II- Focus on Sri Lanka – Canadian Parliamentary Hearings on Human Rights-II Review of the presentation by Amnesty Indetnational, 17- Nov- 2011February 8th, 2014
Review by: Chandre Dharma-wardana, Ontario, Canada; Dec-2013
The separatist conflict in Sri Lanka and the souring of Canada against Sri Lanka.
Document – 2
- Source documents from the Subcommittee on Int. Human Rights (SIHR), Canadian Parliament.
- Review by: Chandre Dharma-wardana, Ontario, Canada; Dec-2013
- e-mail/couriel : email@example.com
Alex Neve, Secretary General, Amnesty International, John Argue Sri Lanka Co-ordinator, Amnesty International, and Roy Samathanam (as an Individual) 17 st Nov. 2011.
The source material used may be accessed from the above link.
Our comments have been updated in Dec.2013, two-years after the meeting, taking advantage of further information obtained subsequently. Our reactions are given in Light Blue shaded text .
|Here we review the presentations made by two officials of Amnesty International, as well as a presentation made by Roy Samathanam who had been detained in Sri Lankan prisons for three years, under the charge of importing communication equipment (cellphones with GPS) and being linked to the LTTE at a time when the Government was at war with the Tigers. He was fined and freed when he confessed to the importation of GPS telephones. We compare it with the Canadian case of Maher Arrar who had simply been acquainted with some one who had been suspected of exporting communication equipment to al Queda. Arrar was kidnapped and held for nearly one year, and subject to torture by US and Canadian authorities. Although Canada apologized to Arrar and compensated him some 5 years later, no responsible officials were criminally indicted, while the USA has rejected any wrong-doing.
We argue here, within the context of the HR-committee review, that (i) Canada has lost its capacity to influence Sri Lanka because it has been widely viewed, for several decades, as a hostile power by a majority of Sri Lankans. (i) The yardstick of Human-Rights accountability that can be applied to a prosperous, peaceful educated society cannot be blindly applied to societies that have been subject to two generations of war and thereby impoverished both economically and morally. (iii) In many cases, the “facts” as presented by AI and other advocacy agencies prejudge the issue, ignore the rights of the accused, and would not hold water in a judicial setting. (iv) That prosperous, peaceful nations like Canada, Australia and UK have done little to prosecute the LTTE ex-terrorists or fund-raising fellow travelers who live on their own soils. Even UN officials were complicit in money channeled to the UN. Western governments have not implemented accountability recommendations of Royal-commission recommendations to restore the rights of their own depressed peoples, while demanding accountability elsewhere. (v) The calls for accountability vehemently pursued by the Human-Rights NGOs are counterproductive and Shylockian in nature. The pound of flesh is dictated by strict retributive accountability; for instance, it does not ask how much harm and dissension it would create in the aftermath of such interventions, imposition of sanctions etc.
Hon. Scott Reid ais the Chairman of the sessions.
Alex Neve, SC-AI: Secretary General, Amnesty International
Thank you very much, Mr. Reid. And good afternoon, members of the subcommittee. It’s a pleasure to be in front of you again. We very much welcome the fact that we’ll be discussing a part of the world that for Amnesty International has long been a priority concern. I was thinking about the fact that my own involvement with Amnesty International back in the mid eighties was marked by an intense campaign of work on that disappearances that were happening in Sri Lanka. More than 25 years later the human rights situation in the country is still very preoccupying for our organization.
Indeed, 25 years prior to this discussion, AI worked by identifying individual prisoners of conscience. AI in its pristine days stood away from government patronage and political advocacy groups. Today the situation is very dubious, with close connections between AI and the US state department. In 2012 an ex-official of the US-state department, Suzanne Nossel who advocates `smart power’ based on ‘military force’ and R2P was executive Director of AI-USA. Madeleine Albright, ex-US secretary of state (who confided to Leslie Stahl that the deaths of many hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, including an estimated 500,000 children was a price “worth it” to weaken former U.S. ally, Saddam Hussein), was the lead speaker in an AI ‘shadow-summit’ held in Chicago in May 2012. AI mounted posters justifying NATO’s invasion of Afghanistan. These showed the extent of impairment of AI’s moral judgment by 2012. Suzanne Nossel resigned when protests mounted with Rowley and Right exposing Amnesty’s Shilling for US Wars. Amnesty’s current policy towards Sri Lanka is also well-aligned with that of the US-state department.
In Canada itself, AI had no hesitation of joining with the Canadian Tamil Congress, alleged to be an off-spring of the now-banned World Tamil Movement (WTM), and openly accepting some $50,000 from Sri Lankan Tamil-separatist groups now living in Canada. So today, the original AI, fiercely independent of power blocks and advocacy groups, has now become a very different beast. Nevertheless, we are thankful to AI for its focus on Sri Lanka in the 1980s.
Alex Neve, SC-AI
We welcome the fact that the Canadian government’s views matter when it comes to Sri Lanka, as we have close connections and ties with that country in many respects. A large Sri Lankan expatriate community lives in Canada. We have ties via bodies such as the Commonwealth. So it’s very timely and welcome that the subcommittee is giving some attention to the situation in Sri Lanka.
You’re going to hear briefly from both of us. My colleague, John Argue, is a member of Amnesty International who for years has coordinated and overseen the work done by Amnesty International here in Canada on the human rights situation in Sri Lanka. He is very knowledgeable about the … (timed out).
Given AI’s long interest since 1971, since the first JVP (Marxist) youth uprising, it is surprising that AI had very little to say about the human-rights violations by the so-called ‘Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) that arrived in Sri Lanka to dis-arm the Tigers (LLTE) and end the conflict. That was surely a typical example of a failed R2P operation that went horribly wrong. Instead, a brutal affront between the IPKF and the LTTE led to HR-infractions that have been documented by the University Teachers for Human Rights-Jaffna (UTHR-J) , as well as other organizations. Similarly, in the aftermath of the the IPKF leaving Sri Lanka, 600 policemen who surrendered to the LTTE were massacred in cold-blood by the LTTE, thus triggering the Eelam war-II in 1990. However, many Human Rights NGOs (including HRW and AI) began to demand an investigation into these crimes after Karuna, the Eastern LTTE commander broke ranks and later jointed the government. Similarly, at that time the ICRC also pushed for a demilitarized zone in Jaffna and justified its silence regarding LTTE atrocities in the name of getting an accord!
John Argue Sri Lanka Co-ordinator, Amnesty International
Thank you, Mr. Reid, and members of the committee. I’m very pleased to be here. As Alex said, I’m a volunteer coordinator with Amnesty and am focused on Sri Lanka. I’ve been to the country ten times. It’s been a fascinating and pleasurable experience for me to be there, notwithstanding the horrible things that have been occurring there for the last 30 years or so. I’ve been there as a tourist, actually, just visiting out of interest. On each occasion I’ve been there, I have looked up the Canadian High Commissioner to get her or his advice about where to go in the country and where it is safe, but also to discuss the human rights situation, as I became active within Amnesty.
Clearly, during his ten visits as a tourist, John has not been “followed” by the police – has he? He went about freely, and associated closely with people from the Center for Policy Alternatives (CPA), and other Western-funded “civil-society” activists who are looked at with great suspicion by the state because of their well-documented support of “peace at any cost” with the LTTE. He has, of course, not seen any of the horrible things that have been occurring there for the last 30 years. But people have told him these things rather freely. So is there no free speech compared to other countries at war or in civil turmoil (say, taking the yardstick of Egypt today) ?
John Argue On two instances I was part of the election monitoring team organized locally in Sri Lanka, called PAFFREL. It’s the official election monitoring group within Sri Lanka. It is fascinating organizing about 10,000 people to monitor an election. On one occasion, it was a national election in 2004. Most recently I was part of the monitoring team in Batticaloa, the city on the east coast of Sri Lanka that had its first election in 14 years in 2008. Being there as part of the election monitoring team and traveling in the northern part of the country during the national election and then in the east in Batticaloa, as well as my own trips, of course, I’ve had a fascinating experience. It’s obviously been educational.
There was a parliamentary national election in Sri lanka in 2004. John should mention the continued guerillas activity by the Tigers, and how The LTTE did not allow any opposition to the candidates of the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) who where their political proxies, and election monitors reported this as a a serious infringement. The same TNA, strongly supported by the Tamil diaspora in Canada that ran the walk-a-thon for AI is again in power in the Northern province. In fact, the same land-owning class (and caste) has been continuously in power in the North since the 19th century. (So, the victory of the TNA in the 2013 provincial elections shows that voting in the North is still largely controlled by the same land-owning castes).
John Argue I’m so glad to be here because, frankly, it’s frustrating to deal with the situation in Sri Lanka right now. Amnesty clearly is promoting human rights there and elsewhere in the world. Our frustration and challenge-”and it’s not just Amnesty’s challenge, but probably Canada’s challenge too – is to engage the Sri Lankan government.
So, is Canada “engaging” the Sri Lankan government in a fruitful way by boycotting CHOGM? AS we discussed in in our introduction , and as will be clear from Mr. Samathanam’s testimony, the majority of Sri Lankans regard Canada as a hostile country, and have, unfortunately, disengaged themselves from Canada. Even Britain and Australia disagreed with Canada in how to engage with Sri Lanka. When the Lessons-Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) was launched, Alex Neve, John argue and friends refused to even make a token gesture and pick up the challenge of the Sri Lankan government. They cannot really “engage the Sri Lankan government”, since they have closed all avenues except just one mechanism – an invasive international inquiry forced on a regime which has strong support of Sinhalese, the “plantation” Tamils, Muslims as well as many urban Tamils in Colombo.
John Argue Over many years we have commented on human rights in Sri Lanka, with 1971, some 40 years ago, being the first time Amnesty commented on incidents in Sri Lanka. Since then, we have regularly had missions to Sri Lanka and, of course, have commented increasingly on the tragedy in the country in the last number of years. Right now, the Sri Lankan government is asserting that it should determine its own future. It does not want interference by organizations like Amnesty, or countries like Canada for that matter. In other words, it’s asserting strongly its own sovereignty. It wants to determine what it wants to do on its own. On a broad level, Amnesty is sympathetic to people in their own countries standing up for their human rights and deciding their own future. Our problem, however, is that human rights are just not being respected in Sri Lanka.
|Aboriginal people of Canada have been agitating for their rights, over the years, even before WWII (click to enlarge)||Here again we ask John what is the yardstick? Let us take Canada, which has NOT been facing a 30-year war that has seen the rise of two generations of youth violence where all human-rights have been violated. In such situations, there is simply no `public opinion’ about human rights as civil society itself has been fractured. The flow of arms, rampant terrorism etc., creates a gun culture and rule by strong-arm tactics. Yo see it in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and in the middle east. How long will Iraq taken to settle down since the “mission was declared accomplished” by the Bush administration?
But countries like Canada or Australia have no excuse. Canada, just emerging from the Oka crisis, appointed a Canadian Royal commission to look into the infringements of aboriginal human rights, treaty rights etc, with a sweeping mandate. But even today, little has been done and there is a ground-swell of an Idle no more movement. If we take the yardstick of Australia, the Royal commission into deaths of Australian aboriginals in custody (see Macquarie Law Journal), appointed under pressure from the UN, is claimed to have achieved nothing even after 10 years. John Pilger is testimony to this in his documentary films. So, what is the yardstick that John Argue, AI, and other “human-rights” NGOs use?
|The Idle-no-more Aboriginal movement claiming fundamental rights in Canada 2013 (click to enlarge)|
John Argue I want to be clear in the few minutes I have. The Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission was appointed by the Sri Lankan government in May 2010 at the end of the conflict in May 2009 in an attempt to foster discussion among people in the country and reconciliation, as the name of the group implies. However, Amnesty has had great trouble with that commission, because we just don’t believe that the mandate or the process by which the Lessons Learnt committee is proceeding is going to establish the truth and justice. This conclusion is derived in part from a report by Amnesty, `Twenty Years of Make Believe’, published in June 2009, a month after the end of the conflict in May 2009. The simple argument in `Twenty Years of Make Believe’ is that every one of the commissions or investigations and inquiries established by the Sri Lankan government to examine human rights violations or establish what happened around particular incidents did not result in justice for any of the victims. There was nothing there.
Granted, there was the problem of the war but the legal process was just not followed through. Amnesty argued strongly in June 2009 that a domestic or national evaluation of what’s going on in Sri Lanka was just not credible and concluded, based on 20 years of experience, that the government just could not handle such an evaluation. Various other organizations agreed with us.
Amnesty talks of Twenty Years of Make Believe’, while ‘granting’ that ‘there was the problem of the war’, as if it was the least of problems!. These twenty-years were a time when most Sri Lankans, kids included, were not certain that they would come home alive by evening, as even southern rural towns were targeted by Tiger suicide squads. It is a wonder that they even appointed commissions of inquiry under such dire circumstances. It is a wonder that they did not call up compulsory military service, take the draconian measures that Pierre Trudeau unleashed against the very first terrorist act by the FLQ, or introduce the universal surveillance that came into place in the US after 9/11. In fact, this ’20 year period’ was one where Canadian politicians allowed the Canadian Tiger organizations like the World Tamil Movement (WTM) or the Tamil Rehabilitation organization (TRO) to collect funds to support terrorism in Sri Lanka, breeding the same culture of impunity and irresponsibility that Canada displayed in regard to Sikh terrorism. In fact, the National Post fittingly carried the article Sri Lankan blood on Liberal hands – National Post 22-July-09. No investigation of the human rights abuses in Sri Lanka would be meaningful if the Cnandian funding sources were not investigated. This can be done in Canada. It is not just Canadian politicians, even the UN Knew that its money went to the LTTE but kept it hushed up.
John Argue With the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission, Amnesty joined with Human Rights Watch and the International Crisis Group-”headed by a Canadian, Louise Arbour, as I presume you know. It is a fascinating group that does excellent human rights work internationally. All three international human rights-oriented groups, through our research contacts and visits to Sri Lanka, reached a similar conclusion to that in the Amnesty brief. Therefore, all three organizations declined to participate in the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission.
A letter was sent to the commission in October 2010, the same year it was established. It suggested that there was nothing in the LLRC mandate that required it to investigate the many credible allegations of violations of humanitarian law and human rights law by both the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam and the Sri Lankan government, particularly in the last months of the war. The last months of the war were just horrendous in 2009, and yet the LLRC did not have a mandate to look into those problems.
AI, ICG,HRW etc., are made up of the same family of people, and indeed, they `come to similar conclusions’ as they depend on the information fed to them from the Colombo-based advocacy NGOs like the CPA, funded from outside the country. However, other more scholarly voices (e.g., John Thompson, President of the Mackenzie Institute in Ottawa , or Michael Roberts of Adelaide University paint a different picture . But AI, ICS, HRW etc had accepted the Tamil Diaspora narrative. They had already stated that nothing short of an `international investigation’ with their own inserts doing the job would satisfy them. If they could not even estimate the number of people held hostage by the Tigers in the Vanni, and if they could come out believing figures ranging from 40,000 to 100,000 as the casualty numbers in the last stages of the war, surely their judgment is questionable, and their inputs would be misleading in any inquiry. Darusman, and Sooka are examples of this, as they had already made statements giving their pre-dispositions, even before they were appointed to the UN Secy. General’s advisory panel, on the advise of individuals close to ICS, Campaign for Peace and Justice in Sri Lanka (CPJSL), and other NGOs who were running the Tamil-Diaspora narrative.
Sri Lanka was correct in rapidly appointing a commission for inquiry to lay down a template to guide its post-war program of reconciliation rather than retribution. Even today the government as well as Sri Lankan public opinion is not convinced that the “last months of the war were just horrendous in 2009″. Even Tamil public opinion in the south, and Tamil-Diaspora-dissent opinion in Canada do not buy this NGO picture painted by Gordon Weiss, Callum MacCrea, Darusman and others. The objective evidence (high-resolution satellite imagery, census data, ICRC food-supply figures, reports of witnesses who were in the theater of war at the last stages) etc., all go against the picture painted by the NGOs who have taken up the narrative of the Tamil diaspora, the TNA and proven LTTE-mouthpieces, ignoring the point of view of the southern, Eastern and plantation Tamil-speaking people in Sri Lanka .
John Argue Also, the LLRC did not require any official of the government who came before it to explain government misrepresentation-”and really, that’s what it was-”of the number of civilians who were in the northern part of Sri Lanka in the Vanni area, where the fighting was taking place and which the Tamil Tigers had controlled for a number of years. The government insisted there were 100,000 civilians in early 2009, but months later was forced to admit there were actually 300,000. In other words, the situation was much more serious than the human rights organizations were arguing.
The LLRC has to deal with that problem. The LLRC did not establish that fact while hearing its testimony.
This is misrepresentation. The UN gave a figure of ~70,000 and Panab Mukherjee used that figure in February 2009 when he called for a cease-fire. Mukherjee underscored India’s `grave concern over the humanitarian crisis that is building up with every passing day in Sri Lanka.’ He said that, reportedly, “over 70,000 civilians are trapped in the conflict zone in Sri Lanka and there is acute shortage of food, water and medicines”; the government made similar guesses, going up to 100,000 as time passed.
John Argue Another process question that we had was this. The LLRC did not provide any protection for the witnesses who appeared before it, and yet in the context of the discussion and threats going on within the country, that was absolutely crucial. International law requires, in practice, that witnesses for investigations like this be offered some kind of protection for offering testimony.
I would note that the LLRC is due to report this Sunday, that is, to give its report to the president of Sri Lanka. The president has made it clear that the report will go forward to the parliament and presumably be debated. We are assuming that the recommendations or some of the main points coming out of the LLRC will be made public-”or that there will be public speculation about them-”maybe next week. We’ll see.
However, the point we want to make is that the Sri Lankan government is not correct in arguing that Amnesty has pre-judged what they are saying. We are criticizing the mandate, criticizing the process-”the points that I just made. So whatever the LLRC recommends, in fact, is just not credible, based on the whole process of the thing.
As John Thompson of the Mackenzie Institute had remarked, the ` Sri Lankan government fended off NGOs it didn’t trust (with reason)’. The impression in Sri Lanka is that the agents of these NGOs come to Colombo, and join up with their link-NGOs in Colombo, and go about the country uncritically amassing ‘material’ they can use to buttress their pre-conceived beliefs. They almost always head North, while ignoring the 75% of the population who may also have equally valid rights-grievances against the government, or other dominant players. But they do not figure in John Argue’s narrative. In out view, it is very unlikely that he could have contributed any useful information to the LLRC commission, in spite of his 10 tourist visits to the country.
John Argue Let me conclude by identifying a few particular problems in Sri Lanka right now. The armed conflict ended in May 2009, but human rights violations are continuing. I see Roy beside us. Roy will explain his own particular case. Just a couple of weeks ago, in its presentation to the committee against torture at the UN in Geneva, Amnesty in fact referred to Roy’s case and the abuse he suffered. Roy can talk about his own case, but it’s one strong indication that there are still ongoing violations concerning people who are in detention.
In that same report, Amnesty cited that ten people had died in police custody during the year 2010, all under suspicious and very similar circumstances, raising clear questions about what kind of police involvement there was.
In sum, Amnesty has serious problems about how the process is continuing or going ahead to resolve the human rights situation in Sri Lanka.
It would be interesting to ask if the public opinion in Europe would have allowed a call by some group of people (say, ex-Nazi Diaspora living in South America) to appoint a commission two years after WWII, reviewing the firebombing of Dresden, the bombing of Nagasaki and Hiroshima, the sacrifice of Eastern European nations to Stalin, or whether any useful outcomes would have arisen if Churchill, Truman and others had been tried as war criminals, even in a mock trial.
The government says it wants to reconcile with all parts of the country, and it has said literally that it is open to the Tamils, having fought and defeated the Tamil Tigers. Amnesty’s great problem is that it appointed the LLRC without any consultation with the Tamils. Admittedly, they’re in touch now with the Tamil National Alliance and beginning to talk about reconciliation. But this is a little late.
We emphasize that it’s absolutely crucial that the government involve the whole population in Sri Lanka in order to go ahead credibly. Unless they do that, we believe that human rights violations will clearly continue and, in fact, probably be encouraged by the fact of there not being a credible process.
We hope that this committee can lend Canada’s voice…and this is something that Alex will be able to argue ably. Thank you very much.
John Argue says that Amnesty’s great problem is that it appointed the LLRC without any consultation with the Tamils. There are Tamil members in government. Over 50% of the Tamils live in the south, and not in the claimed “exclusive homeland”. It is the remaining Tamil people, less than 5% of the total population that John Argue is referring to as “The Tamils”, ignoring the southern Tamils, plantation Tamils, and the Eastern province Tamils. In 2010 the TNA had no mandate to speak “for the Tamils”, as they had meekly sanctioned every atrocity committed (e.g., killing of the foreign minister Kadirgamar) by the LTTE. They lived in Colombo, in fear of the Tigers, and followed the dicta of the Diaspora!
The Chair, Scott Reid Unfortunately, he’ll have to do that later, because you’ve used up all of your ten minutes, plus an extra two minutes and 15 seconds.
So we’re going to turn to Mr. Samathanam, whose turn it is to take the floor, please.
Roy Samathanam (As an Individual)
First of all, thanks for giving me the opportunity to be here to share my experience. Basically, I came to Canada in 1990. I’m a Canadian citizen. I went to Sri Lanka in 2005 to get married. My wife was pregnant, so I decided to stay there for a while.
We invite the reader to go to the source document Source documents for Mr. Samathanam’s presentation. He had come to Canada in 1990, (as a refugee, though he did not say it). He returned to Sri Lanka in 2005 to get married, and then waited there due to his new wife’s pregnancy. There he had begun to import mobile phones, equipped with GPSs. He claims that although he was an importer, he didn’t know about there being GPs etc. The security police has considered such goods to be of military value and arrested him. He had access to an embassy official only after about one week. He had been kept in jail without trial for over an year when they had attempted to get a confession from his an an LTTE member from Canada. He mentions about a beating after about 6 months, and the visit of an ICRC officer the next day. He was taken to the prison, but “They didn’t torture me, …, because the ICRC and the Canadian embassy used to visit me”.
Then he was taken to Boose, a detention center in the south, were conditions were worse and prisoners are claimed to be tortured. The Canadian High commission couldn’t do much as it was a domestic-law issue. However, he was returned Colombo, where he signed confession. He was charged with LTTE actvities, plotting to kill VIPs etc, but was let off when he confessed to the crime of importing GPs devices. He was fined ~$5000) and set free, when he flew to Canada. he had been in detention for three years. Then, the Canadian Tamil Congress (TCC) introduced him to the National Post, and Mr. Stewart Bell. This has retaliated on his wife who has been refused local police clearance to immigrate.
It should now be mentioned that on the 13 of November, Mr. Samathanam, in a decidely political move, caught headlines in Canada to coincide with the Commonwealth heads of Government meeting (CHOGM) in Colombo. That day he declared his intention to take his case to the UN Human-rights committee. He cannot sue any Sri Lankan officials in a Canadian court (even in absentia) as they have ‘state-sector immunity’.
According to the diplomat Richard Colvin, Canadian-held captives in Afghanistan have been handed over to afghan authorities for interrogation and certain torture . It is well established that the Canadian government has incarcerated individuals and acquiesced in torture, kidnapping etc. The Canadian Civil Liberties Association website carries a news item stating that “Canada has transferred detainees to the United States and Afghanistan with full knowledge that the detainees would be in extreme danger of torture and that Canada uses and shares intelligence likely obtained through torture”. John McNamer, an investigative journalist, provides over 250 documents in support of his allegations that he has submitted to the international criminal court (ICC) in November 2013 ”
The out-sourced torture of Abdullah Almalki, Ahmad El Maati, Muayyed Nureddin, and Maher Arar by Canadian Security forces are far better known than the Afghan and other cases.
As Canadians, we need to compare Mr. Samathanam’s case with similar events, e.g., that of Maher Arar, here in Canada. Maher Arar had associated with Abdullah Almalik, who was under suspicion for exporting electronic communication equipment, just as Mr. Samathanam was accused of, by Sri Lanka. Maher Arar was kidnapped from a New York airport when he was in transit, and taken to Syria. Countries like Syria and Libya have colluded with western powers as hosts for out-sourcing interrogation under torture. The extra-ordinary rendition involved collusion between the CIA and Canadian security services. Once the case came to the public, the Canadian Prime minister had to apologize and compensate Mr. Arar handsomely, some 5 years after the event. The US has refused to acknowledge the case, despite its obligation to do so under the UN Convention Against Torture and other human rights treaties. The US supreme court has conveniently declined to hear the case, while Arar remains permanently on US no-fly lists. Amnesty International in the USA has done very little except to issue the usual press release, launch a petition and an `apology button’. It has not effectively hounded the US on accountability. Furthermore, it is well known that the US has refused to provide a `body-count’ of the numbers dead, civilians or combatants (from the Iraqi side, in its war against Iraq and) in its theaters of war.
The Canadian government apology came some five years after Maher Arar being kidnapped by government agents, and some 4 years after his release from the courts, in a situation where Canada was not at war. Mr. Samathanam was released by Sri Lankan courts very recently. Mr. Samathanam had access to Canadian consular services and claims that, perhaps because of that he was not really tortured. If compared with the Canadian yardstick, Samathanam should result in a Sri Lankan government apology and compensation by the year 2018. However, just as Maher Arar could not get an apology from the US, a foreign state, Sri lanka becomes a foreign state to Mr. Samathanam as he is now a Canadian citizen. Mr. Samathanam’s wife can work for redress in Sri Lanka, just as Maher Arar’s wife did in Canada.
The Chair, Scott Reid
David Sweet (Conservative)Ancaster-Dundas-Flamborough-Westdale, ON
I am hoping to ask a couple of questions, so I would appreciate getting some concise answers. The Hon. David Sweet asked a few short question from Mr. Samathanam to clarify matters. Here the reader may consult the source document of the House of commons.
Mr. Argue, do you have or Amnesty have any second thoughts about not participating in the LLRC?
John Argue No, we don’t.
David Sweet Okay.
You had mentioned the witnesses who came before the LLRC, but who were not provided with any protection. Were no witnesses at all provided protection? Was that right across the board. Correct?
John Argue Correct. That was an absolute rule. There was just no provision in the mandate of the LLRC to provide witness protection.
David Sweet Today, how much freedom of movement does Amnesty International have on the ground in Sri Lanka?
Well, it’s a very simple answer: Zero. Nothing. Amnesty has not been officially permitted in Sri Lanka since 2007.
I can say I was actually there in 2008, but as I pointed out, I was there as a tourist. I was clear. I spoke to the Sri Lankan High Commissioner before I went, and so the government certainly knew that I was there. But I was not there as an official Amnesty representative. In fact, as well, I was volunteering as an election monitor with the Sri Lankan process for the election in Batticaloa. But Amnesty has not been permitted to officially return to Sri Lanka since it last was there on a mission in 2007.
When foreign individuals engage in political activities in any country, it is normal that the government takes note. The situation in Sri lanka has been much worse. The government is many-times burnt by NGOs who have surreptitiously aided the Tigers. Even UN officials allowed their funds to fall into the hands of the Tigers. Other NGOs allowed the Tigers to use their vehicles, communication equipment, or earth-moving equipment that they had brought in for “reconstruction”, to fall into the hands of the Tigers. Many officials of Amensty International are known to closely associate with Colombo NGOs like the ‘Center for Policy Alternatives’, ‘National Peace Council’, `Transparency International’ etc. These are justly or unjustly regarded as anti-national un-elected organizations that have always stood for appeasing the Tigers, and down-playing LTTE-political assassinations. So they are viewed as hostile bodies who are to be excluded in the aftermath of the conflict. This is the wish of most people, including many urban Tamils, and politicians have bowed to it by not allowing certain foreign NGOs. Canada also routinely excludes NOGs that it claims are linked to various ‘liberation movements’ from the Middle East.
Which totally incapacitates you, I imagine. And I take it that none of your partners have access as well. It incapacitates you from being able to investigate properly some of these instances like Mr. Samathanam’s, right?
John Argue I’ve probably spoken too much, but I’ll just say that it certainly doesn’t incapacitate our main office in London, in the U.K., from being in telephone and email contact. We do maintain contact, but it is inhibited.
David Sweet Yes, that’s the fact I was trying to establish. What the Sri Lankan government is doing is making it impossible for you to get the finer details, through interviews and investigations on the ground, for you to be able to clear them of what they say they’re innocent of. Correct?
John Argue Correct. I spoke to the UN delegate from Sri Lanka, when he attended a meeting here in Toronto two years ago. I argued that, consistent with his remarks to the group at that time, the Sri Lankan government should allow Amnesty in, because we are a balanced human rights organization. We’re not just criticizing the Sri Lankan government, but criticizing the Tamil Tigers as well for the violations they may have committed.
We also explained how AI and other NGOs have seized upon false numbers for the numbers dead in the last phase of the war, never mentioning, e.g., the high-resolution satellite-imagery analysis by the American Physical Society that completely contradict the NGO narrative, census data, and much more that are facts `inconvenient’ to them.
John Argue’s view of a ‘balanced” approach seems to be to say that they have also criticized the “Tigers”. What is needed is to ensure that the criticisms are not based on cherry-picking facts and selecting only those that fit their narrative, while ignoring facts which are inconvenient to them. Furthermore, the use of false images and impressions to push falsehoods or half truths as whole truths happen easily as AI, ICG, HRW etc., have no mechanisms to allow independent scholars to interrogate their claims in a judicial setting. These NGOs, even if they began with seemingly lofty ideals, have now become self-appointed advocacy groups who push the views of those who fund them
To explain what we mean, let us look at some specifics. The CPJSL was one of the NGOs that pushed for the UN-Darusman panel. It, and many NGOs like the ‘Center for Policy Alternatives’ (CPA) in Colombo, (and indeed AI and HRW too) use the barbed wire picture of the IDP-camps in Sri lanka to imply that the IDPs were held in `concentration camps’. Even the UN refugee camps use such barbed wire. And it is needed to protect the IDPs from their enemies, to quarantine the the IDPs who likely carry infectious diseases, and to screen-out terrorists who were pseudo-civilians. In fact, Jim MacDonald’s report (19th Dec. 2011) tagged AI also use the barbed-wire picture in his critique of the LLRC report. It is because of this type of misrepresentations by NGOs that John Thompson of the Mackenzie Institute stated the following:
|This picture of IDP-camps protected by barbed wire is used even today by various NGOs to discredit Sri Lanka. The ‘Campaign for justice and Peace in Sri Lanka, an NGO where Yasmin Soosa is an advisory member still uses it on its home page (click to enlarge)|
(We drop some material here, that the reader can follow in the original documents from the house of commons)
Mr. Neve, you haven’t had a chance to comment, so if you want to go beyond that I would appreciate it.
Alex Neve Secretary General, Amnesty International
Thank you, Mr. Marston.
I would like to make some recommendations that Amnesty International has for the Canadian government, which I think speak to some of the points you’ve just raised. We’re concerned about the long-standing lack of justice and accountability, not just in the final weeks and months of terrible abuses by both sides, but also the previous decades of abuses and violations. We are very much of the view that this time Sri Lanka needs to get it right. There needs to be justice and accountability to ensure that we’re not going to see a repeat of those long-standing, terrible patterns of abuse.
It seems that the Sri Lankan authorities have also stated that, if a review is to be made, then it is meaningless to cover just the final weeks of the conflict. They have repeatedly said that such a review needs to cover the previous decades. The accountability has to also extent to those who funded the war, engaged in the war and immigrated out of Sri Lanka. Even people who have moved out of reach of a given jurisdiction can still be named.
Alex Neve, SC-AI The United Nations has been grappling with that. The Secretary-General signed a joint communiquƒ© with Sri Lanka’s president promising that there was going to be some justice and accountability. The Sri Lankan government convened its Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission. The Secretary-General convened his independent panel of experts, which agreed, after extensive work, that there was a need for an independent international investigation into the abuses and that domestic accountability was not going to be enough.
That’s where we stand now. The Sri Lankan government continues to resist that call aggressively. We think there are at least two key forums in which Canada should be working hard to advance the progress towards the needed international investigation. One is the United Nations Human Rights Council. In September, Canada brought forward a resolution-”although it didn’t go ahead-”that would have opened a discussion within the United Nations Human Rights Council on justice and accountability in Sri Lanka. It was very mild; it was not confrontational at all. It followed the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission more than the independent panel’s report. It was a welcome step forward and we very much appreciated the leadership Canada took. But the Sri Lankan government opposed even this. In the end, the Canadian government decided not to pursue it at the September session of the Human Rights Council. We understand they are inclined to do so at the next session of the council, which would be in March 2012. We would strongly endorse that as a step forward and hope that Canada will diligently work towards this initiative between now and March. It will take a lot of effort to find allies, to work across regions within the United Nations system, to ensure that the resolution can go ahead as strongly as possible.
The other front is the Commonwealth. I think you’ve already heard testimony and are aware that the Canadian delegation-”the Prime Minister and Minister Baird-”had some strong things to say about Sri Lanka’s human rights record at the most recent CHOGM, the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting. The focus was on the next session, which is going to be in Sri Lanka in 2013. The Canadian government has made it clear that unless there is some meaningful progress on accountability and human rights reform, it’s unlikely that Canada will attend.
It is encouraging that this bar has been set. We urge the government not simply to put this on the back burner and only to come back to it in 2013, but to use these two years and the leverage that has been put on the table to push very much for the accountability agenda to move forward, including an international investigation.
So those two forums are absolutely key. We welcome both the United Nations Human Rights Council and the Commonwealth. We welcome some of what we’ve heard and seen recently from the government, and we think that direction needs to be maintained and strengthened.
While the suggestions of the SC-AI is correct in an idealistic way, we think they are way off the mark. What is the yard-stick of post was behaviour that SC-AI is using? Is he expecting the rule of law, accountability etc., that often do not seem to exist even in peaceful, prosperous western societies to hold in Sri lanka emerging from 30 years of internecine conflict? Britain has refused to even publish the Chilcot report, let alone attempt to implement it or take up accountability. The history of attempts to force accountability on various crimes in the Irish-British, Kal conflict is a saga in itself. Canada too has many cases that the journalist John McNamer wants to submit to the ICC. Even though Canada finally investigated and rendered justice after 5 years to Maher Arrar, the US has refused to even admit the existence of a case.
We request the reader to consult the source document for the remaining part of the brief set of questions posed by members of parliament. We take up the concluding question by the Hon. Irwin Cotler.
The Chair, Scott Reid
Nina Grewal, Conservative, Fleetwood Port Kells, BC
Thank you, Chair.
Do you think the Tamils are being included in any domestic reform or reconciliation processes?
Roy Samathanam That has just not been happening in the past two or three years. From the day I was born in 1970–I am 40 years old–there have been ethnic riots. Tamils were chased in the 1958 riots, the 1977 riots, and in 1983. Our family was personally affected by all three riots.
So this reconciliation thing is all false. I don’t believe anything about it because they’re not changing. For example, a UN special representative visited our prison and recommended that we should be taken to court, and there should be a judge. Nothing has happened yet.
My house and belongings were burned in the 1983 riots and in the communal riots. In 1977 when I was seven years old, they burned it down, so we went to a refugee camp. We built it again in 1983.
I was not even born ion 1958, but my parents told me that Colombo was totally burned then. I studied in Colombo at S. Thomas’ College. My wife is Sinhalese, and I have nothing against any Sinhalese.
But at that time the opposition party ruled the country. So both parties have ruled after independence and nothing has happened. Both are the same, so something different has to happen.
|Including Tamils in domestic reconciliation
Of the four types of Tamil-peaking people in Sri lanka, it is the Northern Tamils, controlled by the Tamil national Alliance (TNA, whose leaders actually live in Colombo), who are hostile to the government.
The Canadian government foreign-policy experts surely know that just after the fall of the Tigers, the government extended a gesture of good will and did not attempt to prosecute the Tamil national Alliance, made of of Elite (high-caste) Tamils who had worked closely with the Tigers and been their mouth-piece. In effect, an extreme view point would be that the TNA were the equivalent of a Nazi-political rump in the context of World-War II. The government held some half-dozen one-to-one consultations with the TNA in the hope of arriving at a political settlement. Instead, the Elitist TNA leaders, representing a mere 4-6% of the population, continued to make demands that seemed unreasonable to most people, especially in the context of a total military defeat of the LTTE, and when the old-Vaddukkoddai demands had no meaning. The aim of the TNA does not seem to be reconciliation, but retribution and vengeance.
Neverrheless, failing the one-to-one approach, the government has appointed an all-party parliamentary commission which is being boycotted by the TNA.
The Chair, Scott Reid
We’ll turn now to Professor Cotler.
Irwin Cotler Mount Royal, QC
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
I want to express appreciation to all the witnesses today; to Mr. Samathanam for his compelling testimony about his personal experience of the situation; and, of course, to representatives of Amnesty International who have been with this issue for a considerable period of time.
I will mention parenthetically that just before coming here, Wayne Marston and I held an urgent press conference on the matter of the imprisoned Egyptian blogger, Maikel Nabil, who’s in the 87th day of a hunger strike. In that press conference, where we called for his immediate release and the dropping of charges, I mentioned that Amnesty International had actually adopted him as a prisoner of conscience in August 2011. He became, in effect, almost the first prisoner of conscience in the post-Mubarak era. So I want to express appreciation for that.
Alex Neve, SC-AI
I express appreciation back to you, then.
Irwin Cotler Mount Royal, QC
I’m now serving as his international legal counsel, so it’s very much appreciated.
Now, on this issue, it seems to me that the generic concern here is to establish an international, independent accountability mechanism to combat the culture of impunity, to ensure that a negative precedent will not be set by failing to do that, and to assist with reconciliation in Sri Lanka. This was the recommendation made by Ban Ki-moon’s own advisory panel. He then said he did not have the authority to do that. I don’t know why, because it seemed to me that he did-”but we’ll leave that aside.
I know that in your report, you recommend that Ban Ki-moon should work together with the UN Security Council, the General Assembly, and the UN Human Rights Council for that purpose. From your testimony today, I think the more specific and direct route might be going to the UN Human Rights Council immediately, and where Canada can play a role is by effectuating the establishment of such an appropriate accountability mechanism and mandate as quickly as possible.
Turning to the last point-”because much of this has been by way of inviting any comment-”you also mention in your report that member states, under the principle of universal jurisdiction, can themselves seek to exercise that principle and hold Sri Lankans responsible with respect to any violations of international humanitarian and criminal law.
We think blanket statements like “Sri Lankans responsible”, or earlier statements by John Argue and others about “without any consultation with the Tamils” need to be revisited with care. Tamils living in Sri lanka are also Sri Lankans, constituting about 12%, while the region claimed to be the “exclusive Tamil homeland” had a population of about 5%. Furthermore, all Tamils are definitely not supporters of the program of action that the International NGO groups and the National Tamil Alliance (TNA) have been advocating. For instance, see (the quote from Bisop Francis). The TNA was the political mouth piece of the Tigers and their narrative has not changed.
Is it your view that Canada would have a role to play in this? I would think we would, because we are one of the countries that has actually established a universal jurisdiction mechanism through the Crimes Against Humanity and War Crimes Act and we are a state party to the ICC.
Alex Neve, SC-AI
That’s a very good point. It’s important to highlight that there are two ways forward in ensuring that justice and accountability advances in Sri Lanka. The first is the need for a large, overarching process of some kind-”an independent international commission or investigation-”but the second is case-specific work.
We strongly endorse the notion that when individuals are found in other countries who may have been in the Sri Lankan military or among the Tamil Tigers-”or either side of the conflict-”and against whom there are credible allegations of their responsibility for serious crimes under international law, such as war crimes and crimes against humanity, then absolutely, countries should act. Canada could and should be a leader there. As you highlight, our law is in order. The Crimes Against Humanity and War Crimes Act gives us the jurisdiction to do so. We have the personnel in place: we have specialized units within the Department of Justice and the RCMP to advance that kind of work. That’s another way in which Canada can demonstrate how serious we are about advancing an international accountability agenda for Sri Lanka.
However, as we well know, Canada has not succeeded in even dealing with many individuals who have hidden their criminal histories and obtained refugee status. The legal process, run by Human-rights lawyers drag on and on over points of law. In the end courts fail to deal with such individuals. It can be documented that many ex-members of the now banned World-Tamil-Movement (WTM) have gone through this process. Some of them have formed Human-Rights fronts and work hand-in-hand with the established HR-NGOs. So, even though we fully endorse the second objective (case-by case action) stated by SG-AI in response to Hon. Irwin Cotler, it does not happen in the real world.
I noted in your report, and I understand the reasons you gave today, why you wouldn’t and didn’t appear before the LLRC. But I think you indicated that if a credible, independent commission were established-”with an appropriate mandate respecting accountability, with witness protection, and with an undertaking to bring those responsible to justice, etc., as set forth in your report-”then Amnesty International might be prepared to appear, under those circumstances.
Alex Neve, SC-AI Absolutely. We want to put our money where our mouth is when it comes to this need for justice and accountability.
We feel we have a lot to contribute and offer in Sri Lanka, whether it be the results of our many years of human rights research in Sri Lanka, or some of the recommendations and thinking we’ve done over the years-”in collaboration with Sri Lankans themselves, of course-”about the kinds of reforms that are necessary to move forward with human rights change in the country. We would welcome the right body and the right process being in place to come forward and share that sort of information. But the LLRC is not it.
Nina Grewal Fleetwood-”Port Kells, BC
[We have removed some metial here, that the reader can look up in the original House of Commons document] In your assessment, have this year’s local government elections been free and fair?
As always, there’s discussion and dispute about that. The general comments have been that they were free and fair. The established statements are that, in fact, they were free and fair. But there are qualifications: Individual reports by the organization to which I contributed my time pointed to serious questions. I think, at the least, Amnesty would say there should be improvements to the process. There can certainly be improvements.
Again, what is the yardstick that John Argue is using? Sri Lanka, emerging from a long war, should be compared with neighbouring countries, even though they have had relative peace. But that yardstick, Sri lanka seems to run fair elections with much less violence than India, Bangladesh or Pakistan. Even comparing with Canada, John Argue would know that there are always some claims of computer fixing (“computer jilmart”) by the Marxist party that lost. But unlike the’Robot phone’ scandals here, the ‘computer jilmat proved to be a pure fabrication.
The Chair, Scott Reid
…Mr. Neve …(?) Alex Neve, SC-AI
I had three main recommendations. I think I got two of them in front of you. One is that we certainly look to the Canadian government to remain very active at the UN Human Rights Council, and the March session in particular. We think that’s vital. The other is to really move forward with a two-year Commonwealth agenda, starting now and leading up the summit in 2013.
The third would simply be, in a more general sense, to highlight how important it is that Canada maintain, and we would say even strengthen, the attention given to human rights concerns, in particular justice and accountability issues, in our bilateral relationship with Sri Lanka.
What we have pointed out is that the “bilateral relationship” that Mr. Neve, the SI-AI is talking about, has been fractured for about two decades or more. Since about the mid 1990s, Sri Lankans have begun to believe, rightly or wrongly, that Canada is a hostile nations. If you are regarded with hostility, you are unlikely to he heard. We just have to look back into the testimony of Mr. Samathanam, where he tells us how the other prisoners reacted to him:
The Chair, Scott Reid
Thank you very much to all our witnesses. …. The meeting is adjourned.
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