Excerpt of the letter handed over to the UN High Commission for Human Rights – Ms. Navaneetham Pillai.
As an organization which consistently pays careful attention to realities in Sri Lanka, we would like to present our observations below for your kind consideration.During the 16th session of the Human Rights Council, Sri Lanka Minister, Mr. Mahinda Samarasinghe stated in his speech that “11,696 ex combatants (who) submitted to custody at the end of armed conflict following due process, which included 594 child combatants.
Approximately 5,764 of these ‘beneficiaries’ have been released and reintegrated following rehabilitation. Only 4,599 ‘beneficiaries’ are currently in rehabilitation centers”
On the same day, Samarasinghe said that the government, “..began delivering on its responsibility of caring for approximately 300,000 displaced persons.”
According to these statistics given by the Minister on 28 February 2011 – 739 ex-combatants who were, in the Minister’s terminology, “submitted to custody”, remain unaccounted for. This is a matter of serious concern.
In the present 17th session of the Human Rights Council, the same Minister from Sri Lanka, Mr Mahinda Samarasinghe, said to the august body on 30 May 2011, “With regard to rehabilitation, former child combatants have been rehabilitated and have been beneficiaries of educational programmes including vocational training. Of the 11,644 ex-combatants who surrendered or were arrested at the end of the conflict, 6,530 have already been rehabilited and reintegrated into society.”
In the same statement the IDPs figures had been reduced by 10,000, (from 300,000 to 290,000) since the February speech!
In fact, there is a serious contradiction and confusion between the two statements made to this body, by the Minister – within an interval of three months.
We can draw a few conclusions from these two different speeches made by the minister.
1 – There is a difference of 52 less ex-combatants who surrendered or were arrested at the end of the conflict, according to the February and May statements.
This exemplifies the fact that the Minister’s figures on ex-combatants are not genuine. Presumably the government has something to hide regarding those who surrendered, arrested or detained, or were released.
2 – The Minister deliberately avoided giving the number of ex-combatants remaining in custody in his speech on 30 May 2011.
3 – The confusing figures released regarding ex-combatants by a responsible Minister of Sri Lanka indicates that the government does not maintain any proper record of detainees. This is an open, crystal clear message to this august forum and others that the government of Sri Lanka is not serious about the human beings who are detained in their custody.
4 – Between the two statements, there is a difference of 10,000 in the IDP figures. This is not a small number. It represents a sizeable group of people.
Such indifference to the uniqueness and dignity of each individual person cannot be acceptable to civilised persons and communities who are committed to truth, justice, law and order.
It would appear that the Sri Lankan government and the Minister fail to understand that they are talking about victims who are sentient human beings with physical, emotional and psychological needs. They are not objects or materials.
We view this matter with grave concern since even after two years have passed, Sri Lanka is finding it difficult to give consistent and correct statistics on the detained, the arrested, the IDPs and so on.
We believe this reveals a deliberate act of callous disregard for the suffering of the people who have already been subjected to multiple traumas of war, displacement, lack of proper food and medical facilities on the one hand as IDPs or unjustified and prolonged incarceration with no legal basis, on the other hand.
We kindly request that through the good offices of the OHCHR and the Working Group on Enforced Disappearances, the numbers be ascertained from Sri Lanka.
We take this opportunity to inform that, despite the passing of two years, the Sri Lankan government has refused to release the list of names of ex-combatants who surrendered to the government forces.
Furthermore, thousands of people are still being detained and have been for years without charge or trial. This is contrary to Sri Lanka’s obligations under Article 14 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
In a speech to the HRC on 31 May, the Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers, referring to Sri Lanka, said that any person arrested should be promptly brought before the court and have access to a lawyer.
S. V. Kiriupaharan (Signed)
Tamil Centre for Human Rights