In a letter, the Bishop of Mannar Rt. Rev. Dr. Rayappu Joseph writes to the Sri Lankan president about the Reconciliation, human rights and humanitarian concerns in the Mannar Diocese. Here is the full text of the letter:
23rd August 2012
His Excellency Mahinda Rajapakse
Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka
Reconciliation, human rights and humanitarian concerns in the Mannar Diocese
(Mannar and Vavuniya districts)People in the Mannar diocese have been expecting better life in many aspects since the end of the war and there are expectations of a reconciliation process leading towards sustainable peace with justice. As Church leaders, we have been trying to work with other religious leaders, civil society, government officials, to address key issues facing the people in order to achieve a sustainable peace and reconciliation. It is in this spirit that together with other civil groups in Mannar, I took the lead to request the LLRC to hold hearings in Mannar, to which they responded positively. The Diocese of Mannar made a detailed presentation to the LLRC, attaching annexes with additional and specific information and presenting specific recommendations. We continue to face serious human and humanitarian problems blocking our journey towards winning the hearts and minds of people in favor of sustainable peace and reconciliation. Hence, I’m writing to bring some such areas of concern to Your Excellency, in the hope that Your Excellency will take the needed action. These areas of concern are common to all the Districts both in the North and the East of Sri Lanka. I look forward to a favorable and speedy response and also offer my prayers and cooperation in resolving these matters. Sincerely yours, Rt. Rev. Dr. Rayappu Joseph Bishop of Mannar
Reconciliation, human rights and humanitarian concerns in the Mannar Diocese
(Mannar and Vavuniya districts)
- 1. The Tamil national question, nationhood, provincial elections: The unresolved national question has been remaining as a deep wound in the body of our country and all the sad and tragic events that had been taking place in the history of our dear motherland from the year 1956 on are only the symptoms of this unattended wound due to lack of firm will on the part of the parties concerned.. Thus, the political solution is the permanent answer to all these evils. Thus, in the long term, we yearn for a resolution to the ethnic conflict through power sharing that recognizes the nationhood of Tamil people within the framework of one country. In principle, we support elections, but are wary that Provincial Council elections for the East and also the North fall short of our expectations, particularly if the focus is on the 13th Amendment and the North and East continue to be separated.
- Given that the 13th amendment has been part of the constitution for 25 years, it must be implemented in full at least now, with land and police powers to the provinces.
- Nationhood of Tamil people, internal self determination, traditional habitation of the North and East and recognition of the North and East as a single unit must form the basis of any political solution. These concepts may be defined to suit our particular country situation.
- A broad dialogue process must be initiated towards a political solution to the ethnic conflict, involving the Tamil National Alliance, with space for other Tamil groups such as academics, professionals, religious leaders etc. to participate.
- 2. Enforced Disappearances: Despite complaints to the Police, National Human Rights Commission, LLRC and appeals to government officials and various politicians, almost all families of disappeared people have not received any news about the fate or whereabouts of their loved ones. Thousands of cases of enforced disappearance are known to have taken place during the war. Although the numbers may have reduced at present, we are alarmed to see cases of enforced disappearance continuing to take place throughout the country including in the North. Some families have complained of coercion to accept death certificates and others have reported the refusal of the Police to accept complaints and threats when they were submitting complaints.
- Government must ensure that enforced disappearances do not take place anywhere in Sri Lanka.
- As per the LLRC’s recommendation, appoint a Special Commissioner to deal with individual cases and the overall problem. The Commissioner should be independent from the government and seen as independent to families of disappeared, opposition politicians and civil society. He / she should be adequately resourced and provided a mandate for independent work.
- Amongst the matters to be looked into should be the 146,679 people unaccounted during the last phase of the war, about which we have submitted documentary evidence to the LLRC.
- Police must accept all complaints made and deal with them in accordance to law.
- Families of disappeared persons should not be compelled to accept death certificates and the acceptance of a death certificate should not result in closure of investigations and accountability process.
- Extend an invitation to the UN Working Group on Enforced and Involuntary. Disappearances to visit Sri Lanka and obtain their assistance and advice.
- Ratify the International Convention against Enforced Disappearances as an indicator of the Government’s commitment against enforced disappearances .
- Ratify the Optional Protocol to the International Convention against Torture as part of increasing safety nets against torture.
- 3. Political prisoners: A large number of political prisoners have been detained for years without charge. Those who have been charged are forced to remain in detention while cases drag on for several years. Detainees are forced to live in overcrowded cells without basic facilities including proper sanitation. There is a constant threat of violence by prison guards and other inmates and hence, prisoners live with lot of stress and tension. Failure to separate political prisoners from members of the criminal underworld and drug addicts adds to the tension and increases the threat of violence against political prisoners. Most families have been economically impoverished as many of those detained are bread winners. In our areas, people continue to be arrested and detained under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) even in 2012.
- Release all detainees being held without charge.
- Charges in cases where there is substantial evidence, must be filed as early as possible within a year and for those already in detention for several years, by end of 2012.
- Consider amnesty for those who have been convicted.
- Publish a list of all political detainees .
- Ensure that political prisoners are separated at all times from the other prisoners.
- Provide assistance and opportunities for families, friends to visit and meet detainees in a humane manner and do away with the requirement to obtain certificates from Government officials and Police before such visits.
- Lawyers should be able to visit detainees on designated days and times without prior permission and detainees should be able to communicate with lawyers in confidence without the presence of prison and police officers.
- Detainees from North and those with cases in Courts in the North should be detained in prisons in the North and should not be transferred to detention centers in places such as Boosa, Colombo, Kandy etc. without a specific reason which must be communicated to the detainee and his next-of-kin in writing prior to the transfer.
- Arrests under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) should not continue as a practice except when there is clear evidence and grounds for suspicion about involvement in acts of terrorism.
- Whenever allegations of abuses against political prisoners are reported, independent investigations must be conducted and those responsible held accountable, and this must be done immediately in relation to the June 2012 incident where several political prisoners from the Vavuniya prison were severely tortured and two were killed.
- 4. Extrajudicial killings: Thousands of people have been killed extra judicially during the last phase of the war as well as three decades of conflict. Some have been killed in targeted individual killings while others have been massacred in large numbers during the three decade war. In almost all cases there has been no attempt to investigate the killings and provide justice and accountability to families of the victims and affected communities.
- All individual cases and massacres must be investigated by an independent body and those responsible identified and held accountable.
- Amnesty measures can also be considered after truth is established and responsibility is accepted.
- The procedure to issue death certificates should be simplified and transparent and the cause of death should not be altered due to political reasons.
- Compensation should be paid in an equitable manner to all families of survivors in a speedy manner irrespective of who the victim or perpetrator is or their ethnicity or religion.
- Death certificates and compensation should not take away the rights of families to seek justice and accountability.
- 5. Respect for the dead, justice for those killed and disappeared: Since the end of the war, the military has increasingly interfered in religious and cultural rituals for those killed and disappeared including threats and intimidation against organizers of remembrance events including Catholic Priests. Some families are not even allowed to keep photos of their loved ones killed during the war. Cemeteries of Tamil militants have been destroyed and bulldozed. Recently, the military and police have even tried to interfere in the conduct of funerals in the North. A heavy military and police presence at funerals causes unnecessary distress to the family and makes it difficult for them to observe funeral rites in peace.
- Families must be allowed to keep photos of their loved ones killed during the war.
- Religious and cultural rituals for the dead including funerals must take place free of all interference by military and police.
- The kind of heavy military and police presence seen at the house of Nimalaruban at his funeral, in Nellukulam in July 2012, must not be repeated. The government must also follow the directives of the Supreme Court in the same case that funeral arrangements must be decided on by the family.
- Cemeteries of dead militants should not be desecrated by building of new structures, cultivation etc.
- 6. Remembering the victims instead of celebrating the war: The grand celebrations held in May every year in relation to the end of the war has further polarized ethnic tensions, given the thousands of civilians, government soldiers and Tamil militants killed, disappeared, injured during the final phase and 30 years of war.
- Instead of celebrating the end of the war, hold solemn events on 18th May (end of the war) to remember all those killed, disappeared, loss of properties and all other sufferings caused by the conflict.
- A common monument to be put up to remember all those killed and disappeared during the war.
- 7. Ex-detainees and those deported after seeking asylum: Persons released from detention / rehabilitation live in fear, due to continuing restrictions and threats, intimidation, re-arrest, questioning and surveillance, by military, police and intelligence officials. People deported from other countries also face similar problems. The legal basis for restrictions against ex-detainees has not been clarified. The practice of requesting or even threatening ex-detainees to work for the Police or Military, especially as informants has created additional tensions in communities.
- Those who have been released from detention and rehabilitation must be allowed to live normal lives as ordinary citizens, without being subjected to surveillance, restrictions, questioning and other forms of harassment and discrimination.
- They should also not be re-arrested unless there is substantial evidence of new offences committed.
- Restrictions should not be placed on ex-detainees at the whim and fancy of Police or Military officials and if any restrictions are to be placed, they should be done in full accordance with relevant laws which must be clarified.
- Military and Police should refrain from asking ex-detainees to act as informants.
- Livelihood opportunities including bank loans, must be offered equally to all those who need help.
- Civil Society groups including religious groups and NGOs should be encouraged by the government to work with these people for better integration into society.
- 8. Freedom of Assembly, Association and Expression: Despite the end of the war, fundamental rights and freedoms continue to be severely restricted. Local and international NGOs, civil society groups and human rights defenders continue to face restrictions and obstacles in their efforts to help and empower the people in the North.
- The constitutionally guaranteed rights and freedoms should not be restricted and people in the North should not be subjected to additional restrictions without any legal basis.
- Police must not try to prevent and obstruct peaceful rallies by using the judiciary, as they tried to do when some Catholic Priests tried to organize a peaceful rally in Mannar in May 2012.
- Assistance of local and international NGOs to war affected people should be recognized and welcomed and they should be supported to expand their assistance. NGOs should not be looked at with suspicion and any allegations of criminality by a NGO or NGO staff must be investigated according to due legal procedures.
- The legality of the Presidential Task Force (PTF) should be clarified, specifying the legal framework under which it is operating.
- 9. Assistance for the war disabled and for those deprived of their bread- winners and for those under unhealed trauma: Thousands of people have been injured during the war and many have suffered permanent disability. Many have received assistance such as wheel chairs, prosthesis etc., but still, some have not received adequate medical attention and assistance. There are a number of innocent families deprived of their bread- winners due to the last war with no income. Almost all people in the North have witnessed and experienced the agony of war and continue to suffer from trauma which is largely untreated.
- Based on a needs assessment, all those who need medical care must be provided with the same.
- Assistance towards alternative livelihoods must be provided for those whose injuries make it impossible for them to engage in their traditional livelihoods.
- Details of such families should be collected and assisted towards sustainable income generation projects.
- Professional and independent counseling services must be made available to all those who need it and there must be no restrictions on NGOs and religious bodies with the required professional expertise to provide such services.
- 10. Political interference: There have been several attempts by Mr. Rishard Bathiudeen, Minister for Industries and Commerce, to influence the judiciary and civil administration in Mannar. Recently, key appointments to government offices in Mannar were made on the basis of affiliation to the Minister, resulting in majority of appointments being given to members of the Muslim community, when Tamils are the majority in Mannar. In July 2012, the Mannar Magistrate reported that he was threatened by the same Minister, to change his judgment in a case before his Court. The Mannar court house was attacked by a large mob the following day.
- Ministers, politicians and military should never interfere, influence or threaten the civil administration or the judiciary such as in the case of Mannar Magistrate reporting that Minister Bathiudeen had called and threatened him to change his ruling.
- There should be no political interference in appointment of Government officers, including education, health and agriculture. All the development activities of the Districts should be planned and implemented by the Government administrative mechanism of the respective districts without Political interference.
- All civil servants must be professional civil servants and no politicians or military officials should be appointed as Governors or to civil positions.
- Electoral lists must be updated to ensure that those who are still displaced can vote, while ensuring that no one can vote twice through dual registration.
- 11. Land issues: State and private land continues to be occupied by the military: Military and Police continue to occupy state and private land illegally. Large tracts of forests are being cleared and civil administration seems unaware of the purpose of such activities. A large extent of State land is being cleared in the Musali division on the Chilawathurai/ Mullikulam road under the directives of Minister Rishard and the Mannar district secretariat is not aware of this.
- All land occupied by the military and the Police such as in Mullikulam, Vankalai Padu Pallimunai etc. should be released to legal and customary inhabitants. It should be recognized that many inhabitants may not have legal documents but have lived on the land for several generations.
- If there is land required for military purposes, the military should acquire land following due legal procedures. The land allocation to the military should be kept to a minimum, with priority given to private citizens, public purposes, cultivation etc. Lands acquired by such service- personnel should never be used for colonization, tourist hotels or such money making enterprises.
- Priority must be given to make state land available for charitable and welfare activities.
- Clearing of State land in large extent should be under the control of the District Secretary and the purpose should be made known also to the public.
- There must be also an independent mechanism to deal with many land issues and land related conflicts.
- All returnees who are landless, such as those in Sannar, Vidathalthivu etc. must be allocated land with clear title and assured housing and livelihood absolutely avoiding any distinction based on ethnicity, religion or political affiliation.
- The state must not sponsor or permit state land to be allocated towards settling communities from the South in the North and East in order to change the demography of the Districts and create an electoral imbalance (It should be noted that we have no objection at all for persons from any community owning and acquiring private land or those who had been displaced during the war returning to re-claim their legitimate and historical lands.)
- 12. IDP resettlement: Many of the IDPs from formerly LTTE controlled areas in Mannar and Vavuniya districts have been allowed to go back to their villages. But after more than 30 months, majority have received very little assistance towards housing, livelihood and other basic needs from the government and are dependent on NGOs, churches and other well wishers. Most families continue to live under the 12 sheets that were distributed as 6 month provisions at the start of resettlement. The villagers of Mullikulam displaced in 2007 are still not resettled. The people of this village had moved to the area on the border of their village, in the elephant and snake infested jungles since three months. This issue of resettling these people are still dragging on.
- Government should allocate a substantial amount from the national budget towards assistance for IDPs, especially for housing, instead of increasing military expenditure.
- Immediate needs of IDPs must be met prior to resettlement and they should not be compelled to resettle in un-cleared jungles as in the case of Mullikulam. Resettlement of the people of Mullikulam should be attended without any further delay taking in to consideration the expectations of the villagers.
- Beneficiaries should be identified based on needs assessments and those who had not received assistance or received relatively low assistance should be prioritized over those who had already received assistance.
- Military officials and politicians should not play a role in identifying beneficiaries and should not exert influence over decision making. When politicians are consulted, representatives of all the political parties representing the area should be also consulted.
- A minimum of Rs. 750,000 should be spent to build a new permanent house and donors willing to spend more should be free to do so.
- NGOs should be allowed to work with IDPs without restriction.
- Special assistance must be given to IDPs deprived of their breadwinners during the war, including income generation projects and education for children of such families.
- The Government should undertake a survey of the total number of houses built to date – with costs, against the total requirement of houses including data on houses that are totally destroyed and extensively damaged.
- The Government should make known to the public a clear policy and action plan for meeting the total housing requirement for IDPs whose houses have been destroyed.
- 13. Fishing: The pass system continues to operate for fishing in North although the same restriction does not apply to fishermen in the South. Traditional fishing rights and livelihood are further restricted by military and political interference. Military also occupy properties of fishermen and Ministers try to interfere in regulatory mechanisms for fishing.
- Traditional fishing rights of all communities must be respected and they must be guaranteed all the rights to fish as they did before the war.
- Passes must not be issued permitting fisherman from outside Mannar to fish in these area, especially to benefit from sea cucumber, crabs, prawns, cuttlefish etc.
- When there are tensions, civil authorities and the judiciary should be allowed to settle the issues without interference of politicians and military.
- The regulatory system for fishing in the whole of Sri Lanka must be same, without extra restrictions being imposed on Northern fishermen.
- Military must hand over any properties belonging to fishermen, such as the Fishing Wadiya in Vidathalthivu and boats and other fishing gears left over in Mullikulam when the Army took over the village. When this is not possible, full compensation should be paid.
- Politicians and military must not interfere in regulating fishing, including the issuance of passes.
- 14. Cultural domination: Buddhist statues and temples continue to be built in our areas where no Buddhists live. The Sinhalese language continues to be used by Government officials and at state functions in these predominantly Tamil speaking districts.
- Tamil language must be used in all official correspondence and communication in government offices, including police stations.
- No new Buddhist statues and temples should be erected in public places where no Bhuddists live.
- 15. Military interference in economy: Opportunities for development of the local economy continues to be hampered by the military running shops and restaurants and capturing the market from local small farmers, workers and traders who are deprived of their livelihood. The Navy also runs a lucrative boat service for tourists to Mannar, preventing the Local Government officials or local businessmen from engaging in such activities.
- The military must close down all economic activities and allow local people and local government bodies to run such initiatives.
- In particular, military must not try to open up and run restaurants and shops, as they did during the Madhu Church festival this month.
- 16. Demilitarization and return to Normalcy: The key indicator of a life returning to normalcy in our areas is a reduced presence of the military and their involvement in different aspects of life such as development, economy and generally in civil administration. The Presence of large number of military officials serves to alienate the people from the Government.
- The number of military personnel must be reduced to the minimum and all should confine themselves to the barracks.
- Military should not get involved in any activity except those directly relating to military operations.
- Military must phase out of civil administration, development, economy and all other non military activities by end of 2012 and pave the way to the return of Civil administration in its totality. I am very confident that Your Excellency will make arrangements to attend to these issues and may God bless your commitment to bring genuine reconciliation and lasting Peace to our motherland.