Annual Report: Sri Lanka 2005

Report
May 28, 2005

Annual Report: Sri Lanka 2005

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Head of state: Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga
Head of government: Mahinda Rajapakse (replaced Ranil Wickremasinghe in April)
Death penalty: abolitionist in practice
International Criminal Court: not signed
UN Women’s Convention and its Optional Protocol: ratified


Summary

The ceasefire between the government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) remained in place, despite a number of violations and a failure to resume peace talks. The human rights situation in the north-east deteriorated following a violent split within the LTTE in April and a dramatic increase in politically motivated killings. Although a large number of child soldiers were released during the internal fighting, the LTTE continued to recruit children, including through abduction. In November the government announced a “reactivation” of the death penalty. Torture in police custody was widely reported and victims seeking redress faced threats and violence. There was little progress towards holding security forces to account for past human rights violations. Religious minorities came under threat, with attacks on Christians and Muslims, as well as the tabling of a bill aimed at curbing religious conversions.

Background

Elections on 2 April brought to power a fragile coalition headed by the President’s United People’s Freedom Alliance. The LTTE-affiliated Tamil National Alliance (TNA) took the majority of seats in the north-east, where elections were marred by vote rigging, intimidation and violence, including the killing of United National Party and TNA candidates and an Eelam People’s Democratic Party (EPDP) activist.

In March the LTTE’s eastern commander, known as Colonel Karuna, split from the organization, taking with him a large number of cadres. In April thousands of LTTE troops moved into the east to engage Colonel Karuna and his supporters in battle, resulting in substantial casualties. After four days of fighting Colonel Karuna disbanded the majority of his supporters and went into hiding. However, he continued to speak out against the LTTE and formed his own political party, which in October joined with the Eelam National Democratic Liberation Front. Throughout 2004 the east remained volatile with continued skirmishes between the LTTE and remaining Karuna supporters, growing numbers of political assassinations and widespread child recruitment.

Despite efforts by Norwegian mediators, there was no return to peace talks. Amid an atmosphere of mistrust, the LTTE continued to insist that their proposals for an Interim Self-Governing Authority (ISGA) form the basis of any talks and the coalition government struggled to define its position. On 7 July an LTTE suicide bomber, allegedly sent to kill EPDP MP Douglas Devananda, blew herself up in a Colombo police station killing four policemen.

On 27 November, in his annual “Heroes’ Day” speech, LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran stated that the LTTE might return to the “freedom struggle” if peace talks did not resume on the basis of the LTTE’s ISGA proposals. On 24 December the LTTE formally rejected the government’s latest offer of talks amid growing fears of a return to war.

On 26 December a massive earthquake in the Indian Ocean caused tsunami waves to break on Sri Lanka’s coastline, killing more than 30,000 people. Most deaths occurred on the southern and eastern coasts, although there was widespread devastation of infrastructure and over 400,000 people were displaced across the island. Following this disaster, local communities across the country responded quickly with support for the victims, government and LTTE forces began emergency rescue and relief operations, and a large amount of international assistance began to arrive.

Politically motivated killings