Sri Lanka’s Displaced (IDPs) - Rejecting Human Rights Hogg-Wash - 12th September 2007

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The Following is a Letter from SCOPP Secretary General Rajiva Wijesinha to the Director - Human Rights Watch in Geneva regarding Sri Lanka's Displaced (IDPs)
by Rajiva Wijesinha
The Permanent Mission of Sri Lanka to the UN Office at Geneva & the Consulate General of Sri Lanka in Switzerland

12th September 2007



Juliette de Rivera

Director

Human Rights Watch

Geneva



Dear Ms de Rivera,


I trust you received my last letter following our meeting in Geneva. You may not have had time to take it up with your Executive Directors, because I gather that Ms Hogg has been on the rampage again, this time in Brussels. Her presentation at a Round Table organized by a British Liberal Democratic member and attended by I believe just one other member was foreshadowed in a Sri Lankan paper under the headline ‘EU Parliament debates Lankan HR today’. Today the same paper declared that ‘The New York based Human Rights Watch (HRW) at the ongoing Human Rights Council session in Geneva yesterday told the EU Parliament to pass a strong resolution on Sri Lanka’.


It is possible that such absurdities are due to ignorance, but HRW should realize that it is being used in a not very subtle campaign to discredit the Sri Lankan government. Whether Ms Hogg is aware of this or not is something a respected body such as yours should check on. If you find that she and her associates might detract from your laudable agenda of objectively attempting to uphold human rights, you should consider dissociating yourself from her. I need not remind you of the hortatory poem about a drunken man who was sleeping in a pigsty, and was told that a man is judged by the company he keeps, whereupon ‘The hog got up and slowly walked away.’


You need to be the more careful about Ms Hogg in that she has once more repeated her canard that ‘the Sri Lankan government has not taken adequate care to minimize harm to the civilian population during the fighting’. This is a step up from the claim in the press release that ‘The Sri Lankan government has apparently given its security forces a green light to use “dirty war” tactics’, but it is still low enough. We have shown that the HRW report only documents one case of collateral damage during fighting, and that was explained by the army at the time.



I will not deal with the misrepresentations such as the above that I have responded to already. However you should note the sleight of hand with which she confuses figures for the displaced. As you may be aware, in December 2005 there were nearly 400,000 displaced in Sri Lanka. One quarter of these were Tamils from LTTE controlled areas who had sought refuge in government controlled areas. Another quarter were Muslims who had been chased out of Jaffna and other parts of the North in the only known instance of ethnic cleansing in Sri Lanka when the LTTE drove Muslims out of those areas. Another quarter are in the Jaffna district, and many of them too may be refugees from the LTTE – as you know, the LTTE has been ruthlessly recruiting not just children but also one member from each family, though it is only recently that international agencies have begun to draw attention to this, following representations we have made. Earlier there seemed a conspiracy of silence in the hope that the families of their workers would be spared, but as a recent Reuters report made clear, that has not happened.


The second set of displaced persons are those who were displaced due to the fighting which began last August when the LTTE launched unprovoked attacks in the North and the East. Ms Hogg’s figure of 315,000 is larger than ours, but even she would grant that most of these have now been resettled. Contrary to the sensationalistic claim of her press release of ‘forced returns of the displaced’, repeated in her European performance, the UN reported that ‘Our staff monitoring the situation on the ground say the majority of people are eager to return home, the returns are voluntary and in line with international protection standards’. This was in fact in her main report, but has been forgotten in pursuit of an agenda that surely you must now at least investigate.


Finally, since I do not want to take up your time in dealing with allegations that we have already discussed, let me just note her outrageous allegation that ‘The SLMM has found it especially difficult to verify abuses after the recent escalation in armed conflict because the government has denied its monitors access to areas after certain incidents (including, for instance, to Mutur in Trincomalee district where 17 humanitarian workers were murdered in August 2006)’.


Such effrontery in disregard for facts would be astonishing, if one were not used by now to Ms Hogg’s modus operandi. The SLMM in a memo to this office before I took up this position said that ‘due to the reduced number of field montors and the increased number of incidents taking place, the SLMM is no longer able to obtain the required information to make rulings’. Most people would not know that the number of monitors was reduced because the LTTE, contrary to the Ceasefire Agreement, refused to accept monitors from Scandinavian countries that belonged to the EU. I have asked the SLMM to rule this a violation of the Ceasefire, but they are understandably coy, perhaps because they do not want to give the LTTE a pretext to chuck out Norwegians too.


However, as I pointed out to the new Norwegian ambassador, when he said that the other Scandinavian countries had withdrawn their monitors on security grounds since the LTTE would not guarantee their safety, this should be made widely known. Whilst of course such care for the safety of their own nationals is quite understandable, accepting meekly the LTTE fiat allows characters like Ms Hogg to misrepresent the situation. And her argument is clearly the more ridiculous in that the then Head of the SLMM actually did rule that armed forces committed the murders she mentions, getting the date of the incident quite wrong, and claiming as his main evidence the fact that he was not allowed into the area.



His ruling has since been widely used to claim that the Sri Lankan forces were responsible, while the fact that those who were so tragically killed were sent into a dangerous situation by their employer, who turned down requests for leave from these Sri Lankan workers who understood the danger, has been totally forgotten by the international community.



I hope very much that your office in Geneva at least has a more responsible approach to the all important question of Human Rights. I would be happy to discuss the best way to secure these when we meet. It is certainly not the path of Ms Hogg.



Yours sincerely




Rajiva Wijesinha

Secretary General

Secretariat for Coordinating the Peace Process