Madeline England

Madeline England (Home for Human Rights – HHR): Madeline received her BA in economics from Mount Holyoke College in 2002. She then worked as a legal assistant for a London law firm and as an outreach coordinator for the Women’s Anti-Violence Education program in Philadelphia. From 2004 to 2006, she served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Mauritania, West Africa, where she helped women entrepreneurs to coordinate marketing campaigns and business plans. At the time of her fellowship, Madeline was pursuing a Masters in International Affairs with a concentration in Human Rights at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs. After her fellowship, Madeline wrote: "The fellowship was an infinitely valuable experience. I learned more about human rights advocacy and research, exactly as I was hoping, and I also gained experience working in a conflict zone. It helped me to develop the skills and understanding to work with community-based human rights organizations."

Bush v. Rajapaksa

15 Jun

“We have to defend ourselves. You can’t risk the country…,” Rajapaksa said. “I’m talking about terrorists. Anything is fair.
“When the U.S. does operations, they say covert operations. When something is (done) in Sri Lanka, they call it abductions,” he added. “This is playing with the words.”
–Gotabaya Rajapaksa, the President’s brother and Defense Ministry Secretary, on justifying last week’s expulsions of Tamils from Colombo

Read the entire article here. . .

As an American and a human rights advocate, I find this quote both disgusting and terrifying.

For those unaware, the government spontaneously decided, in the interest of “national security,” to forcibly expel anyone without a “valid” reason from the capital city on June 7. Naturally that validity was determined by government officials and included those who:

–wished to return but did not have the funds to do so.
–had no rationale for remaining in Colombo.
–said they were remaining in Colombo out of fear. (If there could be a Most Absurd Reason to Force People Back to a Conflict Zone Award, I think this should win.)

Starting at 4am, the government raided budget guesthouses in Tamil neighborhoods and forced 376 people onto buses. The people were not told where they were being taken, nor were they given food or water. If that sounds like a minor detail, you have obviously never spent a summer in south Asia. The people were taken to Vavuniya and Trincomalee, towns in the Northern and Eastern provinces, both of which are enveloped in the conflict.

What disgusts me as an American is the idea that my government’s actions are being used to justify the forced expulsions that involved such obvious ethnic discrimination and human rights violations.

What terrifies me as a human rights advocate is that I understand the connection Rajapaksa is making. The national security rationale superficially aligns itself with Bush’s preventive war doctrine. And we need only remember the “shipping containers” to think that perhaps the methods Bush used to target Arab people and send them to Guantanamo Bay are even worse.

Some part of me instinctively wants to deny the connection, and I actually do think the situations differ. But the fact that the connection was ever made in the first place demonstrates how dangerous Bush’s policies have become and the international precedent they set.

But they are different. Notwithstanding my disgust for the Patriot Act, the Military Commissions Act and anything else relating to Gitmo, Rajapaksa was incorrect when he stated that the difference between two situations is merely wordplay.

In a nutshell, the US claiming to be in the midst of an international armed conflict while Sri Lanka claims to be in an internal armed conflict makes a huge difference.

An armed conflict can be internal or international according to international law. An internal conflict invokes only certain aspects of international humanitarian law, namely those which call for the protection of civilians. However, an international armed conflict between states invokes all of international humanitarian law, including all of the Geneva Conventions on the laws of war and treatment of POWs.

According to Bush, fighting Al-Qaeda is no different than fighting any nation-state in a war. Al-Qaeda operatives are “enemy combatants” rather than traditional soldiers, and the US is employing a lawful use of force by responding to terrorist attacks in self-defense. Therefore the detentions are justified for the same reason we would detain POWs during a war under the Geneva Conventions of international humanitarian law. Yes, this is a huge grey area with many legal questions. But these are discussed by people far more knowledgeable than I.

My point is: Bush claims his war on terror to be an international conflict; thus the international humanitarian law doctrine applies.

The government of Sri Lanka, on the other hand, has never claimed the conflict with the LTTE is international. To do otherwise would give the LTTE exactly what they want: recognition of an independent state of Tamil Eelam. Even if the government did not recognize a separate state fighting for independence, they would at minimum be acknowledging that the LTTE has moved beyond an insurgency or rebel group.

So according to the Sri Lankan government, there are no soldiers/POWs/enemy combatants because the LTTE is not a legitimate military force in the conflict. The LTTE is a non-state party in an internal conflict.

In other words, if Rajapaksa wants to equate Sri Lankan abductions with US covert operations, he must first declare his own conflict international – therein giving the LTTE exactly what they want. He must ‘cut off his nose to spite his face’ so to speak.

What the Sri Lankan government did last Thursday is unequivocally wrong. They violated a number of fundamental human rights (freedom of movement, equality, freedom from ethnic discrimination, forced to return to areas of conflict) without being able to make any argument, however weak Bush’s own argument may be, that these people are enemy combatants.

It is very difficult to imagine anyone successfully arguing that the people in the picture below (from Reuters) could be enemy combatants anyway.

Actually it is very difficult to imagine them being anything other than the innocent civilians that they are.

Posted By Madeline England

Posted Jun 15th, 2007


  • amali

    June 17, 2007


    How right you are. Powerful stuff. Thank you for your insight. Be safe, and take care.

  • Susan

    June 21, 2007


    Madeleine, when you want a break, I’m at a nice school near Bentota. Come for the weekend and relax.

    Thanks for your work.

    Best wishes, susan

  • Pon

    July 17, 2007


    I have read many of your commensts on whats going on in my country. I thank you for the work you are doing. But I am little bit puzzled and disappointed to say the least about Bush V Rajapaksa comment. I understand as an American citizen you want to defend your country/president, but in the process you have not understood the seriousness of the comments Gotabaya was making…! And the background for the comments was regarding the thousands of abductions happening in the Country specially in the capital colombo, during daylight under the noses of thegovernment forces.

    By making these commenst Gotabaya acknowledges the fact that the Governement is responsible for these abductions.. this is a very serious point, and to make this legitimate he is drawing comaprisons with the US givernment. Obviously as you have indicated this is blatantly wrong, yet the seriousness of his comments is about the fact Government is responsible and yet no one, no internation observers took any notice of it.. ! This is an example of how ignorant the international community can be.. unless it’s to do with a personal benefit (i.e. Oil etc)…
    Thats the sad truth.

  • madeline

    July 18, 2007


    Pon, thanks for your comment. I am glad you said something because your perception of what I wrote is exactly the impression I was trying to avoid and now I can correct it.

    I certainly did not mean to imply that what the government of Sri Lanka did wasn’t wrong. I think the human rights violations of the expulsions are serious and egregious. One of my biggest concerns is that while the President apologized and Gotabaya admitted the government was responsible for it, Gotabaya seemed to think they did nothing wrong and can certainly do it again.

    My point was simply that the connection Gotabaya was making between the Sri Lankan government’s actions and the US government’s actions is, in fact, a fallacious one. The two situations are not the same. Just because one conflict is internal and one is international does not legitimize the expulsions in any way. Or in other words, just because they are different does not make one wrong and one right. I think both situations are equally wrong and constitute human rights violations but they are not the same for the reasons I stated above.


  • Pon

    July 18, 2007


    (Please don’t publish this)
    Hi Maddie, Thanks for your response… I certainly didn’t want to criticise you, I have said that before as well I am very gratefull for the work you are doing, it takes a special person to commit to such work. Keep up the good work and please continue to highlight the plights of our people.


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