Tamils demand foreign probe after Sri Lanka war report

Updated 15 November 2012
0

Tamils demand foreign probe after Sri Lanka war report

COLOMBO: Sri Lanka’s main Tamil party Thursday demanded an international inquiry after the UN admitted it failed to protect thousands of civilians killed by troops in the final phase of the country’s conflict in 2009.
The moderate Tamil National Alliance said the report published by the UN secretary general’s office confirmed its longstanding allegations of widespread killing and incarceration of civilians.
“Now that the UN has come (out) with this report we want action,” party spokesman M. A. Sumanthiran told AFP.
“There should be an international inquiry. The government as the main accused party cannot be involved in the investigation.”
Sri Lanka has resisted previous calls for an independent probe and instead appointed a domestic commission to recommend measures to prevent the country slipping back into ethnic war.
“We would like to see reparations, restitution and justice for the people who suffered,” Sumanthiran said. “No one can say that these allegations should not be investigated.”
The report, commissioned by secretary general Ban Ki-moon to look into the UN’s own role in Sri Lanka, reinforced claims by international rights groups that up to 40,000 civilians could have been killed by government forces.
“Other sources have referred to credible information indicating that over 70,000 people are unaccounted for,” the report noted while placing the death toll at about 40,000.
The damning review of UN action during the final months of the separatist war in 2009, in which tens of thousands were killed and up to 300,000 people displaced, criticized the UN leadership, the Security Council and UN staff in Sri Lanka.
UN officials were afraid to publicize widespread killings, top UN leaders did not intervene and the 15-member Security Council did not give “clear” orders to protect civilians, said the report.
There was “a grave failure of the UN to adequately respond to early warnings and to the evolving situation during the final stages of the conflict and its aftermath, to the detriment of hundreds of thousands of civilians and in contradiction with the principles and responsibilities of the UN,” it said.
The administration of Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapakse, whose re-election in 2010 owed much to the war campaign he championed, has insisted that not a single civilian was killed by its troops.
Sumanthiran said they welcomed the UN’s admission of its failure but the only way to make amends was to ensure justice for the victims.
“They (UN) have exposed the truth of how they themselves turned their backs on the (Tamil) people of the north when they needed them,” Sumanthiran said. “But they have acknowledged it. It is a good thing.”
The report noted that UN staff were also intimidated by Sri Lanka’s government, a charge already denied by a Sri Lankan minister who insisted that they worked closely with all humanitarian agencies.
The spokesman for the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) was expelled from Sri Lanka over his comments about the “unimaginable hell” suffered by children caught up in the fighting.
The UN, which pulled its staff out of the conflict zone in September 2008, said it had two of its local staff abducted and tortured by Sri Lanka’s police.
There was no immediate comment from the UN office in Colombo, where the war-time staff have since retired or been transferred.
The final onslaught saw troops eliminate the entire Tamil Tiger military leadership and claim victory in the 37-year-long conflict.
Tiger rebels took up arms in 1972 to try to win an independent homeland for the Tamil minority in the majority Sinhalese nation of 20 million.


UN says Nicaragua protest killings may be 'unlawful'

Updated 24 April 2018
0

UN says Nicaragua protest killings may be 'unlawful'

  • Some groups called for "dictator" Ortega and his wife to step down, yelling "Out! Out!"
  • Mass street protests are rare in Nicaragua, where the army maintains a very tight grip on public order.
MANAGUA: The United Nations said Tuesday that many deaths in nearly a week of anti-government protests violently repressed by police in Nicaragua may have been "unlawful" and called for an investigation.
The scrutiny from the Swiss-based UN human rights office adds to international alarm at Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega's ordered crackdown against a wave of anti-government demonstrations and clashes.
The European Union, United States and the Vatican have all urged talks to restore calm, while the US embassy in Managua ordered family members of staff out of the country after Ortega deployed the army to the streets and looting broke out.
A toll compiled from the Nicaraguan Center for Human Rights and Ortega's wife and vice president, Rosario Murillo, puts the number of deaths since last Wednesday at 27. Most were protesters, among which university students and youths figure prominently.
"We are particularly concerned that a number of these deaths may amount to unlawful killings," Liz Throssell of the UN Office for the High Commissioner on Human Rights told reporters in Geneva.
"It is essential that all allegations of excessive use of force by police and other security forces are effectively investigated to ensure those responsible are held to account," Throssell said.
The UN office said at least 25 people, including a police officer, had been killed.
The protests were sparked Wednesday by pension reforms aimed at keeping Nicaragua's burdened Social Security Institute afloat by cutting benefits and increasing contributions.
But they rapidly spread and intensified as other grievances over Ortega's rule surged to the fore.
On Monday, tens of thousands of people -- employees, students, pensioners and ordinary citizens -- marched peacefully in the capital Managua and other cities demanding an end to the forceful security crackdown on protests.
Some groups called for "dictator" Ortega and his wife to step down, yelling "Out! Out!"
Ortega, a 72-year-old former Sandinista guerrilla leader who has ruled Nicaragua for 22 of the past 39 years, has been taken aback by the demonstrations against him, the biggest in his last 11-year stretch in power.
He has canceled the pension reforms and called for dialogue, and Murillo has suggested arrested protesters could be released.
But his security forces have not been pulled back, and -- though Managua appeared relatively calm early Tuesday -- widespread anti-government sentiment persisted.
Even Nicaragua's business sector, whose support had shored up Ortega over the past decade, has abandoned him over the violence.
A pro-government rally was being organized for Thursday to show that the president still enjoyed backing from part of the population.
Mass street protests are rare in Nicaragua, where the army maintains a very tight grip on public order.
But dissatisfaction has been bubbling over in recent months.
Frustrations have been voiced over corruption, the distant and autocratic style of Ortega and Murillo, limited options to change the country's politics in elections, and the president's control over the Congress, the courts and the electoral authority.
In rural areas, anger also stemmed from a stalled plan by Ortega to have a Chinese company carve a $50 billion canal across Nicaragua to rival Panama's lucrative Pacific-to-Atlantic shipping canal.
If the project went ahead, it would displace thousands of rural dwellers and indigenous communities, while dealing a negative impact on the environment.
"People are demanding democracy, freedom, free elections, a transparent government, the separation of powers, rule of law. The people want freedom," former Nicaraguan foreign minister Norman Caldera told AFP.
"If the government doesn't yield, it's going to be very difficult to stop this (the protests)," he said, asserting that the "big majority" of the population was showing its frustration with Ortega.
"The repressive apparatus is not able to halt protests on this scale," Caldera said.
Though Ortega has held out the promise of talks with opponents, the lack of any identifiable leader in the protest movement could make dialogue there difficult.
Under his watch, Nicaragua has avoided the rampant crime seen in northern Central American countries where gangs are rife.
It has also put in solid economic growth, yet it remains one of the poorest nations in Latin America.
The sudden upsurge in the streets puts Ortega at a crossroads: to tough it out, or to bow to the demands for democracy that have become too loud to ignore.