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Human Rights in Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka
Amnesty International Report 2008
2007 was characterized by impunity for violations of international human rights and humanitarian law. Soaring human rights abuses included hundreds of enforced disappearances, unlawful killings of humanitarian workers, arbitrary arrests and torture. Lack of protection for civilians was a key concern as heavy fighting resumed between government forces and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).
In January, the military took control of Vakarai in the east after weeks of heavy fighting. Tens of thousands of civilians fled the area. In March, an LTTE air strike hit a military base next to the main airport. Also in March, heavy fighting in Batticaloa District resulted in a surge in displacement. People displaced by fighting in the area reached almost 160,000 by late March, doubling the previous month's figures. In July, the government claimed it had successfully "liberated" the east from the LTTE.
Civilians in the north and east faced immense hardship with a significant number being killed in indiscriminate raids. Lack of transport links to Jaffna Peninsula affected food supplies to over 500,000 people there. The only access road into the area remained closed and civilians needed a military permit to enter and exit.
In June, the security forces drove several hundred Tamils from Colombo. Further forcible evictions were stopped by a Supreme Court order.
In October, the UN Special Rapporteur on torture concluded that torture was widespread throughout Sri Lanka. The UNHCHR criticized the government for failing to properly record, investigate and prosecute cases of abductions, disappearances and killings.
In November, the political head of the LTTE, S.P. Thamilchelvan, was killed in a Sri Lankan air force strike. On 28 November, two bombings in the capital, Colombo, killed 18 and wounded more than 30 people. The military blamed the LTTE.
Calls by rights groups for the creation of a local wing of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to address the security of civilians in Sri Lanka were repeatedly rejected by the government.
In December, the USA suspended military aid to Sri Lanka due to human rights concerns.
Several hundred cases of enforced disappearances were reported in the first six months of 2007. Jaffna Peninsula was particularly affected with 21 cases of enforced disappearances reported in the first three weeks of August alone. Enforced disappearances in the north and east appeared to be part of a systematic counter-insurgency strategy devised by the government. There were also a number of abductions and suspected enforced disappearances reported from Colombo.
The Human Rights Council's Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances expressed concern about the high number of such cases in Sri Lanka.
Internally displaced people
The number of people displaced as a result of conflict since April 2006 totalled more than 200,000 in 2007. In addition, many people remained displaced on a long-term basis. In the north-west town of Puttalam, for example, Muslim families from the north spent their 17th year in displacement. The physical security of the internally displaced was frequently compromised. On several occasions, the government forced them to return to their homes in conditions of insecurity and in contravention of international standards.
The recruitment of child soldiers by the LTTE and the Tamil armed group known as the Karuna faction continued in the north and east. In May 2007, the UN Security Council Working Group on Children and Armed Conflict threatened action against the LTTE if it continued to recruit children. The UN Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict identified the LTTE as "a repeat offender who has been on the Secretary General's list of violators for four years".
Arrests and arbitrary detentions
On 18 June, the LTTE released 135 child soldiers and pledged to rid its ranks of all children by the end of the year. According to UNICEF, recruitment of child soldiers by the LTTE declined in 2007. In April, UNICEF said that among the 285 children recruited by the Karuna group there were 195 outstanding cases.
The Sri Lankan police conducted mass arrests of more than 1,000 Tamils, allegedly in response to the suicide bombings carried out in Colombo on 28 November. The arrests were made on arbitrary and discriminatory grounds using sweeping powers granted by emergency regulations. According to reports, "Tamils were bundled in bus loads and taken for interrogation". More than 400 of those arrested, including 50 women, were taken to the Boosa Camp near Galle in the south, a facility reputed to be overcrowded, and lacking proper sanitation facilities and adequate drinking water.
Freedom of expression
The number of attacks on journalists, particularly those considered part of the Tamil media, escalated.
On 29 April, Selvaraja Rajivaram, a young Uthayan journalist, was shot dead near the newspaper's office in Jaffna. On 2 August, Sahathevan Deluxshan, 22, a part-time journalist, was shot dead by unidentified men in Jaffna town. The authorities failed to effectively investigate or prosecute those responsible for such unlawful killings. Journalists from all communities were arrested in connection with articles critical of the government. On 16 August, the personal security provided by the government to the defense columnist Iqbal Athas was removed. Iqbal Athas had been given police protection after being repeatedly threatened by members of the security forces angered by his coverage of arms deals.
A proposed Commission of Inquiry (CoI) failed to gain the confidence of all parties to the conflict. Serious concerns were raised regarding witness protection.
The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) lost credibility due to the political appointment of Commissioners.
In December, the International Co-ordinating Committee of National Human Rights Institutions downgraded the NHRC's accreditation. To function properly, the NHRC must be independently appointed and fully resourced. As human rights abuses in the context of the conflict increased, a climate of impunity persisted. The government promised a prompt investigation into the unlawful killing of two volunteers from the Sri Lanka Red Cross in June, but the investigation was stalled. Throughout 2007, the Sri Lankan police were criticized for their inaction and failure to identify perpetrators of violent crimes.