GENEVA BYTALKS ON SRI LANKA

21 March 2012 08:17 pm - 0     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

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As arguments and counter arguments were presented in a forceful manner, the panel's chair warned she had to summon security officers. Later a lightly armed security officer was seen at the Room 23 of the United Nations building where the panel discussion was held.
The panel discussion was attended by a large number of Sri Lankans, the Tamil Diaspora members, the human rights community and diplomats. The panelists included Farah Mihlar from the London-based Minority Rights Group, Ana Von Gall from the European Centre for Constitutional and Human Rights, /giyoun Kim from Bangkok-based Forum Asia and Theodor Rathgeber from the Forum Human Rights Germany. Also among the panelists was Sandya Ekneligoda, wife of missing journalist Prageeth Ekneligoda.
They said the US backed resolution was in Sri Lanka's interest and urged the international community to support it. At the beginning of the session, the chair - Angela Matitili from the Forum for Threatened People, Switzerland, said they were not going to show the Channel 4 video. "Sorry, we have to disappoint you that we are not going to show the Channel 4 video," she said. She also urged the audience not to take any photographs, claiming that they believed that there was threat for the two Sri Lankan panelists. Opening the panel, Ms. Mihlar, a Sri Lankan journalist turned activist, said, "I am a Sri Lankan and I am from a minority community," and added her NGO was working in Sri Lanka for the past two years among minority communities who comprised 26 percent of the country's 20 million population. She said her research showed the government had failed to address minority grievances. She said she was happy that war had ended in Sri Lanka but human rights violations continued with extra judicial killings and involuntary disappearances taking place in the North-East and in Colombo. She said quite a number of people who surrendered still remained unaccounted for while women cadres who were rehabilitated and released remained under constant surveillance of the security forces and there were reports they were being subjected to sexual harassment. She hailed the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission report but it did not address the issue of justice for the affected people. Ms. Mihlar said the international community had little faith that the recommendations of the LLRC report would be implemented and called on the international community to back the USsponsored resolution. She said the northern Sri Lanka remained highly militarized while the Tamil identity of the area was being gradually Sinhalised.
She also charged that the people of the area were not made participants in the developmental plan and as a result they underwent fresh She said a fear psychosis prevailed in Jaffna and witnesses to the crimes that were taking place there had told her that they knew who the killers were but they feared the consequences if they came forward and gave evidence. Ms. Mihlar said the people of the North and East asked today the same question they asked three years ago when the war was being fought to the finish: "Where is the international community?" She said that for the proper reconciliation to take place, the HRC members should support the Sri Lankan government by voting for the USbacked resolution. Ms. Von Gall said Sri Lanka was party to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) but women were being harassed and subjected to sexual violence with a culture of impunity. She said Sri Lanka last year handed over a report keeping with CEDAW provisions, but the ground reality showed very little positive change had taken place. Citing the recent case where a teenage girl was allegedly raped by a man with political connections, she said the number of gender-based violence was comparatively high in the north. Ms. Ekneligoda said she was an oppressed artificial widow and she was in Geneva to seek justice. "I am a Sinhalese living in Colombo which was not in the thick of the war. My husband disappeared on January 24, 2010 at a time when there was no war in the country," she said. Ms. Ekneligoda said the police and the Human Rights Commission entertained her complaint after she argued with them and held protests. "If this is the plight of a Sinhala woman who does not know where her husband is, can you imagine the plight of the Tamil women in the North and the East," she asked. A slide show was screened showing pictures of the war-affected area to support the claim that the living standards of the people of the North had not improved much. She said she was also here to ask former Attorney General and legal advisor to the Cabinet, Mohan Pieris, to appeal to him to help find her husband. "Last year, Mr. Pieris said my husband was in exile. I know Mr. Pieris is in Geneva. Could you please tell him to inform me where he is," she said. During the question time, a Sri Lankan journalist pointed out that Sri Lanka was being singled out while big powers like the United States violated human rights in Afghanistan, the Guantanamo Bay and other places with a culture of impunity.
Some charged that the organizers were blind to the positive side of the story in the post-war north and east while others said they were taking isolated incidents and making generalization. They charged the organizers were blind to the fact that Sri Lanka was a country that suffered immensely during the 30-year war and that it was time for the country to move forward and develop. At this point, some members of the audience who did not agree with these views disrupted the attempts by the pro-Sri Lanka group to present their case. Heated arguments ensued for a several minutes between the two groups. The panel discussion ended ten minutes before the schedule, denying many pro-Sri Lankan people in the audience the opportunity to explain their side of the story. However, after the event was over, views were exchanged between the panelists and the audience in a friendly but forceful manner.
By Ameen Izzadeen in Geneva
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