prevailing human rights situation requires
direct intervention of the international
community to curb violations that often
target the Tamil ethnic minority and in this
regard, a UN human rights monitoring mission
is a dire necessity says Colombo District
Parliamentarian, Mano Ganesan.
leader of the Western People's Front (WPP)
and Convenor, Civil Monitoring Commission
(CMC), Ganesan in an interview with The
Sunday Leader said that international
surveillance on the island's fast
deteriorating human rights situation was a
necessity. He blamed the authorities for
lack of investigations, failure to apprehend
suspects even when sufficient evidence was
available and complicity that had led to a
serious erosion of public faith in the law
who was recently honoured by the US
government for his role as a human rights
defender said that he wished to dedicate the
award to all like minded Sri Lankans, local
and foreign organisations and individuals
including the truth seeking media who
supported CMC efforts and pledged to expand
the scope of the CMC's activities to the
northeast in the new year. Excerpts:
By Dilrukshi Handunnetti
Q: Can you explain the
recent progress made by the CMC?
A: A significant
decision is to expand CMC activities to the
northeast in the new year. We have had
discussions with the Bishop of Jaffna and
sought support from both the local and
foreign agencies in this regard.
The government loves to say
that abductions, disappearances, extortions
and extra judicial killings have ceased in
Colombo which is far from the truth. Also,
government ministers and the police try to
shamelessly take credit for this. I pose a
single question to them - who is willing to
account for those who are already missing?
How can they explain their plight?
Obliviously, abductions and
extortions have been suspended, not stopped.
Such incidents occurred because there was
government complicity and the wrongdoers
enjoyed immunity. The suspension of the
barbaric series of extortions and abductions
stopped due to the CMC's pressure, work of
other civil organisations and activists, the
media and the concerned international
community. We feel it is time to expand our
Q: You intend expanding CMC
activities to the northeast. Initially you
said the CMC work was confined to Colombo
for it is difficult to monitor incidents in
the northeast. Has the situation improved
for you to work there?
A: I commenced this
from Colombo because I am primarily a
parliamentarian representing Colombo. I am a
citizen who continues to live here and took
up an issue that became significantly
important to the Colombo citizenry.
If I were a northeastern
representative, with due respect to all my
parliamentary colleagues from the northeast,
I wish to state that I still would have
launched something like this. That's just
the way I am.
I believe that monitoring work
in the northeast would prove daunting and
challenging. But we are now prepared to
tackle the difficult terrain. It is part of
Sri Lanka and we believe expanding our scope
of work would help improve the human rights
With the assistance from the
international community and the fair-minded
southern political and social forces, local
and foreign human rights groups and
activists, we are ready for this new
The UN Human Rights
Commissioner Louise Arbour in her report has
also highlighted the need for credible
documentation on human rights violations
whilst recognising that the situation was
bad and needed to be urgently addressed.
The CMC now wishes to take up
this challenge of preparing credible
documentation so that our monitoring
facility covers the entire country. That
will fill the current void in securing
credible information in certain parts.
Q: In the CMC reports,
there have been recorded instances of
abductors/extortionists being identified by
victims' families. What progress has been
achieved regarding such instances?
A: We have recorded
such instances but sad to say, even one year
after the culprits being arrested, the
police have failed to take action against
the perpetrators. The perennial excuse is
In one instance, there are
three people who identified the same person
as the extortionist to whom payments were
made to secure the release of their loved
ones. The abducted never returned home
despite money being paid for their release.
We have to acknowledge there is absolute
police complicity and connivance or else why
is justice being delayed?
There is an overwhelming
effort to go soft on certain suspects. There
is a breakdown in the law and order
situation and people no longer have
confidence in the law enforcement agencies
due to such reasons. This is one of the
issues the IGP is answerable for.
Q: One of the less reported
aspects of abductions is the kidnapping of
aid workers, both local and foreign. Do you
view Sri Lanka as a safe place for aid
workers and why is this aspect paid less
A: We have to admit
that this aspect has not been addressed
much. And no, I think the situation is quite
trying for both locals and foreigners.
However, there is new interest
generated on this aspect with their
increasing vulnerability. Some racial
elements have portrayed relief workers,
particularly those funded by foreign
governments or agencies as being pro-LTTE
which is a terribly wrong perception. Their
presence had been necessitated by our
failure to cater to civilian needs in
troubled areas and particularly where
neutral organisations are needed to
intervene and work with both sides.
What we should not forget is
that Sri Lanka even during ancient times
dabbled in international trade and there is
ample evidence to prove it. Why try to live
in a vacuum now? We have had foreign
assistance too when the need arose. It is
regrettable that both local and foreign
relief workers who perform a vital task in
our fragmented country are being targeted in
Q: Large numbers of Tamils
were recently taken in for questioning.
While activists and some politicians opposed
this, the defence authorities call it a
security measure. How do you think security
needs could be met without compromising the
civil liberties of an ethnic minority?
A: I am all for
security in the city from terrorism and
attacks of any kind. As a citizen of
Colombo, I would certainly want Colombo
thoroughly protected from all possible acts
of terrorism irrespective of the origin.
We know there is violence
unleashed by various parties including
government forces, the LTTE, TMVP and other
What is unacceptable is the
arrest of people simply based on their
ethnicity. That is thoroughly uncivilised
and a breach of their collective rights as
citizens. It sent out a terrible message to
them that they are treated as suspects at
The alternative as I see it,
is for the police to develop its capacity
and the intelligence network to prevent
infiltration of Colombo by terrorist
elements and not to harass civilians in this
I challenge the police that
had issued conflicting reports on these
arrests to prove that they have identified a
single true LTTE suspect from that
operation. The police first spoke about LTTE
suspects and we hear no more about it now.
What happened to their grand claims?
What happened was a political
attempt to punish Tamil civilians for the
sins of the LTTE, which is quite unfair.
That is not the role for any government and
certainly no way to curb terrorism.
Q: The extortion racket
targeting Tamil and Muslim business persons
has now subsided. The government claims it
was artificially created.
Was this so?
A: It is not well
documented. But these activities are
suspended too, not just abductions.
The extorted paid large sums of
money. They have spoken to me and I withhold
making the information public for their
safety. We took extortions as a general
issue for we could not provide security to
all these people who were coming under
threat. Someday, when sanity prevails and we
are more civilised, we will release the
names of victims and give exact details.
That will happen only when we are satisfied
that they are safe.
Some businessmen - small
timers still receive threatening calls and
letters. Extortions happen, but these are by
small gangs making hay while the sun shines.
They use the prevailing fear psychosis among
Tamils to extort them.
Q: Do you accept the
government's position that the spate of
abductions has ceased following the arrest
of Nishantha Gajanayake, a kingpin with
alleged associations to powerful
A: There are two
categories of abductions we recorded -
political and economic. Sometimes, people
seem to be getting picked up for being vocal
about the rights of the Tamil community. Not
only that, non Tamils who speak on minority
rights, equality, express anti war
sentiments and even advocate power sharing
are also under threat. They tend to get
identified as terrorist elements and are
being systematically eliminated.
Naturally there is a fear
psychosis amongst Tamils living all over the
country. Strangely, there is a lot of
tension in those residing in Colombo, away
from the theatre of war.
This fear is also being used
by certain other elements. They take
advantage of the vulnerability of a
community that has been always at the
receiving end. This is how the ransom taking
occurs. In answer, I still insist political
abductions continue. We even had family
members of TNA parliamentarians being
abducted just days before the final vote on
the budget. That's a new dimension to the
abduction culture we witnessed.
As for Gajanayake, he was only
a small man in a network that is wide and
headed by powerful elements. The real
culprits are out while Gajanayake in now in
He was used for one category of
abductions, that is the abduction for
When Gajanayake's involvement
in abductions was mentioned in parliament by
Lakshman Seneviratne, this government
rejected the claim and even brought a
censure motion on the MP for having stated
These activities are now
suspended because of the glare of publicity
and the monitoring work we did and certainly
not due to the arrest of an individual.
There was no way out for the government and
they had to do something. Gajanayake was a
mere scapegoat. It must be a world record
that Gajanayake has been kept in CID custody
with charges not being framed against him
whereas the authorities are quick to pack
others off to the Boossa detention camp
within hours of being taken in.
Q: With the government
claiming improved human rights conditions
here, do you think that there is no need for
a permanent UN mission to monitor human
A: I completely
disagree with the government position.
Government agencies from the Human Rights
Ministry to the Mahanama Tilakaratne
Commission have failed. The commission
report is being released in parts to suit
the political needs of the country.
The IIGEP report was severely
critical of the HR situation here. The Human
Rights Commission today is only a
registration office where complaints are
recorded and receipts issued. Is that a
functioning mechanism people can trust? As
the government has miserably failed the
people, it is only fair to invite
international assistance. We demand that
this need be addressed.
To begin with, we would like
to have the human rights mission in Colombo
strengthened. These concerns were shared by
Louise Arbour as well.
There is no denying that the
government is in complicity with the human
rights abusers that have ruined the
country's reputation. That's why there is
such reluctance to allow entry for a UN
Q: You were recently
awarded the US Freedom Defenders' Award.
What was the reason for bestowing this
honour on you?
A: I am happy to be the
recipient of this award for two reasons.
Firstly, it has brought
recognition to the CMC's campaign on a range
of human rights violations such as
abductions, disappearances, extortions and
extra judicial killings.
Secondly, it confirms that the
Sri Lankan human rights situation needs
serious improvement and brings in
international focus. However, I do not wish
to restrict this award to the CMC or to
myself. I share it with like-minded people
and the 'truth seeking' media in this
Q: But the SLFP, the main
constituent party of the ruling alliance in
its official newspaper Dinakara has
identified you with the LTTE and allegedly
labeled you as an arms dealer and a drug
dealer. What is your response?
A: This shows that the
government not only dislikes the recognition
but also wants to portray me as a LTTE
sympathiser and make me more vulnerable to
threats. That is because our work
embarrasses the government that has failed
to secure the rights of all communities.
I urge government agencies to prove
the various accusations. For my part, I am
suing Dinakara for libel.
Q: Your security was
significantly slashed on December 18. As a
leader of a political party, aren't you
entitled to more security?
A: The security
entitlement to the best of my knowledge is
not professionally handled. No specific
rules exist. MPs have a minimum of two
security personnel. Party leaders get more.
There are instances when
non-party leaders and non-parliamentarians
get security. For example, those taken away
from me have now been assigned to a
politically influential monk. He has much
more than most of us do. He is not a party
leader and has never been a legislator. I
had my security enhanced on December 1,
2006. In the aftermath of Nataraja Raviraj's
killing, I left Sri Lanka immediately. When
I returned, there were more security
personnel assigned and waiting for me at the
But I had no prior intimation
when my security was mysteriously withdrawn
on December 18. Does the IGP believe my
security situation has improved and I am no
longer under threat?
The independent opinions I
have received is that my security has
seriously deteriorated. On many occasions
the MSD has informed me that I am under
Q: Has the government
informed that this was done following risk
assessments and that you are now placed at a
A: I have never been
officially informed of the reasons for the
security withdrawal. I think my award could
be the closest reason.
Security is provided based on
a risk assessment conducted by the police.
But as we all know, risk management is
assessed on a political basis. When they
want to slash, as in my case, the report
would state that the situation has improved.
When they want to give security to those
they favour and in their good books, the
reports would be favourable.
All I can say is such indirect
threats or direct threats will not stop my