Executive Director of the Campaign for Free and Fair Elections (CaFFE) has issued a statement on behalf of CaFFE and Centre for Human Rights - Sri Lanka (CHR) condemning the intimidation of personswishing to give evidence before the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation (LLRC) during iitssessions at Kayts Island and the harassment and intimidation of P. Winslow of Yaal Thinakural by an unidentified group.
Following is the full text of the statement:
Campaign for Free and Fair Elections (CaFFE) and Centre for Human Rights - Sri Lanka (CHR) strongly condemns the systematic intimidation of those who wanted to make submissions at the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation (LLRC) sessions at Kaytes Island and the harassment and intimidation of P. Winslow of Yaal Thinakural by an unidentified group during the session at St. Anne’s Church, Kaytes, yesterday (November, 14, 2010.)
Kaytes Island is famous for numerous abductions, disappearances and assassinations as well as its geographic isolation. In the last two decades an armed group has dominated the political landscape of the island who continue
to intimidate its population. The scale of disappearances, abductions and assassinations in an island which was not directly impacted by Ealam War IV was obvious by the large number of individuals who came to make submissions on Sunday despite a systematic campaign to deter them. Residents of the island had been warned not to give submissions and officials were asked not to inform the dates and venues of the LLRC sessions during the days leading to the sessions on November, 14. Although the situation in the Jaffna Peninsular has somewhat improved after the end of the war, the residents of Kaytes and other islands still live under pressure by various parties.
Therefore the decision taken by the LLRC to visit Kaytes and listen to the grievances of the residents is a very commendable and necessary act. Nevertheless reliable reports from the session indicate that the people were not able to express themselves freely without fear of persecution. We have been informed that three men wrote down the names of those who gave evidence at the St. Anne’s Church and took photos of local media personnel using camera phones.
When the Yaal Thinakural photojournalist took a photo of these individuals a man who appeared to be the leader of the intimidators threatened the journalist with death. It was only after the mediation of journalists from Colombo, representatives of the several embassies and the LLRC commissioners that the Police took action. Nevertheless he was released immediately after a warning by the police.
During the next session in Mankumban Pillayar Kovil, Velani, Kaytes around 20 newly appointed Grama Sewa Niladaris, who many residents claim were members of a group well known in Kaytes, were present at the session. Due to their presence many residents were afraid to speak freely. Furthermore it’s a well known fact in Jaffna that local journalists do not visit the islands off Jaffna due to the presence of a hostile group.
The LLRC took submissions from residents of Jaffna during four days, November 11-14, and over 2000 made submissions. Only around 400 made submissions in Kaytes, a comparatively low figure, and the LLRC took oral submissions from approximately 30 individuals while others made written submissions to the LLRC Secretariat.
CaFFE and CHR - Sri Lanka while commending the LLRC stresses on the importance of ensuring an environment where people are able to express themselves freely without fear of persecution and guaranteeing the safety of those who come to give submissions and safety of the media during sessions held in areas where militant groups operate.