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19 May 2011

UN experts: ’40,000 civilians’ massacred in Sri Lanka

Up to 40,000 civilians were massacred during the final stages of the Sri Lankan government's offensive against the separatist group, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), according to a UN Panel of Experts, set up by UN Secretary-General last June, who have stated they have credible information to believe the information.

"Shelling of safety zones, bombing of hospitals and summary executions by the government forces" and "forcibly conscripting and using civilians as human buffer by the Tamil Tigers" are some of the gruesome but credible allegations, states the report, after analysing the information received. And it recommends that these atrocities by both parties be accounted as war crimes and crimes against humanity and be investigated by an international body.

Many of the native SriLankans, who have escaped from the effects of these horrific atrocities of their native homeland, watched the video recordings of these victims with heavy heart. Some UN aerial pictures of that battle zone were also published in western media two years ago. The latest report published by the UN now says: "During the final stages of the war, the UN political organs and bodies failed to take actions that might have protected civilians."

Amnesty International and Reporters Without Borders have also been observing the situation in Sri Lanka.

An Amnesty International briefing paper, Forgotten Prisoners, released in March this year, highlights how a section of the prisoners of war detained in Sri Lanka are being held secretly where they are vulnerable to a range of abuses, including torture or being killed in custody.

Sam Zarifi, Amnesty International's Asia-Pacific director, said: "Sri Lanka's so-called national security laws, and in particular the Prevention of Terrorism Act, are being used to harass, intimidate and punish critical voices."

"Thousands of people are languishing in detention without charge or trial under these laws, outside even the protections offered by the Sri Lankan legal system and in clear violation of recognised international human rights standards."

Reporters Without Borders in its latest account said: "Murders, physical attacks, kidnappings, threats and censorship continue in Sri Lanka despite the end of the civil war. The most senior government officials, including the defence secretary, are directly implicated in serious press freedom violations affecting both Tamil and Sinhalese journalists."

The 28-year-old Tamil Nationalist military movement, which also used terror activities at times existed in Sri Lanka because of the prejudiced treatment of the minority Tamils in the land.  Now in Sri Lanka, President Mahinda Rajapaksha's popularity has massively increased, propelled by the Sinhala Buddhist Triumphalism after the war.  Last September, he also brought the 18th Amendment to its constitution.  The constitutional changes will remove the restriction on the two terms a person can serve as president, which all democratic countries with an executive presidency subscribe to. In addition, it will much more than before empower the government and the president to select and appoint persons to serve on the crucial commissions that are meant to safeguard the democratic rights of the people, such as the Elections Commission, Public Services Commission, Judicial Services Commission, National Police Commission and Bribery Commission. The then Anglican Bishop of Colombo Rt Revd Duleep de Chickera said that it would lead to the "destructive erosion of [an] already fragile democratic culture of Sri Lanka".

Even though anti-Christian violent activities have decreased in the recent past, the non-violent forms of discrimination and persecution, such as legal challenges based on false allegations, restrictive administrative orders and regulations and police interference, have intensified recently, the National Christian Evangelical Alliance of Sri Lanka says in its latest report.

Publication of the Secretary-General's accountability report has been both welcomed and criticised in Sri Lanka. On the positive side, a few brave Sinhalese and Tamil Christians came together as the Concerned Christians Group and published a statement in support of the UN report.

"We believe that it is left to us Sri Lankans to establish and acknowledge the truth, apologise for wrongs done, ensure justice and accountability, and through measures such as reparations, show our care and support towards those who have suffered such as families of those killed and disappeared, those who have been injured during the war and due to torture, those who continue to be detained without charges and without due process, those who had been displaced and lost properties etc," the statement said.

"It is our contention that truth, justice and accountability, together with care and reparation for victims are essential ingredients for progress and the development of a post-war Sri Lanka, along with a longer-term political solution that addresses grievances of the Tamil community that led to the birth of the LTTE and full scale war."

"We believe international assistance can also be crucial in our post-war rebuilding and reconciliation efforts. Thus, we find it encouraging that establishment of the truth, apology for wrongs done, justice, accountability and reparation for victims is reflected in the conclusions and recommendations of the panel of experts appointed by the UN Secretary-General."

One of the religious leaders also spoke against the militarisation of the Tamil areas, and the planned demarcation of the minority Tamil homelands in such a way that they will no longer be predominantly Tamil areas. On the other hand the government leaders are opposing the UN's call for an investigation, and are already planning to bring a 19th amendment to the constitution, which threatens to revise the 13th amendments in such a way that devolution of power is further minimised, according the Sunday Leader newspaper of Sri Lanka.

But without truth, freedom, justice, equal rights and forgiveness, the peace in Sri Lanka will be elusive as ever.  "All that is needed for evil to prevail is for good men to do nothing."(Martin Luther King Jr) So please pray and work in positive ways towards a just peace in Sri Lanka wherever you can.

The author was born in Jaffna, Sri Lanka, and had experienced the brunt of the ethnic conflict in the 1970s and 1980s. Since 1990 he has been living in the UK and became a Christian in 1998. He supports www.srilankacampaign.org, which campaigns for peace and justice in Sri Lanka.