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Call for foreign rethink on Colombo defense ties

Petition seeks an end to Sri Lankan troops suspected of links to internal abuses serving as overseas peacekeepers
Call for foreign rethink on Colombo defense ties

Human rights activists demonstrating in Colombo on July 13, urging the government to provide answers to the whereabouts of missing loved ones. (Photo supplied)

Rights' activists have called for a clampdown on the use of any members of the Sri Lankan armed forces suspected of involvement in civil war-period or other crimes in United Nations peacekeeping missions.

And they say there should be serious reconsideration by the U.N. and foreign governments of all forms of military co-operation with the South Asian island nation.

The 1983-2009 civil war between ethnic Tamil secessionists and the armed forces cost up to 100,000 lives and an estimated 12,000 people remain missing amid accusations of summary military executions.

Rights campaigners, victims, clergy and academics demonstrated in the capital, Colombo, on July 13 to mark 500 days of continuous protests in the hard-hit north and east over ongoing suffering.

They sent a petition on July 14 to the country's President Maithripala Sirisena, copied to the U.N. as well as some other foreign organizations, calling for the publication of a list of people who surrendered to the armed forces in the final phase of the war.

The petition also sought the release of all people still being detained and for any charges against them to be dropped.

The representation noted that the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka and the U.N. are supposed to observe stringent procedures for vetting military personnel proposed to be part of peacekeeping operations around the world.

The objective of these procedures is to ensure that those suspected of any crimes do not obtain such overseas postings.

However, rights campaigner Harshana Kodithuwakku noted that the U.N. and some foreign governments had "forgotten accountability" by not fully screening military personnel suspected of involvement in extrajudicial killings and abductions.

"This kind of action shows the U.N. has still failed in its obligations," he said.

He added that many families felt that those responsible for violations have been "rewarded" with overseas peacekeeping and other postings.

Anglican Father Dixon Thurunavukarusu, who joined the recent Colombo demonstration, said families of those who disappeared should not be intimidated into ending their campaign for justice.

"President Sirisena promised in June 2017 to release a list of persons who surrendered to the government forces during the last phase of the war, but he did not fulfill it," Father Thurunavukarusu said.

He added that foreign governments and the U.N. should also press for the locations of secret detention centers, used both during war and after it, to be made public.

The Anglican minister also called for police to expedite investigations of abuse complaints against security force personnel as well as to repeal provisions of the Prevention of Terrorism Act that violate international human rights' standards.

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Selvarajah Ariyamalar, a Tamil woman whose husband disappeared in 2002 and is feared dead, said her family's life was made more difficult by the loss during the civil war of important deed and identity documents.

She said two of her brothers "abducted" as part of a 1990 security operation had not been heard of since, however, solving cases of those who disappeared was still not a high government priority.

"I have given up on my individual case, but I fight on behalf of the 'disappeared community' to find justice for all," Ariyamalar said.

She lacked confidence in a recently appointed Office of Missing Persons as there was no time-line for action.

The Sri Lankan Government has denied security force involvement in extra-judicial killings.

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