Camp disappearances reach alarming levels - Rights advocate
Sunila Abeysekera, a human rights activist and executive director of INFORM human rights documentation center in Sri Lanka, in an interview to Real News Network in Toronto, accused the Sri Lanka Government authorities of not providing enough attention to the welfare of the nearly 300,000 people in the internment camps who have come to these camps after months of deprivation, and said that the lack of proper registration procedures for the people inside the camp is providing Colombo a free hand in facilitating the Paramilitaries to take youths out of the camps in large numbers without any accountability.
"Many of the people are dehydrated and have infected wounds," Abeysekara said, and pointed to the April 11th statement by the High Court Judge in Vavuniyaa that fourteen elderly people died of starvation in one day.
Abeysekara said that she cannot accept Sri Lanka Government's stand that they will screen the 300,000 people before giving access to independent NGOs including ICRC, and UNHCR, and that independent observers should be allowed to monitor the screening process.
She also said that more than 200 youths between the ages of 11 and 17 were taken from the Manik farm camp in Vavuniyaa last week, and the Government has not disclosed the list of the youths taken. "The parents of these youths are desparate," Ms Abeysekera said.
Government admits that they have 10,000 LTTE surrendees and captives in who have surrendered, Ms Abeysekera said. "We don't know where they are. We don't have a list of who they are. There are families of senior LTTE cadres are in Government custody. For example, Soosai's wife and children are captured by the Sri Lanka Navy. We are trying to find where these people are. And it is impossible," Ms Abeysekara added.
Ms Abeysekera was honored as a Human Rights Watch Defender at the 2007, Voices for Justice Dinner Worldview.
Children abducted from S.Lanka camps: rights group
May 20, 2009
LONDON (AFP) — Children are being abducted, with tacit government approval, from camps housing those displaced by Sri Lanka's ethnic conflict, human rights groups charged Thursday.
The Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers said it had received verified reports of child abductions from camps in the main resettlement area of Vavuniya, often by paramilitary Tamil groups.
Children as young as 12 have been among those taken, the coalition said, suggesting that the paramilitaries -- who allied with the military in the fight against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) -- are being used to identify and weed out former Tiger child soldiers.
The paramilitary groups have been allowed "unhindered" access to the camps which are tightly guarded by government troops, it said.
The Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers is an umbrella group of global organisations which includes Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.
"The motive is slightly unclear," said Charu Lata Hogg, a spokeswoman for the groups.
"Some are being taken away for ransom, they've been kidnapped for ransom, and there've been certain negotiated releases where mothers had some jewellery and they could negotiate a release right within the camp," Hogg told the BBC.
"In other cases the children have been taken away for questioning for their alleged links to the LTTE, so they are suspected of being former child soldiers with the LTTE," she said.
The military declared its final victory over the LTTE on Monday, ending a decades-old conflict that has claimed up to 100,000 lives.
U.N. mission imperative to curb rights violations in Sri Lanka- HRW
Human Rights Watch (HRW) officials currently touring the U.S. lobbying for a U.N. mission to monitor human rights violations in Sri Lanka, told the Chicago Public Radio that their current focus is on the "shocking" disappearances and killing in Sri Lanka where the Sri Lanka Government has done "shamefully little" to investigate the cases. They added that Democratic Institutions that would otherwise be capable of highlighting human right abuses, infringements to freedom of speech, and erosion in independence of judiciary in Sri Lanka, have collapsed under an ineffective Parliament.
Fred Abrahams, Senior Researcher for Emergencies, Human Rights Watch (HRW), and Sunila Abeysekera, Director of INFORM human rights documentation center in Sri Lanka, honored as a Human Rights Watch Defender at the 2007, Voices for Justice Dinner Worldview, spoke with Chicago Public Radio, Producer Andrea Wenzel when they were in Chicago Saturday.
Mainly Tamil men between ages 18-35, are being abducted or killed at a rate of four persons a day. Men are often taken in for questioning, interrogated, tortured; some of them may be held in detention facilities but the government does not release their names; under Emergency Regulations the abductees are not charged and can be held for long periods of time, Mr Abrahams said.
The abductions are often done in a way to terrorize the entire community, Ms Abeysekera said. White van abductions by armed men take place in broad day light in public places, and these have many witnesses, but there is no possibility to push for an investigation. Proliferation of armed groups have further complicated the situation, Abeyesekara said. In the north, it is possible to place the blame on the security forces as many abductions take place inside high security zones close to the presence of Sri Lanka security sentry points, Ms Abeysekera said.
In the east, complicity of the Sri Lanka Government with the Karuna faction in the abductions, has been pointed out by the HRW, and U.N. ambassador Allan Rock, she said.
However, in Colombo businessmen have been abducted for huge ransom, and although security forces, army deserters and individuals are involved, it is difficult to pinpoint the blame on any one, Ms Abeysekera added.
Abeysekara said that she was sad that political manipulation of identity has destroyed tradition of of harmonious co-existence between communities. Since the power is concentrated between two individuals, Sri Lanka's President Rajapakse on one hand, and the Liberation Tigers leader Pirapaharan on the other, there is little space for compromise. But she said she has hope; deteriorating economy, and increasing number of bodies coming to the south may generate a shift in attitudes to war in the South, Ms Abeysekera said.
On Karuna's situation, Mr Abrahams said, if Britain extradites Karuna to Sri Lanka, HRW believes Colombo will not prosecute him. Colombo will likely engineer killing Karuna, and for this reason, and for international justice to be served, Mr Abrahams said he would like to see Britain prosecuting him.
Democratic institutions have either collapsed or not functioning, Mr Abrahams said. Police, prosecution, and the courts are not effective. Colombo has taken very concrete steps to undermine the function of the Human Rights Commission. A U.N. Monitoring mission is necessary to contain the increasingly hostile engagements between the parties by reigning in on human rights violations, Mr Abrahams said.
Families trapped in Sri Lanka camps fear for missing children
Up to a fifth of refugee Tamil children have been lost or abducted, reports Andrew Buncombe from Colombo
In a world where people had lost everything, she held up the photograph as if it were the most precious thing imaginable.
It showed a young boy, no more than three years old, dressed in a blue and white outfit. It was Shanmugam Saraswathi's grandson Manimaran, and she had no idea where he was. "Please help me find him," she said, as she held up the picture.
Ms Saraswathi – a Tamil civilian who fled the war zone in Sri Lanka's north and is now being held at a refugee camp near the city of Vavuniya – is not alone. Aid agencies fear that hundreds of children have become separated from their parents in the chaos that followed the escape of up to 300,000 people from the last land controlled by the LTTE rebels. There are even allegations – denied by the government – that a number of children have been abducted from the camps by paramilitaries who enjoy tacit support from the authorities.
Ms Saraswathi, who had been in the camp for three weeks, said that Manimaran's mother, father and elder sister had been killed in the fighting and that the last she had heard of her grandson was that he was being cared for by a neighbour. Now she was losing hope of ever seeing him again.
With journalists prevented by the authorities from reaching the camps except on occasional, escorted visits, Ms Saraswathi's story was passed to The Independent by a trusted intermediary. "I don't know where he is," she added, standing in the playground of the school. As she spoke another half-dozen women gathered nearby, each with their own photograph, each with their own, similar story. It is impossible to estimate how many families have become dislocated as they wait in the refugee camps, surrounded by razor wire and from which they are unable to leave. A report by Save the Children suggested a fifth of all children were either missing or separated from one or both of their parents.
The charity said that while the Sri Lankan government had taken some measures to reunite such families, the situation remained dire. "The influx of people into the government camps was so large and so fast that I've come across hundreds of children who have lost their parents along the way," Stein Lied, a protection officer, said recently. "The running was so panicked that I've even met a lactating mother who lost her newborn as she was escaping."
Concern about such children mounted yesterday as another NGO alleged there was persuasive evidence that teenagers were being abducted from the camps by paramilitary groups. The Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers said it had received verified reports of abductions from camps in Vavuniya. It said several paramilitary groups, including the Eelam People's Democratic Party and People's Liberation Organisation of Tamil Eelam, apparently had unhindered access to the camps. It claimed that humanitarian workers said that most of the abductions have happened at night when there is less security.
The government staunchly denied the accusations yesterday. Mahinda Samarasinghe, the Minister for Disaster Management and Human Rights, said: "That is not correct. We have the responsibility for the protection [of people] in the camps."
Mr Samarasinghe said while there had been an initial problem of children being separated from their families, the issue was now being addressed and that around 3,000 families had now been reunited. He said telephones and databases had been set up at the camps to help families. He also said attention had been addressed to the problem of the flood of refugees overwhelming emergency medical facilities. "I'm not too proud to say that we can improve, but we are working on things together with our international partners," he added.
Meanwhile, the government said it planned to return most of the nearly 300,000 civilians to their homes by the end of the year. After visiting Indian ministers met President Mahinda Rajapaksa to express their concerns about the humanitarian situation, a joint statement was released saying the government had a 180-day plan to resettle the majority. Earlier in the week a government spokesman conceded that some of the refugees could be held for up to two years.
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