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The National Action Plan for the Protection and Promotion of Human Rights 2011 – 2016 as well as the full series of  Sri Lanka Rights Watch are available at the Peace & Reconciliation Website.

One of the most important commitments of the National Human Rights Action Plan, as agreed by Cabinet, is the adoption of legislation to ensure the right to information. Not only is this an obligation to our citizens, on whose behalf government acts, it is also practically desirable. In this modern day and age, when disinformation can be circulated so easily, and not necessarily out of malice, but through carelessness and ignorance, it would be helpful for government to have the facts readily available in clear and comprehensible form.

How useful this would be became even more clear to me when listening to the falsehoods and incomplete information purveyed by those critical of Sri Lanka at the recent discussion based on the Channel 4 documentaries that took place in London at the Frontline Club. Callum McRae, who had made them, declared that over 11,000 former LTTE combatants were still in custody, and could not be visited.

This is nonsense, for almost all combatants have been released, and throughout their stay they were visited regularly by their relatives. I did at one stage suggest to the Bureau of the Commissioner General of Rehabilitation that they maintain a data base of all those still in detention, with dates of visits, since I was told that none had not been visited. I suppose that would have been too complicated, but some sort of information sheet could have been prepared, and shared perhaps with the Human Rights Commission, to make it clear that there was nothing to hide.

One point we suffered from, and which I believe was a mistake, was that the ICRC was not permitted to visit. This decision sprang I believe from the view that the ICRC had been exceeding its mandate. Nevertheless, we should have made it clear that the ICRC had been involved in the registration process of

these youngsters until almost the very end. In wanting to assert our independence in this respect – which is not necessary, for the ICRC functions with scrupulous respect for the independence of those parties that have invited its assistance – we ignored this fact, whereas Wikileaks indicates that the ICRC had told the Americans in Geneva that ‘ICRC has been visiting regularly 11,400 people arrested and interned in 10 camps as suspected LTTE fighters’.

I myself had thought that the ICRC visits to the former combatants had stopped earlier, so I was pleasantly surprised when this particular Wikileaks cable was brought to my notice. What I did know was that throughout this period ICRC had had access to all those held in detention at Boossa and elsewhere, including those former combatants who had been thought hard-core, and who had therefore been transferred to Boossa (though most of them were soon transferred back, when government decided that more rehabilitation was preferable to any punitive action).

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Rajiva Wijesinha

June 2012
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