The United States Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labour criticized the Sri Lankan Government, pro-government paramilitary forces and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) for blatant human rights violations in its ‘2009: Human Rights Report on Sri Lanka’, released on March 11, 2010.
The report blames the Sri Lankan government for releasing detainees in an arbitrary manner and for failure to coordinate with local or international aid agencies, who were asked to provide assistance at short notice. In July, the report notes, the Sri Lankan government ended access in July 2009 by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) for protection work in main camps and access to detention camps near Vavuniya for former LTTE combatants as well as withdrawing permission for the ICRC to work in the Eastern Province.
The report also cites concerns for citizens’ freedom of movement and their rights to choose their residence and their freedom to return to the country. In the Eastern Province, checkpoints operated by the Government and a pro-government para-military group, TMVP, have impeded the free movement of residents, especially Tamils.
Human rights groups have estimated that the government held 11,700 combatants since the end of the conflict in detention centres near Vavuniya. On torture, the report says, “reports of secret government facilities where suspected LTTE sympathizers were taken, tortured, and often killed.”
The report describes how government officials and Sri Lanka’s diplomatic missions abroad have regularly accused human rights NGOs and UN bodies of bias against the government and how NGOs’ international personnel often have had trouble getting visa renewals to continue working in the country.
The Report also comments on way the President’s family dominates the government with two of his brothers holding key executive branch posts as defence secretary and senior advisor to the President and the rampant corruption in all three branches of the government.
On the human rights violations by the LTTE, the Report says that, during the final months of the war, the LTTE engaged in torture, arbitrary arrest, and detention; denied fair public trials; arbitrarily interfered with privacy; and denied freedoms of speech, press, assembly, and association. From January to May the LTTE dramatically increased its forced recruitment of child soldiers. Reports from the conflict zone during these months stated that both boys and girls as young as 12 were forced to join the fighting.
The Report comments on the longstanding and systematic discrimination that Tamils have faced in university education, government employment, and in other matters controlled by the government, including how Tamil tenants in Sinhalese-dominated areas have been required to report their presence to the police. It notes that Tamils throughout the country, but especially in the conflict-affected north and east, have reported frequent harassment of young and middle-aged Tamil men by security forces and paramilitary groups. The report raises concerns about the seizure of private lands, particularly seizures in the north and east to create security buffer zones around military bases and other high-value targets which the government calls High Security Zones.
The Sri Lankan Ministry of Human Rights has described the contents of the Report as non-specific and based on unverified information, accusing the State Department of failing to meet the high standards it professes to uphold. Ironically, the Ministry response is vague and fails to mention that the reason information is not verified is because of government restrictions on UN and other agencies.