The Sunday Leader

Dublin Goes In For The Kill

By Munza Mushtaq

Several legal and human rights groups from Asia, the European Union and the United Nations are scheduled to submit reports on alleged crimes against humanity, war crimes and crimes against peace in Sri Lanka

An elite panel of 11 judges will decide if the President Mahinda Rajapaksa led government and its armed forces were instrumental in carrying out gross violations of human rights and involved in war crimes against innocent civilians in the Northern Province during the run up to its significant yet controversial victory over the ruthless rebel outfit, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).

With an impressive jury hailing from across the globe, the highly revered Milan based Permanent Peoples’ Tribunal (PPT) will attempt to put an end to months of controversy over the final phase of the war in Sri Lanka, at an international tribunal which will thoroughly investigate allegations that the Government of Sri Lanka and its armed forces committed war crimes and crimes against humanity during its final phase of the war with the LTTE.

The international hearing will be held on January 14 and 15 at the Trinity College, Dublin, with the provisional findings from the tribunal scheduled to be announced at a public meeting on January 16, 2010.

The Tribunal will be co-hosted by the Irish School of Ecumenics, Trinity College Dublin and the School of Law and Government, Dublin City University, Dublin, Ireland. The event is being organised by the Irish Forum for Peace in Sri Lanka (IFPSL).

The government has however shrugged off the Dublin Tribunal terming it as yet another concerted ‘international conspiracy’ against Sri Lanka.

Members of the Panel of Judges of the People’s Tribunal on Sri Lanka are:

1) François Houtart – UNESCO awardee for non-violence and tolerance, Chairperson of the UN Committee on Economic Recession, Prof. Emeritus, University of Louvain, Belgium.

2) Rajinder Sachar – Former High Court Judge of Delhi, headed the Sachar Committee appointed by the Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, to prepare a report on the social, economic and educational status of the Muslim community in India.

3) Nawal al Saadawi – Egyptian writer, trained as a medical doctor, known for her outstanding work for women’s rights in Egypt and in the region. She has been imprisoned for her activities and writings in Egypt. She has also been United Nation’s Advisor for the Women’s Programme in Africa (ECA) and Middle East (ECWA) from 1979 to 1980.

4) Sulak Sivaraksa – Thai Buddhist peace campaigner and writer, initiator of a number of social, humanitarian, ecological and spiritual movements and organisations in Thailand. He was awarded the Alternative Nobel Prize (Right Livelihood Award).

5) Denis Halliday – Former Assistant Secretary-General of the United Nations. He resigned from his 34 year old career in the UN because of the economic sanctions imposed over Iraq by the Security Council. Laureate of the Gandhi International Peace Award.

6) Gianni Tognoni – Secretary General, People’s Permanent Tribunal, Milan.

7) Daniel Feierstein – Director of the Centre for Genocide Studies at the Universidad Nacional de Tres de Febrero, and Professor in the Faculty of Genocide at the University of Buenos Aires.

8) Mary Lawlor – Director, Front Line – The International Foundation for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, Dublin.

9) Oystein Tveter – Scholar of International Law and member of the People’s Tribunal on extra-judicial killings and violations of human rights in the Philippines

10) Eren Keskin – Kurdish-born lawyer and a human rights activist in Turkey, vice president of the Human Rights Association, Istanbul. She co-founded the project “Legal Aid For Women Who Were Raped Or Otherwise Sexually Abused by the National Security Forces”, to expose the abuses happening to women in Turkish prisons. In 1995, she was imprisoned for her human rights activities and was adopted as a prisoner of conscience by Amnesty International

11) Francesco Martone – Ex Senator in Italy, a leading activist in the non-governmental sector and an ecologist.

Organisers of the tribunal told The Sunday Leader that the judges for the hearing have been chosen from across the globe — south to the north in order to transcend geopolitical barriers and to ensure that its findings are both credible and ethically binding.

Ireland has been chosen because of its historical status as a post-colonial nation, the success of the Northern Ireland peace process, and its traditional policy of neutrality.
“The People’s Tribunal will investigate the allegations that the Government of Sri Lanka and its armed forces committed war crimes and crimes against humanity during its final phase of the war with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam.

“The Tribunal will also examine violations of human rights in the aftermath of the war and the local and international factors that led to the collapse of the 2002 Ceasefire Agreement,” a press release from the organisers said.

Several legal and human rights groups from Asia, the European Union and the United Nations are scheduled to submit reports on alleged crimes against humanity, war crimes and crimes against peace in Sri Lanka.

Meanwhile, although a formal invitation was extended to the Sri Lankan High Commissioner in London, Nihal Jayasinghe, the organisers have received no response from Jayasinghe and so a lawyer will present the Sri Lankan government’s position at the hearing.

“Evidence will be given by individuals and groups who have first hand knowledge about these crimes,” organisers told The Sunday Leader via email.

Meanwhile, the IFPSL citing reasons for such a tribunal emphasized that the war saw a ‘terrible human cost’ and was a ‘war without witnesses’ due to the fact that journalists and other potential witnesses like aid workers were prevented by the government from remaining in the conflict area.

By April 2009, according to United Nations’ internal documents, the air raids and use of heavy weapons were resulting in the death of approximately 116 people a day.

During the last weeks of the war, according to reports in the British and French press, over 20,000 people were killed when the Sri Lankan armed forces allegedly used heavy artillery fire against hundreds of thousands of Tamil people crowded in an extremely small area.

According to Human Rights Watch, hospitals were bombed 30 times between December 8, 2008 and May 2, 2009 and, according to a French medical team, cluster munitions and white phosphorous have been used against these civilians.

“There has been media evidence of torture, summary executions, rape and sexual violence, and of food and water being used as a weapon of war against civilians by the Sri Lankan military,” the Forum said.

Meanwhile the Government’s Defence Spokesman Minister Keheliya Rambukwella vowed to defeat what he termed as an ‘international conspiracy’ against Sri Lanka and its sovereignty.

He claimed that an ‘international conspiracy’ was in place to bring disrepute to Sri Lanka and despite such conspiracies, his government will not waiver but will instead fight till the end to protect the nation and its sovereignty.

Pooh-poohing the tribunal in Dublin, Rambukwella said, “These are all part of the international conspiracy, we have defended these allegations before and will do so in the future.”

He emphasized that despite his government defending itself against war crimes allegations in the past including at the United Nations, conspiracies were still very much prevalent and cited the Dublin hearing as one such conspiracy.

“We won’t bow down to these conspiracies, we will fight and defend our nation and sovereignty,” Rambukwella declared.

He added that although Sri Lanka will not be formally present at the hearing, it had the intelligence apparatus to gather the necessary  information which comes out from the Dublin Tribunal scheduled for mid this month.

What is The Permanent Peoples’ Tribunal (PPT)?

The Permanent Peoples’ Tribunal (PPT) is a tribunal of international opinion independent of state authorities. It examines and provides judgements on violations of human rights and the rights of peoples. The Tribunal was founded in Bologna (Italy), June 24th 1979, by law experts, writers and other intellectuals.

It succeeded the Russell Tribunal (International War Crimes Tribunal), which, in 1967, exposed the war crimes committed against the Vietnamese people.

The Permanent Peoples’ Tribunal was created out of the Lelio Basso International Foundation for the Rights and Liberation of Peoples (FILB), established in 1976 and inspired by the Universal Declaration of the Rights of Peoples at Algiers (also named the Algiers Declaration).

The Permanent Peoples’ Tribunal may use international human rights law and/or the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples adopted by the United Nations.

The Permanent Peoples’ Tribunal has examined the cases of Tibet, Western Sahara, Argentina, Eritrea, the Philippines, El Salvador, Afghanistan, East Timor, Zaire, Guatemala, the Armenian Genocide, the intervention of the United States in Nicaragua, the Brazilian Amazon, and others.

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