming from the South. The security forces there are making all the arrangements for their stay and for fishing. These people are using the methods and the fishing gear which are not allowed in the North.
Myliddy used to be one of the best fishing ports in the Peninsula and more than four thousand fisher families used to live in and around that area. Efforts are now underway not to allow those people to go there anymore and make that area into a high-security zone.
Obstacles to the Judiciary System
The judiciary had been giving some form of relief to the affected people. The developments in the recent past indicate that there are many obstacles for the free and far functioning of the judiciary.
Intimidation and pressurization have made inroads in to the judiciary also. Extraordinary (political) transfers of judges, prolongation of cases which need to be attended urgently indefinitely, keeping the suspects in custody for many years especially the political prisoners and those who had helped the LTTE and not giving information about them etc are some of the phenomena of this travesty of justice. ‘Justice delayed
is justice denied’, is very relevant in this regard.
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The Plight of the Forgotten Lot
To this category belong the thousands of political prisoners, those who were arrested for helping the LTTE in varying degrees, those who had surrendered during the final stages of the war with white flags, white-van victims, those who were taken by the security forces from their families for questioning and since then disappeared, those who were handed over to the security forces voluntarily by their family members
fearing the failure to do so would have dangerous consequences if they were found out to be in some way connected to the LTTE, the repatriated ex-LTTE members, etc. The situation of the Tamil prisoners in the prisons, detention and rehabilitation centers in the South is very precarious. This has been evident from the massacre of the Tamil prisoners twice in quick succession in the Welikada prison and then after some years in the Boosa rehabilitation center where there were many casualties. At other times also there had been attacks on Tamil prisoners even for the slightest provocation …
A good number of these unfortunate people are kept incommunicado and their family members do not know whether they are alive or not. At times the family members of such people come to know the whereabouts of these people only when they were beaten, wounded and hospitalized. In the recent hostage incident and the ensued violent rescue operation the Tamil prisoners were moved to — two different locations. They were severely beaten and limbs broken and were not given any medical attention for long hours. In this incident only one of them died. Another— a young man — from Jaffna is still in a coma stage. When his relatives went to see him being in coma stage after being beaten severely, his legs were tied by chains to the bed! He disappeared in Colombo in 2006 and his near-one did (not) know what had happen to him. In fact he was arrested then and his family member had not been informed about it. Now after being beaten up with limbs broken and in coma stage, yet chained to his bed, his family members have access to see him! It is not the first time that prisoners who were in very serious condition were chained to the bed. It shocking that the medical professional ethics accept such treatment of patients in coma stage while in chains!
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A recent disclosure by the second most powerful man in Sri Lanka that the white-van takes in people who are guilty of serious offences and who need to be questioned. In Sri Lanka there seems to one normal judiciary system and another extra-judiciary which does not come under the normal procedure. The normal law-enforcing agency, the police do not seem to be aware of such arrests. The move by the security forces to give death certificates to the people who have disappeared is distressing.
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A substantial percentage of these disappeared people are those taken into custody by the security forces for questioning.
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The repatriated ex-LTTE members who have been released in stages are under tremendous pressure. They want to live a quiet life with their families. Unfortunately they under constant surveillance, asked to be informants, asked to work for the progress of the agenda of the Ruling Party etc. Recently some special group of men claiming to be from the CID went to the villages in Wanni on mo-bikes, rounded up the repatriated ex-LTTE men, took them to the respective buildings and questioned them again of their connections, in some cases assaulted them and warned them of serious consequences if any untoward incident happened and went back. Before leaving they had told them not report to anybody of this inquiry. In some cases the special ICs — identity cards — given to them by an NGO to show that they are repatriated ex-LTTE members to prevent them from being rearrested have been confiscated. They have complained to the local MPs that they live in constant
I now read an excerpt from the conclusion of this statement:
The above mentioned developments and observations in the post-war scenario especially in the North Sri Lanka which bore the brunt of the war are like the tip of an ice-berg in presenting the real picture of what is going on. The external face-lift given to the North does not in any way correspond with the somber reality deep down in the heart of the people as they feel that they are not basically free to express themselves, their fundamental human rights not respected, inability to bring to justice those who do harm to them, not able find any redress when ejected from their traditional residence and land and above all inability to manifest their protest for the above and other unspecified violations even in a non-violent manner, indicate that things are volatile.
I have to end here as my time is running out.
Everything I have read from the commission contradicts the official line of the government of Sri Lanka, who concoct their words to lead us to believe that peace is flourishing in postwar Sri Lanka and they are doing everything to help the Tamil people. This open letter attests that nothing could be further from the truth. History has shown that the current government of Sri Lanka does not treat the Tamils of Sri Lanka with equality, dignity and justice. I commend this account of the reality of life for Tamils in Sri Lanka to the Senate and again thank the Commission for Justice and Peace of the Catholic Diocese of Jaffna for issuing this statement to inform us better about the current situation in their country.
Senate adjourned at 20:55