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
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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
September 24, 2009 Comments Off on Report on the prevention of genocide
Will to halt genocide lacking, panel says
Report urges Canada to build diplomatic corps in ‘fragile’ nations, challenges media
Robert Fowler helps unveil the Will to Intervene report on the prevention of genocide at an Ottawa news conference on Sept. 22, 2009. The Canadian Press
Canada lacks the political will and diplomatic might to prevent future genocidal horrors by intervening early and often, concludes a high-profile panel of foreign policy experts that includes Robert Fowler, the career diplomat who was released this year after being kidnapped by al-Qaeda.
The authors of a 139-page report by the Montreal Institute for Genocide and Human Rights insist soft-power measures like diplomatic warnings and cuts to foreign aid can often avoid the need for military intervention.
Click here to read full article.
September 19, 2009 Comments Off on Lakhdar Brahimi and Edward Mortimer on Sri Lanka
The Globe and Mail – Let’s help Sri Lanka win the peace
Anthony Jenkins/The Globe and Mail
Colombo’s friends expect a return to democratic tradition – and freedom for detained Tamils
It is now nearly four months since Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa declared the country “liberated” from the Tamil Tiger rebels after a 26-year war. He said then that he wanted to settle most of the displaced Tamil civilians within 180 days but, today, with 60 days to go, nearly 280,000 are still being – in the words of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights – “effectively detained under conditions of internment.”
Humanitarian agencies’ access to these camps remains restricted, the high commissioner said, “and the mandates of relief agencies are increasingly coming under threat.” UN staff have even been attacked. One person who was able to visit the camps was Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who said, “I have travelled round the world and visited similar places, but these are by far the most appalling scenes I have seen.”
In mid-August, these camps were flooded by downpours that, according to The New York Times, “sent rivers of muck cascading between tightly packed rows of flimsy shelters, overflowed latrines and sent hundreds of families scurrying for higher ground.” When the full monsoon comes in a few weeks, no one knows how many will die from waterborne diseases, including cholera and typhoid.
Moreover, there is no public list of those being held in the camps, and many families do not know whether their loved ones are alive or dead.
The brutal methods used by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam during the conflict are beyond dispute. But while the war was going on, the government claimed to draw a distinction between Tamil Tiger fighters and the law-abiding Tamil population, whose genuine political grievances it would address once the “terrorists” had been defeated.
So far, nothing like that has happened. Although the government has screened out those it believes were Tamil Tiger cadres and sent them to separate camps (where there is no international presence at all), it repeatedly extends its own deadline for releasing the civilians who are still in the main camps.
People who question this inside Sri Lanka are accused of being traitors in the pay of “the LTTE diaspora,” while outsiders are accused of using humanitarian concerns as an excuse for neo-imperialist intervention. Sri Lankan journalists who criticized the government have been arrested, beaten, jailed and, in some cases, murdered. Some foreign journalists and UN officials have been kicked out; Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International are not allowed in.
In the last weeks of fighting, an estimated 20,000 civilians were killed. Government forces are accused of shelling Tamil civilians; the Tamil Tigers are accused of using civilians as human shields, forcibly recruiting them and shooting those who tried to flee. There are rumours of mass graves and television reports of extra-judicial killing, but no independent observer has been allowed into the war zones to investigate.
Friends of Sri Lanka the world over do not understand why Mr. Rajapaksa chose Myanmar as the first country to visit after winning the “war on terror.” They were concerned to read, on the government’s own website, that one reason for this choice was that “the [Myanmar] generals are increasingly finding it difficult to contain insurgent groups in the country’s northern frontier and are willing to learn some fresh lessons from President Mahindra Rajapaksa on how to defeat the enemy.”
That is not what the international community in general, and Commonwealth friends such as Canada in particular, wish to learn from Sri Lanka. Rather, they are expecting the country to be faithful to its democratic tradition and act on Mr. Rajapaksa’s promises that the rights of minorities will be respected, that the displaced will be helped to return home and that prisoners will be treated humanely.
Sadly, the government’s willingness to ignore universal principles of human rights and humanitarian law (which Sri Lanka agreed to uphold when it signed and ratified many treaties and conventions) has met with very little international resistance. Even the United States, which has urged the rapid release of all civilians and deplored the government’s slow timetable on political reform, is encouraging U.S. investors to “make Sri Lanka your next business stop.”
The Sri Lankan government has won the war. It must now win the peace, and the world, including Canada, must help.
“Tough friends” must now say clearly that further economic and political support will depend on the following conditions being fulfilled:
1. The United Nations, the Red Cross and voluntary agencies must be given full and unhindered access to care for and protect civilians detained in Sri Lankan camps, then help them return to wherever in their country they choose to live.
2. A list of all those still alive and in custody should be published, so families can stop searching for loved ones who are dead.
3. Any who continue to be detained as alleged Tamil Tiger combatants must be treated in accordance with the provisions of international law, and urgently given access to legal representation.
4. Accountability processes must be established to ensure that international aid is not diverted to purposes other than those for which it was given.
5. The Sri Lankan government should invite regional and international specialists in conflict reconciliation to help rebuild lives and communities.
6. Sri Lanka should request or accept a full UN investigation into war crimes committed by all parties during the 26-year civil war.
Lakhdar Brahimi is a former UN special envoy for Afghanistan and Iraq and a former foreign minister of Algeria. Edward Mortimer is senior vice-president of the Salzburg Global Seminar; he served as chief speechwriter for UN secretary-general Kofi Annan. Both are members of the Advisory Council of the Sri Lanka Campaign for Peace & Justice.
September 3, 2009 Comments Off on Statement by Minister Cannon on Sri Lanka’s Sentencing of Journalist
September 2, 2009 (2:15 p.m. EDT)
Statement by Minister Cannon on Sri Lanka’s Sentencing of Journalist
The Honourable Lawrence Cannon, Minister of Foreign Affairs, today issued the following statement on the sentencing of Jayaprakash Sittampalam (J.S.) Tissainayagam, a Sri Lankan journalist:
“The Government of Canada is deeply concerned by the sentencing of J.S. Tissainayagam to 20 years in prison for violating Sri Lanka’s Prevention of Terrorism Act.
“Canada is a strong proponent of vibrant and free media, an essential element of democratic governance in Sri Lanka and around the world. Open and informed debate remains vital to long-term reconciliation and reconstruction in Sri Lanka.
“Canada supports the advancement of freedom, democracy, human rights and the rule of law for all countries of the world.”