UTHR: Annual for Membership, and Policy Statement. July 1988
Statement issued by the University Teachers for Human Rights. Colombo, December 1988.
During the period of six months that we have been in existence, we have issued a number of statements and appeals, both to the Government and to other parties involved in the present conflict, to desist from the use of violence. We now find that the situation has deteriorated to such an extent that a solution seems to be beyond reach. We would like to make one last demand on the right of the peoples of this country to a life free from fear. We also appeal to all organisations and individuals to subscribe to our demand.
We can visualise even a remote chance of a decent existence for the peoples of this country only if we as a people are willing to accept past mistakes and agree to a complete change of heart. Even as human rights organisations, we must admit that, on the whole, we have been very insensitive when large scale violations did take place in the North and East. We have been very passive when the democratic traditions and institutions that were painstakingly built up over half a century were ruthlessly destroyed, especially since 1983. Now, we are equally silent when other organisations which have openly demonstrated their contempt for democratic and human values have taken up the, fight that we failed to lead.
From numerous reports that have been brought to our notice, including specific instances from within the university community itself, we note:
The continuing violence in the North and the East. The conduct of an election under conditions which most people consider to be unfair has only aggravated the situation and added more parties to a suicidal contest.
The unprecedented carnage in the South. It has been reported that the introduction of the new emergency regulations on the disposal of dead bodies etc. has resulted in widespread and uncontrolled killings of youth.
Even a semblance of normality is found only in and around Colombo. Even here, reported incidents involving even university employees point to the spread of the reign of terror into Colombo itself, where persons are shot and disposed of very casually.
The threats to free public expression of ones views, extended from all quarters. Political meetings have been attacked and speakers and members of the public have been killed merely for holding opinions opposed to those of the attackers.
Trade union leaders and members have been attacked and killed both for going on strike and for not going on strike.
If we draw any lessons from our unfortunate recent history, it is that: Violence cannot be defeated by violence. Rigged elections and other tampering with the democratic process breeds more and more violence. Hence, as a means of regaining our right to freedom from fear, we demand:
Immediate dissolution of the parliament and the institution of a multi-party caretaker government.
Immediate withdrawal of the emergency regulations on the disposal of dead bodies.
Confining of troops and all auxiliary forces to barracks and the use of the police force only in law enforcement.
Immediate cessation of all acts of violence by all armed groups, both in the North and the South, against their opponents and members of the public.
We also once again appeal to all other organisations and individuals to join us in our demands.[Top]
We are living through times when this country, once considered safe for democracy, with its newly found notoriety for violation of fundamental rights, seems set to relive the experience of some of the countries in Latin America and the Middle East. Violence appears to have become away of life in Sri Lanka - violence by the state, by political groups and even by individuals. Violence by the latter groups and individuals is a consequence of the violations of democratic norms and indulgence in violent methods by the state itself over the last many years. The Federation of University Teachers Associations is opposed to violence and terrorism whichever quarter it may emanate from.
Since 1979, the Amnesty International has produced lists of hundreds of missing persons who disappeared during the governments security operations in the North and East of this country. The Amnesty International had also detailed gruesome methods of torture compiled from sworn testimonies of the large number of victims. The International Human Rights Alert is another organisation which drew attention to these happenings. Special attention was drawn to the activities of the Special Task Force which is neither directly nor indirectly accountable to parliament. It is with regret that we have to note that serious matters received little consideration in this country.
With a parallel insurgency developing in the South, the same state security apparatus that was used in the North and the East was put to work in the South. In the meantime, Indian forces assumed responsibility for security operations in the North and East. Over the last six months, the number of disappeared persons in the North, the East and the South run into a few hundreds. Several reports of these and extra judicial killings have been well authenticated. There are a number of indications that a number of those detained, including innocent persons, have died as a result of treatment received under interrogation.
The silence of both the Sri Lankan and Indian authorities on the question of disappeared persons has left a number of families in the throes of bitterness and anxiety. They spend day after day going from camp to camp waiting hours on end only to be asked to try elsewhere The matter at present receives far less international publicity because of the common interest of silence on the matter shared by Sri Lankan and Indian Governments.
The disappearance of Wannigama, Assistant Lecturer at Ruhuna University, must be seen in this context. It may be mentioned for the record that in 1983, Assistant Lecturers Nithyanandan and Varatharajaperumal of Jaffna University, who were arrested under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) came close to death in Welikada Prison. More recently Pulsara Liyanage of Kelaniya University and Dayapala Thiranagairma too were charged under the PTA.
As academics, we cannot continue to remain silent on this matter if we are to influence the course of affairs of our country for the good. We acknowledge that the government has a serious problem with the activities
of the armed rebel groups who are themselves responsible for a large number of killings of unarmed civilians. These groups grew out of past insensitivities to real problems, but we strongly disapprove of the methods of terror being used by the Sri Lankan and Indian governments in combating these problems. Besides the tragic loss of life, the underlying social problems are rendered more chronic. Solution to these problems have to evolve with a will to try democratic alternatives. This requires giving credibility to democratic institutions.
We call upon both the Sri Lankan and Indian governments to put an end to the agonies of relatives by coming clean on disappeared persons, to call a halt to the present repressive methods of operations and to moderate their conduct so that democratic alternatives can evolve. We simultaneously call upon the armed rebel groups to give up violence.[Top]
As a response to numerous expressions of concern by academic staff at Universities at the continued deterioration-of human rights at the University level and in the country in general, the Federation of
University Teachers Associations (FUTA) decided to sponsor an independent University Teachers Association for the defence of human rights. In pursuance of this goal, University Teachers for Human Rights (UTHR) has been set up.
This organisation seeks to monitor human rights in the country in general, and more specifically in the University. It hopes to collect data relating to human rights violations and raise awareness on the issues. The UTHR would be grateful to you if instances of human rights violations are brought to our attention.
The UTHR will function through its members in different universities. We hope that you would become a member of UTER and enrol your colleagues as well.
UNIVERSITY TEACHERS FOR HUMAN RIGHTS
Objectives: a) Raise awareness on issues relating to human rights in Sri Lanka
b) Monitor human rights violations
c) Collect and collate data relating to human rights violation
d) Take appropriate action with regard to human rights
e ) Cooperate with organisations, local and foreign, with similar objectives
Membership:Open to all university teachers.[Top]
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