Increased Killings and Abductions in the “Liberated” Eastern Province of Sri Lanka

Increased Killings and Abductions in the “Liberated” Eastern Province of Sri Lanka

By Shayne R. Burnham
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka – Human Rights Watch urged the Sri Lankan government to address the increase in killings and abductions that have occurred in recent weeks in the Eastern Province.  The Tamil Makkal Vidulthalai (TMVP) has allegedly been behind the acts of violence.

The TMVP is a political group formed when Colonal Karuna, former leader of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), broke away in 2004.

“The Sri Lankan government says that the ‘liberated’ East is an example of democracy in action and a model for areas recaptured from the LTTE,” stated Brad Adams, Asia Director at Human Rights Watch.  “But killings and abductions are rife, and there is total impunity for horrific abuses.”

Human Rights Watch cites to at least 30 extrajudicial killings and 30 abductions in the Eastern Province since September.  Moreover, journalists reporting on the security situation have been the target of threats and attacks.  Finally, investigations reveal several cases of forcible recruitment of children by the TMVP.

For those who have fallen victim to disappearances, the government states that most are fabrications to discredit it and that alleged victims did not disappear but have gone abroad, or eloped.

Adams said, “Far from being a reformed and responsible party ready for government, the TMVP is still actively involved in serious human rights abuses.”  He further stated, “Instead of holding the group accountable, the Rajapakse government has provided unqualified support.  The government needs to open independent investigations into all serious human rights violations and hold perpetrators accountable.”

With the “liberation” of the East, the Sri Lankan government is currently engaged in the seizing of the stronghold of Kilinochchi, located in the North, from the rebel Tigers.  The recapture of the last LTTE controlled territory will end a decades long war that began as the LTTE’s struggle for their own Tiger homeland.

For more information, please see:

AFP – Murder, Abductions Rise in ‘Liberated’ Sri Lanka: Rights Group – 25 November 2008

BBC News – A Fearful End to Sri Lanka’s War? – 22 November 2008

Human Rights Watch – Sri Lanka:  Human Rights Situation Deteriorating in the East – 24 November 2008

Labor Rights Lawyer Jailed in the Philippines

By Pei Hu
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

MANILA, Philippines – Remegio Saladero, Jr., a well-respected activist lawyer, was suddenly arrested on October 23rd on multiple murder charges. Human Rights Watch (HRW) condemned the arrest as politically motivated. Saladero is a member of the New People’s Army (NPA), an armed wing of the Communist Party.

Saladero was arrested at his law office in Antipolo City in Rizal province. The police showed a warrant for a two-year-old murder in the Oriental Mindoro province. Philippines police also confiscated Saladero’s personal belongings.  Saladero was detained in the Calapan City jail and denied legal counsel while he was being interrogated for six hours.

Saladero has represented suspect groups and individuals including members of the NPA, which include Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU), an alliance of trade unions.  He is also on the board of the Pro-Labor Legal Assistance Center.

In recent years, Philippines President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo has faced international criticism for hundreds of extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances of leftist activists, journalists, lawyers, and clergy conducted by the Philippine National Police and Armed Forces.

In responding to the international criticism, local and international human rights activists say that the Philippines government is just changing its tactics to convict perpetrators for serious crimes. Saladero’s case bears many similarities to previous cases where the courts subsequently declared the arrests illegal. Recently, the courts declared the arrest and detention of the “Tagavtay Five” unlawful, who were activists and lawyers for farmer’s rights.  Police had accused members of being part the NPA.

Under the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, it is codified international law that everyone has the right to promote and protect human rights. Elaine Pearson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch, calls for the immediate release of Saladero and said, “It’s not just Saladero’s rights that are undermined, but the rights of all Filipinos ever in need of a lawyer.”

For more information, please see:

ABS-CBN News – Labor Lawyer in Police Custody Unreachable – 18 October 2008

Human Rights Watch – Philippines: Continuing Harassment of Leftist Activists – 15 October 2008

Reuters – Philippines: Free Labor Rights Lawyer – 28 October 2008

Concern Over Water Hygiene in Pacific Region

By Sarah E. Treptow
Impunity Watch Reporter, Oceania

MELBOURNE, Australia – Oxfam in Papua New Guinea has told the Sanitation and Water Conference being held in Melbourne that they are having trouble meeting the challenge of delivering adequate sanitation and water programs to remote communities in the Pacific region.  The conference was organized as part of the International Year of Sanitation and includes representatives from various United Nations agencies, aid agencies, and the World Bank.

It is reported at the conference that one in three people living in rural and remote communities do not have access to water hygiene and sanitation facilities.  Pauline Komolong, a water engineer for Oxfam, said “Some of the challenges are such things as the terrain where it’s impossible getting there; sometimes you walk across gushing rivers, climb mountains and when you are transporting materials sometimes it takes a long time because of all the logistics that are involved.”

World Vision estimated in 2004 that in Southeast Asia and the Pacific, 100 million people were living without safe water and 185 million were living without adequate sanitation.

For more information, please see:
Radio Australia – UN highlights the cost of lack of sanitation – 29 October 2008
Fiji Times Online – Water hygiene an issue – 29 October 2008
Islands Business – Struggle in Pacific to deliver water services – 29 October 2008

Protests Against Indian Rule in Kashmir on Anniversary

By Kristy Tridhavee
Impunity Watch Senior Desk Officer, Asia

– On the 61st anniversary of Indian rule in the Kashmir region, separatists took part in a general strike that shut down the area’s shops, businesses, and government offices.  The Indian government deployed thousands of troops in riot gear to patrol the region, and prohibited any gatherings of any more than 5 people.

On Sunday, shots were fired at protesters, killing one and wounding twenty.  A student was killed when shots were fired at a crowd who were throwing stones.  People had taken to the streets, chanting pro-freedom slogans.

The recent ban on protests was aimed to stop Kashmiri lawyers’ plan to form a human chain to protest the presence of Indian rule in the city.  Mirwaiz Omer Farooq, a key separatist leader, said, “It’s an irony that even forming a human chain is a threat to the Indian state.  This was supposed to be a symbolic protest reminding the world that India has militarily occupied this place.”

The area’s strike was called by the Jammu-Kashmir Coordination Committee, a coalition of Muslim separatist leaders and representatives of businesses, lawyers and government employees. The group demands Muslim-majority Kashmir’s independence from India or its merger with Pakistan.  There were reports that police detained several separatists and lawyers who were expected to lead rallies on the anniversary.

Also on Sunday, Indian troops shot and killed five militants during a gun battle in the forests of Kishtiwar district.  “The five were members of Hizbul Mujahideen,” said an army statement, referring to the region’s most powerful group fighting for Indian Kashmir to join with Pakistan.

Anti-Indian sentiment is strong in Kashmir, which remains divided between India and Pakistan. The countries both claim the region and have fought two wars over its control.  Militant separatist groups have been fighting Indian forces since 1989 to end Indian rule. More than 68,000 people, mostly civilians, have been killed in the uprising and subsequent Indian crackdown.

For more information, please see:

AP – Protests Against Indian Rule Shuts Down Kashmir – 27 October 2008

Reuters – India Deploys Extra Troops to Halt Kashmir Protests – 27 October 2008

Voice of America – Indian Troops in Kashmir to Block Anniversary Protests – 27 October 2008

Australia Sends More Troops to the Solomon Islands

By Sarah E. Treptow
Impunity Watch Reporter, Oceania

SYDNEY, Australia – An additional 140 Australian reserve soldiers will be deployed to the Solomon Islands to join Operation ANODE, the Australian Defense Force, which is part of the larger Regional Assistance Mission Solomon Islands (RAMSI).  The soldiers will help maintain peace and stability in the Solomon Islands along with help the local government improve law and order according to the Australian federal government.

The soldiers are from South Australia, Tasmania and Western Australia and will have a four-month deployment. During their deployment they will carry out street patrols with the Australian Federal Police. The soldiers will also be involved in a number of community outreach initiatives that are a part of RAMSI.

Defense Minister Joel Fitzgibbon said, “Their contribution in Solomon Islands is made all the more exceptional by the fact that their civilian employers have released them to provide military service to a neighbor in need.”

Since 2006, the Australian Defense Force has deployed 5 Army Reserve Company groups adding up to more than 700 part-time soldiers.

RAMSI started on 24 July 2003 with a mandate unanimously approved by the Solomon Islands National Parliament “to help the Solomon Islands Government restore law and order, strenghten government institutions, reduce corruption, and re-invigorate the economy.”  Fifteen countries contribute personnel to the mission, including police officers, military, and civilians.

For more information, please see:

Solomon Star News – More Aussie troops heading for here – 27 October 2008

Islands Business – More troops deployed to Solomons – 27 October 2008

Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands