We had heard words of appreciation for the courage and dedication of the doctors that served to the end in the war zone and made desperate appeals on behalf of the suffering people and of humanitarian workers and government officials that provided life saving assistance, including ICRC staff that evacuated thousands of people who were sick and injured and ferried much needed food supplies, religious leaders that remained with people to the end and individual
soldiers of the Sri Lankan Army who had cared and helped some of the injured, sick and hungry when they escaped the LTTE and came to government controlled areas.
After the end of the war, we met families of people who disappeared from closely guarded hospitals and detention camps where internally displaced persons were detained by the government. Many people we had met have told us how they themselves or their family members were kept in detention without access to lawyers and ICRC, on allegations of being part of the LTTE. Some of them had indeed been in the LTTE, some forcibly conscripted, and others had joined voluntarily. Some had been involved in varying degrees in armed combat while others had been performing administrative and civil functions in the LTTE administration such as cooking and driving. Some of these people have told us how they were tortured, showed us scars and how they continue to suffer from these. Some complained about their family members who continue to be in detention without any charges. Others who we had met after being released, have narrated how they have been told to get permission to leave their village, had been photographed, are being visited often in their homes, had been summoned to camps and interrogated etc. Mothers recounted threats from the Army to bring back children who had gone to India after being formally released. Religious leaders have told us how the Army had prevented and even threatened them when they tried to organize religious events for civilians killed and disappeared, how monuments for dead Tamil militants were destroyed by the Army and how they were threatened when they tried to put up a simple memorial for those killed and had no burial place. Community leaders and humanitarian workers have told us about the restrictions on humanitarian assistance, freedom of assembly, freedom of association and freedom of expression in the North.
Many such stories have been shared by Vanni people, particularly families of those directly affected, during hearings of the government appointed Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) in the North. Such stories are also reflected in the submissions to the LLRC by the Catholic Bishops Conference of Sri Lanka and Church of Ceylon and Church leaders from the North such as the Catholic Bishop of Mannar and the Jaffna Diocesan Laity Council. But it is our regret that with a few exceptions such as the above, almost two years since the end of the war, we Sri Lankans have failed to tell and listen to these stories of our brothers and sisters and that most of our media have refused to publish these stories. Despite our own efforts to retell the stories people had narrated to us, it is our regret that we ourselves have not been able to do so to the extent we would have liked to.
We also recognize that many who would have liked to retell these stories have refrained from doing so out of fear of reprisals. And we salute the few individuals, groups and media that have had the courage to share some of these stories.
We also know that some concerned individuals and groups submitted their testimonies, eye witness accounts etc. to the panel of experts of the UNSG. Now, we find that these are the stories reflected and retold in the parts of the report by the panel of experts of the UNSG that had been leaked and published in the media. We fail to understand how retelling the stories of our brothers and sisters, Sri Lankan citizens, who had suffered so much and lost so much, can be a conspiracy against Sri Lanka. We recognize that different opinions exist about the motivation for this report and that there are similar or more horrific crimes that have been committed during military operations in other countries where no such reports have been issued. We also recognize that the stories told in this report appears to ignore several other stories of suffering in the context of our ethnic conflict and war, such as the Muslim community that was evicted from the North by the LTTE, those killed and injured by claymore attacks and suicide bombings in Colombo and other cities outside the North and East, those killed in riots and in carpet bombings, those in “border” villages that had been massacred etc. However, we do not see these and any other limitations or weaknesses of the report as a reason for us to reject the stories that are told. On the contrary, we hope that this will be a motivation for us to share more and more of such stories. We reject the argument that such a process of truth telling is a harassment of our country or destabilizing our country’s post war recovery and on the contrary, we feel that truth telling is an essential element of post war recovery and progress.
We believe that it is left to us Sri Lankans to establish and acknowledge the truth, apologize for wrongs done, ensure justice and accountability, and through measures such as reparations, show our care and support towards those who have suffered such as families of those killed and disappeared, those who have been injured during the war and due to torture, those who continue to be detained without charges and without due process, those who had been displaced and lost properties etc. It is our contention that truth, justice and accountability, together with care and reparation for victims are essential ingredients for progress and the development of a post war Sri Lanka, along with a longer term political solution that addresses grievances of the Tamil community that led to the birth of the LTTE and full scale war.
But it is our assessment that we have been unable to make significant progress on any of the above fronts within Sri Lanka, particularly in the last two years since the end of the war. The LLRC process has not given us much confidence, though we still hope for positive outcomes, particularly the publication of its final report, conclusions and recommendations as soon as possible, which would have the potential to serve as a valuable resource for our reconciliation efforts. In this context, we believe international assistance can also be crucial in our post war rebuilding and reconciliation efforts. Thus, we find it encouraging that establishment of the truth, apology for wrongs done, justice, accountability and reparation for victims is reflected in the conclusions and recommendations of the panel of experts appointed by the UNSG.
We call on the UNSG and the government of Sri Lanka to immediately make available the report (including translations in Sinhalese and Tamil) of the UNSG’s panel of experts to all Sri Lankan
citizens,. We call on all Sri Lankans and particularly religious leaders and the government to take into serious consideration the stories of our brothers and sisters contained in the report of the panel of experts of the UNSG, along with the conclusions and recommendations. Instead of the denial and rejection that seems to be happening now, we believe all of us Sri Lankans should treat this report as a resource and tool in our own efforts towards a process of reconciliation that is based on truth, justice, accountability and reparation to victims.
1. Bishop Kumara Illangasinghe
2. Rev. Sr. Deepa Fernando, H.F.
3. Rev. Sr. Helen Fernando, H.F.
4. Rev. Sr. Jesmin Fernando, H.F.
5. Rev. Fr. Ashok Stephen, omi
6. Rev. Fr. M. Sathivel
7. Rev. Fr. Nandana Manatunga
8. Rev. Fr. Jeyabalan Croos
9. Rev. Fr. Praveen Mahesan, omi
10. Rev. Fr. Rayappu Augustin
11. Rev. Fr. Rohan Dominic, cfm
12. Rev. Fr. Rohan Silva, omi
13. Rev. Fr. Sarath Iddamalgoda
14. Rev. Fr. Sherad Jayawardena
15. Rev. Fr. Terence Fernando
16. Rev. Fr. Thangarasa Jeevaraj, sj
17. Jovita Arulanantham
18. Juliana Arulanantham
19. Tirzah Suares
20. Ainslie Joseph
21. Britto Motha
22. Jude Preman
23. Nimal Perera
24. Philip Sethunga
25. Rukshan (Ruki) Fernando
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