Sri Lanka war probe lost in translation, say activists

Updated 02 October 2014

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.


Hong Kong protesters aim for big turnout at rare sanctioned march

Updated 16 min 39 sec ago

Hong Kong protesters aim for big turnout at rare sanctioned march

  • March comes two weeks after pro-establishment parties got a drubbing in local elections
  • Millions have hit the streets in protests fueled by years of growing fears that China is stamping out the city’s liberties

HONG KONG: Hong Kong democracy protesters are hoping for huge crowds later Sunday at a rally they have billed as a “last chance” for the city’s pro-Beijing leaders in a major test for the six-month-old movement.
The march comes two weeks after pro-establishment parties got a drubbing in local elections, shattering government claims that a “silent majority” opposed the protests.
The semi-autonomous financial hub has been battered by increasingly violent demonstrations in the starkest challenge the city has presented to Beijing since its 1997 handover from Britain.
Millions have hit the streets in protests fueled by years of growing fears that authoritarian China is stamping out the city’s liberties.
The last fortnight has seen a marked drop in street battles and protester vandalism after the landslide win by pro-democracy candidates.
But activists say anger is building once more after chief executive Carrie Lam and Beijing ruled out any further concessions despite the election defeat.
The city’s police have taken the unusual step of allowing the Civil Human Rights Front to hold a march through the main island on Sunday — the first time the group has been granted permission since mid-August.
Organizers have called on Lam to meet their demands which include an independent inquiry into the police’s handling of the protests, an amnesty for those arrested, and fully free elections.
“This is the last chance given by the people to Carrie Lam,” CHRF leader Jimmy Sham said on Friday.
Hong Kong’s protests are largely leaderless and organized online. They were initially sparked by a now-abandoned attempt to allow extraditions to the mainland but have since morphed into a popular revolt against Beijing’s rule.
The CHRF, which advocates non-violence, has been the main umbrella group behind record-breaking rallies earlier in the summer that saw huge crowds regularly march in searing heat.
Authorities have repeatedly banned major rallies in recent months citing the risk of violence from hardcore protesters.
Large crowds have simply ignored the bans, sparking near-weekly tear gas and petrol bomb clashes that have upended Hong Kong’s reputation for stability and helped tip the city into recession.
Sunday afternoon’s march will follow a well-worn route on the main island from Victoria Park to the heart of the commercial district.
It comes a day before the city marks the six-month anniversary of the protest movement in which some 6,000 people have been arrested and hundreds injured, including police.
Online forums used to organize the movement’s more radical wing have vowed to target the morning commute on Monday if there is no response from Lam.
Years of huge, peaceful democracy marches have made little headway, leading to increased radicalization among some Hong Kong protesters and a greater willingness to embrace violent tactics.
But there is little sign Lam is willing to budge, leading to fears the lull in street clashes will be temporary.
Since the local elections the city’s chief executive has remained steadfast in her opposition to further concessions and Beijing has stuck by her even as she languishes with record low approval ratings.
The police force’s reputation has also taken a hammering.
A new poll released on Friday by the Hong Kong Public Opinion Programme, which has tracked public sentiment for years, showed record disapproval for the force with 40 percent of respondents now giving the force the lowest mark of zero.
Over the last two days the city’s new police chief Chris Tang has been in Beijing where he met with senior party figures including public security chief Zhao Kezhi who gave his “strongest backing” according to official reports.
Tang, who has continued his predecessor’s policy of rejecting calls for an independent inquiry, said his officers would clamp down on any violence at Sunday’s march.
“If there is arson, petrol bombs or damage to shops, we will take action,” he told reporters in Beijing.
“But for minor issues, we will handle in a flexible and humane manner,” he added.