Tuesday, July 22, 2008

ISSN: 1391 - 0531 Sunday February 24, 2008 Vol. 42 - No 39
Columns – Telescope
Child soldiers: What the Govt. report did not report

By J.S. Tissainayagam
Earlier this week, the media highlighted government’s plan to present the report of the Committee to Inquire into Allegations of Abductions and Recruitment of Children for Use in Armed Conflict (CIAARC), at the sessions of the UN Security Council on Thursday. What transpired at the sessions was not known at the time this article was written.
CIAARC was appointed by Human Rights Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe and headed by Justice Ministry Secretary Suhada Gamalth. Among the highlights of the report, written after a fact-finding mission to Batticaloa, was that “there had been no complaints of abductions or forced recruitment recorded by law enforcement authorities in 2008” (Daily Mirror 19/Feb/2008).
In a concise, but comprehensive statement, the Civil Society Working Group on Child Soldiers (CSWGCS), comprising a number of civil society organisations, has demolished the work of CIAARC exposing the lies, omissions and the deliberate attempt to mislead the UN Security Council’s Working Group on Children in Armed Conflict by creating a false picture, apparently to exculpate the government.
The CSWGCS statement contradicts bluntly CIAARC’s claim there were no abductions reported in 2008 by stating: “Already, 5 cases of underage recruitment by the TMVP (three cases of recruitment and two re-recruitments) have been reported by the UNICEF for January 2008.” It has to be noted that the reason for the formation of CIAARC was persistent allegations of abductions
and recruitment of children by the TMVP, once headed by Karuna and now by Pillaiyan.
The CSWGCS statement questions the work of the CIAARC fact-finding mission. Calling it a “fly-in, fly-out mission,” CSWGCS accuses it of staying only four hours in Batticaloa during the field visit. What is more, it says “this high-profile committee did not talk to the parents of the children abducted, or groups working with parents and child abductees.”
The statement goes on to dismiss out of hand the government’s pretence of not being complicit in the acts of the TMVP through denial, including Samarasinghe’s request for “credible evidence” of this link, by citing the training camps of the TMVP in government-controlled areas.
“There are number of training camps … established in government-controlled areas and in visibly close proximity to military outposts, army checkpoints and camps ... Theevuchenai, Muttukal in the Welikanda area and Kadiraveli ... Despite persistent denial of any involvement with the TMVP, its cadres have been seen patrolling with soldiers and walking in and out of army camps.”
Finally, the statement places the political link between the government and TMVP in perspective declaring, “This armed faction, listed in the annex of the UN Secretary General’s Report on Children and Armed Conflict as a violator of child recruitment, is now openly contesting jointly with the government in the local elections in Batticaloa.”
The CSWGCS statement concludes CIAARC “was intended to be nothing but a face-saving mechanism with no genuine political will.” Having demolished CIAARC, the statement proceeds to debunk claims made by the government to have set up a number of institutions for the protection of children and the efforts made by them to address underage recruitment.
Before dealing with this plethora of institutions, the CSWGCS statement documents the state of mind of civilians. It says, “Civilians live in a climate of fear, suppression and without the capacity to voice out their grievances. Parents, risking threats, intimidation and harassment, have made complaints to the Police, the National Child Protection Authority as well as to the Supreme Court regarding the abduction of their children, but to no avail.”
Speaking of the Police, the statement reports no progress had been made in protecting children or addressing underage recruitment. It dismisses “Samarasinghe’s claim that the Police would immediately investigate reported cases of abductions” by saying no reports had been made available “bringing into question whether investigations even took place.”
On the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka’s role, the CSWGCS says that despite complaints to the Commission it had “failed to visit the camps named in the HRW (Human Rights Watch) report where children and youth are being held and/or given arms training.” It adds the Commission made no attempt at even identifying camps where children were being held.
Going on to the National Child Protection Authority (NCPA) under Chairman Jagath Wellawatte, the CSWGCS challenges the organisation’s excuse for inaction by claming it was not mandated to launch investigations into child recruitment cases without an official complaint. “This statement is completely contradictory to its mandate, which maintains: ‘the authority may, where it has reason to believe that there is child abuse on any premises…. authorize an officer of the Authority to enter and search such premises,’” the CSWGCS points out.
The CSWGCS report reserves its harshest criticism for the one-man Mahanama Tilakaratne Commission on Abductions, Attacks on Civilians and Killings. It says “the investigation was a sham,” buttressing the conclusion by, “to date no results of the investigations have been made public – even though parents, witnesses have been questioned. A number of parents were not even informed that such an investigation was taking place.” The Commission’s visit to Batticaloa was not announced and the three-day visit “was too short to achieve any substantial findings.”
It is on the basis of the shoddy and disingenuous work of these institutions that the government hoped to present its defence on the protection of children in armed conflict in Sri Lanka. The fact that it did not have tangible evidence of such abuses was not because there was no evidence, but because they did not bother to collect it systematically.
It could be that the government believed its customary approach of blaming all child recruitment on the LTTE would enable it to wriggle out of a tight spot. But such an argument might not wash this time judging from the tone of the HRW report released on Thursday claiming the LTTE’s recruitment of children had “dropped significantly over the past nine months,” though it accuses the Tigers of not keeping to the deadline of releasing all underage recruits already in its ranks.
Or it could be the government believes its reliance on slogans (“zero tolerance of child recruitment”), brazen falsehood (“there is no credible evidence” of TMVP abductions in government-controlled areas), or the appointment of a raft of committees, would protect it from too much damage in the hands of the UNSC Working Group.
The exposure of the machinations of the government and the institutions it has established, should not blind us to the fact that, finally, the UN is a club of states. Whether this club of states is willing to impose strictures on a fellow-member, fighting a counterinsurgency war using child soldiers, is left to be seen

( Reproduction of articles permitted when used without any alterations to contents and a link to the source page.)
© Copyright 2008 - Wijeya Newspapers Ltd.Colombo. Sri Lanka.
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Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Friday, June 20, 2008
I don’t know why I am being held- Tissa:
By J.S. Tissainayagam

• Detained Sunday Times columnist petitions Supreme Court • Says his rights have been violatedOn March 8, around 3 a.m., about five TID officers took him to his residence and searched the premises till 4 a.m. The police officers found a copy of the North Eastern Monthly Magazine which they took with them. Mr. Tissainayagam said he was asked to take some clothes with him before leaving the residence. TissainayagamThe Sunday Times columnist, J. S. Tissainayagam, continues to be detained by the Terrorism Investigation Division (TID) for the 15th consecutive day without any explanation for his arrest. Along with him, B. Jasiharan, a Tamil nationalist writer and owner of a printing press which also housed the office of Mr. Tissainayagam, is also being detained along with his wife.However, four others arrested along with them were released this week by a magistrate’s courts. Colombo’s Chief Magistrate Nissantha Hapuarachchi released the four persons including three journalists who were working for the recently launched news website operated by Mr. Tissainayagam. They were Kithsiri Wijesinghe, Ranga Lasantha (photographer), Udayanan (visual Editor) and Mr. Kumara a relative of the printing press owner. On Wednesday the Supreme Court granted leave to proceed when it took up a fundamental rights petition filed by Mr. Tissainayagam. The Bench comprised Justices Asoka de Silva, N.E. Dissanayake and Saleem Marsoof. The respondents are Prasanna De Alwis, OIC Terrorism Investigation Unit, Nandana Munasinghe, Director TID, IGP Victor Perera, Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa and the Attorney General.Mr. Tissainayagam in his petition states that on or about March 6 around 7 p.m., he received a telephone call from a member of his staff from the office of Outreachsl.com, a website he ran, informing him that police officers had visited and were searching the second floor on which the press belonging to one N. Jasiharan was situated. The press is situated in the building owned by Jasiharan and the Outreachsl office is on the ground floor of the same building.Mr. Tissainayagam says Police searched the press till about 11.00 p.m. and subsequently Mr. Jasiharan and his wife were taken into custody by the Police officers who claimed to be from the TID. The following day, Mr Tissainayagam received a telephone call from member of his staff at the Outreachsl office informing him that police officers had arrived at office premises with Mr. Jasiharan and were searching the office.Around 10 am that day, Mr. Tissainayagam informed his wife that he was going directly to the TID as the police officers had left the Outreach office. Since Mr. Jasiharan had been taken into custody, he said he was concerned about him. Mr. Tissainayagam said that when he went to the TID, the police officers questioned him and subsequently arrested him and placed him on detention.He said that on March 8, around 3 a.m., about five TID officers took him to his residence and searched the premises till 4 a.m. The police officers found a copy of the North Eastern Monthly Magazine which they took with them. Mr. Tissainayagam said he was asked to take some clothes with him before leaving the residence.Mr. Tissainayagam said that after his wife made several attempts to contact him, she was informed by the TID that she could visit him around 9.30 p.m. the same day. She met him in the presence of TID OIC Prasanna de Alwis. She was permitted to meet him on two subsequent occasions that too in the presence of the OIC.On March 9, around 8.45 p.m, Mr. Tissainayagam was allowed a short telephone call to his wife. He told his wife that no detention order had been issued. On the same day, a lawyer retained by Mr. Tissainayagam’s wife sought permission via a fax addressed to the OIC to visit Mr. Tissainayagam. However till the filing of this petition, access to an attorney to visit Mr. Tissainayagam had not been granted.Mr. Tissainayagam said in his petition that he continued to be detained without being informed why he was being detained and therefore his detention had no valid legal basis. He said that his fundamental rights have been violated and that the said conduct/actions and /or inactions of the respondents constitute administrative and executive action and entitles him to invoke the jurisdiction of the Court under Article 17 read with Article 126 of the Constitution.He also said he has a medical condition known as a “detached retina” and that he is easily disoriented by sudden movements and excessive stress. Under these circumstances, he said that the conduct/actions and/or inaction of the 1st, 2nd and 3rd respondents constitute torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment to him and a violation of his rights guaranteed and protected under the Constitution.Mr. Tissainayagam also said the conduct of the 1st, 2nd and 3rd respondents amounted to discrimination on the basis of his ethnicity. He said that his arrest without reasonable ground for suspicion and against the due process of law and the manner in which the investigation was being conducted were violation of his rights guaranteed under Article 13 (1) of the Constitution.Mr. Tissainayagam, a political science graduate with a post-graduate degree in International Relations, started his career at Wijeya Newspapers Ltd as journalist for The Sunday Times and the Daily Mirror. He has been working as a columnist for The Sunday Times since 2007. In May 2007, he developed a website “Outreach” with financial support from largely a German-based organization called Facilitating Local Initiatives for Conflict Transformation (FLICT). Mr.Tissainayagam pointed out in his petition that he had no criminal record or convictions or pending criminal cases. President’s Counsel Romesh de Silva with J.C. Weliamuna and M.A. Sumanthiran instructed by Lilanthi de Silva appeared for Mr.Tissainayagam. The petition was listed to be taken up in the Supreme Court again on March 27.
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