Catholic priest criticises silence of Church in Sri Lanka

September 27, 2011 Comments Off on Catholic priest criticises silence of Church in Sri Lanka

BBC – Church accused of ‘being silent’

A Catholic priest who stayed in a government declared ‘safe zone’ during the last stages of war has strongly criticised the Church in Sri Lanka for being silent about the plight of trapped civilians.

In an open letter to the Pope, Fr GA Francis Joseph has blasted Church authorities for not raising its voice at a time some western countries and the UN ‘voiced their dismay’ at Sri Lanka government’s military strategy.

“Last night’s toll of the dead is 3318 and of the injured more than 4000,” the letter sent on 10 May, 2009 and seen by the BBC Sinhala service, Sandeshaya stated.

“It was a barrage of artillery, mortar, multi-barrel shelling and cluster bombs, weapons which Sri Lankan government denies using on the civilians in the no fire zone,” says Fr Joseph’s letter to the Pope.

He was living among 365,000 Tamil civilians at the time of writing, the former Rector of St Patrick’s College Jaffna stated in his strongly worded letter.

‘Vanished’

“It is unfortunate that the Church in Sri Lanka does not have the wisdom and guts to air her views forcefully and unequivocally regarding the ongoing war,” said Fr Joseph adding that the sending of the letter may result with his killing by the government or excommunication by the Church.

Kingsley Swampillai, the bishop of Trincomalee and Batticaloa, later told a government appointed commission that the priest vanished after security forces took him in for questioning.

The bishop said Father Francis was among those leaving the war zone in May 2009 and passing through the military checkpoint at Omanthai when people travelling with him saw him taken in for special questioning.

“And then he was no more – nobody saw him thereafter,” the bishop said.

In a recent Wikileaks revelation, US Ambassador in Colombo Patricia Butenis has told authorities in Washington that Archbishop Malcolm Ranjit requested the US not push accountability issues against Rajapaksa administration.

Wikileaks

The Archbishop has argued that such action would push the government towards a more hardline approach, an opinion agreed by the US ambassador.

The Archbishop office in Colombo, however, has strongly rejected a leaked Wikileaks cable as ‘baseless’ and ‘false’.

A spokesperson from the Archbishop’s ofice, Rev. Father Benedict Joseph has told The Sunday Leader that this was not the first instance where the Archbishop’s name had been misused and denied the contents of the leaked cable entirely.

However, Fr Joseph’s desperate letter to the Pope in 2009 is highly critical of the Church as well as the Sri Lankan government.

“Knowing that diplomacy comes so perilously near deceitfulness, that our trust in those who are proficient in its exercise, dwindles as time passes by,” said the priest whose fate is unknown states.

“The Tamils struggling for freedom look up Your Holiness to come to their rescue.”

Following the Sri Lankan government’s declaration of the military victory over Tamil Tigers a week later, Pope Benedict XVI called upon all combatants to facilitate the evacuation of civillians.

Addressing a public prayer meeting in the Vatican City after the government announced that all civillians in the war zone have reached safety, the pope said that he joins in the call of the UN Security Council “which just a few days ago demanded guarantees for their safety and security.”

Find a political solution – UNSG

September 26, 2011 Comments Off on Find a political solution – UNSG

UN News Centre – Sri Lanka: Ban stresses need for accountability process over end to civil war

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon today stressed the need for a “credible national accountability process” over actions in the final stages of the civil war in Sri Lanka during a meeting with Mahinda Rajapaksa, the country’s President…“He also underlined the need to find a political solution to the underlying factors of the past conflict,” according to information provided by a spokesperson for Mr. Ban after the meeting between the two officials…

Lawsuit filed against SL Army General turned diplomat to UN

September 26, 2011 Comments Off on Lawsuit filed against SL Army General turned diplomat to UN

TamilNet – Torture case filed against Sri Lanka’s ex-General Shavendra Silva
BBC Sinhala – Civil lawsuit filed against Major General Shavendra Silva
BBC Tamil – Audio story in Tamil

American University
Washington
NEWS RELEASE

For Further Information: 202-725-8745

Lawsuit filed against Sri Lankan Army General Responsible for Executions, Torture & Attacking Civilians; Currently Living in NYC

NEW YORK, N.Y., SEPT. 23, 2011 – This morning, American University Washington College of Law’s UNROW Human Rights Impact Litigation Clinic filed a lawsuit in the Southern District of New York (SDNY) against Sri Lankan General Shavendra Silva, who currently resides in New York City. General Silva was the commander of the 58th Division of the Sri Lankan Army during its brutal counter-insurgency campaign that costs the lives of up to 40,000 civilians in spring 2009. General Silva currently resides in New York City, and is Sri Lanka’s Acting Permanent Representative to the United Nations. As the United Nations General Assembly is ongoing, this lawsuit shines a spotlight on a war criminal in its midst.

As commander of the 58th Division, General Silva was responsible for conducting Sri Lanka’s bitter and brutal war against Tamils in northern Sri Lanka, and directly caused the untold suffering of thousands of Tamil civilians. Under the auspices of “fighting terrorism”, General Silva led the Army’s campaign of war crimes and crimes against humanity across northern Sri Lanka. In particular, protected persons – civilians – and protected places – hospitals – were deliberately attacked by General Silva and his forces, which violates Sri Lankan law, American law and international law. General Silva is also responsible for the torture and extrajudicial executions of surrendering members of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), in clear contravention of the laws of war.

“These egregious violations of international and domestic law have gone unanswered for over two years now, as survivors continue to suffer in suffocating silence on the island. Finally, after years of waiting for someone to answer for the loss of loved ones, the voices of Tamil victims and survivors have been granted their day in court. Today, U.S. courts provide a forum for justice and accountability, where there would otherwise be continued impunity for Sri Lanka’s crimes against Tamils,” said Ali Beydoun, lead counsel on this case, director at American University Washington College of Law’s UNROW Human Rights Impact Litigation Clinic, and a Senior Partner at SPEAK Human Rights Initiative.

Up to 40,000 Tamil civilians were killed in the final months of Sri Lanka’s military onslaught against Tamil regions in 2009, according to a report from a United Nations Panel of Experts. However, over two years later, there have been no investigations or prosecutions of those responsible for war crimes and crimes against humanity. “This lawsuit is one small yet substantial step towards accountability for Sri Lanka’s bloodbath on the beach. We will continue pursuing these cases until justice is served,” Beydoun said.

This lawsuit seeks damages for violations of international, Sri Lankan and domestic law under the Alien Tort Claims Act (ATCA) and Torture Victim Protection Act (TVPA). These statutes grant jurisdiction to U.S. courts over human rights violations committed abroad, and serve to ensure that the U.S. does not become a safe haven for war criminals.

The day will not be getting any easier for Sri Lanka’s President Mahinda Rajapaksa, as massive protests greet his arrival in New York for the 66th U.N. General Assembly. This day marks a uniquely perfect storm for justice, as demands for accountability begin to echo throughout New York and the world.

WASHINGTON COLLEGE OF LAW
4801 MASSACHUSETTS AVENUE, NW
WASHINGTON, DC 20016-8181
202-274-4088
FAX: 202-895-4520

Rudd answers ques on SL war crimes

September 26, 2011 Comments Off on Rudd answers ques on SL war crimes

ICP – Report on Sri Lanka Called “UN Report” by Rudd, Nambiar Declines Comment

UNITED NATIONS, September 22 — While Sri Lanka’s government claims that the Panel of Experts report describing war crimes is “not a UN report,” that is precisely what Australian Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd called it Thursday night at the UN when Inner City Press asked him about the report.

Rudd had been scheduled to speak at 6 pm about the Commonwealth. Notably, there is a move to oust Sri Lanka from the Commonwealth in light of war crimes.

But Rudd’s stakeout was pushed back past 9 pm, at which time he opened on wider themes. Inner City Press asked the first questions, about Palestine and the move in the Commonwealth to push for accountability for war crimes in Sri Lanka. Video here, from Minute 7:55.

Rudd answered that members of the Commonwealth have been watching Sri Lanka over the last two years, “acutely aware of the report written by the UN,” and of the government’s Commission.

Rudd said that the Lessons Learnt report must deal with the “issues raised in the UN report.” He said there will be many more conversations, that the key is the content of the Lesson Learnt report. Video here, from Minute 12:24.

No war crimes committed – SL diplomat to Aust

September 26, 2011 Comments Off on No war crimes committed – SL diplomat to Aust

ABC Radio Australia – Sri Lankan envoy speaks out against Commonwealth suspension call

Sri Lanka is dismissing calls for its suspension from the Councils of the Commonwealth and complained to Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs about the latest campaign.

A group of Australian academics, politicians and human rights campaigners is making the demand unless Sri Lanka cooperates with an independent investigation into alleged war crimes during the country’ civil war.

But the Sri Lankan High Commissioner in Canberra, Admiral Thisara Samarasinghe, argues the group is acting on “unsubstantiated evidence” and campaigning for the wrong reasons.

He says there is no prospect of Sri Lanka agreeing to an international investigation because no war crimes were committed by the government.

Presenter: Cameron Wilson
Speaker: Admiral Thisara Samarasinghe, High Commissioner for Sri Lanka in Australia

Swiss AG confirms war crimes investigation if SL diplomat returns

September 22, 2011 Comments Off on Swiss AG confirms war crimes investigation if SL diplomat returns

The Swiss Federal Attorney General confirms that he will open a war crimes investigation if Jagath Dias comes back to Switzerland

Following a criminal complaint brought by TRIAL (Swiss association against impunity) and the Society for threatened peoples (SPM) against the Sri Lankan Deputy Ambassador to Switzerland, Jagath Dias, for war crimes, the Swiss Federal Attorney General has decided that a criminal investigation will be launched if Mr. Dias were to come back on Swiss territory, because of “his personal involvement in the atrocities committed”.

On 13 September, media reports already announced that Mr. Dias, former Deputy Ambassador for Sri Lanka in Germany, Switzerland and the Vatican, had been stripped of his diplomatic status because he was strongly suspected of having committed war crimes. During the last phase of the internal conflict in Sri Lanka he was the major general of the 57th Division of the Sri Lankan Army, which is accused of intensive shelling of civilians, hospitals and religious sites. In August 2011, TRIAL and the SPM filed a criminal complaint with the Federal Attorney General against Jagath Dias for war crimes based on the previous facts.

The above-mentioned organisations have just received a 5-page decision dating back to 16 September 2011 by which the Federal Attorney General decided not to open an investigation, on the ground that Mr. Dias was no longer present on Swiss territory. However, the Federal Attorney General pointed out that several episodes of the conflict “highlight Mr Dias’ personal involvement in the military operations undertaken and in the attrocities committed”. Accordingly, the federal judicial authority considers that “the existing suspicions against him are enough to justify the opening of a criminal investigation” in the event that Mr Dias comes back to Switzerland.

Acknowledging the suffering of victims

TRIAL and the SPM welcome the decision of the Federal Attorney General. According to Philip Grant, the director of TRIAL, “Sri Lanka still denies the extent of the crimes committed. As long as no impartial investigation is carried out in Sri Lanka, the authors of these crimes may be punished abroad”. Angela Mattli, head of campaigns at the SPM, says that “after this judicial decision, the time has now come for the politics to send a clear message to the sri-lankan government: impunity for war crimes is not an option any more”.

The aforementioned organisations now invite the Swiss authorities to put pressure on the Sri-Lankan government to conduct impartial investigations about the war crimes committed by the sri-lankan armed forces and the Tamil Tigers and to prosecute the authors of these crimes.

Context

From the end of 2008 until May 2009, the Sri-Lankan government launched its final offensive to take control of the last territories in the hands of the guerrilla of the Tamil Tigers. The peak of horror was reached during this period: according to UN sources approximately 40,000 civilians were slaughtered. As such, both parties to the conflict have been responsible for multiple serious violations of international law, which, to date, have not been impartially investigated, neither in Sri Lanka nor before an international tribunal.

Wikileaks reveals SL Archbishop lobbied US

September 22, 2011 Comments Off on Wikileaks reveals SL Archbishop lobbied US

Colombo Telegraph – Wikileaks: Mahinda Rajapaksa is a “christian” – says Archbishop

A leaked US Embassy cable reveals how the Archbishop Malcolm Ranjith lobbied US government against international pressure on accountability for war crimes.

The Archbishop Malcolm Ranjith told to the US ambassador that “ pushing the government of Sri Lanka too hard on the war crimes accountability issue now could destabilize Sri Lankan democracy and could suffer revolution from the right or a coup by the military” a leaked US Embassy cable revealed.

The remarks by Washington’s embassy to Sri Lanka, are revealed by the Wikileaks leaked cable. The cable classified as “ CONFIDENTIAL” by ambassador Patricia A. Butenis.

The cable said, the Archbishop Ranjith , despite his problems with the Buddhist right has a good relationship with the President, whose wife is Catholic. It is certainly true that the President is under great pressure from the Sinhalese Buddhist right. It is also arguable that the international community’s pushing too hard on accountability could backfire…

HR orgs and NGOs write President of UNHRC on issue of SL war crimes

September 22, 2011 Comments Off on HR orgs and NGOs write President of UNHRC on issue of SL war crimes

Over a dozen human rights and non-governmental organisations have added their names to an open letter dated 16 September 2011 sent to the President of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) calling on her to formally notify UNHRC member states of the United Nations Secretary General’s referral of the Experts Panel Report and to call for the UNSG and the Government of Sri Lanka to present their respective reports/findings at the 19th session in March 2012. Specifically, the NGO coalition asks the UNHRC President to:

“work with member States of the Council as well as The government of Sri Lanka to issue a President’s Statement at the current 18th regular session, which would read that the Council:
1. Acknowledges the President’s receipt of the Secretary General’s correspondence dated 12 September 2011;
2. Invites both the government of Sri Lanka and the Secretary General to present to the Council at its 19th regular session in March 2012 their undertaken activities with respect to the implementation of the joint communiqué, including the findings of the LLRC.”

Click here to read access the letter yourself here.

Media coverage of Greens Roundtable on SL War Crimes

September 22, 2011 Comments Off on Media coverage of Greens Roundtable on SL War Crimes

BBC – Pressure mounts for international investigation

Australia’s Green Party has called upon the Australian government to suspend Sri Lanka from the forthcoming Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting (CHOGM) to be held in Perth next month.

A resolution was passed by the party on Tuesday at a meeting held at parliament house.

The Green Party calling for suspension says that Sri Lanka has defiantly refused to hold an independent international investigation into the alleged war crimes committed during the final stages of the civil war in 2009.

It also accuses Sri Lanka of breaching its commitment to the Commonwealth’s values and principles.

Sri Lanka has been endorsed as the host for the CHOGM meeting to be held in 2013 and the Green Party calls upon the Australian government to boycott it as well…

SBS Radio – Call for Commonwealth action against Sri Lanka

Human rights groups and the Greens are calling for punitive action against Sri Lanka by the Commonwealth.

Human rights groups and the Greens are calling for punitive action against Sri Lanka by the Commonwealth.

It’s a bid to force a full investigation into war crimes allegations against both Sri Lankan government forces and Tamil Tiger rebels at the end of the country’s civil war in 2009.

The International Commission of Jurists is one of the groups making the call, ahead of the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in Perth next month.

The Commission’s Australian President John Dowd told Clare Atkinson that the Commonwealth should suspend Sri Lanka from participation in some of the organisation’s activities.

AAP – Sri Lankan envoy hits back at Greens

Sri Lanka’s top diplomat in Canberra has hit back angrily at an Australian Greens-led group demanding a war crimes investigation of his government.

Greens senator Lee Rhiannon on Tuesday hosted a roundtable meeting of academics and activists who want Prime Minister Julia Gillard to throw her weight behind international calls for an independent war crimes tribunal to investigate Sri Lanka.

The roundtable’s participants called for Sri Lanka’s suspension from the Councils of the Commonwealth and warned they may try to disrupt Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s visit to Perth for next month’s Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM)…

TamilNet – Australian Senator calls for suspension of Sri Lanka from CHOGM

In a roundtable discussion led by Australia’s Green Party Senator from New South Wales, Lee Rhiannon, the party passed a resolution calling upon the Australian government to suspend Sri Lanka from the forthcoming Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting (CHOGM) to be held in Perth next month and to Sri Lanka to be suspended from the Councils of the Commonwealth because it is resisting setting up a tribunal to investigate war crimes.. The Green Party accused Sri Lanka for refusing to hold an independent international investigation into the alleged war crimes committed during the final stages of the civil war in 2009 and for breaching the commitment to the Commonwealth’s values and principles.

ABC Radio News – Suspend Sri Lanka, say Australian Greens

A senator from the Australian Greens says her party is calling for Sri Lanka to be suspended from the Councils of the Commonwealth because it is resisting setting up a tribunal to investigate war crimes.

The Greens say they plan to hold a meeting of legal experts and community leaders to discuss how to build on growing international support for a tribunal to look into the deaths of 40,000 Tamils in 2009.

Senator Lee Rhiannon says the British and Canadian governments and the US Senate have joined the call for an independent tribunal.

“The voice missing here is the Australian Government,” she said.

“I’ve heard today (Tuesday) that the United Nations is waiting to hear from Australia.”

The Australian – Greens call for suspension of Sri Lanka from Commonwealth

AUSTRALIA’S Greens will launch the first major challenge to Sri Lanka’s Commonwealth membership today when the party calls for its suspension pending a full investigation into allegations of war crimes committed in the final months of the country’s civil war.

The campaign to suspend Sri Lanka from the Commonwealth kicks off tomorrow with a roundtable meeting of human rights activists and jurists involved in collecting evidence for an international war crimes probe to discuss ways of building popular support for the move.

Last week, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper said he would lobby for a boycott of the proposed Sri Lanka-hosted Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in 2013 unless it could prove significant progress on human rights. Australia hosts the next CHOGM in Perth late next month.

Greens senator Lee Rhiannon said given the international momentum behind the push for a war crimes probe, she was hopeful of building bipartisan political support for Sri Lanka’s suspension from the councils of the Commonwealth…

Kick SL out of Councils of Cwlth – Aust. Greens Party

September 22, 2011 Comments Off on Kick SL out of Councils of Cwlth – Aust. Greens Party

Sri Lanka should be suspended from the Councils of the Commonwealth, says roundtable
Posted on 20. Sep, 2011

A round table held at Federal Parliament today resolved to call for a suspension of Sri Lanka from the Councils of the Commonwealth pending an international independent investigation into war crimes (see backgrounder below). This is the first time that groups in Australia have publicly made this call.

Greens Senator for NSW Lee Rhiannon said: “Sri Lanka will continue to be the elephant in the room in Commonwealth forums until allegations of war crimes and discrimination are independently investigated and addressed.

“Last week Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper set the bar for Commonwealth leaders to follow in questioning whether Sri Lanka should continue to host the 2013 CHOGM meeting unless it can prove it has made progress on investigating alleged war crimes.

“With CHOGM shortly to be held in Perth the Australian government needs to add its voice and ensure that all Commonwealth nations uphold principles of human rights and the rule of law”, said Senator Rhiannon.

The Hon John Dowd said: “It would be a disgrace to the whole Commonwealth if CHOGM were to be held in Sri Lanka prior to Sri Lanka dealing with the war crimes committed there.

“There will be no justice for the people of Sri Lanka or solution to the problems unless the crimes committed on both sides are dealt with.

“The Commonwealth must suspend Sri Lanka from its membership. Failure to do so will mean all members condone the recent history of Sri Lanka” said Mr Dowd.

Dr Sam Pari, spokesperson for the Australian Tamil Congress said: “The Sri Lankan regime needs to know that perpetrators of war crimes cannot simply continue to evade accountability with impunity, and deny justice to their victims.

“A tribunal for the Tamil killing field should be turned into a global symbol of deterrence for other authoritarian regimes willing to kill their own civilians. Without a tribunal, the Tamil killing field becomes a horrific precedent suggesting that in our era, states can escape unscathed for egregious violations of human rights law.

“Suspending Sri Lanka will send a strong unambiguous message to Sri Lanka: as long as you continue to obstruct an international independent inquiry into war crimes you will face consequences”, said Dr Pari.

The roundtable resolved the following:

We call on the Australian Government and the Federal Opposition to:

1. Support calls for Sri Lanka to be suspended from the Councils of the Commonwealth until the government of Sri Lanka agrees to an international independent investigation into war crimes, restoration of human rights and the rule of law and the implementation of all of the recommendations of the UN Expert Panel Report on War Crimes in Sri Lanka. Failing that event occurring within a reasonable time that steps be instituted to suspend Sri Lanka from the Commonwealth.

2. Oppose Sri Lanka hosting CHOGM in 2013.

We call on the Prime Minister Julia Gillard to follow the lead of Canadian President Stephen Harper in saying he will not attend CHOGM in Sri Lanka in 2013 if there is no progress in Sri Lanka’s human rights and the establishment of an independent investigation into war crimes.

The round table, hosted by Greens Senator Lee Rhiannon, looked at furthering the call for an independent war crimes tribunal for Sri Lanka. Participants were: the Hon John Dowd AO QC (President of the International Commission of Jurists Australia); Dr Sam Pari (Australian Tamil Congress); Associate Professor Jake Lynch (Director of the Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies, Sydney University); Dr Ben Saul (Professor of International Law and Director of the Sydney Centre for International Law at Sydney University); Peter Arndt (Executive Officer of the Catholic Justice and Peace Commission Brisbane); Greens Senator Lee Rhiannon.

Contacts: Lee Rhiannon 0487 350 880; John Dowd 0439 625 007; Sam Pari 0433 428 967; Jake Lynch 0420 980 010; Peter Arndt 0409 265 476

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