02/28/2012, 00.00
SRI LANKA
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Rajapaksa brings thousands of people into the streets to oppose UN war crime charges

by Melani Manel Perera
The United Nations resolution alleges abuses that Sri Lankan soldiers and Tamil rebels committed abuses during the country's civil war. The government accuses the UN and Western powers of interfering in its domestic affairs. In April 2011, a UN report blamed the Sri Lankan air force of killing 40,000 people.

Colombo (AsiaNews) - Thousands of people have taken to the streets to protest a resolution by the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in Geneva on alleged abuses committed by the Sri Lankan government and Tamil rebels during the country's civil war. The demonstrations are organised by the government of President Mahinda Rajapaksa who believes that the UN resolution is an attempt by Western powers to interfere in the domestic affairs of Sri Lanka. Noticeably, the protests took place yesterday, opening day of the 19th session of the UNHRC in Geneva (27 February-24 March). On 26 April 2011, the United Nations released a report accusing the Sri Lankan government of murdering thousands of civilians during the final phase of the conflict in 2009.

Government supporters, lawmakers for Rajapaksa's United People's Freedom Alliance, Buddhist monks, Hindu holy men and Muslim Sri Lankans invaded some 150 cities across the country, shouting slogans and waving the national flag.

Last Saturday, cabinet ministers have called on Sri Lankans irrespective of ethnic, religious, economic, political and social differences to unite to save the country by showing the strength of the Rajapaksa administration and the goodwill of the people.

However, many people have criticised the demonstrations. According to Sujeewa Senasinghe, a lawmaker from Colombo elected with the United National Party, the country's main opposition party, the protest is part of a strategy to divert the attention of the country. "These protests are a means of hoodwinking the masses," he said. "The country is in tatters, both economically and politically. The rule of law is depleting day by day, abductions are on the rise and the cost of living has skyrocketed."

Ordinary citizens have also come out against the protests, calling them a waste of money. For many of them, protesting against the UN is not a way to solve the country's problems.

Specifically, the UN report noted that more than 40,000 were killed by air bombing. It also described life in the Vanni 'no-fire zone', where the government concentrated 330,000 people, as a living hell. It found that prisoners were shot in the head, women raped, and children's bodies left mangled.  The report also accuses Tamil rebels (LTTE) of using civilians as human shields.

The government has rejected the UN report. Instead, to investigate the period 2002-2009, it set up its own 'Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission', which produced a report that was released in December 2011.

According to UN estimates, 80-100,000 people died in the 30-year conflict.

Some 200,000 people are still internally displaced from the first phase of the civil war (which ended in 1991) and the second phase (which ended in 2009).

Jaffna Peninsula, Northern Province, is one of the areas most affected by the war with 39,000 war widows and about 12,000 people, mostly men, still missing.

 

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