No mechanism for release of Tamil political prisoners
- T. RAMAKRISHNAN
The Sri Lankan government has not proposed a timeline or monitoring mechanism to ensure the release of Tamil political prisoners or return of lands to original owners in the Northern and Eastern Provinces, said the report.
On the reported assurance made by President Maithripala Sirisena in January to release the prisoners, it states that "since 2009, an absence of official figures on the number of Tamil detainees continues to torment families of the missing. The government estimates that nearly 300 people are being held without charge under the [Prevention of] Terrorism Act but Tamil leaders offer figures many times that."
It points out the release of political prisoners and others imprisoned due to the conflict was the primary demand of those interviewed by the organisation.
Early this month, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, during his visit to Colombo, had urged the government to release the political prisoners. However, a news report published by Ceylon Today on May 21, 2015, stated that Mr Sirisena, in an interaction with local media the previous day, categorically said "there were no more people held as political prisoners in Sri Lanka." The President added that the government had "no list of political prisoners" to disclose, the news report said.
The Oakland Institute, in its report, also identified "the lack of political will for any thorough investigation and prosecution" of alleged war crimes and human rights violations as a "major obstacle" to the reconciliation process.
While the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Investigation on Sri Lanka (OISL) is expected to present its report during the 30th Session of the United Nations Human Rights Council in September after postponing the move by six months, Mr. Sirisena last week said a domestic mechanism to investigate the allegations would be in place by June.
The American organisation, taking note of "gestures of geopolitical cooperation" made by India and the U.S. since the regime change, feels that the two countries may "fail to put the necessary pressure on the Sri Lankan government to adequately follow through with its promises."
The report identifies 'the lack of political will for investigation and prosecution' of alleged war crimes as an obstacle in reconciliation
The release of Tamil political prisoners with a general pardon would pave the way for reconciliation, says Tamil National Alliance (TNA) Spokesman and Parliamentarian Suresh Premachandran.
"Tamil people have shown their goodwill by voting for the new government. They have cast their votes, placing trust in the new government, when the TNA campaigned in the North and East to vote for a change, without any precondition," he said.
He added that the new government has received an opportunity to express its goodwill to the people of the North and East.
"These political prisoners have been spending almost 10-15 years in the prisons without any proper cases filed against them or investigations conducted. There are a large number of young women and men, who have been political prisoners for many years. No proper action had been taken," he said.
Premachandran therefore urged the new government to take the necessary steps to release these prisoners on a general pardon.
"This will bring in a favourable beginning for the positive agreement between the TNA and new government.
"The new government should take action to release the political prisoners and resettle those who are remaining in welfare centres. The new President secured victory as the result of the votes cast by the minorities," he said.
He also said this will strengthen the relationship between Tamils and Sinhalese. Therefore, the new President and Prime Minister should take it into consideration and act accordingly.
Premachandran expressed his views in Jaffna on Sunday (11).