Sri Lanka snaps at Canada

October 18, 2011 Comments Off on Sri Lanka snaps at Canada

Winnipeg Freepress – Sri Lankan envoy fires back at Canada for backing calls for war crimes inquiry

OTTAWA – Sri Lanka says Canada is falling for terrorist “propaganda” with its newfound criticism of the Asian country’s human-rights record and its demands for an international inquiry.

“We are not happy about the statements being made. … We want Canada to see the correct situation,” High Commissioner Chitranganee Wagiswara told The Canadian Press in a recent interview.

Wagiswara’s remarks are the first public rebuttal of the hard line the Conservatives have recently adopted against the Sri Lankan government.

Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird has criticized Sri Lanka for blocking international efforts to investigate the conduct of its forces in the final days of its long civil war against the terrorist Tamil Tigers…Read more

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Canadian gov't + opposition show leadership on SL HR issues

October 16, 2011 Comments Off on Canadian gov't + opposition show leadership on SL HR issues

Montreal Gazette – Canada to press for Sri Lanka rights changes at Commonwealth meet

OTTAWA — Two weeks before a Commonwealth summit that could be marred by divisions on the issue, Prime Minister Stephen Harper is pressing forward with demands that Sri Lanka show “progress” on accountability for alleged human-rights violations that occurred at the end of the civil war in 2009 with the Tamil Tigers.

Harper will bring his case to the upcoming Oct. 28-30 summit of leaders in Perth, Australia, and is saying that unless he is satisfied with the actions of Sri Lanka he will boycott the next biennial Commonwealth meeting, which is being held in that country.

“We do expect a discussion at the Commonwealth on this and the prime minister will make his position clear,” Harper’s associate director of communications, Andrew MacDougall, said in an interview Friday.

Moreover, MacDougall said the prime minister has not wavered from the concerns he outlined in a round table discussion he had a month ago with some Canadian ethnic media.

At that session, Harper was responding to questions about Canada’s stance on whether Sri Lanka should be permitted to host the next Commonwealth summit in 2013 and whether there should be an international investigation into allegations of human rights violations by the government.

In response, Harper was clear.

“I intend to make clear to my fellow leaders at the Commonwealth that if we do not see progress in Sri Lanka in terms of human rights and some of the issues that you raised, I will not as prime minister be attending that Commonwealth summit (in 2013),” he said.

“And I hope that others will take a similar position, but I hope that this will pressure the Sri Lankan government to take the appropriate actions. We are concerned about the situation.”

Harper said that Sri Lanka needs to “make progress” not only in terms of what it did to the Tamil Tigers, but also needs to show advances in the areas of “political reconciliation, democratic values and accountability.”

Furthermore, the prime minister said he supports calls for an international investigation of the issue in the wake of a report done by an expert panel earlier this year for UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon which found “credible allegations” that government forces and the Tamil Tigers both committed war crimes and crimes against humanity in the final months of the civil conflict.

Specifically, that report concluded there were credible allegations that the government killed civilians through “widespread shelling,” including at hospitals, that it denied humanitarian assistance and that it tried to silence the media and critics through intimidation tactics such as the use of white vans to abduct people who would then disappear.

The mounting evidence has not gone unnoticed in Ottawa, where Harper’s government — which has long been critical of the Tamil Tigers as terrorists — is now also demanding accountability from the Sri Lankan government itself.

“The prime minister’s comments from September stand,” MacDougall said Friday.

“That’s still his view — that there has to be progress in Sri Lanka.”

MacDougall noted that the 54-nation Commonwealth exists, in part, to “build support for democratic reform and the rule of law.”

“We want to see progress on these fronts and the prime minister has made that clear with respect to Sri Lanka. We’ll have the discussion in Australia.”

But on Friday, Sri Lanka’s high commissioner to Canada, Chitranganee Wagiswara, told Postmedia News that her country does not want the issue raised at the Commonwealth summit.

“In Perth, I think we don’t want any sort of division created. I think Canada doesn’t want that. It’s up to Canada to decide.”

Wagiswara said Commonwealth leaders already decided at their last summit, in 2009, that Sri Lanka would host the conference four years later.

“We don’t want the issue, the subject, re-opened. We feel that it is unfair to reopen that subject because it was already decided by the Commonwealth member states.”

She denied allegations that Sri Lanka committed human rights violations, stressing that the government was fighting a war against terrorism when it defeated the Tamil Tigers.

She said the report prepared for the UN secretary general is filled with “unsubstantiated allegations,” and that a “propaganda campaign” is now being circulated by Tamil Tigers which has influenced governments.

However, Harper appears to have the support of political critics and international organizations, and a critical question will be how other large Commonwealth countries such as Britain and Australia react when the discussion occurs at the upcoming summit.

NDP foreign affairs critic Helene Laverdiere said her party believes an international investigation into the alleged human rights violations in Sri Lanka is “essential.”

“It’s the only way we cannot allow impunity to stand and the only way to make sure that we have durable, sustainable peace.”

Moreover, she said she believes Harper is right to have it on the table at the meeting in Australia.

“The Commonwealth has played an important role, for example, in the case of South Africa,” said Laverdiere. “We’re not talking the same situation here, but we’re still talking about a very serious situation. And I think this is the kind of issue that the Commonwealth should address.”

John Argue, of Amnesty International, said his organization and other groups have long called for an international investigation into Sri Lanka. He said the country has rejected those pleas and has, instead, established a Lessons Learned and Reconciliation Commission which will submit its report in mid-November.

But he said the review falls far short of what is needed.

“It doesn’t really investigate human rights violations.”

British journalist Derek Ingram, widely regarded as the world’s leading scholar on the Commonwealth, said it is unusual for a situation to arise where the leaders are faced with a tough debate over the proper venue for the next summit.

Still, he said they won’t be able to avoid the issue by putting off the thorny discussion.

“They have to decide at this summit the venue of the next summit,” said Ingram.

Stories from the MV Sun Sea

August 27, 2010 Comments Off on Stories from the MV Sun Sea

The National Post – Tamil migrants say they are fleeing mass murders

The Tamil migrants smuggled to the B.C. coast aboard the MV Sun Sea have released statements saying they are civilians fleeing disappearances and mass murders in Sri Lanka.

In a letter obtained by the National Post, a group of migrants detained at a prison near Vancouver thanked Canada and disputed what they called Sri Lankan government propaganda about them. More

The Star – Sri Lanka’s telling exodus

Canada doesn’t have a Tamil “problem,” whatever critics of our refugee system may say about the arrival here of the cargo freighter MV Sun Sea with some 500 asylum-seekers. We processed 34,000 refugee claims last year; these arrivals won’t overtax the system.

It is Sri Lanka that has a problem. President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s triumphalist government has failed to make the country’s large Tamil minority feel secure after crushing the Tiger insurgency last year. Until he does, people will continue to flee. More

No one is illegal – Myths and Realities about 490 Tamil Refugees on MV Sun Sea

Myth: They are terrorists.

There is no evidence to substantiate this. Rohan Gunaratna, the government’s primary source, has already been discredited by lawyers as well as an Immigration and Refugee Board adjudicator for being uncredible. Last October, when the 76 Tamil asylum-seekers came on Ocean Lady they were similarly labeled as terrorists and security threats. However by Jan 2010, they were all released from detention when Canadian Border Services Agency admitted they had no evidence of a terrorist connection. More

SL Gov should talk to Tamils – Canada

March 14, 2010 Comments Off on SL Gov should talk to Tamils – Canada

Indian Express – Canada asks Sri Lanka to start talks with Tamil groups

Canada has asked Sri Lanka to start talks and the reconciliation process with the Tamil groups, saying such a step is crucial for lasting peace in the country.

“After 30 years of war, reconciliation is crucial for lasting peace in Sri Lanka. Canada awaits to see what steps the Government of Sri Lanka will take towards this reconciliation,” Deepak Obhrai, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs, told Sri Lanka’s new High Commissioner Chitranganee Wagiswara during a meeting.

“Canada urges the government of Sri Lanka for an early safe return and resettlement of the approximately 100,000 individuals who remain displaced,” Obhrai said.

He said: “Canada is encouraged by the return of close to 160,000 internally displaced persons to their homes.”

Obhrai pointed out that Canada encourages the government of Sri Lanka to allow access by NGOs and the media to camps and resettlement areas and to continue to pursue effective coordination with humanitarian agencies and donors. “It is high time that the government of Sri Lanka lift the state of emergency as that the conflict is over,” he said. Obhrai told the High Commissioner that Sri Lanka remains a priority for Canada.

Toronto uni 'postpones' talk by Kohona

March 3, 2010 Comments Off on Toronto uni 'postpones' talk by Kohona

Dr. Palitha Kohona’s address at University of Toronto “postponed”

A talk by Dr. Palitha Kohona scheduled for March 10, 2010 at the University of Toronto has been postponed. The event was to be hosted by Centre for South Asian Studies. Local sources say the postponement is as a result of heavy opposition from Canadians of all ethnic communities and student movements who protested the event. Sri Lanka’s abysmal rate of human rights violations and evidence of war crimes are primary causes for the protest. Faculty’s website indicates that event has been postponed pending a standard security assessment – http://webapp.mcis.utoronto.ca/EventDetails.aspx?eventid=8769

Asylum seeker issues elsewhere

December 20, 2009 Comments Off on Asylum seeker issues elsewhere

The Globe and Mail – Ottawa fights order to free five more Tamil migrants

Two months after a ship of Tamil migrants sailed into Canadian waters, the Immigration and Refugee Board has ordered five more of the incarcerated men released. But the federal government appears determined to keep these men behind bars as it investigates suspicions that they could be Tamil Tigers.

Canadian asylum seekers from SL

October 26, 2009 Comments Off on Canadian asylum seekers from SL

CTV News: Men aboard migrant ship may get hearing today, 20 October 2009

Dozens of men found aboard a rusty vessel that arrived off the coast of Vancouver Island may soon know if they can apply for refugee status.

Detention hearings are expected to begin as early as today for the 76 men, who are being held in a Vancouver jail.

It is believed the men found aboard the “Ocean Lady” are from Sri Lanka, though officials have not identified the passengers or the reason for their journey. More

CTC: Canadian Tamil Congress Statement, 20 October 2009

As we sit here today, much of the details about these 76 men remain unknown. But there are two things that are clear. One is that these individuals risked their

lives to travel thousands of miles on a rusty old boat to seek refuge in Canada. The second is that these men come from a country where persecution of the Tamil minority remains commonplace despite the end of the 26-year-old civil war.

To give you an idea of the kind of persecution Tamils face in Sri Lanka, keep in mind that more than a quarter of a million citizens are currently being held against their will in about 40 internment camps in the country. They are all Tamil and they are being held in violation of international law. Tens of thousands of these civilian detainees are children. Their reality is overcrowding, poor sanitation and severe restrictions on their freedom of movement. Despite calls from Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International to free them, and the threat of monsoon rains and flooding, the Sri Lankan government continues to hold these Tamil civilians in essentially open-air prisons. This is the Sri Lanka that these men were forced to flee from, one which continues to persecute Tamils. More

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