4th March 2001

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JVP terror to the fore

By Victor Ivan

The PA government is remembering the assassination of Vijaya Kumaratunga this time as a general commemoration of those killed by the JVP. An exhibition organised incurring massive expenditure is to be taken around the country for the purpose. The government also expects to institute legal action afresh against those involved in the JVP's second rebellion.

The acceptance of all those connected with Vijaya's politics including Ms. Chandrika Kumaratunga had been that the assassination had been committed by the JVP. But the commission on Vijaya's assassination had pointed its finger not at the JVP but at President Premadasa. Although the observations made by that were contrary to her own beliefs the President on a number of occasions used those observations to attack the UNP. Now that the JVP's politics have become a challenge to the PA, it alleges that Vijaya was assassinated by the JVP. None of them who say it has spoken a single word against the observations of the commission.

While commemorating those killed by the JVP, the government is also mentioning Richard de Zoysa as a person killed by the JVP. The responsibility for the assassination of Mr. de Zoysa should go to the UNP government rather than to the JVP. However, to commemorate with hatred the JVPers killed by that party while remembering Mr. de Zoysa, is contradictory.

The popular view in the country is that the government assassinated Mr. de Zoysa as a media person attached to the international news agency IPS for having exposed to the world, the details of the killings of people in the country at that time.

However, the truth was different. Mr. Ranjan Wijeratne who was functioning as the defence minister had wanted to have Richard assassinated not because he was a media person but because he was an active follower of the JVP. That Mr. de Zoysa was maintaining a close connection with some leaders of the JVP was not a secret to his close friends and to his mother, although it was a secret to the general public. Before he fled the country, the present leader of the JVP who is now living abroad was residing in a house which Mr. de Zoysa had obtained from a friend who had gone abroad at that time.

An attempt made by the CID to have that house, where Soma-wansa Amerasinghe was hiding when it was in Mr. de Zoysa's charge before he was killed, was prevented because its owners intervened through the defence minister. Mr. de Zoysa had a close connection with Lalith Athulathmudali as well as the JVP leaders. Perhaps both these factors might have had contributed to his death, although the PA government had wanted to appoint a commission to inquire into Mr. de Zoysa's assassination, his mother Dr. Manorani Sara-vanamuttu opposed it.

The happenings during the period from '89-'90 may be considered a disaster. There can be no doubt that there is blood or the hands of both the main parties involved in that disaster. At the same time we must forget that those connected with the PA government do not have clean hands and that there are persons with blood on their hands.

No party connected with that disaster can claim to be innocent. However, every such party may have facts to put forward in defence. The UNP may say: "We as a government had to suppress them mercilessly !." The JVP may say: "They had banned us unreasonably. They used power against us to the maximum." Thus we were pushed towards an armed struggle.

However, at that time everyone was out of their minds and were acting as if they were possessed by demons. They might have thought that if they were to survive, they have to kill the enemy before the enemy would kill them. Although in the prevailing conditions it was not possible to identify the enemy clearly, there was a habit of assassinating anybody who was a suspect.

The main trump card used by the PA at the parliamentary election of '94 and the presidential election thereafter was the killing of youth by the UNP. At that time PA talked of the killings done by the UNP and never of those done by the JVP.

However, if the leader of the PA accused UNP of the killings of the youth, the UNP retaliated, then the entire programme of the PA would have gone wrong. When the UNP took up weapons against the JVP, some parties including the SLMP took up weapons pretending that they were supplied by the UNP. The parties that used weapons to suppress the youth cannot have the right to talk of the UNP's suppression of youth. It was the PA's good fortune that the leader of the UNP did not have the necessary thinking to level a counter challenge. If he had done so and had challenged the PA in the manner that some parties of the PA had acted, the PA would have found itself in such a difficult position where it could not easily recover.

It was under the PA government that the leader of the PRRA group which had collaborated with the UNP government against the JVP, was arrested. It was because the PRRA consisted of political activists connected to the SLMP and some leftist parties that the government was unable to take any legal action against that individual. Thereafter, C.A. Chan-draprema, who was arrested at the time of the last parliamentary election when a big noise was made about the Batalanda torture chambers, had to be freed after the election because he had been an activist of the SLMP at the time of the rebellion although he is a person connected to the UNP now.

The attempts made by the PA to survive a disaster that the country underwent, like a worm feeding on a festering sore, is ridiculous. If the PA government was a responsible government, what it should have done was not to go on feeding on that festering sore, but to inquire into the true reasons that had contributed to that disaster and to find solutions to the socio-political problems raised by that disaster, so that there will be no recurrence of such a tragic incident.

It will not be possible to put a stop to that culture of murder by talking in an entirely opportunistic manner about the murders commited by the UNP government or about those killed by the JVP. It must be stated that commissions were appointed by other countries which had experienced similar situations not in the same way that the PA has done. Instead of appointing commissions to inquire into a few selected incidents what countries like South Africa did was to consider what had happened in the country and to find out the truth, without any intention to punish.

The exposure which resulted from such inquiries had, a massive effect at the psychological level and created a social atmosphere where a recurrence would not be easy. The truth commission of South Africa without confining itself to inquiring into the killings of people under its rule, also took into account the anti-human policies that had followed the African National Congress against those who had held different views as well as party members who had followed the party line.

It must be said that in the context of what was brought to light by the commission against the African National Congress, the party leader found responsible was humble enough to apologise to the whole nation on behalf of his party. Unfortunately it is such leadership that our country lacks.

The writer is the Editor of Ravaya

Dwindling liberties and the US report

On the one hand, the 2000 Country Report on Sri Lanka released by the U.S. Department of State early this week offers no startlingly new assessment of what it means to be a citizen of this country.

The 55- page report deals with issues of political and other extrajudicial killings, disappearances, tortures, arbitrary arrests and detentions and restrictions of civil liberties including censorship and intimidation of the media in much the same manner as its predecessors. On the other hand, certain aspects of the report make interesting reading in the manner in which they reflect on a systemic deterioration of fundamental liberties in Sri Lanka.

In the first instance, what comes out very clearly is the continuing state impunity accorded to members of the security forces who commit grave human rights violations. The Report makes the point that in the vast majority of cases where military personnel may have committed rights violations, the Government has not identified those responsible and brought them to justice. The only notable exceptions to this pattern of continuing state impunity are the six security forces personnel convicted in the 1996 killing of Krishanthi Kumarasamy and the four convictions for abduction involving 88 security personnel. While unlike in previous years, the analysis does not find the Government responsible of using emergency regulations (ER) to conceal extra judicial killings or disappearances, crucial safeguards against such abuse that have been built into prevalent laws are found to be consistently ignored. Two such instances cited are those ER provisions requiring receipts to be issued for arrests and ordering the security forces to notify the Human Rights Commission of any arrest within 48 hours. Very validly, it is remarked that although security personnel can be fined or jailed for failure to comply with ER, none have been punished for this during the year. And indeed, one may add, that none have been punished for this in all the decades that we have been ruled under emergency law. The importance of this requirement cannot be underestimated for it is the only mechanism through which some accountability can be maintained in a conflict situation where regulations give wide powers of arrest and detention to the forces.

It is precisely for this reason after all that the UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances in 1999, criticised the country's slow progress in resolving disappearances and noted the lack of implementation of its earlier recommendations including the creation of a central register of detainees.

Particular incidents singled out in the report further illustrate the problem of impunity. Though, eight soldiers and one reserve police constable were arrested in February 1996 for the massacre of 24 Tamil villagers in Kumarapuram, trial is still pending while six of the soldiers were charged with murder and the other two security force agents released due to lack of evidence. Again, the case of the 22 STF members arrested on suspicion of murdering 22 youths at Bolgoda lake in 1995 went to trial in June but key witnesses did not appear and the cases were rescheduled for October and hearing is proceeding. Meanwhile, the trial of 21 soldiers accused of massacring 35 Tamil civilians in 1992 in the village of Mailanthani was transferred to the Colombo High Court in 1996. The court held hearings in June and October but the case was postponed until January 2001. Many witnesses for the case live in refugee camps, thus making it unlikely that they will come to court to give evidence and the possibilities are that the case will drag on. Other instances of protracted trials and investigations are detailed such as the pending trial into the 1999 gang rape and murder of Ida Carmelita, a young Tamil girl and the pending case in respect of five suspect security personnel arrested in connection with the discovery of 15 skeletons at Chemmani in 1999. The report comments also on the 27 detainees killed at Bindunuwewa late last year and the nine Tamil civilians who were tortured and killed in Mirusuvil soon thereafter. What is also interesting is the increased focus on the manner in which extra judicial killings are committed by former insurgent Tamil militia groups, armed by and aligned with the Government. Jaffna media correspondent Mayilvaganam Nimalarajan is cited as one such example.

Meanwhile, continuing prevalence of torture in the country has also come in for comment, despite the 1994 Convention Against Torture (CATA) which defines torture as a specific crime for which a seven year minimum sentence should be imposed. While the Attorney General's Department has stated that prosecutions have commenced under criminal statutes in respect of eight members of the security forces and police, none of these cases have come to any conclusion. It is also pointed out that while the Supreme Court has extensive jurisdiction in fundamental rights cases where torture is alleged, most cases take two or more years to move through the courts and NGO's who represent torture victims complain that the new Supreme Court Chief Justice appointed in September 1999 grants hearings in only the most egregious cases.

Proceeding from its earlier reports, the 2000 State Department Report subjects the LTTE to harsh criticism for its authoritarian military rule. The LTTE is castigated for denying those under its authority the right to change their government, infringing on privacy rights, routinely violating civil liberties, operating an unfair courts system, restricting freedom of movement, using child soldiers and severely discriminating against ethnic and religious minorities. Particular emphasis is given to the using of child recruits, some as young as thirteen years old by the LTTE.

Despite promises made to the United Nations in 1998 that it would not recruit children under 17 and would not use children under 18 in battle, the LTTE is reported to have, in fact, stepped up these recruiting efforts.

Dealing with respect of civil liberties including freedom of speech and press, the report makes specific mention of the fact that on November 1st, the International Press Institute (IPI) had placed the country on its "watch list" of countries which "appear to be moving towards suppressing or restricting press freedom." The IPI had cited the May Emergency Regulations imposing an unduly harsh censorship as an impediment to free media expression. The report points out that in addition to the official censorship, editors and journalists exercise informal censorship due to fear of intimidation. The pattern of censorship thus exposed, in many respects, reflects the current reality in this country though the report is in error when it says that the case brought by a local NGO opposing censorship as a human rights violation in the Supreme Court was not considered by the Court. On the contrary, the Court did consider it but went on to conclude that the 1988/1989 censorship regulations did not violate the fundamental rights provisions to equality and free speech in the Constitution.

Meanwhile, the failure of the Government to reform the press laws and privatise the Government owned media, the numerous cases of journalists assaulted or intimidated for their reporting and those journalists brought before the courts under criminal defamation provisions in the Penal Code are also enumerated as part of the pattern of intimidation of the media.

What is indicated by analysis of recent reports such as the State Department Report and Amnesty International is the gradual worsening of a system, which was deeply flawed even in the best of times. This is what we get for decades of emergency rule. This is what we get for standing by while institutions of accountability continue to be subverted by politicians.

Cynics of these doomsday prophecies might well ask as to when the crash is to come. What seems increasingly certain however is that this severely dysfunctional democracy seems set to die, more and more not so much with a bang as with a very pitiful whimper.

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