EMMA ALBERICI, PRESENTER: The United Nations this week called on the Sri Lankan government to institute a ‘credible’ national inquiry into alleged war crimes against the minority Tamil community, or risk a UN mandated investigation.
Four years after the end of the country’s civil war, Tamils still complain of widespread intimidation and violence.
In a moment I’ll be joined live from New York by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, who recently completed a fact finding mission to Sri Lanka, but first, this report from south Asia correspondent Michael Edwards.
MICHAEL EDWARDS, REPORTER: Ananthi Sasitharan is back in her home village celebrating her election to the newly formed local Government established in Sri Lanka’s north. She praises her gods for her win during a visit to her Tamil temple. she’s also thanking them for saving her life, when her house was attacked by a group of thugs just before the poll.
ANANTHI SASITHARAN, TAMIL POLITICIAN (TRANSLATED): When I was selected as a candidate they spread this meaningless propaganda to destroy my image and reputation, after that they tried to kill me, thugs came to my home and surrounded it and my assistants were bashed by these thugs.
MICHAEL EDWARDS: She escaped but her assistants stayed to defend the house.
ASSISTANT: Outside we see the armed uniform.
MICHAEL EDWARDS: And they hit you with sticks?
MICHAEL EDWARDS: And they beat you?
MICHAEL EDWARDS: She’s a hero to the local Tamil community but as the wife of a missing Tamil tiger leader she’s treated with suspicion by Sri Lankan authorities.
ANANTHI SASITHARAN (TRANSLATED): I live in fear. I’m scared to move anywhere and my children can’t go to school because of the threats, I want the world to know that I’m not safe.
MICHAEL EDWARDS: Sri Lanka’s a country still healing after a decades-long civil war. The military keeps a strong presence here in the north and many Tamils regard it and the Government in Colombo with fear and suspicion. They complain of beatings, torture, discrimination and in some cases their family members being abducted.
PAIKIASOTHY SARAVANAMUTTU, POLITICAL ANALYST: We have a term that has sort of passed into common parlance called “white vans” that you might get “white vaned” and what that means is that you will disappear.
MICHAEL EDWARDS: This Tamil woman is too scared to reveal her identity or her name on television. Her husband was “white vaned” three years ago an outspoken Tamil activist, he disappeared from the streets of Jaffna after questioning authorities about where his missing relatives were.
TAMIL WOMAN (TRANSLATED): I was warned by someone not to go to court to file a case about my husband going missing. They also warned me that I wouldn’t want my daughter to also have to live without a mother.
MICHAEL EDWARDS: A recent report by the United Nations Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay highlighted serious concerns about Sri Lanka’s record of abuse. Navi Pillay warned the country is heading towards becoming an authoritarian State.
GL PEIRIS, PROF, SRI LANKAN FOREIGN MINISTER: It was a very unfortunate statement, there political statements, a very biased statements, I’m sorry to say.
MICHAEL EDWARDS: The military denies involvement in any human rights abuses in the north and Sri Lanka’s Foreign Minister GL Peiris points to the recent election of the northern provincial council as proof steps towards full political freedom are being made.
GL PEIRIS: Well what is being achieved is something very significant, it is the empowerment of the people of the north in a political sense.
MICHAEL EDWARDS: In November, Colombo is hosting the Commonwealth Heads Of Government Meeting, it will be a chance for the President Mahinda Ragapakse to showcase the undoubted economic progress Sri Lanka has made since the war but human rights activists say it will also enable the Government to whitewash its human rights record and they’re urging leaders such as Australia’s Prime Minister Tony Abbott to consider not turning up.
PAIKIASOTHY SARAVANAMUTTU: Given that the Commonwealth values are now embodied in a charter, given that there are human rights council resolutions on Sri Lanka with regard to human rights, how on earth can you have a Commonwealth summit in the this country?
MICHAEL EDWARDS: As the area recovers from the war, the Government is pouring millions of dollars into rebuilding northern Sri Lanka, but along with the roads, the electricity grids and the buildings, come constant reminders of who really is in charge.