Human Rights

Mounting threats on people for meeting Navi Pillay in Sri Lanka

Unleashing a vicious campaign of witch-hunt, Sri Lankan defence authorities have continued to harass, threat and intimidate a number of human rights activists, priests, journalists and many civilians in the former war-zones for meeting with UN Human Rights Chief, Navi Pillay during her week-long fact-finding visit to island nation.

Latest reports reveal that the officials attached to the police and military intelligence units have carried out mid-night raids and grilled a number of human rights activists and vulnerable Tamil people on their meetings with the visiting UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navaneetham Pillay, despite her requests and public warnings against such demeaning and undemocratic activities.

If she has slammed the Rajapaksa regime as one that was fast turning ‘authoritarian’ with democracy being ‘undermined’ and the rule of law getting ‘eroded’, Foreign Minister G.L Peiris addressing a selective media personnel in London earlier this week hit back and said she has looked at Sri Lanka’s situation “through jaundiced eyes”.

Locally, with one minister of the Rajapaksa regime describing her as “Tamil Tigress in the UN” while another minister publicly proposing to marry her, those who met Pillay especially in the former war-zone are virtually considered and targeted as traitors of the nation.

Among those grilled by the dreaded military intelligence officials were a middle-aged war-victim, Sivalogeshwaran from Kokkilai in the North-Eastern Mullaitivu district, where tens of thousands of people were killed and maimed by the government troops during the final months of the war that ended in May 2009.

Like many other war victims, he too has met UN Human Rights chief during her trip to Mullaitivu and complained about present situation in the area including the widespread military land grab and systematic post-war Sinhala colonisation in the traditional homelands of the Tamils.

'We will break your other leg too': CID

“As I came out of the meeting with Madam Navaneetham Pillay, the CID officials waiting outside, threatened me saying that I would be sent to the Fourth Floor (the notorious head office of the Criminal Investigation Department). They warned me that I would be sent behind the bars under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA). Or else, they insisted, that I join the ruling Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) when President Mahinda Rajapaksa is visiting Mullaitivu on September 14,” the father of five said in an interview with an independent online media, Vikalpa.org said.

This exclusive interview was made available to the JDS by the Vikalpa.org.

Sivalogeshwaran was badly injured in his right leg and abdomen during the war due to intense shelling by the Sri Lankan army. His wife is working in a Middle-Eastern country to financially look after her maimed husband and five children.

“You are already limping around with one leg, we will break the other one too if you behave like an activist with extremist motives. They continue to threaten me via phone even after coming home. I am a father of five. If anything happens to me, this government should take the full responsibility for it,” poverty-stricken Sivalogeshwaran, who is walking with the help of a walking stick said in the interview.

Systematic Sinhala colonisation in traditional Tamil lands

Highlighting the livelihood problem faced by the people of the border villages as a result of the ongoing military land grab and Sinhala colonisations, he claimed to have told Pillay about the basic problem that plagues his village.

“We have been living in Mullaitivu and other areas as displaced civilians for the past thirty years. After the war, the government has resettled us in barren lands and I told her that it is in her hands to get back our fertile agricultural lands from this government,” he said, stressing that the Tamil people regarded her highly as a mother and hoped that her visit would bring justice to them.

“I told Madam Pillay that if her visit were to be a successful and meaningful one, then the visiting international representatives should visit the interior villages, instead of just visiting the towns. The government while rebuilding the town as an eye-wash has completely ignored the villages,” he has told the visiting envoy.

“Agriculture has traditionally been the livelihood for the people of this village. But this government has handed over these villages to the Sinhala people after the war and as a result we have been pushed to undergo untold poverty. Our villages such as Kokkilai, Karunaddankerni, and Kokkuthoduvai are some of the border villages in the North”.

“We still posses the authentic deeds for our lands given by the former government of Prime Minister Srimavo Bandaranaike. But the Mahaweli Development Authority (MDA) has ruled that our land deeds are not valid, citing that they have not been renewed. The MDA has refused to hand back our traditional agricultural lands. This is the government that ignores completely the minority community in their own country. I stressed the need for her to ensure justice for us considering these raw facts,” Sivalogeshwaran said, rejecting accusations that he was acting with extremist motives.

'Utterly unacceptable' - Pillay

A 63-year old Christian priest who heads local human rights organisation in the Eastern Port city of Trincomalee has also faced the similar threats and intimidation by police and military intelligence officials after meeting Pillay. The Jesuit priest, Fr.Veerasan Yogeswaran, was visited by plain clothed police officers around midnight and was questioned for four hours regarding his meeting with the UN rights chief.

Addressing the media in Colombo at the end of her week-long visit to Sri Lanka, Pillay vehemently condemned the incidents where a number of human rights defenders, at least two priests, journalists, and many ordinary citizens who met with her or planned to meet her ware subjected to harassment and intimidation to reveal the contents of the conversation.

Calling it a “disturbing aspect of her visit”, she said these types of surveillance and harassment “appears to be getting worse in Sri Lanka, which is a country where critical voices are quite often attacked or even permanently silenced”.

“Utterly unacceptable at any time, it is particularly extraordinary for such treatment to be meted out during a visit by a UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. I wish to stress that the United Nations takes the issue of reprisals against people because they have talked to UN officials as an extremely serious matter, and I will be reporting those that take place in connection with this visit to the Human Rights Council,” she said, urging Colombo to issue immediate orders to stop these kinds of harassment and intimidation against the rights activists and journalists on a regular basis.

Photo courtesy: vikalpa.org

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Journalists for Democracy in Sri Lanka

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