This report concentrates mainly on the situation in the Eastern Province and on some unhealthy aspects of the militant phenomena, which have major bearing on the human rights situation in our community. The plight of the prisoners in the North as well as the general situation is also addressed. There is a chapter on Mannar Island as well.
As we have pointed out in our earlier reports, the human rights violations are still continuing unabated. Torture and beating up of any one who is arrested on flimsy evidence is still continuing. Of course in Batticaloa some who are monitoring the human rights situation might say that the number of disappearances have decreased now and that there seems to be a concerted effort made atleast by a section in the higher echelon of the security establishment, to convince the people that they are trying to bring about the rule of law and some accountability. But cynics might say that the sheer brutality of the random killings and large scale disappearances have led to a situation where virtually no youngsters are left who can be accused of any involvement. Most of those who escaped from the wrath of the army and the STF forces have either been forced into the arms of the LTTE or have escaped to Colombo and other areas. Only some youth who have managed to get a chance to convince the forces that they were innocent are still staying.
In a similar vein, there are Tamils who argue that in the Tiger-controlled areas in the North, not many killings are taking place openly now, and that there is no need to talk about Human Rights violations by the Tigers. Of course, the large number of prisoners in the Tiger bunkers prisons and the continual arrests of individuals for the simple reason that they had or have different views, have no bearing on the thinking of these people. The inhuman conditions in which these prisoners are kept, and the torture and other sadistic acts meted out to them, have come to light only recently.
Therefore the decrease in the number of disappearances or killings alone cannot be a true indicator of the state of the human rights situation. The real test is to see whether the process which had led to large scale massacres, killings and disappearances has been arrested, and whether it has been replaced by a new course or direction. The number of disappearances in the Batticaloa area alone exceeds 3400. In front of the University staff in Vantharumoolai University refugee camp, nearly 152 persons were taken away. All attempts to trace them were futile. It is an insult to the whole community when the responsible officers come out and say that they had only arrested 32 people and had released them all.
Unless real efforts are being taken to trace them and unearth the truth about these missing people and the Government is prepared to help those families to overcome the tragedy by accepting responsibility, we don’t think the situation will begin to improve. The parents and the children who have lost their kith and kin are going through a tortured existence as they do not know what has happened to their loved ones. Moreover the arrogant way in which the officials dismiss these claims is adding insult to injury. Even getting compensation for the families who have lost their loved ones becomes possible only when the “Terrorists” do the killing.
In the South, thousands of parents are longing to find out their children’s fate. But they are being treated like criminals and are made to feel powerless. Of course some one might cite the atrocities of the JVP and LTTE to justify the collective punishment of a group of people. When some politicians candidly declare the failure of the major parties in the past as the root cause of the present crisis, one may wonder whether the whole purpose of pronouncing these enlightened statements is as not so much to change the direction from that of the past, as to abdicate their responsibility and to fool the people for yet another generation. If not, how can they penalise all these tragically stricken mothers, wives and others in the family for what happened in the past?. Today even the Government is devising new schemes to give employment only for the families who have been affected by the violence of the anti state forces (“25 marks for those affected by terrorist activity”: The Island, 29th Jan,1992). There is nothing wrong in helping out families who have lost their kith and kin in the recent violence. But it has to be done in such a way as to assist all the people who have been affected, without any discrimination, with a vision of bringing them all into one society. It should not be done purely on the criteria of who did the killing but through an understanding of the plight and grievances of the bereaved. Moreover for public service appointments, giving preferential treatment to those who have lost some one in their family by the act of “terrorist” violence might lead to a very unhealthy environment indeed.
Similarly the LTTE should show its sincerity in achieving peace through negotiation by bringing basic human norms into their behaviour, and be prepared to reform themselves and be ready to give space for the people to think and articulate their fears and aspirations. It sounds very reasonable, when they say that they are prepared to negotiate without any preconditions. But the fact that matters is that the LTTE has already imposed conditions on the people and various political forces and civil organisations in the society, by unleashing internal terror. When those conditions prevail, talking about negotiations without any pre-conditions is merely a facade. Yes, we need conditions imposed to make sure that it will open up spaces for people so that they can exercise their democratic rights to influence those who decide their fate, as well as make those forces accountable to the people. It’s a long process, and any democratic or human rights organisation should understand and grasp the reality, where people have been forced to abdicate their civil responsibilities. It will be far more effective and will contribute much to the people who are struggling to preserve sanity in an irrational environment if these organisations try to make the state, the LTTE and other groups accountable for their misdeeds. No outside force or organisations or any international committee can create a democratic environment for us, unless the society itself is prepared to chart that course. They can only assist and show solidarity for those who are struggling towards this goal. It is up to those who are struggling inside to widen whatever small spaces appearing. Due to external pressure, the powers in authority might be prepared to give some concessions in the hope that there won’t be any major threat to their control from within the society, as they feel that they have already instilled enough fear among the masses. If there is no objective force which can use this space to widen it further, then our society probably does not deserve to have democracy in the near future. But we feel that our community, although temporarily stifled, has a potential, which can be tapped. We appeal to those who are concerned about humanity to show their contempt for the dastardly acts perpetuated by those forces which are in control at present in Sri Lanka as a whole and in the Tamil community in particular.
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