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The Life of a Sri Lankan Tamil Bishop (and others) in DangerBrian Senewiratne for Salem-News.com
A plea for the safety of Christian clergy in the embattled island nation.
(BRISBANE, Aust.) - This is an urgent appeal to prevent the possible assassination/ ‘disappearance’ of the outspoken Roman Catholic Bishop of Mannar, his fellow Catholic priests in the North and East, and others, who call themselves ‘Civil Society’, who are the only voices of the Tamil people in that part of Sri Lanka.
Today, 6 April 2012, is Good Friday, when Christians remember the murder (crucifixion) of Jesus Christ 2,000 years ago, when Palestine was under the absolute rule of Herod Antipas – one of the sons of Herod the Great. It is hoped that the followers of Christ, such as Bishop Rayappu Joseph, his fellow priests (and others), are not murdered by someone who is the absolute ruler of Sri Lanka, and much more violent and murderous than Herod ever was.
I write, not as a concerned Christian, but as a concerned human being, to apprise the international community, including the Pope, of what might happen in the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka, as it likes to call itself.
The threat to life is not only of Bishop Joseph and his Tamil priests and members of civil society, but of Sinhalese human rights activists and media people. It is not confined to ethnic groups but to all (Tamils, Sinhalese or Muslims) in all walks of life. No dissent is tolerated by the Rajapaksa junta.
Anyone who is even minimally aware of what is going on behind the closed and censored door of President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s Totalitarian State, will know, that murder is rampant, and accountability non-existent. Murder or ‘disappearance’ is the Government’s answer to any problem, and the only method of silencing the dissenting voice.
If such a fate befalls Bishop Joseph (and his fellow priests), it will be a disaster for the Tamil people in the North and East. They, in particular Bishop Joseph, are the only voices that these people have, since their parliamentarians have gone ‘quiet’ – as so often happens when a democracy is closing down. Bishop Joseph, his fellow Roman Catholic clergy, and ‘civil society’, have done more to high-light the terrible plight of a voiceless people than all their parliamentarians put together. In that blood-drenched country where so many thousands of Tamils have been butchered by the Rajapaksa junta, and some 300,000 Tamil civilians made ‘non-people’, Bishop Joseph, his clergy, and members of ‘civil society’, are the biggest threat. This is not an opinion to be debated, but a fact to be faced and addressed before it is too late.
Bump them off
Already ten Christian priests, mainly Roman Catholics, have been murdered abducted or have simply gone missing – “disappeared”. In the Sinhalese South, it is the dreaded ‘white van’ with no number plates that arrives. The victim is bundled in and that is that.
In the Tamil North and East, these niceties are not considered necessary. Just a straightforward abduction by ‘unknown men’ (read - President Rajapaksa’s gang of thugs, some in army or police uniform, others in civilian clothes). They arrive, the victim goes with them (there being no option), and that is the last that is seen of him/her. A cassock is no protection.
It is brazen – plain simple murder, done with the assurance that the Government, the overwhelmingly Sinhalese (99%) Sri Lankan Armed Forces (now running the North and East), the Police (95% Sinhalese), and the crumbling legal system under the heel of the Executive President with sweeping powers, will do nothing to bring the perpetrators to book. Many of these crimes are, in fact, directed by members of the ruling junta.
There is no investigation, not even the pretence of one. The GoSL does not think it is called for. If there are calls, those who do so are ‘enemies of Sri Lanka’, ‘traitors’, ‘terrorists’ or even ‘Tamil Tiger Terrorists’. In Sri Lanka, any Tamil is a ‘terrorist’ unless he stands close to the blood-drenched Sri Lankan flag. So are others (like the writer of this paper, who is a Sinhalese). Ethnicity no longer matters. To be critical or even to question what the ruling junta does, is, by definition, ‘terrorism’ or treason, and treated as such. George Bush’s “You are with us or with the terrorists” is applied absolutely in Rajapaksa’s autocratic Sri Lanka.
Mannar and Bishop Rayappu Joseph
Mannar district is one of 25 administrative districts in Sri Lanka, located in the North West, with a population of about 130,000, mainly Tamils (and some Muslims). It is linked to Mannar Island by a causeway. Mannar Island is a dry and barren area of about 50 square kilometres. Fishing is economically vital for survival. Deliberate destruction of this (as the GoSL has done) will result in starvation.
The Mannar Diocese has some 86,700 Catholics, 69 priests, and 21 religious priests. Rt Rev Dr Rayappu Joseph is the Bishop of Mannar.
The Madhu Church, on the mainland in the Mannar district, is one of the ancient Churches of Asia. It is the holiest Roman Catholic shrine in Sri Lanka, home to Sri Lanka’s most famous Catholic statue, the centuries old, priceless statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary – the ‘Our Lady of Madhu’ (in Tamil “Matha Matha” – mother). In 1920, Bishop Brault (the then Bishop of Jaffna) obtained the Pope's sanction for the Coronation of the Statue.
In August, thousands of Catholics from all over Sri Lanka go to Madhu for the annual ‘Madhu festival’. On 18 August 2010, there were more than 450,000 people.
In November 1999, the Sri Lankan Armed Forces (99% Sinhalese) thought nothing of shelling this Church, doing extensive damage.
The Pesalai Catholic Church, one of the largest churches in Sri Lanka, is in Mannar Island. The Sri Lankan Navy thought nothing of tossing hand grenades into the Church, having asked the civilians to take shelter in ‘places of worship’ – which I hope a Church is.
The murder of Tamil Christian priests in Mannar is nothing new. Let me back-track to ensure that history does not repeat itself.
Fr Mary Bastian was a Catholic priest in Vankalai in the Mannar district. He was abducted on January 5th, 1985, by the Armed Forces, tortured and murdered. The body was clandestinely burnt. Several witnesses saw the Priest being taken away by the soldiers. Pope John Paul had a special prayer for the departed soul of Fr Bastian. It did no good since a few days later, a Tamil Methodist Priest, George Jeyarajasingham, was ambushed and killed by the Sri Lankan Army.
Lalith Athulathmudali, the then President J.R. Jayawardene’s Minister of National Security (or rather, Insecurity), in typical Goebellian style, completely denied that the murder had occurred, adding insult to injury by tarnishing the dead priest’s reputation. He claimed that Fr Bastian had run away to India and was very much alive in Tamil Nadu.
Many Sinhalese Catholic priests in the South collaborated in this cover up. The most serious collaborator was Rt Rev Oswald Gomis, later appointed the Head of the Roman Catholic Church in Sri Lanka. Rev Gomis, the government propagandist, with the tacit consent of the then Archbishop of Colombo, Nicholas Marcus Fernando, wrote to the Vatican that Fr Bastian was alive and well in India.
The Pope retracted his earlier statement – something that is unknown. The Vatican issued a press release that the Pope had erred in praying for Fr Bastian’s departed soul and that “joyfully” he was alive.
Despite overwhelming evidence that the priest was dead, Catholics did not want to push the issue, since it would have eroded the Pope’s credibility even further. With the Pope’s infallibility already dented, the faithful decided to let it pass. The Pope’s infallibility was undermined by Roman Catholic priests in the Sinhalese South, cooperating with the Government.
Let us make sure that the Pope is well aware of the dangers facing Bishop Rayappu Joseph and his fellow priests in the North and East - not that he has not been apprised of this before (as we will see).
Bishop Rayappu Joseph
Born in Delft (an island off the Jaffna Peninsula) in 1940, ordained in 1967, he was appointed Bishop of Mannar in July 1992.
It is impossible to even list out, let alone present, what this outstanding Catholic Bishop has done for the people of Mannar, and the wider community in the Tamil North and East. As someone who is neither a Tamil nor a Roman Catholic, all I can say is that this extraordinary man and his lone voice of protest in a very dangerous country, has been an inspiration to all of us who have an interest in human rights in general, the brutalised Tamil ‘minority’ in particular.
What has Bishop Rayappu Joseph done?
What ‘hanging offences’ has the Bishop done to ‘warrant’ assassination or ‘disappearance’? In a sentence – he has looked after his flock – not just Catholic Christians, but Christians of all denominations, non-Christians, and non-believers. The Bible says that they are all God’s children – which Bishop Joseph has applied absolutely. He is not only the leader of the Catholic Church in Mannar, but a humanitarian, which is why his ‘elimination’ will affect everyone.
Let me take you through some of Bishop Joseph’s ‘hanging offences’, seen as such by the Government of Sri Lanka (GoSL).
It will simply take too long to deal with what Bishop Joseph has done for his people in Mannar, traumatised and brutalised by the war in Sri Lanka. I will deal only with some of the more recent events.
The bombing of Mannar
When the Sri Lankan Air Force and Navy decided to bomb and shell Mannar in 1999, Bishop Joseph urged that civilians be spared. They were not. As scores of civilians, men, women and children, were slaughtered or injured, Bishop Joseph lodged a strong protest with the Armed Forces, went to care for the wounded, and to wipe the tears of those who survived. That was unacceptable to the GoSL. Anyone who did any humanitarian work to help the suffering (Tamils) was, according to the GoSL, a ‘terrorist’ and, if Tamil, a “Tamil Tiger Terrorist” – a label attached to Bishop Joseph.
The bombing of the Madhu Church in Mannar.
With the bombing getting closer to the Madhu Church (with its invaluable Lady of Madhu statue), some people (I am told they were Tamil Tigers – some of whom were Roman Catholics) – rescued this treasure. They returned it to the Church when this outrage was over. Had it not been for them this holy of holy statues would have been pulverised.
On 28 November 1999, the Madhu Church was bombed. The Church was extensively damaged, some 40 civilians killed and another 60 injured. Jesus Christ lost an arm (I mean the statue), as I have documented in one of the dozen dvds I have recorded. Bishop Rayappu Joseph raised a voice of protest at this outrage.
These protests are completely unacceptable to the GoSL. Churches and Hindu shrines (kovils), are there to be destroyed and replaced by Buddhist Statues, dome-shaped Stupas (‘Dagobas’), and Buddhist Temples – despite the fact that there are no (or very few) Buddhists in the area. This is ‘necessary’ to make multiethnic, multireligious, multicultural, multilingual Sri Lanka into a Sinhala-Buddhist country – the undisguised intention of the GoSL, whatever the rhetoric.
End of the war
Then came the end of the war, 19 May 2009.
Bishop Joseph, and many others in the North and East, waited for the return to normalcy and at least some accounting and reconciliation. With nothing but a seriously flawed “Lesson Learnt Reconciliation Commission” (LLRC) appointed by the Rajapaksa government, he and two of his fellow priests made a detailed Submission.
This was despite Amnesty International (AI), Human Rights Watch (HRW), and International Crisis Group (ICG) when invited to appear before the Commission, refusing to do so. Kenneth Ross, Executive Director, Human Rights Watch wrote to the Commission that: “There is little point in appearing before a fundamentally flawed commission. The Commission is nothing more than a cynical attempt by Sri Lanka to avoid serious inquiry that would bring genuine accountability”. AI was scathing. In a 60 page detailed analysis, “When will they get Justice? Failures of Sri Lanka’s Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission’, AI decimated the Commission, stating that it was “fundamentally flawed”.
Despite this, Bishop Joseph and his fellow clergy decided to appear before the Commission to clearly set out the problems facing the Tamil people – which is more than what their elected members of Parliament did.
LLRC: Submission by the Catholic Diocese of Mannar
Rt. Rev. Dr. Rayappu Joseph, Rev.Fr. Victor Sosai, Rev. Fr. Xavier Croos
This is a crucially important Submission which deals with what the people in the North and East are going through behind the closed and censored doors of Sri Lanka. It is important to point out that despite the end of the war, internationally credible human rights organisations such as AI, HRW, and ICG, are not allowed into the North and East, nor are independent observers.
As such, we have to rely on people on the ground, like Bishop Joseph, his clergy, and ‘civil society’ to tell us what is happening to ordinary civilians.
Although the stated aim of the Submission was to deal with the situation in the Diocese of Mannar, what was presented applies to the entire Tamil area. It is so important that I have reproduced it in full in the Appendix. It is a ‘must read’ document.
This is the only document ever published that gives the actual number of people who are unaccounted for (a staggering 146,679):
“Based on information from the Kacheris of Mullativu and Killinochi about the population in Vanni in early October 2008 and the number of people who came to government controlled areas after that, 146,679 people seem to be unaccounted for. According to the Kacheri, the population in Vanni was 429,059 in early part of October 2008 (Refer Annex 4 and 5). According to UN OCHA update as of 10th July 2009, the total number of people who came out of the Vanni to government controlled areas after this, is estimated to be 282,380 (Refer Annex 6)”.
The Submission opens with:
“At the outset, we must express our disappointment that previous Commissions of Inquiry have failed to establish the truth into human rights violations and extrajudicial killings they were inquiring and bring justice and relief to victims and their families.”
Driving the point home, it goes on:
“In order to achieve genuine and lasting reconciliation, we believe it is crucial to address roots of the conflict and war, primarily issues affecting Tamils such as recognition of their political reality, language, land, education and political power sharing.”
This invaluable document says much more. I have set it out as an Appendix so that those who cannot cope with a long article which this article unapologetically is, do not need to read the Appendix although I urge that they do.
The US Envoys come to Sri Lanka
In February 2012, the US State Department, sent two officials to Sri Lanka to tell the Rajapaksa government that the US intended to submit a Resolution on Sri Lanka at the upcoming 19th Session of the UN Human Rights Council (27 February – 23 March 2012).
19 Tamils, non-politicians, (“Civil Society”), including Bishop Rayappu Joseph, immediately sent a letter to them (10 February 2012). It is the most concise and precise letter I have seen, written by people with genuine concern about the Tamil people, and the expectations (and responsibilities) of the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC).
10 February 2012
1. With deep regret we take note of the fact that the report of the Presidential Commission of Inquiry on Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation (LLRC) has become the point of reference in the discussions on Sri Lanka in Geneva. We wish to emphasise that it is important to give preeminent status and importance to the UN Secretary General’s Expert Panel Report on Sri Lanka in the discussions and particularly to highlight the unbridgeable gaps between the LLRC report and the UNSG’s Expert Panel’s report.
2. It is no secret that the appointment of the LLRC was an attempt on the part of the Government to buy time from the International Community - to postpone the setting up of an international mechanism to investigate into the grave atrocities committed against the Tamil people. The contents of the LLRC report should be viewed from this perspective – the purpose that it seeks to serve in furthering the short and long term goals of the Government of Sri Lanka.
3. It is not disputed that the LLRC report has failed in reasonably addressing the question of accountability. On the other hand the recommendations relating to scaling down militarization, disarming paramilitaries et al have been deliberately included so that any reasonable reader cannot out rightly reject the LLRC. This means that the international community is in a way forced to welcome these ‘positive features’ of the LLRC report, pressurize for implementation of those recommendations and postpone any move towards setting up an international mechanism to look into the question of accountability. This is exactly what the Government of Sri Lanka wanted with the LLRC.
4. Though many are surprised that a Government appointed commission could come up with such ‘positive recommendations’, we on the contrary are not. We were right from the beginning aware that the appointment of the LLRC would be a time buying exercise and the report that has been released has its objective of further buying time for the GOSL. In fact none of the commissioners reflected the kind of views that are now considered to be ‘positive’ in the LLRC report. The Chairman of the LLRC in his questions to Dr. Jayantha Dhanapala, a former Under Secretary General of the United Nations, who appeared before the LLRC in a public hearing in Colombo, was of the opinion after visiting the North that the Tamil people were not seeking constitutional reforms but only job opportunities1. Hence it is not abnormal to be surprised that this very commission had chosen to go against the thinking of its Chairman and acknowledge that the Tamils have true political grievances, which require a political solution. But this only reiterates the point that we make, that the commission has made these positive recommendations which even some of its commissioners including its Chairman don’t believe in, to achieve the political purpose of its appointers.
Furthermore a careful reading of these so-called ‘positive recommendations’ will only reveal that they do not accomplish much. For example the substantive recommendations on a political solution parrot the Government’s stated position on a political solution: empower Local Governments and establish a second chamber. (Paragraphs 9.231 and 9.232 of the report). On the question of paramilitaries the report conveniently ignores the well-acknowledged fact that the paramilitaries of the EPDP and TMVP are in fact controlled by Sri Lankan Army Intelligence. (Paragraphs 5.77 and 5.78 of the report). It is also no secret that the leadership of these two para military groups enjoy ministerial portfolios and that their cadre received monthly stipends for many years from the country’s defense budgets. It is also glaring that the commission does not call for the repeal of the PTA (Paragraph 9.57 of the report). The recommendations relating to for example detainees are welcome. However such recommendations fall short of reflecting the overall complexity of the issues and have been included to cover up the report’s otherwise glaring failures. The report thus quite cleverly accomplishes its founding objective of giving the feel good while not straying too far and conceding too much from the current Government’s positions on many of these vital questions.
5. We have no faith whatsoever that these so called ‘positive recommendations’ of the LLRC report will be implemented. We state this not only from our past experience with presidential commission reports in Sri Lanka but also because we have completely lost faith in the governance framework of this country. We also have no trust in the negotiations taking place between the GOSL and the Tamil National Alliance, which we perceive, again, as a convenient time buying exercise by the Government of Sri Lanka.
We urge that it is imperative that the International Community that meets in Geneva this March for the UN Human Rights Council sessions takes a firm stance on accountability. As expressed by our elected representatives (the Tamil National Alliance) in their initial response to the LLRC on the 19th of December 2011 we urge the ‘international community to acknowledge the consistent failure of domestic accountability mechanisms in Sri Lanka and take steps to establish an international mechanism for accountability’. Any resolution coming out of the Human Rights Council, which gives more time to the Government of Sri Lanka, will have a devastating impact on the Tamil community. The Government’s current activities in the North and East are challenging the very existence of the Tamil people and more time to the GOSL to implement the LLRC’s recommendations will only mean further time for the Government to play havoc in the North and East and subjugate the interests and aspirations of the Tamil people. If the International Community does not act now, like they did not act in May 2009, the Tamils will cease to exist as a ‘people’ in this country.”
People who write such letters, uncomfortably near the truth, have no place in Rajapaksa’s “Democracy” and must be ‘eliminated’. It was published in the ‘tamilnet’ website, which alone is a ‘hanging offence’ in the eyes of the GoSL.
On 1st March 2012, 31 Christian clergy in North Sri Lanka headed by Bishop Rayappu Joseph, made a Submission to the UN Human Rights Council 19th Session that had started on 27 February.
“Bishop's House, Pattim, Mannar, Sri Lanka
1st March 2012
To: The President and all members of the United Nations Human Rights Council
UN Human Rights Council sessions and resolution on Sri Lanka
We are writing to you as a group of concerned Christian clergy in North Sri Lanka who have been directly affected by war and have been working to ensure rights of people in our region before, during and after the war, while being concerned and committed to broader issues of human rights, democratization and rule of law in Sri Lanka. We have also been trying to monitor domestic and international developments in this regard and contribute constructively to such processes.
Although we are not privy to the official positions and documents of members of the Council in relation to actions contemplated related to Sri Lanka, we welcome that the UNHRC members appear to be taking some action towards protection of human rights in Sri Lanka, even though this comes a bit too late, after massive loss of life and sufferings. At least now, we urge the Council to act decisively in relation to Sri Lanka, to enable Sri Lankans to move towards genuine reconciliation.
Given the consistent denial of the Sri Lankan government about scale and nature of war time abuses as well as pre-war and post-war concerns, refusal to address these, and given also the seriousness of the allegations levelled against it as one of the parties to such abuses, we believe it is an independent international body that could best address concerns of truth seeking, accountability and reparations for victims in a way that victims, survivors and their families will have confidence. It is only by addressing these that we believe we can move towards genuine reconciliation.
The LLRC has quite rightly identified abuses by the LTTE and also come up with some positive recommendations that has potential for reconciliation. But it has failed to address critical issues of truth seeking and accountability, despite strong evidence and testimony before it. The record of various domestic bodies whose recommendations successive governments have ignored, including the LLRC’s own interim recommendations issued more than a year ago and threats and intimidation of witnesses who gave testimony to the LLRC including a Christian Priest had made us lose confidence that our concerns will be addressed through LLRC. In fact, the post LLRC track record of abducting human rights defenders in Jaffna, obstructing human rights day event in Jaffna, obstructing peaceful campaigns in the North, killing of a protesting fisherman in Chilaw, vicious hate campaigns against journalists and organizations critical of the government, singing of the national anthem in Sinhalese only and a host of such activities indicates the absolute disregard for the LLRC report by the Government of Sri Lanka.
Thus, we believe it is imperative that the UNHRC calls on the Government to:
1. Implement LLRC recommendations,
2. Present a time bound, detailed and specific action plan in this regard to the 20th session of the UNHRC,
3. Report back on progress made on implementation to the 22nd session of the UNHRC, and
4. Accept the appointment of and fully cooperate with an international independent and effective mechanism to monitor above and address accountability issues not dealt with by the LLRC.
1. Most Rev. Rayappu Joseph, Bishop of Mannar, Pattim, Mannar, Sri Lanka.
(the list goes on to 31)
Conspicuous by their absence were the names of Cardinal Malcolm Rangith, the Head of the Catholic Church in Sri Lanka, and the Roman Catholic Bishops of Jaffna, Bishop Thomas Savundranyagam, and of Trincomalee-Batticaloa, Bishop Kingsley Swarmpillai.
They clearly feel that there is no problem, and that all is well with their flock. If so, they are either out of touch with reality, or have a shameless agenda of their own.
UNHRC – Response of Civil Society
I heard the address of the Head of the Sri Lankan delegation, Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe, to the UNHRC on 27 February, 2012. I heard his downright lies, or, as an epistemologist would put it delicately, “the speaker’s propositions did not correspond to the facts”, I am sure Bishop Joseph and co-workers did so in Sri Lanka. I had an advantage in that I was at home and not in Bishop’s house, and could shout “Liar! Liar!” as the egregious political whoppers were regularly emitted. However, there were anatomical limitations – how many times could you shout “Liar! Liar!” without becoming hoarse?
There are many things about politicians, especially in Sri Lanka, which I do not understand. I wonder how conscious they are of the errors in reasoning they regularly loft in our direction. Errors in reasoning such as, “If what the GoSL has done to the Tamils is so fantastic, why exclude AI, HRW and ICG from visiting the area so that see these wonders?” Given that so many politicians appear to have no qualms about throwing outright lies at us, I believe they do know that they are lying.
When I heard Samarasinghe’s string of lies, I breathed a sigh and went to bed. Those in the Tamil North did not. They responded immediately, “Response by Civil Society” (29 February, 2012):-
“This document is a response to the statement made by Minister Samarasinghe at the High Level Segment of the 19th Session of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC). At the outset it is noted that the responses by the Government including setting up the Lesson’s Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) and the pledges made in the speech referenced here are as a result of increased international scrutiny and a counter to the growing call for a resolution to
discuss Sri Lanka at the UNHRC. As civil society who work on human rights and rule of law issues in Sri Lanka, the pledges made are yet another indicator of the delaying tactics used by the Government to halt any genuine progress in Sri Lanka.
………., this document highlights areas of contention and counters some of the statements made by him. The table below contains two columns-one with highlights from the statements made by the Minister and the opposing column directly rebutting the specific claim and at times containing questions that should be posed by different actors to the Government of Sri Lanka.
This document is drafted by civil society based on its own reports and documentation, public interest litigation, news reports and other documentation. It is also drafted at a time when civil society and others who are critical of the Government have come under intense threats, resulting in no names being mentioned of those who drafted this document. The shrinking space for any action in Sri Lanka demonstrates the urgent and immediate need for action at the 19th Sessions of the UNHRC.”
The ‘Table’ referred to is a point by point response to the absolute untruths of the Sri Lankan government. I know of no better response to the downright lies of the GoSL.
What is of concern is the decision of those who wrote this not to mention their names because they “have come under intense threats” – which is what this paper by me addresses. I know who they are, and what might happen to them, especially to Bishop Joseph – hence this article.
The opposition to Bishop Joseph
The political party of the Buddhist monks (JHU)
The opposition to Bishop Joseph comes, as would be expected, from the rabidly anti-Tamil political party of the Buddhist Monks, the JHU (Jathika Hela Urumaya (National Freedom Front). They include frank threats (see below).
Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith
Surprisingly, opposition, or rather a lack of support, comes from the Head of the Roman Catholic Church in Sri Lanka, Cardinal Malcolm Rangith (a Sinhalese).
On 6 March, 2012, the media spokesperson of the Catholic Church, Rev Benedict Joseph, when questioned about the letter sent by 31 Catholic clergy headed by Bishop Rayappu Joseph, said that “the statement made by Bishop of Mannar Rev.Rayappu Joseph regarding the requirement of an international investigation into alleged war crimes in Sri Lanka, is not the stance of the Catholic community”.
He added that “ His Eminence Arch Bishop Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith had already established that the Catholic community believes that Sri Lanka should understand and implement the recommendations made by the LLRC report”.
Professor Sir Hudson McLean (Scotland)
I have no idea who he is, and cannot get any information on “Google” – something McLean revels in – “I am flattered that so many persons have searched me on Google,” To this I might respond “Some of us merely want to know your background and why you stand where you do”. I presume he exists, and that ‘he’ is not a supporter of the ruling junta in Sri Lanka trying to be a non-existent character. Even if this is the case, a response is necessary to deal with the arrant nonsense that has been published.
McLean has written dozens of articles supportive of the GoSL for some 12 years, most of them published in the “LankaWeb”.
His “Paradise lost MUST be regained”, throws some light on the elusive gentleman whom “so many people” are searching for on Google. In it he says:
“Ceylon or Sri Lanka was home to my family for two generations. My father, a planter (tea), brought up our family to love this beautiful Island….”.
Then came the skeleton in the cupboard, “Recently, I spent a memorable fortnight in your beautiful Island of Sri Lanka, visiting Kandy, Nuwara Eliya (where I enjoyed a game of early morning golf), Hikkaduwa (an expensive coastal Resort)…..
I note that this self-professed ‘concerned Catholic’ did not think it necessary to visit the North and East where thousands of Catholics have been slaughtered and many thousand more are struggling to survive. Nor did President Rajapaks’s wife whom I am told is a Roman Catholic. The ‘problem’ facing McLean was that had he gone to the arid North, he would not have been able to play golf as he did, in the salubrious climate of Nuwara Eliya. Why would you want to go to an arid area when the alternative is the breezy resort of Hikkaduwa? The other side of the coin is that had he gone and seen what is going on, his writings might have been a little more credible. I only hope that the struggling Sri Lankan taxpayer did not have to subsidise this “memorable fortnight”.
I do not know whether I need to spend time dealing with this man who might be singing for his supper. However, I do need to quote his outrageous comments about the Tamil people – “Most of the Tamils were brought in by the British to work on the tea estates”,(which shows his depth of knowledge of Sri Lanka), and his claim, “The Island as a whole belongs to the original inhabitants, the Sinhalese.”
He goes on in language unbecoming of his title and position. “US military presence in India would tell the likes of China or Pakistan to fuck off”.
I wondered why the GoSL had not sent this gentleman to fly the Sri Lankan flag at the 19th UNHRC meeting in Geneva. I guess it was the fear that if he told China and Pakistan “to fuck off”, it might have created ‘difficulties’ for Sri Lanka.
I take strong exception to McLean’s reference to Bishop Rayappu Joseph in the “Open Letter” he wrote to the Head of the Catholic Church in Sri Lanka, Cardinal Ranjith, on the “Role of Leaders of the Catholic Faith in a Sovereign State”. Some of it is frankly defamatory.
He says, “As a Catholic, with a deep respect and a feeling of patriotism towards Sri Lanka, I respectfully address the issue, with regret, on the behaviour of Bishop of Mannar Dr. Rayappu Joseph, acting as a racist and openly supporting anti-Sri Lankan sentiments, supporting Division & Terrorism”.
He goes on, with what could be defamation. “Currently as an independent observer, my personal reaction towards Bishop Rayappu Joseph, is that he is trying to recreate a new generation of Tamil Terrorists within Sri Lanka. Bishop Rayappu Joseph is not preaching the doctrine of reconciliation……
Would your conscience, as the Leader of the Sri Lankan Catholics, accept that, due to the racist activity of Bishop Rayappu Joseph, if some of the Sinhala were to respond equally against the Tamil population in the South, and create unrest and even bloodshed?
By maintaining a silence, without responding to Bishop Rayappu Joseph, Your Eminence, you are displaying lack of leadership, and even stooping to the level of supporting racism and terrorism!
As the Leader of the Catholics in Sri Lanka, perhaps you might consider sending strict orders to Bishop Rayappu Joseph either to “Shut-up & Put-up” or a choice of De-robing or Relocating to Tamil Nadu”.
Yours in Blessings of Christ
Prof. Hudson McLean
Hudson then goes on to attack the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navanethem Pillay, in what could well be defamation:
“I have been following the learned Hon. Ms. Navanethem Pillai. Hon. Ms. Pillai as an illustrious international legal personality, should give serious consideration to her current status, either she acts as an independent Commissioner…… , or resigns from this prestigious International position, to maintain its credibility, and decides to act as an independent, dedicated legal representative of the Tamil Diaspora.
As to remuneration, at her mature age, with the available funds of Tamil Diaspora and certainly her personal acquired wealth, plus potential incomes from other future engagements, Hon. Ms Pillai should not find difficulties in sustaining her comfortable standard of living.”
Threats to Bishop Joseph, his clergy and ‘Civil Society’
The threats have come from ‘unspecified sources’ – which most of us who are familiar with Sri Lanka would prefer to call “the Rajapaksa regime”. These have been freely aired by Media such as the Sunday Divaina website.
An open threat came from the party of the Buddhist monks – JHU, Jathika Hela Urumaya (National Heritage Party), a Government coalition partner, that accuses Bishop Joseph of aspiring to become the Cardinal of Tamil Eelam (Independent Tamil State) and that he should be arrested and prosecuted. The JHU told the BBC that the Government should prosecute Bishop Joseph.
In a press release, JHU said that “Rev Rayappu Joseph, the Bishop of Mannar, who requests the United Nations Organization that an investigation should be launched regarding the supposed war crimes allegations against Sri Lanka, should be immediately produced before court, as it is a violation of the constitution of this country”.
These politically-active Buddhist monks can be, and are, very violent. It was one of them who assassinated Prime Minister S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike in 1958. Those who believe that as followers of Buddhism, monks cannot be violent, might like to know that Pol Pot was a Buddhist monk.
In February 2007, President Rajapaks’s Minister for Environment and National Resources, Champika Ranawaka, from the JHU, advocated extrajudicial methods to deal with human rights groups, journalists and others who criticize the State’s militaristic aims. “Those bastards are traitors. We can’t do anything because of wild donkey freedom in this country”, he told the Ravaya newspaper on 18 February 2007. “If those can’t be handled with existing laws, we know how to do it. If we can’t suppress those bastards with the law, we need to use other ways and means, yes”. No one in President Rajapaksa’s government has condemned the Minister’s threat to move outside the law.
A more serious threat of physical violence came from Minister Mervyn Silva, President Rajapaksa’s Minister of Public Relations and Public Affairs who is a thug and a very violent man. He is not only threatens but carries out his threats. As such, his threat cannot be taken lightly.
On 23 March 2012, Minister Mervyn Silva, addressing a public meeting in Kiribathgoda (near Colombo), said that he will “break the bones” of Sri Lankans who supported the UNHRC Resolution in Geneva, adding that he would do this himself. I will deal with this threat from this Minister in the Rajapaksa government with a documented track record of ‘breaking bones’ and physically savaging people, later in this article.
Threats in Sri Lanka from the ruling junta, be it Mervin Silva or of Gotabaya Rajapaksa, the President’s very violent brother and Defence Secretary (in reality the de facto President of Sri Lanka – Mahinda Rajapaksa being only the de jure President), are threats that cannot be ignored.
They are not just empty threats in Sri Lanka, as Lasantha Wickrematunga, the Sinhalese owner/editor of the Sunday Leader (the only newspaper in Sri Lanka to be critical of the Government) found out. He was assassinated in broad daylight by four masked men when he was on his way to work in a suburb of Colombo. Many others critical of the government, or even those who dare to question what the Government is doing, have gone the same way, or have been bundled into a “white van”, never to be seen again.
In its presentation on 13 March 2012 to the 19th Session of UNHRC, AI stated that “Gross and systematic violations continue to take place in Sri Lanka. Sri Lankan organisations have documented 32 cases of involuntary and enforced disappearances and related extra-judicial executions since October 2011 i.e. in just five months. This is almost certainly an underestimate because many families are too afraid to report such ‘disappearances’ to the Police or the Armed Forces who run the North and the East. When they have, they have ‘disappeared’ too.
The same applies to rape, as I will set out in a paper I am about to publish – “An epidemic of Rape of Tamil women and girls in the North and East of Sri Lanka by the Sri Lankan Armed Forces”.
Concern and support for Bishop Rayappu Joseph
Forum Asia at the UNHRC Oral and written statements
Forum Asia for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA) is a regional human rights group with 49 member organisations in 17 countries across Asia. It made an oral and written statement to the 19th Session of the UNHRC on 13 March 2012. The written statement is at (A/HRC/19/NGO/64).
I will refer only to the oral presentation, in particular, the reference to ‘Civil Society’.
The first part confirmed what Bishop Joseph and ‘Civil Society’ had detailed in their Submission, and then went on to deal with the concerns for their safety. Here is part of what they said.
It referred “to the emerging trends of land grabbing and development-induced displacement in post-war Sri Lanka. Contrary to Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe’s portrayal during the High-level Segment - about the progress in the “removal of military from facilitation of civil administration in the north making land previously used for security purposes available for resettlement/return”, the forcible acquisition of these lands by the Ministry of Defense and Rural Development for the purposes of military camps, Special Economic Zones, tourist resorts or infrastructure development has increased the militarization of the former conflict areas in addition to displacing thousands of vulnerable communities, particularly farmers and fisherfolk, as further elaborated in.”
It then went on to deal with intimidation by the GoSL:
“Madam President, the systematic intimidation by the government and state media against those Sri Lankan civil society organizations engaging with the UN human rights mechanisms does not amount to genuine and constructive cooperation of the government with this Council… ..
The Submission continued:
“Madam President, in response to the reservations put forward by some States on the added value of the Council’s action at the current session concerning the accountability and reconciliation issues in Sri Lanka, FORUM-ASIA highlights the followings: 1) The Council has a responsibility to complement and fill the gaps in the domestic accountability process as it endorsed the joint communiqué between the UN Secretary-General and the President of Sri Lanka three years ago in 2009;……
The support of the international community as well as the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and Special Procedures through the action by this Council will enhance the space for those embattled Sri Lankan human rights defenders and victims to raise their legitimate concerns on justice.
The Isolation of Bishop Rayappu Joseph
Opposition to Bishop Joseph by the Rajapaksa junta and the Sinhalese Buddhist extremists in the Sinhalese South is understandable. That is what ‘patriotism’ has come to mean in Sri Lanka – standing close to the Sri Lankan flag, however blood-drenched it is.
What is deeply disturbing is the isolation of Bishop Joseph by Roman Catholic Bishops (and clergy) in the Tamil North and even by Anglican Bishops and clergy in this area. I refer specifically to the Roman Catholic Bishop Thomas Savundranayagam (Jaffna) and Bishop Kingsley Swarmpillai (Trincomalee/Batticaloa) – both of whom are Tamils, not that this matters.
The result is that Bishop Joseph is seen as a heretic and by the Sri Lankan government as a ‘terrorist’. This is just ridiculous.
The clergy in the Tamil North and East are there to look after their flock (and other civilians). Their failure to support Bishop Joseph in his entirely justifiable concerns about the plight of people in this area, implies that they feel that the civilians have no problems.
This is simply not acceptable. The Tamil National Alliance (TNA), the elected and nominated MPs who are there to look after the interests of these people, published a detailed report ‘Situation Report: North and East Sri Lanka’ on 21 October 2011, and tabled it in the Sri Lankan Parliament. It is on the net. It is a chilling report of the ground situation in the Tamil North and East.
This was followed by a detailed 41 page Report by the Brussels-based International Crisis Group, Sri Lanka: Women’s Insecurity in the North and East. It is impossible to believe that the clergy (and others) in the North and East, and for that matter in the rest of Sri Lanka, are unaware of what the civilians in this area are going through.
I am aware that most of the members of “Civil Society” (I have referred to), come from Jaffna. To claim that the Bishop of Jaffna was not aware of them and was unable to contact them to listen to their concerns, is taking credibility to absurdity.
If those in authority in the North and East, including and especially the Bishops, do not agree with the serious concerns that have been expressed by people on the ground in Sri Lanka and credible international organisations, then they must submit a dissenting report, if they are to retain an iota of credibility. They must then get the GoSL to allow internationally credible organisations such as AI, HRW and ICG to visit this area and check out the humanitarian situation. If, as the GoSL claims, and, by their silence, the clergy and others support, there are happy smiling Tamil faces in the North and East, what rationale can there be to refuse to allow internationally credible human rights organisations to visit this area and see for themselves the ‘wondrous things’ the GoSL has done for the Tamil people? This is a straightforward, but crucially important, point that was unfortunately not made, even by AI, at the recent 19th UNHRC meeting.
The failure of the Bishops in the Tamil area to strongly support Bishop Rayappu Joseph is disgraceful. If I am treading on people’s toes, it is entirely intentional. Lord Reith, the founder of the BBC rightly said, “There are some whom it is our duty to offend”. This is precisely what I am doing. My only hope is that the civilian population in this area will work this out sooner or later, and get behind the outstanding and outspoken Bishop Rayappu Joseph, his fellow clergy and ‘Civil Society’.
Sinhalese clergy and civilians
In striking contrast to the Tamil Bishops in the North and East, and the (Sinhalese) Head of the Roman Catholic Church on Sri Lanka. Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith, who are unable to support an outstanding Tamil Bishop in the North West, support for him has commendably come from my community, the Sinhalese, in the South.
Headed by the fine upstanding Sinhalese Bishop, Kumara Illangasinghe, (Anglican) Bishop Emeritus of Kurunegala, Christian clergy and laity from the South wrote to UNHRC in support of the letter by Northern clergy:
“12th March 2012
To: The President and all members of the United Nations Human Rights Council
We the undersigned, endorse the concerns and calls made in the letter of 1st March 2012 to the President and Members of the UN Human Rights Council by 31 Catholic clergy from Northern Sri Lanka, including the Bishop of Mannar.
1. Bishop Kumara Illangasinghe
2. Rev. Fr. M. Sathivel (and others)
63 people signed it – 25 priests, 7 nuns, and 31 civilians.
As a Sinhalese, I am proud of members of my ethnic group who have come forward, not just to support Bishop Joseph, but to rescue the name of the Sinhalese. The former President of Sri Lanka, Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga, in a recent public speech in Colombo said that after watching the shocking (UK) Channel 4 video, Sri Lanka’s Killing Fields, her son had called her from London, sobbing, “I am ashamed to be called a Sinhalese”. She can be seen in the just-released second Channel 4 documentary “Sri Lanka’s Killing Fields: War Crimes Unpunished”.
A predecessor of Bishop Illangasinghe in the Anglican Church in Kurunagala was the irreplaceable (Sinhalese) Bishop Lakshman Wickremasinghe, whose name is synonymous with integrity, decency and humanity. He was the only one I know of who has publicly apologised to the Tamils (after the 1983 massacre of Tamils in Colombo), for what had been done to them. His third (and final) Pastoral Letter is well worth reading. He is what all clergy should aspire to be. I know exactly where he would have stood in the current dreadful situation facing the Tamils in the North and East.
Asian Center for the Progress of Peoples (ACPP) Hong Kong
ACCP is a regional non-government organization inspired by Pope Paul VI’s Populorum Progressio and serving justice and peace efforts in Asia through advocacy, education and training, and networking for solidarity.
“Urgent - request for solidarity with Northern Priests and Bishop of Mannar for taking a stand on Geneva UN HRC sessions
Greetings from ACPP, Hongkong.
As some of you may already be aware, the Bishop of Mannar in Northern Sri Lanka, together with 30 priests, has written to the UN Human Rights Council urging them to call on the Government of Sri Lanka to implement the positive recommendations of the LLRC (Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Committee, the body of inquiry it set up to look back at the Sri Lankan Civil War and provide recommendations for moving forward to an era of healing and peace building), among other things.
The Bishops and the priests have since been attacked through intimidation and discredit by media and government-friendly groups.
Concerned civil society groups in Sri Lanka and abroad are rallying around Bishop Rayappu Joseph and the priests for their principled and courageous position in the light of UN’s belated interest in the human rights situation in Sri Lanka. As the UN is discussing a US-led resolution on Sri Lanka this week, letters of support for the bishop’s letter have been solicited and directed sent to the UN HRC.
However, the on-goings at the Human Rights Council in Geneva is anyone’s guess, and already there are those who are questioning the US resolution, which even if passed, are predicted to be much watered down. This means it would not have any meaningful effect on the human rights situation and national reconciliation efforts in Sri Lanka.
Given this scenario, the pressure is thrown back to those opposing the government of President Mahinda Rajapaksa, and civil society actors like Bp. Joseph and his priests. It is imperative thus, that they be affirmed and supported in their action, now more than ever.”
The ACCP appealed to people “to send your notes and messages of solidarity to Bishop Rayappu Joseph and the 30 priests to affirm their courageous act of writing to the UN, to encourage them to be steadfast in their public stand and prophetic witness, and to give them support in the continuing and expected increased backlash on their action.
You may address your messages of solidarity to:
Thank you very much and hope that you will send your letters as soon as possible to support these men of God who have taken upon themselves to be the voice of the voiceless in Sri Lanka.
May God bless all our efforts for Justice and Peace,
Asian Center for the Progress of Peoples
Protests (or their lack) by the Churches in Sri Lanka at the threats against Bishop Joseph
What about the Christian Church in Sri Lanka? The Church in the Sinhalese South is more Sinhalese than Christian. The Head of the Catholic Church, Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith, behaves as if he is an honorary member of the Rajapaksa government. His predecessor, Archbishop Ostwald Gomis, was the same. Gomis was holding the bloodstained hands of President Rajapaksa, singing Christmas carols while his flock, yes, the Tamils in the North and East are also his flock, were being decimated and their homes reduced to rubble by the Armed Forces of the man who he was singing carols with, who is not only the Executive President with sweeping powers, but also the Minister of Defence and the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces.
Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith (a Sinhalese) said that the Report by the UN Secretary General’s Panel of Experts to look into accountability issues in the closing stages of the war, was part of “an international conspiracy” against the country. This is, of course, what the GoSL claims. The Cardinal might consider quitting his position and accepting a Cabinet post in Rajapaksa’s government. He can then fly the flag for the GoSL, rather than do so from the position he holds. He cannot do both.
As for the Bishops in the Tamil North and East (other than Bishop Joseph), I have already dealt with them. Bishop Thomas Savundranayagam, Bishop of Jaffna, has not expressed any concern at the threats against a fellow Bishop in the North, or of the suffering Tamil people. Presumably he thinks that all is well. If so, the man must be on a different planet (already).
Bishop Kingsley Swarmpillai, Bishop of Trincomalee-Batticaloa, is only marginally better. I have not heard any concerns from him either.
I have had contact with this Bishop some time ago. A friend of mine, Joseph Pararajasingham, MP, was gunned down on Christmas Day, 25 December 2005, in the Batticaloa Church soon after he received communion from the Bishop. The MPs wife was also shot, seriously injuring her. The assailants coolly took off and went to the nearby Army camp, an indication of where they came from.
I telephoned the Bishop from Australia, to find out what he had done about the assassination of the elected Member of Parliament, a crime committed before his very eyes. I was told that the Bishop was in bed with a back-ache and could not speak on the phone. As a doctor, I have spoken with many patients in bed with a back-ache. I let it ride.
In such a setting, Bishop Rayappu Joseph was a gift from God.
Other human rights activists threatened
It is not only Bishop Rayappu Joseph, his Tamil clergy and ‘Civil Society’ who have been threatened. Sinhalese activists of standing (Sunila Abeysekera, recipient of the UN Human Rights Award in 1999 and described by Human Rights Watch as one of the best known activists in Sri Lanka, Nimalka Fernando, a lawyer, women’s rights activist, a member of the Democratic People’s Movement in Sri Lanka and the President of the International Movement Against All forms of Discrimination against Women (IMADR), Sunanda Deshapriya the former Head of the Free Media Movement before going into exile in 2009, and Dr Paikiasoothy Saravanamuttu, Executive Director of the Centre for Policy Alternatives, a much respected organization in Colombo, have also been threatened.
Three of them decided to issue a Joint Statement on 23rd March 2012 in Colombo:
“As the three Sri Lankan human rights defenders who have come most under attack by the state media in Sri Lanka in the past week, because of our active involvement with the on-going session of the UN Human rights Council in Geneva, we feel compelled to issue this statement of clarification.
We do not deny that we are critical of the conduct of the government of Sri Lanka, and the institutions and agencies under its control, whenever disregard for the human rights obligations imposed on the government by virtue of its being signatory to almost all international human rights conventions comes to our attention. As the President of Sri Lanka, and his Special Envoy on Human Rights well know, the three of us have offered our services to this government to ensure human rights accountability in the past. For example, all of us served on the National Advisory Council appointed by Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe, when he held the portfolio for Human Rights.
Nor do we deny that we work with a range of human rights organizations, nationally, regionally and internationally, to draw attention to human rights violations in Sri Lanka as well as to the culture of impunity and the lack of accountability for violations of the past and of the present. This is our right, as human rights defenders, and we have exercised that right for many years, under various governments, in spite of a barrage of attacks and intimidation from various quarters, including state and non-state entities.
It is indeed regrettable that at a time in the history of our country when we have the opportunity to transform our society, to move from a post-war to a post-conflict phase, and to enjoy the support of the international community to rebuild a just, humane and prosperous Sri Lanka in which all its citizens can live together with peace and dignity, the government and its media have seen it necessary to launch into an unprecedented and utterly personalized attack against the three of us. There is no attempt to challenge us substantively on any point. None of the comments attributed to us, were actually ever made by any one of us; there are many who were present at the side events where we have spoken who can testify to that.
This attack is totally counter-productive in terms of the government’s campaign to resist the Resolution on Sri Lanka, which has been tabled at the Council. In fact, in Geneva today, there is more focus on the attacks and acts of intimidation of Sri Lankan human rights defenders than there is on the negotiations around the Resolution. Those who accuse us of bringing the country into disrepute would do well to examine both their own motives and the consequences of their actions. Instead of carrying on with advocacy for defeating the Resolution, Sri Lanka’s ambassador to the Council, Ms. Tamara Kunanayagam has had to spend hours of her valuable time talking to delegations, to the President of the Council and to officials of the Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights about the campaign of intimidation and attack against Sri Lankan human rights defenders at the Council and in Sri Lanka.
As human rights defenders working to defeat impunity in Sri Lanka and to build a strong system of justice and accountability for human rights violations, whether committed in the past or in the present, we remain committed to our ideals and to our goals. For us, whether there is a Resolution on Sri Lanka at the UN Human rights Council or not, our work to defend human rights in Sri Lanka must, and will, go on.
Sunila Abeysekera Nimalka Fernando Dr Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu
On 5 February 2012, Sunanda Deshapriya, Media and Communications, Peace and Conflict, Politics and Governance, Colombo, wrote an Open Letter to Minister Keheliya Rambukwella, Minister of Mass Media and Information,
Mr Minister, my name is Sunanda Deshapriya. I am not a Terrorist.
All of them, except Saravanamuttu, are Sinhalese, although in the eyes of the Sri Lankan government and the likes of Minister Mervyn Silva, they are ‘Terrorists’ or even “Tamil Tiger Terrorists”. Ethnicity no longer matters, it is where one stands that matters. Hence the ‘need’ for Deshapriya to state his position. This label is also attached to Bishop Rayappu Joseph, his fellow priests and members of ‘Civil Society’.
The High Commissioner for Human Rights warns Sri Lanka
On 23 March 2012, at the close of the 19th Session of the UN Human Rights Council, the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navanethem Pillay, warned that there must be no reprisals against Sri Lankan human rights defenders in the aftermath of yesterday's adoption by the Human Rights Council of a resolution on Sri Lanka.
Spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Rupert Colville, quoting Mrs Pillay said that during this Human Rights Council session, there has been an unprecedented and totally unacceptable level of threats, harassment and intimidation directed at Sri Lankan activists who had travelled to Geneva to engage in the debate, including by members of the 71-member official Sri Lankan government delegation. Intimidation and harassment of Sri Lankan civil society activists have also been reported in other locations around Geneva.
On the other hand, the Sri Lankan ambassador in Geneva received an anonymous threatening letter which is being followed up by the police and UN security.
At the same time in Sri Lanka itself, newspapers, news websites and TV and radio stations have since January been running a continuous campaign of vilification, including naming and in many cases picturing activists, describing them as an “NGO gang” and repeatedly accusing them of treason, mercenary activities and association with terrorism. Some of these reports have contained barely veiled incitement and threats of retaliation. At least two comments posted by readers of articles of this type have called for burning down of the houses of the civil society activists named in the articles, and at least one such comment called openly for them to be killed.
The High Commissioner noted that some of the attacks on human rights defenders were carried in Sri Lankan state media and Government websites or were filed by journalists who had been officially accredited to the Human Rights Council session by the Sri Lankan permanent mission. She called on the Government to ensure the protection of human rights defenders, to publicly disassociate itself from such statements, and to clearly uphold the right of Sri Lankan citizens to freely engage in international debate of this kind.
The High Commissioner has also noted that Sri Lanka's own Lessons Learned and Reconciliation Commission, in its report published in December (2011), made extensive and positive references to the role civil society can play in reconciliation and rehabilitation efforts, and stressed this would require greater tolerance towards differing views within Sri Lankan civil society and the protection of Sri Lankan human rights defenders.
What is clear is that once totalitarian regimes start on this slippery slope of intimidation, murder and ‘disappearances’, the target expands. Today it is Bishop Joseph and his 30 Tamil priests who are in the line of fire, tomorrow it will be human rights activists, two of whom are renowned Sinhalese activists who have already been threatened.
How serious are these threats?
Given the track record of the GoSL, its undisciplined Armed Forces and the breakdown of law and order with hooligans and thugs doing as they please, often with the blessings of the Government and the regime in power which has a very violent man, Merwyn Silva, as a Minister in the Rajapaksa government (see below), it would be of the utmost stupidity to treat these threats lightly.
This is precisely what happened to Fr Jim Brown (mentioned in one of Bishop Joseph’s documents).
Rev. Fr. Tiruchelvam Nihal Jim Brown, a young Roman Catholic priest, had been sent as the parish priest to the Philip Neri Church, Allaipiddy village, on Keyts Island, off the Jaffna Peninsula. He had replaced a priest who said he was too afraid to return because of threats from the Sri Lankan Navy.
Hundreds of Tamil Christians and Moslems had taken refuge in the Church during the fighting between the Sri Lankan Navy and the Tamil Tigers. On 13 August 2006, the Church was shelled, killing dozens of people and injuring many more.
Fr Brown was known to have helped many civilians to move from Allaipiddy to the town of Kayts. He, like his predecessor, continued to receive threats from the Navy. He received a number of death threats from the Commanding Officer of the Allaipiddy Naval camp. How real were these threats?
We found out on 20 August 2006. Fr Brown and another man, Wenceslaus Vimalthas, left Allaipiddy to visit the nearby village of Mandaithivu. The Sri Lankan Navy refused to allow them to enter the village. On the way back to Allaipiddy they were stopped at a Navy check-point. They have not been seen again.
Amnesty International launched two appeals (on 29 August 2006, and again on 12 September 2006) “Fear for Safety: Possible Disappearance”. So did Human Rights Watch. His body has recently been found in a bag weighted down with stones, at the bottom of the sea near the Sri Lankan Naval position. Rear-Admiral Upali Ranaweera, the Commander of the Sri Lankan Navy in the Northern region should know all about this. (I do not know where he is today. Perhaps in a Sri Lankan diplomatic position outside Sri Lanka, where many with a case to answer have now been posted).
On 17 April 2007, the Roman Catholic clergy sent a letter to Pope Benedict XVI on the situation in Sri Lanka – “Members of the clergy have been among those targeted. We are particularly troubled by the case of Reverend Fr Thiruchelvan Nihal Jim Brown who ‘disappeared’ after he stopped at a Naval check-point on Kayts Island near Jaffna on August 20, 2006. He had been receiving death treats from senior Navy”.
Just to show that appeals to the Pope, or anyone else, for that matter, meant nothing, Fr M.X.Karunaratnam, Head of North East Secretariat of Human Rights (NESoHR), was slaughtered. Fr Karunaratnam regularly travelled on the road in the North administering Holy Communion to groups of villagers on the road. He had been regularly threatened by the Army, but he did what was expected of him as a priest.
On 20 April 2008, the Sri Lankan Army’s “Deep Penetration Unit” unleashed a claymore mine, killing him instantaneously. The GoSL could not care less, nor could the Roman Catholic hierarchy in Colombo who had direct access to the President.
So, threats by the Sri Lankan government and its Armed Forces are real threats that are carried out. That is why they cannot be ignored.
Minister Mervyn Silva
As I have said, Mervyn Silva, President Rajapaksa’s Minister of Public Relations and Public Affairs, is a very violent person, operating with his ‘private army’ of goons.
I do not want to spend time on this man who should have been behind bars, but he is a dangerous player in that he can unleash violence, not only on those struggling to restore human rights in Sri Lanka, but is making a mockery of the rule of law and dismantling democracy in that country.
Minister Silva has a long history of violence, which includes several episodes of serious assault of individuals and even of television studios. He operates with a band of underworld characters, drug dealers, goons and criminals.
On 27 December 2007, accompanied by his hoodlums, he stormed State-run television station, Rupavahini, and assaulted the news Director, T,M,G.Chandrasekera, because a speech by Silva the previous day had not been fully reported. The staff of the station gave Silva the hiding he richly deserved. He was, with a black eye, crouching petrified, till the Police rescued him.
On 1 June 2009, Poddala Jayantha, Secretary of Sri Lanka Working Journalists, was abducted on his way to work in Colombo, severely assaulted, his legs broken, and dumped by the roadside. He needed Intensive Care. Minister Silva publicly said on 23 March 2012, that he was responsible for this.
On 3 August 2010, Silva had a government official tied to a tree for not attending a meeting organised by him (the official could not attend because his child was ill). Minister Silva invited the Media to come and witness this crime (the video in on ‘Youtube’).
Minister Silva does what he likes to whomever he likes, functioning well outside the law – beyond even the law of the jungle. How he gets away with it is a separate issue, but he does. President Rajapaksa should come clean on why this man with a long history of criminality has been given Ministry after Ministry, once even in charge of the Media, despite the fact that he personally destroyed a Media outlet in Colombo. He boasted that as long as President Rajapaksa and the Rajapaksa family is in power, “no one can touch me”.
A leading newspaper in Sri Lanka, the Sunday Leader, set out the criminal record of this man, “Meet the Real Mervyn Silva”.
I have referred to the public meeting on 23 March 2012, in a suburb of Colombo, when he said the he will “break the bones” of those who supported the US Memorandum on Sri Lanka.
He said, “I am a good Sinhala Buddhist. I will not allow anybody to auction my Sinhala Buddhist traits”.
My mother was a devout Buddhist, and I am familiar with Buddha’s teaching. Could Minister Silva tell us which Buddhist stanza sets out what this “good Sinhala Buddhist” is doing, and has done (repeatedly)? It is time for the Buddhists in Sri Lanka to take this man to task for defaming a great religion.
Minister Silva said that past kings would execute those acting against the country, and that “The time has come now to do what the kings did then”.
What was passed at the 19th Session of the UNHRC
Although expatriate Tamils all over the world are ‘celebrating’ the US-sponsored Resolution passed at the UNHRC meeting, as a ‘win’ for the Tamils, careful appraisal of its contents shows that it is a sell-out of the Tamil people in the North and East of Sri Lanka, and has given the GoSL permission to do what it wants for another year (till March 2013).
Here is what was passed:
“United States of America: the verbally revised resolution adopted on 22 March 2012 at the 19th session of the UNHCR
Promoting reconciliation and accountability in Sri Lanka
The Human Rights Council,
Guided by the Charter of the United Nations, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenants on Human Rights and other relevant instruments,
Recalling Council resolutions 5/1 and 5/2 on institution building of the Human Rights Council,
Reaffirming that States must ensure that any measure taken to combat terrorism complies with their obligations under international law, in particular international human rights, refugee and humanitarian law, as applicable,
Taking note of the report of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission of Sri Lanka and its findings and recommendations, and acknowledging its possible contribution to the process of national reconciliation in Sri Lanka,
Welcoming the constructive recommendations contained in the Commission’s report, including the need to credibly investigate widespread allegations of extra-judicial killings and enforced disappearances, demilitarize the north of Sri Lanka, implement impartial land dispute resolution mechanisms, re-evaluate detention policies, strengthen formerly independent civil institutions, reach a political settlement on the devolution of power to the provinces, promote and protect the right of freedom of expression for all and enact rule of law reforms,
Noting with concern that the report does not adequately address serious allegations of violations of international law,
1. Calls upon the Government of Sri Lanka to implement the constructive recommendations made in the report of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission and to take all necessary additional steps to fulfil its relevant legal obligations and commitment to initiate credible and independent actions to ensure justice, equity, accountability and reconciliation for all Sri Lankans;
2. Requests the Government of Sri Lanka to present, as expeditiously as possible, a comprehensive action plan detailing the steps that the Government has taken and will take to implement the recommendations made in the Commission’s report, and also to address alleged violations of international law;
3. Encourages the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and relevant special procedures mandate holders to provide, in consultation with, and with the concurrence of, and the Government of Sri Lanka to accept,, advice and technical assistance on implementing the above-mentioned steps;, and requests the Office of the High Commissioner to present a report on the provision of such assistance to the Human Rights Council at its twenty-second session”.
That was it. The introductory clap-trap excluded, it merely calls on the GoSL to implement the LLRC and to present an action plan, and encourages the UNHRC to ‘advise’ the GoSL and report back to the UNHRC at its 22nd Session – March 2013!
It is worth repeating what the 19 Tamils in Civil Society, including Bishop Rayappu Joseph, pointed out to the US Envoys who visited Sri Lanka in February 2012. Their concluding paragraph is so important that it is worth repeating:
“…..we urge the ‘international community to acknowledge the consistent failure of domestic accountability mechanisms in Sri Lanka and take steps to establish an international mechanism for accountability’. Any resolution coming out of the Human Rights Council, which gives more time to the Government of Sri Lanka, will have a devastating impact on the Tamil community. The Government’s current activities in the North and East are challenging the very existence of the Tamil people and more time to the GOSL to implement the LLRC’s recommendations will only mean further time for the Government to play havoc in the North and East and subjugate the interests and aspirations of the Tamil people. If the International Community does not act now, like they did not act in May 2009, the Tamils will cease to exist as a ‘people’ in this country.”
To establish “an international mechanism for accountability” was not done. What was done was to give more time to the Government of Sri Lanka, which, as Civil Society rightly pointed out, “will have a devastating impact on the Tamil community”. It will “only mean further time for the Government to play havoc in the North and East and subjugate the interests and aspirations of the Tamil people”.
The concluding sentence is critical and is what will undoubtedly happen. “If the International Community does not act now…… the Tamils will cease to exist as a ‘people’ in this country.”
What the US-Resolution did was to enable the Sri Lankan government to make sure that the Tamils cease to exist as a ‘peoples’ in Sri Lanka. I completely agree with what ‘Civil Society’ has written.
In the event of the GoSL refusing to accept the Resolution (which has just been done – see below), there were no penalties.
Moreover, what was urgently needed is the immediate admission of internationally credible Human Rights organisations (AI, HRW, ICG), and international humanitarian organisations into the North and East to check on what was happening to the Tamil people, their land and their survival. That was most certainly not done.
As such, the UNHRC Resolution made a bad situation (for the Tamil people in the North and East) even worse. I will deal with what can be done about this in a separate publication.
This is not the first time that the UNHRC has failed to take meaningful action against the GoSL. The last time it was worse. It actually praised the Sri Lankan government for what it did to the Tamil civilians.
On 25th May 2009, a week after the end of the slaughter of Tamils, the UNHRC had an Emergency Session. Sri Lanka put up a self-congratulatory motion “Assistance to Sri Lanka in the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights”. The proposed text was co-signed by 12 countries, China, Saudi Arabia, India, Pakistan, Malaysia, Indonesia, Philippines, Cuba, Egypt, Nicaragua, and Bolivia.
It was sponsored by, of all countries, Switzerland, and co-sponsored by 25 other countries. It was one of the most unprincipled and shameless Resolutions ever passed by the UNHRC. Paragraph 12 was unbelievable:
“12. The Council stresses the importance of combating impunity and calls on the government of Sri Lanka to investigate all allegations and bring to justice, in accordance with international humanitarian law, including hostage taking, torture, enforced disappearances and extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, and to increase its efforts to further prevent such violations”.
It was calling on Sri Lanka to investigate and prosecute itself for war crimes and crimes against humanity! 25 other countries Co-Sponsored this outrageous Swiss Resolution.
Geoffrey Robertson QC, a world authority on Human Rights, dealt with some of this in an interview with the BBC in London on 2 July 2009. I have recorded this in my dvd, Sri Lanka: Genocide, Crimes against Humanity, Violation of International Law. Here is part of what he said:-
BBC: What is the answer? The Human Rights Council is the body that’s meant to be…..
Robertson: (interrupting) The Human Rights Council is a highly politicised body. It is made up, not of experts on human rights, but of paltering diplomats. Europe is allocated only seven of the forty seven seats. We have countries like Russia and China obviously concerned to keep their own internal problems down and away from oversight. We have Egypt, we even have Cuba. So the decision is not really surprising (to praise Sri Lanka for committing mass murder).
It is not surprising that this “highly politicised” body made up of “paltering diplomats” passed a meaningless Resolution at the 19th UNHRC Sessions in February – March 2012 that gave the Sri Lankan government another year to do what it wants to the Tamils, and report back in March 2013. Those who expect justice for the Tamil people from the UNHRC are not in the real world.
What was on display in the UNHRC in Geneva in the February-March 2012 Sessions was Sri Lanka’s international rowdyism. It is what goes on in the Sri Lankan Parliament so often, and is now one of Sri Lanka’s main exports, which the writer of this article has been subjected to many times, even in a recent address in a Christian Church in Brisbane to a mainly Australian (non-Sri Lankan) congregation. The meeting was ‘invaded’ by Sinhalese hooligans who violated the rights of the rest of the people who had come to be apprised of the humanitarian situation in Sri Lanka.
Two new events
This paper was ready for publication when there were two events of significance, one of which I have just alluded to.
1. The UNHRC Resolution will not change what Sri Lanka will do.
On 26 March 2012, in the first announcement following the UNHRC Resolution, Foreign Minister G.L.Peiris said that Sri Lanka will not alter what is being done, no matter the consequences.
In other words, passing the Resolution was a waste of time. What has gone on will continue. The serious problem was that the UNHRC Resolution did not spell out what the consequence of non-compliance will be.
Economic sanctions would have been one possibility, but as Peiris rightly pointed out, “because of the resolutions in Geneva there aren’t going to be economic sanctions. These two things are not inter-related…….This will not take place that way”.
How effective economic sanctions are has been demonstrated in Burma. It was economic sanctions that forced the ruling Burmese military to hold elections after decades of military rule. That some 25% of the seats in parliament will still be reserved for the military is not the issue orS whether any meaningful change will occur in that military dictatorship. What is important is that elections were held.
Sri Lankans are not stupid. It is the UNHRC members who are stupid (or acting stupidly) for geopolitical and economic gains. Sri Lanka know full well how ‘to play them’, and does it to perfection. That was how the war was ‘won’ by the GoSL.
2. Physical threats by a Government Minister
I have already referred to the open threat by Mervyn Silva, President Rajapaksa’s Minister of Public Relations and Public Affairs, on 23 March 2012, when he said that he would “break the bones” of (named) Sri Lankans who supported the UNHRC Motion in Geneva, adding that he would do this himself.
Silva named his intended victims – human rights activists, Dr Packiasothy Saravanamuttu, and lawyer Ms Nimalka Fernando, and journalists Sunanda Deshapriya and Poddala Jayantha (who has not even gone to Geneva or sent a communication). Mr Jayantha has already been savaged by the Minister and his goons, and has had his legs broken. Three of the people in the Minister’s sights are Sinhalese.
Whether Bishop Rayappu Joseph, his clergy and members of ‘Civil Society’ in the North are within the reach of Minister Mervyn Silva and his goons, I do not know. Most certainly, the human rights activists and anyone even mildly critical of what President Rajapaksa and his junta, are at considerable risk.
The UN High Commissioner, Navanethem Pillay’s ‘warning’ to Sri Lanka that there must be no reprisals against human rights defenders after the adoption of the Resolution at the 19th UNHRC, will have absolutely no effect on Minister Silva who operates an even more violent group within an already violent regime of the ruling junta in Sri Lanka.
The Amnesty International strategy
My personal contact with Peter Benenson, the founder of AI before does have relevance to the current situation in Sri Lanka. I met him in 1957, four years before AI was launched. Our meeting was, interestingly, to do with Ceylon – the Plantation Tamils. A group of British lawyers had formed, or was going to form, a group called “Justice” in the late 1950s to look into what the British Parliament had done or was responsible for, in its territories and colonies.
I do not need to go into the details but I was a medical student in Cambridge when I was invited to address this group on the plight of the Plantation Tamils who had been brought to Ceylon (as it then was), virtually as slaves to work on the tea plantations. I addressed this group in 1957 and met Peter Benenson, with whom I kept in touch.
When I came to London to finish my medical training. Benenson’s modest chambers in Mitre Court were only a few minutes by the tube train, and I met up with him from time to time.
Towards the end of 1960, he had read a short news clip that two Portuguese students had been jailed for seven years for raising their glasses to toast to free Portugal from the ruthless dictator Antonio Salazar. I asked him what he intended to do. He said that we should write a letter. I thought the idea was absurd. “Do you think that a few letters arriving on his table would do anything other than end in his dustbin?” He agreed “Yes, 10 or even 100 might end in the dustbin but 100,000 might be different. They might still end in the dustbin. Well, let us fill his dustbin”.
Amnesty was launched a year later in 1961. I was there in that magnificent Church, St Martins-in-the-Fields in Trafalgar Square on December 10 (Human Rights Day), when the now famous candle was lit. It was based in an old Chinese saying that it is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness. Some years later Beneson said, “The candle burns not for us but for all those whom we failed to rescue friom prison, who were shot on the way to prison, who were tortured, who were kidnapped, who “disappeared”. That’s what the candle burns for.”
What Peter Benenson suggested in 1960 and which Amnesty International has done over the years is to write letters (to ‘fill the dustbin’) of tyrants, dictators and others who commit violations of human rights.
AI has two key strategies – to publicise information and mobilise public opinion. The essential components have been, 1) the publication of accurate and impartial reports, and 2) to get citizens on board by letter writing, media and publicity work, and public demonstrations. These influence countries and governments. The striking success of this strategy is why AI won the Nobel Prize for Human Rights in 1978.
What can be done?
To give the Bishop, his clergy and members of ‘civil society’, and now even human rights activists in the Sinhalese South, physical protection is impossible. The Sri Lankan regime can do whatever they want to whom ever they want with complete impunity. They have and they will. So will the likes of Minister Mervyn Silva and his goons.
The only possible ‘protection’ that can be given is the force of public opinion, in particular, international opinion. This might well be insufficient but is all that can be done, other than the physical removal of the vulnerable people from the country. That is neither possible nor desirable since what is being removed is the only voice of a voiceless people – the Tamil people in the North and East, and the voice of reason in the South. To remove them is not only impossible but irresponsible. It is as irresponsible as what the UN and Humanitarian organisations did in 2008 – remove themselves from the conflict zone (on the orders of the Government’s, enabling the Government Armed Forces to commit the most serious atrocities on the civilians in the North and East.
What can be done (if anything) is to apprise the world of what might happen to Bishop Joseph, his fellow clergy and others, and to let the regime in Sri Lanka know that the world is watching.
Harold Pinter, the 2005 Nobel Prize winner in Literature, titled his Nobel Lecture – Art, Truth and Politics. I will quote from this outstanding lecture since that is what is happening in Sri Lanka.
“The majority of politicians…...are not interested in truth but in power and the maintenance of that power. To maintain that power it is essential that people (in Sri Lanka and abroad) remain in ignorance of the truth. What surrounds us is a vast tapestry of lies, upon which we (in the outside world and those in Sri Lanka) feed. It never happened. Nothing ever happened. Even while it is happening, it wasn’t happening. It didn’t matter. It is of no interest”.
President Rajapaksa, on the first anniversary of the slaughter, said, “Not a single civilian was killed by our soldiers. It was all done by the Tamil Tigers”. To his ‘tapestry of lies’ he added, “Our soldiers went to war with a gun in one hand and the human rights convention in the other”. This, mind you, was to hundreds of people, several from the diplomatic community invited for the tamasha in Colombo.
In Sri Lanka today, the Rajapaksa regime is without doubt the greatest show on the road. Brutal, ruthless, scornful and indifferent it might be, but also very clever. As a salesman, President Rajapaksa is in a class of his own, and his most saleable commodity is himself. That is why it was ‘necessary’ to jail General Sarath Fonseka, the former Army Commander, on a trumped up charge and hand-picked Judges.
The Rajapaksa junta no longer bothers about the truth. They see no point in being reticent or even devious. They put their cards on the table without fear or favour. They simply do not give a damn about the United Nations, International Law or critical dissent, which they regard as impotent, irrelevant and a joke. They might well be right!
The problem is how one can protect outspoken people such as Bishop Rayappu Joseph from such a regime. I do not think it is possible – except to let the junta know that the world is watching. It is for this reason that this paper is being published.
I suggest that you send a letter to the President to express your concerns:
President Mahinda Rajapaksa
150 Galle Rd
Colombo 3, Sri Lanka.
Brian Senewiratne Brisbane, Australia.
by Rt. Rev. Dr. Rayappu Joseph , Rev. Fr. Victor Sosai, Rev. Fr. Xavier Croos
3. Addressing of immediate concerns (such as of people who had been affected and suffered doe to the war.
 The Diocese of Mannar comprises the administrative districts of Mannar and Vavuniya. For the purpose of this submission, only the Mannar district is covered
 For example, in an interview with the Sunday Observer of 1st August 2010, Minister D. E. W. Gunasekera was quoted as saying there 7000 ex combatants in custody out of an initial number of 12,000 at the end of the war. However, the Minister was quoted in the Divaina of 15th Sept. 2010 as saying 4000 out of 12,000 had been rehabilitated and released implying a number of 8000 that remained detained. On 10th August, Government MP Rajiva Wijesinghe was quoted by IRIN as saying 6900 continue to be detained out of an initial number of 11,000 LTTE fighters that were detained.
 Minister Gunasekera pointed out in his interview to Sunday Observer of 1st August that about 1100 were “hardcore tigers”. However, the Divaina of 15th September reported the Minister as saying only about 700 could be charged. MP Rajiva Wijesinghe however quoted a different figure of 600 that will face charges and long term rehabilitation in IRIN news of 10th August.
 Rt Rev Dr Rayappu Joseph, the Catholic Bishop of Mannar, Very Rev Fr Victor Sosai, the Vicar General of the Mannar Diocese, and Rev Fr Xavier Croos, the Representative of the Priest’s Form of Mannar)
 Government administrative centres)
 “Never Mind the Quality, Feel the Width” published by him on 20 February 2012
 “Paradise lost MUST be regained” by Professor Sir Hudson McLean, Scotland.
 Why this confused man should want to send someone born in Sri Lanka to Tamil Nadu is unclear. Perhaps he thinks that Tamil Nadu is part of Sri Lanka.
 Laura Dupuy Lasserre, a career diplomat from Uruguay, President UNHRC for the current session.
 Asia Report No 217 -20 December 2011
 Local village leaders
 Woven palm leaves
Brian Senewiratne - MA(Cantab), MBBChir(Cantab), MD(Lond), FRCP(Lond), FRACP
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