Witnesses testify at Pasumai Thayagam event

MissingWitnesses from the No Fire Zone revealed their testimonies at a side event disappearances in Sri Lanka at the 29th session of the United Nations Human Rights Council, on Thursday.

A panel discussion on detainees and disappearances in Sri Lanka consisting of the Chair of the Bar Human Rights Committee Kirsty Brimelow QC, President of the Bianca Jagger Human Rights Foundation and Council of Europe Goodwill Ambassador Bianca Jagger, Human Rights Advocacy activist and contributor at the Tamil Guardian Sutharshan Sukumaran, was chaired by former All Party Parliamentary Group for Tamils (APPG-T) chair Lee Scott.

The event organised by Pasumai Thayagam in collaboration with British Tamils Forum (BTF) and the United States Tamil Political Action Council (USTPAC), saw harrowing witness statements by families of those killed in the witness ‘White Flag Incident’ that moved the room. (Witness statements reproduced at end of article)

Commending the courage of witnesses to come forward and share their testimony in public, Ms Brimelow, said,

“I don’t think anyone can in this room was not moved by those witness accounts.”

The Chair of the BAR Human Rights Committee for England and Wales cited findings of the UN Panel of Experts report into the final stages of the armed conflict in Sri Lanka, and reiterated the importance of the main recommendation for the independent international mechanism for truth, justice and accountability.

Ms Brimelow went on to speak on a report that worked on with the BAR Human Rights Committee entitled ‘An Unfinished War: Torture and Sexual violence in Sri Lanka 2009-2014’

The Chair of the BAR Human Rights Committee added that the report found “compelling evidence of abduction torture, rape and sexual violence being sued against Tamils by security forces in Sri Lanka, with the most recent incident being in February 2014.”

Extensive methods of torture by Sri Lanka’s security forces against Tamil victims were further outlined by Ms Brimelow, who noted that several victims “were forced to sign false testimonies in Sinhala, a language that they didn’t understand.”

Drawing on Sri Lanka’s ratification of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) Ms Brimelow added that Sri Lanka had a duty to answer to these violations under international law.

Responding to a question on Sri Lanka’s capabilities of investigating itself, Ms Brimelow “All trust has gone in Sri Lanka in terms of its national institutions. There is also a major obstacle in Sri Lanka about the protection of witnesses. Until there is a robust scheme to protect witnesses all international or domestic bodies are going to struggle function achieve accountability.”

Ms Jagger expressed solidarity with the witnesses search for truth and justice adding,

“We may never know who exactly killed them and who made the decision. These murders may be the most well-known and unfortunately, represent just the tip of the iceberg.”

Reminding the event of Sri Lanka’s previous refusals to cooperate with the OHCHR investigation into Sri Lanka’s atrocities, Ms Jagger, added,

“the UN High Commissioner criticized the continuing efforts of the Sri Lankan Government to thwart the OHCHR investigation, including the distortion of facts and the persistent intimidation of individuals who may wish to cooperate with the investigation.”

The Council of Europe Goodwill Ambassador, ended by reiterating the need for an end to “the total culture of impunity.”

Speaking on the “sentiment in the North-East” under the new governance of Maithripala Sirisena, Mr Sukumaran spoke through statements made by political figureheads and Tamil civil society groups, whilst elaborating on different protests across the North-East that called for demilitarisation and an international investigation into alleged ‘genocide.’

“The statements and mobilisation by Tamils and civil society in the North-East contradict Sri Lanka’s claims to the international community that there is progress on reconciliation.”

Mr Sukumaran added that statements made by Sri Lanka’s leaders to the Sinhala majority on “war victories,” did not foster “an environment for a future accountability, reconciliation and a political settlement for the Tamil people,” and in instances “contradicted commitments made to the international community.”

Speaking on the Sri Lanka’s domestic presidential commission into missing persons, Mr Sukumaran, outlined credible reports of families being coerced into signing death certificates and increased protests during sittings of the domestic commission, added that ‘Sri Lanka’s domestic missing persons commission had been rejected by Tamils and civil society through protests and statements”

Responding to a question on the importance of a victims based approach for reconciliation and justice, Mr Sukumaran, said,

“As the Special Rapporteur on Truth Justice and Reparation was that any future process has to be based around the victims with full consultations of all communities. Though Sri Lanka may acknowledge the need to reconcile communities, it fails to acknowledge that the Tamils in the North-East and the diaspora are also victims.”

A Madras High Court lawyer, Mr Balu Kaliaperumal, expressed the need to find truth about the disappearances, stating that at one point Sri Lanka had the second highest number of disappearances in the world.

The event was attended by representatives from missions of America, Cuba, Botswana, UK, Australia, Sri Lanka and several NGOs including Human Rights Watch.

Ms Kurunchi – Member of Liberation Tamil Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) Civil Administration and wife of LTTE Chief Peace Secretariat

I am the wife of Pulithevan who was the peace secretariat for the LTTE. He surrendered alongside other political leaders and Tamil civilians and was killed by security forces. Previosuly My husband took part in several rounds of peacetalks held in Europe from 2002-2006 and worked strenuously to broker peace.

During the final stages of the war he was communicating with the international community to update them on the situation of civilian casualties in the No Fire Zone.

On May 16 2009, we moved to our final destination in the No Fire Zone of Mullivaikal. My husband, who was the LTTE peace secretariat, Pulithevan, asked me to surrender wit Tamil civilians into government hands because I was ill. He said he would stay with LTTE Political wing leader Nadesan.

On May 17 2009, I crossed Vatuwal bridge into the military controlled areas. Before I left Pulithevan speaking to international community through satellite phones to discuss a surrender mechanism.

I stayed in the Chetikulam internment camp for a month after the end of the war.

I was not aware of what happened outside of the camp.

When I left the camp after 1 month, I came to know that my husband Pulithevan along with other cadres and injured civilians had walked into the military controlled area holding a white flag and was killed.

I don’t know why they were killed after they agreed a surrender. We do not know who placed the order for their killing or how they were killed.

After informing the highest level authorities in Sri Lanka and people in the international community, I want to know why those people who surrendered were killed. I urge the international community to give justice for thousands of people like me.

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