Sri Lanka war probe lost in translation, say activists

Updated 02 October 2014
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Sri Lanka war probe lost in translation, say activists

COLOMBO: Sri Lanka’s domestic probe into the disappearance of thousands of civilians during and after the island’s ethnic war is being undermined by serious translation errors, a group of activists said Thursday.
Testimony before the presidential Commission of Inquiry was marred by glaring mistakes in translating questions from English-speaking investigators to ethnic Tamil witnesses, the Center for Policy Alternatives (CPA) said.
Sittings this week have been affected by errors that could undermine the quality of testimony before the commission, the CPA said, adding that witnesses were photographed by men said to be military intelligence officers.
When one witness was asked in English whether he knew where shells were fired from during fighting, the question was translated into Tamil as: “Can you tell us the camps you were at?” the CPA said.
The CPA, a private advocacy group, said that it had monitored public sittings of the commission from Sept. 27 to 30 and wanted the authorities to address their concerns.
“Lack of genuine steps at this juncture will severely undermine efforts to arrive at truth, justice, accountability and reconciliation in Sri Lanka,” the CPA said in a statement.
Sri Lanka widened the scope of the commission in July to probe war crimes by both the military as well as the defeated Tamil Tiger rebels. The move was in the wake of international pressure for accountability and the UN setting up an international team to probe Sri Lanka’s war record.
The COI is the latest probe initiated by Colombo after several of its own previous inquiries were widely condemned as whitewashes.
Set up in August last year, it has received over 19,470 complaints of missing people, but has so far only heard oral evidence in respect of 939 cases, according to its website.
About 40,000 ethnic Tamil civilians are said to have been killed by government forces in the final months of fighting, a charge Colombo has long denied.
The 1972-2009 conflict claimed 100,000 lives, according to UN estimates.


Families bury victims as Tanzania ferry disaster toll passes 200

Updated 23 September 2018
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Families bury victims as Tanzania ferry disaster toll passes 200

  • Divers were also set to continue their grim search in the waters around the boat
  • With a surface area of 70,000 square kilometers, Lake Victoria is roughly the size of Ireland and is shared by Tanzania, Uganda and Kenya

UKARA, Tanzania: Grieving families were on Sunday preparing to bury victims of Tanzania’s devastating ferry disaster, with more than 200 confirmed dead after the crowded boat capsized in Lake Victoria.
Hopes were fading of finding any more survivors three days after the ferry sank on Thursday, even after rescuers pulled out an engineer who had managed to find refuge in an air pocket in the upturned vessel.
“We are going to start burying bodies not yet identified by relatives,” said John Mongella, governor of Mwanza region, where the MV Nyerere ferry had been coming in to dock on the island of Ukara.
“The (burial) ceremony will be overseen by Prime Minister Kassim Majaliwa, in the presence of clergy members of different denominations,” Mongella said Saturday on TBC 1 public television.
Divers were also set to continue their grim search in the waters around the boat, where late Saturday they were watched by anxious crowds gathered just meters (yards) away on Ukara’s shore.
Mongella said 218 people had been confirmed dead, while 41 escaped the tragedy with their lives — a total figure far above the official capacity of the boat, which was in theory only able to carry 101 passengers.
One survivor was an engineer who shut himself into a “special room” with enough air for him to stay alive until he was found, said local lawmaker Joseph Mkundi.
Transport Minister Isack Kamwelwe said on Saturday that 172 of the victim’s bodies had been identified by relatives.
State television cited witnesses reporting that more than 200 people had boarded the ferry at Bugolora, a town on the larger Ukerewe Island. It was market day, which usually sees the vessel packed with people and goods.
Witnesses told AFP the ferry sank when passengers rushed to one side to disembark as it approached the dock. Others blamed the captain, saying he had made a brusque maneuver.
Dozens of wooden coffins lined the shore on Saturday, waiting to be seen by families as police and volunteers sought to keep hundreds of curious locals at bay.
Aisha William came to collect the body of her husband. “He left on Tuesday around noon, but he never came home. I do not know how I am going to raise my two children,” she said.
Ahmed Caleb, a 27-year-old trader, railed at a tragedy “which could have been prevented. I’ve lost my boss, friends, people I went to school with,” he sighed.
The aging vessel, whose hull and propellers were all that remained visible above water, was also carrying cargo, including sacks of maize, bananas and cement, when it capsized.
Tanzanian President John Magufuli on Friday ordered the arrest of the ferry’s management and declared four days of national mourning.
In a speech broadcast on TBC 1, Magufuli said “it appears clear that the ferry was overloaded,” adding that the government would cover the funeral expenses of the victims.
With a surface area of 70,000 square kilometers, oval-shaped Lake Victoria is roughly the size of Ireland and is shared by Tanzania, Uganda and Kenya.
It is not uncommon for ferries to capsize in the lake, and the number of fatalities is often high due to a shortage of life jackets and the fact that many people in the region cannot swim.