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Civil Society in the East appeal to UNWGEID for Demilitarisation

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Members of civil society, including families of those disappeared in Batticaloa, Ampara and Trincomalee have come together to issue a statement to the UN Working Group on Enforced and Involuntary Disappearances (UNWGEID).

In the statement submitted to the UNWGEID, they draw attention to numerous military killings committed in the Eastern Province under the Prevention of Terrorism Act. They also condemned the questioning of family members who testified before the Paranagama Commission by the Intelligence Unit, and asked for the demilitarisation of the North and East.

Below is the statement, reproduced in full:

To the attention of the UN Working Group on Enforced and Involuntary Disappearances 

Preconditions for Justice and Rehabilitation

 Elimination of militarization:

The issue of disappearances, which is prolonging agony of the Tamil people in the North and East of Sri Lanka is deemed as part of the ethnic suppression. The sufferings and the continuous threats and intimidation faced by our people while searching for their loved ones especially in the Eastern province due to the political hegemony based on ethnicity, needs to be explained briefly.   

Sinhala colonisation:

As soon as Sri Lanka gained independence from the British in 1948, the Sinhala government began State sponsored colonization where Sinhala people in the South of Sri Lanka were settled in the Eastern province under Mahaweli development and poverty alleviation projects. Some of the key settlements were Kantale, Thiriyai—Janakapura settlements in the Trincomalee districts and Galoya settlements in the Ampara district. The Tamil people were not affected immediately as the initial settlements were carried out in the State land. Therefore, no one realised the long term impact of such colonisation.

Sinhala settlements expanded following militarization in 1983. Not only such settlements were carried out in the Trincomalee districts but also villages were formed and sub government agent divisions were created under Sinhala names like Morawewa, Pathavisiripura, and Komarankadawela.

In 1963, Digamadulla district (Ampara district) was formed by taking away 4500 square kilometers of land including the Paddipalai area (Ampara at present) in the Batticaloa district and merging it with some villages in the Monaragala district.

As a result the Tamil and Muslim communities who made up the majority of population in the area were pushed back to settle in 30 percent of the coastal lands in the area. Almost 70 percent of the land was taken over by the Sinhala people. It was feared that these settlements would be a threat to the Tamil communities and in fact, later, they became the base for many incidents of communal violence. 

Communal violence:

On July 13, 1952, with the support of the military, the few Sinhala settlers of the Ikkiniyagala area in the Ampara district along with the people who were brought from other districts attacked and murdered the Tamils in the area and drove them away. The violence continued until 1953 and it is important to note that over 100 Tamil people were murdered during this period. This triggered violence against the Tamil people in the entire Eastern province. In 1956 the government of Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) passed the Sinhala Only Act. As soon as the news of passing of this Act had been announced, Sinhala thugs of the Galoya settlements, perpetrated acts of violence against the Tamil community, where 150 Tamils were brutally murdered and Tamil women were sexually assaulted.   Thereafter, the Tamils protested the call for all vehicles to be issued number plates with the Sinhala letter ‘Sri’ marked on them. In order to repress the growing Tamil rising, communal violence was set off island-wide in 1958.

Communal violence triggered off in various places in the country, grew as part of the State’s structured and planned ethnic suppression against the Tamil people. Communal violence took place in 1977, 1981 (especially in the upcountry areas) and Trincomalee was affected in the communal violence that took place in 1983 and 2006.

Prevention of Terrorism Act and State terrorism

The government made the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) a permanent legislation in 1982 in order to subdue the growing Tamil voices in Sri Lanka. The PTA denied the people from enjoying their rights guaranteed under the fundamental rights chapter of the Sri Lankan Constitution. Under the PTA, wide powers have been handed to security forces and police.  In the past the draconian legislation has resulted in severe and massive violations like arbitrary and illegal arrests, torture in custody, incarceration without trial, sexual abuse of women, cordon and search operations, extra judicial killings, massacre and ‘disappearances’ of civilians. Many violations of human rights of innocent civilians have been committed by security personnel. Even today the PTA contributes to violence perpetrated by the state, military intimidation, and judicial delays.

Gross violations committed by the military in the Eastern province:

Batticaloa district:

Ampara Distict:

Indian Peace Keeping Force:

Following Indo-Sri Lanka agreement, on July 29, 1987, the Indian Peace Keeping Force were sent to the Northern and Eastern provinces by the Indian government in order to establish peace in the region. However, the forces were engaged in gross violation of human rights like massacres and executions, rape and sexual violence against women, torture, and arrest and detention.

The paramilitary groups which worked with the Indian forces too were engaged in such violations and abductions.

State violence against women:

Tamil women were subdued in multiple ways as part of the Sri Lankan government’s ethnic dominance. Direct suppressive methods were utilized for the simple reason that they were Tamils. Women became victims of rape and sexual violence perpetrated by State forces and para military groups. They live in constant fear in the militarised North and East. Women head their families and are solely responsible for finding ways and means to earn an income as a result of the war where many men lost their lives, disappeared or detained. In addition, the women are also involved in searching for their loved ones who are detained or disappeared. We wish to inform, during their search for their loved ones women experience various difficulties by way of inquiries, sexual harassment by the security forces, paramilitary groups and intelligence officers.

It is important to note that persons with political influence, threaten or cheat these women and extort lakhs of rupees. The women are also threatened and intimidated through anonymous phone calls which have caused enormous mental stress.

The issue of enforced and involuntary disappearances:

The problems of enforced and involuntary disappearances faced by the people of the North and East is yet another strategy to suppress the ethnic Tamils of Sri Lanka. The Prevention of Terrorism Act, political initiatives based on ethnicity and communal grounds and militarisation have been the root cause for this major problem.

A Presidential Commission (Paranagama Commission) was established by the previous Rajapakse government to look into the problem of the disappeared. The present government headed by the President Maithiripala Sirisena too has allowed the Paranagama Commission to continue its work. Under the new government, during the Paranagama Commission’s sittings in various districts in the North and East, the surveillance of intelligence officers was observed, where they photographed the family members who were giving evidence before the Commission. Later these family members were questioned by the intelligence unit directly and via phone conversations. Therefore, we have lost faith in this domestic mechanism.

Preconditions for National Consultation

The new government is involved in carrying out discussions on transitional justice mechanisms. The militarisation needs to be eliminated in order for the affected people of the North and East, including the families of the disappeared to participate freely in these national consultations. When the initial national consultation on Transitional Justice was organized on October 29, 2015 at the Janaki Hotel under the direction of the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mangala Samaraweera, the Intelligence officers in the Trincomalee district began carrying out inquiries on the people who were planning to attend the meeting. They also inquired the people who attended the discussions organized by the UN Working Group on Enforced and Involuntary Disappearances (UNWEIGD) who are currently in Sri Lanka.

Therefore, we appeal that the militarisation in the North and East must be done away with in order that justice and democracy may prevail in Sri Lanka.

Signatories:

Families of the disappeared in the districts of Batticaloa, Ampara and Trincomalee

Womens’ organisations

Civil society organisations

Village grassroots’ level organisations

November 14, 2015

YMCA Hall

Batticaloa