Centre for War Victims & Human Rights

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Public Forum on War Crimes in Reference to Sri Lanka‏

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The public form on war crimes in reference to Sri Lanka was held on October 15, 2009 at CWVHR center.  The keynote speakers were lawyer Lorne Waldman, and Amnesty International Sri Lanka coordinator John Argue.

Mr. Waldman is an expert in human rights and refugees laws.  He has more than 30 years experience, and recently known for  "having successfully acted as co counsel for Maher Arar at the public inquiry into the circumstances behind his deportation from the United States to Syria where he was subjected to brutal torture."

John Argue has been an activist on the Sri Lanka issue for more than20 years, and recently attended the AI Sri Lankan coordinators meeting in London.

The event started with a brief intro by CWVHR president Anton Philip.  Mr. Waldman began his speech by describing the continuing tragedy in Sri Lanka.  He firmly concluded that the indiscriminate bombing, use of illegal weapons, mass killings, imprisonment and torture of refugees are clear violations of international humanitarian law, and evidence for war crimes.

He compared the tragedy in Sri Lanka to other similar tragedies in recent history.  He said, it is important to learn the lessons from others.  His speech focused on the strategies that Tamil community must develop, and tasks that it should carry out.

The first main task is to campaign the Canadian government to DENOUNCE the human rights violations by the Sri Lankan government.  In order to do this he suggested, we must bring the issue to the attention of politicians of all parties.  Issue of human rights is not political, thus should be easier for politicians to embrace.

He noted the Argentina's experience of brining its military dictatorship's crimes to justice.  He described the ways Argentinians regime erased all evidence.  Still, the diligent work done by AI and others to document the human rights violations brought many to justice even after 20 years.

Another important strategy is to build support with the help of natural allies.  He noted the Labour movement (Canadian Labour Congress) and other similar groups such as Student unions as potential allies.

He stressed the importance of unity among Tamils in voicing their concern to the Canadian government. He said to engage the parliamentary committees, and even volunteered himself as a participant.  But he caution the Tamil community to be clear about what they are asking for.

* Canadian government to recognize and condemn the war crimes committed by SL
* To call the Sri Lankan ambassador/and the SL government to respect human rights
* To help bring those accountable to justice
* Aid tied to human rights

Along with the political pressure, he urged the Tamil community to develop legal strategies.

1. To challenge the Canadian government not to give aid to SL according to the foreign aid accountability act, because SL is a major Human Rights violator
2. To pursue legal actions against perpetrators who visit or immigrate
to Canada or other Western countries.
3. Take action through parliamentary committees

He identified the SL government as a "GENOCIDAL government".

He acknowledge the importance of documentation of these human rights violations in accordance with international standards.  He stressed the need for standard interview procedures, and the enlisting the help of organizations such as AI.  He noted that documentation should happen not just in Western countries, but in Indian where significant populations of Sri Lankan Tamil refugees live.

He stressed that the documentation is a long term project.  He said collecting critical mass of evidence will bring definite results.

Next Amnesty International’s Sri Lanka coordinator John Argue spoke about the London meeting of all AI coordinators for Sri Lanka. He expressed the collective frustration about the Sri Lankan situation. Argue noted that the same abuses experienced by Tamils can soon be used against the Sinhalese.  He has talked about the CWVHR documentation work in London.  He noted that many were supportive of the effort.

Mr. Argue noted November 17, 2009, the day president Rajabasha said he will release all the prisoners. There is no chance even half of the population would be released by this date.  He noted that even if they were released from one camp, they were being dumped into other camps.  All the prisoners are being closely monitored even after the release, and there is no return to normalcy.  He urged to support the AI’s Unlock the Camps campaign (http://www.amnesty.org/en/news-and-updates/news/unlock-camps-sri-lanka-20090807).  He said there will be intense activities as the date nears such as letter writing campaigns, conferences, and protests.  He particularly noted the conference on Nov 21, 2009 organized by Canadian Academics for Tamil Rights.

Argue agreed to maintain contact with CWVHR about the campaign, an other activities.

After Aruge's speech, CWVHR member Kesavan gave a presentation about CWVHR documentation efforts.  The event ended with brief discussion, vote of thanks by Sivajini, and refreshments.



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