The Sri Lankan government’s re-introduction of travel restrictions to the North, preventing all foreign citizens from entering the region without prior written permission from the Ministry of Defence, is aimed at stopping Tamils from giving evidence to the UN inquiry, said the Tamil National People’s Front (TNPF).
“The fact that the travel restrictions on foreign passport holders to the North has come at this juncture is not a surprise at all,” the TNPF president, Gajendrakumar Ponnambalam told the Tamil Guardian on Sunday.
“The government would have been observing closely and its intelligence sources would have revealed that the Tamil victims of the most heinous crimes are very eager to give evidence to the OHCHR Investigation into Sri Lanka (OISL). The only hesitation Tamils have is with regards to how the evidence can be submitted whilst maintaining secrecy. One of the safest ways would be to transfer the evidence through diplomats or foreigners who would be most likely to be able to get the evidence out of the country safely,” he said.
Several tourists, diaspora Tamils, and even a UN official have been turned away at Omanthai military checkpoint, since the travel restriction was announced last week by the military spokesperson.
Responding to the move, the UK, Canada and Australia, updated their travel advisories, warning citizens of the need for obtaining MoD approval and the ongoing military activity in the Tamil areas.
“These measures taken by government of Sri Lanka only highlight the pressing need for the UN to seriously consider, as the next step, the need to find the means of creating direct access to the greatest reservoir of evidence of the mass crimes committed against the Tamils, which is the people on the ground. It is only when the people on the ground are able to give evidence would the findings be comprehensive and complete,” Mr Ponnambalam added.
Last month, the TNPF urged Tamils in the North-East to submit evidence to the OISL, launching a document in Tamil with a sample submission form and information leaflet.
Asked by a journalist whether witnesses could be guaranteed their safety following submission of evidence, Mr Ponnambalam said:
“We too are affected by the [Sri Lankan] state, therefore we cannot express any sort of guarantee of safety. However, beyond the issue of fear, today, the international community’s eyes are focussed on Sri Lanka. Today, particularly the issue of the UN inquiry, has great importance internationally. In this situation, every action of the Sri Lankan state is being scrutinised by the international community. Beyond fear, we too have a duty to seek justice for the atrocities committed.” (Tamil Guardian)