Skip to main content Skip to footer

Statement by Anuradha Mittal

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Download PDF

Thank you Bill and all who join us today. I am Anuradha Mittal, Executive Director of the Oakland Institute and the author of the reports we release today. I introduce the report and will then be joined by an eminent panel of experts who I will introduce at the end of my statement. 

The goal of our research on Sri Lanka was to understand the social, economic and political reality in the Northern and Eastern Provinces, six years after the conclusion of the civil war.   

The  result  is  the  first  independent  in-­‐depth  report  on  post-­‐war  Sri  Lanka  which  exposes  the following: 

– In contrast with reports of peace and stability, six years after the end of the war, the North  and  the  East  are  still  under  very  heavy  military  occupation,  with  one  army personnel  for  every  6  civilians.  This  has  nothing  to  do  with  ensuring  security  from separatist rebels. 

– The army is engaged  in property  development,  running  luxury  tourist  resorts,  whale-­‐ watching excursions, farming, and other business ventures on land seized from local populations.  Thousands  of  Tamil  families  remain  displaced  as  their  homes,  schools, places of worship, and livelihoods have been razed to the ground.  

– Tamil culture and history are being systematically  suppressed  through “Sinhalization,” an  orchestrated  and  well-­‐resourced  campaign  to  establish  Sinhalese  domination  in Tamil homelands. This is a continuation of decades long history of marginalization which has involved violence, pogroms, repressive laws, and colonization of the North and the East. 

– Thousands of people are missing today. While figures vary from 70,000 missing to twice that number, during the course of our fieldwork, we gathered dozens of testimonies and evidences from family members of the missing and those “whitevanned”. All report that their  search  for  their  loved  ones  had  been  met  with  intimidation,  threat,  and  even arrests.  

As  we  release  this  report,  a  key  question  is  how  does  the  change  of  government  in  January 2015 impact the situation?  

President  Sirisena  has  promised  a  process  of  truth  and  reconciliation.  Some  initial  gestures made are, however, minimal given the extent of the problems.   More important, our research and analysis raises serious questions about the government’s political will and political space to carry  out  a  thorough  investigation  and  prosecution  of  war  crimes  and  its  ability  to  ensure remedies that lead to justice.  

First,  “No  Change  in  Security  Status  or  Removal  of  Army  Camps” is  the  déja  vu  position  of Sirisena’s  government.  In February  2015, Minister of Defense Ruwan Wijewardene  confirmed the  status  quo  stating  that  the  government  would  not  remove  any  army  formations  in  the peninsula, nor does it plan to scale down security arrangements. 

Second, the recent appointment of Major General Dias as the Army Chief of Staff, despite the fact that under his command the 57th division was implicated in serious human rights abuses, rebuffs current government pledges to ensure justice and reconciliation. 

Third, a few political prisoners like Jayakumari  Balendran have been released with conditions. But  it  remains  unclear  how  many  political  prisoners  are  still  languishing  in  jails  and  camps. 

Balendran’s  written  testimony  to  the  Oakland  Institute  is  a  direct  challenge  to  President Sirisena’s commitment.

Lastly, a few lands have been released in the North and the East. For instance, President Sirisena revoked an agreement giving some 800 acres of land in Sampur to the Board of Investment, while a navy camp is to be relocated in Sampur.

In case of Sampur, the new location for the Navy Camp is “literally just across the fence” from its old location. The challenges of resettlement when little to no infrastructure remains, lands are not ready for cultivation, and land titles are not clear given communities fled under heavy shelling without papers, is a huge problem. Also people will be resettled near the proposed Indian-­‐funded Sampur Coal Power Plant, not affected by the release of these lands.

Similar problems remain in the North.

Why we release this report today– to highlight the urgency of the situation

In March 2014, the UN Human Rights Council adopted a resolution to launch an inquiry into war crimes committed by both Sri Lankan state forces and Tamil separatist rebels. The UN was set to release its report in March 2015, which was delayed for 6 months at the request of the new government.

Given the past records of government inaction, international pressure is critical for any decisive action. Instead of pursuing their geostrategic interests, US, India and other countries should demand the release of the UN inquiry. The Human Rights Council should focus on establishing a judicial process under the auspices of the UN to ensure justice is done.

The human rights situation in Sri Lanka will not improve until the culture of impunity is replaced with a culture of responsibility, accountability, and fulfillment of full rights of minorities in the country. Ensuring that this happens is the responsibility–not a political dilemma—of the international community.

In conclusion I quote Rajani Thiranagama, an academic, medical doctor, and a human rights defender gunned down in 1989 for documenting the truth: ‘Objectivity, the pursuit of truth and critical, honest positions, is crucial for the community, but is a view that could cost many of us our lives. It is undertaken to revitalize a community sinking into a state of oblivion.’

This report is dedicated to her and her courage to tell the truth.