6th June, 2004  Volume 10, Issue 4
7

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ISSUES

UPFA's new found silence over MoU violations

By Frederica Jansz 

More than two years after the former United National Front (UNF) government negotiated a ceasefire agreement with the LTTE, serious violations continue.

From February 22, 2002 - when the MOU was signed - to April 30 this year, the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission (SLMM) has recorded 3,970 complaints against the LTTE of which 1,935 have been ruled as violations by the SLMM.

A total of 831 complaints have been recorded as complaints made against the government but the SLMM has ruled that only 93 are violations of the ceasefire agreement.

The Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission at work, SLMM Chief Trond Furuhovde and Murdered journalist Aiyathurai Nadesan

According to SLMM statistics, the LTTE has committed the highest number of atrocities in the recruitment of children and 1,143 cases of forced child recruitment have been ruled by the monitoring organisation as being in total violation of the ceasefire. 

The Tigers have also been found guilty of having abducted 304 adults during this period while causing harassment in 167 separate incidents. The SLMM has further ruled that the LTTE during this time also committed 50 hostile acts against the civilian population while the government in this context stands guilty of eight incidents.

Direct violations

The biggest charge in terms of numbers against government forces stands at 40 incidents of harassment which the Scandinavian monitors have ruled as being direct violations of the ceasefire agreement.

There are nine cases of torture and 65 incidents where the LTTE has been found guilty by the SLMM of obstructing measures to restore normalcy.  The Tamil Tigers also stand guilty of moving within the zone of separation on 18 occasions, constructing eight new positions and guilty of moving military equipment 11 times from February 2002 to April this year.

While the incidents have been placed on record and after due investigation, the matter ends there. Neither side appears to take the SLMM seriously enough to stop committing the violations and senior sources within the Sri Lanka Peace Secretariat confided that since the SLMM is not in a position to police either party, the entire issue is laid to rest with only a mere documentation of the number of incidents.

The violations however are not going unnoticed by either the government or the LTTE. In the last few weeks tensions have been running high. So much so, the LTTE has begun to accuse government forces of hiding its former rebel Eastern Commander, Col. Karuna whom the Tigers accuse of being responsible for staging killings of LTTE cadres and supporters.

The accusation followed the brutal slaying of Tamil journalist Aiyathurai Nadesan who was gunned down while riding his bike in Batticaloa. The entire north and east virtually came to a standstill last Thursday when a massive hartal campaign was launched in protest of the journalist's killing.

However, Defence Secretary Cyril Herath has been quick to respond and on Thursday chided the Tigers for making "wild accusations." In a strongly worded letter to SLMM Chief, Trond Furuhovde, Herath said the military totally rejected the allegations leveled against them by the Tigers stating, "Those allegations are without any substance, and we totally reject them."

Warning

The LTTE for its part is also not mincing words. They have warned the government that if the killings of LTTE loyalists in the north and east continue, "the people of Sri Lanka might have to face a calamitous period."

The Tigers suspect the government of foul play following the murder of the Tamil journalist who had recently criticised the government and security forces.  Nadesan was murdered just days after Kumaravel Thambaiah, a senior lecturer in the Eastern University was shot dead by unidentified gunmen at his home in Batticaloa town around 4:30 p.m. on Monday, May 24.

In a meeting organised by the SLMM in the Batticaloa District on June 2, LTTE's Special Commander (Batticaloa-Amparai region), Col. Ramesh pointed out to Overall Operation Commander (Eastern Province), Sri Lanka Army, Shantha Kottegoda that elements of the army were involved in the recent killings in Batticaloa and that the army was associating closely with the renegade Karuna group.

On the other hand, the government too has lodged a strong protest over a series of killings of political leaders and former intelligence operatives by the Tigers in violation of the truce.

Official figures show that about 25 military informants, operatives and Tamil political activists had been gunned down since the LTTE entered into the Norwegian-brokered truce on February 23, 2002.

Powerless

The Scandinavian team monitoring the truce continue to say the attacks pose a serious threat to the stability of the ceasefire but beyond making such statements the monitors are powerless to police either side.

The monitors themselves have come under scathing attacks while on many occasions being accused of partiality.

The University Teachers for Human Rights Jaffna (UTHR), an academic outfit that has made a critical assessment of the 20-year civil war and the anti-LTTE Eelam People's Democratic Party (EPDP), have separately accused the Norwegian led SLMM for remaining silent over a string of LTTE murders.

The UTHR said the Norwegians were maintaining a "notable silence" on these killings and only referred complaints against the LTTE to the police.

The teachers' human rights group has also blamed the government saying that the police lower rankers did not have proper instructions from the top on how to handle these LTTE killings due to the ongoing peace process.

The UTHR accuses the LTTE of having gunned down soldiers belonging to a till-recently secretive deep-penetration unit that once hunted the LTTE leadership in the jungles and also having targetted rival EPDP cadres as well.

LTTE death squad

The teachers say that both in the Tamil populated north and east, as well as in greater Colombo areas, the LTTE has mobile pistol-squads operating on motorbikes who act as a rapid deployment force when scouts spot a target.

The group maintains, reports of surveillance, harassment and abduction by the rebels have also increased. Warning of more killings, the UTHR insists the Tigers are taking advantage of the present truce to carry out murders.

In a 23-page report issued on May 2, 2003 that painstakingly documents details of many political killings by the LTTE, the human rights group said even after the United States, now widely considered to be a key player in the resolution of the Sri Lankan problem, requested the LTTE to renounce violence and also heaped praise on the peace process, the LTTE appeared more confident about killing its political opponents, with the Ranil Wickremesinghe government's complicity regarding such matters taken for granted.

The report maintains that as far as the assassinations are concerned, the situation in the east is way out of hand. It says, "Having got the message that the MoU will do little to prevent or punish political killings, the LTTE is now quite open about it. Members of opposition parties particularly in the east dare not leave their political offices. They visit their homes at great risk." The incidents illustrate the kind of impunity the LTTE enjoys now.

Subtle and chilling

"Even in the heart of Batticaloa town, LTTE spies quite openly hang out with cellphones. When they spot a target they summon the death squads who would come promptly on motorcycles or auto rickshaws. Under the MoU, the LTTE's political opponents have been deprived of the weapons they had for their protection, while the LTTE goes about with arms and has shot people in public, while the police and the army do nothing. In Jaffna things can be subtler and for that reason more chilling."

On a more positive note though, since the ceasefire, there has been a noticeable improvement in the human rights situation throughout the country, albeit no measures have yet been taken to redress past violations. In addition to reducing further displacement, these improvements also benefit Internally Displaced People (IDPs) in their current locations by increasing their prospects for durable solutions, especially their return to areas of origin.

Article 2.1 of the ceasefire MoU provides that "the parties shall in accordance with international law abstain from hostile acts against the civilian population, including such acts as torture, intimidation, abduction, extortion and harassment."

Although the list of 'protected' rights is not exhaustive, both sides tend to interpret that other rights, such as the freedom of movement, freedom of expression and freedom from unlawful detention, are not covered by the MoU. Thus, they are not incorporated into the monitoring arrangements put in place to verify the fulfillment of the agreement.

Hesitant

It has further been suggested that the SLMM may be hesitant to include monitoring of human rights violations as part of its regular functions, as this might jeopardise the peace process.

At the conclusion of the March 2003 sessions of peace talks, the government and the LTTE requested their international human rights advisers to develop three aspects of a proposed road map on human rights for adoption at the seventh session.

Three suggestions were put forward, proposing first the drafting of a declaration of human rights and humanitarian principles to ensure respect until an eventual constitutional arrangement provides for federal and local law; second, the planning of human rights training programmes for LTTE cadres, government officials, police and prison officials as well as human rights education and awareness for other sections of the population and third, a proposal for the strengthening of the Human Rights Commission to develop its capacity for effective monitoring.

Serious problems

During 2003 the government generally respected the human rights of its citizens; however, there were serious problems in some areas. There were no reports of security forces committing politically motivated killings and no reports of disappearances.

A report submitted to the US State Department reiterates however the military and police reportedly tortured, killed and raped detainees. There were reports of arbitrary arrests during the year.

During 2002, the government released more than 750 Tamils held under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA). Only 65 Tamils held under the PTA remained in custody. The PTA, like the emergency regulations repealed in 2001, permitted warrantless arrests and non-accountable detentions.

Unlike in the recent past, there were few reports that security forces harassed journalists. An exception of course was the harassment by police in Mount Lavinia this year of Editor of the popular and pro-LTTE Tamil website Tamilnet, D. Sivaram.

But the number of cases against the government is negligible as against the LTTE which according to SLMM reports has continued to commit serious human rights abuses. The LTTE is held responsible for arbitrary arrests, torture, harassment, disappearances, extortion, and detention.

Intimidation

Through a campaign of intimidation, the LTTE has continued to undermine the work of elected local government bodies in Jaffna and the east. On occasion, the LTTE has even prevented political and governmental activities from occurring in the north and east.

There is overwhelming evidence that the LTTE killed more than 36 members of anti-LTTE Tamil political groups and alleged informants during the year. There were also instances of intimidation of Muslims by the LTTE, and there was fighting between LTTE personnel in the east and Muslims that left several Muslims dead.

The LTTE has denied those under its control the right to change their government. The Tigers still do not provide for fair trials, infringe on privacy rights, use child soldiers, and continue to discriminate against ethnic and religious minorities.

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