Written Answers. - Human Rights Abuses.

Paul Connaughton

Question:

249 Mr. Connaughton asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if his attention has been drawn to the human rights abuses in Sri Lanka; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19145/00]

The Government is concerned at reports that the escalating conflict between the forces of the Government of Sri Lanka and secessionist Tamil elements – the LTTE, Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam – has resulted in serious human rights violations by security forces in some areas. Reported abuses include extrajudicial killings, disappearances, torture, arbitrary arrests – including short-term mass arrests – and detentions. These indicate a failure by the security forces to comply with the protective provisions of the Government's emergency regulations. On the other side, the LTTE have behaved as an authoritarian military regime in the areas under their control and have routinely and grossly violated human rights both within and outside these areas. Violations include civilian massacres through indiscriminate attacks and bombings, illegal and arbitrary arrests and detentions, torture and ethnic discrimination. A further particularly abhorrent abuse of human rights by the LTTE is their large-scale forcing of young persons of both sexes into terrorist actions and attacks against the Government forces and civilian population.

Although the Constitution of Sri Lanka provides for freedom of speech and expression, the Sri Lankan Government restricts these rights in practice. The Government limits the access of domestic and foreign media to information and continues to censor news relating to the military and security situation. It has not so far reformed the press law and privatised government-owned media as promised during the 1994 election campaign. The EU has made known to the Sri Lankan Government its concerns about such restrictions and called for their lifting as soon as possible.

It is my understanding that the Sri Lankan Government has started to take some positive steps to control such human rights abuses. The national Human Rights Commission, HRC – established by Act of Parliament in 1996 – continues its operations in eleven offices around the country. In 1998, the Government also established, at cabinet-level, the committee to inquire into undue arrest and harassment, CIUAH. The CIUAH has a mandate to investigate complaints associated with alleged harassment and arrests and other security force actions. It appears that some results are now being achieved. Security forces are reported to be receiving instruction in international humanitarian law as part of their training courses and the army has established human rights cells in each division, and human rights offices in each brigade and battalion. The test of such measures, however, will be their effect in bringing to an end the abuses I have described above.

The ongoing conflict between the Government and the secessionist Tamils remains a fundamental problem which overshadows the entire country and which has to be resolved. The EU has called on the secessionist forces to end their indiscriminate acts of violence and to enter into negotiations with the Sri Lankan Government. The EU has also urged the Sri Lankan Government and the LTTE to negotiate a peaceful resolution to the conflict in the framework of Sri Lanka's territorial integrity. The conflict in Sri Lanka will only be solved ultimately through a political solution, reflecting the fact that although the Tamils are a minority in the country as whole, they are in the majority in the North. It is therefore incumbent on the Government and Opposition parties of Sri Lanka to reach a consensus on how to address this problem.

The conflict in Sri Lanka has not proven amenable so far to international mediation. But the Government of Norway has offered its good offices as mediator of the talks, should they take place, and the EU fully supports Norway in this endeavour.

Questions Nos. 250 and 251 taken with Question No. 248.