Saturday, August 31, 2013

"I stand here with you in your search for justice, and through that reconciliation and peace" ~ Navaneetham Pillay

    By Dushiyanthini Kanagasabapathipillai

30th August is the International Day of the Disappeared
Thorough checking before the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Navaneetham Pillay arrives

International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearances is commemorated annually on the 30th of August. Visiting United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Navaneetham Pillay attended a special event held to mark the International Day of the Disappeared, and addressed the families of the disappeared. Candle Light Vigil was held at the Independence Square, where hundreds of families of the disappeared lit candles, held photographs of their missing loved ones, and cried aloud.

Speech which was delivered by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Navaneetham Pillay on 30th of August 2013:~

Annaivarukkum Vanakkam”, “Ladies and Gentlemen”, and “Ayubowan

It is especially important for me to be here in Colombo to mark together with you the International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearances.  I would like to thank the organisers and all those who have travelled long and far to be here this evening.

Wherever I travel as High Commissioner, it is always the disappeared and the missing who are at the forefront of my mind.  Because the pain and despair experienced by their families and loved ones is like no other.  A prisoner can usually see a patch of light from his or her cell and hope one day for release.  A torture survivor can one day heal and rebuild his or her life.  The families of those killed can mourn their loved ones and put their soul to rest.  The true fate of a loved one means, the agony continues day after day after day.  There is no closure.  The mother searching for her son or daughter.  The child who grows up with a photograph and faint memory of a parent.  The loss of a breadwinner and its impact on a family.  The education opportunities a child may miss. The circle of hope and frustration as the search is met with official cover up and denial. The fear brought to communities by the spectra of the white van.

United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Navaneetham Pillay is being welcomed by Vibhushika Palendran (whose two elders brothers were killed in the war, and the third brother has gone missing after surrendering to the security forces towards the end of the war), along with two other girls, to an event to mark the International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearances

United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Navaneetham Pillay addressing the Families of the Disappeared, at an event to mark the International Day of the Disappeared

For this reason, we think of enforced disappearances as a “continuous crime”, for which there is no “statute of limitations”, and for which our search for truth and justice does not end.  Enforced disappearance is one of the gravest international crimes, which the State is under an obligation to investigate and bring to justice, and for which no amnesty can be applied.  It is vital to ensure the right to the truth, the right to justice and the right to reparations for the disappeared and their families.  Conflict that spans more than 30 years.  You literally represent “generations of the disappeared”:  the thousands of cases reported during the JVP insurgency and early years of the ethnic conflict; the wave of disappearances that engulfed the north in the mid-1990s after the army regained control of the Jaffna peninsula;  the disappearances that continued during the ceasefire period;  and those who have disappeared since the last days and months of the fighting. 
We must also remember those who were abducted at the hands of the LTTE and other armed groups, and the soldiers and police who remain missing in action.  Many others may have been abducted by criminal groups, who have exploited the situation to their own ends.

For people who have lost loved ones, there is perhaps no remedy for this pain.  But in international law, at a minimum, families can expect to know the truth, through proper investigation; to see justice, by perpetrators being brought to account;  to receive reparations, including compensation and rehabilitation ; and to be guaranteed this will never happen again, by changing laws and practices that have allowed this to occur.
Over the years, Sri Lanka has had five different Presidential Commissions of Inquiry, tasked with looking into cases of disappearances. Those in the mid-1990s in fact did important work, which should have brought redress for victims.  But not all of their reports were made public, and many of their recommendations were never implemented.  The Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission rightly observed that the failure to follow-up on previous commissions had further undermined public confidence in the rule of law.
At the international level, the United Nations Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances, and a number of other human rights mandate holders and treaty bodies, have engaged intensively with the Government over many years on the many thousands of cases.
United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Navaneetham Pillay addressing the Families of the Disappeared

Today, I had the chance to discuss with His Excellency the President regarding the new Commission of Inquiry he has appointed to examine cases of disappearances from the Northern and Eastern Provinces during the war.   I welcome this new investigation, but I hope it will build on the lessons of past commissions to produce a more credible, effective and timely result.  I urged the President to seek the assistance of the UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances by inviting it to visit the country in the coming months.  I also encouraged him, as a signal of the Government’s commitment to end the scourge of disappearances once and for all, to ratify the International Convention for the Protection of all Persons from Enforced Disappearance.
A mother of a missing son holding a placard while United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Navaneetham Pillay addresses the gathering
Women weeps as United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Navaneetham Pillay speaks
Family members of Disappeared holding photographs of their missing loved ones

Women member of the disappeared cry uncontrollably at the event to mark the International Day of the Disappeared

Thank you again for attending this commemoration and sharing your personal stories and views with me.  I stand here with you in your search for justice – and through that reconciliation and peace.

"We shall overcome; We will overcome one day. It is deep in our heart. We do believe  we shall overcome one day", family members of the disappeared singing and walking towards the Independence Square
Ashadevi Shanmugalingam at the Candle Light Vigil

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

"Where are they?; What happened to them?; We need to know; Tell us the truth" angry protesters demand in Jaffna

  Dushiyanthini Kanagasabapathipillai reporting from Jaffna

"Disappearance gives more pain than death", a Tamil mother whose son has gone missing weeps and protests in front of the Jaffna Public Library
"My eldest son was a brilliant Chemistry undergraduate at University of Jaffna, and an old boy of Hartley College. He was forcibly taken away from home in Point Pedro by the LTTE in 2005. He used call and talk on the phone till 18th of May 2009. I received a phone call on 19th of May 2009 by one of his colleague saying that my son was injured. Thereafter, I and my wife visited all the hospitals including Kurunegala Base Hospital. But, we could not find our son. After my eldest son has gone missing in 2009, my second son who scored 10As in General Certificate of Education (Advanced Level) has decided not to continue his studies, and has left the country. Why didn't Navaneetham Pillay meet hundreds of people who are in search of their missing loved ones? I am very frustrated, and lost faith in God and authorities including the United Nations!" ~ tearful Vallipuram Markandu, a retired Courts Registrar

Protesters carrying a banner "Bring Them Home"

A protest was organised by the Mannar Citizens Committee, Association of the Families Searching for the Disappeared Relatives, Committee for Investigation of the Disappeared (CID),  Families of the Disappeared, National Fisheries Solidarity Movement (NAFSO),  Praja Abhilasha Network and Shrambhimani, when United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navaneetham Pillay visited Jaffna Peninsula on last Tuesday. Hundreds of protesters- men, women and children have gathered near the popular Muniyappar temple, while holding photographs of their missing loved ones, and walked on the pavement, chanting slogans in Tamil and Sinhala ("Where, where, where are our loved ones?; Bring our loved ones home, Leave, leave, Army leave!, Give, give, give back Vali North, Enough, enough, , waited for enough,We need our loved ones and lands back"), and with placards and banners related to disappearances, fisheries issues, high security zones, land grabbing, living as Internally Displaced Persons, and political prisoners. 

Protesters also shouted "You wanted them to surrender (mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, daughters and sons), and they have surrendered accordingly. Where are they now? We need to know; We need justice".

The protesters walked while chanting slogans towards the Jaffna Public Library, where United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Navaneetham Pillay was attending a meeting. They were stopped by the Police while crosing the Kaankesanthurai Road, and being on their way to the Public Library. Soon after, the protesters sat on the street leading to the Public Library in the hot mid day sun for many hours, wept, while beating their chests, and heads.

Don’t do any sabotage. Bring back my son alive! I am the witness, and I gave my son to you (surrender) ” endlessly weeping Sinnakkutty Kanapathipillai rolled on the burning tar road. They have collectively called for justice. "We have come from as far as Mullaithivu, Kilinochchi, Mannar, Trincomalee, Vavuniya, and various parts of Jaffna. Madam Navaneetham Pillay did not come to meet us. We are disappointed. We wouldn't have come, if we knew that she will not meet us. We have been in pain for so many years, why didn't she meet us for a few minutes at least?; Why couldn't she meet all of us?", query angry Tamil protesters. 
Protesters waited with hopes, and returned to their villages empty handed once again.

People feel helpless, and they need justice now. More than four years have passed by. They need an answer", says Reverend Father. Emmanuel Sebamalai, Parish Priest of Thaazhvuppaadu in Mannar District. He and a few women members of families of the disappeared and political prisoners have met the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navaneetham Pillay at the United Nations Office in Nallur, Jaffna after the protest, and handed over a memorandum.

"Find my son; Find my son alive" Sinnakkutty Kanapathipillai weeps endlessly while lying on the street in protest. Her son Thayalan Kanapathipillai surrendered to the security forces on 18th of May 2009 in Vattuvaagal, Mullaithivu District. She is the witness to the surrender.

Protest was blocked by the Police
"Family of five (my daughetr, son in law and their three children (one daughetr and two sons) surrendered to the security forces on17th May 2009. I have searched everywhere, and I could not find any of them anywhere" , tearful Ilankothai Sivapatham

"My daughter was forcibly recruited by the LTTE in March 2009. She was 16 years old at the time of recruitment. A Tamil women who is known to us saw my daughter in Mulliwaikkal in May 2009. I have been to all the detention centres, and haven't found her yet", tearful and speechless father Kumarasway Kangalingam from Kilinochchi

"If you want, go ahead and kill us. Let us proceed. We are suffering everyday", and and frustrated Tamil women tell the Police on duty
Hundreds of Tamil women, men and children walk in protest against disappearances, land grabbing and calling for justice
Sithy Emeena's son has been missing since March 2009
Protesters march towards the Jaffna Public Library
"Why didn't you kills us?", angry protesters shouted in Jaffna
"I am frail, but I can't give the search, because he is my beloved son", tearful Ashadevi Shanmugalingam
"I want my Anna (elder brother)", pleads Vibhooshika Palendran
Tearful protesters blocking the street in Jaffna
Ananthy Sasitharan (wife of Ezhilan, senior LTTE combatant who surrendered on 18th of May 2009 to the security forces, and has gone missing afterwards)
Protesters are proceeding to the Jaffna Public Library in spite of Police blocking them
Noor Najeeba's two sons have gone missing together since 2010
"Madam, we welcome you. Help us to resettle in our own lands" reads a placard in Tamil
Maulavi S.M.Zaheel has been missing since 2006 from Puttlam
"Where are our missing loved ones?", reads a Tamil placard displayed during the protest
A quick look at the newspaper while protesting
Protesters being asked to be on the pavement, and not on the road
"Where is my son Mahinthan? Government answer", reads a placard in Tamil held by an angry grieving Jeyakumari Palendran,Tamil mother of a missing son
Banner by the Internally Displaced Persons from Mullikkulam in Mannar District
"My two brothers have been missing over the past few years, and decades. Both of my brothers were LTTE combatants. My elder brother went missing from Omanthai in 1995, and my younger brother has gone missing from Manalaaru, in 2008", tearful sister Subajini Dushyanthan
"Free us from refugee life", reads a placard in Tamil
Weeping women at the protest in Jaffna
"My son is innocent, and was not involved in any violent activities. My son was abcudted by 8 men near Jaffna Kachcheri in 2006" says Perinparani Thirunavukkarasu
"I will continue to seek justice" says Sandhya Eknalygoda, wife of political cartoonist Prageeth Eknalygoda, who has been missing since January 2010
"Enough is enough. Time to tell the truth", Tamil women shout and demand in Jaffna
Banner at a protest held in Jaffna

Thursday, August 22, 2013

The illegal boat ride to Australia

Australian Government-sponsored hoarding have sprung up in the North and East of Sri Lanka, warning people against trusting human smugglers and offers of immigration to Australia through an illegal boat ride

Story and pix by Dushiyanthini Kanagasabapathipillai

Don’t be cheated by human smugglers, Don’t go to Australia by boat” reads this hoarding placed in Paranthan, Kilinochchi District (former war zone)

Although the war ended in May 2009, the illegal journeys to Australia, either to seek refugee status or enter Australian soil through other false declarations, have not come to an end. In fact, according to the authorities, it is an ongoing crisis.

 Local people confirm that large groups of persons who initially worked for the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) during the Provincial Council elections in the Eastern Province, have decided to undertake risky boat journeys to Australia, not knowing the weather conditions, not having necessary clothing and without knowing the duration of the journey. They were among the first batches to leave the country in desperation.

"I was threatened during the election campaign and subsequent to the releasing of the election results. I have pawned my wife's gold jewellery including her Thaalik Kodi (worn as a symbol of Hindu marriage) and paid Rs 1.3 million to the agent, to seek safe passage to Australia. I was among the first to be deported in November 2012. There is a Court case filed against us for seeking to leave the country through illegal means. So far, two hearings were held and the next hearing will be in December 2013. I am not aware of the time period a Court case may take or what the punishments would be. I am currently jobless and am unable to pay the interest to recover my wife's gold jewellery. Fellow students tease my children asking, "When are you going to Australia, what did your father bring from Australia and why was he deported?" As a result, my children are refusing to go to school," says a tearful Karan, who hails from the east coast of Sri Lanka, all the while, keeping a watchful eye on the surroundings.

Don’t be cheated by human smugglers, Don’t go to Australia by boat” reads this hoarding placed in Paasikkuda, Batticaloa District

 Humanitarian land

 Karan is only one person whose plight after deportation is known. There are many others like him. The Australian Government has put up hoardings in Tamil, both in the North and East of the country, warning people to not get caught to human smugglers – or those offering legal entry for a fee.

There are also radio spots broadcast in Tamil very frequently. Small posters too have been put up in the North and East, warning people against human smugglers. Men in the former war zones don't know much about the amended and toughened, immigration laws. They tend to view Australia as a 'humanitarian country' that would welcome and embrace anybody and everybody.

"I am the youngest in the family and I have three elder sisters. My father was killed in the war and we don't have anyone to support our family. I have to make a living somehow and give my three sisters in marriage, so I decided to give up my education and go to Australia to earn some quick money. I have pawned my mother's and aunt's jewellery and paid Rs 1.2 million to an agent who was trusted by many others. They were facilitated by this agent to leave the Vanni. I was nabbed together with many others, by the Naval officers off the Negombo coast, while trying to flee," says Raj, a teenager from Visuvamadu in the Mullaithivu District. He cannot stop sobbing as he speaks.

Don’t be cheated by human smugglers, Don’t go to Australia by boat” reads this hoarding placed in Puthukkaadu, Kilinochchi District (former war zone)

 People are now beginning to listen to the radio broadcasts that warn them not to make foolhardy decisions by seeking passage to Australia. The radio spots in Tamil convey a strong message: "Australia has toughened its immigration laws. Illegal entrants will not be allowed on Australian soil. These boats will be diverted to Papua New Guinea and the money the people pay to the smugglers will not be considered as visa fee!"
Desperate departures

According to a recent survey, it was found that young men were more likely to take the risky boat rides than females. Further, the desire to migrate diminished with age. Relatively young persons have a greater desire to migrate than older men. Moreover, youths with relatively low levels of education showed a higher propensity to attempt migration, through whatever possible means.

The survey sheds light on the fact that unmarried youths were more likely to attempt migration than men with families. The overwhelming factors driving migration and asylum seeking were the poor living conditions (74%) and lack of opportunities (41%). Thus, economic desolation was identified as the fundamental reason for migration abroad, even among ex-combatants. Insecurity is a minor factor driving migration abroad (only 18% cited). Greater proportion of youths living in Vadamarachchi North (91%), Thenmarachchi (87%), Jaffna (70%), Nallur (70%), Karainagar (67%) and Valikamam South (60%) expressed their desire to leave the shores, while youths in Valikamam East (9%) showed a much lower inclination to migrate," notes Dr. Muttukrishna Sarvananthan, Development Economist and Principal Researcher of Point Pedro Institute of Development.

 As many as 6,400 people from Sri Lanka have reached Australia last year alone. Australia has recently introduced tougher immigration rules. Since August 2012, 1,000 Sri Lankans have been deported by the Australian authorities.

"I have left the country for two reasons – I have helped the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) candidates during the Eastern Provincial Council (EPC) elections and have been threatened a few times by unknown persons in the area. I have a differently-abled younger sister who needs a lot of money for her medicine and upkeep. I have to bear the family burden. Although I am an arts graduate, I am unable to find a job, which can pay me well to look after my family," says soft-spoken Balu, from the Eastern Province.

These men who have embarked on a dangerous boat journey never paused to consider what could happen to them, if there is no welcome reception on Australian soil. The dangers of the journey were not considered, as they were driven by a desire to flee only.

They often left with a pair of flip flops and a back pack, generally containing only a sarong and a towel. Some carried receipts given by some agents, while some had valid travel documents to seek asylum. They had a few wads of Sri Lankan currency notes along with their National Identity Cards (NICs) and laminated pictures of deities of their respective faiths, mostly Hindu and Catholic, in their wallets.

 Mass deportation

These men who were deported in November 2012 claim that the officials have not gone through the documents properly, saying interviews were conducted in a rush and that the officers told them they were going to be transferred to another camp. Instead, they were deported.

Karan and Balu left Sri Lanka in October 2012 and reached Coco Islands after spending 19 days in the sea, in a cramped fishing trawler, filled with 101 men in total – mostly Tamils – and without food and water for a few days. They were thereafter transferred to Christmas Island and to Darwin, before being deported.

In November 2012, they were the first to be deported along with 50 men. Court cases have been filed against them and the first hearing took place in March 2013, the second hearing in August 2013, while the third is scheduled for December 2013.

"With the war coming to an end in May 2009, it was expected that the outflow of refugees abroad would ease off. Though legal migration has declined since the end of the war, illegal migration continues unabated. It is suspected that a few thousand Sri Lankans are waiting in transit, in various countries such as India, Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand, to primarily reach Australia, Canada and New Zealand.

Enhancing the opportunities for livelihoods and improving the living standards within the former conflict zones could drastically reduce the trend. Given the local conditions, it will take at least five years to improve the living conditions of the population in Jaffna and other areas. There needs to be a sustained effort to improve the living standards of the people who have suffered the vagaries of war and to curb the trend of seeking asylum or migration”, opines Sarvananthan.

 These deportees are also traumatized and stigmatized. They claim they are still under various types of threats, mostly political, and said their lives are in danger.

They hardly go out or mingle with the others, except among the deportees themselves, and do not enjoy a regular life anymore. They are effectively isolated from their own society and most of them are unable to face the community due to debts, the illegality of their action, loss of wealth and property and mostly, due to the loss of dignity.

Almost all of them have pawned their women folks' gold jewellery to raise instant cash to pay the smuggling agents, and upon deportation, the pawning people have begun to warn these men, if they don't pay the accumulated interest, their gold will be auctioned soon. These deportees feel ashamed and some have suicidal tendencies.

For the Australian authorities, it is an issue that continues to grow. Hence the attractive hoardings.

Don’t be cheated by human smugglers, Don’t go to Australia by boat” reads this hoarding placed in Mallaakam, Jaffna District

(All the names of the deportees and potential asylum seekers have been changed to protect their identities. They were also not photographed on request)

 On Ceylon Today of 22nd of August 2013

COURTESY: Ceylon Today