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Debates against an article in The Island

10 December 2001, The Island
The 'Christian Worker’ and the ‘Disappeared’

By C.A.Chandraprema
Some weeks ago, I paid a courtesy call on my erstwhile boss Vijaya Vidyasagara the Editor of Christian Worker. He gave me the latest copy of the 'Christian Worker' datelined September 2001. I have mentioned earlier in this newspaper that the Christian Worker is probably the most inefficient magazine on earth. The issue that carried the dateline of September 2001 was actually the 1st quarter issue combined with the 2nd quarter! I worked for Christian Worker for one year and then fled because I was young and I didn’t want to ruin my reputation by working for a magazine that habitually missed the deadline by months at a time. In The Island, what is written today gets published tomorrow. That is my conception of journalism.

At the time I worked for Christian Worker, we sold the magazine entirely on the names on the front cover. All the top leaders of the left movement like Colvin Silva, Pieter Keunaman, Bernard Soysa, Batty Weerakoon, D.E.W.Goonesekera, Vivienne Goonewardene, and some SLFPers like C.V.Gooneratne, Professor Viswa Waranapala, Dr Mervyn de Silva and Dr H.N.S.Karunatilleke were regular contributors to this magazine. So people bought it even though it never came out on time. After August 1994, Christian Worker suffered a crippling blow when almost all its main contributors suddenly became cabinet ministers and top level officials in the PA government.

Survival at a cost
Vijaya Vidyasagara was suddenly left high and dry. I expected the magazine to fold up after August 1994, but it has survived. When I met him a few weeks ago, I reassured my old friend Mr Vidyasagara that after the 5th December, his woes will be over because all his former contributors will be once again jobless and free to write to the Christian Worker. And lo and behold, that has happened exactly as I predicted. If there was any LSSPer who ate ‘kiribath’ after the elections, it has to be only the Editor of Christian Worker. When I left after having chided my erstwhile boss on his incurable socialist inefficiency, he was bellowing his defiance and threatening to put out another issue before the December 5th election. Miracles do happen. The socialist twins Vijaya Vidyasagara and Ranjith Liyanage actually did manage to put out another magazine by December 2001 just before the elections. This is the first time that I know of when the Christian Worker has managed to meet a deadline.

When I thumbed through the September 2001 issue of Christian Worker, I realised that the magazine had survived only at a terrible cost to its integrity. I was particularly appalled at an article with the headline "SL High Commissioner in Australia alleged to be responsible for atrocities - Former detainee under General Perera speaks out" We never published that kind of nonsense when I was working for the magazine. Obviously, my old friend Mr Vidyasagara has been compromising on quality and integrity to keep the magazine afloat.

The article is based on a report released by some organisation styling itself the "Asian Human Rights Commission" and purportedly based in Hong Kong. This is the first time in my life that I have heard of an organisation called the "Asian Human Rights Commission" - and this despite the fact that I do know quite a lot of people in the local NGO circuit.

The report of the AHRC has published an "eye witness account" of torture, and killings at an army camp in Wehera in the Kurunegala District allegedly run by Major General Janaka Perera, the present Sri Lankan envoy in Australia. The AHRC claims that they are releasing the harrowing account of the eyewitness "not to encourage a witch hunt of the High Commissioner but to show the scale of the atrocities committed in Sri Lanka between 1988 and 1992 and to call for those responsible to be brought to justice." But the contents of the article makes it very clear that their intention is in fact to launch a witch hunt against Janaka Perera. The report has sentences like "The fact that a man associated with such heinous crimes has risen to such a high level..." and "Instead of facing a court for his crime against humanity, those responsible are promoted on the basis of their experience in creating terror"

Kangaroo courts
The AHRC says that Janaka Perera should be facing a court, but there is actually no need for him to face courts because the AHRC has already declared him guilty! The AHRC has taken on the role of a 'kangaroo court' and already declared Janaka Perera’s guilt. The fact that Janaka Perera is the Sri Lankan envoy to the land of the kangaroos does not mean that he should be tried in a kangaroo court. And what kind of evidence is the AHRC presenting to the public to prove Janaka Perera’s guilt? They have published what is claimed to be an ‘eyewitness account’ of the happenings an Army camp allegedly run by Janaka Perera. How do we know how authentic this eyewitness account is? The AHRC assures us that they have known the 'eyewitness' since the early 1990’s and that they have studied the case ‘carefully’. they also claim to have ‘independently verified’ the relevant facts related to this case.

The article does not show us how they have studied the case 'carefully' or 'independently verified' Janaka Perera’s guilt. If they were able to find enough evidence to show that Janaka Perera was involved in human rights abuses in Wehera, why have they not presented the evidence to the CID or a magistrate and got criminal proceedings started? If an organisation like the AHRC is able to try people on their all own, why on earth is the World Bank giving millions to rehabilitate buildings belonging to the judiciary in Sri Lanka? They might as well give all that money to AHRC so that they can try all cases from Hong Kong and e-mail their verdict to the local press. This is a very dangerous game that the AHRC is playing. As journalists we are supposed to be careful about making allegations or casting aspersions on people. One malicious article can ruin a man for life. And it is very difficult to undo such damage.

If I saw this article in some other publication, I might not even have read it. But that issue of Christian Worker was given to me by its Editor personally with the request that I give him my opinion about it. Well I am now giving him my opinion.

Lets look at some of the claims made by the AHRC. In assessing the situation that led to the disappearances, the AHRC says "These disappearances occurred mainly in the southern part of Sri Lanka and the victims were largely Sinhala youth. The disappearances were not a campaign by a hostile foreign enemy nor were they part of a bloody civil war or revolution. It was a campaign by a democratically elected government (UNP) to remove an opposition. (my emphasis) The victims need not have been involved with insurgents; attending a meeting, or a speech or even reading a book was sufficient to be targeted for extrajudicial killing. Many of the victims were outside the insurgency movement, some victims were simply members of legally recognised opposition parties. Many were just children." Lets analyse this statement.

There was no insurrection!
Firstly, the AHRC claims that the disappearances were not part of a civil war or a bloody revolution and that it was all due to a democratically elected government removing an opposition. Whom are these people trying to deceive? There WAS a bloody revolution in the late eighties launched by the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna and they started by killing left wing, opposition political activists not by attacking the state or by killing members of the ruling party. The first victim of the JVP’s reign of terror was the killing of Daya Pathirana a left wing student leader on the 15th December 1986. I had just started work for Christian Worker at that time, and it was I who wrote the cover story in the 1986, 4th quarter issue of Christian Worker about the killing of Daya Pathirana.

And it was in this article that I predicted that the JVP was out to kill all left wing opposition activists. I showed my article to Mr Batty Weerakoon the present leader of the LSSP (It was the first article I ever wrote in English) but in his opinion, the killing of Daya Pathirana was an isolated case and he thought the JVP would not come after the rest of the left movement. But I proved to be correct. And Comrade Batty was wrong. Hundreds of left wing opposition activists were brutally killed by the JVP after they removed Daya Pathirana. Some of the top political left wing political activists killed by the JVP during this period was Nandana Marasinghe (The next to go after Daya Pathirana), Dr Nandasena Fernando (NSSP), Vijaya Kumaratunga and a whole host of others. In addition to the killing of leftists, the JVP also gunned down or chopped to bits, thousands of ruling party activists, and government officials like grama sevaka’s, postal peons, newspaper sellers, shopkeepers bus drivers and so on. They also killed many civil society figures like Professor Stanley Wijesundara, Thevis Guruge, Premakeerthi de Alwis and many others. The JVP leader Somawansa Amarasinghe openly accepted responsibliity for 6,000 killings in his recent Kalutara speech. Why labour the point? There was a bloody revolution launched by the JVP.

Who are these jokers to deny that there was a rebellion in Sri Lanka? Are we expected to disbelieve our direct experience? What about the fact that I wrote a series of fifty-two articles to this newspaper in 1990 on the JVP’s second insurrection? I won an award for that! If my employer accepts the stand taken by the AHRC that there was no armed revolution or civil war in the late eighties, I will be sacked for having perpetrated a hoax! The AHRC obviously operates on the premise that if a falsehood is repeated often enough, it will automatically become the truth. Even the Editor of Christian Worker and myself were under threat. Vijaya Vidyasagara has asked me on several occasions, "I say, how is it that we managed to escape?" My answer has been that the JVP didn’t kill us only because we wrote in English and were known only to a limited crowd. If Christian Worker had been published in Sinhala neither Vijaya Vidyasagara nor myself would have survived the late eighties. That was the actual situation. And these Hong Kong based morons tell us that there was no bloody revolution in Sri Lanka!

The JVP started killing left wing activists to eliminate competition from within the left movement much in the same way that the LTTE eliminated all other Tamil political groups.

Then the JVP took on the ruling party and the armed forces. The armed forces retaliated. Insurgents were killed, some disappeared. All that is true. But in probing the events of that time, one has to be accurate and fair. One can’t make allegations on the basis of hearsay and rumours. Nor should one make sweeping general statements about such serious matters. The AHRC report passage quoted above, says that to get killed, "one need not have been with the insurgents". (Note the involuntary admission that there were in fact ‘insurgents’ despite the fact that the report says that the disappearances were not part of a bloody civil war or revolution!) According to this report, it was sufficient to simply attend a meeting or read a book to be targeted for extra-judicial killing. The report goes on to say that many of the victims were outside the ‘insurgency movement’ (sic) and that some were simply members of legally recognised political parties. How does the AHRC know that ‘many’ of those who have disappeared were outside the insurgency movement? (Again that involuntary admission that there was in fact an insurgency.)

The numbers game
Has the AHRC conducted a survey to see exactly how many of the disappeared were outside the ‘insurgency movement’? If so can they please release the figures so that we can gauge how many of these killed were innocents? When they use words like ‘many’ how many is 'many'? These are very serious matters that we are talking about. So lets not be vague and fluid in what we say. And if many of those who disappeared had only been attending political meetings and reading books, then Sri Lanka will be the only country in history to have quelled a rebellion by overlooking those involved in the armed insurgency and simply killing innocents. Only innocents were shot dead but the JVP rebellion ended. When innocents died, the JVP also died! Its amazing! Why don’t we recommend that method to the Americans as well? If they leave fundamentalists alone and kill enough innocent Muslims, the Al Quaida organisation will disappear!

Macabre jokes apart, these is a need to be accurate in what we say. Take for instance the figures given by the AHRC report about the number of people who have disappeared. In one place the AHRC report says that the Commissions of Inquiry appointed by the PA government had come up with the figure of 26,877 disappearances. Then the report says that the NGO estimate is 60,000. The full page AHRC advertisement carried on the back cover of the same issue of Christian Worker gives a figure of 30,000 disappearances. And there is a note below this estimate of 30,000 which says in parentheses "According to official estimates". Now, what official record says that 30,000 people have disappeared? The Commissions of Inquiry have come up with 26,877 disappearances. The NGO estimate is 60,000. What official agency mentioned a figure of 30,000? All this is speculation and conjecture. Are these people professionals? If one is talking about killings, then it has to be quantified first. There can be only one correct figure.

These are not coconuts that we are talking of. These are human lives. Which figure is correct? The full page AHRC sponsored advertisement on the back cover of Christian worker gives a total figure of 30,000 disappearances and says that 15% of this number were below the age of 19. Then in the body of the main article, the AHRC says that "a large number of persons ranging from 26,877 to 60,000" disappeared and that 15% of this number was below the age of 19. Now, 15% of 26,877 is 4031, 15% of 30,000 is 4500 and 15% of 60,000 is 9000. Pray, which number is correct? All these figures quoted by the AHRC are based on speculation and conjecture. The highly respected Buddhist scholar Hajme Nakamura in analysing the South Asian mind pointed out that South Asians have a tendency to be profuse and fluid with facts and numbers. This is one reason why India has no accurate historical records. And the little that exists is overgrown with myth and legend. We also have a tendency to be liberal when mentioning numbers. Numbers like millions, billions and phrases like "as many as the sands of the Ganges" are casually bandied about. The South Asian concept of an ‘aeon’ (kalpa) is a time unit beyond human imagination. This particularly South Asian tendency to be liberal in mentioning numbers, seems to have affected the AHRC as well.

Why are there such wide disparities in the figures being mentioned by the AHRC? Sri Lanka has a well developed system of public administration. This is not some tribal society. Every birth is registered. The ‘Grama Sevaka’ system covers all villages. Every family and individual is registered for purposes of giving food stamps, janasaviya or samurdhi. If somebody was abducted from a village, such facts are easily verified. The Grama sevaka of the village will know all about it. Why is it that well over a decade after these incidents took place, none of these so called human rights organisations have been able to come up with any accurate figures of the actual number who disappeared? If the margin of error was a few hundreds then that would be understandable. But here the margin of error is in the thousands and tens of thousands! The AHRC casually bandies about figures ranging from 26,877 to 30,000 to 60,000.

About 'eyewitness' accounts
Given the way they play around in this manner with the numbers of people who disappeared, can we believe them when they say That they have 'carefully studied' the eyewitness account about torture and 'independently verified’ the allegations made about Janaka Perera? They have not yet even verified the number of people who have disappeared. And have they made a distinction between the people who have disappeared, and those who have been killed? The figure of 60,000 was commonly bandied about by the PA government to indicate the total number of casualties which included both the disappeared and those killed. All these figures are pure fiction. None of these so called human rights organisations have made a proper professional study of the exact number of disappearances. They are probably afraid that the actual tally may not be 'attractive' enough for their purposes. So they use the 'political numbers' given by the politicians.
For the AHRC, everything is very casual. The number of those disappeared is fluid. The 'eyewitness account' they have given is equally casual. The AHRC tells us to believe their eyewitness account because "...the story of the detainee is completely consistent with the details of the detention camps kept during this period..." Detention camps all over the third world ranging from Latin America to Asia to Africa are all the same. They are all overcrowded. Torture is practised, some are killed, some are released and that’s it. In reading the eyewitness account published as evidence against Janaka Perera, all it says is that the detainee was brought there, kept in over-crowded conditions, he saw people being tortured, and he himself was tortured, he was kept there for a long time and then he was released due to the intervention of an opposition politician.

Even I can write hundreds of ‘eyewitness accounts’ of detention centres with my eyes shut. The conditions are so predictable. Every eyewitness account is like any other. So the mere fact that the eyewitness account is ‘consistent’ with the details of the detention centres of the period, is no reason to believe a word of what has been said. If the person concerned was genuinely a detainee, then it can be argued that the mere fact that he was later released proves that the authorities were very careful in verifying the guilt of those they took into custody. Given the evidence that this ‘eyewitness’ survived detention, one may surmise that ‘most’ or ‘many’ of the innocents were later released. (Note the fact that I too have adopted the AHRC phraseology!) If the authorities were indiscriminate in their killings, then how did this ‘eyewitness’ survive to tell the tale? All such eyewitness accounts are open to suspicion. The issue of the ‘disappeared’ became so politicised, that these so called eyewitness accounts generally are purely works of fiction. If they are not works of fiction, they can easily be presented to court or to the police.

The reason why I would dismiss out of hand the so called ‘eyewitness account’ given by the AHRC is because their political bias becomes obvious when they try to claim that there was no armed revolution or a civil war at the time the disappearances took place and that all that was due to the government wanting to ‘remove an opposition’. Moreover, they use the ‘political figure’ of 60,000 as the number of those who have disappeared, instead of bothering to find out exactly how many have died. All these so called human rights organisations are rogues and charlatans who make money on human misery. If they make a proper count of those who disappeared and the figure turns out to be low, then they lose a lucrative source of income. Likewise, if they bring their eyewitness account to court and the court throws it out, they will be left high and dry. So they continue to publish unfounded details in order to keep the gravy train moving. This is Sri Lanka’s tragic situation. There are many who actually make a living off the multiple tragedies besetting this unfortunate country.

I was saddened by the fact that Christian Worker was reduced to publishing such crap in order to survive. I hope the situation will improve after its newly jobless contributors recover from the post-election blues and start writing in again.

The Casual Approach to Killings

A Reply to C. A. Chandraprema

This is a reply to an article published in The Island on Dec. 10, 2001, entitled “The ‘Christian Worker’ and the ‘Disappeared’” by C. A. Chandraprema. It was purported to be a comment on the reproduction of a short report about the Wehara detention camp in Kurunegala published by the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) on June 28, 2001, and reproduced in a past issue of The Christian Worker. AHRC is glad that the report is still being passionately discussed.

It should be noted that Mr. Chandraprema attended a meeting organised by AHRC on disappearances on Feb. 21, 1998, in Sri Lanka and heartily participated in it, opposing at the time any discussion on disappearances, and that afterwards he wrote several articles attacking this meeting (a summary of the proceedings of this AHRC meeting is available on the Internet at Yet Mr. Chandraprema wrote in his comment on Dec. 10, 2001, in The Island that “this is the first time in my life that I have heard of an organisation called the Asian Human Rights Commission.” If one descends to the type of journalism that this gentleman has engaged in and uses his own words, we should call him a joker or a moron or an ass or a fraud or a hoax. However, to do so would be abuse the right of publication. It suffices for us to say that what he has written, even about himself, is not true. To quote from his article itself is sufficient to reveal Mr. Chandraprema’s own style: “The highly respected Buddhist scholar Hajme Nakamura in analysing the South Asian mind pointed out that South Asians have a tendency to be profuse and fluid with facts and numbers. This is one reason why India has no accurate historical records problem.”

Mr. Chandraprema’s attempt in his article is to reduce massive disappearances which occurred and are internationally known to be mere myths. This is the same tendency one finds in those who seek to deny the reality of the Holocaust. It is all a myth—it never happened—is the argument of this type of denial. As for his reference to South Asia, the lack of a historical record is due to the levels of repression that have prevailed in the region. For example, where are the records of the genocide of Buddhists in India? The repression was so complete that Buddhism was completely wiped out of the land of its birth. It has been revived only recently, in comparatively small numbers, by the movement of Untouchables. This tradition of repression and the denial of it in South Asia was a creation of the Brahmins, and it has left its mark deeply in Sri Lanka too. This is why we are not surprised by Mr. Chandraprema’s article. A denial of grave violations of human rights, including massacres, is the basic trait of South Asian culture. Just recall what happened in the inquiries of the Bindunuwewa massacre more than a year ago. One can only guess what might happen as well to the massacre of 10 Muslims on Dec. 5, 2001, Sri Lanka’s recent violent election day. The pattern of denial is as follows: there is a murder; no proper inquiries are held; no prosecution takes place; and later the incident itself is denied because it was not proved in a court of law. The main difference in the approach of Mr. Chandraprema and AHRC is that he wants to deny the existence of disappearances on the basis that there were no prosecutions or convictions while we maintain that investigations and prosecutions have deliberately been denied.

Another aspect of the same South Asian tradition is the casualness towards killings. This is what permeates Mr. Chandraprema’s thinking as expressed in the meeting mentioned above, in this particular article and in what he says in other writings about the people he most admires, who in normal parlance are called mass murders. He writes: “This is not some tribal society. Every birth is registered. The Grama Sevaka system covers all villages. Every family and individual is registered for purposes of giving food stamps, janasaviya or samurdhi. If somebody was abducted from a village, such facts are easily verified. The Grama Sevaka of the village will know all about it. Why is it that well over a decade after these incidents took place none of these so-called human rights organisations have been able to come up with any accurate figures of the actual number who disappeared?”

First of all, Mr. Chandraprema has a poor understanding of tribal society. Tribal people are very civilised people; they do not kill casually. They have their unwritten laws and very humane traditions. No tribal people would have done what has been done in Sri Lanka: killing, torture, exhibiting bodies on roads, raping girls and killing them. Tribal people did not produce informers who carried lists of people to be killed. For a full list of such atrocities, there are the reports of four state commissions (i.e., Commissions of Inquiry into Involuntary Removal or the Disappearance of Persons, which inquired into all of these matters); and for any worthwhile journalist who wants to recall the details of this grisly period, all that is needed is to look into his or her own notes of this time. (It is quite possible that some may have destroyed their diaries regarding this period.) It is, indeed, a blind, deaf and dumb person who would deny that these things happened, which are known even to little children. If one is to go by Mr. Chandraprema’s own publicly known record, he cannot pretend to be so ignorant about these matters. We do not want at this time to go into well-published materials about Mr. Chandraprema own involvements at the relevant time. All that we wish to do is to point out is that he is not the impartial observer that he pretends to be. As for records, the following quotes from the state commissions tell the whole story:

"A feature that struck us most forcefully in our inquiries was the utmost care that had been taken, not only by individual perpetrators, but also by the system itself to present these occurrences from being reflected in the official records of the country. Starting with the refusal of the local police to record complaints, which was a general feature in all three provinces, through the blatant use of vehicles without number plates, right up to the refusal to allow the bereaved to take possessions of corpses identified by them, let alone obtaining death certificates in respect of them, there is clear evidence of a systematic attempt to keep these deaths/disappearances from being recorded in the official annals. A nation which takes pride in the fact of having a recorded history of thousands of years should not leave a dark patch of unrecorded events in the recent past (Introduction to the Final Report of the Commission of Inquiry into Involuntary Removal or Disappearance of Persons in the Western, Southern and Sabaragamuwa Provinces published in September 1997). (The head of this commission, Ms. Manouri Muttettuwegama, was one of the participants at the Feb. 21, 1998, meeting that Mr. Chandraprema attended. Had he taken the trouble to read the report of a fellow participant, he would have found hundreds of times more damning information than what is in the AHRC report. This full report is also available on the Internet at”

Furthermore, the following is a comment of one of the participants, Mr. Javid Yusuf, at the Feb. 21, 1998, meeting: “I remember some years back I interviewed many of these cases to present it before a United Nations organisation. When I interviewed the parents, wives, brothers and sisters, most of them were a desperate and helpless type of villagers. Even if they have a legal establishment, they will not be able to have access to the police or armed forces.” Yusuf further stated: “I remember soon after the government came into power [that] ministers were going about digging graves without any expertise, which is necessary for this job, as otherwise all evidence will be lost. Suddenly it stopped as the army and the police might have brought pressure.”

Mr. Chandraprema seems to think JVP killings justify killings by state agencies. AHRC’s position is that all killings, be they by the JVP, state agencies, Black Cats, PRA and all other groups, were crimes. We do not agree with the view that one crime cancels the other. Instead, our position is that, unless all of these killings are investigated and brought to justice in some manner, it is not possible to re-establish the rule of law in Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka’s juridical framework collapsed, and the continuing effect is well reflected in everything, including the violence in the last election on Dec. 5. In South Africa, leaders did not say white people’s violence justifies black people’s violence. The way that was found to deal with decades of violence was the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. If the issue was swept under the carpet, the law would have lost all credibility. Many argue that what was done in South Africa was not enough. For the purpose of this discussion, however, suffice it to say that there was some attempt to deal with historic accountability. If there is no accountability, how can anyone talk of historical records?

Mr. Chandraprema tries to distort AHRC’s statement that these killings were not part of a war against a foreign enemy or civil war. Under international law, the people who are arrested are entitled to protection. Mr. Chandraprema himself was arrested recently, but he is still alive because he was treated in a different manner than those who were arrested during the time that these disappearances took place. All that AHRC argues is that there was no reason to deny the protection available to people after their arrest. At no time has the Sri Lankan government taken the position that the disappearances are, in fact, combat killings. According to the findings of reports of the four state-appointed commissions, most killings happened after the arrests. We quote: “Killings on the spot, termed extrajudicial killings, constitute the ultimate in ‘involuntary removal.’ Disappearance following an abduction is in our finding only a euphemism for a killing, a reality that the absence of recovery of the body should not be allowed to obscure (p. 33 of the Western, Southern and Sabaragamuwa report mentioned above). What AHRC has stated is that there was no basis at all for such killings and that the legal provisions existing in the country were sufficient to deal with them. If that was done, much of the confusion that Mr. Chandraprema has tried to create about numbers would have been answered through examining the official records.

Mr. Chandraprema asks AHRC how we know who is innocent or guilty out of those who were killed. The answer is that everyone is innocent until proven guilty. It is the duty of the State to declare by proper process who is guilty. If Mr. Chandraprema’s test is applied, anyone can be killed, and it would be the duty of people to prove that innocent people were killed. If we apply this test to Mr. Chandraprema’s arrest, we would presume him to be guilty if he disappeared. We are glad he is alive and has a chance to say he is not guilty. Those who were made to disappear did not have that chance. It is also relevant that, according to the report of the commissions referred to above, 15 percent of those who disappeared were people below 19 years of age.
AHRC’s call for inquiries and prosecutions is not original. Four commissions have made the same demand and U.N. agencies very many times. We quote from the recommendations to the Sri Lankan government on Dec. 21, 1999,  by the U.N. Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances: “a) The government should establish an independent body with the task of investigating all cases of disappearance which occurred since 1995 and identifying the perpetrators; (b) the government should speed up its efforts to bring the perpetrators of enforced disappearances, whether committed under the former or the present government, to justice. The attorney-general or another independent authority should be empowered to investigate and indict suspected perpetrators of enforced disappearances irrespective of the outcome of investigations by the police; (c) the act of enforced disappearance should be made an independent offence under the criminal law of Sri Lanka punishable by appropriate penalties as stipulated in Article 4 of the United Nations Declaration on the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance; (d) the Prevention of Terrorism Act and the emergency regulations currently in force should be abolished or otherwise brought into line with internationally accepted standards of personal liberty, due process of law and humane treatment of prisoners; (e) any person deprived of liberty should be held only in an officially recognised place of detention as stipulated in Article 10(1) of the declaration. All unofficial places of detention, in particular those established by paramilitary organisations fighting alongside the security forces, such as PLOTE and TELO, should immediately be dissolved; (f) the government should set up a central register of detainees as provided for in Article 10(3) of the declaration. Since the Human Rights Commission needs to be informed immediately of every arrest and detention under the Prevention of Terrorism Act and the Emergency Regulations, such a central computerised register of detainees might be established at its headquarters. Such a solution would, however, require a substantial increase in the powers and resources of the commission; (g) all families of disappeared persons should receive the same amount of compensation. The differentiation between public civil servants and others seems discriminatory and should, therefore, be abolished. Compensation should not be made dependent on the confirmation as ‘proven’ by a commission of inquiry. In addition to these compensations, the families of disappeared persons should be supported, according to their needs, by other means, such as low interest loan schemes or scholarships for the children; (h) the procedure for issuing death certificates in cases of disappearances should be applied in an equal and non-discriminatory manner to all families; (i) the prohibition of enforced disappearance should be included as a fundamental right in the Constitution of Sri Lanka to which the remedy of a direct human rights complaint to the Supreme Court under Article 13 of the Constitution is applied irrespective of the fact whether the disappeared person is presumed to be alive or dead; (j) the government should instruct the special unit in REPPIA to respond to the cases submitted by the Working Group on a case-by-case basis in order to enable the Working Group to solve the cases which were reportedly clarified (U.N. document reference E/CN.4/2000/64/Add.1).
None of these demands were fulfilled by the state party, Sri Lanka. Thus, Sri Lanka has failed in its treaty obligations. Until these obligations are fulfilled, there is the need for everyone to ask for compliance with these obligations. AHRC has acted on the basis of this obligation and will continue to do so.

Asian Human Rights Commission
Hong Kong
December 11, 2001

Anarchy, Rule of Law and the Reform of the Attorney General's Department - Answers to C. A. Chandraprema's Questions

We appreciate the publication of AHRC's reply entitled The Casual Approach to Killings to C. A.Chandraprema's Comment, (The Christian Worker and the Disappeared) published in The Island on 10 December 2001.  The commentator has written a further lengthy reply stating that three main questions that he has raised have  not been answered by AHRC explicitly.  We set out below our answers to these questions. We wish however to say that the use of words such as  plaintiff , kangaroo courts and lynch mob does not manifest any form of legal erudition on the part of the Commentator.  To seek due process of law is   the very opposite of what is meant  by the kangaroo court and the lynch mob. Mercifully these are things of the past in civilised societies. A commentator and a plaintiff are quite different concepts.  The AHRC's demands are for the observance of the due process of law, compliance with the international obligations under the covenants and conventions to which Sri Lanka is a party and the reform of justice institutions in Sri Lanka to enable these. 

In the international law  on disappearances, “No circumstance - whether internal political instability, threat of war, state of war, any state of emergency or suspension of individual guarantees -may be invoked in order not to comply with the obligations established in this Convention” (Draft International Convention on the Protection of All Persons from Forced Disappearances, Article 4 (2)).  The Draft convention has merely set out what is already the international law on this matter. Further, the “Systematic or massive practice of forced disappearance constitute a crime against humanity. (Article 3 (1) of the Draft Convention).  Given this position of international law, questions relating to the existence or non-existence of civil war at the time that mass disappearances took place in the South of Sri Lanka, the question of numbers that C. A. Chandraprema makes much    fuss about has no significance to the legal accountability for the disappearances which had taken place in the South and also which  have  continued to take place in the North and East. 

However, even purely for satisfying the commentator and to set the record straight once and for all  we  shall answer these questions. 

 As to the question  whether there was a civil war or not the answer is that there situation of  anarchy in the country and this situation of anarchy was a result of several years of undermining the rule of law. A situation anarchy and a situation of a civil war are not the same.  The legal framework for this situation of anarchy  was the promulgation of the Constitution of 1978, which    removed all the checks and balances which existed earlier.  This Constitution remains the source of anarchy  in the country.  What began with this constitution escalated to a higher level of anarchy with the referendum of 1982. 

What degenerated into the situation, which existed from about 1987 to 1991, was the result of these constitutional developments. The grave situation which existed from 1987 to about 1991 was the result of  constitutional developments which institutionalised anarchy .The acts of the JVP during this period were brutal, cruel and violated  all the norms of civilised political dissent.  As such there should be no hesitation at all to condemn such acts. All human rights organisations have condemned these acts. Instead of attempting to help the country to defeat the anarchy and to return to normalcy, the JVP retaliation  made the situation worse.

A statement issued by the Presidential Secretariat of under President D. B Wijetunga described the situation thus: “there were near civil war conditions as well as total chaos and anarchy in the country” (from The Introduction of the Final Report of the Commission of Inquiry into Involuntary Removal or Disappearance of Persons in the Western, Southern and Sabaragamuwa Provinces). Conditions of anarchy and a situation of civil war  are different are different  and these differences between the two  may be interesting for subsequent discussion.  Suffice it to say that   at the moment that these distinctions do not make any difference to the subject under discussion , which is the issue of legal accountability for  disappearances. The existence of such a situation of civil war  is not a defence or  a legitimate  excuse for  causing of disappearances. 

Regarding the question of numbers, the mandate of state commissions to inquire into enforced and involuntary removal or disappearances of persons, beginning from the 1 January 1988, ; thus  the disappearances which took place before 1 January 1988 have  not yet been officially investigated.   The Final Report of the Commission of Inquiry into Involuntary Removal or Disappearance of Persons in the Western, Southern and Sabaragamuwa Provinces states, that  the time limit given in their mandate was not sufficient and “we were unable to investigate the incidence of disappearances which took place prior to 1 January 1988. ”  Further, the commissions recorded only the particulars of persons who came before them.  What they did was not a  a comprehensive survey  but taking down particulars  from those who came before these commissions.   The Commissions had neither the resources nor the personnel to embark on exhaustive field investigations.

(Substitute this sentence With regard to Chandraprema’s charge that our statement that the aim of the campaign was “to remove an opposition” was a blatant lie, we wish to emphasise that this characterisation was borrowed from the Commission of Inquiry into the Involuntary Removal or Disappearances of Persons in the Central, Western, North Central and Uva Provinces Interim Report Published in September 1997.] 

We quote:

"On an analysis of the evidence recorded it would appear: That persons have been involuntarily removed either from their homes, at round ups, at check points or at random sites, by police personnel, members of the armed forces or others, not identified. (b)  In some cases lists of persons appear to have been given by politicians who belong to the United National Party. In most other cases, the evidence reveals that the persons involuntarily removed were either SLFP organizers or active supporters of the SLFP. It seems clear that political opponents of the then regime were eliminated under the guise of crushing the JVP). The very large number of killings in the Central Zone (which covers four Provinces) points to the fact that the removals and killings were with the knowledge and tacit approval of those in political power at that time.

"Attached hereto is a graph indicating the period during which killings and removals were at a peak. The graph establishes that the removals and killings showed a marked increase from the nominations for the Presidential Election in 1988 and continued in that manner until the general elections and thereafter. The security personnel who until then had dealt with the JVP  problem in a fair manner were goaded into indiscriminate removals and killings, after an alleged ultimatum purported to have been issued by the JVP, that unless the service personnel deserted their posts, members of their family would be killed. It is probable that this was a ploy adopted by the then government to use the security forces to crush their political opponents." (Emphases, ours. For easy reference kindly see

The findings of other commissions confirm – confirm a similar pattern.

Chandraprema refers to an AHRC “advertisement” on the back cover of the Christian Worker). This was in fact a reproduction of a  AHRC poster published in  March 2001. In it  the AHRC calls for the reform of the prosecution and criminal investigation system in Sri Lanka, restoring the rule of law, prosecution of all criminal and human rights violators and establishment of an international tribunal to prosecute mass disappearances. The reference to the mass disappearances was not only  to the disappearances in the South, but also of the North and the East. While 26,877 was the number of persons in the South who came before the 4 commissions, the rest refers to numbers of disappearances in the North and the East  given in several reports, in particular instead of ‘including ’the Report of the UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances published on 21 December 1999. The figure 30,000  was  given in the AHRC poster was a very conservative figure.  It was not the purpose or intention  of the AHRC to exaggerate the figure. Instead a  deliberate attempt was made  to go for more conservative number., precisely to avoid giving the impression that it wishes to sensationalising the issue

The president of Sri Lanka, Chandrika Kumaratunga, during a interview with the BBC with Tim Sebastian  referred to a figure of 55,000 disappearances in the South.  Since the early 1990s many international and local NGOs have referred to a figure of 60,000 disappearances in the South.  Whenever these figures are stated in AHRC documents, it clearly makes a distinction between the figures established by the four state government commissions and other figures mentioned by various organisations.  However, when calling for legal accountability, has always AHRC chosen a more conservative, than the higher number

The third question raised by Commentator is the authenticity of the eye witness report published by the  AHRC.  With regard to that our response is,  a) AHRC published a statement by a former detainee at the Wehera Camp. In this statement the ex-detainee describes in detail what transpired at the said camp, including the regular removal and disappearance of detainees from the camp; b) though Chandraprema flatly refuses to believe this,  the AHRC carefully investigated and checked the facts mentioned by the former detainee. c). We were also satisfied that the facts stated by the former detainee were consistent with other reports received by the AHRC, particularly with details relating to other detention camps of the time found in the Reports of the Four Government commissions; d) to safeguard the released detainees personal security, AHRC decided to withhold publishing his name, until such time that genuine judicial investigations into these matters are begun – with guarantees of witness protection. In this, AHRC has acted as a responsible human rights organisation which is unwilling to jeopardize the safety of those who turn to it for assistance the name of the person judicial investigations that for the security of the former detainee that the person’s name is not released until such time when an authentic judicial investigations into these matters takes place.

There was no reason at all to fabricate any thing about the Wehera camp or many other camps as there are enormous numbers of people who do give details about what took place in  places of detention  and who are willing to come forward if a credible judicial inquiries takes place.   Much  frustration has been caused  to many people due to the failure of the criminal investigation process and the prosecution process regarding disappearances in Sri Lanka.  It is this failure that has  discouraged people from coming forward to demand justice .  It is written on the  walls of justice in Sri Lanka that absolute impunity prevailed for the state officers and their agents who engaged in massive destruction of life by such acts as the causing of disappearances.  As a state party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR)  the Sri Lankan government is under obligation to comply with the Article 2 (3) of this covenant which reads as follows:

"2 (3). Each State Party to the present Covenant undertakes:

(a) To ensure that any person whose rights or freedoms as herein recognized are violated shall have an effective remedy, notwithstanding that the violation has been committed by persons acting in an official capacity;

(b) To ensure that any person claiming such a remedy shall have his right thereto determined by competent judicial, administrative or legislative authorities, or by any other competent authority provided for by the legal system of the State, and to develop the possibilities of judicial remedy;

(c) To ensure that the competent authorities shall enforce such remedies when granted."

The AHRC is aware that many people are waiting for an opportunity to come forward and to demand justice in matters relating to disappearances if the government of Sri Lanka complies with its international obligations and provides an  authentic judicial forum in this regard. 

The matter arising from the conduct of the detention camps at the time is   of   crucial  importance for this discussion.  Under Sri Lankan   and  the international law, the right to deprive a person’s life is granted only to a properly constituted judiciary.  No other person including the Chief Executive of the country or the legislators or generals of the army or any officers of  law enforcement agencies has a right to make a decision on the life of any person.  What happened in the period under discussion   was a process of arrest which took place often by way of kidnapping, detention at a secret places, interrogation inside the detention camps using torture, arriving at a decision about the detainee’s life, carrying out of the decision if the person was to be executed and the secret disposal of the body .  These actions cannot be justified by any law.  All these are criminal acts.  Whatever the position a person may have held in the armed forces, that person did not have any right to do such acts. 

It is recognized in  international law that people may be killed in a war while engaged in combat. However, the same international law obligates when a person is captured or surrendered that person has to be taken in as a prisoner and be protected.  To ill-treat prisoners of war, to torture them or to assassinate them is a war crime.  Chandraprema seems to disagree. He seems to think that since a state of insurgency or civil prevailed during the period under discussion, torture, summary executions and disappearances by the agents of the State were justified. He also seems to think that since such atrocities are common, there is no need to be upset. It is precisely because these crimes are common that the United Nations proposed the Conventon Against Torture ( to which treaty Sri Lanka is a signatory) and developed the legislation on  forced disappearances. The civilised international consensus is certainly not with Chandraprema

 As Chandraprema claims to be unaware of Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) we set out below a summary of AHRC perspectives for Sri Lanka which were submitted by way of several submissions to the Sri Lankan government and the UN Commission on Human Rights.  These recommendations were also widely published, including in journals such as Christian Worker, which during the last 3 years have published several AHRC)  articles and back page advertisements in all its issues.  Our position is   that there is a collapse of  the basic system of justice in Sri Lanka due to negative developments during the recent decades. These  have undermine(d)  the rule of law and created a situation of anarchy.  To overcome this situation of anarchy it is necessary to reform the criminal investigation system and the prosecution system of the country.  AHRC has identified the existing  prosecution system in Sri Lanka as the weakest link  of the country's justice system; that   vested interests  obstruct  and prevent these reforms.  People themselves must play an active part in pursuing these reforms if they are ever to take place.  The back cover of the Christian Worker in its December 2001 issue has the following advertisement from the AHRC:

To Ensure Law Enforcement: Reform the Attorney General's Functions; Split AG's Functions from Criminal Prosecution Functions; CREATE AN INDEPENDENT PROSECUTOR; Incorporate Developments from More Developed Common Law Jurisdictions Regarding Prosecution Functions; Create Professional Links Between Criminal Investigations and Prosecutions; Implement Recommendations of the Soertsz Commission and Basnayake  Commission theRegarding Public Prosecutor; FAILURE TO DO THIS WILL ENSURE CONTINUING LAWLESSNESS AND BREAKDOWN OF THE JUSTICE SYSTEM.

If these perspectives  are notions of ‘an obscure as Chandraprema  dismissively  suggests,  it is a pity. 

The mass disappearances of Sri Lanka has left  a lasting wound  in the consciousness of the Sri Lankan people. It can be  healed  only by genuine attempts to deal with the issue both from the point of view of justice and a from a humane point of view.  What AHRC calls for is not for revenge, witch hunts or mob lynching but for justice tempered by the quality of mercy. AHRC  is sure that the more reflective readers of The Island  agree with this standpoint.

Asian Human Rights Commission

Midweek Review
19th December 2001

Human rights organisation or lynch mob?– a reply

By C.A.Chandraprema
The reply sent to The Island by this organisation calling itself the ‘Asian Human Rights Commission’ should be carefully studied by the reader. Has the Asian Human Rights Commission answered any of the crucial questions raised by me in my article of the 10th December entitled "The Christian Worker and the Disappeared?" To recount, the issues raised by me was as follows.

The questions
Point number one: My first question was about the AHRC’s assertion that "The disappearances were not a campaign by a hostile foreign enemy nor were they part of a bloody civil war or revolution. It was a campaign by a democratically elected government (UNP) to remove an opposition." This is an absolute lie. There was in fact a campaign of terror launched by the left wing JVP in the years 1987-89 and their first victims were not the state or the ruling party, but other parties of the left wing opposition. Like the LTTE, the JVP also concentrated on removing all political competition by eliminating left wing student union leaders, social activists and so on. It was only later that they took on the government. The position taken by the AHRC was that there was no revolution or civil war in the late eighties when these disappearances took place and that everything was due to the government wanting to remove an opposition. That is a blatant lie, and clearly shows the political bias of the AHRC.

Point number two: The other point that I raised was about the number of disappeared given by the AHRC. According to the AHRC report published in the Christian Worker, the ‘Commissions of Inquiry’ appointed by the PA government had come up with a figure of 26,877 disappearances. Then the AHRC also mentions a figure of 60,000 claiming that this was the estimate of the NGO’s. Then in a full page advertisement inserted by the AHRC on the back cover of the same issue of Christian Worker, they say that the number of disappeared was 30,000 according to ‘official’ estimates. My question was which number was correct? These are widely differing numbers. Why are there such wide disparities in the number of reported disappearances? As I pointed out, Sri Lanka is not some stone age tribal society. All births are registered. The country is completely covered by the grama sevaka system and all families are registered for purposes of social welfare like Samurdhi etc. and that hence, it would be quite possible to take an accurate head count of those who had disappeared or died.

My contention was that a professional Human rights organisation cannot go around bandying around arbitrary figures and that there has to be a modicum of accuracy in their claims. There cannot be margins of error ranging from the thousands to tens of thousands. I also posed the question from where they had got the purportedly ‘official’ estimate of 30,000 which appears in their advertisement on the back cover of Christian Worker. The specific figure of 26,877 is mentioned by the Commissions of Inquiry, then the number of 60,000 is given by NGO’s according to AHRC. But who gave the figure of 30,000? An answer to this question was not forthcoming in their reply. The actual fact is that the figure of 30,000 was not given by any ‘official’ source. They had come up with this figure of 30,000 by arbitrarily ‘rounding upwards’ the figure of 26,877 given by the Commissions of Inquiry. 30,000 is a more ‘attractive’ figure than 26,877 and 60,000 is even more attractive than either. Even though AHRC says that this figure of 60,000 is the figure given by NGO’s, they do not specify which NGO has come up with this figure or how that NGO calculated this figure. In actual fact, 60,000 was the conveniently rounded off figure mentioned by the People’s Alliance government on the political platform in order to heap calumny on the UNP. The AHRC conveniently uses these ‘political statistics’ without any independent verification. The AHRC obviously gets more funds depending on the ‘scale’ of the problem which is why they take such liberties with the numbers.

Point number three: The last point I raised was about the authenticity of the so called ‘eyewitness’ report they had published about a torture camp allegedly run by Janaka Perera. I pointed out that the conditions in all third world prison camps ranging from Asia to Africa to Latin America were similar and predictable and that anybody could write ‘eyewitness accounts’ and that the mere fact that this eyewitness account is ‘consistent’ with the details of the detention centres of this period is no indication that it is authentic. I also flatly refused to believe that AHRC had ‘independently verified’ and ‘carefully studied’ the case of the eyewitness on the grounds that anybody who can utter the blatant LIE that there was no civil war or revolution in the late eighties and that the disappearances took place only because the UNP government wanted to remove an opposition can hardly be taken at their word. And anyway, if the eyewitness account was genuine, they could have taken it to a magistrate and got legal proceedings started. Actually, even a bogus eyewitness account will be quite sufficient to get legal proceedings started.

Disregarding criticism
These were the three main issues I raised in my article of the 10th December. Readers will note that the AHRC has not answered any of my questions in their reply. Instead what have we got from them by way of reply? The first point they have raised is about my not having heard of the Asian Human Rights Commission earlier. They say, I should have known their organisation because I had attended one of their seminars on February 21 1998. I did in fact attend a seminar on human rights in 1998, on invitation by Vijaya Vidyasagara. All this while I was under the impression that it had been jointly organised by the Christian Worker and the Ecumenical Institute for Study and Dialogue, but now Vijaya tells me that the AHRC was also involved in organising the seminar. There was no sign or banner at the venue of the seminar to show that it was organised by the AHRC. So the fact is that the first time I became aware of any organisation styling itself the Asian Human Rights Commission was in the September issue of Christian Worker. Be that as it may, since it now turns out that the AHRC or its representatives have had the benefit of my criticism on an earlier occasion, the lies and cooking of figures and stretching of facts that they have engaged in is absolutely unforgivable.

One of the problems that I raised at that seminar was the fact that human rights activists do not say one word about the many thousands of killings carried out by the JVP. The JVP leader Somawansa Amarasinghe was ‘decent’ enough to concede responsibility for 6,000 killings. The actual number of people killed by the JVP was much higher. The number of UNP party activists killed by the JVP alone exceeds the figure of 6,000. Then what about all the left wing political activists, and the thousands of ordinary minor public officials postal peons, bus drivers and so on killed by the JVP? But human rights activists completely ignore the killings by the JVP. Even this report of the AHRC that is in question does not mention one word about the JVP killings. On the contrary it goes so far as to falsify history and say that there was no civil war or revolution at the time the disappearances took place. These reports are aimed at foreign audiences unfamiliar with the situation in Sri Lanka. Facts are being twisted and history rewritten to ensure the flow of funds to these human rights organisations. It was not only I who subjected them to criticism at that seminar in 1998. Even Professor Carlo Fonseka, a civil society figure of impeccable repute also took them to task on their way of glossing over the actual situation that prevailed at the time. Among other things, Professor Carlo Fonseka upbraided the Chairman for having tried to prevent me from talking because what I said was ‘so cogent’. Between Professor Carlo Fonseka and myself, we presented a wealth of constructive criticism at that seminar. But all that has been disregarded. Why did they hold a seminar if their attitude was to completely disregard criticism?

They have continued to lie and utter falsehoods in order to earn money. They probably never thought all their nonsense would come under scrutiny by the press in this manner. These are a set of people who are used to listening only to their own voices. This why Professor Carlo Fonseka had to take them to task for trying to stop me from making my contribution at that seminar. In Sri Lanka today we are talking of a new political culture and of all party governments of national reconciliation etc. A major part of the new political culture should be that there should be no more kangaroo courts. I was appalled to see Janaka Perera accused and declared guilty in that AHRC report published in the Christian Worker. At a time when the military is riven by corruption, Janaka Perera was one of the cleanest military officers ever to grace the Sri Lanka Army. For that reason alone, if not for any other, he deserves fair-play. The AHRC talks of ‘human rights’ but they casually disregard all human rights when it suits their purposes. As I said earlier, they adhere to the ‘Samaraweera doctrine’ which says that you are presumed guilty until you somehow prove yourself to be innocent.

What is the nonsense written by way of reply to my questions? Apart from informing me that the seminar on human rights that I attended in 1998 was also jointly organised by them, the rest of the article is totally unrelated to the questions I raised. There is a reference to ‘genocide of Buddhists’ in ancient India, and of the Bindunuwewa massacre and the killings of 10 Muslims on election day. Then there is a lecture on the blessings of tribal social life. That was not what we were discussing. We were discussing the disappearances and killings in the late eighties. And we should stick to that subject. The whole purpose of their reply has been to deflect attention from the points that I raised. They have got caught red handed LYING about the situation that prevailed at the time that the disappearances took place and COOKING THE FIGURES of the disappeared in order to attract more funding. The following passage shows clearly the modus operandi used by these so called ‘human rights’ organisations. Take careful note of this:

Accusing the plaintiff
"If one is to go by Mr Chandraprema’s own publicly known record, he cannot pretend to be so ignorant about these matters. We do not want at this time to go into well-published materials about Mr Chandraprema’s own involvement’s at the relevant time. All that we wish to do is to point out that he is not the impartial observer that he pretends to be." What folks is the meaning of this statement? The AHRC is making oblique references to my ‘publicly known’ record and the ‘well-published’ materials about my ‘involvement’s at the relevant time’. The complainant is now the accused! Talk of drowning men trying to cling on to straws! They are trying to use the mud hurled at me by my political enemies to deflect attention from themselves. I deal with the public everyday. My paycheque depends directly on the public. There is no doubt a lot of ‘well-published’ material about me and that well published material is going to make me rich in due course. We are not at present discussing the controversial journalist and colourful public figure C.A.Chandraprema. We are discussing the lies and cooked figures presented to the public by AHRC.

This passage also shows how timely it was for me to have come across this so called ‘report’ put out by the AHRC. The modus operandi would be to first publish unfounded claims and absolute lies about an individual and later they would use the fact that ‘allegations’ were published to say that there are ‘publicly known records’ and ‘well published materials’ about an individual. This is the same method they have adopted against Janaka Perera. First they publish what is claimed to be ‘eyewitness accounts’ against Janaka Perera. Later they will be using these unfounded publications to say that there is a ‘publicly known’ record and ‘well published material’ against Janaka Perera. Should this kind of thing be allowed to continue unchallenged?

The AHRC says I have tried in my article of the 10th December, to reduce the disappearances to myths and to deny that they ever took place. When I ask them for some reasonably accurate figures of the number of people who disappeared, they accuse me of trying to deny that disappearances ever took place! How can I of all people deny that disappearances took place? I did a comprehensive series on the JVP’s second insurrection for this newspaper and won an award for my efforts. Unlike the AHRC, I live here among the people who actually experienced the JVP insurrection. The AHRC falsifies history by saying that there was no civil war or revolution at the time but that massive disappearances took place because the (UNP) government wanted to remove opposition. But in my article of the 10th December I have put down the proper sequence. Viz., "First the JVP started killing left wing political opponents and competitors in much the same way that the LTTE killed off all Tamil competitors. Then the JVP took on the ruling party and the armed forces. The armed forces retaliated. Insurgents were killed, some disappeared." Who denies that some people disappeared? All I wanted from AHRC was some accurate figure about the numbers of those disappeared. I also wanted them to distinguish between those who have actually disappeared and those who were killed.

The excuse trotted out by the AHRC for the lack of accurate figures is a quotation from a Commissions of Inquiry report to the effect that it is difficult to elicit information about the disappeared from the official records in the country and from Police records. Who told the AHRC to depend on official records to ascertain the actual number of disappearances? What I suggested to them was that they do a proper head count themselves. Do I have to tell the AHRC how to do a headcount? Well, this is how they should do it. Since official records are so unreliable, they should employ a team of researchers to do the job. (Organisations like PAFFREL or CMEV have shown that heavy-duty operations like this are possible and also that funding is available.) They should go to one district at a time and exhaustively cover all the villages in the district. They should get hold of the grama sevaka’s if possible or they should proceed on the basis of their own contacts. They should visit all the houses of the victims of 1987-89. Victims should be classified separately according to political affiliation. There are UNP victims, LSSP, CP,SLMP, NSSP victims, and JVP victims and also victims who claim that they had no political affiliation whatsoever. All that should be classified.

Then they should obtain some evidence to show that the individual concerned actually existed. (Sri Lanka is notorious for bogus names on election lists and on casual worker payrolls!) Rudimentary evidence like a birth certificate, an ID card, or school certificate and if available, a photograph of the individual will suffice. There should be a separate file for each individual containing this rudimentary documentation. Then of course, there should be the date on which the individual concerned disappeared. Those details will be quite sufficient. Who asked for police reports or court decisions confirming that the disappeared have in fact disappeared? Once they have finished one district, they can go to the other district and so on until the entire country is covered. And the files compiled should be left open for public scrutiny. That way we will be able to have some accurate figures on the number of people who have disappeared. Wouldn’t that be better than arbitrarily bandying around widely differing figures ranging from 26,877 to 30,000 to 60,000? I too would like to see a proper headcount done. In my 1990 series on the JVP, my rough estimate of the total number of killings by the security forces and the vigilantes was 23,000. I notice that the figure produced by the Commissions of Inquiry is tantalisingly close to my ‘guesstimate’. Then I ascribed about 17,000 killings to the JVP bringing the total on both sides to 40,000. I would like to have my guesstimates checked against a proper headcount.

The question that arises now is why no human rights organisation has done any such thing up to now? It is now well over 12 years since these incidents took place. And during the past seven years, we have had a government which was only too willing to co-operate with anybody willing to probe the disappearances and killings of 1987-89. (Exept of course the killings done by the JVP!) There were even commissions appointed to inquire into these disappearances. So why couldn’t a headcount be taken? The reason is plain to see. Organisations like the AHRC wanted to have the flexibility to mention any number that came into their minds. The larger the number of human lives involved, the larger the quantum of funds flowing in! As I pointed out earlier, this is why the figures tend to get ‘rounded upwards’ by the thousands and tens of thousands at a time. According to the AHRC, the crime against humanity was so enormous that ‘untold numbers’ disappeared! And to make the crime seem even blacker the AHRC adds that these disappearances took place at a time when there was no civil war or revolution in the country. All of it was due to the ‘perversity’ of the government in wanting to remove an opposition. A perverted state, and an untold number of killings! How many millions of Dollars has the AHRC made on this story?

Lynch-mob attitude
Then the AHRC says, "Mr Chandraprema seems to think JVP killings justify killings by state agencies". Its refreshing to see at least a passing reference to ‘JVP killings’ in the AHRC reply. So there were JVP killings eh? Surprise! So then why didn’t the AHRC report published in the Christian Worker say so? Why did that report very specifically say that there was no civil war or a revolution at the time the disappearances took place? Does the AHRC have to be kicked on the backside to make them admit the obvious? Even the AHRC tacitly and involuntarily admits that the disappearances have to be seen in a different light if they had taken place during a civil war or revolution. The AHRC knows that the disappearances would be looked at in a different light if they were deemed to have taken place in a situation of civil war or bloody revolution. Isn’t that why they insist that there was no civil war or revolution at the time the disappearances took place and that everything took place ostensibly due to nothing but the perversity of the then government?

Then the AHRC goes on to say that their position is that "...all killings, be they by the JVP, state agencies, black cats, PRA and all other groups were crimes" and that "...unless all of these killings are investigated and brought to justice in some manner, it is not possible to establish the rule of law in Sri Lanka." With all its shortcomings, Sri Lanka by an large has adhered to the norms of democracy and the rule of law. In the 1989, when the JVP leadership was eliminated, the counter-subversive operations came to a grinding halt and thereafter normalcy was restored in a matter of weeks. Similarly when Chandrika Kumaratunga lost the Parliamentary election, she stuck to the precedent established by President Wijetunga and ceded executive power to Cabinet. Despite an unprecedentedly violent election, democracy has survived. The biggest danger to the rule of law in Sri Lanka are ‘human rights’ organisations like the AHRC which function as kangaroo courts and lynch mobs when it suits them. They are more soul destroying than any gun-toting politician. In that report published in the Christian Worker, they had deemed Janaka Perera guilty as charged by them. When I questioned this attitude, they have responded by casting aspersions on me and referring to my ‘publicly known record’ and about ‘well published materials about my involvement’s during this period." The attitude of the AHRC is that nobody should question their decisions. This same attitude was reflected in the seminar I attended as recounted earlier. May God save us from human rights activists of this sort.

The AHRC takes me to task for asking who is guilty or innocent of those who were killed. The reason why I asked this question was because the AHRC report specifically said "The victims need not have been involved with insurgents; attending a meeting or a speech or even reading a book was sufficient to be targeted for extra judicial killing. Many of the victims were outside the insurgency movement. Some of the victims were simply members of legally recognised political parties. Many were just children." All I wanted to know was according to the calculations of the AHRC, what proportion of the victims were outside the insurgency movement. Since they say ‘many’ were outside the insurgency movement, I wanted to know how many is ‘many’. Given the confident assertion they have made on the subject, isn’t my question a natural corollary to their assertion? Of course they don’t have the foggiest notion of how many of the victims were outside the insurgency movement. How would they know how many were outside the insurgency movement when they do not even know the number of victims? Had they done a professional district by district and village by village head count, as I have suggested they would have been able to give not only an accurate number of victims, but they could have also complied other details such as the number of victims who are deemed by their relatives to have been outside the insurgent movement. Those who carry out the headcount could have also given their own observations on these claims and the availability of information would have been much better than at present.

The hypocrisy
Giving me a lecture on the rule of law, the AHRC takes my own arrest (last year) as an example. And they say they are ‘glad’ that I am still alive and has a chance to say that I am not guilty. And that those who were made to disappear did not have that chance. True. But at the time I was arrested, there was no civil war or revolution, nor was I taken in as a terrorist suspect. I was taken in as a part of the PA game plan to win the October 2000 Parliamentary election and I spent the entire duration of the election in jail. So of course I expect to be alive. But it would have been better for the government to have made me ‘disappear’ instead of releasing me without any charges being framed. Once they had finished their job of slinging mud at the UNP and at Ranil Wickremasinghe and me, they just spat me out. The AHRC says they are ‘glad’ I am still alive and has a chance to say that I am not guilty. But earlier on in their reply, they made oblique references to my ‘publicly known record’ and to ‘well-published material’ about my ‘involvement’s’ during the relevant period.’ If AHRC is really concerned about the rule of law, how can they be making such insinuations about me? Isn’t it their attitude that I am guilty of all the slander that my political opponents have slung at me until I prove myself innocent? Nobody has yet invented a way to ‘prove’ innocence. To say that they are ‘glad’ that I am still alive to say that I am not guilty, is pure hypocrisy. The rule of law which says that everybody is deemed innocent until proved guilty is applied selectively by the AHRC. Those targeted by them or those who raise their ire clearly do not come within this cover.

In the latter part of the AHRC’s long reply, there is an answer to a question I sought in my article of the 10th December. I spoke of a figure of 30,000 disappearances given in a full page advertisement inserted by the AHRC in the back cover of the September issue of Christian Worker. I was wondering from where the AHRC got this figure of 30,000. Below this figure was the note that 15% of the victims were below the age of 19. In their reply to my article, readers will note that the AHRC says that "according to the Commissions of Inquiry", 15% of the victims were below the age of 19. So the cat is out of the bag.

The total number of disappearances according to the Commissions of Inquiry was 26,877 - and it is 15% of this number that was below the age of 19. Then why does the full page AHRC advertisement on the back cover of Christian Worker claim that there were 30,000 disappearances and that 15% of this number was below the age of 19? This is why I say that the AHRC has been cooking the figures to make them more attractive to the funding agencies that give money to them. They just casually round up the numbers to any amount they think is necessary to evoke a larger flow of funds. That is what this is all about. The AHRC accuses me of having created confusion about numbers. Was it I who inserted widely divergent figures like 26,877, 30,000 and 60,000 in the AHRC report? It is the AHRC that has deliberately kept the numbers in the realm of speculation and guesswork so that they can continue to make money hand over fist by misrepresenting the facts.

The AHRC should be very happy that there are people who are willing to take the time and trouble to write analytical articles about their reports. The AHRC was such an obscure organisation that I had attended a seminar in which they too had played a role and still I was unaware of their existence until just the other day. I have unwittingly given an obscure and unworthy organisation like the AHRC undue publicity. When Vijaya Vidyasagara gave me that copy of Christian Worker and asked for my comments, he had meant comments on the editorial pages and not on individual articles in the magazine. Now he tells me! Anyway, after having got kicked in the backside like this, it is hoped the AHRC will mend their ways and adopt a more professional and honest approach to their work.  

Targeting the NGO sector: Response the island 29/12/2006

In a feature entitled Review Essay: Targeting the NGO sector in The Island (Dec. 22) I found the following reference: "The Chairman of the seminar was a lawyer who I knew as a member of the organisation which published Christian Worker. But that day, he had been presiding at the seminar in his incarnation as the boss of the Asian Human Rights Commission. That kind of situation is common within the NGO sector. Everybody seems to be involved in everything else".

Since this reference is to me I am writing this in reply.

The reviewer refers to a meeting held in February 1998. Between then and whatever the time I have had a slight acquaintance with him, many years have passed and many things have happened.

In September 1989 I left Sri Lanka as my name was found at the top of a list maintained by the 'Anti Terrorist Unit' in the Peliyagoda ASP's Division. During the whole of the 80's I was a practicing lawyer and it was the office in charge of that unit itself that informed about this through a mutual friend, a businessman who was my client. For petty personal reasons a group of persons had insisted that my name be added to the list and the senior-most officer that was dealing with this area, who later acquired a notorious reputation, had included me. Among those in that pressure group was a local politician against whom I had filed together with a few others a fundamental rights application for obstruction of an educational meeting on The Supreme Court Judgments On Human Rights, which we won (SCFR 199/87); there were some police officers whom I may have hurt in pursuit of my innocent belief in fair trial by way of harsh cross examination or some remarks made in court by way of submissions - at lest one of them had owed that if there was an emergency he knew what to do to me-: and there were also a few lawyers who were purely motivated by petty jealousy.
Making use of an occasion to attend a Law Asia Meeting I came to Hong Kong and there after got more details of what was happening. The file against me included a large photograph taken as I walked out of a court, kept for easy identification. This file was kept open for quite a long time due to the pressure of interested parties and transferred to other units when the Anti Terrorism Unit was closed. There was a police inspector, who is now a senior police officer who was in charge of the file. He went on several occasions to the vicinity of my house in disguise when an informer kept in the area supplied information that someone in my family was sick and that I might return.

This police officer at the time believed in the information that was given in the file which labelled me as a JVPer (in all my life I have had no links of any sort with the JVP). Later when he got to know the real details behind the file he not only gave up the inquiry but also, through a close friend of mine, gave me the details. At one stage he told my friend "your friend may be innocent but don't ask him to come. If I am told he is there all that will happen is that I will go there, I will show him my identity card and ask him to come for a short while, he could return in 30 minutes or so. But he will never return." I could not attend the birth of my child or the funeral of my father. My first brief visit to Sri Lanka was after President Premadasa's assassination.

It was after 1989 that I took employment outside, first as a legal advisor to the Vietnamese refugees in a UNHCR project based in Hong Kong and later as a senior United Nations officer in the human rights field in Cambodia. It was later that I became the Executive Director of the Asian Human Rights Commission.

These facts are also relevant to challenge the reviewer's main thesis on the disappearances that took place during that time. His view is that it was the executioners that were executed. If the plan against me also succeeded I would also have been listed among these executioners. The dead cannot defend themselves. But since I am alive I can!

To characterise the 30,000 or more people who disappeared during this time as executioners may fit the style of a propagandist who, for whatever reason feels obliged to defend the official misinformation on this issue. Fifteen percent of those killed; according to official reports were persons below the age of 19. Were they executioners?

The reviewer says "Everybody seems to be involved in everything else", in fact everyone should because what happened in the country was not just something between the hunted and the executions as the reviewer would like to have it, but something that fundamentally destroyed every decent norm and standard that affects everyone. That was what my own experience showed. The country's law enforcement system is acknowledged to be at its lowest ebb. That is a result of the way so called anti terrorism was dealt with at that time. In such situations everybody should be involved if a decent way of life is to survive. A society where everyone is involved in everything is better than one in which informers working secretly with executioners decide, not only the fate of individuals but also that of society as a whole.

An earlier debate on the issue of the relevant meeting in 1998 seemed to have left a deep impression on the reviewer that he keeps on talking about it. I refer to an earlier exchange of articles between the reviewer and the AHRC published in the Island. But when his views were challenged by us during that debate he announced that the debate was closed and did not publish a final reply. The details of the meeting given by him are inaccurate. However, these are no longer matters of importance.

Basil Fernando
Hong Kong

Posted on 2001-12-10


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