Exclusive Report by Thilak S. Fernando

At a Human Rights Caucus hearing held at 22/55 Rayburn House, Capital Hill, Washington, on 2 March 1999, Democrat Frank Pallone, JR., of the United States House of Representatives and also the Chairman of the Sri Lanka Caucus in the Congress, said that in 1983 an ethnic civil war began in Sri Lanka between the majority Sinhalese and a select group of Tamils, who formed the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in Sri Lanka; he was disturbed by this armed conflict which has caused over 55,000 deaths.

Highlighting the fact that the US State Department and Amnesty International have publicly recognised the efforts made by the Sri Lanka government in actively improving human rights, Sri Lanka Caucus Chairman in the Congress expressed his concern over misrepresentations due to sweeping generalisation and biased reports.

The Human Rights Causes enquiry was the result of a report submitted by a member of the Red Cross, Ms. C. Marlone, six months ago, having studied alleged human rights violations against Tamils in Sri Lanka. Her report was officially taken up in the Congress by Congressman Benjamin Gilman, which came out in the form of an enquiry on 2 March 99. The following is the full text of Representative Frank Pallone JR’s statement.

“ I would like to thank the Congressional Human Rights Caucus for holding this hearing on human rights developments in Sri Lanka. My interest in Sri Lanka stems from the constituents of Sri Lankan origin that live in my district New Jersey. As a result of my contact with the Sri Lankan community in the U.S., and my interest in Sri Lanka, I, along with 10 of my colleagues, established in October 1998, the Congressional Caucus on Sri Lanka and Sri Lankan Americans.

I have been carefully following Sri Lanka’s political and economic developments, and I find that Sri Lanka holds high standards of democratic traditions and a liberal economic system. Interestingly, Sri Lanka also has a remarkable literacy rate of 90%.

The US and the Sri Lanka have a history of excellent bilateral relations, and currently, U.S- Sri Lanka relations are strong. I hope that these ties will grow even stronger and that more Congressional visits between the U.S. and Sri Lanka take place.

When Sri Lanka gained independence in 1948 from the British, it was considered an international model of democracy, in terms of high health and education standards. In 1983, an ethnic civil war began between the Sinhalese majority, and a select group of Tamils who formed the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). This armed conflict has caused over 55,000 deaths, and I am disturbed by the terrorist campaign of the LTTE.

The U.S. and Canada have designated the LTTE as a foreign terrorist organisation. This upcoming October, Congress and the Administration are expected to again designate the LTTE as a terrorist group.

I have seen recent reports on action taken by the present Sri Lankan government to improve the human rights situation in Sri Lanka, and I am optimistic about the efforts the Sri Lankan government has made to improve the human rights situation in their country. The government has appointed 3 regional Commission and an independent Human Rights Commission to investigate the following specific instances relating to human rights issues:

Chemmani Grave in Jaffna: There are allegation against the Sri Lankan government, claiming that government Security Forces Personnel are responsible for a mass grave in Jaffna. The independent Human Rights Commission began an investigation, which will proceed with a forensic expert, soil expert, and ballistic expert in the alleged areas. The judiciary process has been postponed due to LTTE death threats towards the judges of the Jaffna courts.

Wanni Area: Another allegation is that the Sri Lankan government denies food and other basic necessities to the Wanni area. This area, populated by Tamil civilians who were forced to leave Jaffna, is under the control of the LTTE. However, UN agencies and foreign NGO’s have noted the Sri Lankan government’ s efforts to provide food to the Tamils living in this area.

Krishanthi Kumaraswamy case: In the case of the abduction, rape and murder of an 18 year old woman, Krishanthi Kumarswamy, and 3 other individuals in Jaffna, a trial was held and the court ruled that 6 members of Sri Lankan government’s Security Force Personnel were guilty of violating human rights, and sentenced to death.

Disappearance Commission: As a result of investigations of disappearances in Sri Lanka, more than 100 Security Forces personnel have been charged for violating human rights. These cases are currently proceeding.

Disappearance of School Children: In the case of 24 school children that were adducted, 6 security Force Personnel and one school principal were found guilty and sentenced to 10 years in prison. Amnesty International has commended the action that the Sri Lanka government has taken in this case, and has called upon international community to follow Sri Lanka’s example of punishing human rights violators.

The SriLankan government is actively improving human rights. The international community, including the U.S. State Department and Amnesty International, has publicly recognised these efforts.

I fear that the human rights situation in Sri Lanka will be misrepresented due to sweeping generalisations and biased reports. The materials that are examined by the Congressional Human Rights Caucus should be unbiased, accurate, and impartial, so as to serve the objective of investigating the human rights situation in Sri Lanka.”