I welcome this opportunity to share a message of support for the remembrance event hosted by the British Tamils Forum. The event commemorates the 10th anniversary of the end of the war in Sri lanka, on 18th may 2009. It is an important reminder that although the fighting is over, the suffering of tamils in srilanka has not ended.
What i saw of tamil suffering when I toured the north in srilanka in august 2013 as the United Nations high commissioner for human rights remains fresh in my mind. I was deeply moved by the profound anguish of survivors, and relatives of the dead and missing. This was especially traumatizing along the lagoon at Mullaitivu, where shallowed, unmarked graves and the scattered clothing of those who had been shelled lay abandoned. I also met many tamil communities and was struck by their resilience and by their unwavering determination to achieve their rights.
Wounds were not healed and reconciliation will not happen without respect and remembrance, for the tens of thousands who were killed, disappeared, displaced and abused. The struggle of tamils for self-determination goes a long way back – for almost 6 decades. 146,000 tamils are reported to have perished. More than 70 years of state-building exericses in srilanka have consistently failed in srilanka to explore the underlying root causes of the conflict, and they have consistently failed to result in meaningful measures to prevent human rights violations of the tamils. Far from investigating and bringing to justice the perpertrators, and finding a lasting solution to the ethinc tension, the srilankan state has, and continues to discrimante against the tamils and other minorities.
Instances of persisting human rights violations of tamils have been regularly monitored by the office for the high commissioner for human rights, as well as the independent special rapporteurs. These include the illegal occupation of tamil land by the military, lack of transparency and information on the return of land to tamils, arbitrary arrests and detentions for human rights defenders and protestors under the Prevention of Terrorism Act. By december 2015, 250 detainees were believed to be in detention. So the fate of these security detainees under the PTA, is a major concern for the tamil community. The military presence in the North and East of Srilanka remain heavy, and the culture of surveillance is ever present, verging on harassment of the tamils. Violence, torture and sexual abuses, especially of vulnerable female-headed families continue, with little or no arrests.
The Sri Lankan state acknowledged before the Human Rights Council in 2014 that 39 cases of sexual violence against Tamil women, involving the military were reported. Not a single soldier has been prosecuted. And by february 2016, high commissioner Zane was still asking for srilanka for an update on the state of these investigations. The denial of personal freedoms and human rights, are linked to persistent impunity and violation of the whole of the north. Strong calls have been made by the Human Rights Council, and by successive High Commissioners for human rights, for an end to corrosive decades of impunity, and for the implementation of accountability, justice, reconcilliation, and reparation for victims.
The Sri Lankan state, has not implemented its commitments in human rights council resolution 30/1 which it had co-sponsored to set up mechanisms to address accountability. This is extremely distressful for Sri Lankan Tamils who have steadfastly demanded these remedies. In response the authorities are telling them, to forgive and forget. UN investigations determined that international crime amounting to war crimes and crimes against humanity were committed against Tamils.
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