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Posts Tagged ‘Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam’

Marginalization and sexual abuse of women: Who is to blame for their pain, And who can fix it?

Posted by African Press International on October 23, 2013

Who is to blame for their pain? And who can fix it?

COLOMBO,  – A UK-rights group has accused the Sri Lankan government of failing to address the marginalization and sexual abuse of women living in the country’s former war zones in the north and east, an allegation officials dismiss as coming from a “diaspora-led false propaganda machinery”.

report recently published by the London-based Minority Rights Group (MRG) said rape and sexual harassment of women in former war zones in the north and east are continuing even after the end of a 26-year civil war in 2009, and that 89,000 widows (based on a 2010 government estimate) – including some 40,000 female-headed households – are particularly vulnerable to sexual harassment, exploitation and assault by army personnel, domestic tourists and others due to the women’s poverty.

In a general culture of impunity, MRG authors wrote, Tamil and Muslim women (the two largest ethnic minorities in the former war zones, 12 and 8 percent of the general population, respectively) have feared reporting crimes to police.

The report cited data from Jaffna Hospital in the north of 102 reported cases of rape and “severe violence” against women and girls from Northern Province in 2010, 182 in 2011 and 56 in just February and March of 2012.

MRG’s South Asia expert, Farah Mihlar, wrote: “Tamil and Muslim women are especially concerned for their safety and freedom, and yet have little course for redress since they fear reporting attacks against them to the authorities.”

The island’s military spokesman, Ruwan Wanigasooriya, told IRIN that of 125 people found guilty in civil courts of perpetrating sexual violence in the north between January 2007 and May 2009, seven were security forces personnel.

After fighting ended, from May 2009-2012, of 307 people found guilty in civil courts of committing crimes of sexual violence, 10 were soldiers, based on a military assessment.

He added: “We deny in the strongest terms that there is a prevailing culture of silence and impunity for sexual violence crimes,” noting that the government has taken “legal action” and that convicted soldiers are referred to the military tribunal for court martial.

Citing the army assessment, Wanigasooriya wrote in a statement recently sent to journalists: “It is worthwhile to notice that only 11 incidents out of a total 375 reported incidents [from January 2007-May 2012] can be attributed to security forces. Therefore the inference that the presence of the military contributes to insecurity of women and girls in the former conflict affected areas is baseless and disingenuous.”

Demographic changes

The demographic shift following the civil war – from a largely homogenous Tamil community to one that includes more ethnic groups, including Muslim returnees who had been forced out by Tamils in the late 1990’s, domestic tourists and, the authors wrote, the government-sponsored relocation of workers and households from the majority Sinhalese ethnic group, has heightened the threat of women being sexually exploited by armed forces and other men (sometimes from their own ethnic community) due to poverty.

“With the increasing presence of Tamil diaspora in their home towns (places of origin), community women have told us that their daughters are often being viewed as sexual objects and in some cases, been sexually assaulted,” a leading woman’s activist working in the north told IRIN in an e-mail.

For almost three decades, separatist rebels known as the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) fought for an independent state in the north carved along Tamil ethnic lines. Fighting ended in May 2009 with the crushing of rebels by government forces.

“After the conflict the situation has got a lot worse. People are less disciplined. There are outsiders who have come from other areas. There are lot of army people; they are in buses, everywhere,” said a Tamil woman from Mannar District, as cited in the MRG report.

The report explained how during the war, LTTE fighters (mostly followers of Hinduism) maintained a rigid code of conduct in areas it controlled, with sexual relations monitored and restricted to married couples. “While women do not necessarily approve of what the LTTE did, nor any similar regulation of their personal lives, the current context has left many feeling disoriented and insecure,” MRG wrote.

The current commissioner of Sri Lanka’s Human Rights Commission(appointed by the president), Prathiba Lamanmahewa, told IRIN the island is committed to investigating all rights violations but will not be “bulldozed” by groups with vested interests.

“We have come a long way in post-war recovery. Most recommendations of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC), the blueprint for reconciliation, have been implemented.

Adequate steps have been taken to restore civil administration in the north and now there is a provincial council there. It is a process and Sri Lanka has fared better than many other conflict-ridden countries,” he said.

But local activists and residents continue calling for more.

In interviews with some 1,800 households, a citizen group published a reportin March this year concluding “little progress” had been made on the recommendations.

For allegations of sexual abuse, the MRG report called on the police to create Tamil-speaking desks in all police stations in former conflict zones, boost female representation among government officials in the north and east, as well as prosecute perpetrators.

dh/pt/cb source http://www.irinnews.org

 

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They voted in TNA – now what?

Posted by African Press International on October 7, 2013

Despite widespread criticism, the ruling party still won 18 percent of the vote

HIGHLIGHTS

  • Tamil National Alliance to challenge power limits
  • Governor holds power in new provincial council
  • Looking to diaspora as way to bypass government
  • Jobs trump power as basic need

ODDUSSUDDAN, 7 October 2013 (IRIN) – Nearly two weeks after  the Tamil National Alliance’s (TNA) resounding victory in a local election  in Sri Lanka’s Northern Province, analysts and voters are debating  what the party will be able to achieve as the province recovers from more than two decades of a brutal civil war.

By the end of polling on 21 September, 67 percent of 719,000 eligible voters had cast their votes in the north’s first provincial election – long-awaited by international donors and local political activists – since fighting ended in 2009.

The TNA, the party with the largest representation of the ethnic Tamil minority in parliament, won 30 out of the 38 seats on the Northern Provincial Council; the governing United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA) secured seven. The Sri Lanka Muslim Congress won one seat.

The TNA campaigned for more political autonomy for the north, while the UPFA appealed to voters with its massive development campaign for the province. The region was devastated during two and half decades of sectarian violence that followed demands by Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam rebels for a separate Tamil state.

Frustrating decades-long yearnings for some degree of autonomy carries certain security risks.

Despite its overwhelming victory, the TNA will dominate a council that is largely impotent under the control of the provincial governor, who is appointed by the president. According to the 13th constitutional amendmentthat established the provincial councils in 1987, the governor is the only official with executive powers, including control of provincial spending.

Top TNA leader Rajavarotiam Sampanthan has criticized the governors of the Northern and Eastern provinces as “laws unto themselves”, accusing them of deciding on provincial affairs without consulting locally elected representatives.

Power, but to whom? 

Even before the election, few analysts saw a TNA-led provincial administration as a substantive devolution of power.

“The general view of voters is that …the Northern Provincial Council will have no autonomy, with the chief minister [the council’s top elected official] serving as a messenger of the governor, who in turn is the messenger of the president,” said a pre-election report released by the national election monitoring body the Centre for Monitoring Election Violence on 20 September.

But any path to power needs its starting point, say TNA leaders.

“The election is a means to work towards meaningful power devolution,” said TNA parliamentarian Abraham Sumanthiran.

According to Jehan Perera, executive director of the Colombo-based National Peace Council, despite the constitutional imbroglio, the newly elected council may play a decisive role in northern politics and development.

“The general view of voters is that …the Northern Provincial Council will have no autonomy, with the chief minister [the council’s top elected official] serving as a messenger of the governor, who in turn is the messenger of the president”

“Right now the discussions are taking place at the parliament or at donor-level, but the provincial council has the potential to become the best forum for discussion and possibly decision-making on provincial affairs. Its immediacy to the province can make the process faster as well as better informed,” he said.

The largely top-down process of managing the north now means issues are not addressed quickly, with information filtering through several layers of bureaucracy in multiple departments, Perera said.

However, he added that the TNA-led council needs to be mindful to not allow political demands to overshadow basic needs, like employment. “It [the council] would have to strike a delicate balance.”

The TNA has said it will use its victory to enforce hitherto ignored provisions of the13th amendment, which give control of policing and local economic planning to provincial councils.

In addition TNA leaders have said they will push to expand provincial powers. But in order to do that, they would need to repeal the 13th amendment and support a new amendment.

India

But scrapping the amendment and replacing it with one that grants provincial councils more authority is unlikely, according to analysts in neighbouring India, which helped broker the amendment that created the councils through the 1987 Indo-Sri Lanka Peace Accord.

The accord set up provincial councils as a way for the state to share power with the north; a long standing grievance of minority Tamil parties has been that power is concentrated at the national level, marginalizing ethnic minorities. Over 90 percent of the voters in the north are Tamil, Sri Lanka’s second largest ethnic group.

India has strong interest in the situation due to ethnic ties between Tamils living in India – where they form close to 6 percent of the population – and Tamils in Sri Lanka. ButRamani Hariharan, who was head of intelligence for the Indian peacekeeping force based in north and east Sri Lanka from 1987 to 1990, told IRIN that though India took on Colombo to advocate for Sri Lankan Tamils last time, it is unlikely to do so now.

“It comes at an inconvenient time for India,” he said, noting that, with national elections to be held in 2014, India is less willing to risk potential humiliation if Colombo does not agree to expand provincial powers.

They voted in TNA – now what?

Analysts also predict that India will not want to call attention to dissatisfaction with the current amendment so that its role in negotiating power sharing is regarded as an accomplishment.

Power struggle?

The TNA has also indicated it will try to raise development funds outside of Sri Lanka, particularly from the global Tamil diaspora – estimated to be some 700,000 people, mostly concentrated in Canada, the UK and the rest of the European Union – to invest directly in the province, without going through the national government.

But since 2009, when the government created the Presidential Task Force (PTF), the state has controlled all humanitarian and development activities in the north.

“Mainly the Task Force is…to coordinate activities of the security agencies of the Government in support of resettlement, rehabilitation and development, and to liaise with all organizations in the public and private sectors and civil society organizations for the proper implementation of programs and projects,” said a government announcement.

Run by the Defence Ministry, PTF approves all humanitarian and reconstruction work in the north.

However, according to national human rights activist, Ruki Fernando, since no “clear law” created or sanctioned the task force, “it would not be illegal for anyone to bypass that body”, setting the stage for a potential power struggle over who controls humanitarian and development work in the north.

Priority setting

Pushing political demands aside, Muttukrishna Sarvananthan, who heads Point Pedro Institute of Development, based in northern Jaffna, advised the newly elected council to focus on jobs by developing the region’s agriculture and fisheries sectors, the main sources of income for northern residents.

“Raising the voice for more devolution should be a low priority for the newly formed Northern Provincial Council. It is not only the central government but the provincial government as well that should get its priorities right. People are more interested in livelihoods and day-to-day issues.”

The Central Bank estimates the government has invested more than US$3 billion in infrastructure since the end of the war; critics say this multi-billion dollar development has largely been out of step with residents’ needs.

“When the northern people were asking for bread, [the Mahinda] Rajapaksa government offered them cake”

Sarvananthan said that while there is urgent demand for jobs, the government’s main focus has been almost exclusively on highway development and boosting power supply to main towns.

“When the northern people were asking for bread, [the Mahinda] Rajapaksa government offered them cake,” he told IRIN.

“Big roads are ok, but we need money to take the bus or to buy a motorcycle to ride on them,” said 21-year-old first-time voter Nishanthan, who goes by one name, from the village of Oddusuddan in the north’s Mullaittivu District

Kumaravadivel Guruparan, a lecturer in the Department of Law at the University of Jaffna, said the vote was a signal of deep-rooted disappointment with state policies.

Despite massive infrastructural repair and the recent extension of train service to the north for the first time in 24 years, voters were expressing their discontent, Guruparan explained, with the state’s continued military presence in the province.

But then there are the 82,000 residents who voted for the ruling party, like Ramalingam Sudhaharan from Dharamapuram, a village in Kilinochchi District, who said that, given the post-war devastation, what has been achieved in the last four years has been “remarkable”.

“We have good roads for the first time in my life, a very good hospital in Kilinochchi [town], new power stations. Jobs [are] the next logical step, and they will come with time,” he added.

Meanwhile, Sarvananthan from Point Pedro Institute said told IRIN via email that even with limited powers the council can still create  change, for example, by passing an equal opportunities law to benefit the estimated more than 40,000 female-headed households in the province.

“Northern Provincial Council could show the central government the correct [and] genuine path to reconciliation in lieu of building a sports stadium to international standards or constructing eight-lane highways (four lanes in each direction) in [Mullaittivu] District where [the] cattle population outnumbers human population,” he said.

contributor/pt/rz

source http://www.irinnews.org

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The dilemma of Sri Lanka’s returnees

Posted by African Press International on July 17, 2013

Thousands of returnees don’t have IDs

COLOMBO,  – Close to 100,000 returnees in Sri Lanka’s north lack national identity cards (NICs), more than four years after the end of the country’s decades-long civil war.

“Many people cannot resume their lives as NICs are the passport to accessing multiple services and were made mandatory for voting in 2006,” Suresh Premachandran, a member of parliament (MP) with the Tamil National Alliance, one of the largest national parties representing minority Tamils from the north, told IRIN.

According to the United Nations, more than 460,000 displaced persons have returned to Northern Province – which is home to more than 1 million inhabitants – since government forces declared victory over the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), who had been fighting for an independent Tamil homeland since 1983.

In Mullaitivu and Kilinochchi districts alone, an estimated quarter of the districts’ 200,000-plus inhabitants are without national IDs.

Without such documentation, many residents struggle to access public services such as health and education, and well as government assistance programmes.

They also face the risk of questioning and delays by police and security officials.

Not a priority

Under the law, NICs are compulsory for all Sri Lankans 16 years or older, and authorities may detain suspicious individuals who fail to show any form of legal identification – a legacy of the war.

“Without an NIC, you are always at risk,” said Shereen Xavier, a north-based lawyer and executive director of the Home for Human Rights (HHR). “Without it, the impediments can be many.”

Even to enter many government buildings, one must produce an NIC, people complain.

But moving ahead on this issue is proving a challenge.

Despite the identity cards’ importance, the government has yet to prioritize the issue, with much of its effort focused instead on large-scale infrastructure and development projects in the north.

Many returnees do not have the required documentation to apply for an NIC, and with no local offices for issuing NICs, applications can take several months to process.

Without proper IDs life can prove difficult

“The processing of papers can prove time-consuming,” Shanthi Sachithanandan, chairperson of Viluthu, an organization promoting good governance in the north, explained.

Temporary IDs

After the war, the government was keen to have its voter lists updated.

When these lists were updated ahead of presidential and local polls in 2010 and 2012, temporary IDs were issued to over 40,000 people to allow them to vote, a process that continues today.

At that time, around 90,000 people from the north failed to indicate their NIC number, Deputy Elections Commissioner M.M. Mohammad confirmed.

“Temporary IDs were issued to many, especially to facilitate their participation in the presidential and local government elections that were held,” he said.

But many returnees say such IDs are looked down upon. Those holding temporary ID have difficulty accessing government services and are sometimes treated with suspicion by officials, they say.

Now, with the first provincial council election in Sri Lanka’s former war zone scheduled for September, returnees and politicians alike are again urging the government to improve the issuing of NICs.

“The government has started issuing temporary IDs, which is a time-consuming process. People have to contact the local government officials and process papers, which is not easy for returnees,” MP Premachandran said.

But according to the department responsible for issuing NICs, given the amount of time and documentation it takes to process such applications outside Colombo – and specifically in the former war zone – temporary IDs may still be the best option available at this point.

“This is the best solution to the present problem,” maintained M.S. Sarath Kumara, commissioner general of the registration of persons, noting that temporary IDs issued to facilitate voting could also prove useful to people without any other form of identification.

“A temporary ID is a practical idea, and it can be revalidated through reapplication,” agreed Rohana Hettiarachchi, executive director of People’s Action for Free and Fair Elections, an election monitoring body that has been helping eligible voters to obtain national identity cards through a mobile clinic effort.

But for those returnees without an NIC, still struggling to establish some semblance of normalcy in their lives after years of conflict and displacement, the idea of anything temporary offers little solace.

“A temporary ID is useful for those who wish to cast their vote at the forthcoming northern provincial election. [However,] for us former IDPs [internally displaced persons], returning home after being displaced for a decade, there are much bigger issues than getting involved in a political battle,” explained Muttuvel Kadirmani, a 46-year-old father of three from Mullaitivu. He urged the government to issue NICs instead of temporary forms of identification.

“It will be useful in every aspect of life and provide us with a sense of security,” he said.

dh/ds/rz  source http://www.irinnews.org

end

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