Sub-Commission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights

Fifty-second Session

Oral Presentation by Parthiban Paramananthan


Item 2: Question of the violation of human rights and fundamental freedoms in all countries




Thank you Madam chairpreson

Article 147 of  Geneva Convention IV of 1949 identifies wilful killing, torture or inhuman treatment, wilfully causing great sufferings or serious injury to body or health, extensive destruction and appropriation of property, compelling civilians to serve in the forces of the hostile power, depriving the rights of civilians, unlawful confinement of civilians as grave breaches of the rules of war.  Protocols Additional I and II add further acts to the list of grave breaches, in particular making the civilian population the object of attack  or carrying out indiscriminate military operations knowing that there will be excessive civilian casualties or destruction of civilian property.  Several situations of armed conflict where there are numerous allegations of grave breaches have justified the attention of the international community: Bosnia-Herzogovina, Rwanda, East Timor, Sierra Leone, Burundi, Chechnya, Kosovo to name a few. Other situations where allegations the grave breaches are as numerous have not met that attention. The war in Sri Lanka has been one of these situations, where for political or economic self-interest many countries have kept silent.

However, investigators under United Nations human rights machinery have not kept silent. There have been repeated denunciations of alarming numbers of violations committed by the government’s forces made by the Commission’s working groups and rapporteurs and the special representatives of the Secretary-General. Sadly, neither the Sub-Commission nor the Commission have seen fit to respond. Fortunately, there is increased international attention to this war, in part fuelled by the dramatic military gains of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, in part by the efforts of notably Norway but other countries as well to find a way to resolve this long war, in part by international outrage over the total press ban recently imposed by the government and in part by the overwhelming and credible evidence of grave breaches. Now also, international figures are speaking out about these widespread grave breaches. We bring to the attention of the Sub-Commission a few of the recent pronouncements on this war.

Madam chairpreson

On 29 June 2000, the Chairman of the Committee on International Relations, Congress of the United States, Congressman Benjamin Gilman, in his letter to Hon. Madeleine Albright, US Secretary of State, stated that the Sri Lankan government has a long history of repressing the human rights of the Tamil people. He stressed that the government’s embargo on food, medicine and other essentials to the Tamil people has caused a humanitarian crisis. He also indicates that the ban on access for the media to the war zones could indicate that the Sri Lankan government is concerned that the outside world may learn things that may not reflect well on its image not doing enough to minimise civilian casualties.

On 18 July 2000, two British members of European Parliament strongly criticised the Sri Lankan government’s record. They said that the government has not done enough to protect civilians caught up in the war against Tamil Tigers and is covering up their suffering. The two members accused authorities of implementing an oppressive press-censorship policy and of not allowing essential supplies, including baby food and medicine, to be distributed in areas controlled by the Tamil Tigers. They also said that the authorities were or even more so have failed to result in meaningful international action. They claimed that the plight of displaced people in and around the conflict area was as bad as the suffering endured by civilians in Sierra Leone and Chechnya.

In addition to our own NGO, a number of non-governmental organizations whose mandates cover torture, extrajudicial killings, freedom of the press and other human rights issues, have issued reports on the situation -- placing great blame on the government for war-related atrocities. These atrocities include use of multi-barrel artillery shelling and carpet bombings against the non-combatant civilian population, use by the Sri Lankan Army of civilians as human shields, indiscriminate artillery shelling and bombings purposively damaging properties of the civilian Tamil people, and a dramatic increase in torture due to promulgation of seriously repressive legislation and conditions in detention.  Government- sponsored atrocities in north and east Sri Lanka are at the same level of gravity that forced the international community to establish the special international tribunals for Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia – ethnic cleansing, starvation, murders of children; extrajudicial killings, rapes, bombardments, shelling, arbitrary arrests and detention, labour camps, ill-treatments, summary executions, collective punishment, and pillage. These atrocities, committed on a large scale and against the Tamil people, meet the international definition of genocide. In this light, we appeal to governments that are presently or that are considering supplying the Sri Lanka government with weaponry to stop or refrain from doing so, as to knowing supply weapons to a government that is in substantial non-compliance of humanitarian law rules can be viewed as aiding and abetting war crimes according to Article 1 of the Geneva Conventions. This would also qualify as “complicity” in genocide under Article III (e) of the Genocide Convention. (Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, United Nations Treaty Series, No. 78 at p. 277),  

Madam chairpreson

In addition to serious concerns about the conduct of the war by the Sri Lankan forces, the Sri Lankan government also generates extreme concern about its conduct in the road to peace. Recent proposals to “resolve” the Tamil question, ostensibly worked out by the two biggest Sinhala parties, will be shortly presented to Parliament by the government. This, in spite of the fact that the government failed to consult either the LTTE or any Tamil political party in the making of this “devolution package.” All the Tamil parties reject this “package” as being manifestly inadequate – merely watered-down versions of earlier, rejected packages. How can the government expect to achieve any form of national unity if the population in question is blatantly left out of the discussions?? Or told, like little children, what the plan will be?  Any government that is serious about peace talks and peace plans discusses them directly with the party with which they are at war. This is, to quote the leading Sri Lankan independent newspaper, a plan to which nobody agrees but the ruling party.

 We are also distressed by the aggressively anti-Tamil posturing of the right-wing Sinhala clergy and parties – some of who’s recent pronouncements we consider “direct and public incitement to commit genocide” under Article III (c) of the Genocide Convention. These groups intend to oppose even the seriously defective package on the grounds that it provides “too much” for the Tamils.

We ask the Sub-Commission to address the situation in Sri Lanka as an issue of the  highest priority, and in particular to express its concern about the civilian Tamil population, the oppressive legislation and the sweeping media ban. We urge the Sub-Commission to support the mediation initiatives of Norway and other countries. We ask the Sub-Commission to call upon all states to not supply armaments or monies for military use to the government of Sri Lanka. Finally, we urge the Sub-Commission to condemn the government of Sri Lanka for its failure to include the Tamil political and military forces in any meaningful dialogue regarding resolution of this conflict.                                  

Thank you Madam chairperson.